Women Who Mean Business honoree: ​Virginia Varela

Virginia Varela is the president and CEO of Golden Pacific Bank. Virginia Varela has little patience for the topic of work-...



Virginia Varela is the president and CEO of Golden Pacific Bank.

Virginia Varela has little patience for the topic of work-life balance. “It makes me want to throw up,” she said.

Varela is president and CEO of Golden Pacific Bank, the area’s smallest locally based bank with $130 million in assets. She loves working hard. Then she unwinds by working some more. It’s not the concept of balancing work and home life that bugs her, it’s the assumptions that too often underlie the conversation.

“It’s always assumed that if you are a woman, you have babies and take care of the household,” she said. In her house, it’s her husband who takes care of things.

Varela takes care of banks. After a career as a bank regulator for agencies in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., she has made a second career as a turnaround artist at small local banks.

She started out with the Federal Home Loan Bank Board during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. She has spoken at congressional briefings, helped write the handbook for examiners across the nation, and was part of the Hurricane Katrina task force. She also did international consulting, helping Egypt, Libya and Russia with their bank examination and supervision departments.

Varela ended the regulatory part of her career at the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco under Janet Yellen, who’s now board chairwoman of the Federal Reserve System.

“I’ve seen management and supervision of all kinds of banks and financial institutions,” Varela said. “I had a bird’s-eye view of what seemed to work and what didn’t.”

Then Varela embarked on her second career: turning around small local banks. She’s done it in San Luis Obispo, Rio Vista and now Sacramento.

“When we realized that we had some serious problems, we knew we had to recruit a new CEO,” said Jeanne McCormack, a major shareholder and former board chairwoman at Bank of Rio Vista. Varela got the job and proceeded to reorganize the management structure, strengthen the compliance department, and put the bank’s technology on par with its competitors.

She also had to deal with the very traditional family members that owned the bank.

“This was a patriarchal family, and she was a beautiful sophisticated woman coming in and telling everyone what to do,” McCormack said. “And she fit right into this rural, unsophisticated setting.”

Sacramento is a bit larger and more sophisticated, but Varela’s work at Golden Pacific Bank involved a similar approach. After joining the bank in September 2013, she reduced the number of brances from seven to three. She cut staff. And she narrowed the bank’s focus to small-business loans and services.

“I tried to be respectful of people,” Varela said. “If you have a company that’s poorly run, you generally have morale that’s poor. If you have a successful company, you create a better job environment. My goal is to provide jobs that are meaningful and also teach people in a way that they will always be employable.”

The bank reported a loss of $1.36 million in 2014. The next year, the loss was contained to $114,000. And in 2016, the bank reported a net income of $615,000.

The staff at Golden Pacific understood the rationale behind the changes, said board vice chairman Rick Fowler, who’s also chief operating officer of law firm Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard.

“An important part of leadership is caring about your mission and your people. And she is good at it,” Fowler said.

Although Varela is a board member of the California Bankers Association and is active with the American Bankers Association, her real enjoyment comes from approving small-business loans.

It’s a thrill, she said, to give a loan to kids with nose rings who are opening a coffee shop. “When I was a kid I really thought I would do something faith based, or a nonprofit, because I’m drawn to the spiritual side of life,” Varela said. “It’s interesting that I would find that in banking.”

Sacramento Business Journal: 2017 Women Who Mean Business with Virginia Varela

Age: 57

Education: B.A. in English literature, B.S. in economics, UC Santa Cruz; MBA, Monterey Institute of International Studies

Family: Lives in Sacramento with husband Malcolm Hotchkiss and four stepchildren

First job: “I worked as a receptionist and got fired because I couldn’t figure out how to use their phone.”

Advice to younger women: “Don’t be afraid to be courageous and speak your mind.”

Biggest whoops: “I either have none or too many. I think I was kind of a workaholic, but I don’t know that it’s a bad thing.”

Favorite way to unwind: “I unwind by working. I love to work. I work on the weekends. I love to read about banking. I read regulations like comic books.”

Fantasy career:“ I always wanted to be a Catholic nun. Or a social worker.”

Person you would most like to meet: Eleanor Roosevelt

Something about you that would surprise people: “I’m scared of dogs.”


CBA Conducts Editorial Board Meeting with the Sacramento Bee

Last week the CBA conducted a second editorial board meeting with the Sacramento Bee. The meeting covered a wide range of topics ...


Last week the CBA conducted a second editorial board meeting with the Sacramento Bee. The meeting covered a wide range of topics including the prospects for federal regulatory reform and the CHOICE Act, with a fair amount of time spent discussing the importance of reforming the QM rule.  Also discussed were the challenges associated with banking the cannabis industry, including a conversation about the establishment of a state-run bank, and other state legislative issues were discussed as well, including CBA’s sponsored bill on elder financial abuse, AB 611. These meetings continue to be excellent opportunities for California’s industry leaders to interface with the editorial board staff (those who determine the direction of the newspaper’s opinion page) and discuss issues of concern to the industry and consumers, and communicate the positive role their bank plays in the local community. CBA would like to acknowledge and thank the following bankers who joined us at last week’s meeting: George Cook, El Dorado Savings Bank; Rick Smith, Tri Counties Bank; Virginia Varela, Golden Pacific Bank, and Louise Walker, First Northern Bank.


Starting a Conversation on Bank Rules

No matter what your political stance, there is something that we should be able to agree on, and that is there are too many silly...


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No matter what your political stance, there is something that we should be able to agree on, and that is there are too many silly, outdated and overly restrictive laws affecting community banks and small credit unions, harming small businesses and their access to capital.

The Trump administration’s focus on regulatory burden is the start of a conversation that could lead to a more competitive business environment.

On Jan. 30, President Trump signed an executive order that will require federal agencies to cut two existing regulations for every new regulation they implement. Then on Feb. 3, the president signed an executive order directing a sweeping review of the Dodd-Frank Act, the 2010 law enacted in the wake of the financial crisis that brought the most significant change to financial regulation since the Great Depression. Under this directive, the Treasury Department is required to recommend changes that align with the administration’s goal of easing burdens on the financial industry.

From a banker’s perspective, regulations that are not well thought out can be a great cost in dollars and time. It’s well recognized that regulations, for U.S. community banks and credit unions, are imposing a much heavier regulatory and risk management burden than they were years ago.

There are many examples of regulations working against common sense. New rules affecting mortgages make it more cumbersome for banks and credit unions to offer nonstandard home loans. Regulators require banks to insist that borrowers provide detailed financial information on an annual basis even if borrowers are paying as agreed and are well known bank customers.

Banks spend crazy amounts of money and staff resources to comply with outdated rules that don’t address current threats to the U.S. financial system.

When confronted with too many regulations, managers can lose their ability to focus on serving customers. They take away a community bank’s ability to do what it is supposed to do to support the local economy. As financial institutions become increasingly concerned about compliance and risk management, they devote more time and resources to stave off potential issues, rather than activities to facilitate growth and performance. If the distraction is severe enough, there will be an increased likelihood of bank failures, a matter of concern to shareholders, employees, customers and American taxpayers, who ultimately may be asked to pick up the tab.

To be sure, there is reason to question how the president’s order will play out, with an approach that seems simplistic. I’m not sure there is a perfect two-for-one fit in the complex world of regulations and compliance.

But I strongly believe that there needs to be a deeper consideration of why we are imposing regulations, who they affect and whether regulations are successful in achieving their aims. I agree with former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairwoman Sheila Bair who said in a recent interview that the president should focus on “smart regulation.” There is a need for balanced regulations to protect against risk of a financial crisis such as we experienced in the past decade.

If we can sit at the table for a discussion on scaling back regulations that are inefficient and ineffective, with emphasis on ongoing review of the usefulness of regulations and the administrative structure that governs them, it will be a good thing.

Virginia Varela is CEO of Sacramento-based Golden Pacific Bank.


A Letter from Rikki Shaffer

Dear Virginia, On behalf of the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce board and staff, I would like to extend our appreciation for ...


Dear Virginia,

On behalf of the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce board and staff, I would like to extend our appreciation for the generous support of Golden Pacific Bank (GPB) for the Chamber’s BizWorks program.

It was because the Golden Pacific Bank leadership, board and shareholders were able to see and connect its mission with the vision of the BizWorks program, its value to the Yuba-Sutter community, and its potential impact on the local economy, that we were able to move forward with launching the program in the extraordinary facility now known as the Golden Pacific Bank Business Center.

The Chamber understands the substantial investment and commitment made by GPB when they afforded us this opportunity.

We want to honor that investment and commitment by growing the program to its full potential, and to make the Golden Pacific Bank Business Center and its small business eco-system the standard for other like efforts to strive for.

At just 7 months post launch the program is young yet but we are seeing continual vertical growth and are looking forward to a strong 2017 finish.

Golden Pacific Bank will be honored and recognized as the program sponsor in the Chamber’s new website (scheduled to launch end of February), BizWorks website, print and social media campaigns (currently in development). In addition GPB will have an Oscar level sponsorship at the next Chamber Gala and Champagne level sponsorship at our Taste of Yuba-Sutter (our two flagship events).

We are honored to have you as our partner and supporter. Words are insufficient to express the depth of our gratitude. Thank you for this opportunity.


Rikki L. Shaffer
Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce


Golden Pacific Bank Business Center Ribbon Cutting

The Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce launched its economic development program, Yuba- Sutter BizWorks on May 23, 2016. Funding ...


The Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce launched its economic development program, Yuba- Sutter BizWorks on May 23, 2016. Funding allowed us to secure site; prepare facility, and implement its business development programs.

Program Sponsor, Founding Sponsors and Collaborative Partnerships

Program Sponsor: Golden Pacific Bank
Founding Sponsors:
Sutter Health; Sierra Central Credit Union; US Bank; Families of Flores, Retzloff & Shaffer; Adept Solutions; Comcast Business; 3D Floor Covering

Additional Partnerships: Focus LLC, MarComm Media Group, LLC, Grafix Marketing, Cambridge Jr. College, North Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, SBDC, US SBA, Dept. of Commerce, Sutter County One-Stop, Yuba County One-Stop, Sutter County, City of Yuba City, City of Marysville, Yuba-Sutter EDC, Yuba Community College, Paychex

Incubator/Accelerator & Co-Worker shared spaced successfully launched. SBDC services fully functioning and just added bi-monthly services of the US SBA (operating from our facility). We currently have (3) participants in the incubator/accelerator program, (10) participants in the co- working shared space and (6) organizations in the internal eco-system (onsite).

Success Story: Not long after launching BizWorks a local business owner came to us in tears; it was 4:30 pm and we were a ‘last hope’ stop for them. Their 2nd generation family business was facing foreclosure and they had less than 2 weeks to produce funds to save the business. It grew late into the evening as the situation was assessed and closer to 9:00 pm as calls were placed to our eco-system partners. First call went to the CFO of our financial institution partner, who in turn contacted their CEO, who then woke up their senior loan officer. Arrangements were made for the business owner to meet with the team first thing in the morning. Fast forward two weeks; the business secured $80,000 in financial assistance; the business is in the process of being put in a trust for future generations and the owner is coming back to participate in business planning classes. 14 jobs and a legacy business were saved.

Lessons learned
As we wrap up 2016 a predominant lesson learned is the need to invest even greater efforts in reaching our target market. With the BizWorks program we want to make a significant impact to local entrepreneurs; getting them connected with our start-up support programs as well as those businesses looking for next tier growth. While we made a very satisfactory start we have significant room for growth.

Number of people reach/impacts

  • MeasurableResults:
  • Workshops: (12) - 134 Participants
  • Full Time Jobs Created: 9
  • Full/Part-time Jobs Saved: 14
  • Business Starts: 7
  • Capital Infusion: $1,812,200.00
  • Consulting Hours: 300+ 

Next steps: 2017

  • Expand marketing efforts; expand outreach(reaching out to The Hacker Lab / Sacramento for assistance in marketing strategy)
  • Host Business Plan competition (in partnership with Yuba Community College & Univ. Chico)
  • Launch Phase 2: combination classroom / makerspace
  • Grow and stabilize the incubator/accelerator program(up to 17 participants)
  • Grow and stabilize the coworker and shared space(up to 50 participants)