CertusBank Selling Wealth, Mortgage Businesses

Mortgage & Real Estate









CertusBank in Greenville, S.C., has agreed to sell its mortgage and wealth businesses as it tries to move past its history of high expenses and heavy losses.

The $1.5 billion-asset company said Monday that it will sell its home loan business to AmeriSave Mortgage, and its brokerage and investment-advisory businesses to Eximius Holdings, in separate transactions. Terms of the agreements were not disclosed.

The sale will give AmeriSave, an Atlanta online mortgage lender, a traditional mortgage-origination channel. AmeriSave and Eximius, an investment group based in Queens, N.Y., will take on most of the employees and infrastructure in the businesses they’re acquiring, Certus said in a press release.

“We are undoing structural and operational components of the company that are no longer consistent with our strategic transition toward a more traditional community banking business model,” Certus Chief Executive John Poelker said in the release.

Poelker, who was named CEO after Certus fired its founders in April, said he wants to refocus on traditional community banking. Certus was founded in 2011 to buy failed banks, but disappointed its backers after recording pretax losses of more than $100 million in 2012 and 2013.

The company recorded $24 million in losses during the first half of this year, much of which has been attributed to its restructuring. Poelker has announced branch closing and a 21% reduction of full-time staff. Last month, Certus named six new directors and made Poelker chairman.

It’s unclear what effect the sales will have on Certus’ bottom line. Certus earned $1.2 million in mortgage-servicing fees in the first six months of 2014, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Its wealth-management income was unspecified, but it recorded $246,000 in combined investment banking, advising, brokerage and underwriting income.

In addition to its losses, Certus faces uncertainty due to the firing of its three founders, Milton Jones, Walter Davis and Angela Webb, who were terminated weeks after an American Banker article focusing on the bank’s poor financial performance and conflicts with investors. A fourth founder, Charles Williams, stepped down in late March.

Shortly after being terminated, Jones, Davis and Webb filed a lawsuit against Certus and Benjamin Weinger, a hedge fund investor, for libel and conspiracy, alleging that the plaintiffs were defamed and then fired as part of a racist scheme to seize control of the company. The case is pending in the U.S. District Court for South Carolina.

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