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Environmental, Social and Governance ("ESG") Practices
A Commitment to Excellence
First Choice Bank is committed to excellence in our environmental, social and governance ("ESG") practices, with our CNG Committee assuming primary oversight of our efforts in ESG matters (Environmental, Social and Governance Policy). We continually assess our practices to ensure we are meeting or exceeding industry standards, as well as seek opportunities to enhance the communities where we operate through corporate giving, employee volunteering, workforce development, participating in the political and public policy process, and environmental sustainability programs. As a result of these efforts, we have been recognized on American Banker's Best Banks to Work For list for three consecutive years, have been showcased in the Western Bankers Association's social impact awareness campaign for our community service mission, and have been awarded the Bank Enterprise Award by the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Fund every year since 2011. In addition, First Choice was recently highlighted in the FDIC publication "Investing in the Future of Mission-Driven Banks" for its Microloan Program and the much-needed support it provides to small and micro-businesses in our local communities (page 21 of the publication).
Investing in our Communities
Community Development Lending
First Choice Bank is focused on supporting entrepreneurs. We work with individuals and local organizations alike to offer lending solutions for both micro and small businesses in our communities, many times helping those who are unable to find financial assistance elsewhere. We are an SBA Preferred Lender, under the federal government's Small Business Administration program, which allows us to offer various loans to help those in our communities start, build and grow their businesses. We have collaborated with several community-based organizations whose mission is to support low-income and distressed communities. In 2018, as part of this collaborative effort, we introduced a micro-loan program to provide start-up funds to small business entrepreneurs in our local neighborhoods. As of December 31, 2019, we have originated 72 micro loans through partnerships with the Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE), Impact Southern California CDC and HAVEN Neighborhood Services. In 2019, we partnered with Clearinghouse CDFI to assist with its directive of offering valuable services and providing needed capital in low-and-moderate-income neighborhoods. These partnerships, and the loans generated from them, have made a tremendous difference in helping local businesses survive and thrive.
In 2019, we received the highest available rating, “Outstanding,” during our Community Reinvestment Act (“CRA”) examination by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco ("FRB"). The regulatory exam reviewed how we meet the credit needs of our communities, including low- and moderate-income ("LMI") neighborhoods, with our "Outstanding" rating achieved through responsive geographic distribution of our loans, as well as by creating jobs through community lending and investments.
Community Development Investments
First Choice Bank Invests Additional $1,500,000 in Clearinghouse CDFI
In December 2020, First Choice Bank made a second investment of $1,500,000 in the Clearinghouse Community Development Financial Institution (Clearinghouse CDFI), with the first investment of $500,000 having been made earlier in the year, in January. The Bank's investments in Clearinghouse CDFI help the organization to fund loans for community projects that have created or retained more than 21,500 jobs and benefit over 1.9 million individuals. Over the past year, Clearinghouse CDFI financed 245 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans totaling $7.5 million to help save small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 90% of these borrowers were low-income and/or lacked adequate access to PPP and included minority-owned and women-owned businesses or businesses located in majority-minority areas. First Choice Bank is proud to support Clearinghouse CDFI in its efforts to assist those most in need in our communities.
We believe strongly in giving back to our communities, through both community service and monetary donations. In addition to the charities and community programs we support through donations, we have a dedicated program that encourages and pays for our employees to volunteer at charitable and volunteer organizations of their choice. Through this program, our directors and employees support such organizations as the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, helping to sort, inspect and package donated food items from stores and local food drives for community members in need; the Ron Finley Project’s Annual Da FUNction Community Fun Fest, providing financial literacy through the LA Saves campaign, a program that seeks to motivate and encourage low- to moderate-income individuals and families to save money; and Junior Achievement of Southern California, offering financial literacy education for students in financially underserved areas within our community. We have also collaborated with the City of Los Angeles to provide financial education to the city’s residents. In addition, our enduring partnerships with NeighborWorks of Orange County, the San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity, Habitat for Humanity - Pomona Valley, Orange County Community Housing Corporation and Joy Youth Services provide housing-related support, both directly and indirectly, in some of the most underserved areas in Southern California.
In addition to volunteering, First Choice Bank provides scholarships to low-income families in the greater Los Angeles area, including students who volunteer with Milal Mission, a nonprofit organization in Santa Fe Springs dedicated to serving individuals with mental and/or physical disabilities and their families; and local graduating high school students who are economically disadvantaged and have demonstrated academic excellence. The Bank also hosts an annual charity golf tournament to raise money for local charities and, in 2019, raised $65,000, which amount was matched by the Much is Given Foundation for a total of $130,000, all of which amount was distributed to 18 non-profit organizations (2019 recipients- ABC Unified School District Education Foundation, Casa Teresa, Caterina's Club, Chinatown Service Center, Chinese Christian Herald Crusades- Rowland Heights, The Entrepreneur Educational Center Inc., Junior Achievement of San Diego County, Kidsingers, Little Tokyo Service Center, Macedonia CDC, Operation Game ON, Orangewood Children’s Home Auxiliary- La Casa, Ronald McDonald House West Los Angeles, San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity, The American Wheat Mission, Union Station Homeless Services, Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA, and Youth Business Alliance).
Going Green In-House
First Choice Bank strives to contribute to global efforts to achieve environmental sustainability. In 2014, we relocated our headquarters location to a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified building, which was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most - energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts. In 2012, the building was awarded LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council and awarded an Energy Star label in 2012 for its operating efficiency. We have also put into place several green initiatives across all our locations over the last few years, including offering separate recycle bins for employees to dispose of their empty cans and bottles; distributing re-usable mugs, water bottles, soup/salad bowls and lunch totes to each of our employees for ongoing use; implementing several paperless technologies, including electronic options for document signings, filing and communication (i.e., email and e-fax), all of which have reduced the amount of paper we use. We also offer an electronic version of our Bank’s newsletter for our customers who also want to “go green” (FCB Newsletters). For the paper we do need to use, we engage a shredding service that offers secure recycling. We have also recently employed new audio and video conference technologies to allow our twelve locations throughout Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties to “meet” without the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that accompany driving between locations.
Going Green Outside
In addition to implementing more environmentally-friendly practices within each of First Choice Bank's locations, we offer and promote the U.S. Small Business Association's ("SBA") 504 green loan program, which provides financing to small businesses looking to grow and expand their operations through replacing or retrofitting existing facilities to include technologies that reduce energy consumption or by upgrading existing equipment and processes to utilize renewable energy sources (solar, wind, turbine, thermal) or renewable fuel producers (biodiesel, ethanol).
Diversity and Inclusion
Strength in Diversity
First Choice Bank believes that diversity encourages innovation and problem-solving, and our team's differences give us a competitive advantage. Our goal is to foster a culture in which those differences are valued and respected. We are proud of our cultural- and gender-diverse workforce, with a majority of our active employees identifying as ethnic minorities (approximately 34% identify as Asian and 32% identify as Hispanic at December 31, 2019), and approximately 66% of our workforce and 43% of our executive management team made up of women. We have achieved this level of diversity and inclusion through concerted efforts to raise awareness about gender roles, religion, disability, ethnicity and sexual orientation and all other characteristics protected by federal, state and local laws, by using formal and mandatory training. We promote the fair inclusion of minorities, women and other protected classes in our workforce by publicizing employment opportunities, creating relationships with minority and women professional organizations and educational institutions, creating a culture that values the contribution of all employees, and encouraging a focus on these objectives when evaluating the performance of managers. In addition, we are certified as a Minority Depository Institution (MDI), as a majority of our Board of Directors are minorities and the communities we serve are comprised predominantly of ethnic minorities.
As our workforce continues to grow, First Choice knows that diversity and inclusion are the keys to ensuring we can continue to best serve our clients. Our focus is to support a culture of acceptance and to provide the necessary tools to all employees to be well-equipped for success, including ongoing diversity and leadership training, policies that support diversity and prohibit discrimination, continual implementation of innovative technology and an emphasis on teamwork. We believe our employees are our best asset, and investing in our people will help them and the Bank to grow and thrive.
Diversity Beyond our Walls
In addition to embracing diversity within our organization, we also recognize the competitive advantage of having a broad selection of available suppliers from which to choose, including women- and minority-owned businesses. Over the last several years, we have increased our outreach to minority-owned and women-owned businesses, including affinity groups representing these constituencies and our prime contractors that employ subcontractors for contract fulfillment. We also utilize metrics to identify a baseline of how much we spend procuring and contracting for goods and services, how much we spend with minority-owned and women-owned businesses, and the availability of relevant minority-owned and women-owned businesses, and use this data to inform future vendor relationships.