Trevor Burgess knows that Miami and Florida's Tampa Bay area are two completely different animals, but he says C1 Bank is ready for South Beach.

C1 agreed last month to buy a branch lease on a thriving commercial corridor in Miami. Industry observers said the $900 million-asset company would likely need to strengthen its compliance department given Miami's international makeup.

The St. Petersburg, Fla., bank has prepared for a heavier workload in complying with the Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money-laundering laws.

"We've made a number of upgrades to serve a broader base of customers," says Burgess, C1's chief executive.

C1 has already doubled the size of its compliance team. "We have the technology and people in place and we are ready to face it," Burgess says. "We've built our bank to serve the needs of all Floridians."

Despite its size and potential, Miami is a market that community bankers in Florida tend to avoid. Some concede that they do not understand the market, and others are simply unwilling to learn. Wells Fargo (WFC), Bank of America (BAC), Citigroup (NYSE: C) and SunTrust (STI) are Miami's biggest banks, holding 43% of the city's $77.5 billion of deposits, according to June 30 data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

"Miami is a very different market from the rest of the state," says Chip MacDonald, a partner at Jones Day in Atlanta. "It is hard to parachute into Miami."

Others might be skittish, but Burgess says he sees opportunities to book loans, particularly with professionals like doctors and lawyers who want to take advantage of depressed real estate values to buy offices. It is something the bank has done successfully in Tampa Bay.

"Miami provides us with a marketplace that has amazing demographics. Population growth is high and it is the largest financial center" in the state, Burgess says. "Our desire is to serve all of South Florida."

Upgrades to C1's compliance systems were initially a part of the bank's deal to purchase the troubled U.S. Century Bank, which is operating under a consent order that calls for improvements to its compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act, among other issues.

C1 and U.S. Century terminated their agreement in December, then worked out a deal to transfer certain assets, including a lease to U.S. Century's Brickell Avenue branch in downtown Miami. U.S. Century has 23 other branches and is keeping the loans and deposits associated with the Brickell branch.

Industry observers say a new bank could face compliance hurdles in Miami, but Burgess says he sees it differently.

"De novo branching is much easier than" an acquisition, he says. "We get to set our own rules from the start about who are customers are."

Burgess would not discuss the initial deal's termination, though he says he is eager to open shop along Brickell Avenue.

"If we are going to have one starting location there, I want it to be as centrally located as possible in Miami's business district," Burgess says. C1 also gets signage rights on the dozen-story building that houses the branch. "It is tall enough to be noticed."

Burgess and Marcelo Faria de Lima, C1's chairman, have international experience. Burgess once worked in London for Morgan Stanley. Lima, an international investor, was a commercial banker in Brazil for ABN Amro.

Burgess and Lima teamed up in 2008 to form a company to buy troubled banks. Since then, C1 has bought three banks. While other groups focused on failed banks, Burgess says his team decided to focus on institutions that could be salvaged with capital and time.

"My business partner and I are investing our own money. That's very different than having to pay your investors back in five to seven years," he says. "We are building for the long term."

C1 has looked at more than 40 banks in recent years, Burgess says. Most of those banks eventually failed, but Burgess says he sees at least another 75 to 100 banks that are still grappling with credit issues or face an uncertain future because of their size.

C1 will like do more deals, Burgess says, but he doesn't have any asset-growth targets. "What I want to do is safe, organic growth while we look at good acquisitions that make sense," he says.

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