After its blockbuster acquisition of FirstFed Financial Corp. in December, OneWest Bank became Southern California’s largest depository institution by asset size.

Now, the savings and loan created from the wreckage of failed mortgage giant IndyMac Bank is seeking to become a banking powerhouse all across the West Coast.

The Pasadena thrift is preparing to open several branches, roll out an ambitious branding campaign and is even considering further acquisitions.

“There’s been an enormous amount of work here in the first nine months,” said Chairman Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs Group banker, in an interview last week. “The investor base is very focused on the long-term opportunities.”

OneWest was born in March when a group of investors acquired IndyMac’s assets from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. In December, OneWest more than doubled its branch network to 72, and upped its total assets to $24 billion, by acquiring struggling L.A. thrift FirstFed in an FDIC-assisted purchase.

The OneWest ownership group includes private equity and hedge fund heavyweights such as John Paulson; George Soros; and Michael Dell, chairman of computer company Dell.

IndyMac, which had been largely Internet-focused, had a small, scattered network of branches, with offices in far-flung locales such as Duarte and Chino Hills. Adding FirstFed’s branches to the fold helped fill in OneWest’s footprint with enviable locations in and around Los Angeles.

Now, OneWest plans to open several startup branches in 2010, including a Beverly Hills location slated for June, before considering acquisitions that could raise its West Coast network to as many as 150 branches.

“With the acquisition of FirstFed we have critical mass” in Los Angeles, Mnuchin said.

Bert Ely, a bank consultant in Alexandria, Va., said for an institution with plans as ambitious as OneWest’s, building a viable branch network that can compete with Wells Fargo, Chase Bank and other major institutions is vital.

“It’s important,” he said, “particularly in terms of building market share in a market as big as L.A.”

Big profits

IndyMac and FirstFed based a substantial portion of their businesses on home mortgages, including the risky subprime and adjustable rate loans that got them into trouble. But OneWest hopes to offer a wider range of products and services, and build a strong deposit base, making it more akin to a community or regional bank.

The institution recently started a jumbo mortgage program, and Mnuchin said OneWest will likely expand its commercial lending in late 2010.


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