New bank targets what big ones miss

For a long time, investment broker Laine Schoneberger says, he watched what seemed to be a steady decline in the number of banks that truly understood the needs of small-business owners.  His requirements weren’t excessive: He merely wanted a bank that would get to know him and be willing to work with him collaboratively on matters of mutual benefit.

He met with branch managers, only to have them replaced a few months later. He switched banks, and then switched again—all to no avail.

“I knew what I wanted in a bank,” he says. “I just didn’t know where to find it.”

So when neighbor David Kline approached him about not only transferring his accounts but joining the board of a new, community-based bank, Schoneberger jumped at the chance.

With an opportunity to help build a banking institution from the ground up, Schoneberger surmised, he might finally be able to eliminate some of the frustrations that had been confronting him for years.

Now, with site selection complete and the search for a president under way, the new bank is closer than ever to reality. Not only will Schoneberger gain a personal relationship with his banker, he says, so will hundreds of other small-business owners.

The newcomer to the local financial scene is Infinity National Bank, scheduled to start construction on McClintock Road just north of Elliot within the next few weeks and be ready open its doors in about a year.

For any who fear that a small, community bank won’t be able to offer the multitude of services available through the larger institutions, Kline says the small banks typically make correspondent agreements with their bigger brothers to ensure a full menu of capabilities.

“These types of agreements allow a community bank to have a footprint exactly like a bigger bank, so that the customer can do business anywhere, any time.”

While the exterior of the new building will follow traditional design parameters, the interior will utilize what Schoneberger calls a customer-centered theme, much different than the conventional bank’s look and feel.

With local staff, management and board members, Schoneberger says, the new bank will help him to achieve a dream of making a contribution to his community.

“This is an opportunity to do something for local business, to put a bank together that is exactly what they need.”

And that, says Schoneberger, is what has been missing in recent years.

He tells the story of a highly successful investment client who had hopes of expanding his business, and who had all of what Schoneberger considered the necessary requisites: a record of sound fiscal management, a history of steady growth, a stable of loyal employees and a physical plant that would be the envy of most small-business owners.

“Even with all that, the bank turned him down for a loan,” Schoneberger said. “If they had just come out and visited, they would have seen the quality of this applicant. But they didn’t even bother to come out and look.”

If Schoneberger’s enthusiasm for a community-based bank seems unique, recent surveys would suggest otherwise. More than 75 percent of those queried said they would be willing to switch to a bank such as Infinity.

Founder Kline, a former materials-science executive with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Illinois, attributes the high number of respondents to the growing disconnect demonstrated by banks in recent years.

“Ninety percent of our deposits (in Arizona) are controlled by out-of-state banks,” he says. And that, he insists, isn’t the kind of relationship most Arizonans want.

What they do want, says Schoneberger, is the same qualities he envisions.

“As people realize we’re for real, that we’re genuinely going to do what we say we will, people will respond favorably.”

Will Infinity Bank be able to live up to its promise? Says Schoneberger:

“There are a lot of dynamic people on the board who will make sure it will.”

Of Infinity’s 14 current board members, a number have Kyrene Corridor roots. Schoneberger and his father Robert operate Campbell-Schoneberger & Associates on Warner Road; Kline, his wife of 17 years and their two children have lived at La Colina and Circle G since 1988.

Other area members are Joyce Longfellow, chief operating officer of her husband’s McClintock Road dental practice; Ron Jones, a pediatrician; Keith Althoff, a Farmers Insurance agent; and Steve Bahr, a Realtor.