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Three Indian principals team up to offer financial services

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DENVER - The Native American Bank, Sycuan Funds of California and Seacrest Investment Management of South Dakota are forming a marketing alliance to bring the full range of financial services to Indian country from firms with Indian principals.

Credit the idea to Lynn Rapp, managing partner in the Buffalo Gap, S.D.-based Seacrest and an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe. A former longtime investment banker with Morgan Stanley, she started Seacrest with three other Indian or minority partners and contemplated a venture where Indian people would be the principals, and not just window dressing for dominant culture operations.

''Tribal governments give verbal acknowledgement to the 'buy Indian' idea,'' she said. ''In the investment world, there are not many opportunities to do that. Now there is.''

Rapp's firm offers full-service brokerage and investment management services.

She brought the idea to J.D. Colbert, Chickasaw and CEO of Native American Bank, and VaRene Martin, principal relationship manager of Sycuan Funds and an enrolled member of the Thlopthllocco Tribal Town of Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma. Between them, the three have more than 60 years of financial experience.

Martin noted that the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians in October 2003 launched the Sycuan US Value Fund, the first and only tribally owned mutual fund, but that it is just one product and that ''definitely there is a need for financial services that cover all asset allocation classes and are sensitive to sovereign nations and customs.''

The fund has about $6 million in assets and more than a dozen investors, she said.

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Colbert said NAB's part is to offer the banking services end, whether loans, deposits or fee-based services. ''This rounds out the services Lynn's and VaRene's companies bring to the table,'' he said.

To date, the venture has been marketed by word of mouth and a well-attended networking luncheon at the recent midyear meeting in Anchorage of the National Congress of American Indians. The three plan to co-market each others' services as they go about Indian country and to have a similar luncheon at the NCAI's annual meeting in Denver on Nov. 12.

The three plan to target not just tribal governments, but tribally owned businesses and businesses with American Indian owners. The full spectrum of services includes ''full-service banking and cash management, investment policy consulting and implementation, investment management services and financial training.'' Each of the three will continue to work out of their current offices.

The Sycuan US Value Fund is advised by Sycuan Capital Management Inc., which is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and is 100 percent owned by the tribe. A.Q. Johnson and Co. has been selected as the subadviser for the fund's ''value investing'' philosophy.

Seacrest, whose home office is in Purchase, N.Y., hired Rapp in March to head its tribal practice. She has 22 years of financial experience and was a senior vice president at Morgan Stanley. She is a former chair of NCAI's Finance and Investment Committee.

Native American Bank had $82.3 million in assets at the end of 2006. The bank turned its first annual profit last year, earning $551,000. It had $68.1 million in loans on its books at the end of last year, a big jump from 2005 when it had $49 million.

Deposits also jumped in 2006 for the bank, from $50.2 million at the end of 2005 to $71.2 million at the end of last year.