One of Bakersfield's two locally based banks has closed one downtown location, opened another and expects to wind down a branch in Greenfield as part of a consolidation reflecting changes in modern banking and a shift in how it cultivates business relationships.

Mission Bank left its longtime Truxtun Avenue office late last year following a nine-month renovation project it says was initiated by a lease expiration. It's now located at 1301 17th St., across the street from the Kern County Superintendent of Schools building.

As a physical relocation, the move is modest: It shares a property line with the lot it occupied for years immediately to the south. The bank said staff from that facility made the move, as will almost everyone from Mission's Panama Road branch come May 1.

At 7,192 square feet, the 17th Street location — formerly the home of San Joaquin Bank — is 70 percent larger than the former downtown office. It seats 30 staff members, including several employees with specialties such as U.S. Small Business Administration lending who transferred over from various other branches, Chief Administrative Officer Sheldon Ralph said Monday.

There are two main reasons the Greenfield bank is closing, Ralph said. The building was previously occupied by Washington Mutual and Mission Bank saw an opportunity in the early 2000s to put a branch there along with a manager who has since retired.

But these days, digital banking is a primary emphasis as customers make greater use of computers and smartphones. Ralph said that has freed up space in bank branches.

"Over time, what you're seeing is less and less use of your banking facilities," he said.

Just as important to the change is Mission's emphasis on building personal relationships with the business people who make up the lion's share of its clientele. Ralph said employees now go straight to customers' offices to set up accounts, learning about their business models and operations along the way.

When customers do come into the downtown office, he said, they have greater access to a wide variety of service specialists.

"You've got the home field still covered but you're out on the turf with customers helping them directly," he said.

Mission has physically consolidated as it continues to post solid financials.

After years of strong growth in its asset base, Mission last year reported third-quarter earnings of $3.7 million, a 23-percent increase from the same period a year before.

The bank is also growing geographically. It opened a branch in San Luis Obispo County last year and one in Stockton the year before. It now has a total of nine offices in areas including Bakersfield, Lancaster, Mojave, Ridgecrest and Ventura.

Ralph said the closure of the Greenfield office should be the last consolidation for a while. Growth is ahead, he added, but not the traditional kind.

"We're actually planning expansion as we grow," he said. "But the future of expansion won't be the traditional large building, large bank structure."

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf. Sign up at Bakersfield.com for free newsletters about local business.

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