Several months of investor complaints seem to be making a difference.

First California Financial Group Inc., which has been criticized by a number of large shareholders for failing to pursue merger opportunities, said last week that it has engaged advisers to examine the bank holding company’s strategic plan and sale prospects.

The Westlake Village parent of First California Bank said that it has hired New York investment bank Keefe Bruyette & Woods Inc. as its financial adviser and New York law firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP as its legal adviser. But in the statement announcing the moves, First California warned that “there can be no assurance concerning the type, form, structure, nature, results, timing or terms and conditions of any transaction that may result from this process.”

The bank declined to comment further.

The announcement is the latest development in a contentious face-off between First California and several of its largest shareholders.

In early May, First California’s board rejected an acquisition offer from PacWest Bancorp in Century City, suggesting that it would consider strategic alternatives. The decision drew criticism from shareholders such as Castine Capital Management in Boston.

On July 26, Gideon King, president of shareholder Loeb Capital Management in New York, sent a letter to the board saying that his firm has “grown increasingly frustrated” with First California’s strategic plan and called on the company to sell itself. Loeb owns about 2 million shares, or a 7 percent stake.

In an interview with the Business Journal last week, King said the bank’s latest announcement is positive, but he called the language vague and said he hopes it is not “merely an effort to placate shareholders.”

“Hopefully this signifies that First California Financial Group is in an authentic sales process to sell the company to the highest bidder, which is what most shareholders, in my opinion, would wish for,” he said.

Insurance Acquisition

Bolton & Co., an 81-year-old insurance brokerage in Pasadena, announced that it has acquired San Marino’s Reaume Financial Group, an employee benefits services company.

Terms of the deal were not announced.

After the acquisition, Reaume President Bradley Reaume will join Bolton’s Pasadena office as an executive vice president.

“Bolton’s acquisition of Reaume Financial Group is a very important component of our strategic growth plan for 2012,” Bolton Chief Executive Steve Brockmeyer said in a statement.

Bolton, a full-service insurance brokerage, employs 120 professionals.

Office Opening

Farmers and Merchants Trust Co., the trust management affiliate of Farmers and Merchants Bank of Long Beach, has opened an office in Torrance.

Founded in 1920, the trust company currently has offices in Long Beach and Laguna Hills.

The new location will be headed by Jeff Hahn, a senior vice president at the company.

“We are pleased to bring our services to the South Bay, with Jeff leading the charge to continue providing exceptional consistency, reliability, trust and continuity across multiple generations of investors,” Dan Walker, the company’s president and chairman, said in a statement.

Sharp Decline

Shares of Green Dot Corp. collapsed recently amid increasing competition in the prepaid debit card market.

In Green Dot’s July 26 earnings, the Monrovia company reported a decline in profit and also cut its guidance for the year. A whopping 10 analysts downgraded the stock as a result. The following day, shares declined as much as 60 percent and closed Aug. 1 at $10.15, making it the biggest loser on the weekly LABJ Stock Index. (See page 34.)

The company went public in late 2010 at $36 a share.

With a narrowing operating margin, Green Dot reported second quarter adjusted earnings of 35 cents a share, which fell short of Wall Street estimates.

But the bigger concern came from company statements about expected increases in competition in the coming months. As competitors, such as American Express Co. and major banks, flood into the prepaid debit card space, Green Dot’s market share is expected to decrease. In a statement, Green Dot Chief Executive Steven Streit acknowledged that the company expects “a greater level of uncertainty going forward in our business.”

Founded in 1999 as Next Estate Communications, Green Dot was a pioneer of prepaid debit cards and has become the market leader. Its products are sold at tens of thousands of retail locations, including Wal-Mart stores.

C-Suite News

Downtown L.A. investment firm Oaktree Capital Group LLC has hired Julio Herrera to manage a new emerging market investment portfolio. … ProAmerica Bank, a small lender in downtown, has hired L. Bruce Mills as chief executive. … Del Rey Global Advisors LLC announced that Benjamin Herrick and Dack LaMarque were hired as research analysts.

Staff reporter Richard Clough can be reached at rclough@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 251.

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