Banking

Aquesta Bank buys CertusBank branch in SouthPark

Aquesta Bank, led by CEO Jim Engel, is buying a CertusBank branch in SouthPark, giving the community bank its first branch outside the Lake Norman area.
Aquesta Bank, led by CEO Jim Engel, is buying a CertusBank branch in SouthPark, giving the community bank its first branch outside the Lake Norman area. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Cornelius-based Aquesta Bank said Tuesday it has purchased a branch in SouthPark from CertusBank, giving the community bank its first branch outside the Lake Norman area.

For Greenville, S.C.-based Certus, once headquartered in Charlotte, the sale is part of its effort to exit North Carolina. The sale comes as Certus’ new management works to turn around a financial institution facing mounting losses and increased regulatory scrutiny.

Following the purchase, which requires regulatory approval and is expected to close in July, Aquesta will have seven branches. Its other branches are in Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and Mooresville.

The purchase marks the latest expansion by Aquesta, which was founded in 2006. Last year, it opened new branches in Cornelius and Huntersville. CEO Jim Engel said the bank is considering additional locations in south Charlotte and Lincoln County.

The Certus location puts Aquesta in the coveted SouthPark area. The branch is at 4519 Sharon Road in the Sharon Station Office Park, across from SouthPark mall.

CertusBank remains under a consent order with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The order, issued in November, requires the bank to maintain certain capital levels and to correct deficiencies the regulator said were found in the bank’s management, leadership and board oversight.

In a statement to the Observer on Tuesday, CertusBank said it is working with the OCC to meet the requirements of the consent order. To improve its capital base, Certus has looked for opportunities to reduce operating expenses and the size of the bank, Certus said.

An OCC spokesman declined to comment.

Also late Tuesday, Charlotte-based CommunityOne Bancorp. said it has agreed to purchase a CertusBank branch in Lenoir as well as assume customer deposits from CertusBank’s Lenoir and Granite Falls branches. The purchase, which is subject to regulatory approval, is expected to close before the second half of the year.

Certus appointed a new CEO last year after its top executives were fired amid increasing losses and shareholder questions over expenses. Last year, the bank posted a loss of $69.9 million. It lost $75.6 million in 2013 and $19.9 million in 2012.

Certus, launched by former Charlotte-based Bank of America and Wachovia executives, raised $500 million from investors in 2010 to buy troubled banks in the aftermath of the financial crisis, but it’s now shedding parts. In September, the bank said it had agreements to sell its mortgage and wealth divisions as it focuses more on community banking.

After their firing, the executives sued the bank and a hedge fund manager, alleging the hedge fund manager sought to defame the African-American executives with racial statements and persuaded a majority of the bank’s board to fire them.

Certus has said the decision to fire the executives was based on a review of their performance at the bank and had nothing to do with race. The hedge fund manager, Benjamin Weinger, has denied making racially charged statements. The case is pending.

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Twitter: @DeonERoberts

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