Torrey Pines Bank Rolls-Out “Advancing the Cause” to Help Generate Donations for Three Non-Profit Organizations

Customers of Torrey Pines Bank in San Diego, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area may wonder why their banker or branch VP is wearing a T-shirt to work, but it’s for a good cause.  The bank is launching “Advancing the Cause,” a campaign designed to encourage employees to give back, while adding a little fun at the same time.

Staff members choose the non-profit they’d like to support — the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (orange shirts), the Alzheimer’s Association (purple shirts), or the American Heart Association (red shirts) — and receive specially designed T-shirts proudly displaying that organization’s logo.  Each week the employee has the option of paying $5 for the opportunity to wear their red, orange, or purple logoed T-shirts and jeans that Friday.  The money collected will go to the chosen organization.

The campaign kicked-off Friday, April 4th.  Employees from the Torrey Pines Bank Los Altos Office are pictured here.  The program runs through Friday, September 26th.  While this is a program intended for employees of Torrey Pines Bank, the bank will gladly accept donations from anyone who wants to stop in to one of its offices to contribute to these worthy causes.  Torrey Pines Bank has given over $2.5 million to local philanthropic causes and continues to be a big supporter of the local community since 2003.

Advancing the Cause



Founded in 2003, Torrey Pines Bank is focused on providing customers with direct access to local experts who can help advance their businesses and the local economy.  The bank has 11 offices throughout San Diego, Los Angeles and the Bay Area.  It is a recipient of the Peak Performance Award (National University School of Business), one of only 35 California banks recognized by the Findley Reports for achieving “Super Premier” performance and recently received a “Superior” ranking, the highest category and “simply the best by all measures” (IDC Management’s fourth quarter report of Bank Management Review).  Executives attribute the bank’s success to its prudent banking practices, financial capacity, strong focus on customers and commitment to providing them with leading bankers who hail from the areas in which they serve.  Torrey Pines Bank is a division of Western Alliance Bank, a wholly owned subsidiary of Western Alliance Bancorporation.  More information is available at

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Is The Next Market Crash Imminent?

Robert Isbitts of Sungarden Investment Research is sounding alarm bells regarding the following numerical coincidence he discovered:

  • From September 1, 1995 until the peak of the tech-bubble on August 18, 2000, the S&P 500 return (excluding dividends) was 165%.
  • From March 6, 2009 (the Great Recession bottom) through February 26, 2014 (around now), the return was an almost identical 164%.

What’s significant about this?  Two identical market returns over two identical periods of time (1,813 days or just under five years), and the first was followed by multiple years of negative stock returns.  Isbitts further points out that the market rally in between these two high-growth periods (from October 11, 2002 until the October 12, 2007 peak) generated a lower 95% return but lasted almost exactly the same period of time in days (1,827) before collapsing.  He additionally warns that today looks and smells a lot like the year 2000, the peak before the first crash.

Armed with these facts, what should an investor do?  Basically, you have three choices:

  • Ignore them.
  • Sell everything (or at least all your U.S. stocks) now.
  • Sell some of your stocks just in case and try to figure out when would be a good time to buy them back.

To me the right answer is obvious.  If you are following an investment strategy that’s based on both growing your savings enough to support all your future goals while trying to manage the risk, then choice one is the right one for you.  Your focus should be on an appropriate diversification model and on the selection of investments (I prefer mutual funds and ETFs) that have been shown via research to outperform with persistence over time or to minimize the volatility of returns in their respective asset classes.  Market movements have nothing to do with such a strategy so you’d do best not to pay attention to them.  This is not to say that you should simply buy and hold your investments.  Rebalancing them periodically is necessary to ensure your asset allocations remain supportive of your growth goals and of your risk mitigation objectives.  Adjustments to the investment strategy may also be needed due to life changes that occur.  You can also look at market dips as buying opportunities, or even consider periodically increasing or decreasing the weightings in asset classes which you believe to have become undervalued or overvalued, although timing that can be problematic since such trends can last for many years.

Choices 2 and 3 both involve market timing, which I frankly do not believe anyone can do consistently.  It requires not only knowing what information will drive markets up or down but also the ability to act on that information before anyone else does.  And if you choose to get out of the market because you fear a drop is imminent, your will be faced with the additional question of when to get back in.  Those are two very hard decisions to time correctly.

I agree with Isbitts insofar as he warns investors not to become complacent in today’s stock market, by many measures highly-valued historically.  It’s common nature during rallies for us to focus more on the opportunity for gains.  But as stock prices continue to rise, the risk of losses (or at least the risk of future underperformance) becomes greater.  These are the times when we should become more cautious with our investments, not adding to the risk by striving for increasing yields, as many investors seem to be doing right now.

In case you’re wondering what happened after the market peaked in 2000, these were the total returns for the subsequent decade:

  • One year: -21%
  • Three years: -33%
  • Five years: -18%
  • Ten years: -27%

If you’re in the stock market for the right reason (growing your savings for a purpose in a disciplined, risk-managed way), don’t get distracted by prognosticators warning about looming market crashes.  You may lose a little money in the short-term, but over time you will do fine.

Artie Green

Artie Green, CFP, MBA

Artie Green, CFP®, MBA, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professional and principal at Cognizant Wealth Advisors.  He can be reached at 650-209-4062 or at

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Buying A Business

Buying a Business

Every entrepreneur dreams of owning a successful business. However, many people do not want to take the risk of starting a business from the ground up. As an alternative, you can buy an existing business.

People buy businesses for a variety of reasons. It is easier and faster than starting a company from scratch. The assets, suppliers, and consumer base already exist. Also, banks and other lenders are more likely to offer you a loan for an existing business.

However, there are still many complications that can arise. This article examines the major legal issues that can occur if you decide to buy a business.

The Deal

The most basic aspect of buying a business is that you are making an agreement to take ownership of a business. This might sound like a no-brainer, but the buyer should understand what exactly he or she is purchasing and should include every detail in a written contract.

Before signing an agreement, you must carefully verify the seller’s information. Lawyers call this “due diligence.” Look at the company’s financial and legal records. Do their financial statements match the reality? What is their projected outlook for future growth? Are they in debt? What kind of contracts do they have with suppliers? Are there any copyrights or patents? If you’re buying a bar or convenience store, do they have a liquor license?

Don’t be afraid to ask these questions. If the seller is less than forthcoming with the answers, ask yourself why they want to sell the company in the first place. Hiring an accountant and an attorney to double-check the numbers and the paperwork will save money in the long run. If you prefer to keep your findings secret, a confidentiality agreement will keep lips sealed.

There are two common mistakes buyers make when closing a deal. First, the Internet makes it easy to assess a company without ever visiting the business. If the company is online only, that’s understandable. However, if the company has a brick and mortar building, you should definitely make a physical inspection. Checking for building code violations is helpful, but making a physical inspection allows you to interact with customers and employees in person. If you plan to take over, meeting the people who will make you money is crucial.

The second mistake is that some buyers will fall in love with the business and ignore all the risks. Buyers sometimes ignore risks even if they have carefully run the numbers and found that the business isn’t as profitable as it first appeared. If you find yourself ignoring all the potential downsides, look for a second or third opinion. The law protects against fraud and misrepresentation, but it does not offer protection from bad business decisions.


One way to assess risk is to examine the type of business insurance the seller currently has. Checking insurance allows you to become familiar with the company’s insurance policies and allows you to assess what types of legal risks might occur. A manufacturer typically carries product liability insurance. Professional firms, such as real estate brokers, attorneys, dentists and doctors use malpractice insurance. Delivery services will have automobile insurance.

In the rare case that the business doesn’t have any form of insurance, check if they are breaking any laws. For example, many states require professional firms to purchase malpractice insurance, unless they hang a sign outside their office stating they don’t have insurance (one more reason to make a physical inspection). Likewise, starting in 2015, employers with 50 or more employees are required to offer health care insurance to their employees.

Terminating Employees

If you buy the business, there are two crucial employment questions: can you terminate an employee and can you retain an employee? Look through employment contracts, if any, to check the terms of employment. Even if a business changes ownership, the employee can still retain her job through a contract. Otherwise, the new employer is free to terminate employment at-will.

Employees who feel they were mistreated by new management will sometimes start their own business – near their former workplace. Therefore, buyers should also check employment contracts for non-compete clauses. Non-compete clauses prevent former employees from directly competing with your newly acquired business. You should also consider negotiating a non-compete clause into the contract with the seller.

Keeping Employees

Although at-will employment typically favors the employer, business acquisition is one situation where the employer is at a disadvantage. This is important to understand in instances where you are purchasing a business partly for its staff.

If the buyer wishes to preserve staff, the buyer should treat the employees well before the deal is made. Although good will alone won’t keep employees from walking out the door, it does set the stage for employment contracts. Employment contracts can prevent employers from firing employees; they can also bind employees to the company. However, convincing an employee to stay with a company, despite the change in ownership, will often result in terms which will favor the employee.

Alternatives to Buying a Business

Even if you are determined to purchase an existing business, you should take a step back and consider the alternatives. The reality is that not every business will be worth buying. Moreover, not everyone is prepared to run a business alone.

Here are three ways that you can run a business without completely committing to buying it outright:

  1. If the costs and stress of buying a business is overwhelming to you, consider buying the business with a person you trust. Although you won’t have full control in a partnership, you won’t have to go into business alone.
  2. Consider leasing the business with an option to buy. You can “test drive” the business for a period of time and then you can purchase the whole thing if you find the experience worthwhile. Finding a seller who is willing to lease with the option of buying will not be easy, but this is a common business tactic.
  3. Consider purchasing a franchise. This can be a realistic option if you would like to have promotional support from a parent company.

Peter Clarke

Peter Clarke, JD, is the content manager for in South San Francisco.  He can be reached at





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Looking Into the Crystal Ball On Our Area In 2014

Doctor Robert Eyler, economist and director of the Executive MBA program at Sonoma State University, discussed the current, and future, state of the local economy on January 28.  The event, “The Crystal Ball: Economic Outlook 2014,” hosted by Torrey Pines Bank, and held at Scott’s Seafood Restaurant in Oakland drew a packed room of local business owners and executives. Doctor Robert Eyler made a number of observations about the future of the local economy, including:

  • Both California and US economies show some signs of peaking in growth in 2014, including the rapid growth of the housing markets in 2013 starting to slow.  Lack of new business growth overall and consolidation, commercial real estate demand rising (back in single-digit vacancies), and interest rates starting to show upward pressure with natural cyclic movements.
  • Forecasts are solid for the US and California economies with no recession predicted through 2016 currently, interest rates expected to be 4.5% on 10-year Treasuries by 2015, and drought not anticipated in California in any models at this time.
  • He sited major, long-term challenges (through 2020) to the state, including the potential loss of innovation in this generation, the economic climate becoming less business-friendly, demographic shifts to higher cost of living and the issue of education gaps in the state. He also expressed short-term challenges for California in 2014 and questioned whether there would be another tech innovation bump,  as well as the impact of equity market cycles on state budgets.  Eyler also brought up the question as to whether sales tax initiatives could be funded exclusively by tourism and residents.
  •  In the Bay Area specifically, he cited continued economic growth of about 4% in 2014, with labor market and income growth producing jobs in services.   Eyler cited that the area’s current run of tech is slowing down with San Francisco and San Jose remaining innovation centers for the globe. He anticipates that residential real estate is likely to slow growth in 2014, with interest rates rising.  Commercial space vacancies will continue to slowly fill up, with about 107 million square feet of space currently in inventory and 15.5 percent vacancy and prices rising for space in Oakland and Pleasanton in particular.
  • Eyler suggested the key drivers spurring Bay area growth are ‘classic tech’ (and the evolution to media companies and mobile apps continuing to grow and starting to mature), life sciences (offering longer time frame for investors and longer path for jobs) and services (including logistics, marketing, professional services). .
  • Finally, he pointed to the local aging population continuing to rise and representing a shift in consumer and government services demand, as well as a potential lack of available workers for local positions.

Torrey Pines Bank’s Aventine Network Series pays homage to Aventine Hill, a strategic point for controlling trade and commerce on the river Tiber in ancient Rome. The series is an opportunity for local business leaders to meet and discuss strategies critical for winning in today’s complex and competitive markets.


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Data Breaches and Legal Risks

You’ve probably heard in the news more and more stories all the time about information security breaches.  The latest high-profile breach of the retailer Target may have compromised information of 110 million consumers.  Neiman Marcus also reported a recent security breach.  With all of these breaches of major retailers in the news, you might wonder as a consumer whether your own accounts were affected.  Certainly, it is wise to watch your own credit card statements for signs of unauthorized transactions and to report any fraudulent purchases.

In addition, however, small and medium-sized businesses face their own data breach risk.  Hackers are not just targeting large businesses.  They also target small businesses, such as restaurants and other merchants.  Why?  Hackers see small businesses as easy targets.  Larger businesses are more sophisticated about their security practices and harder to attack.  Smaller businesses don’t have the security resources of larger businesses.

If a small business has a data breach, the breach may ruin the reputation of the business and scare away customers.  People are less likely to shop at a merchant that can’t protect customer information.  Ultimately, small businesses face many risks from data breaches.

One of those risks is legal liability.  Companies in California by law must notify consumers if they fall victim to a data breach affecting personal information of customers such as Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and payment card information.  Failing to make the notification or delaying the notification may cause governmental investigations or customer lawsuits.  State and some federal laws also require companies to protect sensitive information in the first place.  Based on past history, I have to imaging that Target will spend over $100 million in responding to its recent breach, defending itself and paying settlements in the class action lawsuits filed against it.  Data breaches cost big dollars.

Securing your business’s sensitive information will reduce your legal and business risks.  How can you do that?  You should assess your information security risks, develop policies and procedures to secure sensitive information, and train your workers on data security.  Part of your preparation will include investigating on which information security laws will apply to your business and what kinds of security safeguards are required.  The time to look into upgrading your information security practices is now.  Preparing today can help prevent data breaches and liabilities tomorrow.


Attorney Stephen Wu is a partner in the law firm of Cooke Kobrick & Wu LLP in
downtown Los Altos.  He can be reached at (650) 917-8045 or at

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Managing Pregnant Employees

Managing Pregnant Employees

Employers often have a difficult time understanding how to manage pregnant employees. Although employers are concerned about the temporary loss of an employee, they are unable to replace the mother without a potential lawsuit. At the same time, employers fear that pregnant employees who become injured on the job may blame their employers.

Pregnancy is a difficult issue for businesses to approach correctly. Understanding the basics of pregnancy discrimination law will greatly help an employer avoid lawsuits.

Federal Law 

Like most laws, pregnancy discrimination is divided between the state and federal levels. For instance, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) makes it illegal for employers with 15 or more employees to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy or pregnancy-related disabilities. Employers cannot terminate or punish a woman for being pregnant or for having pregnancy-related issues.

If a future mother is late to work because she spent the morning vomiting, the employer cannot punish her. However, the law only protects disabilities related to pregnancy. If that same employee was constantly late for work prior to pregnancy, pregnancy would not be a defense.

Federal law can also protect the mother’s right to leave for childbirth and her right to care for the new born child. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave. “Eligible” refers to employees working for government employers or private employers with over 50 employees. The employee must have worked at least 12 months prior to leave and at least 1,250 hours over the course of those months. In return, the mother has the right to return to her original job or an equivalent one.

When a mother can breastfeed an infant at work is a relatively new and untested area of law. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) gives mothers the right to breastfeed at work. If an employee requests it, the employer must give the mother a private place to feed her infant. The “private place” cannot be a bathroom, but it can be any other room in the building provided that co-workers, customers, and other people don’t accidently wander in.

California Law

Although the Constitution prohibits states from contradicting federal law, states can offer greater protection than federal law. California provides pregnant employees with a few extra days of leave. More importantly, California gives pregnant workers the right to ask for an accommodation. An accommodation is a reasonable request by an employee which does not pose an undue burden to the employer. If the employer fails to provide that request, the employer is discriminating against the employee.

Pregnancy accommodations should be tied to the mother’s health and comfort. Some accommodations are very simple. For example, a woman who typically stands at work may request a chair for a few months. Complying with this simple request can prevent a major lawsuit if something goes wrong during the pregnancy. Keep in mind that the employee should make the decision whether she requires an early leave or whether she can continue working with an accommodation.

Peter Clarke

Peter Clarke, JD is the content manager for LegalMatch in South San Francisco.  He can be reached at


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Why Have Written Contracts?

Let’s say that you are starting a new business.  Why should you have written agreements when you are providing your services or products?  In order to answer that question, it is important to understand what kinds of services or products you will be providing, the people and businesses you will interact with, the kinds of risks you face, and the applicable laws in your jurisdiction.  Sometimes, a written contract is not worth the trouble, such as when you go to the grocery.  You don’t sign a contract to pick up a carton of milk.  Nonetheless, for more serious transactions involving more money or more risk, it is helpful to have a written contract for your business.  This post covers three key reasons why it helps the business to have a written agreement for its customers.

Written contracts are useful, first, to set the expectations of the business and its customer.  What is the business promising to do?  What does the business want the customer to promise?  Most frequently, the business wants the customer to promise to pay the business.  There may be other customer obligations as well.  By plainly setting out the obligations of the parties, both the business and customer have clear expectations about what is to happen.

Second, a written contract helps the business to enforce its rights.  Sometimes businesses need to sue their customers, for example when customers fail to pay.  Even though the law will enforce oral contracts, a written contract is much easier to enforce.  A written contract helps the business to show that the customer had an obligation, for example to pay a defined amount.  Also, a written contract helps to deflect a customer’s claims that there was, in fact, no agreement, that the agreement was not definite enough to enforce, or that the agreement was not what the business says it was.  Oral agreement disputes often end up becoming “he said, she said” disputes in which the parties disagree about whether there was an agreement or if they acknowledge the agreement, they disagree about what they agreed to do.

Finally, a written contract allows the business to limit its potential liability.  Frequently, written agreements contain statements saying that the business will not be responsible for certain events.  For instance, Internet service agreements often say that they cannot guarantee that the Internet will always be up and available for use.  Also, written agreements often limit the kinds of damages a customer can recover or cap liability at a set amount, for example the amount of revenue the business received from the customer.  Limits of liability manage the business’s risk and help to ensure that for a relatively modest business transaction, the business does not face the prospect of paying the customer a huge damage award in a lawsuit.

It is important to give careful thought to what the business wants to say in its agreements based on what it is willing to promise, what it needs its customers to do, and how it can limit its liability.  Simply copying form agreements from the Internet or another business risks having the agreement not match the transaction, causing confusion, or failing to include key terms.  By thoughtfully developing a written agreement, your business can take an important step to managing its legal risk.


Attorney Stephen Wu is a partner in the law firm of Cooke Kobrick & Wu LLP in
downtown Los Altos.  He can be reached at (650) 917-8045 or at

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