Building a board with an appetite for innovation can be difficult, but the small group that oversees C3bank is decidedly different.
The institution was originally founded as a quiet community bank serving the Inland Empire region of southern California in 1981.
That same year, Evert “Chooch” Alsenz and Paul Becker, now board members at C3bank, formed an engineering partnership that would go on to fund the development of the world’s first quartz-based solid-state gyroscope, a patented technology used in brake systems for millions of automobiles. Subsequent ventures from the duo produced military communications antennas, lightning diversion strips and surge protection equipment for aircrafts.
Alsenz and Becker are no strangers to invention, a background they brought with them when they joined commercial real estate expert Michael Persall to buy C3bank in a deal that closed in 2014.
Alsenz and Becker’s shared history helps one understand how a four-branch, $356 million institution has been able to remake itself as a tech-savvy commercial bank. From the moment they acquired it, Persall, Alsenz and Becker, who also serve as principals for investment company ABP Capital, worked to transform the bank into an entrepreneurial shop with a specialty in commercial real estate lending. In 2019, the group moved the bank’s headquarters to Encinitas, California, where ABP is based, and changed its name to C3bank.
Understanding the entrepreneurial owners at C3bank also helps explain how the group was able to ink a new partnership to develop an artificial intelligence-based commercial lending tool just a few years after the change in ownership.
To strengthen the bank’s CRE lending program, bank chairman Persall approached technologist Shayne Skaff to develop a custom platform for assessing and monitoring CRE loans. Initially, Skaff wasn’t sold on the idea. When he dug deeper, though, he discovered that commercial lending technology was years behind the solutions for residential loans. That lag presented an opportunity, so he started working with the teams at ABP Capital and C3bank in June 2018 to build a solution that would eventually become known as Blooma.
Skaff brought developers into the institutions to learn about their respective underwriting processes. The goal for the project was to streamline the commercial underwriting process in a way that made it more dependent on science, than on art. Science, the parties believed — in this case, AI — would lead to thorough, well-researched deals.
“Our board and ownership group continues to think AI can have a big impact on banking,” says A.J. Moyer, the CEO of C3bank. “[They] push that thought process and believe a lot of underwriting can be supplemented.”
Traditionally, lenders spend a lot of time manually gathering the data that factors into a potential deal. Blooma allows banks to outsource that process to its AI engines. It taps into third party databases to extract information about local real estate markets and scours the web for other relevant information, such as neighborhood crime statistics and negative news.
Blooma then scores CRE deals on a 100-point scale that measures the probability that it will fit within the bank’s risk profile and portfolio needs. Users can drill down into the score to see exactly what factors influenced the score. As more deals pass through the system, Blooma’s AI gradually learns from the bank’s process to prioritize new opportunities.
The result? The process of onboarding and assessing a potential deal can shrink from weeks to minutes.
“[Q]uick yet accurate decision-making can be a strategic advantage for your institution,” says Moyer. “If I have a toolset that, when a potential deal comes my way, I can quickly confirm what that asset’s worth, [then] I can sign that deal faster than anyone else.”
In addition to the underwriting assist, Blooma provides a digital hub for managing deal documents and workflows. “We’ve gotten out of a spreadsheet environment,” says Moyer. “The world we’re in is more dynamic. Everyone can go [to Blooma] to see what deals we’re working on and what’s mission critical.”
Blooma was a finalist in the Best Business Solution category of this year’s Best of FinXTech Awards. Shield Compliance, a Seattle-based fintech helping institutions bank cannabis-related businesses, was also a finalist. The winner in this category was Brex, which partnered with Bank of the West to launch a small business-focused credit card that’s grown the bank’s revenue by more than 50% from clients using the co-branded card. You can learn more about that partnership here: How Innovative Banks Cards to Grow Revenue, Earn Loyalty.