The Fremont Podcast

Episode 104: Banking on Community with Mike Wallace of Fremont Bank

February 02, 2024 Ricky B and Matt Wallace Season 3 Episode 104
The Fremont Podcast
Episode 104: Banking on Community with Mike Wallace of Fremont Bank
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Unlock the heartwarming story of a bank that's as much a part of Fremont, California as the people themselves. In this episode,  Ricky B along with Mike Wallace take you through the remarkable  journey of a financial institution that started with a snack shack revival and became a cornerstone of our community. Mike opens up about his half-century with the bank, revealing tales of his military service and how an unexpected encounter overseas led to a lifelong career and connection to the founding Hyman family.

Venture into the past as we trace Fremont Bank's growth from Morris Hyman's vision, born from his father's less than stellar banking experiences in Mississippi, to its pivotal role in the city's development. With stories of writing procedural manuals as a management trainee, we'll showcase the strategic decisions and community investments that built a stable foundation for both the bank and Fremont. Discover how a lawyer's career shifted to banking, intertwining his fate with the economic progress of our thriving city.

Our episode culminates with a reflection on how cultural exchanges and community support are woven into the fabric of Fremont Bank's identity. As we peek into the construction of the new headquarters, we honor a legacy that continues through initiatives like the Employee Stock Ownership Plan, ensuring Fremont Bank remains a beacon of community engagement for generations to come. Join us on this inspiring episode that's as much about banking as it is about the people and stories that make Fremont an extraordinary place to call home.

To learn more about the Fremont Bank and all that it offers to everyone in our community, go to their website here.

You can find them here on Instagram. 

Check out our new podcast focused on Niles CA called the Cast of Niles. You can find episodes on almost any podcast platform. You can also find it here.

Also, Petrocelli Homes has been a key sponsor for the Fremont Podcast almost from the beginning. If you are looking for help or advice about buying or selling a home, or if you are looking for a realtor, get in touch with Petrocelli Homes on Niles Blvd in Niles.

Additionally, Banter Bookshop is the best little bookshop in Fremont. They are a sponsor of that podcast. And we are excited to have them as a partner.

Intro and Outro voiceovers made by Gary Williams. Check out garywilliams.org.

This episode was edited by Andrew C.

Scheduling and background was done by Sara S.

This is a Muggins Media Podcast.

Matt Wallace:

Yeah, it's in our DNA, Both Morris and Alberta. They truly were advocates of sharing what they had. Fundamental to what we do is we share what we have with the community.

Gary Williams:

Coming to you straight from Fremont, California, this is the Fremont Podcast, dedicated to telling the stories of the past and present of the people and places of the city of Fremont, one conversation at a time.

Andrew C:

There's some guys redoing the Snack Shack of the Little League field here and there's a banner that says who the remodel is sponsored by. And look, a local titular bank and their lovely foundation.

Worker:

What's going on at the shed. So in the shed we've redone the subfloor inside. We've painted, we've put can lights, new flooring, new flooring in the restrooms. We replaced all the wood on the deck. We're putting new paint on the deck. After that's done, probably by next week, we'll start doing the handrail. Gonna put a whole new handrail around.

Andrew C:

How long has it taken you to do all that stuff.

Worker:

Rain slowed us down, but pretty much, you know, probably close to a month to do everything you know sporadically, you know, the rain's kind of held us up on the exterior part of it, but the interior part went pretty quick. Also, what are you guys doing here? We're just we're laser grading the infield right now, so we're gonna add 12 and a half tons of dirt, till it all up and then we're gonna laser grade it so that it's smooth. Basically Pretty straightforward. I mean we painted the whole entire thing. The roof stayed. That's why it's still the old Niles green. But yeah, the new board picked out new paint colors to try to make the Snackshack pop, to try to get more people to come see it. But yeah, I mean.

Andrew C:

It's a very bright blue.

Worker:

Yes, it's a lot of work. We're glad to do the work, and you know, and put time and everything back into. My kids came through here and are both out of here and now playing high school sports, so it's nice to come back and do stuff for the next generation coming through.

Andrew C:

You are listening to episode 104 of the Fremont podcast.

Gary Williams:

Now here's your host, Ricky B.

Ricky B:

I am privileged to be joined by Mike Wallace of the Fremont Bank here in Fremont. When I first started the podcast, I thought it would be really cool to have a representative of the Fremont Bank on the podcast, because we have similar names the Fremont podcast and Fremont Bank. So, mike Wallace, good to have you on the podcast. Thanks for joining me today, thank you. Thank you for having me. Yeah, so you are the current chairman of the board. And then you said you were CEO and president of the bank for a little while. Yes, okay, okay. And how long were you CEO and president?

Matt Wallace:

Approximately five years Okay.

Ricky B:

Okay, and how long have you worked for the bank? 50 years, wow, wow, that's awesome. So we're sitting in a pretty cool room on Niles Boulevard and this is part of the bank building that's been here for a while. How long has Fremont Bank been in this location here?

Matt Wallace:

I think that I acquired this from Lloyd's Bank somewhere in the 1980s oh, okay, and they were relocating to Bisseo Padres someplace, okay, and we operated it as a regular bank branch at that time.

Ricky B:

Okay, very cool, and now it's primarily offices.

Matt Wallace:

Yeah, at the present time, because we're building our new headquarters building, many of our staff have relocated here, but once the building is completed, we will transfer back to the headquarters building and return this not to a branch but to an entertainment facility, which is what we used it for from probably the last 20, 25 years. Wow.

Ricky B:

So a lot of people who've been around here for a good bit would remember this as being a more of an entertainment facility then.

Matt Wallace:

Yes.

Andrew C:

Cool, that's cool.

Ricky B:

So I want to go back a little bit in your history. We'll talk more about the bank in a minute, but this is a pretty cool room that we're recording in and you've got some cool memorabilia up and I'm sitting on a couch with a Packers Throw on it.

Gary Williams:

No.

Worker:

I'm a.

Ricky B:

Packers Fan with a Steelers Throw. I almost threw some insults your way there. So if you're a Steelers Fan, you must not be from around this area. Where did you?

Matt Wallace:

grow up. I grew up in a steel town 20 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, called Alequipa Pennsylvania.

Ricky B:

Oh, very cool. And then what was the journey that brought you out to Fremont? How did you get out here?

Matt Wallace:

Well, once I graduated from high school, I went to college at Ohio State, which is about a four-hour drive from my hometown, not too far away, yeah.

Ricky B:

That's cool. And you went to Ohio State, and then how did you get here?

Matt Wallace:

Well, during the Vietnam War, I decided that I was going to participate in ROTC, because I figured that if I was going to go into the military, I wanted to be an officer, and so that's what I did. I participated in ROTC when I graduated in 1970, I was commissioned at the same time Wow.

Ricky B:

And so then you were served in the military for a little while. Yeah, for two years, okay, for two years. And then how did you get out here? Did you get transferred out this way?

Matt Wallace:

No, when I was in the military, I was assigned to Okinawa, japan, okay, and in Japan, after being there approximately a year, I got a new roommate in the officer's quarter whose name was Allen Hyman, whose father, morris Hyman, was the founder of Fremont Bay.

Ricky B:

Oh, okay, so you got connected through a friend in the military.

Matt Wallace:

Yeah, and since I was there a year before he got there, I left and he was still there and he made arrangements for me to meet his parents. He said he thought his parents would like me. And so everybody in Southeast Asia when they get out of the Army, they get out at the Oakland Army Base. I don't know if the Oakland Army Base is still there, but that's where it was then. And so I got out of the Army at the Oakland Army Base. Allen's mom, Al Verda, picked me up in her convertible Mercedes and gave me the keys and I drove it down to Fremont in about 10 minutes Because nobody on the freeway. Wow, you know, after being bottled up in Okinawa for a couple of years, see where you can only drive 35 miles an hour driving 120 was pretty good.

Ricky B:

That's awesome. So you came out here, got to know was it Allen's family.

Matt Wallace:

Yeah, allen's family Al Verda, she and the Morris Hyman's assistant, gloria Furness. They took me around, showed me all the sights, and I haven't even been back to places like Stinson Beach and Mount Tamapias and places that they took me to and Morris was out of town. But then he finally came back into town and we met and chatted and he wanted to know what I was going to do with my career and I told him I was going to want to become a lawyer and go back to either Ohio State or University of Pittsburgh one of the two and so he said well, you might want to think about that before you just jump into it. Why don't we go up and talk to his ex? Morris was a practiced law himself, particularly water law, but he wanted me to speak to his ex-law partner, who his name was, leo Kanowitz, who decided to quit practicing law himself and get in education. So he became a dean at the Hastings Law School in San Francisco. So Morris took me up to meet Leo and we chatted and Leo asked me why I wanted to become a lawyer. Did I want to right any wrongs or cure injustice? And I said no, I just wanted to make money and I wanted to get into corporate law. I didn't really want anything to do with any of that. So he said well, you're not going to be happy because I left a legal profession. And look at Morris, he's in banking. He's not in legal profession anymore. There's so many lawyers I know that are miserable and you want to make money, why don't you do it directly instead of indirectly in getting the banking business? So I didn't even know how to spell bank if you spotted me with a BAN. So Morris said listen, why don't you go back home and talk to your folks and see what course you want to take, and we'll give you your fare air flight back to California and set you up as a management trainee at the bank if you decide that. So I went back and talked to my folks at the time. Well, the town I grew up in was a big steel town, employed the steel mill there was seven miles long along the Ohio River, employed 16,000 men that my father had helped to unionize in the 30s. And because of his role I was, the company hated me, hated my father, hated anybody related to my father. Oh, my goodness, wow. And so there wasn't really any future for me staying there. Today there's no steel mill there anymore. Of course it lost all the jobs. All the steel industry is gone from that area, which in a way environmentally is really nice. When I grew up it was so horrible. Oh yeah, I can imagine Three shifts a day, eight hour shifts, 24 hours, seven, 24, pumping soot all over the place. It just was. I'm amazed that I lived this long Today. I grew up in that Right. Yeah, but I still go back. I have a home there. I go back five, six times a year and I enjoy. The people are the greatest people on earth and I just enjoy going back there. That's great. I'm going back there next week.

Ricky B:

That's awesome, yeah, hope to see some snow. Yeah, yeah. Well, I've been hearing they've gotten some good, a good amount of weather recently, so it'll probably be some other way.

Matt Wallace:

Yeah, yeah, I hope so.

Ricky B:

We'll be right back. You can hear the rest of this conversation in just a minute.

Worker:

Ah, that was a really good one. That was Try and do that one again.

Ricky B:

We'll be right back. You can hear the rest of this conversation in just a moment.

Andrew C:

One of the problems with shopping online, especially for books, is that the algorithm will give you what you want. I find it difficult to believe that people who enjoy reading only want to read and know about the two or three things that they already know that they like. When you go into a bookshop, especially a well run, independent, local bookshop, you are going to encounter books, subjects, authors that you had no idea existed. Go to Bantor Bookshop, look around on the shelves, find the things that you want and all the things you didn't know you wanted.

Ricky B:

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Matt Wallace:

Yeah, you know you're not really gonna have any future here. You got a big X on your forehead and why don't you do it? You have nothing to lose. You're gonna see what it's like, and I mean growing up back there. As I said, environmentally it was, I mean, horrible. If you wanted to look at the stars at night, you just had to look straight up because the horizon was red from the blast furnaces. Wow, that's crazy, it was pretty bad, pretty bad, so here was pretty nice. Also, when I was in Okinawa, besides meeting Alan, which was, like I said, a year after I got there, I met my wife the second day I was there.

Ricky B:

In Okinawa.

Worker:

In Okinawa, in the officer's quarters.

Matt Wallace:

So my life was pretty much set, yeah, in that island. And it's interesting because during World War II my uncle fought in a battle of Okinawa and in his platoon, which has 40 men, only himself and another friend of his survived that battle. So I was there on the day when the United States gave Okinawa back to Japan and my wife's father was on the stage because he was the interpreter, the main interpreter for the Japanese government. He worked for the US Department of Defense, but he was the main interpreter.

Worker:

So here.

Matt Wallace:

I am sitting there watching the reversion of the island that my uncle took, wow, took and-. That's crazy.

Ricky B:

Yeah, it was crazy. Wow, that's quite a connection.

Matt Wallace:

I mean that's a storyline that's quite interesting yeah.

Ricky B:

So then you guys came here and you started working in training, becoming a manager.

Matt Wallace:

Yeah, I was a management trainee and Morris wanted me to go around and write procedural manuals of everything. That was every department what they were doing. And it was interesting because I would talk to the people who were doing the work and they would tell me what they were doing. Then I would compare it with the managers who were responsible and they had a completely different story about what they were doing. So over the course of time I shared all of this with Morris and we really never published this procedural book, but it certainly helped me understand all the aspects of the bank, which I did that for maybe nine months a year. And then Morris wanted me to get a master's in business, so they arranged for me to go to Santa Clara to get a master's in business which I thought was pretty cool, because Santa Clara's colors are scarlet and gray and Ohio State is scarlet and gray.

Ricky B:

You have to change much of your wardrobe.

Matt Wallace:

You have to change my wardrobe.

Ricky B:

That's awesome, very good. So tell me a little bit about the history of the Fremont Bank, because obviously you came into it after had already been started, but you got to know the Hyman family pretty well.

Matt Wallace:

Oh yeah, I mean my wife and myself, we pretty much we didn't know anybody in Fremont. They were the only folks that we knew, so we were there at their house almost every day and we had dinners there three, four times a week and we were very close and Morris and I would sit around and discuss the bank almost every evening and it was a lot of fun. He was a wonderful mentor and just a great person and a great businessman and very fair with everybody. That's awesome.

Ricky B:

So yeah, yeah. How did the bank start? Like, what was it for him?

Matt Wallace:

Well Morris was, as I said, he was an attorney, he was practicing water law. He didn't want to be involved with the day-to-day operations of the bank, he just wanted a local bank because where he his history was back in the South. He was born in Shreveport, louisiana, and met his wife, alberta, and Natchez because his dad and himself they moved to Natchez. His father was in the road construction business and he got really hurt financially from the banks in Natchez oh, interesting, pulled the rugs out from under him. And so Morris always wanted to really have a bank that was really supportive of local people and businesses. And so he wanted to have a bank. Just because of his history about how his father got messed up by the banks in Natchez Mississippi, and I always told him, I always skidded with him, I said, you know, morris, it's a great thing that you started a bank and it's a really great thing that you started it in Fremont rather than Natchez Mississippi, because look what this area has grown to.

Ricky B:

Oh yeah, and I've actually been to Natchez Mississippi so I know that area. I have some friends that live there, so I know that area and this is. I would definitely rather have a bank here than there.

Matt Wallace:

Yeah, yeah, from his law practice he knew folks with money to invest. One of the principal fellas that was highly respected was Judge Charesma, who's a Portuguese fella, and the Portuguese people, mostly farmers. They had money to invest and they thought of Judge Charesma, not only of the judge in the here and now, but the judge in the here after. And if he told them to invest, they would invest. So many local farmers, portuguese, italians folks were the primary investors early on with the bank. That's interesting. And Morris, he hired some bankers who were lifelong bankers, like with Bank of California or the different banks, and they were retiring and you would have expected them to make good decisions. And this was in 1964. But by 1969, the cumulative decision making was very poor and the bank was really needing another capitalization. And that time Morris had come to know a fella who was from San Leandro and through democratic politics so Morris was very big in democratic politics and so he met this fella named Jack Brooks who was a developer and he had a company called Singer Housing which later became Citation, and they were friends and so he convinced them to invest in the bank, to pretty much shore up its capital base. And I think the arrangement probably was Morris said well, I will quit my practice of law and I'll go and work in the banking business. Now, at this time in 1973, when I got out of the military, I didn't know any of this history. I didn't know that Morris didn't become a banker because he wanted to. He became a banker because he had to. But at that time there had to be 30, 40 financial institutions. If you added up banks and savings and loans in our Tri-City area that we would have to compete against and we were very small. We had three branches at that time.

Ricky B:

Yeah, and I was gonna say Fremont. If you guys started in the early 60s, fremont had only been a city for an official city, I guess for about 10 years at that time.

Matt Wallace:

I think about seven, seven years. Okay, wow, yeah, wow.

Ricky B:

And so Fremont Bank. They continued on, they persisted. Right, you came in there and you said they needed some more capitalization. What were some of the milestones along the way that the Fremont Bank had to go through?

Matt Wallace:

Well, we were fortunate to be in this community because, as the community grew, our customer base grew and we had plenty of lending opportunities. And the main thing was we didn't have a big kind of dividend policy for the stockholders. Okay, so all the earnings that we had didn't go back out to the shareholders, they just funded more and more growth. Okay and so and that was a key thing because the regulators require a certain amount of earnings capital ratio to support the amount of growth that you have. Okay, and had those been distributed, we wouldn't have been able to continue to grow like we were growing with the communities grow yeah yeah, and so that was very important. And the community. As I said, there were 40 different financial institutions Right At that time the banks that focused on folks with high. First of all, there were not a lot of folks with high net worth.

Worker:

Okay.

Matt Wallace:

And there weren't a lot of big businesses. It's basically a bedroom community, yeah, and so those folks that were desirable from a banking perspective, like professionals, like accountants, doctors, lawyers, you know, architects there were all these banks that were going after a relatively small number, so he couldn't really make any money. That's right. And first it wasn't that many of them anyway, so we were basically at that time a consumer type lender a lot of car loans and car leases and at that time home loans were pretty much the purview of savings and loan institutions and banks didn't do much of that. The boards wanted our bank to do home loans Okay, and so he met some folks that had history of making loans. You don't. If you want to survive as a bank, you don't make fixed rate, 30 year fixed rate loans and keep them on your books Right, Because rates will go up and then you're underwater with them. So you have to know how to make the loans and sell them to different governmental entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and then you sell them. If you sell them at 7%, the Fannie Mae gets six and three quarters. You keep a quarter to service that, oh interesting. So he wanted to build a servicing portfolio. So my ex-rubemate, my buddy, alan he gets out of the service after a year. He was kind of like figuring out what he wanted to do. And then he spent some time teaching accounting at Oloni and he came on board and there was two experienced mortgage guys. They pretty much trained Alan and then Alan became responsible for growing the mortgage banking operation of the bank.

Worker:

So the bank has.

Matt Wallace:

Unlike many community banks, it has two very distinct and important divisions. One is a commercial banking division, which is just like any commercial bank anywhere, and the other is a mortgage bank that makes mortgages, loans, and with the goal of selling most of those to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, other. So, even though the bank has grown to like five and a half billion in assets, at one point we were servicing over $9 billion in loans that we had made and continued to service and have the relationship with those customers. Wow, wow.

Ricky B:

Are the majority of those customers in the real estate part of the bank? Are they in free-moderate this general area then, or is it broader than that?

Matt Wallace:

Well, at first it was just that it was just in the well. Then we expanded into the up to 680 quarter and all the way up to Walnut Creek and into San Jose, and so we're in Oakland and San Francisco and Mountain View. But what we found was there was opportunity to do business statewide through a network of wholesale mortgage brokers where we could acquire the loans and sell them to Fannie Mae and Freddie.

Gary Williams:

Mac.

Matt Wallace:

So, beginning maybe five, six years ago, we started doing a lot of business statewide, in addition to the Bay Area, along the coastal areas of Southern California.

Ricky B:

Wow, so you've got the two different divisions, you've got the real estate side, you've got just your commercial bank side. How many branches do you have?

Matt Wallace:

I always forget. I think it's around 21. We really don't need that many, as we did at one time because habits of people have changed so much to do electronic banking and so the bank branches now are pretty much kind of like migrating toward being a service facility that basically they are to assist people in how to use the technology and open accounts and do different still. I think it's important for some of the lending transactions to have a branch and we do a lot of business and wealth management, investment advice and trust business which initially took many years to become profitable because there just wasn't a lot of wealth in this area, but over the last 15 years there's been a huge increase in the wealth and demand for trust services and investment services is increasing exponentially.

Ricky B:

So how have you found the adjustment to be, or what are some of the challenges that you've had to work through to both adjust to the changes that have happened in our community as well? As you reference the fact that a lot of banking is being done online now and people just don't have the habit of going into brick and mortar banks, how are you guys finding that adjustment for your purposes?

Matt Wallace:

Well, I mean, you just embrace it. I think it's fun and in terms of the community makeup, our community in the Tri-City area here is one of the most ethnically diverse in the United States. In fact, I was telling a friend of mine that was visiting me from my hometown in Pennsylvania let's walk around Lake Elizabeth and let's do a test here and I'll bet you that nine out of 10 of the people that we walk past or they're walking toward us are speaking a different language and don't look like us at all. Right, and it was we were counting and it had to be like 96% of that. So we've embraced the different cultures and as the groups. One of the fun things that Alan and I did this was right around the time of 2000,. The big worry about the computers blowing up and all that. We went to India, that's right.

Ricky B:

Y2K yeah.

Matt Wallace:

Y2K we went to India because we could see that the Indian population in Fremont was growing and we had many really good loyal Indo-American customers so we thought it'd be really cool to go there. So we went there with one of our customers and traveled all around through Delhi, downtown Goa to Mumbai and Udupur Jaypur was a sister city of. Fremont at the time and really it was. I think it was very important and there was a newspaper still might be around called the India Post that had publicized our journey and it was really kind of cool.

Ricky B:

That's cool. Yeah, actually we were talking about the listener base of the Fremont podcast a while ago and the majority of our listeners come from this Tri-City area. But when you look at it the nations that are listening to the podcast we have actually a good strong percentage of people listening to India. So I say strong percentage, I mean I'm talking like one or two percent, but I think they're the second most. It's the country that's listening to the second most out of the you know, next to the United States. So I don't know if that's just connection to people who live here and go back or they have relatives that are connected to people that live here that are listening. I don't know.

Matt Wallace:

Yeah, I think it's interesting because I would sit around and have a beer with some of our customers and we would get to talking and I would be telling them you know that I was going back to Pennsylvania to visit my friends and I, like I said, I go back there maybe five or six times a year, but they would say, well, I'm going back to India. In fact, a real good buddy of mine, dr Ash Jane, he goes there regularly. His mom is still there, and another fellow that I know quite well, dr Jacob Beepen, who's on the Washington Hospital Board with myself. He was in New Year's he was sending me pictures from Kerala in Southern India, and I was in Madeira and Portugal to watch the fireworks.

Ricky B:

That's cool.

Matt Wallace:

And he was with Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, so he was one up in me about that's hilarious. Yeah, that's awesome. I was with Cristiano Ronaldo, so I think I up, I think, I up him.

Ricky B:

There you go, there you go. That's awesome. That's really funny. Well, you mentioned that you're on the board at the Washington Hospital. You've been on the board there for a little while, yeah, since 1990. Okay, wow. And then are you involved in any other organizations like that in the city of Fremont?

Matt Wallace:

or in Ontario, not anymore. I mean, I have been like was one time on the board of the Fremont Philharmonic.

Gary Williams:

Oh, okay.

Matt Wallace:

So we still support the. Now it's grown to be the, I think the East Bay or the.

Ricky B:

Bay film. Yeah, we had them on the. We had one of the producers and then the conductor on the podcast a little while ago.

Matt Wallace:

Yeah, I was. I was the chair of the Commercial Industrial Development Commission, which was just a yeah, a organization to try to encourage more commercial industrial relocation. To, you know, to this Fremont, particularly the industrial areas of Fremont. I did that for a while, but Hello Fremont, we like making this podcast.

Andrew C:

We're glad it exists. Like that's it. We like that. It is a thing that exists. We think it is a good thing that is routinely added into the community, week by week, based on the listeners, the numbers that we can see behind all our fancy online charts and graphs and such. It looks like you all think the podcast is a good thing. It seems like you also want it around and that you want it to exist. If you like the podcast and would like it to exist in the community, please consider supporting the podcast financially. Please consider becoming a supporting member, signing up for the reoccurring support option on the website listed in the show notes of this episode. I'll also tell you the website in a second. If you are able to support us making this show, please do. We would like to keep making it. You can support us on a reoccurring basis at BuyMeacoffeecom. Slash the Fremont podcast. Thank you.

Matt Wallace:

Now, aside from the bank and the hospital, now I do spend time. We have a foundation named after Morris Hyman, Morris Memorial Foundation. We have different events to raise money. We give money to two things which I think were dear to Morris as well was helping poor children, which that was me, and poor children and poor elderly adults, and so we raise money through golf tournaments and through. We have a big Christmas kickoff lunch at Massimo's with about 100 guys that go to that. We raise money in both of those things and we give it to those kinds of charities that do that kind of work. That's great yeah.

Ricky B:

So, for those of us who didn't know Morris, what are some of the things that? How do you remember him and how do you think he ought to be remembered in the community?

Matt Wallace:

Well, he cared deeply about people and because of that history that I told you about how he was wronged by the bank. So there used to always be a saying listen, if Morris is going to offer you something, it's that offer is, and then you turn it down. The next offer is not going to be as good, that's right.

Ricky B:

Yeah.

Matt Wallace:

Because he was very fair to everyone and cared about the employees of the bank. We have an employee stock ownership plan that we established in 1975. That copied off of the one that Safeway had back in the 70s. He had a friend that was with a major law firm in San Francisco that helped us establish it. So over the course of the years, the ESOP the Employee Stock Ownership Plan now owns nearly 20% of the bank. Wow, Wow, and they always. They have every reason to think like an owner when they're dealing with customers, because they are. That's great Wow.

Ricky B:

That's cool when you think about the involvement I was going to say. When I have visited events or just different fundraisers that have taken place around the city, I always hear the Fremont Bank name being mentioned as a sponsor and involved. So it seems like I mean you have that employee ownership part of it, but I feel like you guys really just make a lot of effort to be involved in the things that are going on around the city.

Matt Wallace:

Yeah, it's an art DNA, both Morris and Alberta. Alberta was from Louisiana too. They were both from that great state and they truly were advocates of sharing what they had. So whenever we do things, fundamental to what we do is we share what we have with the community. Yeah, that's right, that's cool.

Ricky B:

So you guys are going to have the biggest building in Fremont pretty soon. I think I mean it's going up Right, and so tell me a little bit about that. What was the vision behind that building and what's the plan and the hope for that space?

Matt Wallace:

I told you I was in India, right.

Worker:

Right, I went to see the Taj Mahal.

Matt Wallace:

Oh, okay, and it's marvelous. I mean it is. It's just a beautiful, beautiful sight to see and a thrilling experience. But the tour guide was with us basically said you know, it took 20 years at least 20 years to build it. And I go how could something take 20 years to be built? You know, that's beyond my understanding. And so he asked me about the headquarters. We started a project in 2014. Wow, so, we're about halfway away to build the Taj.

Worker:

Mahal To build the Taj Mahal.

Matt Wallace:

It's just well. Of course, covid didn't help at all. But back around, you know, a little bit, before 2014, the city of Fremont approached me and they had a vision for their downtown which was extending Capitol Avenue from where it is up toward the hospital all the way to the hub. Now, this was very interesting because when I came to Fremont, morris was upset that Morris and a doctor friend of his named Ralph Alperin actually controlled a lot of the property between where the shopping center is, where the hospital is was the Capwells building and the hub, and what he wanted to do was make Capitol Avenue the main business strike all the way, putting major national tenants on each end, the hub and at the Capwells that was his vision back when. Back in the 70s early 70s when I came to Fremont and the city of Fremont just didn't go along with that for one reason or another. It upset it. One of the things that upset him the most about the vision of the city of Fremont and what really threw him for a loop was when they built the city bank building right on what Capitol Avenue would have been extended to, so it was blocking anything for that ever happening. So around 2013, some of the city people came to talk to me about. We think that we would like to condemn the city bank building and knock it down and extend Capitol all the way, because this is our vision. They shared the vision of the high density townhouses, condominiums and apartments, a more of an urban feel to it, not so much cars but bikes and walking, and then a strip of retail going up and down Capitol and I said, well, yeah, that's good. I think at that time our building was nearly 50 years old, but it was not efficient, it was tired, it needed a lot of work when you say our building, which building are you?

Ricky B:

The bank building? Which one? Was that this one? No, no, no, the headquarters. Okay, the headquarters, the headquarters across from the hub.

Matt Wallace:

Okay, got you. And so the city folks said look, we need a street in back of your bank, which is where the nations was.

Worker:

We need a street.

Matt Wallace:

But we don't have any use for the city bank property. Why don't we swap properties which give us the land so that we can build our streets in back of your building? We'll give you the property along Capitol, and it was much more property along Capitol than we were given up, which, the property we were given up, we weren't ever going to use anyway, so we made that trade and I got to thinking about well, how are we going to fit in with this new development, which we had a tired old building. So I started thinking about all right, wouldn't it be a good thing to modernize and build a new building? And then started thinking about well, should we? We had about two acres and I thought, well, we don't really really need two acres. So it came to that we ended up selling the vast majority of that property to a developer of apartments, retaining the corner to build our headquarters building.

Worker:

And, like I said, given one problem after another it's taken a long time and COVID didn't help with any of this and and then the supply chain.

Matt Wallace:

and anybody that's been in the construction business knows how difficult it is.

Ricky B:

The prices on materials have gone up and down all over the place. It's all over the place.

Matt Wallace:

And so finally, I think we're getting close to the end and hopefully in March sometime this year, on our 60th anniversary, we'll have a brand new building and it's iconic, it's really cool. We'll have the boardroom on the top of the building, which we call at the boardroom. We only have one board meeting a month, so it's basically going to be used. The top of the building is going to be used for entertaining facilities. We have in the wall TVs and kitchen, and it's going to be just a big entertainment facility?

Ricky B:

Yeah, that's awesome. Is it going to be something that people will be able to rent out, or is it primarily stuff that you're going to be doing for your entertainment?

Matt Wallace:

Yeah, no, we won't rent it out. We never rented out our facility here. It's just things that we use to entertain our customers and our prospective customers.

Ricky B:

Every time I drive by it I'm thinking man, there's a new change. I think they got the sign up there a little while ago and so you can see that sign up front and it's a beautiful building.

Matt Wallace:

Yeah, what's really cool is those fins that we have on the building. We've made it so that, let's say, the Niners win, that building will be all red and gold oh, that's cool. And anytime anything, the Warriors will ever win again. That's cool.

Ricky B:

It'll be blue and gold. That's really really cool. Yeah, wow, wow. I think it's going to be a great space. I think it certainly sets off the entrance to Capitol Avenue in a great way and especially being on the corner of Fremont and Capitol, I think it's going to be a really cool space.

Matt Wallace:

Yeah.

Ricky B:

Yeah, I was a little skeptical when I started seeing everything going up along Capitol there. I love the districts. I love downtown Niles. I lived in the Irvington area for a while. I love that corner on Washington and Fremont and I felt like these and Centerville, you know, and Mission, San Jose, I love all these little smaller communities and so when they started building stuff there and on Capitol I was a little skeptical as it being a place that would take off and really kind of capture the attention of the city of Fremont. Yeah, I'm interested to see how things develop over the next few years.

Matt Wallace:

It's kind of like the beauty of living in California, in the Bay Area. It's such a great place to live, you have options and there's no way you will ever replicate the charm of Niles. Yeah, that's right, I mean it's just cool, but it's very different from the more modern part of Centerville, which is where the new building is going to be, and completely different from Warm Springs or Mission San Jose. They have their own great things about them, and you could experience all of those different things all the time.

Ricky B:

Let me ask you this For people who are new to Fremont or new to the Bay Area and they're looking for a bank to work with, what are some of the things that you feel set? You set Fremont I mean, we've talked about a lot of it. The history, I think, speaks for itself and you shared a lot of that already but what are some of the things that sets you apart from some of the other banks in the area that might interest them in becoming a client or a customer at the Fremont bank?

Matt Wallace:

I think, local decision making access. I mean, we have the technology tools that the big banks have, but the big banks have no local decision making authority whatsoever. And so when you deal with our bank, we have people that you have people that you could talk to to get stuff done. Time is very important to everybody. The older I get, the more time is more precious than ever. And so just be able to fix stuff. It's no surprise that in the banking business there's going to be a problem.

Gary Williams:

There's going to be a mistake. There's going to be an upset.

Matt Wallace:

And the ability to fix that timely is really important. So we know that things are going to go haywire and our job is to fix them right away when it happens.

Ricky B:

Is there anything else coming up in the future for the bank? I know the building is the big thing, the Taj Mahal right. Is there anything else coming up that you guys are looking forward to?

Matt Wallace:

Just really just continuing to grow the various businesses that we're in Looking forward to having the different departments come into the new headquarters building. We're going to have the trust and investment services there and, as I said, that's becoming more and more important to the bank and I think that we're going to have the mortgage banking folks there also and I think that, given what I'm looking at in the economy, of course, there are folks that have loan rates less than 3% but there are also more and more that have home equity lines of credit that are like 9.5%, that even though they're married with a low rate first, their overall rate is quite high. So I think rates are going to start trending down and there'll be more refinancing activity going on. So I think this year we're going to be pretty much firing on many cylinders. The commercial banking side of the business is taking advantage of the fact that Silicon Valley Bank disappeared. First Republic blew up. We are acquiring a lot of new First Republic customers because they don't like the service that they're getting. That commercial part of our bank is very similar to what First Republic did with private banking type of activities which is what we do on that aspect of the bank, and so we've been very successful in acquiring First Republic customers. We've been very successful in acquiring Bank of the West customers who Bank of the West got acquired by Bank of Montreal and those folks are used to a level of service that they're not seeing. So we're fortunate to be here and be able to continue to acquire those types of customers, and that's great.

Ricky B:

That's great, well, very good. I think that if people wanted to know more about the bank, they could probably just drive down and find a branch locally, but if they wanted to find out more, you guys have your website, freemobbankcom, and we'll put that in the show notes. What are your plans? You were the CEO president. You're on the board now. Do you have any other plans for you in the?

Matt Wallace:

near future here. Well, I tell everybody I don't want to be part of my wife's org chart, so I'm going to just hang out over here. Seriously, I don't know how to fix anything. I mean, now that I know that you have some electrical experience with me and I'll be able to fix something that goes hey wire, I love what I do. I love the people that you know, the customers. I don't do that much day to day. I get involved with large loans or, you know, sometimes dealing with regulators from technology. I'm a caveman when it comes to technology. I have so many people that help me with technology. It's embarrassing, but I think it's just really focusing on big pictures things and working with the senior management and looking at ways to grow and continue to focus on the employee ownership and retention of great employees, recruiting new people, new customers new staff.

Ricky B:

That's great. That's great. Well, thank you so much for joining me on this episode and thanks for the conversation. I look forward to seeing more of what Fremont Bank does and hopefully get to see you around a little bit more in the community. Maybe we'll cross paths again.

Matt Wallace:

Okay, thank you, ricky.

Gary Williams:

This episode was hosted and produced by Ricky B. I'm Gary Williams. Andrew Kovett is the editor. Scheduling and pre interviews by Sarah S. Your reviews help other people find this podcast. If you would please leave a review on iTunes. Be sure to subscribe wherever it is that you listen so you don't miss an episode. You can find everything we make the podcast and all of our social media links at thefremontpodcastcom. Join us next week on the Fremont podcast.

Worker:

This is a Muggins Media podcast.

The Story of Fremont Bank
Fremont Bank's History and Growth
Exploring India and Community Support
Fremont Bank's New HQ and Community Involvement