Thursday, January 30, 2014

Carolina Premier makes online mortgage lending push

Charlotte-based Carolina Premier Bank said Thursday that it is set to launch a new mortgage website that aims to streamline how customers can take out a loan for a purchase or refinance.

The site, a year in the making, is part of a larger push to make its mortgage department more accessible online and through social media, executives said in their announcement.

"We are reinventing how consumers can interact with our mortgage lending department," CEO John Kreighbaum said in a statement.

The goal is to allow customers to go from application to closed mortgage loan in fewer than 30 days. Part of the system will allow people to apply online and nearly immediately get confirmation that they're pre-approved. To promote it, they'll be giving $100 prepaid cards to people who turn in mortgage information.

Carolina Premier said it has brought in four new mortgage lenders to help with the process: Joseph Germano, Zachary P. Kamm, Robert G. Concha and Stephen F. Colberg.

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U.S. seeks larger penalty from Bank of America in 'Hustle' case

The U.S. government is increasing the penalties it is seeking from Bank of America after a jury found its Countrywide unit guilty of knowingly selling bad home loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Bloomberg reports.

The government, which initially sought $864 million, now says the Charlotte-based bank should pay the maximum penalty of $2.1 billion in the so-called "Hustle" case.

In October, a jury in the civil case found Countrywide Financial Corp. and former executive Rebecca Mairone guilty of fraud over defective mortgages generated by the Hustle process, which the government said handled loans at a high speed and without regard for quality.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan has yet to decide what the penalty should be in the first mortgage-fraud case brought by the U.S. to go trial, Bloomberg reports.

“To punish defendants for their culpability and bad faith, and to deter financial institutions and their executives who would engage in similar fraudulent mortgage schemes, the court should impose the maximum penalty on the bank,” the government said in the filing late Wednesday.

The bank has said it should not have to pay penalties in the case. It also has said the most it can be fined is $1.1 million under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act. The bank has pointed out that the Hustle process ended before it acquired Countrywide in 2008.

“This claim bears no relation to the limited Countrywide program that lasted several months and ended before Bank of America’s acquisition of the company," bank spokesman Lawrence Grayson said Thursday. "We will present the relevant facts in a detailed response soon.”

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Yadkin Financial reports 'strong' end to 2013

Just days after announcing a merger that will transform its future, Yadkin Financial said it ended 2013 in a position of greater strength.

The bank reported earning $4.2 million for shareholders in the fourth quarter, another quarter of profit after taking a significant $25.3 million loss in the same time period last year to write down bad loans. Yadkin Financial had raised $45 million in capital that quarter to help absorb the losses.

In the months since then, the bank has grown its loan book in three straight quarters and slashed its nonperforming and delinquent loans by 30 to 40 percent.

"We returned to stability and strength following the execution of our accelerated asset disposition plan at the end of 2012, and we haven't looked back," CEO Joe Towell said in a statement. "Every business unit in the bank worked toward making 2013 a year of consistent and meaningful profitability, and we have accomplished that goal."

Wednesday's report will be one of the last for Yadkin Financial as an independent bank. Earlier this week, it announced it will combine with Raleigh's VantageSouth Bancshares in what was billed as a merger of equals. It will create a $4 billion statewide franchise that will rank as North Carolina's largest community bank.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Bank of America funds project to help women entrepreneurs in Charlotte

Bank of America said Tuesday it is giving $10 million to fund loans for women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses in Charlotte and five other U.S. cities.

The Charlotte-based bank said the loans are part of the Elizabeth Street Capital initiative. Bank of America is partnering with the Tory Burch Foundation on the project, which is designed to provide early-stage women entrepreneurs with access to low-cost loans, mentoring and networking opportunities.

Boston, Las Vegas, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco are the other cities included in the launch. Other markets, which have not been named, are expected to be added over the next two years.

In addition to the funding for the loans, Bank of America will share the project's operating costs with the New York-based foundation.

"Bank of America and the Tory Burch Foundation recognize a huge opportunity to support women-owned businesses," Thomas Montag, co-chief operating officer for the bank, said in a statement.

"Research has shown that women entrepreneurs need better access to capital and more opportunities to build strategic business relationships," he said. "The Elizabeth Street Capital initiative will help address these issues and provide loans and mentoring to women ready to take their businesses to the next level."

Nonprofit entrepreneurial loan centers, also known as community development financial institutions, will determine eligibility for the loans. In Charlotte, Self-Help Credit Union, 926 Elizabeth Ave., is the participating center.

Elizabeth Street Capital is named after the street in New York where fashion designer Tory Burch started her first boutique.

“When we started our foundation, we understood that women entrepreneurs need access to capital as well as access to business networks, and by partnering with Bank of America, we are thrilled to be providing help to women across the United States," Burch said in a statement. "The combination of loans, mentoring support and peer networking expertise opens up new opportunities for women looking to build and grow their businesses.”

For more information on applying for one of the loans or participating in mentoring events, click here.

BofA exec leaves for AmWINS

Charlotte wholesale insurance company AmWINS has hired Todd Atwood away from Bank of America to be its new chief information officer.

Atwood had been a senior vice president at Bank of America and its chief architect executive. In his new role, he'll manage AmWINS software and data analytics. The company has about 2,800 employees across the more than 30 brokerage, underwriting and group benefit firms it has acquired.

“I was looking for an organization that views technology as a strategic resource, and not just a support function, and that’s what I found at AmWINS,” Atwood said in a statement. "Every industry needs someone to disrupt things by challenging the status quo, and that vision to lead change exists here."

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Bank of America shed more branches than any bank in 2013

Bank of America cut more branches than any other bank in 2013, as the banking industry as a whole shed more branches than it added, according to a recent report by SNL Financial.

For the year, the industry had a net loss of 1,487 branches. Bank of America had a net loss of 189 branches after adding 14 and cutting 203, more than any of its peers.

Banks have been reducing their branch numbers as they seek to slash expenses amid higher regulatory costs and weak revenue growth. The reduction in branches also comes as banks see less need for them as more of their customers use online and mobile banking.

At the same time that they are trimming branches, some banks are experimenting with smaller branches that have fewer tellers and cost less to operate. Many bankers say branches remain an important part of their business model.

Charlotte-based Bank of America, which is cutting personnel and other costs through its Project New BAC initiative, ended 2013 with 5,151 branches. Some of the reduction stems from the sale of branches to other banks

Bank of America's branches could fall even more. Chief Financial Officer Bruce Thomspon told investors this month that the bank could end 2014 with fewer than 5,000 branches.

Last year, Bank of America ended drive-up teller service at some branches, including in the Charlotte region.

SunTrust Banks hires director for Charlotte corporate banking operation

Kenneth Harris
SunTrust Banks said it has hired a former Wells Fargo banker to serve as managing director of corporate banking for the Charlotte region, South Carolina and West Virginia.

Atlanta-based SunTrust said Monday that the hiring of Kenneth Harris marks the bank's latest move to build its corporate banking operation in the Carolinas. The hiring of Harris comes after the bank relocated its Mid-Atlantic corporate banking headquarters from Richmond, Va., to Charlotte last year.

At Wells Fargo, Harris was responsible for new business development and middle-market relationship management in the Charlotte region, SunTrust said. Harris will work for SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, SunTrust's corporate and investment banking services subsidiary.

SunTrust Robinson Humphrey is focused on middle-market clients. Its corporate banking services include helping companies raise capital and manage risk.

SunTrust said it has added other corporate bankers to its Charlotte operation in recent months, and more hires are expected.

In September, the bank hired former SunTrust banker Jenna Kelly, who returned to SunTrust from Fifth Third Bank. Kelly will help Harris oversee the Charlotte region. She also covers the Triangle and Triad areas.

In December, SunTrust hired Paul Keller, formerly of Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Keller will serve as senior credit officer for the Mid-Atlantic corporate banking division.

SunTrust Robinson Humphrey's Charlotte employees currently work at 6836 Morrison Blvd., near SouthPark mall. Those employees, and other SunTrust staff members at the Morrison Boulevard site, will be relocated to the bank's new regional headquarters building once it's finished later this year. The new headquarters, in the Sharon Square mixed-use development, is about two blocks away from the Morrison Boulevard site.

The bank said Monday the new headquarters will house 96 SunTrust Robinson Humphrey employees. Of those, roughly 16 will work in corporate banking. So far, 13 of the 16 have been hired, the banks said.

SunTrust's Mid-Atlantic division stretches from Maryland to South Carolina. Jason Cagle, who heads the division, told the Observer last year the Carolinas market is one in which SunTrust has not had "a very focused calling effort on corporate clients. This clearly is our biggest opportunity for market share."

SunTrust is seeking to grow its corporate banking business in other parts of the U.S. In November, it announced the establishment of corporate banking offices in Dallas, San Francisco and Chicago.

Aquesta Bank profit rises 17 percent

Cornelius-based Aquesta Bank said Monday that it earned $358,000 for shareholders in the fourth quarter, up 17 percent from the same time period a year ago.

For the full year 2013, the bank earned $1.48 million, up 36 percent from the year before. Over the course of the year, the bank also announced its first stock dividend and, seven months later, its first cash dividend to shareholders.

Aquesta Bank grew its loan book and deposit base, and set aside less money for bad loans.

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Yadkin Financial, VantageSouth to merge

Yadkin Financial and VantageSouth Bancshares announced plans to merge Monday in a deal that would create North Carolina's largest community bank.

The $299 million deal would create a bank with $4 billion in assets.

"This transaction creates significant value for the shareholders of both companies, provides greater convenience and services for our customers, and transforms the banking landscape in the Carolinas," Yadkin CEO Joe Towell said in a statement. "We will have meaningful presence in major markets across the state including Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Greenville, and Wilmington while continuing our focus on our community markets."

Check out the full story on for more information.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

AG warns on pension advance scam

More North Carolinians who receive a pension are now being targeted in deals that offer people cash up front in exchange for the rights to receive money from their pension for years.

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper's office said it has received an increase in the number of complaints about these arrangements, which it labels a scam. In one case, a man got $10,000 cash, but had to sign away the rights to more than $25,000 from his pension.

Cooper's office said these deals often mask the fact that they're really high-interest-rate loans.

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Capital Bank wants to buy a bank this year

Capital Bank Financial Corp. says it's disappointed it didn't make an acquisition in 2013, and plans to change that in the coming months. Executives there told analysts this week that they've evaluated "a large number" of potential deals and feels optimistic they'll get one done soon.

The bank is headed by former Bank of America executives Gene Taylor and Chris Marshall. It's headquartered in Coral Gables, Fla., but has corporate offices in Charlotte. They've cobbled together a franchise across North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida primarily through buying up troubled banks.

And they are coming off a strong year: Net income tripled, according to year-end results reported this week.

But analysts covering the bank spent even more time asking Capital Bank executives about their hiring strategy.

And based on what Taylor and Marshall told analysts, it seems that they've had success in recruiting old colleagues in joining the growing Capital Bank. "Almost every single person we've hired, is someone known from our past," Taylor said on a conference call, according to a transcript.

And while Taylor said the compensation decisions have been "disciplined," it hasn't been a struggle to bring in talented people.

"We've had no issue hiring anybody we want on any basis," Taylor said, per the transcript. "Our new hires are referred to us from other people we've hired, have been somewhere else, and they tell them that we're very focused, and very clear about what we want to do and how we want to do it, and they decide for themselves does it fit their own career aspirations and compensation aspirations."

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BNC Bancorp doubles net income in 2013

The parent company of Bank of North Carolina reported Friday net income for shareholders of $16.2 million for the year 2013, more than double what it earned the year before.

Net income at BNC Bancorp fell 35 percent in the fourth quarter as it completed its acquisition of Randolph Bank and Trust, a deal that expanded the bank's presence in the Triad. A year ago in the fourth quarter, BNC actually reported a gain as it acquired First Trust Bank at less than market value.

But the full year reflected a significant decrease in nonperforming assets and improvement in several profitability ratios. The company's stock was also the top performer among bank stocks in the Southeast.

"The fourth quarter and all of 2013 were pivotal in solidifying the core earnings power of our organization," CEO Richard Callicut said in a statement.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bank of America sponsoring Charlotte financial incubator

Bank of America has lent its name and a number of its executives to a new initiative out of the Packard Place that aims to make the city the "financial services innovation hub of the world."

The group hopes to leverage Bank of America's connections and resources and Charlotte's low-cost of living and workforce to encourage developing financial start-ups to locate here.

Five current and former Bank of America executives will serve as financial mentors. Another 30 business leaders will also help consult with finance industry entrepreneurs. 

The effort follows an earlier undertaking to make Charlotte into a payments hub, a Packard Place-affiliated group at the intersection of finance and technology.

CAPITAL GUARDIAN INKS DEAL WITH BOSTON ADVISOR: The Charlotte-based wealth manager will bring in 600 clients and $150 assets under management with its deal with Compass Capital Corp. of Boston.

CMCU HONORS TWO MORE 30-YEAR VETERANS: Charlotte Metro Credit Union CEO Bob Bruns hit his 30-year mark a few months ago, but two others were recognized this week for their long service to the credit union as well: Chief Financial Officer Karen Pellow and community ambassador Shirley Floyd.

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Wells Fargo to sell 42 insurance offices, none in Charlotte

Wells Fargo said Thursday that it is selling 42 insurance brokerage and consulting offices to New York-based insurance broker USI Insurance Services.

No Charlotte offices will be affected, the San Francisco-based lender said.

The deal is expected to close in the second quarter. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Wells Fargo said the move comes as the company increasingly focuses its insurance business on serving middle- and upper-middle-market customers in key markets, including Charlotte, Dallas, Minneapolis and San Francisco. Such places are where its insurance business "has the greatest growth potential and stronger partnerships with the bank's commercial customers," Wells Fargo said.

Charlotte is Wells Fargo's East Coast hub. The company employs about 20,700 in the region, across various lines of business.

Wells Fargo said its insurance operations employ about 260 people in Charlotte, including about 164 in the brokerage and consulting division. The lender said it has approximately four main offices in Charlotte for its insurance operations.

In the USI deal, the bank is trimming offices in its business line that provides insurance consulting, sales and services to middle-market, upper-middle-market, international and risk-management customers. The business line's focus is property and casualty insurance, employee benefits and targeted insurance programs for industries that include real estate, health care, energy, special risk, public entity, aviation and hospitality.

The offices that are part of the deal are scattered across the U.S., in states that include Alaska, Florida, New Mexico and Ohio. The deal also affects Columbia, S.C.

The offices being sold are small, regional operations, Wells Fargo said. The roughly 750 Wells Fargo employees who work in those offices will be offered employment by USI, Wells Fargo said.

After the sale, Wells Fargo said, its insurance brokerage and consulting business will operate in 55 locations.

"Wells Fargo is 100 percent committed to the insurance business and serving the needs of our customers," Laura Schupbach, head of Wells Fargo Insurance, said in a statement. "We are focused on strengthening our insurance operations in larger markets where we can partner more closely with the bank to serve more of our core middle- and upper-middle-market customers."

Just last week, USI announced the completion of its acquisition of New Jersey-based benefits broker Oscar & Associates.

Aquesta Bank to open new branch in Cornelius

Cornelius-based Aquesta Bank announced plans Thursday to open a second branch in its hometown, its latest brick-and-mortar expansion.

The new location will be in the Food Lion shopping center near the intersection of Main Street and Catawba Avenue. The nearly 2,000-foot space will have tellers, a cash recycler and two back offices the bank will lease out.

Aquesta Bank says it will cross-train all its employees in the branch as part of a "universal staffing model."

Last month, the bank broke ground on a new location in Huntersville. Both that branch and the new Cornelius location are expected to open in the spring.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bank of Commerce increases profits in 2013

Charlotte-based Bank of Commerce reported Wednesday that it earned $249,000 for shareholders in 2013, more than double what it earned the year before.

The bank's fourth quarter net income of $123,000 also reversed a loss from the same time period a year ago. Assets decreased slightly, but Bank of Commerce grew its loan portfolio by 2.5 percent.

"In 2013, despite an economic recovery that remained sluggish, we achieved growth in both our profitability and our loan portfolio," CEO Wes Sturges said in a statement.  "In the fourth quarter we saw an increase in demand for new loans as opposed to just refinance opportunities. This new demand bodes well for both the Charlotte economy and our bank in 2014."

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Wells Fargo to sell mortgage-servicing rights on $39B in loans

Wells Fargo said Wednesday it has agreed to sell residential-mortgage servicing rights on $39 billion in loans to Atlanta's Ocwen Financial Corp.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by the companies. The deal is expected to close this year.

The portfolio is composed of approximately 184,000 loans, or roughly 2 percent of Wells Fargo’s residential servicing portfolio as of the end of last year, Wells Fargo said.

America's Servicing Company, a division of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, has been servicing the loans, which Wells Fargo does not own and did not originate.

It's the latest example of a big bank retreating from servicing mortgages, which is becoming less lucrative for lenders.

Last week, New York-based Citigroup said it agreed to sell the servicing rights for about 64,000 Fannie Mae loans with approximately $10.3 billion in unpaid principal balances. Last year, Charlotte-based Bank of America announced plans to sell the servicing rights on residential mortgage loans with approximately $306 billion in unpaid principal balances.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo is a major purchaser of residential mortgages originated by other lenders. Most of the company's servicing portfolio is made of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and government-backed loans.

As of the end of last year, Wells Fargo serviced $1.8 trillion in residential mortgages, according to a securities filing. The majority, $1.5 trillion, was made of loans not owned by Wells Fargo.

Wednesday's announcement by Wells Fargo comes after CFO Tim Sloan said in March that the lender might want to "test" the sale of its mortgage-servicing rights.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Chase names middle-market banking head for the Carolinas

A senior commercial banking executive from Wells Fargo has left to head middle-market banking for the Carolinas at JPMorgan Chase.

Craig May will continue to be based in Charlotte and will report to Mark Bensabat, JPMorgan Chase's Southeastern head of middle market banking and who lives in Orlando.

May, a 30-year banking veteran, had previously been senior vice president overseeing two of Wells Fargo's regional commercial banking offices.

"Craig’s extensive knowledge of the Carolinas, broad experience in commercial banking, and proven leadership and management capabilities will be instrumental as he focuses on building middle market banking’s presence in the Carolinas," the bank said in an internal announcement.

JPMorgan Chase has steadily built up its corporate and middle-market banking teams in Charlotte over the past six months. Gov. Pat McCrory was a guest of honor at the bank's grand opening of its offices in the Hearst Tower.

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Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan speaks at Davos gathering

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan is in Davos, Switzerland, this week for the World Economic Forum, the annual gathering of powerful business leaders.

Bloomberg snagged some of Moynihan’s time for an interview it videotapped. Moynihan did not say anything particularly new, but he did touch on a wide range of issues, from the bank’s ongoing legal troubles to his attempts to “simplify” Bank of America through the cost-cutting program known as Project New BAC.

Moynihan also talked about his reasons for attending the Davos gathering, where income inequality is among topics the leaders expect to discuss.

“Uniquely for banking, it’s a chance for all the CEOs of all the institutions across the world to actually sit together in a room with policymakers and others and have a dialogue,” he said. He also said the annual gathering is a good learning opportunity for him.

“As CEOs, we always have to learn, whether it’s learning about what’s going on in a particular company, what’s going on in a particular industry.”

The forum has attracted criticism and protests in the past. But, this year, many critics are seizing on the forum’s planned discussions on income inequality.

On Monday, Oxfam International released a report that says almost half of the world’s wealth is owned by 1 percent of the population.

“Oxfam calls on leaders at the 2014 World Economic Forum at Davos to make the commitments needed to counter the growing tide of inequality,” said the organization, whose mission is to fight poverty.

SunTrust says shuttered Steele Creek branch to open next week

The unopened branch in October
SunTrust Banks says Jan. 27 is the opening date for a Steele Creek branch that was completed more than three years ago but has remained closed ever since.

In October, the Atlanta-based bank told the Observer that it was waiting for “a more opportune time” to open the branch.

“As with any project like this, there are a lot of moving parts, including the recessionary climate the economy was experiencing,” the bank said at the time.

The branch is in RiverGate, a major shopping center in southwest Charlotte. The shopping center is home to Best Buy, Super Target and other big-name retailers.

Mecklenburg County issued an occupancy certificate in 2010 for the branch.

Business owners and employees in the shopping center have called the unopened branch an eyesore and puzzled over why it has remained shuttered.

SunTrust is the fifth largest bank by market share in the Charlotte metropolitan area.

(Photo by Deon Roberts)

Former Bank of America small-business exec takes job at PayPal

Bank of America’s former small-business products head has taken a job with PayPal, joining other bankers who have gone to work for the company.

Lynn Smith Kuttruff, who oversaw the Charlotte-based Bank of America unit until she retired in 2012, starts her new job today. She will be based in Baltimore, where she will be PayPal’s senior director of global core payments.

According to PayPal, Kuttruff’s role will be to help manage the online payment service company’s relationships with third-party payment networks, processors and others.

She’s not the first Bank of America executive to accept a job with San Jose, Calif.-based PayPal. Darrell Esch, a debit cards executive for the bank until 2010, went to work for PayPal that year.

Kuttruff said other bankers in recent years have gone on to take jobs with PayPal, where they can use skills acquired from years of working in financial services.

“I think there’s lots of them,” she said. “I think that we all have an opportunity as we learn things in one industry to parlay that into something else.”

Kuttruff moved to Charlotte from Delaware in 2006, the year Bank of America bought her then-employer, MBNA Corp.

She’s held various positions at Bank of America during her nearly seven years with the company. In her most recent role, she was responsible for growing the bank’s products for small businesses, including loans and debit and credit cards.

Kuttruff, who moved from Charlotte to Delaware this past summer, said she will miss Charlotte.

“I think the thing I liked about Charlotte is it was a great mix of people,” she said. “We miss our home there. It’s a great city.”

BofA's young bankers 'jumping for joy' over new policy

Though Bank of America Merrill Lynch never really condoned extra weekend work for its young investment bankers, one of the division's top executives sent out a memo recently that's supposed to ensure they get a protected day or two per month. A junior banker tells ABC news that he and his peers are "jumping for joy" about it.

The Charlotte bank joined an increasing number of Wall Street firms that are putting limits on the work-till-you-drop culture among young bankers. Bank of America's review was sparked by the death of a 21-year-old intern in London.

BANK OF THE CAROLINAS NAMES NEW CFO: The Mocksville-based bank has named Megan W. Patton its new senior vice president and chief financial officer. The 32-year-old has been with the bank since 2008.

N.C. TREASURER SETS UP COMMISSION TO STUDY PENSION FUND: Janet Cowell wants to look at governance reforms for the state pension system and has tapped a bunch of government and business leaders to do so. Charlotte's CFO, Greg Gaskins, is on the panel.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Brian Moynihan details Bank of America’s tech spending

A 'Teller Assist' ATM
During Bank of America’s fourth quarter earnings presentation Wednesday, CEO Brian Moynihan shared how much the company spends a year on technology development, such as for mobile banking.

The figure is $3 billion. Looked at another way, the bank’s 2013 noninterest expenses were $69.2 billion, of which $3 billion is 4.3 percent.

Moynihan provided the figure when an analyst asked about the bank’s spending on mobile technology. Moynihan said he expects the bank’s level of tech spending to “stay constant.”

Automated teller machines are one area in which the bank has been investing. Last year, the bank introduced new "Teller Assist" ATMs that feature video screens that provide real-time access to tellers in call centers. The bank is installing those ATMs across the country as it reports more customers conducting transactions on their phones instead of in branches.

(Photo courtesy of Bank of America.)

Wells Fargo is the country's most profitable bank

Wells Fargo is now the most profitable bank in America.

As the nation's biggest banks wrap up their fourth quarter earnings reports, the San Francisco bank's performance in 2013 was enough to snag the top spot from the largest U.S. bank by assets, JPMorgan Chase.

Wells Fargo reported this week that it earned $21.9 billion over the course of the year, after four quarters of record profits.

The performance came despite a significant slowdown in mortgage income as interest rates rose, a big blow to the nation's largest home lender. But it also marks a milestone for what was only a few years ago considered a regional player that shunned Wall Street.

Wells Fargo keeps its largest employee base in Charlotte. The bank's acquisition of Charlotte-based Wachovia helped initiate Wells' national ambitions.

JPMorgan had net income of $17.9 billion, down 16 percent as the bank battled federal investigations and negotiated a massive legal settlement.

Citigroup announced today that it earned $13.6 billion in 2013. Bank of America earned $10.1 billion. Goldman Sachs earned $7.7 billion.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Four takeaways from Bank of America's 4Q results

Bank of America reported fourth-quarter earnings Wednesday, following Tuesday's earnings release by JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo.

JP and Wells saw their revenues fall from a year ago. At Bank of America, revenue rose in the quarter, and 2013 turned out to be the most profitable year for the Charlotte bank since 2007.

Here are four key takeaways from Bank of America's quarterly results and conference call.

1. Legal costs go up.
The bank reported that its litigation expenses rose to $2.3 billion in the fourth quarter from $1.1 billion in the third quarter. It was also higher than the $916 million in litigation expenses in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Those funds are what the bank puts into its legal reserves to cover litigation-related costs. The bank said the increase in fourth-quarter litigation expenses resulted from an evaluation of its exposure to lawsuits, primarily those involving residential mortgage-backed securities.

The bank has paid out billions in legal costs to settle lawsuits stemming from the financial crisis, but there continues to be uncertainty about its future exposure to litigation resulting from the downturn. Some analysts, though, say they are confident that the bank has reduced the lion's share of its legal exposure arising from the crisis.

2. Wealth and investment management business sets record.
The bank said its Global Wealth & Investment Management division, which includes Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust, posted record profit of $2.9 billion in 2013. That was up from $2.26 billion in 2012.

Brian Moynihan, Bank of America's CEO, called 2013 "the best year in the company's history for wealth management results." He said the bank now manages client assets worth more than $2.4 trillion.

The bank encourages its employees from other areas within the bank to refer customers to the Global Wealth & Investment Management division. Moynihan said the bank compares referral rates across its markets.

"We have a very stringent program ... where we count the referrals that go in," Moynihan said.

"We count the close rate and who participates and all that. And then markets are stack ranked. ... We monitor it monthly to see how they're doing and reward the people doing well. Then we set aggressive goals, and this year for 2013 they hit all the goals. Every market was in good shape."

3. Mum's the word on the dividend.
Analysts tried to get the bank to say whether it plans to seek an increase of its meager quarterly dividend, which has been stuck at 1 cent since the financial crisis.

But bank officials' lips were sealed.

Since the crisis, the nation’s largest banks can't just raise their dividend or buy back stocks. They must receive approval from the Federal Reserve, which looks to see whether the banks have enough capital to keep operating in a severe economic downturn.

The Fed in 2011 rejected Bank of America’s plan for a dividend increase in the second half of that year. It’s the only time since the financial crisis that the bank has asked the Fed to allow it to raise its dividend.

Bank of America CFO Bruce Thompson told one analyst who asked Wednesday about the dividend that he would not comment on whether the bank will seek an increase this year as part of the Fed's Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review process, also known as CCAR.

Later in the conference call, another analyst tried to get the bank to talk about its plans to return capital to shareholders.

"Unfortunately ... we're not going to give any more guidance on CCAR than we've already given," Thompson said.

"It was a good attempt, though," Moynihan added.

4. More branches will be cut.
Thompson said Bank of America could lower its branch count to less than 5,000 by the end of 2014. That would give the nation's second-largest bank by assets fewer branches than Wells Fargo, the fourth-largest bank by assets.

As of June 30, Wells Fargo had 6,293 branches, down from 6,312 the year before, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data.

Bank of America now has 5,151 branches, a reduction of 327 over the past year.

Bank of America and other banks have been cutting branches as a means to lower their operating costs and as fewer customers are coming into branches for basic transactions. Moynihan said "over-the-counter transactions" are falling, while use of automated teller machines and online and mobile banking continue to rise.

But Bank of America still needs branches, Moynihan said, pointing out that about 8 million customers visit the bank's branches a week.

"Branches do remain a critical component of everything we do," he said.

The 8 million visits, he said, are something that most retailers would give their right arm for.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pittenger takes aim at 'obsolete' regulation limiting account transfers

Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger called Tuesday for the federal government to study how to modernize a 1980s-era banking regulation that restricts customers to six remote transfers between checking and savings accounts per month.

The regulation, known as Regulation D, affects remote transfers, such as those made via telephone and online. Pittenger, whose district includes part of Mecklenburg County, called the regulation "truly obsolete" in an era on online and mobile banking.

"Banks and their customers are still burdened by rules designed in an era when most bank transactions ended with giving a free lollipop to the customer," Pittenger said in a speech before the House of Representatives. "These rules made a lot of sense in an era when most bank transactions were done manually."

The Credit Union National Association is backing Pittenger's legislation, which calls for the Government Accountability Office to study Regulation D and recommend ways to modernize it. Pittenger said credit unions report that their customers hit the six-transfer limit "in a matter of moments" when banking online.

"We need to change this ... so that individuals can manage their money on a daily basis," Pittenger said.

Updating the regulation will benefit consumers and banks, he said.

Pittenger introduced his legislation in October, but it got sidelined because of the government shutdown.

Five takeaways from Wells Fargo's 4Q earnings

While Wells Fargo's ongoing decline in mortgage banking revenue made headlines Tuesday, there's more worth mentioning from the San Francisco bank's fourth-quarter report. Here's a look at five key takeaways:

1. Mel Watt's appointment is met with optimism.
During an earnings call with analysts, Wells Fargo's CEO, John Stumpf, spoke optimistically about Watt, the new head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, saying the bank is looking forward to working with him.

"We know him. I believe he has the same interests we all have as Americans and as our institution that make mortgage lending and money available to credit-worthy Americans so they can buy houses," Stumpf said.

Watt stepped down as a North Carolina congressman to take the FHFA post, to which he was sworn in this last week. His congressional district ran from Charlotte to Greensboro.

The real estate industry is keeping a close eye on Watt and what his housing policies might be. The FHFA oversees the government bailed-out mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

2. Branches are not expected to see a large net increase.
Don't expect Wells Fargo to substantially grow its number of branches in 2014. Stumpf said that although the bank will build branches this year, it will consolidate others. That means, he said, there won't be a large net increase in branches, which Wells Fargo refers to as "stores."

"We're making a lot of investments in technology as customers are interested in mobile and other ways to access us," he said. "We still believe that stores are important, and we believe that because our customers tell us that."

Wells Fargo, like other banks, has been trimming branches as the industry seeks to cut costs. As of June 30, Wells Fargo had 6,293 branches, down from 6,312 the year before, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data.

3. Home price gains expected to slow.
The sizable annual gains in home prices are expecting to shrink. Stumpf said he expects appreciation of 3 to 5 percent in 2014, in line with what some economist are predicting.

In December, average home prices rose 9 percent in the Charlotte region, the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association said last week. Low supplies of homes for sale are credited with helping drive up prices in the region. According to the association, the inventory of homes for sale sank to a 4.8-month supply in December.

"While we don't expect the same rate of home price appreciation we had last year, we do expect the housing market to continue to recover, which will benefit the U.S. economy," Stumpf said. "And despite the rise in home prices, and interest rates over the past year, housing is still very affordable."

4. Cross-sell strategy is paying off.
Wells Fargo continues to boost the number of products it sells per retail banking household. In the quarter, it hit a record of 6.16 products per household, up from 6.05 percent a year ago.

The bank wants to get that number to at least eight.

5. Head count is coming down.
As other banks have done to cut costs, Wells Fargo has decreased its number of employees.

Wells Fargo shed 5,700 jobs in the quarter, or 2 percent of its work force, from the third quarter. Many of those cuts were in its mortgage business, which has seen a slump in demand for refinancing amid higher mortgage rates.

The bank's current work force is 264,900. It employs roughly 20,700 in the Charlotte region.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bank of America exec dresses like 49ers mascot after losing bet

Bank of America's Charlotte-market president on Monday wielded a fake pickaxe and wore cowboy boots and a fake beard, the outcome of his losing bet over Sunday's Carolina Panthers/San Francisco 49ers game.

Charles Bowman had a wager going with his counterpart in San Francisco: Should the Panthers lose this past Sunday, Bowman pledged to go to his Tryon Street office dressed like Sourdough Sam, the 49ers' mascot. If the Panthers were to win, his counterpart Martin Richards would have had to dress like the Panthers’ Sir Purr.

A photo of Bowman in the garb was posted to his Twitter account Monday.

"Making good on my bet. After yesterday's crushing loss, here I am as Sourdough Sam," read the text accompanying the photo.

The playoff game was also battle of two bank towns. Charlotte’s NationsBank became Bank of America when it bought San Francisco-based BankAmerica in 1998. A decade later, San Francisco’s Wells Fargo bought Charlotte-based Wachovia.

As a result, bankers in Charlotte and San Francisco engaged in friendly bets and bantering leading up to the game.

The Panthers lost to the 49ers 23-10.

Friday, January 10, 2014

TD Bank names Charlotte equipment finance manager

TD Bank said it has named a Charlotte-based senior regional manager to grow its equipment finance business in the Southeast.

Paul Menconi, who worked for Wells Fargo before joining TD Bank, will be responsible for generating new business with Fortune 1000 companies, the bank said.

His hire comes at a time when the equipment finance sector is undergoing sluggish demand for loans. Last month, the National Association of Development Companies said small-business commercial real estate and equipment finance loan volume is at its lowest in nearly three years.

Banks and companies that provide equipment financing reported a drop in confidence in December from November, according to an index report from the Equipment Leasing and Finance Foundation. The report, based on responses from 50 industry officials, found 78.8 percent expect business conditions to remain the same over the next four months.

TD Bank is based in Cherry Hill, N.J. It is the 14th largest bank in the U.S. by assets and a subsidiary of The Toronto-Dominion Bank of Toronto.

Former Wells Fargo CEO Kovacevich says banks are 'easy target' for government

Big banks have become an “easy target” for the U.S. government and are being unfairly blamed for the financial crisis, the former CEO of Wells Fargo says.

In an interview this week with CNBC, Dick Kovacevich said “exotic” subprime mortgages that went sour caused the crisis but were not big banks’ creations. Instead, savings and loans associations and Countrywide Financial Corp. were the originators of those mortgages, he said.

“And all the distributors were basically investment banks,” he said. “And yet 7,000 commerical banks are being blammed for something that they really didn’t do.”

Kovacevich retired as CEO of the San Francisco bank in 2007, giving up the role to current chief executive John Stumpf. Kovacevich was chairman of the bank during its 2008 acquisition of Charlotte-based Wachovia, but he’s since stepped down.

On CNBC, Kovacevich also described big banks as being “very healthy,” thanks to the amount of capital they have set aside. Since the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve conducts “stress tests” of banks to make sure they have enough capital to withstand a severe economic downturn.

In September, Wells Fargo reported it could incur a net loss of $3.8 billion over nine quarters under a hypothetical downturn affecting U.S. and global markets. The figure was released as part of so-called mid-cycle stress tests that the biggest U.S. banks must conduct.

Wells Fargo also reported at the time that its capital ratios would remain above required minimums over nine quarters.

Kovacevich said that banks' capital levels are strong.

“I think that many banks are overcapitalized at the moment,” he said.

But banks have other work to do, he said.

“The challenge going forward is the industry has to grow revenue,” he said. “Hopefully, the Fed will allow, because of all this capital, for further increases in dividends and stock buybacks.

“If the industry can start growing its revenue, which I think it will in 2014, and be able to give more money back to its stockholders, it should be still good for the stocks.”

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pittenger calls for delay of qualified mortgage rules

Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger called Wednesday for a one-year delay of new mortgage rules designed to make sure homebuyers are able to repay their mortgages.

Pittenger, whose district includes part of Mecklenburg County, made the request shortly after noon in House of Representatives chambers. His request comes just two days before the rules issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau go into effect.

“This rule is going to have a devastating effect on the housing industry,” Pittenger said. "Fifty percent of the loans made in 2013 will not be made for 2014 with these guidelines."

He called for the delay "to allow Congress to improve it."

The so-called ability-to-repay and qualified-mortgage requirements stem from the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act and are designed to prevent the kind of risky loans that contributed to the recent financial crisis.

The ability-to-repay rule requires lenders to examine eight types of financial information about a borrower, including income and debts, to ensure they can repay a mortgage.

Borrowers will face even more requirements if a lender chooses to make a "qualified" mortgage, which requires loans to meet additional measurements. Under the general category of qualified mortgages, a borrower’s debt-to-income ratio cannot exceed 43 percent, although that does not apply to mortgages eligible for purchase by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae or to be insured by government agencies under a provision set to run until 2021.

Even critics of the rules say the changes won’t feel all that different, as lenders have changed their practices in the wake of the financial crisis. But the rules will make it tougher for low-income and first-time homebuyers, as well as those in rural areas, to get a mortgage, critics say.

Pittenger, who serves on the House Financial Services Committee, told the Observer in an interview last month that the rules will restrict access to loans because lenders will not want to make a non-qualified mortgage. Lenders don’t have to make qualified mortgages under the new rules, but they receive certain legal protections from future borrower lawsuits if they do. Pittenger said lenders will want the protections and, therefore, make only qualified mortgages.

"They don't want to be sued," he said in the December interview.

The rules will hurt the housing industry, which is needed to "pull us out of this recession," he said.

One concern critics have raised about the ability-to-repay rule is that could make it hard for some first-time borrowers to qualify for adjustable-rate mortgages. That's because, under the rules, the highest interest rate expected over the life of the loan must be considered when a lender is calculating a borrower’s debts.

Critics have also said borrowers in outlying parts of the Charlotte region could be especially hurt by the new rules. In those areas, loan amounts tend to be lower, which will make it hard for points and fees to stay within new limits. Lenders might not charge underwriting fees as a means to help borrowers meet points and fee thresholds, but they might ask for a higher interest rate to compensate, critics say.

Pittenger, a Dodd-Frank critic, said the new mortgage rules go too far.

"We have an over-regulated financial market," he said. "The pendulum has swung way too far. Yes, we need some regulations, but there's been an over-reaction by Washington.

"Let the market work. The best thing the government can do is get out the way."

After Pittenger's speech, the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group praised the new mortgage rules in a press release.

“The CFPB is getting results for consumers,” Kalila Zunes-Wolfe, a consumer advocate with NCPIRG, said in a statement. “These new rules are designed to help people safely buy affordable homes and then to keep them.”

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Park Sterling names operations and IT head

Park Sterling Corp., the largest regional bank headquartered in the Charlotte area, said in a securities filing Tuesday that it has brought on Mark Ladnier as its new head of operations and information technology.

Ladnier will oversee deposit and loan operations alongside IT. He comes to the bank from Premier Alliance, a Charlotte-based consulting and advisory firm.

Before that, Ladnier had been in executive positions at Wells Fargo, and Wachovia before the San Francisco bank bought it.

His addition is the third senior vice president hiring announced the bank this week. On Monday, Park Sterling said it had hired heads of wealth management and mortgage lending as part of a broader expansion into Virginia.

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PwC names new Carolinas managing partner

Accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers said Tuesday that it has named veteran Crawford Pounds to be the managing partner of the Carolinas region.

In the role, he'll oversee more than 900 people and four offices -- in Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro and Spartanburg, S.C. He'll continue to work in Charlotte.

Pounds started with PricewaterhouseCoopers in 1988 in Birmingham, Ala., before eventually coming to Charlotte in 2008. He most recently had been the assurance leader for the Carolinas, which makes sure business data is accurate and in context.

The firm also said that Mary Shelton Rose has been named advisory leader for the Carolinas and based in Charlotte. Her 230-person group deals with consulting and transactions.

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Queens University offers first course under new banking program

Queens University of Charlotte’s new banking program, designed to supply banks with graduates prepared for management and other higher-level jobs, is off and running.

Classes began Monday for the program’s first course, which has attracted three students, the university said.

Tracy Grooms, who is heading the program, said that while that's a "relatively low" number of students, the program is new. Also, she said, the expectation is that finance majors will take the courses when they are in their junior or senior years.

Queens just launched its finance major last fall.

Queens announced the creation of the banking program last year. Hugh McColl Jr., after whom the university’s business school is named, has said the program is needed to provide trained students to banks. McColl said small banks, in particular, are having trouble attracting skilled employees compared with their bigger peers.

In the Charlotte area, small and midsize banks say there's a shortage of experiencing commercial lenders in the area, thanks in part to people leaving the industry by retiring or changing jobs.

In addition, some finance majors say they are leery of going to work in traditional banking jobs, further complicating banks’ efforts to fill positions. Those students are worried that banking doesn't provide enough job security, a perception that's endured since the financial crisis, bankers and academics say.

Plans call for Queens’ banking program to be composed of three courses. The other two will be Commercial Bank Lending and Bank Management.

Grooms, a former Bank of America executive, said she is not surprised by the low enrollment in the first course, Fundamentals of Banking.

The finance major is too new for Queens to have students far enough along in their studies to consider the banking concentration, she said. Also, the registration information for Fundamentals of Banking was "minimal," because the banking program had not yet been established, she said. Consequently, many students were not aware of the course, she said.

"It was not well known and understood."

Grooms said she is planning to do more to raise awareness of the program, including holding banking career sessions on campus for students in the McColl School of Business.

She said she has received positive feedback from bankers on the program.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Watt sworn in as housing finance head

Long-time Charlotte congressman Mel Watt has been sworn in as the first permanent director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the regulator said Monday. He takes over the primary agency overseeing mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and one that lies at the crux of housing policy in the U.S.

“Today’s housing finance system is one of the keys to our economic recovery and I am grateful for the opportunity to help develop a strong foundation for moving this system forward for the benefit of all Americans at this critical point in our nation’s history," Watt said in a statement.

Watt was sworn in by Anthony Foxx, the former Charlotte mayor who is now U.S. Secretary of Transportation. He will serve a five-year term.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to pick a date today for the election to fill Watt's seat in the 12th District, which runs in a crescent from uptown Charlotte to Greensboro.

Photo is courtesy Paul Morse and the FHFA.

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Five things to know about Bank of America’s new branches

In November, Bank of America reopened an uptown Charlotte branch it had converted into one of its “Express Centers,” a concept the bank unveiled last year.

Charlotte is among six places that are the testing ground for these new branches, which are smaller than a normal Bank of America branch. So far, Charlotte has only one Express Center, at the EpiCentre entertainment complex. It’s unclear whether the bank will open more Express Centers in Charlotte.

Rob Aulebach, a Charlotte-based executive for Bank of America who oversees the placement of branches, said the Express Centers will complement the bank’s network of typical branches, automated teller machines and other locations. The approach is similar to grocery store chains that have small, express stores in addition to their larger, traditional stores, he said.

“Here you have a smaller, express banking center that gives you just about everything the full-service does,” he said. “The idea is to structure a network so that you’re as convenient as possible.”

Bank of America and other banks say they are tinkering with their branches because of changing consumer behavior. The increased use of mobile and online banking is causing some banks to staff new branches with fewer tellers than in the past. Banks see less need for tellers in branches as consumers are able to conduct transactions, such as depositing checks, on their computers or smart phones.

Banks are also experimenting with smaller branches, which they say are cheaper to operate. Wells Fargo began testing a smaller branch in Washington, D.C., last year.

The smaller branches come as many banks are trying to cut costs amid weak revenues stemming from sluggish loan growth and a low-interest-rate environment. As one method of reducing costs, some banks been closing branches. Bank of America’s branch count alone has fallen by 500 since 2011, when it announced a massive cost-cutting plan called Project New BAC.

Although Bank of America has shed branches, Aulebach said the bank still sees a need for them. He said 85 percent of all the bank’s "sales," such as signing up a customer for a checking account, take place in a branch.

"People still buy in person," he said.

Aulebach described the Express Centers as being in pilot mode.

"We’re trying different things and different locations and arrangements to see what the consumer wants," he said.

I recently toured the uptown Express Center. Here are five things worth noting:

1. No tellers. Although tellers used to work in the EpiCentre branch before it was converted into an Express Center, there are no more on site. A wall exists where the tellers once were. Customers who want to speak with a teller can use the bank’s new automated teller machines, which provide access to a teller who appears on a video screen.

The feature is known as Teller Assist, and the tellers are stationed in call centers in Delaware and Florida and available outside of normal banking hours.

Customers have no control over which teller will pop up when they use the new ATMs, Aulebach said.

There are no tellers on site in any of the Express Centers, but all are said to be equipped with the Teller Assist ATMs. The new ATMs have also been put into some traditional Bank of America branches.

2. 2,000 square feet. That’s how big the EpiCentre branch is. It's about half the size of a typical Bank of America branch.

3. Small staff. Aulebach said there are only four employees in the EpiCentre branch: a manager, some personal bankers and those who can handle customer requests, such as issuing new debit cards or providing account balances.

4. Private offices. Although the Express Centers are small, they have private offices for customers to meet with bankers if needed. The EpiCentre branch has three private offices.

5. No video conferencing. The EpiCentre Express Center does not have video access to the bank’s mortgage, small-business and financial-adviser specialists. Some Express Centers are equipped for video conferencing, Aulebach said. But the EpiCentre location isn’t, because such specialists are available in a full-service Bank of America branch at the bank’s headquarters at Trade and Tryon streets, a block away.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Charlotte company to manage state's first captive insurance businesses

Charlotte-based Atlas Insurance Management said Friday that it has landed three of the first licenses for a type of insurance newly permitted in North Carolina.

Atlas deals in captive insurance, a form of self-insurance that's grown increasingly popular among mid-sized and large business over the past decade. Essentially, companies set up insurance subsidiaries that cover only its own parent company.

The system allows companies to set aside money with tax advantages to protect itself from risk traditional insurance companies don’t cover, or to cover risk at lower cost.

The N.C. General Assembly passed legislation in 2013 that allows companies for the first time to incorporate captive insurance subsidiaries in North Carolina. Lawmakers hailed it as a way to bring more work and tax dollars to the state. Before, North Carolina firms that wanted to get into the captive insurance business would have to set up operations in another state.

N.C. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin announced this week that his office had issued the first four licenses. Atlas Insurance Management is running three of them on behalf of clients. One of them is from the Charlotte area. Atlas declined to give more details on its clients, citing confidentiality promises.

"Certainly there is an economic benefit to the state," company chairman Martin Eveleigh said. He cited his own company's growth, and said having captive insurance operations here will also bring more actuarial, legal and auditing business to the area.

"We’re very optimistic about what’s possible in the state over the next few years," Eveleigh said.

Atlas has its office at Carmel Road and N.C. 51 in south Charlotte, employing eight.

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Read more here:

Park Sterling Bank entering Virginia market

Charlotte's largest regional bank said Friday that it is expanding into Virginia, forming a commercial banking team and hiring two new business line heads from the Richmond, Va. area.

Park Sterling Bank entered the new market by hiring five bankers from Charlottesville, Va.-based StellarOne Bank. It was acquired by Richmond's Union First Market Bankshares Corp. in a deal that closed Jan. 1.

Three executives from StellarOne will form Park Sterling Bank's first commercial lending team in Virginia. Rob Leitch, Tom Zachry and Bobby Cowgill will hold senior vice president titles at Park Sterling.

The bank also hired Michael Williams to lead Park Sterling's wealth management business, a new position. He had been director of wealth management at StellarOne.

Steve Farbstein comes to Park Sterling as head of mortgage banking after serving in a similar role at StellarOne.

They'll work initially from a loan production office. Park Sterling Bank said it ultimately hopes to get regulatory approval for full-service banking in the state.

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bank of America shares hit more than 3-year high

Bank of America shares kicked off 2014 with a strong start, hitting a 3 1/2-year high Thursday after Citigroup analysts increased their rating on the stock.

Shares of the Charlotte-based bank rose as high as $16.16 in intraday trading after the report gave a “buy” recommendation to the stock, up from “neutral.” The analysts cited their expectation that Bank of America will see continued expense reductions through the bank's sweeping cost-cutting initiative known as Project New BAC and through lower legal costs.

The bank's shares closed at $16.10 Thursday, the highest closing price since $16.18 on May 27, 2010. Thursday's intraday high topped the previous intraday high of $16.10 on June 21, 2010.

Bank of America's price is above the $15.06 at which it closed Dec. 31, 2009, the day before CEO Brian Moynihan officially started as CEO. Last year, the bank's shares hit 52-week highs more than two dozen times, according to Bloomberg data.

But Bank of America's share price remains below its peak hit in 2006, when it topped $50. Last year, Bank of America's low share price cost the bank its placement on the Dow Jones Industrial Average 30-stock index. The price also still lags that of its big-bank peers.

Analysts say the rising price of the bank's stock reflects investor confidence that Moynihan, who is in his fifth year as CEO, is delivering on cost-cutting promises and cleaning up the bank’s legal issues. The bank has spent billions to settle legal disputes stemming from the financial crisis.

The Citigroup report said Bank of America continues to face lawsuit risks because of its 2008 purchase of Countrywide Financial Corp., which originated mortgages that soured and cost investors billions of dollars. But the bank has also been able to lower its costs related to servicing Countrywide mortgages, the analysts said.

"Bank of America has several components to improved long-term earnings potential," the report said.

The Citigroup analysts also said Thursday said they predict the stock will hit $19 in 12 months.

Raymond James analysts said Thursday in a separate report that they expect the stock to hit $17 by that time.