Silverton Bank's former customers are finding nature really does abhor a vacuum.

Atlanta-based Silverton, the biggest correspondent bank in the Southeast, failed seven weeks ago, and area community banks are already awash in choices to replace it. It's no wonder bankers' banks are interested — the $4.1 billion-asset Silverton left behind more than 1,000 customers.

"What attracts a bankers' bank to a particular area is the ability to pick up new correspondent relationships," said Joseph Quinlan 3rd, the president of the First National Bankers' Bank in Baton Rouge. "There is a finite number of correspondent relationships, and the only way to grow is to add to your footprint."

Quinlan's operation is one of the four bankers' bank subsidiaries of First National Bankers Bankshares Inc., also of Baton Rouge. The company opened an office in the Atlanta market in November and is planning to add staff, after picking up about 60 new customers since the beginning of May, Quinlan said.

Others new to the area include CenterState Banks of Florida, which announced last week that it had hired about 40 bankers from the failed Silverton group, with plans to open an Atlanta office in July. And TIB — The Independent BankersBank in Irving, Tex., said Tuesday that it was opening a full-service branch in Lawrenceville, Ga.

Marvin Cosgray, the president and chief executive officer of the $1 billion-asset Buckhead Community Bank in Atlanta, said heavy courting has ensued since Silverton's failure. Buckhead, a subsidiary of Buckhead Community Bancorp, was a Silverton customer.

"We are having a lot of correspondent banks rush in," he said. "We are looking at three right now."

Cosgray said TIB is among those the bank is considering, but he declined to name the other two. He said Buckhead is in the due diligence process, which includes an area of critique the bank had not previously considered monitoring before Silverton's failure.

"We are looking at their balance sheets to see what they look like. We don't want to do this again," he said, adding they are also calling existing clients of the bankers' banks to ask about their service experience. "I hate to see Silverton couldn't work it out. We liked them and the service they offered. Their customer service was excellent."

Buckhead uses correspondent services for its bonds, Fed funds programs, wire services and credit cards.

Greg Todd, the senior vice president and director of communications for TIB, said the bank has made one new hire in the region and has plans to recruit more for its new Georgia branch, the third full-service branch for the $2.8 billion-asset company. The others are in Irving and in Huntington Beach, Calif.

TIB was allowed to open a branch in Georgia despite state laws that do not allow branching without acquiring a charter or starting a new bank.

TIB negotiated that benefit as part of a deal it struck with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. when it was made manager of the Silverton bridge bank, the Georgia Department of Banking said by e-mail.

Todd said TIB plans to beef up correspondent services in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, the Carolinas, Virginia and West Virginia. It was already serving customers in those states, but after Silverton's failure, more were asking for TIB to take over the relationship. So opening an office in the region seemed the right move.

"There is nothing like being there," Todd said. "As much as anything, in the correspondent banking world it is a lot about being in front of bankers one on one. … And it displays we are really committed to the region."

The four-bank holding company CenterState Banks of Florida entered the correspondent line of business about six months ago, said John C. Corbett, CenterState's president and CEO. The $1.8 billion-asset company's main subsidiary, CenterState Bank of Florida in Winter Haven, hired close to 20 correspondent bankers from Royal Bank of Canada.

They had become available after RBC decided to shutter the correspondent services of Alabama National Bancorp in Birmingham, which it acquired in February 2008. The group of Alabama bankers operated bond services for about 200 banks in the Southeast.

With those bankers and the 40 it picked up from Silverton, CenterState will be a player in the Southeast correspondent market, Corbett said.

CenterState plans to offer correspondent services to North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia, Florida and Alabama, where it already has an office.

Steve Brown, the president and CEO of Pacific Coast Bankers' Bank in San Francisco, said that he could not discuss his bank's interest in the Southeast but that customer dislocation is creating plenty of opportunities to enter the market.

"As far as options for bankers, even people who were not in the game are waving the flag, because the opportunity is there," Brown said. "Right now bankers have to make a choice on where they want to go long-term and what is the best fit for them. There is a lot of noise in the air."

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