I know that I write quite a bit about our local banking industry and with good reason. We are a small city with a number of prominent community banks. Those community banks are incredibly important and play a vital role in the continued growth and success of this county and its residents.
It is no secret that banks in Georgia are under "siege" from federal regulators. Termed the "Chernobyl of Banking" in a Wall Street Journal article, the state of Georgia leads the nation in bank failures, and therefore, many industry insiders would argue, is now the most scrutinized.
According to Commissioner Rob Braswell of the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance, the current recessionary environment has hit Georgia community banks especially hard, with more than two-thirds of Georgia's 341 banks currently operating under formal agreements with regulators. Braswell made that statement at the Georgia Southeastern Region Community Banking Symposium on March 24.
On April 23, FMB Equibanc, Inc. became one of those banks as it voluntarily agreed to enter into a Written Agreement with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, in which FMB Equibanc, Inc. has committed to serve as a "source of strength" for its bank subsidiary, Statesboro based Farmers & Merchants Bank, and agreed to not take certain actions without the Federal Reserve's approval.
Prior to that on December 7, 2009, Farmers & Merchants Bank voluntarily agreed to enter into a Consent Order with the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance and the FDIC. Under this order, the bank agreed to strengthen its financial condition through written plans that target improvements in capital, liquidity, earnings and asset quality.
"Many borrowers in the entire Bulloch county market have encountered difficulties, but FMB is committed to working together with its borrowers so that we all can make it through these extraordinary economic times," said president and CEO Ricky Nessmith. "FMB has a strong 62 year history, and we are continuing with business in a usual fashion. We have a stable base of core deposits from this community."
Farmers and Merchants isn't the only bank to be operating under a formal agreement in this area. Last August, I reported that First Southern National Bank had entered into an agreement with regulators. Like other local banks, FMB carries the maximum amount of FDIC insurance for its depositors.
"Our depositors will continue to be insured by the FDIC up to $250,000," Nessmith said. "No depositor has ever lost money in an FDIC-insured deposit account in the more than 80 year history of the FDIC. Also, through the first four months of 2010, we have positive earnings that are well ahead of our budgeted projections, and our capital levels have always exceeded minimum regulatory requirements. We believe we are weathering these times and have full confidence in the future of our local economy."
For what it is worth, here is what I think. We need to continue to support our local banks. These agreements are fairly commonplace now, and I know that each of our banks is working very hard to clean up its balance sheet so as to get back to business as usual. When things were booming, they placed faith in us. Now, we need to have faith in them. Visit your local banker if you have concerns about your deposits. They will advise you as it regards "spreading your risk."