First Citizens shows again why it’s different


You’d be hard pressed to find a bank anywhere in the US that doesn’t tout itself as being “different” from its competitors, but given that banking is a regulated, conservative industry involving  largely standardized products and services, that image is largely little more than self-styled puffery.

First Citizens Bank of Columbia, SC, however, has consistently been able to stand apart from other financial institutions.

Its commitment to customer service is well known throughout the South Carolina and Georgia markets it serves. It opted to “go private” several years ago rather than deal with the aggravation and costs involved with increased federal regulation. And its branches are among the most spacious of any financial institution in the region, often twice the size of competitors.

On Monday, First Citizens again proved it was different than the typical South Carolina bank when it was revealed that although it had been approved for a $50 million loan through the U.S. Treasury Department’s TARP program, the bank had decided against participating, The State newspaper reported.

“After careful consideration, First Citizens Bank concluded that the program’s cost outweighed its benefits,” Chief Financial Officer Craig Nix said.

The application was submitted before bank executives got an opportunity to examine the rules and conditions for the loan, Nix said, according to The State.

“The program and rules governing it continued to change,” Nix said, adding that the cost of compliance with the loan conditions far outweighed the advantages.

At least 16 SC banks have agreed to take part in the TARP program, borrowing a total of more than than $600 million. Participants include The South Financial Group of Greenville, First Financial Holdings of Charleston and SCBT Financial Corp. of Columbia.


Feds: We can solve problems we helped create


Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke believes banking supervisors should pay “close attention” to compensation practices as they examine the soundness of financial institutions, according to an Associated Press story.

Amid the furor over the millions of dollars paid in retention bonuses to employees of insurer AIG – the same AIG that received a total bailout package of more than $150 billion from the federal governement – the Fed chairman said that banking regulators have observed that poorly designed compensation policies can create “perverse incentives” that can ultimately jeopardize the health of the banking organization.

Here’s an idea: how about letting companies foolish enough to line the pockets of executives who drive their companies into the ground succeed or fail on their own, instead of propping them up with taxpayer dollars?

It’s called capitalism, and when left alone it works pretty well.

Congaree State Bank loses another board member


Two months after director and Chief Executive Hank Ray resigned, Congaree State Bank has lost another founding board member.

Last week, Dr. Victoria Samuels stepped down from the board of Cayce, SC-based parent company Congaree Bancshares, according to information filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The resignation “was due to her acceptance of an employment position at a hospital out of state and was not due to any disagreements with the company,” according to the filing.

Samuels is a neurosurgeonwith Carolina Neuro Specialists in West Columbia, where she has practiced since 2003. 

Prior to joining Carolina Neuro Specialists, she served for three years as the chief of surgery for the Lexington Medical Center. She has been practicing in Richland and Lexington counties for more than 15 years, according to last year’s Congaree Bancshares’ proxy filing.

According to a legal advertisement published in The State newspaper on March 17, Samuels will close her medical office on May 15, but there’s no word on where she will be relocating to.

Congaree State Bank, which opened in 2006, lost $430,533 during the quarter ended Sept. 30, the most recent information available. That compares with a $482,990 loss for the same period in 2007. However, it’s not unusual for new banks to post losses during their first couple years of operation.

Earlier this year, the bank received $3.3 million in federal bailout money.

Ray left the bank Jan. 21 and no reason was given for his departure. He was replaced on an interim basis by Charlie Lovering.

Remembering a great speech by a great man


On this date in 1775, Patrick Henry gave his famous “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech to the Virginia Convention.

The speech, made at St. John’s Church in Richmond, is credited with having swung the balance in convincing the Virginia House of Burgesses to pass a resolution delivering the Virginia troops to the Revolutionary War.

Below is the text is Henry’s speech:

“No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the house. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The question before the house is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at the truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

“Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the numbers of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth, to know the worst, and to provide for it.

“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received?

“Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation.

“There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free – if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending – if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained – we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us! They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength but irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable – and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

“It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace – but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Interestingly, the text of Henry’s famous speech did not appear in print until 1816, in the biography “Life and Character of Patrick Henry” by William Wirt, according to information found on Wikipedia.

Although Wirt assembled his book from recollections by persons close to the events, some historians have since speculated that the speech, or at least the form with which we are familiar, was essentially written by Wirt decades after the fact.