Toyota faces federal probe

Toyota has recalled 8.5 million vehicles globally since November.

Mark Humphrey

Identified as a savings and loan association for nearly eight decades, First Federal of Charleston is breaking away from that segment of the financial industry.

The 78-year-old S&L said Wednesday it has completed its conversion to a state-chartered commercial bank as it plots a new strategy under Chief Executive Officer R. Wayne Hall.

"Converting to a commercial bank charter reinforces our focus on commercial banking as we execute our business strategy," Hall said in a written statement.

First Federal is the oldest and largest financial institution based in the region. It opened its first office in downtown Charleston in 1934. It now has assets of about $3.1 billion and more than 60 branches, mostly in coastal South Carolina and in the Wilmington, N.C., area.

Burned by the housing meltdown, First Federal's parent has shed a large portfolio of real estate loans and sold off its two insurance units within the past year as it sought to regain its financial footing and turn its attention to banking services. The new charter is part of Hall's turnaround plan.

S&Ls -- sometimes called thrifts -- are required by regulators to focus mostly on residential mortgages and other consumer loans.

As a full-fledged bank, First Federal will have more flexibility to offer financing and services to businesses and other commercial ventures.

The change has no impact on existing borrowers and account holders, said Hall, who was promoted to CEO of First Federal and its parent less than two years ago.

"We will continue to operate through our current network of branch offices and the terms and conditions of our customers' loans and deposit accounts will not be affected in any manner," he said.

For the bank's executives, the switch will require some adjustments.

First Federal is now regulated by the S.C. State Board of Financial Institutions and the Federal Reserve. Previously, it had been overseen by the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

As part of the charter change, First Federal's owner, First Financial Holdings Inc., has applied to become a bank holding company that would be regulated by the Federal Reserve.

Shares of First Financial edged up 6 cents Wednesday to close at $9.90.