BancorpSouth Bank in Tupelo, Miss., has finally received the green light to buy two community banks that it has been trying to obtain for nearly four years.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Mississippi Department of Banking and Consumer Finance have approved the acquisitions of Ouachita Bancshares Corp. in Monroe, La., and Central Community Corp. in Austin, Texas, the $14.8 billion-asset BancorpSouth said this week.

The deals, which were originally announced in early 2014, are expected to close Jan. 15, just missing the bank's recent goal of Jan. 1.

BancorpSouth stumbled over regulatory obstacles after initially announcing plans to acquire the two banks.

Dan Rollins, chief executive of BancorpSouth
Craving a lower profile
"We are looking forward to getting out of the front page and taking care of business," BancorpSouth chief Dan Rollins said after announcing that its long-delayed deals for two community banks had finally received the regulatory OK.

First, it withdrew its applications to buy the banks after regulators raised concerns in 2014 about its compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act. Then the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau started a review of the bank's fair-lending practices. The BSA order was lifted in the spring of 2015, but regulators downgraded the bank's Community Reinvestment Act rating to “needs to improve” in 2016, causing it to pull its applications once again.

BancorpSouth refiled its applications in August. It then received a “satisfactory” CRA rating in October, seemingly clearing the way for the proposed deals.

The acquisitions will be “an integral part of our future” and strengthen BancorpSouth’s competitive position along the I-20 corridor in Louisiana, Chairman and CEO Dan Rollins said in a press release Wednesday.

In a follow-up interview by phone on Thursday, Rollins said he expects to make more acquisitions over time, as long as there are sellers seeking a partner like BancorpSouth. When asked what markets are at the top of Rollins' list for expansion, he said it’s better to be open-minded and opportunistic. For now, Rollins said, he is focused on taking care of customers and employees with the goal of growing the bank.

“We’ve been covered a whole lot over these issues," Rollins said. "We are looking forward to getting out of the front page and taking care of business."

Catherine Mealor, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, wrote in a note to clients that she expects BancorpSouth to be more acquisitive in 2018 in a bid to improve profitability.

“We are excited for [BancorpSouth’s] opportunity to finally move into a position of offense versus the regulatory defensive position the company has been in for the past few years,” Mealor wrote.

BancorpSouth also eliminated its holding company in October, citing ongoing efficiency efforts. The decision meant that the Federal Reserve no longer regulates the bank.

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