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After Fair Finance Watch Protest to Ameris Bank Takeover Of Fidelity Fed Has Questions

By Matthew R. Lee, Patreon

NEW YORK, April 4 – The bank with the worst record in the United States for gouging consumers with overdraft fees, Ameris, has applied to the Federal Reserve to buy Fidelity Southern Corporation and its Fidelity Bank, both in Atlanta. On March 2, Fair Finance Watch filed formal opposition with the Federal Reserve Board, whose chairman Jerome Powell has insisted that the Fed is not just a rubber stamper of all mergers, citing the gouging, Ameris' disparate mortgage lending record in Atlanta, Georgia and Florida, and the Community Reinvestment Act. See below. Now the Fed has asked Ameris questions, including: "5)    The Community Reinvestment Act performance evaluation for Ameris Bank as of October 2016 stated that Ameris Bank “demonstrated poor responsiveness in meeting the community development investment needs in the Atlanta MSA.”  Please discuss any subsequent efforts to improve this performance, and please discuss any community development investment plans for the combined bank." Why should a bank already demonstrably poor in Atlanta be allowed to buy another bank there? Without even an evidentiary hearing? The Fed's question letter also zeroes in on some of the inconsistencies that have characterized Ameris' recent interactions with regulator, for example asking: "1)    The Application indicates that immediately prior to the effective time of the merger of FSC with and into Applicant (“Merger”), FSC’s outstanding common stock will be converted into the right to receive 0.80 shares of Applicant’s common stock.  However, for question 10c of the Application, which requests a current and pro forma shareholder list if the proposed transaction will result in a change in ownership, Applicant answered “not applicable.”    a.    Please address this discrepancy.    b.    If yes, provide a current and, if different, pro forma list of Applicant’s shareholders that will hold a 5 percent or more ownership interest, identifying the percentage of voting interests and total equity of Applicant held by each shareholder or group of shareholders.   2)    The Application indicates the Merger will be funded through the issuance of approximately 22 million shares of Applicant’s common stock.  Please revise the response to question 10d of the Application to address this statement.    3)    The Application indicates Fidelity Bank has branches in states other than Applicant’s home state of Georgia.  Accordingly, please revise the response to question 21 of the Application." This is not the first time Ameris' applications to the Fed have contained falsehoods.  As Inner City Press previously exclusively reported it turned out, from Ameris' response, that its application was false when it said it would continue the CRA policies of Atlantic - see full response on Patreon, here, question 3. Inner City Press requested records under the Freedom of Information Act - a process on which the Fed is increasingly slow, perhaps taking its lead from Comptroller Joe Otting who is now trying to hinder even getting copies of merger applications from the OCC. We'll have more on this.  From Fair Finance Watch's (and Inner City Press') filing with the Fed: "This is a timely first comment opposing and requesting an extension of the FRB's public comment period on the Application by Ameris Bancorp to merge with Fidelity Southern Corporation, and thereby indirectly acquire Fidelity Bank, both of Atlanta, Georgia      Fair Finance Watch has reviewed Ameris' lending in 2016 and now 2017, the most recent year for which Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data is available, in the Atlanta and other Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) and finds the data to be disparate.     In the Atlanta MSA in 2016 for home purchase loans, Ameris denied the applications of African Americans 2.11 times more frequently than those of whites. Ameris made 582 such loans to whites, only 206 to African Americans and only 48 to Latinos.       Ameris got WORSE in 2017, with a denial rate disparate risen to 2.24, and its loans to African Americans down to 157 (from 206), a steeper decline than for whites.     In the Jacksonville MSA in 2016 for home improvements loans, Ameris made five such loans to whites and none to African Americans or Latinos. It got worse in 2017: nine to whites, still none to African Americans.       The company plans to locate its bank HQ and BHC HQ in different cities, and to leave Moultrie, Georgia behind: "While Ameris Bancorp moved its executive offices to the Riverplace Tower on Jacksonville’s Southbank three years ago, the banking company still officially lists its headquarters as Moultrie, Georgia.  However, a preliminary proxy statement filed for its proposed acquisition of Fidelity Southern Corp. finally acknowledges Jacksonville as its corporate headquarters.  As Ameris negotiated terms of the merger with officials of Atlanta-based Fidelity Southern in September, “Ameris also reaffirmed its intent for Atlanta, Georgia to be the location of its bank headquarters and operations center following the transaction with its holding company headquarters remaining in Jacksonville, Florida,” the proxy said.  When Ameris announced the deal in December to buy the parent company of Fidelity Bank for stock valued at $751 million, it did say the bank subsidiary would be headquartered in Atlanta and the executive offices would be in Jacksonville. However, it also said Moultrie would remain the official holding company headquarters."  This is murky and also militates for an evidentiary hearing.      Also for the record, and to be belatedly addressed at the requested evidentiary hearings: “Georgia bank socking customers with overdraft fees,” Atlanta Journal Constitution, January 3, 2017: “Ameris Bank collected the most overdraft/insufficient fund fees per account of any U.S. bank, says the analysis, which is based on federal government data from the first three quarters of 2016. Ameris collected an average of about $176 per account.. The No. 2 bank on the list of the top 10 collected an average of about $131 per account. The national average was $17.76.”  This is predatory.       On the current record, Ameris' applications should be denied." Watch this site.


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