Ameris Bancorp (ABCB) in Moultrie, Ga., has announced a streamlining plan that includes closing or selling about 20% of its branches.

The plan should save the $3 billion-asset company roughly $12.1 million in operating expenses annually, Ameris said. The plan is the result of ongoing analysis of its operations by the board and management, Chief Executive Edwin W. Hortman Jr. said in a news release.

Ameris expects to record a charge of $2.1 million in the fourth quarter for costs associated with its plan. The charge is expected to cover severance and lease payments, among other items.

"Our mission statement calls for us to be a high-performing community bank, and the most direct path to accomplishing our mission in today's environment requires the changes we have outlined," Hortman said in the release, issued Friday. "The plan we have developed is certainly achievable and within our control."

Ameris plans to close or sell at least 13 of its 66 branches. These branches represented 2.9% of the company's total loans and 5.4% of its deposits that are not certificates of deposit, as of Sept. 30, Ameris said. Annual direct operating expenses associated with these branches total roughly $6.2 million. It expects to complete the consolidation and closure during the first quarter.

Additionally, Ameris has been developing efficiency plans for the remaining 53 branches and corporate support functions that will reduce annual expenses by $5.9 million. Though some of these reductions will be achieved in the fourth quarter, the majority will happen in the first quarter, the company said.

Ameris reported in October that its third-quarter profit totaled $1.1 million, down 93% from a year earlier. It missed projections by 10 cents per share. Its 2011 earnings included a $26.9 million gain from acquisitions. The company's efficiency ratio was 75.68%, worse than its 70.51% in the second quarter.

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