SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
☒ ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the Fiscal Year Ended December 31, 2021
☐ TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the transition period from ______ to ______
Commission File Number 001-35095
UNITED COMMUNITY BANKS, INC.
(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)
|(State of incorporation)|| ||(I.R.S. Employer Identification No.)|
|125 Highway 515 East|| |
|(Address of principal executive offices)||(Zip code)|
Registrant’s telephone number, including area code: (706) 781-2265
|Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:|
|Title of Each Class||Trading Symbol(s)||Name of Each Exchange on Which Registered|
|Common stock, par value $1 per share||UCBI||Nasdaq Global Select Market|
|Depositary shares, each representing 1/1000th interest in a share of Series I Non-Cumulative Preferred Stock||UCBIO||Nasdaq Global Select Market|
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes ☒ No ☐
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act. Yes ☐ No ☒
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. Yes ☒ No ☐
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files). Yes ☒ No ☐
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
|Large accelerated filer||☒||Accelerated filer||☐|
|Non-accelerated filer||☐||Smaller reporting company||☐|
|Emerging growth company||☐|
If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act. ☐
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C.7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report. ☒
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act). Yes ☐ No ☒
The aggregate market value of the registrant’s voting and non-voting common equity held by non-affiliates, computed by reference to the closing price ($32.01 per share) of such common equity, as of June 30, 2021 (the last business day of the registrant’s most recently completed second fiscal quarter) was $2,760,810,229.
As of January 31, 2022, there were 105,980,634 shares of United Community Banks, Inc.’s common stock issued and outstanding.
DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE
Portions of the registrant’s Proxy Statement for the 2022 Annual Meeting of Shareholders to be held on May 18, 2022 (the “2022 Proxy Statement”) are incorporated herein into Part III by reference.
Glossary of Defined Terms
The following terms may be used throughout this report, including the consolidated financial statements and related notes.
|ACL||Allowance for credit losses|
|ALCO||Asset/Liability Management Committee|
|AOCI||Accumulated other comprehensive income (loss)|
Aquesta Financial Holdings, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Aquesta Bank
|ASC||Accounting Standards Codification|
|ASC 326||ASC Topic 326, Financial Instruments - Credit Losses|
|ASU||Accounting standards update|
|BHC Act||Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, as amended|
|Bank||United Community Bank|
|Board||United Community Banks Inc., Board of Directors|
|BOLI||Bank owned life insurance|
|BSBY||Bloomberg Short-Term Bank Yield|
|CARES Act||Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act|
|CECL||Current expected credit loss model|
|CET1||Common equity tier 1|
|CFPB||Consumer Financial Protection Bureau|
|CME||Chicago Mercantile Exchange|
|Company||United Community Banks Incorporated (interchangeable with "United" below)|
|CRA||Community Reinvestment Act|
|Dodd-Frank Act||Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act|
|DRIP||Dividend Reinvestment and Stock Purchase Plan|
|DTA||Deferred tax asset|
|DTL||Deferred tax liability|
|Fannie Mae||Federal National Mortgage Association|
|FASB||Financial Accounting Standards Board|
|FCA||United Kingdom's Financial Conduct Authority|
|FDIC||Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation|
|Federal Reserve||Federal Reserve System|
|FHLB||Federal Home Loan Bank|
|FINRA||Financial Industry Regulatory Authority|
FinTrust Capital Partners, LLC, and its operating subsidiaries, FinTrust Capital Advisors, LLC, FinTrust Capital Benefits Group, LLC and FinTrust Brokerage Services, LLC
|FMBT||First Madison Bank & Trust|
|Foundation||United Community Bank Foundation|
|Freddie Mac||Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation|
|FTE||Fully taxable equivalent|
|Funded Plan||Funded noncontributory defined benefit pension plan acquired with Palmetto|
|GADBF||Georgia Department of Banking and Finance|
|GAAP||Accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America|
|GLB Act||Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act|
|GSE||U.S. government-sponsored enterprise|
|HELOC||Home equity lines of credit|
|Holding Company||United Community Banks, Inc. on an unconsolidated basis|
|Incurred Loss||Incurred loss impairment framework used to calculate the allowance for loan loss for periods prior to January 1, 2020|
|LIBOR||London Interbank Offered Rate|
|LIHTC||Low income housing tax credits|
|MD&A||Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations|
|Modified Retirement Plan||United's unfunded noncontributory defined benefit pension plan|
|Nasdaq||National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations Stock Market|
|Navitas||Navitas Credit Corp.|
|NOW||Negotiable order of withdrawal|
|OCI||Other comprehensive income|
|Palmetto||Palmetto Bancshares, Inc.|
|Patriot Act||Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001|
|PCD||Purchased credit deteriorated loans|
|PPP||Paycheck Protection Program|
|PSU||Performance based restricted stock unit awards with market conditions|
|Reliant||Reliant Bancorp, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Reliant Bank|
|Report||Annual Report on Form 10-K|
|ROU asset||Right-of-use asset|
|SBA||United States Small Business Administration|
|SCBFI||South Carolina Board of Financial Institutions|
|Seaside||Seaside National Bank & Trust|
|SEC||Securities and Exchange Commission|
|SOFR||Secured Overnight Financing Rate|
|SIPC||Securities Investor Protection Corporation|
|TDR||Troubled debt restructuring|
|Three Shores||Three Shores Bancorporation, Inc.|
|U.S. Treasury||United States Department of the Treasury|
|UCBI||United Community Banks, Inc. and its direct and indirect subsidiaries|
|UCMS||United Community Mortgage Services|
|UCPS||United Community Payment Systems, LLC|
|United||United Community Banks, Inc. and its direct and indirect subsidiaries|
|USDA||United States Department of Agriculture|
Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements
This Report contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. In particular, information appearing under “Business,” “Risk Factors,” and “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” includes forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements are neither statements of historical fact nor assurance of future performance and generally can be identified by the use of forward-looking terminology such as “believes”, “expects”, “may”, “will”, “could”, “should”, “projects”, “plans”, “goal”, “targets”, “potential”, “estimates”, “pro forma”, “seeks”, “intends”, or “anticipates”, or similar expressions. Forward-looking statements include discussions of strategy, financial projections, guidance and estimates (including their underlying assumptions), statements regarding plans, objectives, expectations or consequences of various transactions or events, and statements about our future performance, operations, products and services, and should be viewed with caution.
Because forward-looking statements relate to the future, they are subject to known and unknown risks, uncertainties, assumptions and changes in circumstances, many of which are out of our control, and that are difficult to predict as to timing, extent, likelihood and degree of occurrence, and that could cause actual results to differ materially from the results implied or anticipated by the statements. Except as required by law, we expressly disclaim any obligations to publicly update any forward-looking statements whether written or oral, that may be made from time to time, whether as a result of new information, future developments or otherwise. Important factors that could cause our actual results and financial condition to differ materially from those indicated in the forward-looking statements, in addition to those described in detail under Items 1A of this Report - “Risk Factors” - include, but are not limited to the following:
•negative economic and political conditions that adversely affect the general economy, housing prices, the real estate market, the job market, consumer confidence, the financial condition of our borrowers and consumer spending habits, which may affect, among other things, the levels of non-performing assets, charge-offs and provision expense;
•changes in loan underwriting, credit review or loss policies associated with economic conditions, examination conclusions or regulatory developments, either as they currently exist or as they may be affected by conditions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic;
•the COVID-19 pandemic and its continuing effects on the economic and business environments in which we operate;
•strategic, market, operational, liquidity and interest rate risks associated with our business;
•continuation of historically low interest rates coupled with other potential fluctuations or unanticipated changes in the interest rate environment, including interest rate changes made by the Federal Reserve, the discontinuation of LIBOR as an interest rate benchmark, as well as cash flow reassessments may reduce net interest margin and/or the volumes and values of loans made or held as well as the value of other financial assets;
•our lack of geographic diversification and any unanticipated or greater than anticipated adverse conditions in the national or local economies in which we operate;
•our loan concentration in industries or sectors that may experience unanticipated or greater than anticipated adverse conditions than other industries or sectors in the national or local economies in which we operate;
•the risks of expansion into new geographic or product markets;
•risks with respect to our future ability to successfully expand and integrate businesses and operations that we acquire, as well as our ability to identify and complete future mergers or acquisitions;
•our ability to attract and retain key employees;
•competition from financial institutions and other financial service providers including non-bank financial technology providers and our ability to attract customers from other financial institutions;
•losses due to fraudulent and negligent conduct of our customers, third party service providers or employees;
•cybersecurity risks and the vulnerability of our network and online banking portals, and the systems or parties with whom we contract, to unauthorized access, computer viruses, phishing schemes, spam attacks, human error, natural disasters, power loss and other security breaches that could adversely affect our business and financial performance or reputation;
•our reliance on third parties to provide key components of our business infrastructure and services required to operate our business;
•the risk that we may be required to make substantial expenditures to keep pace with regulatory initiatives and the rapid technological changes in the financial services market;
•the availability of and access to capital;
•legislative, regulatory or accounting changes that may adversely affect us;
•volatility in the ACL resulting from the CECL methodology, either alone or as that may be affected by conditions arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic;
•adverse results (including judgments, costs, fines, reputational harm, inability to obtain necessary approvals and/or other negative effects) from current or future litigation, regulatory proceedings, examinations, investigations, or similar matters, or developments related thereto;
•any matter that would cause us to conclude that there was impairment of any asset, including intangible assets, such as goodwill;
•limitations on our ability to declare and pay dividends and other distributions from the Bank to the Holding Company, which could affect Holding Company liquidity, including its ability to pay dividends to shareholders or take other capital actions; and
•other risks and uncertainties disclosed in documents filed or furnished by us with or to the SEC, any of which could cause actual results to differ materially from future results expressed, implied or otherwise anticipated by such forward-looking statements.
Unless the context otherwise requires, the terms “we,” “our,” or “us” refer to United Community Banks, Inc. and its direct and indirect subsidiaries, including United Community Bank.
United Community Banks, Inc. is a Georgia corporation incorporated in 1987 and headquartered in Blairsville, Georgia. We are a bank holding company under the BHC Act and, as of July 1, 2021, a financial holding company under the GLB Act. We provide diversified financial services primarily through our principal subsidiary, United Community Bank. The Bank was founded in 1950 as a Georgia state-chartered bank and converted to a South Carolina state-chartered bank effective on July 1, 2021. We have grown through a combination of acquisitions and strategic growth throughout the Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida markets, as well as nationally through our SBA/USDA lending and equipment finance businesses. As of December 31, 2021 we had consolidated total assets of $20.9 billion.
As a financial holding company, we coordinate the financial resources of the consolidated enterprise and maintain systems of financial, operational, and administrative control intended to coordinate selected policies and activities, including as described in Item 9A of Part II.
Acquisition of Aquesta
On October 1, 2021, United completed the acquisition of Aquesta, a bank headquartered in Cornelius, North Carolina that operated a network of branches primarily located in the Charlotte metropolitan area. In this acquisition, we acquired $756 million of assets and assumed $694 million of liabilities.
Acquisition of FinTrust
On July 6, 2021, we acquired FinTrust, an investment advisory firm headquartered in Greenville, South Carolina, with additional locations in Anderson, South Carolina, and Athens and Macon, Georgia. The firm provides wealth and investment management services to individuals and institutions within its markets. As of December 31, 2021, FinTrust had assets under management of $2.19 billion across its advisory, retirement planning and brokerage businesses.
Acquisition of Reliant Bancorp, Inc.
Subsequent to year-end, on January 1, 2022 we acquired Reliant, a bank headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville. Reliant operates a 25 branch network in Tennessee, located primarily in the Nashville, Clarksville and Chattanooga metropolitan areas. It also has a manufactured housing finance group based in Knoxville. As of December 31, 2021, Reliant reported total assets of $3.00 billion, including loans of $2.38 billion, and deposits of $2.50 billion.
Principal Businesses and Services We Provide
We provide a wide range of financial products and services to the commercial, retail, governmental, educational, energy, health care and real estate sectors. This includes a variety of deposit products, secured and unsecured loans, mortgage loans, payment and commerce solutions, equipment finance services, wealth management, trust services, private banking, investment advisory services, insurance services, and other related financial services. These products and services are delivered through a variety of channels including our branches, other offices, the internet, and mobile applications.
Our business model combines the commitment to exceptional customer service of a local bank with the products and expertise of a larger institution. We have a strong culture focused on the golden rule of banking – treating each other and the customer the way we would want to be treated. We exist to serve our customers, and we are committed to making lives better through outstanding products, dedication to our customers, and serving the communities in which we operate.
We operate as a locally-focused community bank, supplemented by experienced, centralized support to deliver products and services to our larger, more sophisticated, customers. Our organizational structure reflects these strengths, with local leaders for each market
and market advisory boards operating in partnership with the product experts of our Commercial Banking Solutions unit. We believe that this combination of service and expertise sets us apart and is instrumental in our strategy to build long-term relationships.
We offer a full range of lending services, including real estate, consumer and commercial loans, to individuals, small businesses, mid-sized commercial businesses and non-profit organizations. We also originate loans partially guaranteed by the SBA and to a lesser extent by the USDA loan programs. Our consolidated loans at December 31, 2021 were $11.8 billion, or 56% of total consolidated assets. The interest rates that we charge on loans vary with the degree of risk, maturity and amount of the loan, and are further subject to competitive pressures, deposit costs, availability of funds and government regulations.
The most significant categories of our loans are those to finance owner occupied real estate, commercial income property, commercial and industrial equipment and operating loans, and consumer loans secured by personal residences. A majority of our loans are made on a secured basis.
The majority of our loans are to customers located in the immediate market areas of our banking locations in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida, including customers who have a seasonal residence in our market areas. We originate a significant portion of our SBA/USDA and equipment finance loans on a national basis, to customers outside of our immediate market areas.
Our full-service retail mortgage lending division, UCMS, is approved as a seller/servicer for the Fannie Mae and the Freddie Mac and provides fixed and adjustable-rate home mortgages. During 2021, the Bank originated $2.43 billion in residential mortgage loans for the purchase of homes and to refinance existing mortgage debt. The majority of these mortgages were sold into the secondary market without recourse to us, other than for breaches of warranties. We have retained the servicing on most of our mortgage loans sold.
For additional information regarding our lending activity, see the section captioned “Loans” in the “Balance Sheet Review” section of Part II, Item 7. MD&A of this Report.
Deposits are the major source of our funds for lending and other investment activities. We offer our customers a variety of deposit products, including checking accounts, savings accounts, money market accounts and other deposit accounts. Generally, we attempt to maintain the rates paid on our deposits at a competitive level. We generate the majority of our deposits from customers in our local markets. For additional information regarding our deposit accounts, see the section captioned “Deposits” in Part II, Item 7. MD&A of this Report.
We use our investment portfolio to provide for the investment of excess funds at acceptable risk levels while providing liquidity to fund loan demand or to offset fluctuations in deposits. Our portfolio consists primarily of residential and commercial mortgage-backed securities, asset-backed securities, U.S. Treasury, U.S. agency and municipal obligations. Most of the securities are classified by us as AFS and recorded on our balance sheet at fair value at each balance sheet date. Changes in fair value on AFS securities are generally recorded directly in our shareholders’ equity account and are not recognized in our income statement.
Wealth Management, Trust, and Insurance
Through our Wealth Management division, we provide financial planning services, customized portfolio management and investment advice utilizing an open architecture approach to the selection of asset managers. We also offer trust services to manage fiduciary assets. Seaside Capital Management, Inc. and FinTrust Capital Advisors, LLC are registered investment advisors that offer investment advisory services for clients who wish to utilize an independent custodian. Seaside Insurance, Inc., which became FinTrust Insurance and Benefits, Inc. on January 1, 2022, operates as an independent insurance agency for our clients. We also operate FinTrust Brokerage Services, LLC, a registered broker dealer.
Through our United Community Advisory Services division, we generate fee revenue through the sale of non-deposit investment products and insurance products, including life insurance, long-term care insurance and tax-deferred annuities, to our customers. We have an affiliation with a third party broker/dealer, LPL Financial, to facilitate this line of business.
Reinsurance and Merchant Services
We own a captive insurance subsidiary, NLFC Reinsurance Corp., which provides reinsurance on a property insurance contract covering equipment financed by our equipment financing division.
We provide payment processing services for our commercial and small business customers through UCPS. UCPS is a joint venture between the Bank and Clover, a merchant services provider and subsidiary of Fiserv, Inc.
|Other General Information|
Our consolidated operating subsidiaries at December 31, 2021 are listed in Exhibit 21 of this Report. Technical and regulatory details follow:
•The Bank is supervised and regulated as described in Supervision and Regulation in this Item below.
•FinTrust Capital Advisors, LLC and Seaside Capital Management, Inc. are registered with the SEC as investment advisers.
•Seaside Capital Management, Inc. is registered with the State of Florida as an investment adviser.
•FinTrust Brokerage Services, LLC is registered as a broker-dealer with the SEC and all states in which they conduct business for which registration is required and is a Member FINRA/SIPC.
•FinTrust Insurance and Benefits, Inc. is licensed as an insurance agency in all states in which they conduct business for which licensing is required. FinTrust Insurance and Benefits, Inc. was formed by the January 1, 2022 merger of FinTrust Capital Benefits, LLC into Seaside Insurance, Inc. Seaside Insurance, Inc. was renamed FinTrust Insurance and Benefits, Inc. following the merger.
Strategic Transactions - Acquisitions and Expansion
An element of our business strategy is to consider opportunities to expand into attractive markets in which we believe our operating model will be successful. We have entered new markets and expanded our product offerings both by establishing new branches and service locations and also by selective acquisitions of existing market participants. We have developed a number of commercial lending businesses organically, which provide local commercial real estate, middle market, senior living, renewable energy, builder finance and asset-based lending services. We generally seek acquisition partners that share a similar culture and commitment to customer service. Acquisitions typically involve the payment of a premium over book and market values and, therefore, some dilution to our book value may occur with any future transactions. Our goal is to maintain a reasonable earn-back period of any tangible book value dilution, using realistic growth and expense reduction assumptions, as well as to achieve an attractive return on investment. Our ability to engage in any potential acquisition will depend upon the review and approval from various bank regulatory authorities.
Neither we nor any of our significant subsidiaries is dependent upon a single client or very few clients.
We do not experience material seasonality; however, we do experience seasonal variation in certain revenues, expenses, and credit trends. Historically, these variations have somewhat increased certain expenses and diminished certain revenues in the commercial banking business, principally in the first quarter each year.
In addition, we experience seasonal variation in certain business efforts that affect our income and our asset and liability balances. Our mortgage and related title service businesses tend to be seasonally strong in the second and third quarters correlating with home buying trends. Our commercial lending businesses (including SBA and Navitas) tend to be seasonally weaker in the first quarter and seasonally stronger in the fourth quarter. In addition, our government deposit balances tend to be strongest in the third and fourth quarters correlating with their tax receipts.
Financial services facilitate commercial and consumer economic activities in critical ways. As a result, in many ways, the performance of the financial services industry tends to reflect that of the economies it serves. As a result, our banking business is broadly and strongly dependent on the size and strength of the U.S. economy.
Generally, when the U.S. economy is in an expansionary phase of the business cycle, we experience loan growth, income from lending tends to rise (assuming static interest rates), credit losses tend to fall, and fee income tends to increase. In a contracting phase, those patterns tend to reverse. The impact of those factors on our operating results can be substantial, especially if they consistently move up or down at the same time.
Our banking business is crucially dependent on the level of interest rates, whether federal monetary policy is easing or tightening, and on the shape of the interest rate yield curve. These factors also are cyclical, and are related in complex ways with the business cycle mentioned above.
These factors, and their impacts on us, often are mixed rather than consistently positive or negative. For example, low interest rates reduce the interest income we earn, reduce our costs of funding, tend to stimulate economic activity and loan growth, and, through lower debt service, tend to ease financial pressure on clients, reducing default risk. If the yield curve remains relatively steep, with long-term interest rates noticeably higher than short rates, our net interest margin will tend not to be significantly compressed by the lower rate environment, since lower short rates will keep our deposit costs down while higher long rates will support the rates we can charge on lending. But if rates fall low enough (as they have in recent years), the yield curve will flatten and our margins will suffer. Moreover, the Federal Reserve tends to lower rates in response to, or to avoid, a weakening economy. Economic weakness tends to diminish client borrowing and other activities which benefit our performance.
Further information on these topics is presented: within Item 1A, Risk Factors in Risk from Economic Downturns and Changes, Risks Associated with Monetary Events, Liquidity and Funding Risks, and Interest Rate and Yield Curve Risks.
Mortgage Origination and Related Services
The strength of consumer mortgage lending activity in the United States impacts our mortgage origination and related services line of business. Mortgage lending activity is strongly linked to economic strength and interest rate cycles. Activity tends to be inversely related to prevailing mortgage rates: when rates are high, home-buying and refinancing decrease, and when rates are low, home-buying and refinancing increase. Moreover, expectations about near-term future mortgage rates can accelerate or delay those impacts, as borrowers rush to avoid future rate increases or wait for future rate decreases.
|Human Resources Management|
As of January 31, 2022, we had 2,921 full-time equivalent employees, compared to 2,406 at January 31, 2021. Those employees support our vision to follow the golden rule – to treat each other, and our customers, the way we would like to be treated. We believe that our ability to earn the trust of our customers and deliver exceptional customer service hinges on our culture, which in turn depends upon the dedication and engagement of our employees. When employees are dedicated and engaged, they take extra steps for our customers. We have a community bank mindset, empowering employees to make decisions at the local level, while arming our employees with the products, services, and centralized support of a larger institution. We are committed to attracting and retaining talented employees whose values align with our customer service mission, creating meaningful opportunities for training and advancement, and being an extraordinary place to work.
Diversity and Inclusion
We strive to foster an open, supportive workplace in which our employees can grow professionally and achieve their potential. We pride ourselves on maintaining workplaces that are intended to inspire employees to voice their ideas and openly express opinions for the betterment of the Bank, our employees, and our customers. We desire that all employees feel that they are operating in an inclusive environment that welcomes and supports differences. We believe that encouraging input from all perspectives allows us to provide our customers with creative ideas and solutions for operating effectively in a complex, ever changing marketplace.
In 2020, to strengthen a sense of belonging for all employees, we formed our Diversity and Inclusion Council, called the “Power of U.” In addition to leadership provided by our Board and executive management, our Diversity and Inclusion Council is designed to
recommend strategies, programs, and opportunities to foster diversity and inclusion. The Power of U is comprised of 14 members from across our geographical footprint and focuses on enhancing the Bank’s culture of teamwork, communication, and connection.
Oversight and Management
Our Board and its Talent and Compensation Committee provide oversight on human capital matters, including overall compensation philosophy, equity award programs, diversity and inclusion, and succession planning. Our Human Resources, Legal, and Compliance departments develop policies associated with our labor and human capital practices, identify risks, and implement practices to mitigate those risks, under the oversight of the Board and its committees. At the management level, our Employee Benefits Committee is responsible for reviewing and approving our employee benefits programs, including healthcare and other benefits. Our Incentive Compensation Committee is responsible for overseeing, reviewing, and approving the non-executive incentive compensation plans for our employees and for assessing the risks associated with those incentive compensation plans.
We are committed to providing competitive compensation and benefits programs that reward employees for matching the right products with our customers’ needs, while also staying within our risk tolerance. We offer a variety of medical plans for our employees, including prescription drug coverage and a comprehensive dental plan. We also provide long-term disability coverage and life insurance for eligible employees. Our cafeteria plans, or reimbursement accounts, help our employees reduce the costs of medical and dependent care by allowing them to set aside pre-tax dollars. Employees are eligible to contribute to our 401(k) Retirement Plan beginning the first of the month following their date of employment. After one year of employment, employees may become eligible for a company match in an amount up to 5% of total salary.
Human Capital Response to COVID-19 Pandemic
We took significant measures to provide employees with a sense of safety, security and certainty in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, we provided eligible employees with 80 hours of COVID-19 paid leave. We also provided reimbursement to eligible employees for certain childcare expenses resulting from the pandemic. We continued to provide these COVID-19 related benefits in 2021. To protect the health and safety of employees and customers and consistent with CDC, state and local guidance, we established social distancing, hygiene and environmental safety protocols for on-site workers at our branches and offices.
Employee Professional Development
Through our professional development initiatives, our internal team and subject matter experts provide our employees with quality continuing education on a variety of topics. Participation in continuing education is expected and supported so our employees stay informed and up to date on information, skills, and systems.
Through our memberships with the American Bankers Association, the Risk Management Association, the Mid-Size Bank Coalition of America, and state bankers associations, our employees have access to resources, online training, conferences, and discussion groups designed for bankers at all levels in all roles. We encourage our employees to utilize these resources, and we support our employees’ involvement with these organizations for training, to advance their knowledge and skills sets, and to develop leadership skills. Many of our employees are actively engaged in leadership roles, forums, task forces, and other groups within these organizations.
To encourage, support, and equip our rising leaders with relevant skills, we offer our Leadership Academy, an annual program for a selected group of individuals who exemplify the qualities of a next generation leader. The program is designed to empower emerging leaders with the knowledge and skills necessary to lead our Bank. Participants are selected annually for the multi-month program and engage in strategic projects, leadership and business development sessions, and executive and senior leadership roundtable mentoring. This is intended to allow our future leaders with the highest potential to enhance their knowledge and skills, grow in understanding of our culture and how we do business, and be challenged with assignments that strategically impact the Bank.
Employee Engagement Surveys
The Best Banks to Work For program, initiated in 2013 by American Banker and Best Companies Group, identifies and recognizes U.S. banks for outstanding employee satisfaction. We are honored to have been named one of American Banker’s 2021 Best Banks to Work For, an award we’ve received for five consecutive years. The Bank is one of only three of the top 50 banks on the list with over $15 billion in assets.
We believe that an engaged workforce is one of our most valuable assets in sustaining our success and that we are on this list because we listen to our employees and respond to their concerns. Every two years, we conduct an employee engagement survey, facilitated by a third party provider, to seek input and feedback from all of our employees across our entire footprint. Among other things, the survey asks employees to rate and comment on the Bank’s strategies and priorities, customer focus, operations, individual roles and responsibilities, competitiveness for compensation and benefits, work environment, and employee engagement. The survey includes questions that ask employees to score certain questions, as well as allowing employees to provide open-ended feedback responses.
The employee engagement survey results are reviewed and discussed by both executive management and our Board. Our leadership analyzes the survey feedback for areas of improvement, progress, and emphasis. Our leadership takes the survey feedback into account in developing and prioritizing the Bank’s strategic plans and initiatives. We also share an overview of the survey results with our employees and communicate the changes we make in response to the survey to meet our employees’ needs, to enhance our employees’ experience, and to continue to make our company an employer of choice.
We know employees want to work for companies that give back and, as an organization, we believe in the power of coming together for good. In 2020, we conducted our first community engagement survey, to seek input and feedback from all of our employees about volunteerism, community issues that are important to them, and how they would like to see us involved in the local communities that we serve. In 2021, as a result of the feedback we received, we created the Together for Good Council. This group of leaders helps to coordinate volunteer efforts, guide charitable giving, and lead each of our “Good Days” of service, which include Veteran’s Day, September 11th, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Through the Together for Good Council, we are continuing our efforts to enhance our community engagement initiatives and involvement with our local communities.
Our profitability depends principally on our ability to effectively compete in the markets in which we conduct business. We experience strong competition in all aspects of the businesses in which we engage from both bank and non-bank competitors. Broadly speaking, we compete with national banks, super-regional banks, smaller community banks, credit unions, non-traditional internet-based banks and insurance companies and agencies. We also compete with other financial intermediaries and investment alternatives such as mortgage companies, credit card issuers, leasing companies, finance companies, money market mutual funds, brokerage firms, governmental and corporate bond issuers, and other securities firms. Many of these non-bank competitors are not subject to the same regulatory oversight, which can provide them a competitive advantage in some instances. In many cases, our competitors have substantially greater resources and offer certain services that we are unable to provide to our customers.
We encounter strong pricing competition in providing our services, particularly in making loans and attracting deposits. The larger national and super-regional banks may have significantly greater lending limits and may offer additional products. We attempt to compete successfully with our competitors, regardless of their size, by emphasizing customer service while continuing to provide a wide variety of services.
We expect competition in the industry to continue to increase mainly as a result of the improvement in financial technology used by both existing and new banking and financial services firms. Competition may further intensify as additional companies (both banks and non-banks) enter the markets where we conduct business, competitors combine to present more formidable challengers, and we enter mature markets in accordance with our expansion strategy.
|Supervision and Regulation|
Scope of this Section
This section describes certain material aspects of the regulatory framework applicable to banks and financial holding companies and their subsidiaries and to companies engaged in securities and insurance activities. To the extent that the following information describes statutory or regulatory provisions, it is qualified in its entirety by express reference to each of the particular statutory and regulatory provisions, and you should refer to the full text of the statutes, regulations, and corresponding guidance for more information. These statutes and regulations are subject to change, and additional statutes, regulations, and corresponding guidance may be adopted. We are unable to predict these future changes or the effects, if any, that these changes could have on our business. Finally, investors should be aware that the regulatory framework governing banks and the financial services industry is intended primarily to protect depositors and the Deposit Insurance Fund – not to protect our Bank or our security holders.
The Holding Company
The Holding Company is a bank holding company and financial holding company within the meaning of the BHC Act and is registered with the Federal Reserve. We are subject to the regulation and supervision of, and to examination by, the Federal Reserve (under the BHC Act). We are required to file with the Federal Reserve annual reports and such additional information as the Federal Reserve may require pursuant to the BHC Act.
Effective July 1, 2021, the Holding Company elected to become a financial holding company, which allows for engagement in a broader range of financial activities. A bank holding company that is not a financial holding company is limited to engaging in “banking” and activities found by the Federal Reserve to be “closely related to banking.” Eligible bank holding companies that elect to become financial holding companies may affiliate with securities firms and insurance companies and engage in activities that are “financial in nature.” “Financial” activities are broader in scope than those which are “closely related to banking.” See Financial Activities other than Banking in this Item.
The BHC Act requires every bank holding company to obtain the Federal Reserve’s prior approval before (1) acquiring direct or indirect ownership or control of more than 5% of the voting shares of any bank that it does not already control; (2) acquiring all or substantially all of the assets of a bank; and (3) subject to certain exceptions, merging or consolidating with any other bank holding company. In addition, a bank holding company is generally prohibited from engaging in, or acquiring a direct or indirect interest in or control of more than 5% of the voting shares of any company engaged in, non-banking activities. This prohibition does not apply to activities listed in the BHC Act or found by the Federal Reserve, by order or regulation, to be closely related to banking or managing or controlling banks as to be a proper incident thereto. The Federal Reserve also may approve an application by a bank holding company to acquire a bank located outside the acquirer’s principal state of operations without regard to whether the transaction is prohibited under state law, although state law may still impose certain requirements. See Interstate Branching and Mergers in this Item for further information.
The Holding Company is an “affiliate” of the Bank under the Federal Reserve Act, which imposes certain restrictions on (1) loans by the Bank to the Holding Company, (2) investments in the stock or securities of the Holding Company by the Bank, (3) the Bank taking the stock or securities of an “affiliate” as collateral for loans by the Bank to a borrower and (4) the purchase of assets from the Holding Company by the Bank. Further, a bank holding company and its subsidiaries are prohibited from engaging in certain tie-in arrangements in connection with any extension of credit, lease or sale of property or furnishing of services. See “Transactions with Affiliates” discussed below.
United Community Bank, our most significant subsidiary, is a South Carolina state-chartered bank subject to the regulation and supervision of, and to examination by, the SCBFI. Effective July 1, 2021, the Bank moved its headquarters from Blairsville, Georgia to Greenville, South Carolina and became a South Carolina state-chartered bank subject to examination and reporting requirements of the SCBFI. Prior to that date, the Bank was a Georgia state-chartered bank subject to examination and reporting requirements of the GADBF. In addition to general supervision and examination powers, the SCBFI has the power to approve mergers with the Bank, the Bank’s issuance of preferred stock or capital notes, the establishment of branches, and many other corporate actions. We are not required to obtain the approval of the SCBFI prior to acquiring the capital stock of a national bank, but we must notify them at least 15 days prior to doing so. We must receive the SCBFI’s approval prior to engaging in the acquisition of a South Carolina state-chartered bank or another South Carolina bank holding company.
The Bank is subject to examination and reporting requirements of the FDIC, the SCBFI and the CFPB. The financial statements and information contained herein have not been reviewed, or confirmed for accuracy or relevance, by the FDIC or any other regulator.
The Bank is insured by, and subject to regulation by, the FDIC and is subject to regulation in certain respects by the CFPB. The Bank is also subject to various requirements and restrictions under federal and state law, including requirements to maintain reserves against deposits, restrictions on the types and amounts of loans that may be made and the interest that may be charged, limitations on the types of investments that may be made, activities that may be engaged in, and types of services that may be offered. Various consumer laws and regulations also affect the operations of the Bank. In addition, several of the Bank’s subsidiaries are regulated separately, as discussed in Subsidiaries in this Item.
In addition to the impact of regulation, commercial banks are affected significantly by the actions of the Federal Reserve as it attempts to control money supply and credit availability in order to influence the economy. Also, the Bank and certain of its subsidiaries are
prohibited from engaging in certain tie-in arrangements in connection with extensions of credit, leases or sales of property, or furnishing products or services.
Payment of Dividends
The Holding Company is a legal entity separate and distinct from the Bank and other subsidiaries. The Holding Company’s principal source of cash flow, including cash flow to pay dividends on our stock or to pay principal (including premium, if any) and interest on debt securities results from dividends paid to it by the Bank. There are statutory and regulatory requirements applicable to the payment of dividends and other distributions by the Bank, as well as by the Holding Company to its shareholders.
During 2021 and 2020, the Bank paid cash dividends to the Holding Company of $217 million and $150 million, respectively. During 2019, no cash dividends were paid by the Bank to the Holding Company. The Holding Company declared quarterly cash dividends on its common stock in 2021, 2020 and 2019 totaling $0.78, $0.72 and $0.68 per share, respectively.
The Holding Company
Under Georgia corporate law, we are not permitted to pay cash dividends if, after giving effect to such payment, we would not be able to pay our debts as they become due in the usual course of business or our total assets would be less than the sum of our total liabilities plus any amounts needed to satisfy any preferential rights if we were dissolving. In addition, in deciding whether or not to declare a dividend of any particular size, our Board must consider our current and prospective capital, liquidity, and other needs, including the needs of the Bank which we are obligated to support.
The Federal Reserve has issued a policy statement on the payment of cash dividends by bank holding companies, which expresses the Federal Reserve’s view that a bank holding company generally should pay cash dividends only to the extent that the holding company’s net income for the past year is sufficient to cover both the cash dividends and a rate of earnings retention that is consistent with the holding company’s capital needs, asset quality, and overall financial condition. The Federal Reserve has also indicated that a bank holding company should not maintain a level of cash dividends that places undue pressure on the capital of its bank subsidiaries, or that can be funded only through additional borrowings or other arrangements that undermine the bank holding company’s ability to act as a source of strength to its bank subsidiaries. The Holding Company and the Bank must also maintain the CET1 capital conservation buffer of 2.5% to avoid becoming subject to restrictions on capital distributions, including dividends, as described below under “Capital Adequacy-Basel III Capital Standards.”
As a South Carolina state-chartered bank, the Bank is permitted to pay a dividend of up to 100% of its current year earnings without requesting approval of the SCBFI, provided certain conditions are met. All other cash dividends require approval of the SCBFI. The application of those restrictions to the Bank is discussed in more detail in Note 1, Summary of Significant Accounting Policies, of Part II, Item 8. Financial Statements, which is incorporated into this Item 1 by reference.
Other Factors Affecting Dividends
If, in the opinion of the applicable regulatory authority, the Holding Company or the Bank are engaged in or about to engage in an unsafe or unsound practice (which, depending on the financial condition of the Holding Company or the Bank, could include the payment of dividends), such authority may require us or the Bank to cease and desist from that practice. The federal banking agencies have indicated that paying dividends that deplete a depository institution’s or holding company’s capital base to an inadequate level would be an unsafe and unsound banking practice.
In addition, under the Federal Deposit Insurance Act, an FDIC-insured depository institution (such as the Bank) may not make any capital distributions, pay any management fees to its holding company, or pay any dividend if it is undercapitalized or if such payment would cause it to become undercapitalized.
The payment of dividends by the Holding Company and the Bank may also be affected or limited by other factors, such as the requirement to maintain adequate capital above regulatory guidelines imposed by debt covenants. For example, as discussed under Capital Adequacy discussed below, our ability to pay dividends would be restricted if our capital ratios fell below minimum regulatory requirements plus a capital conservation buffer.
The Federal Reserve generally requires bank holding companies to pay dividends only out of current operating earnings. The Federal Reserve has released a supervisory letter advising, among other things, that a bank holding company should inform the Federal Reserve and should eliminate, defer, or significantly reduce its dividends if (i) the bank holding company’s net income available to
shareholders for the past four quarters, net of dividends previously paid during that period, is not sufficient to fully fund the dividends; (ii) the bank holding company’s prospective rate of earnings is not consistent with the bank holding company’s capital needs and overall current and prospective financial condition; or (iii) the bank holding company will not meet, or is in danger of not meeting, its minimum regulatory capital adequacy ratios.
Transactions with Affiliates
Federal banking laws restrict transactions between a bank and its affiliates, including a parent BHC. The Bank is subject to these restrictions, which include quantitative and qualitative limits on the amounts and types of transactions that may take place, including extensions of credit to affiliates, investments in the stock or securities of affiliates, purchases of assets from affiliates and certain other transactions with affiliates. These restrictions also require that credit transactions with affiliates be collateralized and that transactions with affiliates must be on terms substantially the same, or at least as favorable, as those prevailing at the time for comparable transactions with or involving nonaffiliated companies. In the absence of such comparable transactions, any transaction between banks and their affiliates must be on terms and under circumstances, including credit standards, which in good faith would be offered to or would apply to nonaffiliated companies. Generally, a bank’s covered transactions with any affiliate are limited to 10% of the bank’s capital stock and surplus and covered transactions with all affiliates are limited to 20% of the bank’s capital stock and surplus. The Dodd-Frank Act expanded the scope of these regulations, including by applying them to the credit exposure arising under derivative transactions, repurchase and reverse repurchase agreements, and securities borrowing and lending transactions. Federal banking laws also place similar restrictions on loans and other extensions of credit by FDIC-insured banks, such as the Bank, and their subsidiaries to their directors, executive officers, and principal shareholders.
Banks and bank holding companies are subject to various regulatory capital requirements administered by state and federal banking agencies. Capital adequacy guidelines involve quantitative measures of assets, liabilities and certain off-balance-sheet items calculated under regulatory accounting practices. Capital amounts and classifications are also subject to qualitative judgments by regulators about components, risk weighting and other factors.
Basel III Capital Standards
Federal financial industry regulators require that regulated financial institutions, including the Holding Company and the Bank maintain minimum capital levels. The capital requirements in the United States are based on international standards known as “Basel III.”, which require the following:
|Ratio Description||Minimum Capital||Minimum Capital Plus Capital Conservation Buffer|
Common Equity Tier 1 Capital to RWA
|4.5 ||%||7.0 ||%|
|Tier 1 capital|
Tier 1 Capital to RWA
|6.0 ||8.5 |
Total Capital to RWA
|8.0 ||10.5 |
Tier 1 Capital divided by quarterly average assets net of goodwill, certain other intangible assets, and certain required deduction items
|4.0 || N/A|
Tier 1 capital includes two components: CET1 capital and additional Tier 1 capital. The highest form of capital, CET1 capital, consists of common shareholders’ equity, excluding AOCI, intangible assets, net of associated net deferred tax liabilities, and disallowed deferred tax assets. Additional Tier 1 capital includes non-cumulative perpetual preferred stock.
Tier 2 capital includes the allowable portion of the ACL up to 1.25% of RWA as well as qualifying subordinated debt and trust preferred securities.
In addition, a banking organization must maintain a 2.5% capital conservation buffer on top of its minimum risk-based capital requirements in order to avoid restrictions on capital distributions or discretionary bonus payments to executives. This buffer must consist solely of Tier 1 Common Equity, but the buffer applies to all three risk-based measurements (CET1, Tier 1 capital and total capital).
Failure to meet capital guidelines could subject a bank to a variety of enforcement remedies, including the termination of deposit insurance by the FDIC, and to certain restrictions on its business and in certain circumstances to the appointment of a conservator or receiver. See Prompt Corrective Action immediately below for additional information.
In addition, the Bank is required to have a capital structure that the SCBFI determines is adequate, based on SCBFI’s assessment of the Bank’s businesses and risks. The SCBFI may require the Bank to increase its capital, if found to be inadequate.
Prompt Corrective Action
Federal banking regulators must take “prompt corrective action” regarding FDIC-insured depository institutions that do not meet minimum capital requirements. For this purpose, insured depository institutions are divided into five capital categories, the specific regulatory requirements for which are set forth in the following table.
|Category||Total Capital||Tier 1|
|Tangible Equity to Total Assets|
|Well-capitalized||at least 10%||at least 8%||at least 6.5%||at least 5%|
|Adequately capitalized||at least 8%||at least 6%||at least 4.5%||at least 4%|
|Undercapitalized||under 8%||under 6%||under 4.5%||under 4%|
|Significantly undercapitalized||under 6%||under 4%||under 3%||under 3%|
|Critically undercapitalized||2% or less|
As of December 31, 2021, the Bank had sufficient capital to qualify as “well-capitalized” under the regulatory capital requirements discussed above. An institution may be deemed to be in a capitalization category that is lower than is indicated by its actual capital position if it receives an unsatisfactory examination rating. Institutions generally are not allowed to publicly disclose examination results.
Federal banking regulators are required to take various mandatory supervisory actions and are authorized to take other discretionary actions with respect to institutions in the three undercapitalized categories. The severity of the action depends upon the capital category in which the institution is placed. Institutions in any of the three undercapitalized categories are prohibited from declaring dividends or making capital distributions. In addition, an institution that is categorized in the three undercapitalized categories is required to submit an acceptable capital restoration plan to its appropriate federal banking agency, which, for the Bank, is the FDIC. Generally, subject to a narrow exception, banking regulators must appoint a receiver or conservator for an institution that is “critically undercapitalized.” The FDIC regulations also allow it to “downgrade” an institution to a lower capital category based on supervisory factors other than capital.
Holding Company Structure and Support of Subsidiary Banks
Because we are a holding company, our right to participate in the assets of any subsidiary upon the latter’s liquidation or reorganization will be subject to the prior claims of the subsidiary’s creditors (including depositors in the case of the Bank) except to the extent that we may be a creditor with recognized claims against the subsidiary. In addition, depositors of a bank, and the FDIC as their subrogee, would be entitled to priority over the other creditors in the event of liquidation of the bank.
Under Federal Reserve policy, now codified in the Dodd-Frank Act, we are expected to act as a source of financial strength to, and to commit resources to support, the Bank. This support may be required at times even if, absent such Federal Reserve policy, we might not wish to provide it or have the resources to provide it. In addition, any capital loans by a bank holding company to any of its subsidiary banks are subordinate in right of payment to deposits and to certain other indebtedness of the subsidiary bank. In the event of a bank holding company’s bankruptcy, any commitment by the bank holding company to a federal bank regulatory agency to maintain the capital of a subsidiary bank will be assumed by the bankruptcy trustee and entitled to a priority of payment.
Consumer Protection Laws
In connection with its lending activities, the Bank is subject to a number of federal and state laws designed to protect borrowers and promote lending to various sectors of the economy and population. These laws include the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Truth in Lending Act, the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, the Real Estate Settlement Procedure Act and their respective state law counterparts.
The Volcker rule (1) generally prohibits banks from engaging in proprietary trading, which is engaging as principal (for the bank’s own account) in any purchase or sale of one or more of certain types of financial instruments, and (2) limits banks’ ability to invest in or sponsor hedge funds or private equity funds.
The Dodd-Frank Act created the CFPB, which is granted broad rulemaking, supervisory and enforcement powers under various federal consumer financial protection laws, including the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Truth in Lending Act, Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Consumer Financial Privacy provisions of the GLB Act and certain other statutes. The CFPB has examination and primary enforcement authority with respect to depository institutions with $10 billion or more in assets, including the Bank. The CFPB has authority to prevent unfair, deceptive or abusive practices in connection with the offering of consumer financial products.
The CFPB has issued a number of regulations related to the origination of mortgages, foreclosures, and overdrafts as well as many other consumer issues. Additionally, the CFPB has proposed, or may propose, additional regulations or modifications to existing regulations that directly relate to our business. New CFPB regulations, and changes to CFPB regulations and enforcement priorities, may have a material impact on our compliance costs, compliance risk, and operations of the Bank.
FDIC Insurance Assessments; Deposit Insurance Fund
The Bank’s deposits are insured by the FDIC up to $250,000 per depositor subject to applicable limitations through the Deposit Insurance Fund. As a result, the Bank must pay deposit insurance assessments to the FDIC. The FDIC imposes a risk-based deposit premium assessment system to determine assessments based on a number of factors to measure the risk each institution poses to the Deposit Insurance Fund. The assessment rate is applied to our total average assets less tangible equity. Under the current system, premiums are assessed quarterly and could increase if, for example, criticized loans and/or other higher risk assets increase or balance sheet liquidity decreases. Because the Bank exceeds $10 billion in assets, the FDIC uses a “scorecard” system to calculate our assessments. Key factors include: the institution’s risk category; whether the institution is deemed large and highly complex; whether the institution qualifies for an unsecured debt adjustment; and whether the institution is burdened with a brokered deposit adjustment. Other factors can impact the base against which the applicable rate is applied, including (for example) whether a net loss is realized. The FDIC also has the ability to make discretionary adjustments to the total score based upon significant risk factors that are not adequately captured in the calculations.
The FDIC may also terminate deposit insurance upon a finding that the institution has engaged in unsafe and unsound practices, is in an unsafe or unsound condition to continue operations, or has violated any applicable law, regulation, rule, order or condition imposed by the FDIC.
Interchange Fee Restrictions
We are subject to regulations that severely cap interchange fees which the Bank may charge merchants for debit card transactions. These restrictions were required by a statutory provision known as the Durbin Amendment of the Dodd-Frank Act. In the Federal Reserve’s final rules implementing the Durbin Amendment, interchange fees for debit card transactions were capped at $0.21 plus five basis points in order to be eligible for a safe harbor such that the fee is conclusively determined to be reasonable and proportionate. Another related rule also permits an additional $0.01 per transaction “fraud prevention adjustment” to the interchange fee if certain Federal Reserve standards are implemented, including an annual review of fraud prevention policies and procedures. With respect to network exclusivity and merchant routing restrictions, it is now required that all debit cards participate in at least two unaffiliated networks so that the transactions initiated using those debit cards will have at least two independent routing channels.
Incentive Compensation and Risk Management
In addition to the potential restrictions on discretionary bonus compensation under the Basel III rules, the federal bank regulatory agencies have issued guidance on incentive compensation policies (the “Incentive Compensation Guidance”) intended to ensure that the incentive compensation policies of financial institutions do not undermine the safety and soundness of such institutions by encouraging excessive risk-taking. The Incentive Compensation Guidance, which covers all employees that have the ability to materially affect the risk profile of an institution, either individually or as part of a group, is based upon the key principles that a financial institution’s incentive compensation arrangements should (i) provide incentives that do not encourage risk-taking beyond the institution’s ability to effectively identify and manage risks, (ii) be compatible with effective internal controls and risk management and (iii) be supported by strong corporate governance, including active and effective oversight by the institution’s board of directors. We operate a risk management process for assessing risk in incentive compensation plans.
The Federal Reserve reviews, as part of its regular, risk-focused examination process, the incentive compensation arrangements of financial institutions, including us, that are not “large, complex banking organizations.” These reviews are tailored to each financial institution based on the scope and complexity of the institution’s activities and the prevalence of incentive compensation arrangements. The findings of the supervisory initiatives are included in reports of examination. Deficiencies are incorporated into the financial institution’s supervisory ratings, which can affect the institution’s ability to make acquisitions and take other actions. Enforcement actions may be taken against a financial institution if its incentive compensation arrangements, or related risk-management control or governance processes, pose a risk to the institution’s safety and soundness and the institution is not taking prompt and effective measures to correct the deficiencies.
The scope and content of federal bank regulatory agencies’ policies on executive compensation are continuing to develop and are likely to continue evolving in the near future. In 2016 federal agencies proposed regulations which could significantly change the regulation of incentive compensation programs at financial institutions. The proposal would create four tiers of institutions based on asset size. Institutions in the top two tiers would be subject to rules much more detailed and proscriptive than are currently in effect. If interpreted aggressively by the regulators, the proposed rules could be used to prevent, as a practical matter, larger institutions from engaging in certain lines of business where substantial commission and bonus pool arrangements are the norm. In the 2016 proposal, the top two tiers included institutions with more than $50 billion of assets, which would not currently apply to us. Additionally, prompted by post-2016 legislation which significantly raised several statutory asset-size tiers, if this proposal were finalized today, the $50 billion floor might be raised significantly, allowing us to remain in the third tier for the foreseeable future. We cannot predict what final rules may be adopted, nor how they may be implemented and, therefore, it cannot be determined at this time whether compliance with such policies will adversely affect our ability to hire, retain and motivate our key employees.
Real Estate Lending
Inter-agency guidelines adopted by federal bank regulatory agencies mandate that financial institutions establish real estate lending policies with maximum allowable real estate loan-to-value limits, subject to an allowable amount of non-conforming loans as a percentage of capital. In addition, the federal bank regulatory agencies, including the FDIC, restrict concentrations in commercial real estate lending and have noted that increases in banks’ commercial real estate concentrations can create safety and soundness concerns. The regulatory guidance mandates certain minimal risk management practices and categorizes banks with defined levels of such concentrations as banks requiring elevated examiner scrutiny.
A depository institution insured by the FDIC can be held liable for any loss incurred by, or reasonably expected to be incurred by, the FDIC in connection with (i) the default of a commonly controlled FDIC-insured depository institution or (ii) any assistance provided by the FDIC to any commonly controlled FDIC-insured depository institution “in danger of default.” “Default” is defined generally as the appointment of a conservator or receiver and “in danger of default” is defined generally as the existence of certain conditions indicating that a default is likely to occur in the absence of regulatory assistance. The FDIC’s claim for damages is superior to claims of shareholders of the insured depository institution or its holding company but is subordinate to claims of depositors, secured creditors, and holders of subordinated debt (other than affiliates) of the commonly controlled insured depository institution. Currently the Bank is our only depository institution subsidiary. If we were to own or operate another depository institution, any loss suffered by the FDIC in respect of one subsidiary bank would likely result in assertion of the cross-guarantee provisions, the assessment of estimated losses against our other subsidiary bank(s), and a potential loss of our investment in our subsidiary banks.
Interstate Branching and Mergers
As previously mentioned, the Bank generally must have SCBFI’s approval to establish a new branch. For a new branch located outside of South Carolina, South Carolina law requires the Bank to comply with branching laws applicable to the state where the new branch will be located. Federal law allows the Bank to establish or acquire a branch in another state to the same extent as a bank chartered in that other state would be allowed to establish or acquire a branch in South Carolina.
For an interstate merger or acquisition: the acquiring bank must be well-capitalized and well-managed; concentration limits on liabilities and deposits may not be exceeded; regulators must assess the transaction for incremental systemic risk; and the acquiring bank must have at least “satisfactory” standing under the federal Community Reinvestment Act (discussed immediately below). Once a bank has established branches in a state through de novo or acquired branching or through an interstate merger transaction, the bank may then establish or acquire additional branches within that state to the same extent that a bank chartered in that state is allowed to establish or acquire branches within the state.
Community Reinvestment Act
The CRA requires each U.S. bank, consistent with safe and sound operation, to help meet the credit needs of each community where the bank accepts deposits, including low- and moderate-income communities. Federal banking regulators periodically assess the Bank for CRA compliance and that assessment is made public. The Bank’s low- and moderate-income community operations and activities traditionally are critical focal points in those assessments.
For purposes of CRA examinations, federal banking regulators rate each institution’s compliance with the CRA as “Outstanding,” “Satisfactory,” “Needs to Improve” or “Substantial Noncompliance.” A CRA rating below “Satisfactory” can slow or halt a bank’s plans to expand by branching, acquisition, or merger, and can prevent a bank holding company from becoming a financial holding company. In its most recent CRA examination, the Bank received a “Satisfactory” rating.
The Federal Reserve, the OCC, and the FDIC recently have adopted revised CRA regulations based upon rules adopted jointly by the agencies in 1995. These rules were effective January 1, 2022.
Financial Activities other than Banking
Permitted Activities. Under the BHC Act, a bank holding company is generally permitted to engage in, or acquire direct or indirect control of more than 5% of the voting shares of any company engaged in, the following activities:
•banking or managing or controlling banks;
•furnishing services to or performing services for our subsidiaries; and
•any activity that the Federal Reserve determines to be so closely related to banking as to be a proper incident to the business of banking.
Activities that the Federal Reserve has found to be so closely related to banking as to be a proper incident to the business of banking include:
•factoring accounts receivable;
•making, acquiring, brokering or servicing loans and usual related activities;
•leasing personal or real property;
•operating a non-bank depository institution, such as a savings association;
•trust company functions;
•financial and investment advisory activities;
•conducting discount securities brokerage activities;
•underwriting and dealing in government obligations and money market instruments;
•providing specified management consulting and counseling activities;
•performing selected data processing services and support services;
•acting as agent or broker in selling credit life insurance and other types of insurance in connection with credit transactions; and
•performing selected insurance underwriting activities.
Federal law generally allows financial holding companies broad authority to engage in activities that are financial in nature or incidental to a financial activity. These include: insurance underwriting and brokerage; merchant banking; securities underwriting, dealing, and market-making; real estate development; and such additional activities as the Federal Reserve in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury determines to be financial in nature or incidental. A bank holding company may engage in these activities directly or through subsidiaries by qualifying as a “financial holding company.” To qualify as a financial holding company, a bank holding company must file an initial declaration with the Federal Reserve, certifying that all of its subsidiary depository institutions are well-managed and well-capitalized.
Federal law also permits banks to engage in certain of these activities through financial subsidiaries. To control or hold an interest in a financial subsidiary, a bank must meet the following requirements:
•The bank must receive approval from its primary federal regulator for the financial subsidiary to engage in the activities.
•The bank and its depository institution affiliates must each be well-capitalized and well-managed.
•The aggregate consolidated total assets of all of the bank’s financial subsidiaries must not exceed the lesser of: 45% of the bank’s consolidated total assets; or $50 billion (subject to indexing for inflation).
•The bank must have in place adequate policies and procedures to identify and manage financial and operational risks and to preserve the separate identities and limited liability of the bank and the financial subsidiary.
•If the bank is among the 100 largest banks, the bank must meet the long-term debt rating or alternative standards adopted by the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury from time to time. If this fifth requirement ceases to be met after a bank controls or holds an interest in a financial subsidiary, the bank cannot invest additional capital in that subsidiary until the requirement again is met.
No new activity may be commenced unless the bank and all of its depository institution affiliates have at least “Satisfactory” CRA ratings. Certain restrictions apply if the bank holding company or the bank fails to continue to meet one or more of the requirements listed above. In addition, federal law contains a number of other provisions that may affect the Bank’s operations, including limitations on the use and disclosure to third parties of client information.
At December 31, 2021, we are a financial holding company and we have a number of financial subsidiaries, as discussed in Subsidiaries in this Item.
Privacy and Data Security
The Federal Reserve, FDIC and other bank regulatory agencies have adopted guidelines for safeguarding confidential, personal customer information. These guidelines require each financial institution, under the supervision and ongoing oversight of its board of directors or an appropriate committee thereof, to create, implement and maintain a comprehensive written information security program designed to ensure the security and confidentiality of customer information, protect against any anticipated threats or hazards to the security or integrity of such information and protect against unauthorized access to or use of such information that could result in substantial harm or inconvenience to any customer. In addition, various federal regulators, including the Federal Reserve and the SEC, have increased their focus on cyber-security through guidance, examinations and regulations. The Bank has adopted a customer information security program that has been approved by its Board of Directors.
States are also increasingly proposing or enacting legislation that relates to data privacy and data protection such as the California Consumer Privacy Act which went into effect on January 1, 2020. We continue to assess the requirements of such laws and proposed legislation and their applicability to us. Moreover, these laws, and proposed legislation, are still subject to revision or formal guidance and they may be interpreted or applied in a manner inconsistent with our understanding.
Like other lenders, the Bank and other of our subsidiaries use credit bureau data in their underwriting activities. Use of such data is regulated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which regulates the reporting of information to credit bureaus, prescreening individuals for credit offers, sharing of information between affiliates, and using affiliate data for marketing purposes. Similar state laws may impose additional requirements on the Bank and its subsidiaries.
Anti-Money Laundering Initiatives, the USA Patriot Act and the Office of Foreign Asset Control
We are subject to federal laws that are designed to combat terrorist financing, money laundering and transactions with persons, companies or foreign governments sanctioned by the United States. These include the Bank Secrecy Act, the Money Laundering Control Act, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act, as administered by the United States Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. These regulations obligate depositary institutions and broker-dealers to verify the identity of their customers, conduct customer due diligence, report on suspicious activity, file reports of transactions in currency and conduct enhanced due diligence on certain accounts. They also prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with certain designated restricted countries and persons. Depository institutions and broker-dealers are required by their federal regulators to maintain robust policies and procedures in order to ensure compliance with these obligations. .
Failure of a financial institution to maintain and implement adequate programs to combat terrorist financing, or to comply with all of the relevant laws or regulations, can lead to significant monetary penalties and could have other serious legal and reputational consequences for the institution. Federal regulators evaluate the effectiveness of an applicant in combating money laundering when determining whether to approve a proposed bank merger, acquisition, restructuring, or other expansionary activity. There have been a number of significant enforcement actions by regulators, as well as state attorneys general and the Department of Justice, against banks, broker-dealers and non-bank financial institutions with respect to these laws and some have resulted in substantial penalties, including criminal pleas. Our Board has approved policies and procedures that it believes comply with these laws.
Federal law provides that deposits and certain claims for administrative expenses and associate compensation against an insured depository institution would be afforded a priority over other general unsecured claims against such an institution, including federal funds and letters of credit, in the “liquidation or other resolution” of such an institution by any receiver.
Certain of our subsidiaries are subject to various securities laws and regulations and capital adequacy requirements promulgated by the regulatory and exchange authorities of the jurisdictions in which they operate.
Our registered broker-dealer subsidiaries are subject to the SEC’s net capital rule, Rule 15c3-1. That rule requires the maintenance of minimum net capital and limits the ability of the broker-dealer to transfer large amounts of capital to a parent company or affiliate. Compliance with the rule could limit operations that require intensive use of capital, such as underwriting and trading.
Certain of our subsidiaries are registered investment advisers which are regulated under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. Advisory contracts with clients automatically terminate under these laws upon an assignment of the contract by the investment adviser unless appropriate consents are obtained.
Certain of our subsidiaries sell various types of insurance as agent in a number of states. Insurance activities are subject to regulation by the states in which such business is transacted. Although most of such regulation focuses on insurance companies and their insurance products, insurance agents and their activities are also subject to regulation by the states, including, among other things, licensing and marketing and sales practices.
Federal and state legislators as well as regulatory agencies may introduce or enact new laws and rules, or amend existing laws and rules that may affect the regulation of United and its subsidiaries in substantial and unpredictable ways, and, if enacted, could increase or decrease the cost of doing business, limit or expand permissible activities or affect the industry’s competitive balance. We are not able to predict what, if any, legislative and regulatory changes affecting financial institutions will be enacted or implemented in the future, nor the impact that those actions will have upon us. Any such changes, however, could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
|Source and Availability of Funds|
Our revenue is primarily derived from interest on and fees received in connection with the loans we make and from interest and dividends from our investment securities and short-term investments. The principal sources of funds for our lending activities are customer deposits, repayment of loans, and the sale and maturity of investment securities. Our principal expenses are interest paid on deposits and other borrowings and operating and general administrative expenses.
Our internet website address is www.ucbi.com. We file with or furnish to the SEC annual reports on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K and amendments to those reports, proxy statements and annual reports to shareholders and, from time to time, registration statements and other documents. These documents are available free of charge to the public on or through the “Investor Relations” section of our website as soon as reasonably practicable after we electronically file them with or furnish them to the SEC. The SEC maintains an internet site that contains reports, proxy and information statements and other information that we file electronically with, or furnish to, the SEC. The address of that website is www.sec.gov. The information on any website referenced in this Report is not incorporated by reference into, and is not a part of this Report. Further, our references to website URLs are intended to be inactive textual references only.
This Item outlines specific risks that could affect the ability of our various businesses to compete, change our risk profile or materially affect our financial condition or results of operations. Our operating environment continues to evolve and new risks continue to emerge. To address that challenge we have a risk management governance structure that oversees processes for monitoring evolving risks and oversees various initiatives designed to manage and control our potential exposure. This Item highlights risks that could affect us in material ways by causing future results to differ materially from past results, by causing future results to differ materially from current expectations, or by causing material changes in our financial condition. Some of these risks are interrelated and the occurrence of one or more of them may exacerbate the effect of others.
|TRADITIONAL COMPETITION RISKS|
We are subject to intense competition for clients and the nature of that competition is rapidly evolving.
Our primary areas of competition include: consumer and commercial deposits, commercial loans, consumer loans including home mortgages and lines of credit, financial planning and wealth management, fixed income products and services, and other consumer and commercial financial products and services. Our competitors in these areas include national, state and non-U.S. banks, credit unions, savings and loan associations, consumer finance companies, trust companies, mortgage banking firms, trust companies, securities brokerage firms, investment counseling firms, insurance companies and agencies, money market funds and other mutual funds, hedge funds and other financial services companies that serve in our markets. The emergence of non-traditional, disruptive service providers (see Industry Disruption section below) has intensified this competitive environment. In addition, as customer preferences and expectations continue to evolve, technology has lowered barriers to entry and made it possible for nonbanks to offer products and services traditionally provided by banks, such as check-cashing, automatic transfer and automatic payment systems and “peer-to-peer” lending in which investors provide debt financing and/or capital directly to borrowers. While traditional banks are subject to the same regulatory framework as we are, nonbanks experience a significantly different or reduced degree of regulation as well as lower cost structures. We may face a competitive disadvantage as a result of our smaller size, more limited geographic diversification and inability to spread costs across broader markets. Although we compete by concentrating marketing efforts in our primary markets with local advertisements, personal contacts and greater flexibility and responsiveness in working with local customers, customer loyalty can be easily influenced by a competitor’s new products and our strategy may or may not continue to be successful. Failure to perform in any of these areas could significantly weaken our competitive position, which could adversely affect our growth and profitability which, in turn, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. We may also be affected by the marketplace loosening of credit underwriting standards and structures.
|STRATEGIC AND MACRO RISKS|
We may be unable to successfully implement our strategy to grow our commercial and consumer banking businesses.
Although our current strategy is expected to evolve as business conditions change, in 2022 our strategy is to continue to invest resources in our banking businesses and operations as we integrate the businesses and operations of FinTrust, Aquesta and Reliant and seek to exploit opportunities for cost and revenue synergies. Organic growth, including exploitation of revenue synergies, is expected to be coordinated with a focus on strong and stable returns on capital. Organically, we have enhanced our market share in our traditional banking markets with targeted hires and marketing, expanded into other southern U.S. markets with similar characteristics, and expanded with specialty commercial lending and private client banking. In the future, we expect to continue to nurture profitable organic growth. We may pursue acquisitions or strategic transactions if appropriate opportunities, within or outside of our current markets, present themselves.
Failure to achieve one or more key elements needed for successful business acquisitions could adversely affect our business and earnings.
We intend to continue to expand in our current markets and in select attractive new growth markets by opening additional branches and service locations and also through acquisitions of all or part of other financial institutions. These types of expansions involve additional risks, including:
•our ability to identify and expand into suitable markets;
•our ability to identify and acquire suitable sites for new branches and service locations; our ability to identify and execute potential acquisition targets;
•our ability to develop accurate estimates and judgments to evaluate asset values and credit, operations, management and market risks with respect to an acquired branch or institution, a new branch office or a new market;
•our ability to realize certain assumptions and estimates to preserve the expected financial benefits of the transaction;
•our ability to avoid the diversion of our management’s attention from existing operations during the negotiation of a transaction;
•our ability to manage successful entry into new markets where we have limited or no direct prior experience;
•our ability to obtain regulatory and other approvals, or obtain such approvals without restrictive conditions;
•our ability to integrate the acquired business’ operations, clients, and properties quickly and cost-effectively;
•our ability to manage cultural assimilation risks associated with growth through acquisitions, which can be an often-overlooked and often-critical failure point in mergers;
•our ability to combine the franchise values of businesses that we acquire with those of ours without significant loss from re-branding and other similar changes; or
•our ability to retain core clients and key associates.
Failure to achieve one or more key elements needed for successful organic growth could adversely affect our business and earnings.
We believe that the successful execution of organic growth depends upon a number of key elements, including:
•our ability to attract and retain clients in our banking market areas, particularly as we integrate FinTrust, Aquesta and Reliant;
•our ability to achieve and maintain growth in our earnings while pursuing new business opportunities;
•our ability to maintain a high level of client service while optimizing our physical branch count due to changing client demand, all while expanding our remote banking services and expanding or enhancing our information processing, technology, compliance, and other operational infrastructures effectively and efficiently;
•our ability to maintain loan quality in the context of significant loan growth;
•our ability to attract sufficient deposits and capital to fund anticipated loan growth;
•our ability to maintain adequate common equity and regulatory capital while managing the liquidity and capital requirements associated with growth, especially organic growth and cash-funded acquisitions;
•our ability to hire or retain adequate management personnel and systems to oversee and support such growth;
•our ability to implement additional policies, procedures and operating systems required to support our growth;
•our ability to manage effectively and efficiently the changes and adaptations necessitated by a complex, burdensome, and evolving regulatory environment
Although we have in place strategies designed to achieve those elements that are significant to us at present, our challenge is to execute those strategies and adjust them, or adopt new strategies, as conditions change.
Failure to keep pace with technological changes could adversely affect our business.
The financial services industry is continually undergoing rapid technological change with frequent introductions of new technology-driven products and services. The effective use of technology increases efficiency and enables financial institutions to better serve customers and to reduce costs. Our future success depends, in part, upon our ability to address the needs of our customers by using technology to provide products and services that will satisfy customer demands, as well as to create additional efficiencies in our operations. Many of our competitors have substantially greater resources to invest in technological improvements. We may not be able to effectively implement new technology-driven products and services or be successful in marketing these products and services to our customers. Failure to successfully keep pace with technological change affecting the financial services industry could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Through technological innovations and changes in client habits, the manner in which clients use financial services continues to change at a rapid pace.
We provide a large number of services remotely (online and mobile), and physical branch utilization has been in long-term decline throughout the industry for many years. Technology has helped us reduce costs and improve service, but also has weakened traditional geographic and relationship ties, and has allowed disruptors to enter traditional banking areas. Through digital marketing and service platforms, many banks are making client inroads unrelated to physical presence. This competitive risk is especially pronounced from the largest U.S. banks, and from online-only banks, due in part to the investments they are able to sustain in their digital platforms.
Companies as disparate as PayPal and Starbucks provide payment and exchange services which compete directly with banks in ways not possible traditionally. Recently, some government leaders have discussed having the U.S. Post Office offer banking services.
The nature of technology-driven disruption to our industry is changing, in some cases seeking to displace traditional financial service providers rather than merely enhance traditional services or their delivery.
A number of recent technologies have worked with the existing financial system and traditional banks, such as the evolution of ATM cards into debit/credit cards and the evolution of debit/credit cards into smart phones. These sorts of technologies often have expanded the market for banking services overall while siphoning a portion of the revenues from those services away from banks and disrupting prior methods of delivering those services. But some recent innovations may tend to replace traditional banks as financial service providers rather than merely augment those services. For example, companies which claim to offer applications and services based on artificial intelligence are beginning to compete much more directly with traditional financial services companies in areas involving personal advice, including high-margin services such as financial planning and wealth management. The low-cost, high-speed nature of these “robo-advisor” services can be especially attractive to younger, less-affluent clients and potential clients, as well as persons interested in “self-service” investment management. Other industry changes, such as zero-commission trading offered by certain large firms able to use trading as a loss-leader, may amplify this trend. Similarly, inventions based on blockchain technology eventually may be the foundation for greatly enhancing transactional security throughout the banking industry, but also eventually may reduce the need for banks as secure deposit-keepers and intermediaries.
Fraud is a major, and increasing, operational risk for us and all banks.
Two traditional areas, deposit fraud (check kiting, wire fraud, etc.) and loan fraud, continue to be major sources of fraud attempts and loss. The sophistication and methods used to perpetrate fraud continue to evolve as technology changes. In addition to cybersecurity risk (discussed below), new technologies have made it easier for bad actors to obtain and use client personal information, mimic signatures and otherwise create false documents that look genuine. The industry fraud threat continues to evolve, including but not limited to card fraud, check fraud, social engineering and phishing attacks for identity theft and account takeover. Our anti-fraud measures are both preventive and, when necessary, responsive; however, some level of fraud loss is unavoidable, and the risk of a major loss cannot be eliminated.
Our ability to conduct and grow our businesses is dependent in part upon our ability to create, maintain, expand, and evolve an appropriate operational and organizational infrastructure, manage expenses, and recruit and retain personnel with the ability to manage a complex business.
Operational risk can arise in many ways, including: errors related to failed or inadequate physical, operational, information technology, or other processes; faulty or disabled computer or other technology systems; fraud, theft, physical security breaches, electronic data and related security breaches, or other criminal conduct by associates or third parties; and exposure to other external events. Inadequacies may present themselves in myriad ways. Actions taken to manage one risk may be ineffective against others. For example, information technology systems may be insufficiently redundant to withstand a fire, incursion, malware, or other major casualty, and they may be insufficiently adaptable to new business conditions or opportunities. Efforts to make systems more robust may make them less adaptable, and vice-versa. Also, our efforts to control expenses, which is a significant priority for us, increases our operational challenges as we strive to maintain client service and compliance at high quality and low cost.
A serious information technology security (cybersecurity) breach can cause significant damage and at the same time be difficult to detect even after it occurs.
Our operations rely on the secure processing, storage and transmission of confidential and other information in our computer systems and networks as well as through the internet through digital and mobile technologies. Although we take protective measures and endeavor to modify these systems as circumstances warrant, the advances in technology increase the risk of information security breaches. We provide our customers the ability to bank remotely, including over the internet or through their mobile device. The secure transmission of confidential information is a critical element of remote and mobile banking. Any failure, interruption or breach in security of these systems could result in disruptions to our accounting, deposit, loan and other systems, and adversely affect our customer relationships.
There have been increasing efforts on the part of third parties, including through cyber-attacks, to breach data security at financial institutions or with respect to financial transactions. There have been several recent instances involving financial services, credit bureaus and consumer-based companies reporting the unauthorized disclosure of client or customer information or the destruction or theft of corporate data, by both private individuals and foreign governments. In addition, because the techniques used to cause such security breaches change frequently, often are not recognized until launched against a target and may originate from less regulated and
remote areas around the world, we may be unable to proactively address these techniques or to implement adequate preventative measures. Our network, and the systems of parties with whom we contract, could be vulnerable to unauthorized access, computer viruses, phishing schemes, spam attacks, human error, natural disasters, power loss and other security breaches.
Cyber threats are rapidly evolving and we may not be able to anticipate or prevent all such attacks. Among other things, damage can occur due to outright theft or extortion of our funds, fraud or identity theft perpetrated on clients, or adverse publicity associated with a breach and its potential effects. Perpetrators potentially can be associates, clients, and certain vendors, all of whom legitimately have access to some portion of our systems, as well as outsiders with no legitimate access. These risks are heightened through the increasing use of digital and mobile solutions which allow for rapid money movement and increase the difficulty to detect and prevent fraudulent transactions. We may be required to spend significant capital and other resources to protect against the threat of security breaches and computer viruses, or to alleviate problems caused by security breaches or viruses. To the extent that our activities or the activities of our customers involve the storage and transmission of confidential information, security breaches (including breaches of security of customer systems and networks) and viruses could expose us to claims, litigation and other possible liabilities. Any inability to prevent security breaches or computer viruses could also cause existing customers to lose confidence in our systems and could adversely affect our reputation, results of operations and ability to attract and maintain customers and businesses. In addition, a security breach could also subject us to additional regulatory scrutiny, expose us to civil litigation and possible financial liability and cause reputational damage.
We rely on information technology and telecommunications systems and certain third-party service providers, the operational functions of which may experience disruptions that could adversely affect us and over which we may have limited or no control.
Our business is highly dependent on the successful and uninterrupted functioning of our information technology and telecommunications systems, third-party accounting systems and mobile and online banking platforms. We outsource many of our major systems, such as data processing, loan servicing and deposit processing systems and online banking platforms. While we have selected these vendors carefully, we do not control their actions. The failure of these systems, or the termination of a third-party software license or service agreement on which any of these systems is based, could interrupt our operations. Financial or operational difficulties of a vendor could also damage our operations if those difficulties interfere with the vendor’s ability to serve us. Furthermore, our vendors could also be sources of operational and information security risk to us, including from breakdowns or failures of their own systems or capacity constraints. Replacing these third-party vendors could also create significant delay and expense. Because our information technology and telecommunications systems interface with and depend on third-party systems, we could experience service denials if demand for such services exceeds capacity or such third-party systems fail or experience interruptions. If sustained or repeated, a system failure or service denial could result in a deterioration of our ability to process new and renewed loans, gather deposits and provide customer service, compromise our ability to operate effectively, damage our reputation, result in a loss of customer business and/or subject us to additional regulatory scrutiny and possible financial liability, any of which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations. Our ability to recoup our losses may be limited legally or practically in many situations.
Our risk management framework may not be effective in mitigating risks and/or losses.
We have implemented a risk management framework to mitigate our risk and loss exposure. This framework is comprised of various processes, systems and strategies, and is designed to identify, measure, monitor, report and manage the types of risk to which we are subject, including, among others, credit risk, interest rate risk, liquidity risk, legal and regulatory risk, compliance risk, strategic risk, reputational risk and operational risk related to its employees, systems and vendors, among others. Any system of control and any system to reduce risk exposure, however well designed and operated, is based in part on certain assumptions and can provide only reasonable, not absolute, assurances that the objectives of the system are met and will be effective under all circumstances or that it will adequately identify, manage or mitigate any risk or loss to us. Additionally, instruments, systems and strategies used to hedge or otherwise manage exposure to various types of interest rate, price, legal and regulatory compliance, credit, liquidity, operational and business risks and enterprise-wide risk could be less effective than anticipated. As a result, we may not be able to effectively mitigate our risk exposures in particular market environments or against particular types of risk. If our risk management framework is not effective, we could suffer unexpected losses and become subject to litigation, negative regulatory consequences, or reputational damage among other adverse consequences, any of which could result in our business, financial condition, results of operations or prospects being materially adversely affected.
Competition for talent is substantial and increasing. Moreover, revenue growth in some business lines increasingly depends upon top talent.
In recent years the cost to us of hiring and retaining top revenue-producing talent has increased, and that trend is likely to continue. We have assembled a management team which has substantial background and experience in banking and financial services in our markets. Moreover, much of our organic loan growth in recent years was the result of our ability to attract experienced financial services professionals who have been able to attract customers from other financial institutions. We anticipate deploying a similar
hiring strategy in the future. Additionally, operating our technology systems requires employees with specialized skills that are not readily available in the general employee candidate pool. Inability to retain these key personnel (including key personnel of the businesses we have acquired) or to continue to attract experienced lenders with established books of business could negatively affect our growth because of the loss of these individuals’ skills and customer relationships and/or the potential difficulty of promptly replacing them. Moreover, the higher costs we must pay to hire and retain these experienced individuals could cause our noninterest expense levels to rise and negatively impact our results of operations.
|RISKS FROM ECONOMIC DOWNTURNS AND CHANGES|
Generally, in periods of economic volatility, our realized credit losses increase, demand for our products and services declines, and the credit quality of our loan portfolio declines.
Our success depends significantly upon local, national and global economic and political conditions, as well as governmental monetary policies and trade relations. Our financial performance generally, and in particular the ability of borrowers to pay interest on and repay principal of outstanding loans and the value of collateral securing those loans, as well as demand for loans and other products and services we offer, is highly dependent upon the business environment in the markets where we operate and in the United States as a whole. Unlike banks that are more geographically diversified, we are a regional bank that provides services to customers primarily in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida. The market conditions in these markets may be different from, and could be worse than, the economic conditions in the United States as a whole. Adverse changes in business and economic conditions generally or specifically in the markets in which we operate could affect our business, including causing one or more of the following negative developments:
•a decrease in the demand for loans and other products and services offered by us;
•a decrease in the value of the collateral securing our residential or commercial real estate loans;
•a permanent impairment of our assets; or
•an increase in the number of customers or other counterparties who default on their loans or other obligations to us, which could result in a higher level of NPAs, net charge-offs and provision for loan losses.
|RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH MONETARY EVENTS|
The Federal Reserve has implemented significant economic strategies that have impacted interest rates, inflation, asset values, and the shape of the yield curve. These strategies have had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on our business and on many of our clients.
In response to the recession in 2008 and the following uneven recovery, the Federal Reserve implemented a series of domestic monetary initiatives designed to lower interest rates and make credit easier to obtain. The Federal Reserve changed course in 2015, raising interest rates several times through 2018. The last raise in 2018 was accompanied by a substantial and broad stock market decline. In 2019, the Federal Reserve began to lower interest rates. In 2020, in response to economic disruption associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve quickly reduced short-term interest rates to extremely low levels and acted to influence the markets to reduce long-term rates as well. In 2021, the Federal Reserve indicated that future actions would depend upon changes in economic data. In 2022, however, the Federal Reserve, in response to inflationary pressures, has indicated its intention to increase interest rates during 2022.
Federal Reserve strategies can, and often are intended to, affect the domestic money supply, inflation, interest rates, and the shape of the yield curve.
Effects on the yield curve often are most pronounced at the short end of the curve, which is of particular importance to us and other banks. Among other things, easing strategies are intended to lower interest rates, expand the money supply, and stimulate economic activity, while tightening strategies are intended to increase interest rates, tighten the money supply, and restrain economic activity. Many external factors may interfere with the effects of these plans or cause them to be changed, sometimes quickly. Such factors include significant economic trends or events as well as significant international monetary policies and events. Such strategies also can affect the U.S. and world-wide financial systems in ways that may be difficult to predict. Risks associated with interest rates and the yield curve are discussed in this Item 1A under the caption Interest Rate and Yield Curve Risks.
Our ability to conduct and grow our businesses, and to obtain and retain clients, is highly dependent upon external perceptions of our business practices and financial stability.
Our reputation is, therefore, a key asset for us. Reputation risk, or the risk to our earnings, liquidity and capital from negative public opinion, is inherent in our business. Our reputation is affected principally by our business practices and how those practices are perceived and understood by others. Negative public opinion could adversely affect our ability to keep and attract customers and expose us to adverse legal and regulatory consequences. Negative public opinion could result from our actual or alleged conduct in any number of activities, including lending practices, corporate governance, regulatory compliance, securities compliance, mergers and acquisitions, and disclosure, from sharing or inadequate protection of customer information and from actions taken by government regulators and community organizations in response to that conduct. Negative public opinion could also result from adverse news or publicity that impairs the reputation of the financial services industry generally or that relates to parties with whom we have important relationships. Because we conduct most of our business under the “United” brand, negative public opinion about one business could affect our other businesses.
|CREDIT AND COUNTERPARTY RISK|
We face the risk that our clients may not repay their loans or other obligations and that the realizable value of collateral may be insufficient to avoid a charge-off.
We also face risks that other counterparties, in a wide range of situations, may fail to honor their obligations to pay us. In our business some level of credit charge-offs is unavoidable and overall levels of credit charge-offs can vary substantially over time. Lending activities are inherently risky. When we lend money or commit to lend, we incur credit risk or the risk of loss if borrowers do not repay their loans or other credit obligations. Credit risk includes, among other things, the quality of our underwriting, the impact of changes in interest rates and changes in the economic conditions in the markets where we operate as well as across the United States.
When interest rates eventually rise, default risk will also likely rise.
Increases in interest rates and/or weakening economic conditions could adversely affect the ability of borrowers to repay outstanding loans or the value of the collateral securing these loans. If loan customers with significant loan balances fail to repay their loans, our results of operations, financial condition and capital levels will suffer.
We are exposed to higher credit and concentration risk from our commercial real estate, commercial and industrial and commercial construction lending.
Our credit risk and credit losses can increase if our loans become concentrated to borrowers engaged in the same or similar activities or to borrowers who as a group may be uniquely or disproportionately affected by economic or market conditions. As of December 31, 2021, approximately 76% of our loan portfolio consisted of commercial loans, including commercial and industrial, equipment financing, commercial construction and commercial real estate mortgage loans. Our borrowers under these loans tend to be small to medium-sized businesses. These types of loans are typically larger than residential real estate loans or consumer loans. During periods of lower economic growth or challenging economic periods, small to medium-sized businesses may be impacted more severely and more quickly than larger businesses. Consequently, the ability of such businesses to repay their loans may deteriorate, and in some cases this deterioration may occur quickly, which would adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition. An increase in non-performing loans could result in a net loss of earnings from these loans, an increase in the provision for loan losses and an increase in loan charge-offs, all of which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Deterioration in economic conditions, housing conditions and commodity and real estate values and an increase in unemployment in certain states or locations could result in materially higher credit losses if loans are concentrated in those locations. Our loans are heavily concentrated in our primary markets of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida. These markets may have different or weaker performance than other areas of the country and our portfolio may be more negatively impacted than a financial services company with wider geographic diversity.
See the section captioned “Loans” in the “Balance Sheet Review” section of Part II, Item 7. MD&A of this Report for further discussion related to commercial and industrial, construction and commercial real estate loans.
If our allowance for credit losses was required to be increased because it is not large enough to cover actual losses in our loan portfolio, our results of operations and financial condition could be materially and adversely affected.
We maintain an ACL, which is a reserve established through a provision for credit losses charged to expense. After adopting ASC 326, the ACL reflects our assessment of the current expected losses over the life of the loan using historical experience, current conditions and reasonable and supportable forecasts. CECL has created more volatility in the level of our ACL because it relies on macroeconomic forecasts. It is possible that CECL may increase the cost of lending in the industry and result in slower loan growth and lower levels of net income. The level of the allowance reflects our continuing evaluation of factors including current economic forecasts, historical loss experience, the volume and types of loans, and specific credit risks. The determination of the appropriate level of the ACL inherently involves subjectivity in our modeling and requires us to make estimates of current credit risks and future trends, all of which may undergo material changes or vary from our historical experience. Deterioration in economic conditions affecting borrowers, changing economic forecasts, new information regarding existing loans, identification of additional problem loans and other factors, both within and outside of our control, may require an increase in the ACL. If we are required to materially increase our level of ACL for any reason, such increase could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
In addition, bank regulatory agencies periodically review our ACL and may require an increase in the provision for credit losses or the recognition of further loan charge-offs, based on judgments different than those of management. Furthermore, if charge-offs in future periods exceed the ACL, we will need additional provisions to increase the ACL. Any increases in the ACL will result in a decrease in net income and, possibly, capital, and may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
See the section captioned “Allowance for Credit Losses” in Part II, Item 7. MD&A of this Report for further discussion related to our process for determining the appropriate level of the ACL.
|RISKS RELATED TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC|
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to periods of significant volatility in financial, commodities (including oil and gas) and other markets, has adversely affected our ability to conduct normal business, has adversely affected our clients, and is likely to harm our businesses, financial condition and results of operations.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused and will continue to cause significant disruption in the international and United States economies and financial markets and has had an adverse effect on our business and results of operations. The spread of COVID-19 has caused illness and death resulting in quarantines, cancellation of events and travel, business and school shutdowns, reduction in business activity and financial transactions, supply chain interruptions, and overall economic and financial market instability. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the governments of the states in which we have branches, and most other states, periodically have taken preventative or protective actions, such as imposing restrictions on travel and business operations, advising or requiring individuals to limit or forego their time outside of their homes, and ordering temporary closures of businesses that have been deemed to be non-essential. These restrictions and other consequences of the pandemic have resulted in significant adverse effects for many different types of businesses, including, among others, those in the hospitality (including hotels and lodging) and restaurant industries, and resulted in a significant number of layoffs and furloughs of employees nationwide and in the regions in which we operate. Moreover, beginning in 2020, the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates and started a “quantitative easing” program intended to lower longer-term interest rates and foster access to credit, which negatively affected and may continue to negatively affect our interest income and, therefore, earnings, financial condition, and results of operation.
Although we are taking precautions to protect the safety and well-being of our employees and customers, the unpredictability of the pandemic could result in any of the following:
•employees contracting COVID-19;
•reductions in operating effectiveness as employees work from home;
•a work stoppage, forced quarantine, or other interruption of our business, including sustained closures of our business locations;
•unavailability of key personnel necessary to conduct our business activities;
•effects on key employees, including operational management personnel and those charged with preparing, monitoring, and evaluating our financial reporting and internal controls;
•increased cybersecurity risks as a result of many of our employees working remotely;
•declines in demand for loans and other banking services and products;
•reduced consumer spending due to job losses, inflation and other effects directly or indirectly attributable to the pandemic;
•continued volatility in United States financial markets;
•continued volatile performance of our investment securities portfolio;
•decline in the credit quality of our loan portfolio resulting from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in our markets, leading to a need to increase the ACL, as applicable;
•declines in value of collateral for loans, including real estate collateral;
•declines in the net worth and liquidity of borrowers and loan guarantors, impairing their ability to honor commitments to us, which may affect, among other things, the levels of NPAs, charge-offs, and provision expense; and
•declines in demand resulting from businesses deemed to be “non-essential” by governments in the markets that we serve, and from both “non-essential” and “essential” businesses suffering adverse effects from reduced levels of economic activity.
|REGULATORY, LEGISLATIVE AND LEGAL RISKS|
We are subject to a challenging regulatory environment that restricts our activities.
We operate in a heavily regulated industry. Our regulatory burdens, including both operating restrictions and ongoing compliance costs, are substantial. We are subject to many banking, deposit, insurance, securities brokerage and underwriting, and consumer lending regulations in addition to the rules applicable to all companies publicly traded in the U.S. securities markets. Failure to comply with applicable regulations could result in financial, structural, and operational penalties. In addition, efforts to comply with applicable regulations may increase our costs and/or limit our ability to pursue certain business opportunities. See Supervision and Regulation in Item 1 of this report, for additional information concerning financial industry regulations. Federal and state regulations significantly limit the types of activities in which we, as a financial institution, may engage. In addition, we are subject to a wide array of other regulations that govern other aspects of how we conduct our business, such as in the areas of employment and intellectual property. Federal and state legislative and regulatory authorities increasingly consider changing these regulations or adopting new ones. Such actions could further limit the amount of interest or fees we can charge, could further restrict our ability to collect loans or realize on collateral, could affect the terms or profitability of the products and services we offer, or could materially affect us in other ways. The following paragraphs highlight certain specific important risk areas related to regulatory matters currently. These paragraphs do not describe these risks exhaustively, and they do not describe all such risks that we face currently. Moreover, the importance of specific risks will grow or diminish as circumstances change.
We and the Bank both are required to maintain certain regulatory capital levels and ratios.
U.S. capital standards are discussed in Item 1 of this report under the caption Capital Adequacy. Pressures to maintain appropriate capital levels and address business needs in a changing economy could result in certain mandatory and possible additional discretionary actions by regulators that, if undertaken, could be dilutive or otherwise have an adverse effect on our shareholders. Such actions could include: reduction or elimination of dividends; the issuance of common or preferred stock, or securities convertible into stock; or the issuance of any class of stock having rights that are adverse to those of the holders of our existing classes of common or preferred stock. In addition, these requirements could have a negative impact on our ability to lend, grow deposit balances, make acquisitions or make share repurchases or redemptions. Higher capital levels could also lower our return on equity. Additional information concerning these risks and our management of them, all of which is incorporated into this Item 1A by this reference, appears: under the captions Capital Adequacy and Prompt Corrective Action in Item 1 of this report; under the caption “Capital Resources and Dividends” of Part II, Item 7. MD&A; and Note 21 Regulatory Matters, of Part II, Item 8. Financial Statements.
Political dysfunction and volatility within the federal government, both at the regulatory and Congressional level, creates significant potential for major and abrupt shifts in federal policy regarding bank regulation, taxes, and the economy, any of which could have significant impacts on our business and financial performance.
Certain of our operations and customers are dependent on the regular operation of the federal or state government or programs they administer For example, our SBA lending program depends on interaction with the SBA, an independent agency of the federal government. During a lapse in funding, such as has occurred during previous federal government “shutdowns”, the SBA may not be able to engage in such interaction. Similarly, loans we make through USDA lending programs may be delayed or adversely affected by lapses in funding for the USDA. In addition, customers who depend directly or indirectly on providing goods and services to federal or state governments or their agencies may reduce their business with us or delay repayment of loans due to lost or delayed revenue from those relationships. If funding for these lending programs or federal spending generally is reduced as part of the appropriations process or by administrative decision, demand for our services may be reduced. Any of these developments could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations or liquidity.
Legal disputes are an unavoidable part of business, and the outcome of pending or threatened litigation cannot be predicted with any certainty.
We face the risk of litigation from clients, associates, vendors, contractual parties, and other persons, either singly or in class actions, and from federal or state regulators. We manage those risks through internal controls, personnel training, insurance, litigation management, our compliance and ethics processes, and other means. However, the commencement, outcome, and magnitude of litigation cannot be predicted or controlled with any certainty. Substantial legal liability or significant regulatory action against us could have material adverse financial effects or cause significant reputational harm to us, which in turn could seriously harm our business prospects.
Data privacy is becoming a major political concern. The laws governing it are new, and are likely to evolve and expand.
Many non-regulated, non-banking companies have gathered large amounts of personal details about millions of people, and have the ability to analyze that data and act on that analysis very quickly. This situation has prompted governmental responses. Two prominent responses are the European Union General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act. Neither is a banking industry regulation, but both apply to banks in relation to certain clients. Further general regulation to protect data privacy appears likely, and banking industry regulations might be enlarged as well.
|LIQUIDITY AND FUNDING RISK|
Liquidity is essential to our business model and a lack of liquidity, or an increase in the cost of liquidity could materially impair our ability to fund our operations and jeopardize our results of operation, financial condition and cash flows.
Liquidity represents an institution’s ability to provide funds to satisfy demands from depositors, borrowers and other creditors by either converting assets into cash or accessing new or existing sources of incremental funds. Liquidity risk arises from the possibility that we may be unable to satisfy current or future funding requirements and needs.
Deposit levels may be affected by several factors, including rates paid by competitors, general interest rate levels, returns available to customers on alternative investments, general economic and market conditions and other factors. Loan repayments are a relatively stable source of funds but are subject to the borrowers’ ability to repay loans, which can be adversely affected by a number of factors including changes in general economic conditions, adverse trends or events affecting business industry groups or specific businesses, declines in real estate values or markets, business closings or lay-offs, inclement weather, natural disasters and other factors. Furthermore, loans generally are not readily convertible to cash.
From time to time, if deposits and loan payments are not sufficient to meet our needs, we may be required to rely on secondary sources of liquidity to meet growth in loans, deposit withdrawal demands or otherwise fund operations. Such secondary sources include FHLB advances, brokered deposits, secured and unsecured federal funds lines of credit from correspondent banks, Federal Reserve borrowings and/or accessing the equity or debt capital markets. The availability of these secondary funding sources is subject to broad economic conditions, to regulation and to investor assessment of our financial strength and, as such, the cost of funds may fluctuate significantly and/or the availability of such funds may be restricted, thus impacting our net interest income, our immediate liquidity and/or our access to additional liquidity. Additionally, if we fail to remain “well-capitalized” our ability to utilize brokered deposits may be restricted. We have somewhat similar risks to the extent high balance core deposits exceed the amount of deposit insurance coverage available.
We anticipate we will continue to rely primarily on deposits, loan repayments, and cash flows from our investment securities to provide liquidity. Additionally, when necessary, the secondary sources of borrowed funds described above will be used to augment our primary funding sources. An inability to maintain or raise funds (including the inability to access secondary funding sources) in amounts necessary to meet our liquidity needs would have a substantial negative effect, individually or collectively, on our liquidity. Our access to funding sources in amounts adequate to finance our activities, or on terms attractive to us, could be impaired by factors that affect us specifically or the financial services industry in general. For example, factors that could detrimentally impact our access to liquidity sources include our financial results, a decrease in the level of our business activity due to a market downturn or adverse regulatory action against us, a reduction in our credit rating, any damage to our reputation, counterparty availability, changes in the activities of our business partners, changes affecting our loan portfolio or other assets, or any other event that could cause a decrease in depositor or investor confidence in our creditworthiness and business. Our access to liquidity could also be impaired by factors that are not specific to us, such as general business conditions, interest rate fluctuations, severe volatility or disruption of the financial markets or negative views and expectations about the prospects for the financial services industry as a whole, or legal, regulatory, accounting, and tax environments governing our funding transactions. In addition, our ability to raise funds is strongly affected by the general state of the U.S. and world economies and financial markets as well as the policies and capabilities of the U.S. government and its agencies, and may remain or become increasingly difficult due to economic and other factors beyond our control. Any such event or failure to
manage our liquidity effectively could affect our competitive position, increase our borrowing costs and the interest rates we pay on deposits, limit our access to the capital markets and have a material adverse effect on our results of operations or financial condition. Changes associated with LIBOR also may impact our funding ability; see Interest Rate and Yield Curve Risks below.
|INTEREST RATE AND YIELD CURVE RISKS|
We are subject to interest rate risk because a significant portion of our business involves borrowing and lending money, and investing in financial instruments.
A considerable amount of our profitability is dependent on net interest income, which is the difference between interest income earned on loans, leases and investment securities and interest expense paid on deposits, other borrowings, senior debt and subordinated notes. The absolute level of interest rates as well as changes in interest rates, including changes to the shape of the yield curve, may affect our level of interest income, the primary component of our gross revenue, as well as the level of our interest expense. In a period of changing interest rates, interest expense may increase at different rates than the interest earned on assets, impacting our net interest income. Interest rate fluctuations are caused by many factors which, for the most part, are not under our control. For example, national monetary policy implemented by the Federal Reserve plays a significant role in the determination of interest rates. Additionally, competitor pricing and the resulting negotiations that occur with our customers also impact the rates we collect on loans and the rates we pay on deposits.
Because of significant competitive pressures in our markets and the negative impact of these pressures on our deposit and loan pricing, coupled with the fact that a significant portion of our loan portfolio has variable rate pricing that moves in concert with changes to benchmark rates (which are at relatively low levels as a result of macroeconomic conditions), our net interest margin may be negatively impacted if these short-term rates remain at their low levels or decrease further. However, if short-term interest rates rise, our results of operations may also be negatively impacted if we are unable to increase the rates we charge on loans or earn on our investment securities in excess of the increases we must pay on deposits and our other funding sources. As interest rates change, we expect that we will periodically experience “gaps” in the interest rate sensitivities of our assets and liabilities, meaning that either our interest-bearing liabilities (usually deposits and borrowings) will be more sensitive to changes in market interest rates than our interest-earning assets (usually loans and investment securities), or vice versa. In either event, if market interest rates should move contrary to our position, this “gap” may work against us, and our results of operations and financial condition may be negatively affected.
We have historically entered into certain hedging transactions including interest rate swaps, which are designed to lessen elements of our interest rate exposure. If interest rates do not change in the manner anticipated, such transactions may not be effective and our results of operations may be adversely affected.
A flat or inverted yield curve may reduce our net interest margin and adversely affect our loan and investment portfolios.
The yield curve is a reflection of interest rates applicable to short and long-term debt. The yield curve is steep when short-term rates are much lower than long-term rates; it is flat when short-term rates and long-term rates are nearly the same; and it is inverted when short-term rates exceed long-term rates. Historically, the yield curve is usually upward sloping (higher rates for longer terms). However, the yield curve can be relatively flat or inverted (downward sloping), which has happened several times in the past few years. A flat or inverted yield curve, which tends to decrease net interest margin, would adversely impact our lending businesses and investment portfolio.
We appear to be at the extreme “easing” end of the spectrum in terms of interest rate policy, with “tightening” expected to resume in 2022; the uncertainties of the magnitude and timing of future rate actions, however, could adversely affect us.
The Federal Reserve eased substantially in 2020 in response to the COVID pandemic. In addition, the Fed has provided other stimulus through open-market purchases of various bond asset classes and the introduction of several liquidity facilities. As a result, rates cannot move much lower without becoming negative. The Federal Reserve, consistent with long-term goals, seems determined to begin normalizing rates in response to inflation, as well as significant and sustained economic improvement and improved employment. We cannot predict when those conditions will exist. Meanwhile, we believe that the current low-rate, low-margin environment will continue for the immediate future but not beyond 2022. See Risks Associated with Monetary Events within this section of the Report for additional information.
The discontinuance of LIBOR as a viable benchmark rate may adversely affect our business and our operating results.
LIBOR and certain other “benchmarks” are the subject of recent national, international and other regulatory guidance and proposals for reform. These reforms may cause such benchmarks to perform differently than in the past or have other consequences which cannot be predicted. Our floating-rate funding, certain hedging transactions and certain of the products that we offer, such as floating-rate loans and mortgages, determine their applicable interest rate or payment amount by reference to a benchmark rate, such as LIBOR, SOFR, the prime rate or the federal funds rate. In July 2017, the Chief Executive of the FCA announced that the FCA intended to stop persuading or compelling banks to submit rates for the calculation of LIBOR after 2021. This announcement indicated that the continuation of LIBOR on the then current basis could not and would not be guaranteed after 2021.
On March 5, 2021, the FCA announced future cessation or non-representativeness of 35 LIBOR benchmark settings – for instruments denominated in U.S. dollars:
•the cessation date for 1 week and 2-month LIBOR was December 31, 2021; and
•the cessation date for all other LIBOR tenors (overnight, 1-month, 3-month, 6-month and 12-month) is June 30, 2023.
The Federal Reserve, FDIC and Comptroller of the Currency have issued supervisory guidance for banks to cease using USD LIBOR as a reference rate as soon as possible and in any event on or before December 31, 2021. Certain transactions dealing with pre-2022 transactions (e.g., hedging prior LIBOR exposures) were permitted. “New contracts”, however, were not. A “new contract” is one that creates additional LIBOR exposure or extends the terms of an existing LIBOR contract. Draws under existing contracts, such as a committed credit facility, would not be viewed as a “new contract.” Since December 31, 2021, we have primarily used SOFR and BSBY as our floating rate index alternatives, which are published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Bloomberg, respectively.
Although we are currently unable to fully assess the ultimate impact of the transition from LIBOR, the market transition away from LIBOR to an alternative reference rate is complex and the failure to adequately manage the transition could have a range of material adverse effects on our business, financial condition and results of operations, including the potential to:
•adversely affect the interest rates paid or received on, and the revenue and expenses associated with, our floating rate obligations, loans, deposits, derivatives and other financial instruments tied to LIBOR rates, or other securities or financial arrangements given LIBOR’s role in determining market interest rates globally;
•adversely affect the value of our floating rate obligations, loans, deposits, derivatives and other financial instruments tied to LIBOR rates, or other securities or financial arrangements given LIBOR’s role in determining market interest rates globally;
•prompt inquiries or other actions from regulators in respect of our preparation and readiness for the replacement of LIBOR with an alternative reference rate;
•result in disputes, litigation or other actions with counterparties regarding the interpretation and enforceability of certain fallback language in LIBOR-based securities; and
•require the transition to or development of appropriate systems and analytics to effectively transition our risk management processes from LIBOR-based products to those based on the applicable alternative pricing benchmark.
The manner and impact of this transition, as well as the effect of these developments on our funding costs, loan and investment portfolios, asset-liability management and business, is uncertain.
The preparation of our consolidated financial statements in conformity with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles requires management to make significant assumptions, estimates and judgments that affect the financial statements.
Management must make significant assumptions and estimates and exercise significant judgment in selecting and applying accounting and reporting policies. In some cases, management must select a policy from two or more alternatives, any of which may be reasonable under the circumstances, which may result in reporting materially different results than would have been reported under a different alternative. The estimate that is consistently one of our most critical is the level of the allowance for credit losses. However, other estimates can be highly significant at discrete times or during periods of varying length, for example the valuation (or impairment) of our deferred tax assets. Estimates are made at specific points in time. As actual events unfold, estimates are adjusted accordingly. Due to the inherent nature of these estimates, it is possible that, at some time in the future, we may significantly increase the allowance for credit losses and/or sustain credit losses that are significantly higher than the provided allowance, or we may recognize a significant provision for impairment of assets, or we may make some other adjustment that will differ materially from the
estimates that we make today. Moreover, in some cases, especially concerning litigation and other contingency matters where critical information is inadequate, often we are unable to make estimates until fairly late in a lengthy process.
In addition, changes in accounting standards or interpretations could impact our reported earnings and financial condition.
The accounting standard setters, including the FASB, the SEC and other regulatory agencies, periodically change the financial accounting and reporting standards that govern the preparation of our consolidated financial statements. For additional information, refer to Note 2 to our consolidated financial statements contained in this Report. These changes can be difficult to predict and can materially impact how we record and report our financial condition and results of operations. In some cases, we could be required to apply a new or revised standard retroactively, which would result in the recasting of our prior period financial statements.
We could be subject to changes in tax laws, regulations and interpretations or challenges to our income tax provision.
We compute our income tax provision based on enacted tax rates in the jurisdictions in which we operate. Any change in enacted tax laws, rules or regulatory or judicial interpretations, any adverse outcome in connection with tax audits in any jurisdiction or any change in the pronouncements relating to accounting for income taxes could adversely affect our effective tax rate, tax payments and results of operations.
Our internal controls and procedures may fail or be circumvented.
Maintaining and adapting our internal controls over financial reporting, disclosure controls and procedures and effective corporate governance policies and procedures (“controls and procedures”) is expensive and requires significant management attention. Moreover, as we continue to grow, our controls and procedures may become more complex and require additional resources to ensure they remain effective amid dynamic regulatory and other guidance. Failure to implement effective controls and procedures or circumvention of our controls and procedures could harm our business, results of operations and financial condition or cause us to fail to meet our public reporting obligations.
We are subject to risks of operating in various jurisdictions.
Our success is also influenced heavily by population growth, income levels, loans and deposits and on stability in real estate values in our markets. To a significant degree our banking business is exposed to economic, regulatory, natural disaster, and other risks that primarily impact the south-eastern and south-central U.S. states where we do most of our traditional banking business. If those regions of the U.S. did not grow or were to experience adversity not shared by other parts of the country, we are likely to experience adversity to a degree not shared by those competitors which have a broader or different regional footprint. Examples of these kinds of risks include: hurricanes in Florida and the Carolina coasts; a major change in health insurance laws affecting the many healthcare companies in middle Tennessee; and automotive industry plant closures. If market and economic conditions deteriorate, this may lead to valuation adjustments on our loan portfolio and losses on defaulted loans and on the sale of other real estate owned. Additionally, such adverse economic conditions in our market areas, specifically decreases in real estate property values due to the nature of our loan portfolio, the majority of which is secured by real estate, could reduce our growth rate, affect the ability of our customers to repay their loans and generally affect our financial condition and results of operations. We are less able than larger institutions to spread the risks of unfavorable local economic conditions across a larger number of more diverse economies.
Weather-related events or other natural disasters may have an effect on the performance of our loan portfolios, especially in our coastal markets, thereby adversely affecting our results of operations.
Our operations and customer base are located in markets where natural disasters, including tornadoes, severe storms, fires, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes have occurred. Such natural disasters could significantly affect the local population and economies and our business, and could pose physical risks to our properties. Although our banking offices are geographically dispersed throughout portions of the southeastern United States and we maintain insurance coverage for such events, a significant natural disaster in or near one or more of our markets could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations or liquidity.
|STOCK HOLDING AND GOVERNANCE RISKS|
The inability of our subsidiaries to declare and pay dividends or other distributions to the Holding Company could adversely affect its liquidity and ability to declare and pay dividends.
While our Board, since 2013, has approved the payment of a quarterly cash dividend on our common stock, there can be no assurance whether or when we may pay dividends in the future. Future dividends, if any, will be declared and paid at the Board’s discretion and will depend on a number of factors including, among others, asset quality, earnings performance, liquidity and capital requirements. Our principal source of funds used to pay cash dividends on our common and preferred stock is dividends that we receive from the Bank. As a South Carolina state-chartered bank, the Bank is subject to limitations on the amount of dividends that it is permitted to pay, as described under “Supervision and Regulation - Payment of Dividends” in Part I, Item 1 of this Report. The federal banking agencies have also issued policy statements which provide that bank holding companies and insured banks should generally only pay dividends out of current earnings. The Federal Reserve may also prevent the payment of a dividend by the Bank if it determines that the payment would be an unsafe and unsound banking practice. The Holding Company and the Bank must also maintain the CET1 capital conservation buffer of 2.5% to avoid becoming subject to restrictions on capital distributions, including dividends. If the Bank is not permitted to pay cash dividends to the Holding Company, it is unlikely that we would be able to continue to pay dividends on our common stock or to pay interest on our indebtedness.
Holders of our indebtedness and of depositary shares related to our Series I preferred stock have rights that are senior to those of our common shareholders.
At December 31, 2021, we had outstanding senior debentures, subordinated debentures, trust preferred securities and accompanying subordinated debentures and preferred stock totaling $344 million. Payments of the principal and interest on the senior debentures, subordinated debentures and the subordinated debentures accompanying the trust preferred securities and dividends on the preferred stock are senior to payments with respect to shares of our common stock. We also conditionally guarantee payments of the principal and interest on the trust preferred securities. As a result, we must make payments on these debt instruments (including the related trust preferred securities) and preferred shares before any dividends can be paid on our common stock and, in the event of bankruptcy, dissolution or liquidation, the holders of the debt and preferred shares must be satisfied before any distributions can be made on our common stock. We have the right to defer distributions on the subordinated debentures related to the trust preferred securities (and the related guarantee of payments on the trust preferred securities) for up to five years, during which time no dividends may be paid on our common stock. If our financial condition deteriorates or if we do not receive required regulatory approvals, we may be required to defer distributions on the subordinated debentures related to the trust preferred securities (and the related guarantee of payments on the trust preferred securities).
We may from time to time issue additional senior or subordinated indebtedness or preferred stock that would have to be repaid before our shareholders would be entitled to receive any of our assets.
Although our common stock currently is traded on the Nasdaq, it has less liquidity than other stocks quoted on a national securities exchange.
Although our common stock is listed for trading on Nasdaq, the trading volume in our common stock is less than that of other, larger financial services companies. A public trading market having the desired characteristics of depth, liquidity and orderliness depends on the presence in the marketplace of willing buyers and sellers of our common stock at any given time. This presence depends on the individual decisions of investors and general economic and market conditions over which we have no control. Given the lower trading volume of our common stock, significant sales of our common stock, or the expectation of these sales, could cause our stock price to fall.
The trading volume in our common stock on Nasdaq has been relatively low when compared with larger companies listed on the Nasdaq or other stock exchanges. For 2021, our average daily trading volume was 472,740. Although we have experienced increased liquidity in our stock, we cannot say with any certainty that a more active and liquid trading market for our common stock will continue to develop. Because of this, it may be more difficult for shareholders to sell a substantial number of shares for the same price at which shareholders could sell a smaller number of shares.
We cannot predict the effect, if any, that future sales of our common stock in the market, or the availability of shares of common stock for sale in the market, will have on the market price of our common stock. We can give no assurance that sales of substantial amounts of common stock in the market, or the potential for large amounts of sales in the market, would not cause the price of our common stock to decline or impair our future ability to raise capital through sales of our common stock.
Our stock price can be volatile.
Stock price volatility may make it more difficult for you to resell your common stock when you want and at prices you find attractive. Our stock price can fluctuate significantly in response to a variety of factors, some of which are unrelated to our financial performance, including, among other things:
•actual or anticipated variations in quarterly results of operations;
•recommendations by securities analysts;
•operating and stock price performance of other companies that investors deem comparable to us;
•news reports relating to trends, concerns and other issues in the financial services industry;
•perceptions in the marketplace regarding us and/or our competitors;
•new technology used, or services offered, by competitors;
•significant acquisitions or business combinations, strategic partnerships, joint ventures or capital commitments by or involving us or our competitors;
•failure to integrate acquisitions or realize anticipated benefits from acquisitions;
•changes in government regulations; or
•geopolitical conditions such as acts or threats of terrorism, military conflicts, the effects (or perceived effects) of pandemics and trade relations.
General market fluctuations, including real or anticipated changes in the strength of the local economy; industry factors and general economic and political conditions and events, such as economic slowdowns or recessions; interest rate changes, oil price volatility or credit loss trends could also cause our stock price to decrease regardless of our operating results.
United’s corporate organizational documents and the provisions of Georgia law to which we are subject contain certain provisions that could have an anti-takeover effect and may delay, make more difficult or prevent an attempted acquisition of United that you may favor.
United’s amended and restated articles of incorporation, as amended (our “articles”), and bylaws, as amended (our “bylaws”), contain various provisions that could have an anti-takeover effect and may delay, discourage or prevent an attempted acquisition or change of control of United. These provisions include:
•a provision allowing the Board to consider the interests of our employees, customers, suppliers and creditors when considering an acquisition proposal;
•a provision that all amendments to the articles and bylaws must be approved by a majority of the outstanding shares of our capital stock entitled to vote;
•a provision requiring that any business combination involving United be approved by 75% of the outstanding shares of United’s common stock excluding shares held by stockholders who are deemed to have an interest in the transaction unless the business combination is approved by 75% of United’s directors;
•a provision restricting removal of directors except for cause and upon the approval of two-thirds of the outstanding shares of our capital stock entitled to vote;
•a provision that any special meeting of shareholders may be called only by the chairman, chief executive officer, president, chief financial officer, board of directors or the holders of 25% of the outstanding shares of United’s capital stock entitled to vote; and
•a provision establishing certain advance notice procedures for matters to be considered at an annual meeting of shareholders.
Additionally, United’s articles authorize the Board to issue shares of preferred stock without shareholder approval and upon such terms as the Board may determine. The issuance of our preferred stock, while providing desirable flexibility in connection with possible acquisitions, financings and other corporate purposes, could have the effect of making it more difficult for a third party to acquire, or of discouraging a third party from acquiring, a controlling interest in us. In addition, certain provisions of Georgia law, including a provision which restricts certain business combinations between a Georgia corporation and certain affiliated shareholders, may delay, discourage or prevent an attempted acquisition or change in control of United.
Our stockholders may suffer dilution if we raise capital through public or private equity financings to fund our operations, to increase our capital, or to expand.
If we raise funds by issuing equity securities or instruments that are convertible into equity securities, the percentage ownership of our current common stockholders will be reduced, the new equity securities may have rights and preferences superior to those of our
common or outstanding preferred stock, and additional issuances could be at a sales price which is dilutive to current stockholders. We may issue or be required to issue additional shares of common stock, or securities convertible into, exchangeable for or representing rights to acquire shares of common stock in order to maintain capital at desired or regulatory-required levels. We could also issue additional equity securities directly as consideration in acquisitions of other financial institutions or other investments that we may make that would be dilutive to stockholders in terms of voting power and share-of-ownership, and could be dilutive financially or economically.
ITEM 1B. UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS
ITEM 2. PROPERTIES
Our executive offices are located at 125 Highway 515 East, Blairsville, Georgia and 2 West Washington Street, Suite 700, Greenville, South Carolina. We own our executive office in Blairsville, Georgia and lease our executive office in Greenville, South Carolina. As of December 31, 2021, we provided services or performed operational functions at 204 locations. We own or lease no single physica