Monday, December 22, 2014

Cooper: Military needs more protections from predatory lenders

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper is among 22 state attorneys general who raised concerns Monday that proposed regulations intended to better protect members of the military from predatory lenders do not go far enough.

Cooper and the other attorneys general voiced the concerns in a letter to the U.S. Department of Defense, which proposed the regulations earlier this year.

The regulations are designed to close loopholes in the Military Lending Act, which Congress passed in 2006 to establish protections for active-duty military and their dependents dealing with predatory lenders.

Among other protections, the act bans members of the military from being charged more than 36 percent in annual interest on certain consumer loans. Payday, auto title and tax refund-anticipation loans are among those covered by the cap.

But attorneys general and regulators say lenders have used loopholes in the act to prey on members of the military. Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal regulator, in September said some lenders lurk just outside of military bases to offer loans that fall just beyond the act's limits.

The letter from the attorneys general praises the Department of Defense for proposing regulations that will close loopholes in the act. But the attorneys general say the proposed regulations still leave borrowers exposed to abusive lending practices.

One problem with the proposed regulations is they exempt certain fees, such as application fees, if they are deemed "reasonable and customary," the letter says. That could allow lenders to charge abusive fees to borrowers, the letter says.

The other problem with the proposed regulations is they fail to address predatory practices involving loans backed by collateral, the letter says. Such loans are exempt from the act, but lenders have regularly used the exemption to engage in abusive practices that Congress sought to ban with the act, the letter says.

"The men and women who serve to protect our nation deserve stronger protections from unfair loans," Cooper said in a statement. "These reforms need to be comprehensive and fix the problems we're seeing service members face with unscrupulous lending practices."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

HomeTrust hires president to lead expansion in Charlotte

Asheville's HomeTrust Bancshares said this week it has hired a market president to lead the lender's expansion in Charlotte, which it entered by acquiring Charlotte's Bank of Commerce earlier this year.

HomeTrust, the holding company for HomeTrust Bank, said longtime Charlotte-area banker Jeff Mylton will officially take on the new position Jan. 1. Mylton was most recently with Fifth Third Bank.

Jeff Mylton
The hiring comes after HomeTrust Bank entered the coveted Charlotte market this summer through its roughly $10 million acquisition of Bank of Commerce. Before that deal, HomeTrust had locations as close as Cherryville, Shelby and Lexington but none in Mecklenburg County.

The Bank of Commerce deal is part of HomeTrust's recent expansion efforts. In January, HomeTrust said it would acquire Jefferson Bancshares Inc. in East Tennessee. Last month, HomeTrust announced that it completed its acquisition of 10 Bank of America branches in Virginia and Eden, N.C.

"Entering the Charlotte market was critical to growing our N.C. franchise and further supports our strategic growth plan as a regional community bank," HomeTrust President Dana Stonestreet said in a statement. "Jeff Mylton's experience and reputation will be critical in bringing HomeTrust Bank to the market and growing commercial relationships."

By mid-February, HomeTrust Bank plans to complete the re-branding of Bank of Commerce's former headquarters on Queens Road, where Bank of Commerce also had its only branch.

The Bank of Commerce deal brought an end to a one-branch bank that was founded in 2006 by Charlotte community banker Wes Sturges and that focused on commercial clients.

It also marked yet another consolidation in the banking industry, which continues to see declining numbers of banks through mergers and acquisitions.

Banking industry officials say that costly post-financial crisis regulations are a large driver of those consolidations. Those new regulations, they say, are driving up costs for banks, making it harder for small ones especially to compete. They say that is pushing banks to merge or be acquired to create a bigger financial institution that can spread out the higher expenses.

HomeTrust Bancshares had $2.21 billion in assets as of the end of September. HomeTrust Bank, founded in 1926, is a community bank with operations in the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Nixon's son-in-law topples pricey vase at BofA art event

Edward Cox
When Bank of America held an art-preservation event at its New York offices last week, the mood was shattered for a moment when a prominent guest accidentally broke a vase valued at thousands of dollars.

That guest was none other than the son-in-law of President Richard Nixon, Edward Cox, who serves as chairman of the New York Republican Party.

The event, hosted by Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan on Thursday, was designed to discuss the importance of restoring the art and artifacts of New York City's St. Patrick’s Cathedral. According to a story by the New York Post, Home Depot co-founder Kenneth Langone was among the attendees.

Moynihan kicked things off by announcing a $1 million commitment from the Charlotte-based bank to restore one of the cathedral's prominent stained-glass windows.The bank made the donation as part of its ongoing art-conservation efforts.

But the room's attention was abruptly shifted by a crashing sound when Cox knocked over the vase. Here is an excerpt from the New York Post story:

... a witness reports, “the peace was shattered when Ed Cox accidentally knocked over a 4-foot-tall antique vase in the center of the room. It fell to the floor and shattered with a terrible, piercing, sound which stopped the entire room.” The source added, “Ed nervously tried to edge away from the wreckage while the event staff looked mortified." ...

A Bank of America spokesman tells the Observer the vase was worth $3,600 and made in 2007.

David Laska, a spokesman for Cox, confirmed the incident in a statement to the Post:

"The vase was placed on a very small table, and after it broke, Bank of America officials apologized to Mr. Cox. They said this had happened before — other items that were placed on that table had previously been broken.

“No one is ever happy when a vase falls and breaks, especially a nice vase. But they did not ask him to pay for the item. They acknowledged the placement of the vase was ill-advised.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bank of North Carolina names new Charlotte-area president

Bank of North Carolina has named a new market president whose territory includes the Charlotte metropolitan area.

The High Point-based lender announced Wednesday that it has promoted Rob Ellenburg to the role of North Carolina southern region market president. In that position, he will be responsible for leading the commercial and retail banking teams for the Charlotte metro area and Buncombe and Henderson counties.

Ellenburg is replacing Bill Connolly, who has been named chief commercial banking officer. Ellenburg most recently served as Charlotte area executive for the bank.

According to a press release from the bank, Ellenburg serves on the board of directors of Junior Achievement of Central Carolinas and the board of the Lake Norman Giants football association.

Bank of North Carolina's parent company is BNC Bancorp. It is the ninth largest bank in the Charlotte region by deposits, according to federal data.

In April, the bank announced it completed its acquisition of South Street Financial Corp., a $26 million deal that gives BNC Bancorp a deeper presence in the Charlotte area.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Moynihan not alarmed about falling oil prices

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said Tuesday he does not see falling oil prices as a large threat to the Charlotte-based bank.

While the recent decline in oil prices has been good news for consumers, it could be bad for some banks. One concern is that dropping oil revenues could lead to losses on loans banks have made to the energy industry. As oil prices have fallen, investors have been wondering how the decline might impact the banks for which they hold stock.

Moynihan, speaking at an investor conference, said Bank of America issues loans to "strong companies." In addition, the bank's overall business is well-balanced, he said.

"We don't see a big problem" with where oil prices have fallen, he said. "We're very comfortable with the underwriting we've done."

So just how much in energy loans do the biggest U.S. banks have?

According to a report -- with the title "Large U.S. bank oil exposure: There won't be blood" -- which was issued last week by RBC Capital Markets, Citigroup has the largest percentage of outstanding loans tied to the oil industry: 6.82 percent.

Bank of America comes in at 2.3 percent. Wells Fargo has less, at 1.8 percent.

The average exposure based on all 20 big banks in the report is 2.4 percent.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Movement Mortgage continues expansion push

Virginia-based Movement Mortgage, co-founded six years ago by a former Panthers player, announced last week that it has hit an employment milestone: the hiring of its 1,500th employee.

The announcement comes as the privately held mortgage bank, which has a large operation in Charlotte, continues its fast expansion as its seeks to gain market share.

Movement has grown from just four employees when it was founded in 2008 by ex-Panthers tight end Casey Crawford and business partner Toby Harris. Last year and the year before, Inc. magazine named it to its list of fastest-growing private companies in America.

It did not make the magazine's list this year.

Movement's strategy is to make loans largely for home purchases, not to refinance existing mortgages. It says its goal is to process loans within seven business days. According to its website, it is processing more than 70 percent of loans in that time frame.

The company is adding employees at a time when the mortgage market continues to see a shift toward home purchasing rather than refinancing. The Mortgage Bankers Association expects purchase originations to increase 15 percent next year as refinance originations decrease 3 percent. Refinancing activity began declining last year as interest rates rose.

This year, Movement has added about 50 employees in the Charlotte region, where it employs about 200 people, the company said.

The company says it operates in 40 states and has about 300 licensed offices. It says it employs the most in Virginia Beach, where it is headquartered, with about 375 employees.

The company went by the name New American Mortgage until last year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ridgemont Equity acquires defibrillator distributor

Charlotte-based private equity firm Ridgemont Equity Partners announced Wednesday it has acquired Allied 100, a Wisconsin-based distributor of portable defibrillators.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Allied was founded in 2002. It owns AED Superstore, which distributes automated external defibrillators and parts and accessories.

Ridgemont was spun out of Bank of America in 2010. The firm's strategy is to make middle-market investments of $25 million to $100 million in a variety of industries, including energy, health care and telecommunications.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pittenger's banking bill wins House OK

Rep. Robert Pittenger's bill directing the federal government to study a regulation that limits certain withdrawals and transfers from savings accounts won unanimous approval Tuesday from the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill takes aim at 1980s-era federal banking rules that restrict bank customers to no more than six withdrawals and transfers from their savings account per month.

The House approved it 422-0. It now heads to the Senate. (Video of Pittenger speaking today in support of his bill is below.)

Pittenger, a Republican whose district includes part of Mecklenburg County, has called the regulation obsolete in an era of online and mobile banking. In general, the limit on withdrawals and transfers applies when those transactions are done outside the bank, such as online or by phone.

Those supporting the bill include the National Association of Federal Credit Unions, which criticized the limit in a letter Tuesday to House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Among other complaints, the association said credit union members could be hit with fees if they go over their monthly quota of transactions between savings and checking accounts. The association called the rule a "prime example of a regulation that hasn't been reconsidered by Congress ... in far too long."

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pittenger's banking bill headed for House vote

A bill by Rep. Robert Pittenger that takes aim at 1980s-era federal banking rules that limit certain withdrawals and transfers from savings accounts is scheduled for a Tuesday vote by the House of Representatives.

In July, the House Financial Services Committee approved the bill, House Resolution 3240, which directs the Government Accountability Office to study Regulation D. The regulation restricts bank customers to no more than six withdrawals and transfers from their savings account per month.

Generally speaking, the limit applies when such transactions are done outside the bank, such as online. Pittenger has said credit unions report that their customers hit the six-transfer limit quickly when they bank online. The Republican, whose district includes part of Mecklenburg County, has called the regulation obsolete at a time of widespread online and mobile banking.

"This legislation will directly impact hardworking American families who currently encounter roadblocks when trying to actively manage their finances online,"  Pittenger's office said in a statement Monday. "The goal is to reform regulations in a way that still protects the financial system while allowing families more freedom to manage their finances using modern technology."

If the House approves the bill, it would head to the Senate, where it would require Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's approval to send it to the Senate Banking Committee.

'Twelve Days of Christmas' to cost you 1 percent more

Here's some good -- and bad -- news on this Cyber Monday from PNC Financial Services Group.

According to the Pittsburgh-based lender's 2014 "Christmas Price Index," an annual tongue-in-cheek economic analysis, buying all of the items in the classic “The Twelve Days of Christmas" song would cost you a total of $27,673.21 -- only 1 percent more than last year's total.

That's the cost to buy everything in the song -- from the partridge in a pear tree to the 12 drummers drumming -- at a store (as opposed to online).

The 1 percent increase is close to the U.S. government's Consumer Price Index, which stands at 1.7 percent for the past 12 months through October. When volatile food and energy prices are removed, the Consumer Price Index is up 1.8 percent.

According to the PNC report, in its 31st year, tumbling energy costs and inflation remaining calm are behind the "tame" increase in the Christmas Price Index.

That's the good news.

The bad news is for online shoppers, who would pay $42,959.07 to buy their true love all of the song's items. That's $15,285 more than if the items were bought in person -- and a whopping 8 percent more than it cost to buy the items online last year.

So if you're looking to save, you might want to actually go into a store to buy your six geese-a-laying.

Just be sure to put some newspaper or something on the floor and seats of your car for the ride home.