Investors in Charleston region's oldest, biggest bank approve sale to SCBT

  • Posted: Friday, July 26, 2013 8:48 a.m., Updated: Saturday, July 27, 2013 2:00 a.m.
SCBT of Columbia completed its purchase of locally based First Federal Bank on Friday. Buy this photo

For the first time in nearly 80 years, First Federal Bank opened for business Friday morning under a different owner.

Customers at the lender's historic Broad Street branch in downtown Charleston couldn't tell the difference. They said were mostly upbeat on the sale to Columbia-based SCBT, a deal that was announced in February and finalized Friday. They also said they didn't think it would affect their future dealings with the bank.

Anne Maree Lawrence, who has personal and business accounts with First Federal, said she has always felt taken care of by the company, even in the five months since the sale was announced.

“I have had meetings this week with two or three officers in the bank,” she said. “It's running smoothly.”

Lawrence said she has been a member since she was a teenager and that the only negative she could mention would be the name change.

“It will probably be 'First Something,'” she said.

Shareholders of North Charleston-based First Financial Holdings Inc., which own First Federal, overwhelmingly approved the $380 million sale to SCBT Financial Corp., helping to seal the biggest bank merger in South Carolina history.

Investors of SCBT also OK'd the deal by a landslide.

The two companies held special meetings in North Charleston and Columbia on Wednesday to collect and tally the yes-or-no votes from shareholders.

The results were reported Thursday in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Investors voted a total of more than 25.6 million shares. More than 99 percent of those were in support of the deal.

The merger is expected to take effect Friday.

Charleston resident Fern Weideman, who has banked with First Federal since 2004, said she really didn't see any difference doing business with the combined financial institutions. Weideman believed the merger could strengthen the bank.

“They'll get more locations,” Weideman said.

First Federal for years held the title of the largest and oldest bank based in the Charleston region. It, like SCBT, traces its roots to the Great Depression.

The two lenders announced Feb. 19 they were planning to merge through a tax-free stock swap to accelerate growth, cut costs and expand through acquisitions.

Robert Hill, a Citadel graduate who is chief executive officer of SCBT, retains that title. First Federal CEO Wayne Hall becomes president.

First Financial investors are receiving 0.4237 of a share of SCBT for each one they exchange.

The deal pairs SCBT's operations in the Midlands and along the Interstate 85 business corridor between Charlotte and Atlanta with First Federal's large presence along the coast.

The merger will take most of 2014 to complete, Hill said this week. Customers should not notice any changes for a year, he said.

A new name for the bank, which will have about 150 branches in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, is expected to be announced by the end of the year.

No customers so far have approached First Federal mortgage loan officer George Smythe with any complaints about the merger.

“I think everybody thinks it's a great deal,” he said. “It's going to double the strength of the bank. Both banks, really.”

Contact John McDermott at 937-5572.

Reporter Nick Watson contributed to this report.

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