Story published by Atlanta Business Chronicle on May 27, 2011.
CertusBank, a banking company led by former Bank of America executive Milton Jones, is plowing new ground in the banking industry.
The other innovation is CertusBank’s power structure. Jones is chairman, president and CEO, but he’s not the sole decision-maker at the top. Three other executives — Walter Davis, Angela Webb and Charlie Williams — share the role with Jones and they collaborate on strategic decision-making.
CertusBank made a big splash in Georgia on May 20, when it bought two failed Georgia banks — Atlantic Southern Bank of Macon and First Georgia Banking Co. of Franklin, Ga. CertusBank acquired both banks in loss-share agreements with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
They’re the second and third banks to be acquired by CertusBank since it was established in 2009. Its first purchase was Community South Bank & Trust of Easley, S.C. Williams, vice chairman and chief operating officer, said CertusBank has been looking for service-oriented banks with strong franchise values.
The investment bank FBR Capital Markets Corp. helped CertusBank raise about $500 million from institutional investors. Jones declined to identify the investors, but said none owns more than 9.9 percent of the bank’s holding company, Blue Ridge Holdings Inc.
Certus obtained a shelf charter from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) to acquire failed banks. A shelf charter acts as preliminary approval for investors to acquire a national bank charter. The charter remains on the shelf until the investors are ready to buy.
The federal Dodd-Frank Act presented big challenges to CertusBank.
“The [Dodd-Frank] legislation was so broad that regulators have had to write the law and they’re continuing to write it,” said Davis, CertusBank’s chief credit officer. During the shelf-charter approval process, CertusBank executives “were literally giving our opinion on what [regulators] were writing as they wrote it,” he said.
As for their management structure, the four executives decided to share responsibility because of past abuses by CEOs.
“Some CEOs … ended up really hurting their organizations,” Williams said.
The arrangement has so far worked with no problems, they said. Disagreements are hashed out until resolved, and they’ve yet to put anything to a vote.
“There is no one person who runs the organization,” said Webb, the chief administrative officer.
Some of the 26 branches that CertusBank acquired from Atlantic Southern and First Georgia are located in metro Atlanta’s exurbs, including locations in Banks and Carroll counties.