Simpson to Step Down From Presidency of Citizens Bank, Will Remain Chairman

Times Staff Writer

Paige V. Simpson, known to his peers as the dean of Orange County banking, said Friday that he will step down from the presidency of Citizens Bank of Costa Mesa after 17 years but will remain as chairman of the financial institution.

Simpson, 70, said he will be replaced by Richard Helstrom, former executive vice president of Community Bank in Los Angeles.

“I’m approaching retirement age, so we’re bringing in a younger man,” Simpson said. Helstrom, 58, has extensive banking experience and recently resigned from Community Bank to take the helm at Citizens, Simpson said.

Simpson has been president of the small but profitable Citizens Bank since it was founded in 1972. But he wasn’t always at the top of the banking world.


When he came to California from Kansas at age 17, he got his first banking job at the old First National Bank of San Diego, which is now part of California First Bank. He was a messenger boy.

At his age, and with only a high school education, “there was not a lot to choose from,” he said in an earlier interview. But he knew he wanted a career in banking, so it was a start. And he quickly started taking classes at night through the American Institute of Banking.

At a rate of one class at a time, one night a week, it took him 18 years to plow through most of the institute’s course work. During two years in the Navy, he managed to squeeze in three semesters of credit at an Iowa college.

By 1975, he rose to branch manager and was later named a vice president and member of First National’s management committee. He left that institution in 1971 to head First National Bank of Fresno. But several months later, he left Fresno to help start Citizens Bank.


He ended up as the largest single shareholder in Citizens with about 7% of the stock when it was sold in 1986 to Citizens Holdings for $12 million. Today, Citizens Bank has two offices in Costa Mesa and resources of about $120 million.

Helstrom’s banking experience includes a long stint at Bank of California. Before being promoted to executive vice president of Community Bank in 1987, he served as corporate banking group administrator for the institution.