Personalized, customer service is key at OneWest Bank in La Jolla and other San Diego County locations

BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT:

The "West" in OneWest Bank isn't there just for show. This 8-year-old financial institution was founded as a Pasadena-based savings bank and today boasts 70 retail branches in Southern California. Among them are three in San Diego County — in Escondido, in Rancho Santa Fe, and right on Prospect Street in La Jolla.

"We're Southern California born and raised," said Jeffrey Lenhoff, vice-president branch manager. "We try and support the communities that we're in. Within the 70-branch network, for example, we do a lot of work with Junior Achievement."

Being a friend to the community goes hand-in-hand with being friends to customers of One West, which Lenhoff likes to call a "boutique bank."

"We try and differentiate ourselves primarily by our customer service. Clients are going to sit down with somebody when they come in. We have some who come in almost daily just for a cup of coffee. We know our clients by name."

Clients and their friends, as it turns out. "Clients bring their dogs into the branch and we have little doggy bones for them," Lenhoff said. "So the dogs love us, too."

OneWest is a full-service bank with both residential and commercial customers. For individual clients, Lenhoff emphasizes OneWest's money market accounts, which he says are "well above the national average." In addition, "Our mortgage rates are very competitive. We will do, if it makes sense and the person qualifies, all the very large loans that a lot of banks will shy away from. We've done this from day one."

Part of maintaining the trust of its customers is keeping current with the ever-changing face of the financial landscape. "Every month we have some kind of training we're going through to stay abreast of what's going on in the industry," said Lenhoff, "so that when we have conversations, we're able to stay current with our clients."

That ongoing relationship is another key component of the OneWest service. "We like to stay in touch with our clients," said Lenhoff. "We are constantly inviting them to go over what we have with them and make sure it's the best option for them, make sure of what their needs are."

Setting yourself apart is a must if you're doing business in this part of the country, of course. "The biggest challenge," said Lenhoff, "is the number of banks that are here. Everybody wants to be in Southern California. The real estate market is phenomenal. It's a very competitive market among banks."

With that in mind, OneWest's staff (seven in the La Jolla branch) is prepared to help both existing homebuyers as well as potential first-time buyers. Either one can expect to come in, sit down with somebody who either knows or will quickly learn his or her name, and if there's a dog on a leash, too, that's A OK.

OneWest Bank is at 888 Prospect St., Suite 140, La Jolla. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 9 to 5 p.m. Friday. (858) 454-8800. Other locations listed at onewestbank.com

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