Joanne Funari first met Eloy Ortega in 1991, when the two financial gurus began working at Santa Barbara’s City Commerce Bank.
Both had just moved their young families to the seaside city, each had a newborn son, and they developed a mutual respect for each other’s banking skills.
Funari, a New York native, left the bank a couple of years later to join Santa Barbara Bank & Trust. She subsequently co-founded Business First Bank alongside Ortega in 2001.
A few years later, Ortega was the one to leave, this time to Los Angeles to start another bank.
Not surprisingly, when Ortega returned to Santa Barbara, he once again called on his friend and trusted colleague for help with his latest venture as CEO of The Bank of Santa Barbara.
“The timing was perfect,” Funari said on a recent afternoon, sitting in the office she settled into last November as The Bank of Santa Barbara’s chief operating officer. “What I love about this is it’s all local. I love Santa Barbara.”
Funari was regional director and president of Business First Bank, a division of Heritage Oaks Bank, when she left last fall for the new job — around the same time San Luis Obispo-based Mission Community Bank announced its intent to acquire Paso Robles-based Heritage Oaks.
The first thing Funari did in the new role was sit down with every employee to learn how the team worked and cared for the financial institution, which became completely locally owned and operated in 2009.
She figured the information would help her improve hiring, infrastructure and strategic planning.
What she found was a level of commitment that nearly elicited tears of joy.
“Everybody is so excited,” Funari said. “It’s a lot of the stuff that I’ve done before but it’s a new dynamic. We’re looking long term.”
The Bank of Santa Barbara has been steadily picking up patrons and establishing a reputation as a truly local institution.
The bank’s downtown offices at 12 E. Figueroa St. are filled with a hodgepodge of handpicked, passionate players from other places, including Santa Barbara Bank &Trust, Business First and Rabobank.
Officials hope to grow the bank beyond its branches downtown and in Goleta, at 5880 Calle Real, expanding to locations near Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, Montecito and Carpinteria in the near future, Funari said.
The bank will shortly be going out for a capital raise for that reason.
Funari’s vision and skills compliment those of Ortega, who said he’s excited for the future with his friend at his side again.
“I think this was a win-win for everybody,” he said. “It gets Joanne back into a true community bank doing what she excels at.”
Funari proudly shared the expansion plans along with pictures of her son, now 23 and somehow a musician as the offspring of a banker and accountant.
She and her husband of 30 years, Carlos Plascencia, are involved in a host of community activities — Funari is a past Old Spanish Days Fiesta La Presidenta — and she will soon become board chairwoman of the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce.
No doubt she’ll go into the new post with the same energy and effort Ortega has banked on all these years.