CertusBank's new management team has not yet put an end to the bank's eye-popping losses or its public-relations drama.
The Greenville, S.C., bank lost $15 million last quarter, its eleventh straight quarterly loss, according to a Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. call report released Thursday. It was worse than the first-quarter result, when the $1.6 billion-asset bank lost $9 million, and the second-worst quarter since the streak of losses began in 2011.
However, Certus blamed the wider loss on one-time expenses related to its restructuring under new Chief Executive John Poelker. Poelker, a Georgia banker with a reputation as a capable steward of troubled lenders, was appointed interim chief executive in April after Certus' board terminated the bank's three founders.
The bank "continues to take significant steps in right-sizing the organization and balance sheet" and has consolidated branches while reducing headcount by 21% since the end of last year, it said Thursday.
The latest call report underscores just how high the spending had been. Even with the one-time restructuring charges in the second quarter, Certus' noninterest expenses of $67.2 million in the first half of the year were 11% lower than in the same period a year earlier.
Whether or not Poelker is able to right the ship, the bank's headaches over terminating its founders may only be beginning. The fired executives Milton Jones, Walter Davis and Angela Webb sued Certus in April, saying that the bank's board conspired with Benjamin Weinger, a hedge fund investor, to defame them with racist statements in order to seize control of the company. Certus has asked the U.S. District Court in South Carolina to send the case to arbitration.
Now the Greenville chapter of the NAACP has gotten involved in the dispute. Ennis Fant and Paul Guy, former presidents of the chapter, held a news conference outside Certus' main branch on Tuesday to say they are forming a task force to investigate the firings. The event was reported by the Greenville News.
Fant and Guy said the firings send a negative message to the local African-American community, and exacerbate "the longstanding quiet hostility between the business community in Greenville and the African-American community."
"If [Certus] can be wrestled away from three African-Americans who founded it look at the dangerous precedent this sets for any African-American who even thinks about joining the business community going forward," Fant said Tuesday. He also said that Certus Chairman Robert Wright failed to respond to a letter inquiring about the firings, a claim the bank disputes. A call to the Greenville chapter of the NAACP was not returned.
Certus denied the claims, saying that the executives were fired for their performance.
The firing decision "was based on a number of factors, including loss of confidence in the three executives' ability to effectively manage the bank's operations, and had nothing to do with race," a Certus spokeswoman wrote in an email. It notes that three of the five independent directors who made the call to terminate the founders are African-American.
"CertusBank is in ongoing contact with leaders of the [local] African-American community [and] continues to employ African-Americans in executive and other senior leadership positions," the email read.
The board terminated Jones, Davis and Webb less than two weeks after an American Banker article highlighted Certus' high expenses, questionable insider transactions and frayed relations with some investors. The bank was founded in 2011 with the backing of around a dozen hedge funds, and recorded pretax losses of more than $100 million in 2012 and 2013, with expenses far higher than usual for banks of its size.
Despite its continuing losses, Certus has adequate capital, with a Tier 1 ratio of 7.43% and total risk-based capital of 10.72%. It has drawn less than half of the $500 million that its investors led by a quartet of New York distressed-debt funds committed more than three years ago.
The suit filed by Jones, Davis and Webb argues that the bank's high expenses under their leadership were overseen and approved by the board, and that the insider transactions including payments from the bank to a consultancy they owned were fully vetted by regulators and disclosed to investors. That case is currently pending a ruling on whether the South Carolina district court has jurisdiction to hear it.