Ailing CertusBank closing Charleston office, selling others

Easley-based CertusBank is closing its office at 174 Meeting St., its only location in the Charleston region.

Financially ailing CertusBank NA is selling off most of its branches and closing the rest, including its only Charleston office, under what appears to be a liquidation plan.

Other locations to be shut down are in Columbia, Greenville and Ponte Vedra, Fla.

Certus also is selling seven Upstate branches to BNC Bancorp’s Bank of North Carolina subsidiary. In addition, three other buyers have agreed to acquire a mix of Certus deposits, loans and retail offices in Georgia and Florida in separate sales.

American Banker, an industry trade publication, said the cuts are part of a plan by the bank to wind down operations. Certus would not comment about its future beyond prepared remarks it released Monday, a spokesman said.

“The planned transactions are the result of deliberate efforts to review CertusBank’s strategic options in light of its capital challenges and implement a course of action that provides the best available outcome for the bank’s customers, communities, teammates and stakeholders,” according to the statement.

The lender said the asset sales and branch closings will be finalized by the end of the year, assuming it obtains the necessary approvals.

Certus said it “maintains strong liquidity, and bank operations will continue normally throughout this process.”

The troubled lender has been selling off assets after reporting tens of millions of dollars in losses in recent years, including a $70 million deficit for 2014 and $33.6 million loss for the 2015 first quarter.

Certus replaced its senior management team about a year ago.

CEO John Poelker, who also was chairman of the board, resigned for health reasons last month. He was replaced as chief executive by Len Davenport

The seven South Carolina branches BNC is buying for about $8.54 million are in Easley, Greenville, Greer, Mauldin and Spartanburg. The High Point, N.C.-based purchaser also is acquiring $284 million in deposits for $7.8 million as well as $210 million in loans from Certus.

“I’d like to thank our customers who have entrusted us with their relationship,” Davenport said in a statement from BNC. “Our teammates have provided the highest levels of service to our customers each and every day. We are confident it will continue with BNC.”

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CertusBank’s parent company was organized as a minority-owned financial institution in late 2009 by former Bank of America and Wachovia executives who raised $500 million to buy failed or ailing lenders after the last recession.

Its first deal was the purchase of the insolvent six-branch CommunitySouth Bank and Trust in Easley about four years ago. Three more takeovers followed in Georgia and Jacksonville, Fla.

Charleston was on the bank’s list of primary expansion markets. It is the anchor tenant in a new office building at 174 Meeting St., in the heart of the financial and tourist district. Certus moved into the space just south of the City Market in March 2014.

Allegations of financial mismanagement by the bank’s organizers surfaced within a few weeks, followed by the senior management upheaval.

Contact John McDermott at 937-5572.