City National Bank, with a new head of its signature entertainment banking division for the first time in decades, looks to continue its dominance of financing the various facets of the entertainment industry.
Moving forward, the new executive vice president of the division, JaHan Wang, certainly plans to stick to the bank’s winning formula of serving entertainment business managers. He said he’d also like to shore up its existing work with larger corporate and commercial clients such as production studios, perhaps sensing an opportunity there in a time where live and televised entertainment continues to perform well amidst other economic uncertainties.
“That’s probably where we will see our next level of growth and evolution,” Wang said. “We will still focus on a lot of business manager accounts, but we will try to concentrate more on commercial and corporate clients within the entertainment industry.”
Wang assumed his new role in January, when his predecessor, Martha Henderson, was promoted to vice chair of entertainment banking. Wang joined the bank in 2007 as a credit manager and was previously leading the entertainment division’s East Coast operation.
Henderson, who had led the team since 1989, is credited with making CNB the signature institution for entertainment banking and with growing the division’s team from 16 members to 250.
“His contributions have played an important role in our organization since he joined City National in 2007,” Henderson said of Wang. “He has the client focus and the vision to lead this team as we meet the evolving needs of the entertainment community long into the future.”
“She is a great resource,” Wang said of Henderson, noting that her office was just across the hallway. “Martha has a tremendous well of experience. Her strong suit has always been to do the right thing for our clients. I have been watching and studying her for 17 years to make sure I do the right things. At the end of the day, that’s what this business is all about — taking care of our clients.”
Those clients have been the people whose fingerprints are all over entertainment — people in front of and behind the cameras, as well as those to the side. But that might beg the question: what exactly is different about entertainment banking?
For one, income for those working in TV or on the stage can be sporadic or inconsistent, unlike the steady check many are accustomed to.
“We have definitely developed an expertise and knowledge of the space that is not immediately found in other financial providers,” Wang explained. “In terms of talent, you have individuals who have very sporadic income lots of times. If you don’t understand the industry — if you’re not as well connected as we are — and there’s a potential credit risk from a client, there are a lot of banks that would get very uncomfortable.”
For a client to stick around for 40 years, we’ve got to be doing something right.
City National Bank
Regionally, CNB’s entertainment lenders are intimately familiar with the big industries — stage shows in New York; country music in Nashville; Latin music in Miami and filming studios in Atlanta. The company says it services more than 90 percent of business managers in entertainment overall, more than 80 percent of the country music industry through its Nashville office and more than half of all Broadway shows in New York.
That familiarity with clients’ needs paid off during the Covid-19 pandemic, when restrictions largely shut down live performances and stunted filming — CNB issued nearly 10,000 Paycheck Protection Program loans worth a total of $1.2 billion just through its entertainment division.
“That was a dark time, and I think we were there to show our support,” Wang said.
CNB is of course not immune to economic slowdowns and rising interest rates, which make borrowing money more expensive for clients.
However, the resiliency of entertainment serves as a counterbalance for any downturn in the overall economy, Wang said. Relatedly, CNB plans to ramp up its courting of larger entities, such as production studios, to do business with them.
“One of the benefits of being in entertainment right now is that this is still a great time to be in entertainment,” he explained. “There is a huge demand, especially post-pandemic, for all things entertainment. As we’re watching interest rates, our clients have been resilient. Touring is at pre-pandemic highs. There’s lots of content viewing. We’ve been very good with partnering with clients who are at the front or top of their industries and are the people who can weather a downturn.”
However, it isn’t just about lending money to businesses or projects. Wealth management and financial literacy are also part of the division’s program, which come in handy especially for its clients in professional sports — an industry that seems to set new payroll records each season.
“For athletes, for example, we’re here for them in their professional careers,” Wang said, “but we also help them plan so that post-professional career they’re going to be able to live comfortably and do well for themselves.”
Wang noted that many of CNB’s entertainment clients have been around for decades and tied that loyalty with the similar tenure put in by the bank’s own employees. Put another way, a longtime client stands a chance to have done business with CNB using the same account manager throughout their relationship.
“For a client to stick around for 40 years, we’ve got to be doing something right,” Wang said. “It sounds a little hokey that client relationships are important and the cornerstone of what we do, and I know many other banks will use phrases like that, but it really is the most important thing. That really is one of the fundamental parts about the glue, of why colleagues stay for as long as they do. We all know the common goal is to serve our clients is the most professional way possible.”