Leader of Michigan community bank abruptly resigns

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Sterling Bancorp in Southfield, Mich., is looking to hire a new CEO for the second time in less than a year.

The $3.2 billion-asset company, which has been struggling with revenue after shutting down its biggest lending program, disclosed in a regulatory filing Friday that Thomas Lopp had resigned a day earlier.

Lopp, who succeeded Gary Judd as chairman and CEO on Nov. 30, cited health reasons for his departure, the filing said. Lopp previously served as Sterling's chief operating officer and chief financial officer.

Sterling said its board had appointed Steve Huber, the company's CFO and treasurer, to serve as acting president and CEO. The company said it is “evaluating its alternatives” for selecting its next CEO.

Lopp took the helm at Sterling shortly before the company halted its Advantage Loan mortgage program amid concerns about underwriting and documentation procedures. The decision, made on Dec. 9, came just weeks after Sterling fired two top-producing lenders after an internal compliance review.

The Advantage Loans allowed applicants to use nonstandard forms of documentation, such as a letter from an employer or a monthly bank statement. Problems with the program raised concerns about potentially broader issues with internal controls.

Suspension of the program also created a significant revenue hole for the company.

About 86% of Sterling's total loans at Sept. 30 were mortgages, and Advantage Loans made up 83% of all mortgage production during the first nine months of 2019.

Uncertainty imposed by the mortgage challenges was among the reasons Lopp was one of American Banker's community bankers to watch in 2020.

The company has also been operating under a formal agreement with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency since June tied to Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering compliance.

Sterling disclosed in March that it had received grand jury subpoenas from the Justice Department seeking documents and information tied to its residential lending practices and related issues. Sterling also disclosed at that time that the OCC had been looking into its credit administration and its BSA and AML compliance.

Sterling has yet to file its annual report for 2019.

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