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Table of Contents

UNITED STATES

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Washington, D.C. 20549

FORM 10-K

Annual Report Pursuant To Section 13 Or 15(d) of The Securities Exchange Act of 1934

For The Fiscal Year December 31, 2020.

Or

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 000-27719

 

Southern First Bancshares, Inc.

(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)

 

South Carolina

58-2459561

(State of Incorporation)

(I.R.S. Employer Identification No.)

 

 100 Verdae Boulevard, Greenville, SC

29607

(Address of principal executive offices)

(Zip Code)

864-679-9000

(Telephone Number)

 

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:

Title of class

Trading Symbol

Name of each exchange on which registered

Common Stock

SFST

The NASDAQ Global 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 Exchange Act. Yes ☐ No

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 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 and posted 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 and post such files).

Yes ☒ No ☐

Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of registrant’s knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statements incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K. ☐

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company, or 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. Yes No ☐

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 common equity held by non-affiliates of the registrant as of June 30, 2020 (based on the average bid and ask price of the Common Stock as quoted on the NASDAQ Global Market on June 30, 2020), was $200,936,188.

7,797,098 shares of the registrant’s common stock were outstanding as of February 22, 2021.

DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE

Portions of the registrant’s Proxy Statement relating to the Annual Meeting of Shareholders to be held on May 18, 2021 are incorporated by reference into Part III of this Annual Report on Form 10-K where indicated.


Table of Contents

Southern First Bancshares, Inc.

Index to Form 10-K

 

Page

 

PART I

Item 1.Business

4

Item 1A.Risk Factors

26

Item 1B.Unresolved Staff Comments

41

Item 2.Properties

42

Item 3.Legal Proceedings

42

Item 4.Mine Safety Disclosures

42

PART II

Item 5.Market for Common Equity, Related Shareholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

42

Item 6.Selected Financial Data

45

Item 7.Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

46

Item 7A.Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk

66

Item 8.Financial Statements and Supplementary Data

67

Item 9.Changes in and Disagreements with Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure

110

Item 9A.Controls and Procedures

110

Item 9B.Other Information

111

PART III

Item 10.Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance

111

Item 11.Executive Compensation

111

Item 12.Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Shareholder Matters

111

Item 13.Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence

111

Item 14.Principal Accounting Fees and Services

111

Item 15Exhibits, Financial Statement Schedules

111

SIGNATURES

115

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CAUTIONARY NOTE REGARDING

FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS

This Annual Report on Form 10-K contains statements which constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”). Forward-looking statements may relate to our financial condition, results of operation, plans, business strategy, objectives, or future performance. These statements are based on many assumptions and estimates and are not guarantees of future performance. Our actual results may differ materially from those anticipated in any forward-looking statements, as they will depend on many factors about which we are unsure, including many factors which are beyond our control. The words “may,” “would,” “could,” “should,” “will,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “predict,” “project,” “potential,” “believe,” “continue,” “assume,” “intend,” “plan,” and “estimate,” as well as similar expressions, are meant to identify such forward-looking statements. Potential risks and uncertainties that could cause our actual results to differ from those anticipated in any forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, those described below under Item 1 A. Risk Factors and the following:

The impact of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, on our business, including the impact of the actions taken by governmental authorities to try and contain the virus or address the impact of the virus on the United States economy (including, without limitation, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act), and the resulting effect of these items on our operations, liquidity and capital position, and on the financial condition of our borrowers and other customers;  

Restrictions or conditions imposed by our regulators on our operations;  

Increases in competitive pressure in the banking and financial services industries;  

Changes in access to funding or increased regulatory requirements with regard to funding;  

Changes in deposit flows;  

Credit losses as a result of declining real estate values, increasing interest rates, increasing unemployment, changes in payment behavior or other factors;  

Credit losses due to loan concentration;  

Changes in the amount of our loan portfolio collateralized by real estate and weaknesses in the real estate market;  

Our ability to successfully execute our business strategy;  

Our ability to attract and retain key personnel;  

The success and costs of our expansion into the Charlotte, North Carolina, Greensboro, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia markets and into potential new markets;  

Changes in the interest rate environment which could reduce anticipated or actual margins;  

Changes in political conditions or the legislative or regulatory environment, including governmental initiatives affecting the financial services industry, including as a result of the new presidential administration and Democratic control of Congress;  

Changes in economic conditions resulting in, among other things, a deterioration in credit quality;  

Changes occurring in business conditions and inflation;  

Increased cybersecurity risk, including potential business disruptions or financial losses;  

Changes in technology;  

The adequacy of the level of our allowance for loan losses and the amount of loan loss provisions required in future periods;  

Examinations by our regulatory authorities, including the possibility that the regulatory authorities may, among other things, require us to increase our allowance for loan losses or write-down assets;  

Changes in monetary and tax policies;  

The rate of delinquencies and amounts of loans charged-off;  

The rate of loan growth in recent years and the lack of seasoning of a portion of our loan portfolio;  

3


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Our ability to maintain appropriate levels of capital and to comply with our capital ratio requirements;  

Adverse changes in asset quality and resulting credit risk-related losses and expenses;  

Changes in accounting policies and practices;  

Risks associated with actual or potential litigation or investigations by customers, regulatory agencies or others;  

Adverse effects of failures by our vendors to provide agreed upon services in the manner and at the cost agreed;  

The potential effects of events beyond our control that may have a destabilizing effect on financial markets and the economy, such as epidemics and pandemics (including COVID-19), war or terrorist activities, disruptions in our customers’ supply chains, disruptions in transportation, essential utility outages or trade disputes and related tariffs; and  

Other risks and uncertainties detailed in this Annual Report on Form 10-K and, from time to time, in our other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”).  

If any of these risks or uncertainties materialize, or if any of the assumptions underlying such forward-looking statements proves to be incorrect, our results could differ materially from those expressed in, implied or projected by, such forward-looking statements. For information with respect to factors that could cause actual results to differ from the expectations stated in the forward-looking statements, see “Risk Factors” under Part I, Item 1A of this Annual Report on Form 10-K. We urge investors to consider all of these factors carefully in evaluating the forward-looking statements contained in this Annual Report on Form 10-K. We make these forward-looking as of the date of this document and we do not intend, and assume no obligation, to update the forward-looking statements or to update the reasons why actual results could differ from those expressed in, or implied or projected by, the forward-looking statements, except as required by applicable law.

PART I

Item 1. Business

General

Southern First Bancshares, Inc. (the “Company”) was incorporated in March 1999 under the laws of South Carolina and is a bank holding company registered under the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956. Our primary business is to serve as the holding company for Southern First Bank (the “Bank”), a South Carolina state bank. The Bank is a commercial bank with eight retail offices located in the Greenville, Columbia, and Charleston markets of South Carolina, two retail offices in the Raleigh and Greensboro markets of North Carolina and one retail office in Atlanta, Georgia. As of February 3, 2021, we have obtained approval to open a retail office in the Charlotte, North Carolina market.

The Bank is primarily engaged in the business of accepting demand deposits and savings deposits insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (the “FDIC”), and providing commercial, consumer and mortgage loans to the general public.

The Company’s reportable segments represent the distinct product lines the Company offers and are viewed separately for strategic planning purposes by management. The three segments include Commercial and Retail Banking, Mortgage Banking, and Corporate Operations as described below.

Commercial and Retail Banking. The Company’s primary business is to provide traditional deposit and lending products and services to its commercial and retail banking clients. The commercial and retail banking segment employs 220 of the Company’s full-time equivalent (“FTE”) employees.

Mortgage Banking. The mortgage banking segment provides mortgage loan origination services for loans that will be sold in the secondary market to investors and employs 34 FTE employees.

Corporate Operations. Corporate operations is comprised primarily of compensation and benefits for certain members of management and interest on company debt. There are no direct employees of corporate operations, however a portion of the salaries related to executive management and finance are allocated to this segment.

Unless the context requires otherwise, references to the “Company,” “we,” “us,” “our,” or similar references mean Southern First Bancshares, Inc. and its subsidiaries.

4


Table of Contents

Our Competitive Strengths

We believe that the following business strengths have been instrumental to the success of our core operations. We believe these attributes will enable us to continue profitable growth, while remaining fundamentally sound and driving value to our shareholders.

Simple and Efficient ClientFIRST Model. We operate our Bank using a simple and efficient style of banking that is focused on providing core banking products and services to our clients through a team of talented and experienced bankers. We refer to this model as “ClientFIRST” and it is structured to deliver superior client service via “relationship teams,” which provide each client with a specific banker contact and a consistent support team responsible for all of the client’s banking needs. We believe this model results in a consistent and superior level of professional service that provides us with a distinct competitive advantage by enabling us to build and maintain long-term relationships with desirable clients, enhancing the quality and stability of our funding and lending operations and positioning us to take advantage of future growth opportunities in our existing markets. We also believe that this client focused culture has led to our successful expansion into new markets in the past, and will enable us to be successful if we seek to expand into new markets in the future.

Our ClientFIRST model focuses on achieving cost efficiencies by diligently managing the growth of our number of employees and banking offices. We believe that the identification of talented bankers will drive our growth strategy, as opposed to a more general desire to enter a specific geography or market. This strategy translates into a smaller number of brick and mortar offices relative to our size and compared to peer banks, but larger overall deposit balances in our offices as compared to peers. As a result, our offices average approximately $192.8 million in total deposits. We believe this style of banking allows us to deliver exceptional client service, while achieving lower efficiency ratios relative to certain of our local competitors, as evidenced by our 50.2% efficiency ratio for the year ended December 31, 2020.

We continue to make significant investments in our IT systems and technology offerings to our clients that we believe will continue to drive low-cost deposit growth. We believe that our current mobile banking, on-line banking and cash management offerings are industry-leading solutions amongst community banks, and we plan to continue to invest in the latest technology solutions to ensure we meet the evolving needs of our clients and maintain this competitive advantage over other community banks.

Attractive South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia Markets. We have eight banking offices located in Greenville, Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina, which are the three largest markets in South Carolina, two banking offices located in Raleigh and Greensboro, North Carolina, which are the second and third largest markets in North Carolina, respectively, and one banking office located in Atlanta, Georgia, which is the largest market in Georgia. The following table illustrates our market share, by insured deposits as of the dates indicated, in these six markets:

Market(1)

Total Offices

Our Market Deposits at

June 30, 2020

Total Market

Deposits(2)

(Dollars in thousands)

Greenville

4

$

1,058,852

$

 20,841,299

Charleston

3

520,189

17,469,438

Columbia

1

345,834

24,167,787

Atlanta

1

158,661

193,980,517

Raleigh

1

71,387

34,603,975

Greensboro

1

33,721

15,329,756

 

(1)

Represents the metropolitan statistical area (“MSA”) for each market.

(2)

The total market deposits data displayed are as of June 30, 2020 as reported by the FDIC.

Greenville. The city of Greenville is located in Greenville County, South Carolina approximately midway between Atlanta and Charlotte on the heavily traveled I-85 business corridor. The Greenville-Anderson MSA is the most populous market in South Carolina with an estimated 920,477 residents as of 2019. The median household income for the Greenville-Anderson MSA was $55,790 for 2019. A large and diverse metropolitan area, the Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin MSA is one of the southeast region’s premier areas for business, serving as headquarters for Michelin and Hubbell Lighting as well as hosting significant operations for BMW and Lockheed Martin.

Columbia. The city of Columbia is located in Richland County, South Carolina and its surrounding suburban areas expand into adjoining Lexington County. Columbia is the state capital, the largest city in the state and the home of the University of South Carolina and Fort Jackson, the Army’s largest Initial Entry Training Center. The Columbia MSA is the second

5


Table of Contents

most populous market in the state with an estimated population of 838,433 residents as of 2019. The median household income for the Columbia MSA was $53,765 for 2019.

Charleston. The city of Charleston is located in Charleston County, South Carolina. The Charleston-North Charleston MSA is the third most populous market in the state with an estimated population of 802,122 residents as of 2019. Charleston is home to the deepest port in the Southeast and boasts top companies in the aerospace, biomedical and technology fields such as Boeing, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and Blackbaud. The median household income for the Charleston-North Charleston MSA was approximately $64,283 for 2019. One of our retail offices in the Charleston market is located in the city of Mount Pleasant, which is located just north of Charleston in Charleston County and ranks as the fourth largest city in South Carolina.

Raleigh. The city of Raleigh is the second largest city in the state and is located in Wake County, North Carolina. The Raleigh-Cary MSA is one of the most populous markets in the state of North Carolina with an estimated population of 1.39 million residents as of 2019. Raleigh is the state capital and is home to North Carolina State University and is part of the Research Triangle area, together with Durham, North Carolina (home of Duke University) and Chapel Hill, North Carolina (home of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The median household income for the Raleigh MSA was approximately $75,165 for 2019.

Greensboro. The city of Greensboro is the third largest city in North Carolina and is located in Guilford County. The Greensboro-High Point MSA has an estimated population of 771,851 residents as of 2019. Greensboro has traditionally been a fixture in the textiles, tobacco and furniture industries while also moving towards an increased presence of high-tech, aviation and transportation/logistics sectors. Greensboro, along with Winston-Salem and High Point, is commonly referred to as the Triad region of North Carolina and is home to companies such as Honda Aircraft, Lincoln Financial Group and Volvo Trucks of North America. The median household income for the Greensboro MSA was approximately $50,026 for 2019.

Atlanta. The Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta MSA has the ninth largest population in the U.S. with 6.02 million residents as of 2019. Atlanta is the state capital of, and largest city in, Georgia and is the world headquarters of corporations such as Coca-Cola, Home Depot, UPS, Delta Airlines and Turner Broadcasting. The median household income for the Atlanta MSA is $69,464.

We believe that the demographics and growth characteristics of these six markets will provide us with significant opportunities to further develop existing client relationships and expand our client base.

In addition, on February 3, 2021, we obtained regulatory approval to open a retail office in the Charlotte, North Carolina market. The Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia MSA is among the top 25 largest populations in the U.S. with 2.64 million residents as of 2019. Charlotte is the largest manufacturing region in the Carolinas and is the second largest financial hub in the country. Charlotte is also home to many Fortune 500 companies including Duke Energy, Honeywell and Lowe’s. The median household income for the Charlotte MSA was $69,464 in 2019. We believe that our entrance into the Charlotte market will provide us with further opportunity to expand our client base.

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Experienced Management Team, Dedicated Board of Directors and Talented Employees. Our senior management team is led by R. Arthur Seaver, Jr., Michael D. Dowling, Calvin C. Hurst and Silvia T. King whose biographies are included below. These executives lead a team of 23 additional senior team members which we believe compares favorably to any community bank management team assembled in South Carolina.

R. Arthur “Art” Seaver, Jr. has served as the Chief Executive Officer of our Company and our Bank since 1999. He has over 30 years of banking experience. From 1986 until 1992, Mr. Seaver held various positions with The Citizens & Southern National Bank of South Carolina. From 1992 until February 1999, he was with Greenville National Bank, which was acquired by Regions Bank in 1998. He was the Senior Vice President in lending and was also responsible for managing Greenville National Bank’s deposit strategies prior to leaving to form the Bank. Mr. Seaver is a 1986 graduate of Clemson University with a bachelor’s degree in Financial Management and a 1999 graduate of the BAI Graduate School of Community Bank Management.

Michael D. Dowling has served as an Executive Vice President and the Chief Financial Officer of our Company and our Bank since 2011 and as Chief Operating Officer since July 2019. He has over 25 years of experience in the banking industry. Mr. Dowling was previously employed with KPMG LLP from 1994 until 2011, including most recently as an Audit Partner (2005-2011) and a member of KPMG’s Financial Services practice. Mr. Dowling has extensive experience working with public companies and financial institutions. He is a 1993 graduate of Clemson University, with a degree in Accounting and is a CPA in South Carolina and North Carolina.

Calvin C. Hurst has served as Chief Banking Officer of our Company and our Bank since March 2019. Mr. Hurst has over 14 years of banking experience. From 2006 to 2008, Mr. Hurst served as a commercial underwriter for RBC Bank, and from 2008 to 2015 he served as commercial relationship manager for PNC Bank. Before joining Southern First, Mr. Hurst served as regional vice president for TD Bank. Mr. Hurst is a 2005 graduate of Furman University, with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Economics.

Silvia T. King has served as Chief Human Resources Officer of our Company and our Bank since March 2018. Ms. King has over 17 years of Human Resources leadership experience. From 2003 to 2006, Ms. King served in various human resource roles with Monsanto Company and from 2007 to 2009, she served in senior management roles with Select Comfort Corporation. From 2009 to 2016, Ms. King served as senior human resources consultant for FGP International, a professional staffing firm in Greenville, South Carolina, and most recently as a human resources instructor with e-Cornell University. Ms. King holds degrees in Psychology and International Marketing from Clemson University and a Master of Human Resources degree from the University of South Carolina. She has also earned both her Senior Professional in Human Resources through the HR Certification Institute as well as her Senior Certified Professional designations through the Society of Human Resource Management.

In addition to Messrs. Seaver, Dowling, and Hurst and Ms. King, our executive management team consists of nine individuals who bring an average of 29 years of experience in the banking industry.

The management team is complemented by our dedicated board of directors with extensive local market knowledge and a wide range of experience including accounting, business, banking, manufacturing, insurance, management and finance. We believe that our management’s and board’s incentives are closely aligned with our shareholders through the ownership of a substantial amount of our stock. As of December 31, 2020, our executive officers and board of directors owned an aggregate of 580,606 shares of our common stock, including options to purchase shares of our common stock, which represented approximately 7.41% of the fully-diluted amount of our common stock outstanding. We believe that our officers’ and directors’ experience and local market knowledge are valuable assets and will enable them to guide us successfully in the future.

In addition, we believe that we have assembled a group of highly talented employees by being an employer of choice in the markets we serve. We employed a total of 254 FTE employees as of December 31, 2020. Our employees are skilled in the areas of banking, information technology, management, sales, advertising and marketing, among others. We strive to provide an “umbrella for great talent,” characterized by a culture of transparency and collaboration which permeates all levels of the organization. To drive our culture of transparency and collaboration, our employees engage in a series of weekly meetings to understand the goals and plan for each week. These meetings are intended to remind our employees of our vision, strategy and ClientFIRST service, and provide our employees with information regarding monthly and quarterly goals and client or prospect needs. In addition, each week is started with a meeting of all Senior and Executive Vice Presidents to ensure that all team members are informed on the latest developments of our Company. Our employees and their ClientFIRST approach to service have been instrumental to our success.

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Our Business Strategy

We are focused on growing business relationships and building core deposits, profitable loans and noninterest income. We believe that we have built a dynamic franchise that meets the financial needs of our clients by providing an array of personalized products and services delivered by seasoned banking professionals with knowledge of our local markets. Our overall strategic goal is to provide the highest level of service to our clients while achieving high-performance metrics within the community banking market that drive franchise and shareholder value. Our specific business strategies include:

Focus on Profitable and Efficient Growth. Our executive management team and board of directors are dedicated to producing profits and returns for our shareholders. We actively manage the mix of assets and liabilities on our balance sheet to optimize our net interest margin while also maintaining expense controls and developing noninterest income streams. By continually striving to build a well-structured balance sheet, we seek to increase profitability and improve our return on average assets, return on average equity and efficiency ratio. We believe that, as the economy continues to improve, our focus on maximizing our net interest margin and minimizing our efficiency ratio while maintaining credit quality controls will translate into continued and improved profitability and shareholder returns. We are committed to enhancing these levels of profitability by focusing on our core competencies of commercial lending and core deposit gathering. We believe that we have the infrastructure currently in place, such as technology, support staff and administration, to support expansion with limited associated noninterest expense increases.

Provide a Distinctive Client Experience. Our markets have been subject to consolidation of local community banks primarily by larger, out-of-state financial institutions. We believe there is a large client base in our markets that prefers doing business with a local institution and may be dissatisfied with the service offered by national and larger regional banks. We believe that the exceptional level of professional service provided to our clients as a result of our ClientFIRST model provides us with a distinct competitive advantage over our local competitors. We also believe that technology innovation will continue to play a critical role in retaining clients and winning new business. We believe that our current mobile banking, on-line banking and cash management offerings are industry-leading solutions amongst community banks. During 2020, 74% of deposits were acquired through our office network, 21% came through the commercial remote deposit capture channel and the remaining 5% came through consumer mobile deposits. We believe that the volume in remote deposit capture and mobile deposit channels will continue to increase over time as more clients become acquainted with the convenience these services provide. By delivering superior professional service through our ClientFIRST model, coupled with our deep understanding of our markets and our commitment to providing the latest technology solutions to meet our clients’ banking needs, we believe that we can attract new clients and expand our total loans and deposits.

Maintain a Rigorous Risk Management Infrastructure. As we grow, one of our top priorities is to continue to build a robust enterprise risk management infrastructure. We believe effective risk management requires a culture of risk management and governance throughout the Company. The legislative and regulatory landscape continues to quickly evolve, so we are continually performing risk assessments throughout the organization and re-allocating resources where appropriate. We will continue to add new resources and technology investments to help enhance all of our risk management processes throughout the Bank. Our risk management success is exemplified by our historic credit risk management and disciplined underwriting practices, which have enabled us to successfully grow our balance sheet while maintaining strong credit quality metrics. We do not reduce our credit standards or pricing discipline to generate new loans. In addition, we are heavily focused on compliance risk and cybersecurity risk, as both of these risks have increased since our inception. Our management team continually analyzes emerging fraud and security risks and utilizes tools, strategies and policies to manage risk while delivering an optimal and appropriate client experience. We believe our risk management structure allows our board and senior management to maintain effective oversight of our risks to ensure that our personnel are following prudent and appropriate risk management practices resulting in strong loan quality and minimal loan losses.

Attract Talented Banking Professionals With A “ClientFIRST” Focus. We believe that our ability to attract and retain banking professionals with strong community relationships and significant knowledge of our markets will continue to drive our success and grow our business in an efficient manner. By focusing on experienced, established bankers who deliver exceptional client service through our ClientFIRST model, we believe we can enhance our market position and add profitable growth opportunities. We believe that the strength of our exceptional client service and relationship banking approach will continue to help us attract these established bankers. In recent years, we have invested in our internal infrastructure, including support and back office personnel, and we believe that we can continue to add experienced frontline bankers to our existing markets, which will drive our efficient growth.

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We will continue to expand our franchise, but only in a controlled manner. We may choose to open new locations, but only after rigorous due diligence and substantial quantitative analysis regarding the financial and capital impacts of such investments. We may also choose to enter new metropolitan markets contiguous to, or nearby, our current South Carolina footprint, such as our recently opened expansions in Greensboro and Charlotte, North Carolina, but only after careful study and the identification and vetting of a local, senior level banking team with significant experience and reputational strength in that market. We have not yet supplemented our historic strategy of organic deposit and loan growth with traditional mergers or acquisitions. We evaluate potential acquisition opportunities that we believe would be complementary to our business as part of our growth strategy. However, we have not yet identified any specific acquisition opportunity that meets our strict requirements and do not have any immediate plans, arrangements or understandings relating to any acquisition. Furthermore, we do not believe an acquisition is necessary to successfully drive our growth and execute our ClientFIRST model.

Lending Activities

General. We emphasize a range of lending services, including real estate, commercial, and equity-line consumer loans to individuals and small- to medium-sized businesses and professional firms that are located in or conduct a substantial portion of their business in our market area. Our underwriting standards vary for each type of loan, as described below. Because loans typically provide higher interest yields than other types of interest-earning assets, we invest a substantial percentage of our earning assets in our loan portfolio. At December 31, 2020, we had net loans of $2.10 billion, representing 84.5% of our total assets.

We have focused our lending activities primarily on the professional markets in Greenville, Columbia, Charleston, Raleigh, Greensboro and Atlanta including doctors, dentists, and small business owners. By focusing on this client base and by serving each client with a consistent relationship team of bankers, we have generated a loan portfolio with larger average loan amounts than we believe is typical for a community bank. As of December 31, 2020, our average loan size was approximately $275,000. Excluding home equity lines of credit, the average loan size was approximately $336,000. At the same time, we have strived to maintain a diversified loan portfolio and limit the amount of our loans to any single client. As of December 31, 2020, our 10 largest client loan relationships represented approximately $188.5 million, or 8.80%, of our loan portfolio.

Loan Approval. Certain credit risks are inherent in making loans. These include prepayment risks, risks resulting from uncertainties in the future value of collateral, risks resulting from changes in economic and industry conditions, and risks inherent in dealing with individual borrowers. We attempt to mitigate repayment risks by adhering to internal credit policies and procedures. These policies and procedures include officer and client lending limits, a multi-layered approval process for larger loans, documentation examination, and follow-up procedures for any exceptions to credit policies. Our loan approval policies provide for various levels of officer lending authority. When the amount of aggregate loans to a single borrower exceeds an individual officer’s lending authority, the loan request will be considered for approval by a team of officers led by a senior lender, or by the voting members of the Credit Approval Support Team (“CAST”) committee, based on the loan amount. The CAST committee, which is comprised of a group of our senior commercial lenders, chief banking officer, and chief executive officer, has pre-determined lending limits, and any loans in excess of this lending limit will be submitted for approval by the finance committee of our board or by the full board. We do not make any loans to any director or executive officer of the Bank unless the loan is approved by the board of directors of the Bank and all loans to directors, officers and employees are on terms not more favorable to such person than would be available to a person not affiliated with the Bank, consistent with federal banking regulations.

Management monitors exposure to credit risk from potential concentrations of loans to particular borrowers or groups of borrowers, industries and geographic regions, as well as concentrations of lending products and practices such as loans that subject borrowers to substantial payment increases (e.g. principal deferral periods, loans with initial interest-only periods, etc.), and loans with high loan-to-value ratios. These types of loans are subject to strict underwriting standards and are more closely monitored than a loan with a low loan-to-value ratio. Furthermore, there are industry practices that could subject us to increased credit risk should economic conditions change over the course of a loan’s life. For example, we make variable rate loans and fixed rate principal-amortizing loans with maturities prior to the loan being fully paid (i.e. balloon payment loans). The various types of loans are individually underwritten and monitored to manage the associated risks.

Credit Administration and Loan Review. We maintain a continuous loan review system. We also apply a credit grading system to each loan, and we use an independent process to review the loan files on a test basis to assess the grading of each loan. We periodically review performance benchmarks established by management in the areas of nonperforming assets, charge-offs, past dues, and loan documentation. Each loan officer is responsible for each loan he or she makes, regardless of whether other individuals or committees joined in the approval. This responsibility continues until the loan is repaid or until the loan is officially assigned to another officer.

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Lending Limits. Our lending activities are subject to a variety of lending limits imposed by federal and state laws and regulations. In general, the Bank is subject to a legal limit on loans to a single borrower equal to 15% of the Bank’s capital and unimpaired surplus. Based upon the capitalization of the Bank at December 31, 2020, the maximum amount we could lend to one borrower was $44.7 million. However, to mitigate concentration risk, our internal lending limit at December 31, 2020 was $31.3 million and may vary based on our assessment of the lending relationship. The board of directors will adjust the internal lending limit as deemed necessary to continue to mitigate risk and serve our clients. The Bank’s legal lending limit will increase or decrease in response to increases or decreases in the Bank’s level of capital. We are able to sell participations in our larger loans to other financial institutions, which allow us to manage the risk involved in these loans and to meet the lending needs of our clients requiring extensions of credit in excess of these limits.

Loan Portfolio Segments. Our loan portfolio is comprised of commercial and consumer loans made to small businesses and individuals for various business and personal purposes. While our loan portfolio is not concentrated in loans to any single borrower or a relatively small number of borrowers, the principal component of our loan portfolio is loans secured by real estate mortgages on either commercial or residential property. These loans will generally fall into one of the following six categories: commercial owner occupied real estate, commercial non-owner occupied real estate, commercial construction, consumer real estate, consumer construction, and home equity loans. We obtain a security interest in real estate whenever possible, in addition to any other available collateral, in order to increase the likelihood of the ultimate repayment of the loan. At December 31, 2020, loans secured by first or second mortgages on commercial and consumer real estate made up approximately 84.6% of our loan portfolio. In addition to loans secured by real estate, our loan portfolio includes commercial business loans and other consumer loans which comprised 14.4% and 1.0%, respectively, of our total loan portfolio at December 31, 2020.

Interest rates for all real estate loan categories may be fixed or adjustable, and will more likely be fixed for shorter-term loans. We generally charge an origination fee for each loan which is taken into income over the life of the loan as an adjustment to the loan yield. Other loan fees consist primarily of late charge fees. Real estate loans are subject to the same general risks as other loans and are particularly sensitive to fluctuations in the value of real estate. Fluctuations in the value of real estate, as well as other factors arising after a loan has been made, could negatively affect a borrower’s cash flow, creditworthiness, and ability to repay the loan. Although, the loans are collateralized by real estate, the primary source of repayment may not be the sale of real estate.

The following describes the types of loans in our loan portfolio.

Commercial Real Estate Loans (Commercial Owner Occupied and Commercial Non-owner Occupied Real Estate Loans). At December 31, 2020, commercial owner occupied and non-owner occupied real estate loans (other than construction loans) amounted to $1.02 billion, or 47.5% of our loan portfolio. Of our commercial real estate loan portfolio, $585.3 million in loans were non-owner occupied properties, representing 42.2% of our commercial loan portfolio and 27.3% of our total loan portfolio. The remainder of our commercial real estate loan portfolio, $433.3 million in loans or 31.2% of the commercial loan portfolio, were owner occupied. Owner occupied loans represented 20.2% of our total loan portfolio. At December 31, 2020, our individual commercial real estate loans ranged in size from approximately $10,000 to $23.6 million, with an average loan size of approximately $730,000. These loans generally have terms of five years or less, although payments may be structured on a longer amortization basis. We evaluate each borrower on an individual basis and attempt to determine the business risks and credit profile of each borrower. We attempt to reduce credit risk in the commercial real estate portfolio by emphasizing loans on owner-occupied office and retail buildings where the loan-to-value ratio, established by independent appraisals, does not exceed 85%. We also generally require that a borrower’s cash flow exceeds 115% of monthly debt service obligations. In order to ensure secondary sources of payment and liquidity to support a loan request, we typically review all of the personal financial statements of the principal owners and require their personal guarantees.   

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Construction Real Estate Loans. We offer adjustable and fixed rate construction real estate loans for commercial and consumer projects, typically to builders and developers and to consumers who wish to build their own homes. At December 31, 2020, total commercial and consumer construction loans amounted to $102.0 million, or 4.8% of our loan portfolio. Commercial construction loans represented $61.5 million, or 2.9%, of our total loan portfolio, while consumer construction loans represented $40.5 million, or 1.9% of our total loan portfolio. At December 31, 2020, our commercial construction real estate loans ranged in size from approximately $50,000 to $12.5 million, with an average loan balance of approximately $1.5 million. At December 31, 2020, our consumer or residential construction loans ranged in size from approximately $25,000 to $2.2 million, with an average loan size of approximately $395,000. The duration of our construction loans generally is limited to 18 months, although payments may be structured on a longer amortization basis. Commercial construction loans generally carry a higher degree of risk than long-term financing of existing properties because repayment depends on the ultimate completion of the project and sometimes on the sale of the property. Specific risks include:  

cost overruns;  

mismanaged construction;  

inferior or improper construction techniques;  

economic changes or downturns during construction;  

a downturn in the real estate market;  

rising interest rates which may prevent sale of the property; and  

failure to sell completed projects in a timely manner.  

We attempt to reduce the risk associated with construction loans by obtaining personal guarantees where possible and by keeping the loan-to-value ratio of the completed project at or below 80%.

Commercial Business Loans. We make loans for commercial purposes in various lines of businesses, including the manufacturing, service industry, and professional service areas. At December 31, 2020, commercial business loans amounted to $307.6 million, or 14.4% of our loan portfolio, and ranged in size from approximately $5,000 to $13.4 million, with an average loan size of approximately $197,000. Commercial loans are generally considered to have greater risk than first or second mortgages on real estate because commercial loans may be unsecured, or if they are secured, the value of the collateral may be difficult to assess and more likely to decrease than real estate.  

We are eligible to offer small business loans utilizing government enhancements such as the Small Business Administration’s (“SBA”) 7(a) program and SBA’s 504 programs. These loans typically are partially guaranteed by the government, which helps to reduce their risk. Government guarantees of SBA loans do not exceed, and are generally less than, 80% of the loan. As of December 31, 2020, we had originated one loan utilizing government enhancements.

Consumer Real Estate Loans and Home Equity Loans. At December 31, 2020 consumer real estate loans (other than construction loans) amounted to $693.3 million, or 32.4% of our loan portfolio. Included in the consumer real estate loans was $536.3 million, or 25.0% of our loan portfolio, in first and second mortgages on individuals’ homes, while home equity loans represented $157.0 million, or 7.3% of our total loan portfolio. At December 31, 2020, our individual residential real estate loans ranged in size from $10,000 to $5.9 million, with an average loan size of approximately $434,000. Generally, we limit the loan-to-value ratio on our consumer real estate loans to 85%. We offer fixed and adjustable rate consumer real estate loans with terms of up to 30 years. We typically offer these long-term fixed rate loans through a third party rather than originating and retaining these loans ourselves. Consumer real estate and home equity loans that we retain on our balance sheet typically have terms of 10 years or less. We also offer home equity lines of credit. At December 31, 2020, our individual home equity lines of credit ranged in size from $5,000 to $2.0 million, with an average of approximately $84,000. Our underwriting criteria and the risks associated with home equity loans and lines of credit are generally the same as those for first mortgage loans. Home equity lines of credit typically have terms of ten years or less. We generally limit the extension of credit to 90% of the market value of each property, although we may extend up to 100% of the market value.  

Other Consumer Loans. We make a variety of loans to individuals for personal and household purposes, including secured and unsecured installment loans and revolving lines of credit. These consumer loans are underwritten based on the borrower’s income, current debt level, past credit history, and the availability and value of collateral. Consumer rates are both fixed and variable, with negotiable terms. At December 31, 2020, consumer loans other than real estate amounted to $21.4 million, or 1.0% of our loan portfolio, and ranged in size from $5,000 to $1.8 million, with an average loan size of approximately $14,000. Our installment loans typically amortize over periods up to 60 months. We will offer consumer loans with a single maturity date when a specific source of repayment is available. We typically require monthly payments of interest and a portion of the principal on our revolving loan products. Consumer loans are generally considered to have greater risk than first or second mortgages on real estate because they may be unsecured, or, if they are secured, the value of the collateral may be difficult to assess and more likely to decrease in value than real estate.  

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Deposit Services

Our principal source of funds is core deposits. We offer a full range of deposit services, including checking accounts, commercial checking accounts, savings accounts, and other time deposits of various types, ranging from daily money market accounts to long-term certificates of deposit. Our out-of-market, or wholesale, certificates of deposits represented $22.0 million, or 0.9%, of total deposits at December 31, 2020. In an effort to obtain lower cost deposits, we have focused on expanding our retail deposit program. We currently have 11 retail offices which assist us in obtaining low cost transaction accounts that are less affected by rising rates. Deposit rates are reviewed regularly by our senior management. We believe that the rates we offer are competitive with those offered by other financial institutions in our area. We focus on client service and our ClientFIRST culture to attract and retain deposits.

Other Banking Services

In addition to deposit and loan services, we offer other bank services such as internet banking, cash management, safe deposit boxes, direct deposit, automatic drafts, bill payment and mobile banking services. We earn fees for most of these services, including debit and credit card transactions, sales of checks, and wire transfers. We also receive ATM transaction fees from transactions performed by our clients. We are associated with the NYCE, Pulse, STAR, and Cirrus networks, which are available to our clients throughout the country. Since we outsource our ATM services, we are charged related transaction fees from our ATM service provider. We have contracted with Fidelity National Information Systems, an outside computer service company, to provide our core data processing services and our ATM processing. By outsourcing these services, we believe we are able to reduce our overhead by matching the expense in each period to the transaction volume that occurs during the period, as a significant portion of the fee charged is directly related to the number of loan and deposit accounts and the related number of transactions we have during the period. We believe that by being associated with a shared network of ATMs, we are better able to serve our clients and are able to attract clients who are accustomed to the convenience of using ATMs, although we do not believe that maintaining this association is critical to our success. We also offer Internet banking services, bill payment services, and cash management and mobile banking services.

Competition

The banking business is highly competitive, and we experience competition in our market from many other financial institutions. Competition among financial institutions is based upon interest rates offered on deposit accounts, interest rates charged on loans, other credit and service charges relating to loans, the quality and scope of the services rendered, the convenience of banking facilities, and, in the case of loans to commercial borrowers, relative lending limits. We compete with commercial banks, credit unions, savings and loan associations, mortgage banking firms, consumer finance companies, securities brokerage firms, insurance companies, money market funds, and other mutual funds, as well as other super-regional, national, and international financial institutions that operate offices in Greenville, Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina; Raleigh and Greensboro, North Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia and elsewhere.

As of June 30, 2020, the most recent date for which market data is available, there were 30 financial institutions in our primary market of Greenville County, 17 financial institutions in the Columbia market, 28 financial institutions in the Charleston market, 33 financial institutions in the Raleigh market, 22 financial institutions in the Greensboro market and 47 financial institutions in the Atlanta market. We compete with other financial institutions in our market areas both in attracting deposits and in making loans. In addition, we have to attract our client base from other existing financial institutions and from new residents. Many of our competitors are well-established, larger financial institutions with substantially greater resources and lending limits, such as, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Truist. These institutions offer some services, such as extensive and established branch networks and trust services that we do not provide. In addition, many of our non-bank competitors are not subject to the same extensive federal regulations that govern bank holding companies and federally insured banks. We believe the financial services industry will likely continue to become more competitive as further technological advances enable more financial institutions to provide expanded financial services without having a physical presence in our markets. Because larger competitors have advantages in attracting business from larger corporations, we do not generally compete for that business. Instead, we concentrate our efforts on attracting the business of individuals and small and medium-size businesses. With regard to such accounts, we generally compete on the basis of client service and responsiveness to client needs, the convenience of our offices and hours, and the availability and pricing of our products and services.

We believe our commitment to quality and personalized banking services through our ClientFIRST culture is a factor that contributes to our competitiveness and success.

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Employees

At December 31, 2020, we employed a total of 254 FTE employees. We provide our full-time employees and certain part-time employees with a comprehensive program of benefits, including medical benefits, life insurance, long-term disability coverage and a 401(k) plan. Our employees are not represented by a collective bargaining agreement. Management considers its employee relations to be excellent.

Available Information

We file Annual Reports on Form 10-K, Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q, and Current Reports on Form 8-K with the SEC which are accessible electronically at the SEC’s website at www.sec.gov. We maintain an Internet website at www.southernfirst.com where these reports can also be accessed free of charge. No information contained on our website is intended to be included as part of, or incorporated by reference into, this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

SUPERVISION AND REGULATION

Both the Company and the Bank are subject to extensive state and federal banking laws and regulations that impose specific requirements or restrictions on and provide for general regulatory oversight of virtually all aspects of our operations. These laws and regulations are generally intended to protect depositors, not shareholders. Changes in applicable laws or regulations may have a material effect on our business and prospects.

The following discussion is not intended to be a complete list of all the activities regulated by the banking laws or of the impact of such laws and regulations on our operations. It is intended only to briefly summarize some material provisions. The following summary is qualified by reference to the statutory and regulatory provisions discussed.

Legislative and Regulatory Developments

Although the 2008 financial crisis has now passed, two legislative and regulatory responses – the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act”) and the Basel III-based capital rules – will continue to have an impact on our operations.

In addition, newer regulatory developments implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the CARES Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, which enhanced and expanded certain provisions of the CARES Act, have had and will continue to have an impact on our operations.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act

The Dodd-Frank Act was signed into law in July 2010 and impacts financial institutions in numerous ways, including:

The creation of a Financial Stability Oversight Council responsible for monitoring and managing systemic risk,  

Granting additional authority to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve (the “Federal Reserve”) to regulate certain types of nonbank financial companies,  

Granting new authority to the FDIC as liquidator and receiver,  

Changing the manner in which deposit insurance assessments are made,  

Requiring regulators to modify capital standards,  

Establishing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (the “CFPB”),  

Capping interchange fees that banks charge merchants for debit card transactions,  

Imposing more stringent requirements on mortgage lenders, and  

Limiting banks’ proprietary trading activities.  

There are many provisions in the Dodd-Frank Act mandating regulators to adopt new regulations and conduct studies upon which future regulation may be based. While some have been issued, many remain to be issued. Governmental intervention and new regulations could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.

The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act

On May 24, 2018, President Trump signed into law the first major financial services reform bill since the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act. The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (the “Reform Law”) modifies or eliminates certain requirements on community and regional banks and nonbank financial institutions. For instance, under the Reform Act and related rule making:

banks that have less than $10 billion in total consolidated assets and total trading assets and trading liabilities of less than five percent of total consolidated assets from Section 619 of the Dodd-Frank Act, known as the “Volcker Rule”, which prohibits “proprietary trading” and the ownership or sponsorship of private equity or hedge funds that are referred to as “covered funds”;  

the asset threshold for bank holding companies to qualify for treatment under the “Small Bank Holding Company and Savings and Loan Holding Company Policy Statement” was raised from $1 billion to $3 billion, which exempts these institutions (including the Company) from certain regulatory requirements including the Basel III capital rules;  

a new “community bank leverage ratio” was adopted, which is applicable to certain banks and bank holding companies with total assets of less than $10 billion (as described below under “Basel Capital Standards”); and  

banks with up to $3 billion in total consolidated assets may be examined by their federal banking regulator every 18 months (as opposed to every 12 months).  

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Basel Capital Standards

Regulatory capital rules adopted in July 2013 and fully phased in as of January 1, 2019, which we refer to as Basel III, impose minimum capital requirements for bank holding companies and banks. The Basel III rules apply to all national and state banks and savings and loan associations regardless of size and bank holding companies and savings and loan holding companies other than “small bank holding companies,” generally holding companies with consolidated assets of less than $3 billion. The Company is currently considered a “small bank holding company.” More stringent requirements are imposed on “advanced approaches” banking organizations-those organizations with $250 billion or more in total consolidated assets, $10 billion or more in total foreign exposures, or that have opted in to the Basel II capital regime.

The rules include certain higher risk-based capital and leverage requirements than those previously in place. Specifically, the following minimum capital requirements apply to the Bank:

a new common equity Tier 1 (“CET1”) risk-based capital ratio of 4.5%;  

a Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio of 6%;  

a total risk-based capital ratio of 8%; and  

a leverage ratio of 4%.  

Under Basel III, Tier 1 capital includes two components: CET1 capital and additional Tier 1 capital. The highest form of capital, CET1 capital, consists solely of common stock (plus related surplus), retained earnings, accumulated other comprehensive income, otherwise referred to as AOCI, and limited amounts of minority interests that are in the form of common stock. Additional Tier 1 capital is primarily comprised of noncumulative perpetual preferred stock, Tier 1 minority interests and grandfathered trust preferred securities (as discussed below). Tier 2 capital generally includes the allowance for loan losses up to 1.25% of risk-weighted assets, qualifying preferred stock, subordinated debt and qualifying tier 2 minority interests, less any deductions in Tier 2 instruments of an unconsolidated financial institution. Cumulative perpetual preferred stock is included only in Tier 2 capital, except that the Basel III rules permit bank holding companies with less than $15 billion in total consolidated assets to continue to include trust preferred securities and cumulative perpetual preferred stock issued before May 19, 2010 in Tier 1 Capital (but not in CET1 capital), subject to certain restrictions. AOCI is presumptively included in CET1 capital and often would operate to reduce this category of capital. When implemented, Basel III provided a one-time opportunity at the end of the first quarter of 2015 for covered banking organizations to opt out of much of this treatment of AOCI. We made this opt-out election and, as a result, retained our pre-existing treatment for AOCI.

In addition, in order to avoid restrictions on capital distributions or discretionary bonus payments to executives, under Basel III, a banking organization must maintain a “capital conservation buffer” on top of its minimum risk-based capital requirements. This buffer must consist solely of CET1 capital, but the buffer applies to all three risk-based measurements (CET1, Tier 1 capital and total capital). The 2.5% capital conservation buffer was phased in incrementally over time, and became fully effective for us on January 1, 2019, resulting in the following effective minimum capital plus capital conservation buffer ratios: (i) a CET1 capital ratio of 7.0%, (ii) a Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio of 8.5%, and (iii) a total risk-based capital ratio of 10.5%.

On December 21, 2018, the federal banking agencies issued a joint final rule to revise their regulatory capital rules to (i) address the upcoming implementation of a new credit impairment model, the Current Expected Credit Loss, or CECL model, an accounting standard under GAAP; (ii) provide an optional three-year phase-in period for the day-one adverse regulatory capital effects that banking organizations are expected to experience upon adopting CECL; and (iii) require the use of CECL in stress tests beginning with the 2020 capital planning and stress testing cycle for certain banking organizations that are subject to stress testing. We are currently evaluating the impact the CECL model will have on our accounting and expect to recognize a one-time cumulative-effect adjustment to our allowance for loan losses as of the beginning of the first quarter of 2023, the first reporting period in which the new standard is effective. At this time, we cannot yet reasonably determine the magnitude of such one-time cumulative adjustment, if any, or of the overall impact of the new standard on our business, financial condition or results of operations.

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In November 2019, the federal banking regulators published final rules under the Reform Law (discussed above) implementing a simplified measure of capital adequacy for certain banking organizations that have less than $10 billion in total consolidated assets. Under the final rules, which went into effect on January 1, 2020, depository institutions and depository institution holding companies that have less than $10 billion in total consolidated assets and meet other qualifying criteria, including a leverage ratio of greater than 9%, off-balance-sheet exposures of 25% or less of total consolidated assets and trading assets plus trading liabilities of 5% or less of total consolidated assets, are deemed “qualifying community banking organizations” and are eligible to opt into the “community bank leverage ratio framework.” A qualifying community banking organization that elects to use the community bank leverage ratio framework and that maintains a leverage ratio of greater than 9% is considered to have satisfied the generally applicable risk-based and leverage capital requirements under the Basel III rules and, if applicable, is considered to have met the “well capitalized” ratio requirements for purposes of its primary federal regulator’s prompt corrective action rules, discussed below. The final rules include a two-quarter grace period during which a qualifying community banking organization that temporarily fails to meet any of the qualifying criteria, including the greater-than-9% leverage capital ratio requirement, is generally still deemed “well capitalized” so long as the banking organization maintains a leverage capital ratio greater than 8%. A banking organization that fails to maintain a leverage capital ratio greater than 8% is not permitted to use the grace period and must comply with the generally applicable requirements under the Basel III rules and file the appropriate regulatory reports. We do not have any immediate plans to elect to use the community bank leverage ratio framework but may make such an election in the future.

As of December 31, 2020, the Bank was well-capitalized, as defined by FDIC regulations. As of December 31, 2020, the Company had regulatory capital in excess of the Federal Reserve’s requirements and met the Basel III rule requirements to be well-capitalized.

The CARES Act and Initiatives Related to COVID-19

On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act, was signed into law. The CARES Act provided for approximately $2.2 trillion in direct economic relief in response to the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Many of the CARES Act’s programs are, and remain, dependent upon the direct involvement of financial institutions like the Bank. These programs have been implemented through rules and guidance adopted by federal departments and agencies, including the U.S. Department of Treasury, the Federal Reserve and other federal bank regulatory authorities, including those with direct supervisory jurisdiction over the Company and the Bank. Furthermore, as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, federal regulatory authorities continue to issue additional guidance with respect to the implementation, life cycle, and eligibility requirements for the various CARES Act programs, as well as industry-specific recovery procedures for COVID-19. In addition, it is possible that Congress will enact supplementary COVID-19 response legislation, including amendments to the CARES Act or new bills comparable in scope to the CARES Act. The Company continues to assess the impact of the CARES Act and other statutes, regulations and supervisory guidance related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paycheck Protection Program

A principal provision of the CARES Act amended the SBA’s loan program to create a guaranteed, unsecured loan program, the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, to fund operational costs of eligible businesses, organizations and self-employed persons impacted by COVID-19. These loans are eligible to be forgiven if certain conditions are satisfied and are fully guaranteed by the SBA. Additionally, loan payments will also be deferred for the first six months of the loan term. The PPP commenced on April 3, 2020 and was available to qualified borrowers through August 8, 2020. No collateral or personal guarantees were required. On December 27, 2020, the President signed into law omnibus federal spending and economic stimulus legislation titled the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021” that included the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Venues Act (the “HHSB Act”). Among other things, the HHSB Act renewed the PPP, allocating $284.45 billion for both new first time PPP loans under the existing PPP and the expansion of existing PPP loans for certain qualified, existing PPP borrowers. In addition to extending and amending the PPP, the HHSB Act also creates a new grant program for “shuttered venue operators.” While we were a participating lender in the PPP in 2020, we sold our PPP loan portfolio in the second quarter of 2020.

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Troubled Debt Restructurings and Loan Modifications for Affected Borrowers

The CARES Act, as extended by certain provisions of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, permits banks to suspend requirements under GAAP for loan modifications to borrowers affected by COVID-19 that may otherwise be characterized as troubled debt restructurings and suspend any determination related thereto if (i) the borrower was not more than 30 days past due as of December 31, 2019, (ii) the modifications are related to COVID-19, and (iii) the modification occurs between March 1, 2020 and the earlier of 60 days after the date of termination of the national emergency or January 1, 2022. Federal bank regulatory authorities also issued guidance to encourage banks to make loan modifications for borrowers affected by COVID-19.

Main Street Lending Program

The CARES Act encouraged the Federal Reserve, in coordination with the Secretary of the Treasury, to establish or implement various programs to help mid-size businesses, nonprofit organizations, and municipalities. On April 9, 2020, the Federal Reserve proposed the creation of the Main Street Lending Program (the “MSLP”) to implement certain of these recommendations. The MSLP supported lending to small- and medium-sized businesses that were in sound financial condition before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The MSLP, which expired on January 8, 2021, operated through three facilities: the Main Street New Loan Facility, the Main Street Priority Loan Facility, and the Main Street Expanded Loan Facility. We did not participate as a lender under the MSLP.

Proposed Legislation and Regulatory Action

From time to time, various legislative and regulatory initiatives are introduced in Congress and state legislatures, as well as by regulatory agencies. Such initiatives may include proposals to expand or contract the powers of bank holding companies and depository institutions or proposals to substantially change the financial institution regulatory system. Such legislation could change banking statutes and the operating environment of the Company in substantial and unpredictable ways. If enacted, such legislation could increase or decrease the cost of doing business, limit or expand permissible activities or affect the competitive balance among banks, savings associations, credit unions, and other financial institutions. We cannot predict whether any such legislation will be enacted, and, if enacted, the effect that it, or any implementing regulations, would have on the financial condition or results of operations of the Company. A change in statutes, regulations or regulatory policies applicable to the Company or the Bank could have a material effect on the business of the Company.

Southern First Bancshares, Inc.

We own 100% of the outstanding capital stock of the Bank, and therefore we are considered to be a bank holding company under the federal Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 (the “Bank Holding Company Act”). As a result, we are primarily subject to the supervision, examination and reporting requirements of the Federal Reserve under the Bank Holding Company Act and its regulations promulgated thereunder. Moreover, as a bank holding company of a bank located in South Carolina, we also are subject to the South Carolina Banking and Branching Efficiency Act.

Permitted Activities. Under the Bank Holding Company 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;

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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.  

As a bank holding company we also can elect to be treated as a “financial holding company,” which would allow us to engage in a broader array of activities. In summary, a financial holding company can engage in activities that are financial in nature or incidental or complimentary to financial activities, including insurance underwriting, sales and brokerage activities, providing financial and investment advisory services, underwriting services and limited merchant banking activities. We have not sought financial holding company status, but may elect such status in the future as our business matures. If we were to elect financial holding company status, each insured depository institution we control would have to be well capitalized, well managed and have at least a satisfactory rating under the Community Reinvestment Act as discussed below.

The Federal Reserve has the authority to order a bank holding company or its subsidiaries to terminate any of these activities or to terminate its ownership or control of any subsidiary when it has reasonable cause to believe that the Bank holding company’s continued ownership, activity or control constitutes a serious risk to the financial safety, soundness or stability of it or any of its bank subsidiaries.

Change in Control. Two statutes, the Bank Holding Company Act and the Change in Bank Control Act, together with regulations promulgated under them, require some form of regulatory review before any company may acquire “control” of a bank or a bank holding company. Under the Bank Holding Company Act, control is deemed to exist if a company acquires 25% or more of any class of voting securities of a bank holding company; controls the election of a majority of the members of the board of directors; or exercises a controlling influence over the management or policies of a bank or bank holding company. On January 30, 2020, the Federal Reserve issued a final rule (which became effective September 30, 2020) that clarified and codified the Federal Reserve’s standards for determining whether one company has control over another. The final rule established four categories of tiered presumptions of noncontrol that are based on the percentage of voting shares held by the investor (less than 5%, 5-9.9%, 10-14.9% and 15-24.9%) and the presence of other indicia of control. As the percentage of ownership increases, fewer indicia of control are permitted without falling outside of the presumption of noncontrol. These indicia of control include nonvoting equity ownership, director representation, management interlocks, business relationship and restrictive contractual covenants. Under the final rule, investors can hold up to 24.9% of the voting securities and up to 33% of the total equity of a company without necessarily having a controlling influence. State laws generally, including South Carolina law, require state approval before an acquirer may become the holding company of a state bank.

Under the Change in Bank Control Act, a person or company is required to file a notice with the Federal Reserve if it will, as a result of the transaction, own or control 10% or more of any class of voting securities or direct the management or policies of a bank or bank holding company and either if the bank or bank holding company has registered securities or if the acquirer would be the largest holder of that class of voting securities after the acquisition. For a change in control at the holding company level, both the Federal Reserve and the subsidiary bank's primary federal regulator must approve the change in control; at the bank level, only the bank's primary federal regulator is involved. Transactions subject to the Bank Holding Company Act are exempt from Change in Control Act requirements. For state banks, state laws, including that of South Carolina, typically require approval by the state bank regulator as well.

Source of Strength. There are a number of obligations and restrictions imposed by law and regulatory policy on bank holding companies with regard to their depository institution subsidiaries that are designed to minimize potential loss to depositors and to the FDIC insurance funds in the event that the depository institution becomes in danger of defaulting under its obligations to repay deposits. Under a policy of the Federal Reserve, a bank holding company is required to serve as a source of financial strength to its subsidiary depository institutions and to commit resources to support such institutions in circumstances where it might not do so absent such policy. Under the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Improvement Act of 1991, to avoid receivership of its insured depository institution subsidiary, a bank holding company is required to guarantee the compliance of any insured depository institution subsidiary that may become “undercapitalized” within the terms of any capital restoration plan filed by such subsidiary with its appropriate federal banking agency up to the lesser of (i) an amount equal to 5% of the institution’s total assets at the time the institution became undercapitalized, or (ii) the amount which is necessary (or would have been necessary) to bring the institution into compliance with all applicable capital standards as of the time the institution fails to comply with such capital restoration plan.

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The Federal Reserve also has the authority under the Bank Holding Company Act to require a bank holding company to terminate any activity or relinquish control of a nonbank subsidiary (other than a nonbank subsidiary of a bank) upon the Federal Reserve's determination that such activity or control constitutes a serious risk to the financial soundness or stability of any subsidiary depository institution of the bank holding company. Further, federal law grants federal bank regulatory authorities’ additional discretion to require a bank holding company to divest itself of any bank or nonbank subsidiary if the agency determines that divestiture may aid the depository institution's financial condition.

In addition, the “cross guarantee” provisions of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (the “FDIA”) require insured depository institutions under common control to reimburse the FDIC for any loss suffered or reasonably anticipated by the FDIC as a result of the default of a commonly controlled insured depository institution or for any assistance provided by the FDIC to a commonly controlled insured depository institution in danger of default. 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 institutions.

The FDIA also provides that amounts received from the liquidation or other resolution of any insured depository institution by any receiver must be distributed (after payment of secured claims) to pay the deposit liabilities of the institution prior to payment of any other general or unsecured senior liability, subordinated liability, general creditor or shareholder. This provision would give depositors a preference over general and subordinated creditors and shareholders in the event a receiver is appointed to distribute the assets of our Bank.

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 such 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.

Capital Requirements. The Federal Reserve imposes certain capital requirements on the bank holding company under the Bank Holding Company Act, including a minimum leverage ratio and a minimum ratio of “qualifying” capital to risk-weighted assets. These requirements are essentially the same as those that apply to the Bank and are described above under “Basel III Capital Standards.” However, because the Company currently qualifies as a small bank holding company, these capital requirements do not currently apply to the Company. Subject to certain restrictions, we are able to borrow money to make a capital contribution to the Bank, and these loans may be repaid from dividends paid from the Bank to the Company. Our ability to pay dividends depends on, among other things, the Bank’s ability to pay dividends to us, which is subject to regulatory restrictions as described below in “Southern First Bank—Dividends.”

We are also able to raise capital for contribution to the Bank by issuing securities without having to receive regulatory approval, subject to compliance with federal and state securities laws.

Dividends. Since the Company is a bank holding company, its ability to declare and pay dividends is dependent on certain federal and state regulatory considerations, including the guidelines of the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve has issued a policy statement regarding the payment of dividends by bank holding companies. In general, the Federal Reserve’s policies provide that dividends should be paid only out of current earnings and only if the prospective rate of earnings retention by the bank holding company appears consistent with the organization’s capital needs, asset quality and overall financial condition. The Federal Reserve’s policies also require that a bank holding company serve as a source of financial strength to its subsidiary banks by standing ready to use available resources to provide adequate capital funds to those banks during periods of financial stress or adversity and by maintaining the financial flexibility and capital-raising capacity to obtain additional resources for assisting its subsidiary banks where necessary. Further, under the prompt corrective action regulations, the ability of a bank holding company to pay dividends may be restricted if a subsidiary bank becomes undercapitalized. These regulatory policies could affect the ability of the Company to pay dividends or otherwise engage in capital distributions.

In addition, since the Company is a legal entity separate and distinct from the Bank and does not conduct stand-alone operations, its ability to pay dividends depends on the ability of the Bank to pay dividends to it, which is also subject to regulatory restrictions as described below in “Southern First Bank – Dividends.”

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South Carolina State Regulation. As a South Carolina bank holding company under the South Carolina Banking and Branching Efficiency Act, we are subject to limitations on sale or merger and to regulation by the South Carolina Board of Financial Institutions (the “S.C. Board”). We are not required to obtain the approval of the S.C. Board 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 S.C. Board’s approval prior to engaging in the acquisition of a South Carolina state chartered bank or another South Carolina bank holding company.

Southern First Bank

As a South Carolina bank, deposits in the Bank are insured by the FDIC up to a maximum amount, which is currently $250,000 per depositor. The S.C. Board and the FDIC regulate or monitor virtually all areas of the Bank’s operations, including;

security devices and procedures;  

adequacy of capitalization and loss reserves;  

loans;  

investments;  

borrowings;  

deposits;  

mergers;  

issuances of securities;  

payment of dividends;  

interest rates payable on deposits;  

interest rates or fees chargeable on loans;  

establishment of branches;  

corporate reorganizations;  

maintenance of books and records; and  

adequacy of staff training to carry on safe lending and deposit gathering practices.  

These agencies, and the federal and state laws applicable to the Bank’s operations, extensively regulate various aspects of our banking business, including, among other things, permissible types and amounts of loans, investments and other activities, capital adequacy, branching, interest rates on loans and on deposits, the maintenance of reserves on demand deposit liabilities, and the safety and soundness of our banking practices.

All insured institutions must undergo regular on-site examinations by their appropriate banking agency. The cost of examinations of insured depository institutions and any affiliates may be assessed by the appropriate federal banking agency against each institution or affiliate as it deems necessary or appropriate. Insured institutions are required to submit annual reports to the FDIC, their federal regulatory agency, and state supervisor when applicable. The FDIC has developed a method for insured depository institutions to provide supplemental disclosure of the estimated fair market value of assets and liabilities, to the extent feasible and practicable, in any balance sheet, financial statement, report of condition or any other report of any insured depository institution. The FDIC and the other federal banking regulatory agencies also have issued standards for all insured depository institutions relating, among other things, to the following:

internal controls;  

information systems and audit systems;  

loan documentation;  

credit underwriting;  

interest rate risk exposure; and  

asset quality.  

Prompt Corrective Action. As an insured depository institution, the Bank is required to comply with the capital requirements promulgated under the FDIA and the prompt corrective action regulations thereunder, which set forth five capital categories, each with specific regulatory consequences. Under these regulations, the categories are:

Well Capitalized — The institution exceeds the required minimum level for each relevant capital measure. A well-capitalized institution (i) has a total risk-based capital ratio of 10% or greater, (ii) has a Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio of 8% or greater, (iii) has a common equity Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio of 6.5% or greater, (iv) has a leverage capital ratio of 5% or greater, and (v) is not subject to any order or written directive to meet and maintain a specific capital level for any capital measure.

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Adequately Capitalized — The institution meets the required minimum level for each relevant capital measure. No capital distribution may be made that would result in the institution becoming undercapitalized. An adequately capitalized institution (i) has a total risk-based capital ratio of 8% or greater, (ii) has a Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio of 6% or greater, (iii) has a common equity Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio of 4.5% or greater, and (iv) has a leverage capital ratio of 4% or greater.  

Undercapitalized — The institution fails to meet the required minimum level for any relevant capital measure. An undercapitalized institution (i) has a total risk-based capital ratio of less than 8%, (ii) has a Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio of less than 6%, (iii) has a common equity Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio of less than 4.5% or greater, or (iv) has a leverage capital ratio of less than 4%.  

Significantly Undercapitalized — The institution is significantly below the required minimum level for any relevant capital measure. A significantly undercapitalized institution (i) has a total risk-based capital ratio of less than 6%, (ii) has a Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio of less than 4%, (iii) has a common equity Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio of less than 3% or greater, or (iv) has a leverage capital ratio of less than 3%.  

Critically Undercapitalized — The institution fails to meet a critical capital level set by the appropriate federal banking agency. A critically undercapitalized institution has a ratio of tangible equity to total assets that is equal to or less than 2%.  

Effective with the March 31, 2020 Call Report, qualifying community banking organizations that elect to use the new community bank leverage ratio framework and that maintain a leverage ratio of greater than 9.0% will be considered to have satisfied the risk-based and leverage capital requirements to be deemed well-capitalized. We do not have any immediate plans to elect to use the community bank leverage ratio framework but may make such an election in the future.

If the FDIC determines, after notice and an opportunity for hearing, that the Bank is in an unsafe or unsound condition, the regulator is authorized to reclassify the Bank to the next lower capital category (other than critically undercapitalized) and require the submission of a plan to correct the unsafe or unsound condition.

If a bank is not well capitalized, it cannot accept brokered deposits without prior regulatory approval. Even if approved, rate restrictions will govern the rate a bank may pay on brokered deposits. In addition, a bank that is not well capitalized cannot offer an effective yield in excess of 75 basis points over interest paid on deposits of comparable size and maturity in such institution’s normal market area for deposits accepted from within its normal market area, or national rate paid on deposits of comparable size and maturity for deposits accepted outside the bank’s normal market area. Moreover, the FDIC generally prohibits a depository institution from making any capital distributions (including payment of a dividend) or paying any management fee to its parent holding company if the depository institution would thereafter be categorized as undercapitalized. Undercapitalized institutions are subject to growth limitations (an undercapitalized institution may not acquire another institution, establish additional branch offices or engage in any new line of business unless determined by the appropriate federal banking agency to be consistent with an accepted capital restoration plan, or unless the FDIC determines that the proposed action will further the purpose of prompt corrective action) and are required to submit a capital restoration plan. The agencies may not accept a capital restoration plan without determining, among other things, that the plan is based on realistic assumptions and is likely to succeed in restoring the depository institution’s capital. In addition, for a capital restoration plan to be acceptable, the depository institution’s parent holding company must guarantee that the institution will comply with the capital restoration plan. The aggregate liability of the parent holding company is limited to the lesser of an amount equal to 5.0% of the depository institution’s total assets at the time it became categorized as undercapitalized or the amount that is necessary (or would have been necessary) to bring the institution into compliance with all capital standards applicable with respect to such institution as of the time it fails to comply with the plan. If a depository institution fails to submit an acceptable plan, it is categorized as significantly undercapitalized.

Significantly undercapitalized categorized depository institutions may be subject to a number of requirements and restrictions, including orders to sell sufficient voting stock to become categorized as adequately capitalized, requirements to reduce total assets, and cessation of receipt of deposits from correspondent banks. The appropriate federal banking agency may take any action authorized for a significantly undercapitalized institution if an undercapitalized institution fails to submit an acceptable capital restoration plan or fails in any material respect to implement a plan accepted by the agency. A critically undercapitalized institution is subject to having a receiver or conservator appointed to manage its affairs and for loss of its charter to conduct banking activities.

An insured depository institution may not pay a management fee to a bank holding company controlling that institution or any other person having control of the institution if, after making the payment, the institution would be undercapitalized. In addition, an institution cannot make a capital distribution, such as a dividend or other distribution, that is in substance a distribution of capital to the owners of the institution if following such a distribution the institution would be undercapitalized. Thus, if payment of such a management fee or the making of such would cause a bank to become undercapitalized, it could not pay a management fee or dividend to the bank holding company.

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As of December 31, 2020, the Bank was deemed to be “well capitalized.”

Standards for Safety and Soundness. The FDIA also requires the federal banking regulatory agencies to prescribe, by regulation or guideline, operational and managerial standards for all insured depository institutions relating to: (i) internal controls, information systems and internal audit systems; (ii) loan documentation; (iii) credit underwriting; (iv) interest rate risk exposure; and (v) asset growth. The agencies also must prescribe standards for asset quality, earnings, and stock valuation, as well as standards for compensation, fees and benefits. The federal banking agencies have adopted regulations and Interagency Guidelines Prescribing Standards for Safety and Soundness to implement these required standards. These guidelines set forth the safety and soundness standards that the federal banking agencies use to identify and address problems at insured depository institutions before capital becomes impaired. Under the regulations, if the FDIC determines that the Bank fails to meet any standards prescribed by the guidelines, the agency may require the Bank to submit to the agency an acceptable plan to achieve compliance with the standard, as required by the FDIC. The final regulations establish deadlines for the submission and review of such safety and soundness compliance plans.

Insurance of Accounts and Regulation by the FDIC. The Bank’s deposits are insured up to applicable limits by the Deposit Insurance Fund of the FDIC. The Dodd-Frank Act permanently increased the maximum amount of deposit insurance for banks to $250,000 per account. As insurer, the FDIC imposes deposit insurance premiums and is authorized to conduct examinations of and to require reporting by FDIC insured institutions. It also may prohibit any FDIC insured institution from engaging in any activity the FDIC determines by regulation or order to pose a serious risk to the insurance fund.

As an FDIC-insured bank, the Bank must pay deposit insurance assessments to the FDIC based on its average total assets minus its average tangible equity. The Bank’s assessment rates are currently based on its risk classification (i.e., the level of risk it poses to the FDIC’s deposit insurance fund). Institutions classified as higher risk pay assessments at higher rates than institutions that pose a lower risk. In addition to ordinary assessments described above, the FDIC has the ability to impose special assessments in certain instances.

In addition to the ordinary assessments described above, the FDIC has the ability to impose special assessments in certain instances. For example, under the Dodd-Frank Act, the minimum designated reserve ratio for the deposit insurance fund was increased to 1.35% of the estimated total amount of insured deposits. On September 30, 2018, the deposit insurance fund reached 1.36%, exceeding the statutorily required minimum reserve ratio of 1.35%. On reaching the minimum reserve ratio of 1.35%, FDIC regulations provided for two changes to deposit insurance assessments: (i) surcharges on insured depository institutions with total consolidated assets of $10 billion or more (large institutions) ceased; and (ii) small banks will receive assessment credits for the portion of their assessments that contributed to the growth in the reserve ratio from between 1.15% and 1.35%, to be applied when the reserve ratio is at or above 1.38%. These assessment credits started with the June 30, 2019 assessment invoiced in September 2019 and finished with the September 30, 2019 assessment which was invoiced in December 2019. Assessment rates are expected to decrease if the reserve ratio increases such that it exceeds 2%.

The FDIC may terminate the deposit insurance of any insured depository institution, including the Bank, if it determines after a hearing that the institution has engaged in unsafe or 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. It also may suspend deposit insurance temporarily during the hearing process for the permanent termination of insurance if the institution has no tangible capital. If insurance of accounts is terminated, the accounts at the institution at the time of the termination, less subsequent withdrawals, shall continue to be insured for a period of six months to two years, as determined by the FDIC. Management is not aware of any practice, condition or violation that might lead to termination of the Bank’s deposit insurance.

Transactions with Affiliates and Insiders. The Company is a legal entity separate and distinct from the Bank and its other subsidiaries. Various legal limitations restrict the Bank from lending or otherwise supplying funds to the Company or its non-bank subsidiaries. The Company and the Bank are subject to Sections 23A and 23B of the Federal Reserve Act and Federal Reserve Regulation W.

Section 23A of the Federal Reserve Act places limits on the amount of loans or extensions of credit by a bank to any affiliate, including its holding company, and on a bank’s investments in, or certain other transactions with, affiliates and on the amount of advances to third parties collateralized by the securities or obligations of any affiliates of the bank. Section 23A also applies to derivative transactions, repurchase agreements and securities lending and borrowing transactions that cause a bank to have credit exposure to an affiliate. The aggregate of all covered transactions is limited in amount, as to any one affiliate, to 10% of the Bank’s capital and surplus and, as to all affiliates combined, to 20% of the Bank’s capital and surplus. Furthermore, within the foregoing limitations as to amount, each covered transaction must meet specified collateral requirements. The Bank is forbidden to purchase low quality assets from an affiliate.

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Section 23B of the Federal Reserve Act, among other things, prohibits an institution from engaging in certain transactions with certain affiliates unless the transactions are on terms substantially the same, or at least as favorable to such institution or its subsidiaries, as those prevailing at the time for comparable transactions with nonaffiliated companies. If there are no comparable transactions, a bank’s (or one of its subsidiaries’) affiliate transaction must be on terms and under circumstances, including credit standards, that in good faith would be offered to, or would apply to, nonaffiliated companies. These requirements apply to all transactions subject to Section 23A as well as to certain other transactions.

The affiliates of a bank include any holding company of the bank, any other company under common control with the bank (including any company controlled by the same shareholders who control the bank), any subsidiary of the bank that is itself a bank, any company in which the majority of the directors or trustees also constitute a majority of the directors or trustees of the bank or holding company of the bank, any company sponsored and advised on a contractual basis by the bank or an affiliate, and any mutual fund advised by a bank or any of the bank’s affiliates. Regulation W generally excludes all non-bank and non-savings association subsidiaries of banks from treatment as affiliates, except to the extent that the Federal Reserve decides to treat these subsidiaries as affiliates.

The Bank is also subject to certain restrictions on extensions of credit to executive officers, directors, certain principal shareholders, and their related interests. Extensions of credit include derivative transactions, repurchase and reverse repurchase agreements, and securities borrowing and lending transactions to the extent that such transactions cause a bank to have credit exposure to an insider. Any extension of credit to an insider (i) must be made on substantially the same terms, including interest rates and collateral requirements, as those prevailing at the time for comparable transactions with unrelated third parties and (ii) must not involve more than the normal risk of repayment or present other unfavorable features.

On December 22, 2020, the federal banking agencies issued an interagency statement extending the temporary relief from enforcement action against banks or asset managers, which become principal shareholders of banks, with respect to certain extensions of credit by banks that otherwise would violate Regulation O, provided the asset managers and banks satisfy certain conditions designed to ensure that there is a lack of control by the asset manager over the bank. This temporary relief will apply until January 1, 2022, unless amended or extended, while the Federal Reserve, in consultation with the other federal banking agencies, considers whether to amend Regulation O.

Dividends. The Company’s principal source of cash flow, including cash flow to pay dividends to its shareholders, is dividends it receives from the Bank. Statutory and regulatory limitations apply to the Bank’s payment of dividends to the Company. As a South Carolina chartered bank, the Bank is subject to limitations on the amount of dividends that it is permitted to pay. Unless otherwise instructed by the S.C. Board, the Bank is generally permitted under South Carolina state banking regulations to pay cash dividends of up to 100% of net income in any calendar year without obtaining the prior approval of the S.C. Board. The FDIC also has the authority under federal law to enjoin a bank from engaging in what in its opinion constitutes an unsafe or unsound practice in conducting its business, including the payment of a dividend under certain circumstances. 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 above.

Branching. Under current South Carolina law, the Bank may open branch offices throughout South Carolina with the prior approval of the S.C. Board. In addition, with prior regulatory approval, the Bank is able to acquire existing banking operations in South Carolina. Furthermore, federal legislation permits interstate branching, including out-of-state acquisitions by bank holding companies, interstate branching by banks, and interstate merging by banks. The Dodd-Frank Act removes previous state law restrictions on de novo interstate branching in states such as South Carolina. This change permits out-of-state banks to open de novo branches in states where the laws of the state where the de novo branch to be opened would permit a bank chartered by that state to open a de novo branch.

Community Reinvestment Act. The Community Reinvestment Act (“CRA”) requires that the FDIC evaluate the record of the Bank in meeting the credit needs of its local community, including low and moderate income neighborhoods. These factors are also considered in evaluating mergers, acquisitions, and applications to open a branch or facility. Failure to adequately meet these criteria could impose additional requirements and limitations on our Bank. On February 12, 2018, the date of the most recent examination report, the Bank received a satisfactory CRA rating.

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The Gramm Leach Bliley Act (the “GLBA”) made various changes to the CRA. Among other changes, CRA agreements with private parties must be disclosed and annual CRA reports must be made available to a bank’s primary federal regulator. A bank holding company will not be permitted to become a financial holding company and no new activities authorized under the GLBA may be commenced by a holding company or by a bank financial subsidiary if any of its bank subsidiaries received less than a satisfactory CRA rating in its latest CRA examination.

In December 2019, the FDIC and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) proposed changes to the regulations implementing the CRA, which, if adopted will result in changes to the current CRA framework. On May 20, 2020 the OCC issued a final rule to strengthen and modernize its existing CRA framework. The Federal Reserve did not join the proposal, but instead issued its own proposed rules in September 2020. Neither the FDIC nor the Federal Reserve have finalized their CRA proposals at this time.

Consumer Protection Regulations. Activities of the Bank are subject to a variety of statutes and regulations designed to protect consumers. Interest and other charges collected or contracted for by the Bank are subject to state usury laws and federal laws concerning interest rates. The Bank’s loan operations are also subject to federal laws applicable to credit transactions, such as:

The Dodd-Frank Act that created the CFPB within the Federal Reserve Board, which has broad rulemaking authority over a wide range of consumer laws that apply to all insured depository institutions;  

the Truth-In-Lending Act, governing disclosures of credit terms to consumer borrowers;  

the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975, requiring financial institutions to provide information to enable the public and public officials to determine whether a financial institution is fulfilling its obligation to help meet the housing needs of the community it serves;  

the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, creed or other prohibited factors in extending credit;  

the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1978, as amended by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, governing the use and provision of information to credit reporting agencies, certain identity theft protections, and certain credit and other disclosures;  

the Fair Debt Collection Act, governing the manner in which consumer debts may be collected by collection agencies; and  

the rules and regulations of the various federal agencies charged with the responsibility of implementing such federal laws.  

The deposit operations of the Bank also are subject to:

the Federal Deposit Insurance Act, which, among other things, limits the amount of deposit insurance available per account to $250,000 and imposes other limits on deposit-taking;  

the Right to Financial Privacy Act, which imposes a duty to maintain confidentiality of consumer financial records and prescribes procedures for complying with administrative subpoenas of financial records;  

the Electronic Funds Transfer Act and Regulation E, which governs automatic deposits to and withdrawals from deposit accounts and customers’ rights and liabilities arising from the use of automated teller machines and other electronic banking services;  

The Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act (also known as “Check 21”), which gives “substitute check,” such as digital images and copies made from that image, the same legal standing as the original paper check; and  

the Truth in Savings Act and Regulation DD, which requires depository institutions to provide disclosures so that consumers can make meaningful comparisons about depository institutions and accounts.  

Anti-Money Laundering. Financial institutions must maintain anti-money laundering programs that include established internal policies, procedures, and controls; a designated compliance officer; an ongoing employee training program; and testing of the program by an independent audit function. The Company and the Bank are also prohibited from entering into specified financial transactions and account relationships and must meet enhanced standards for due diligence and “knowing your customer” in their dealings with foreign financial institutions and foreign customers. Financial institutions must take reasonable steps to conduct enhanced scrutiny of account relationships to guard against money laundering and to report any suspicious transactions, and recent laws provide law enforcement authorities with increased access to financial information maintained by banks. Anti-money laundering obligations have been substantially strengthened as a result of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (which we refer to as the “USA PATRIOT Act”). Bank regulators routinely examine institutions for compliance with these obligations and are required to consider compliance in connection with the regulatory review of applications. The regulatory authorities have been active in imposing “cease and desist” orders and money penalty sanctions against institutions that have not complied with these requirements.

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USA PATRIOT Act. The USA PATRIOT Act became effective on October 26, 2001, amended, in part, the Bank Secrecy Act and provides, in part, for the facilitation of information sharing among governmental entities and financial institutions for the purpose of combating terrorism and money laundering by enhancing anti-money laundering and financial transparency laws, as well as enhanced information collection tools and enforcement mechanics for the U.S. government, including: (i) requiring standards for verifying customer identification at account opening; (ii) rules to promote cooperation among financial institutions, regulators, and law enforcement entities in identifying parties that may be involved in terrorism or money laundering; (iii) reports by nonfinancial trades and businesses filed with the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network for transactions exceeding $10,000; and (iv) filing suspicious activities reports by brokers and dealers if they believe a customer may be violating U.S. laws and regulations. The Act also requires enhanced due diligence requirements for financial institutions that administer, maintain, or manage private bank accounts or correspondent accounts for non-U.S. persons. Bank regulators routinely examine institutions for compliance with these obligations and are required to consider compliance in connection with the regulatory review of applications.

Under the USA PATRIOT Act, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) can send our banking regulatory agencies lists of the names of persons suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. The Bank can be requested, to search its records for any relationships or transactions with persons on those lists. If the Bank finds any relationships or transactions, it must file a suspicious activity report and contact FinCEN.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control.The Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), which is a division of the U.S. Treasury, is responsible for helping to insure that U.S. entities do not engage in transactions with “enemies” of the U.S., as defined by various Executive Orders and Acts of Congress. OFAC has sent, and will send, our banking regulatory agencies lists of names of persons and organizations suspected of aiding, harboring or engaging in terrorist acts. If the Bank finds a name on any transaction, account or wire transfer that is on an OFAC list, it must freeze such account, file a suspicious activity report and notify the FBI. The Bank has appointed an OFAC compliance officer to oversee the inspection of its accounts and the filing of any notifications. The Bank actively checks high-risk OFAC areas such as new accounts, wire transfers and customer files. The Bank performs these checks utilizing software, which is updated each time a modification is made to the lists provided by OFAC and other agencies of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons.

Privacy, Data Security and Credit Reporting. Financial institutions are required to disclose their policies for collecting and protecting confidential information. Customers generally may prevent financial institutions from sharing nonpublic personal financial information with nonaffiliated third parties except under narrow circumstances, such as the processing of transactions requested by the consumer or if the Bank is jointly sponsoring a product or service with a nonaffiliated third party. Additionally, financial institutions generally may not disclose consumer account numbers to any nonaffiliated third party for use in telemarketing, direct mail marketing or other marketing to consumers. It is the Bank’s policy not to disclose any personal information unless required by law.

Recent cyberattacks against banks and other institutions that resulted in unauthorized access to confidential customer information have prompted the Federal banking agencies to issue several warnings and extensive guidance on cyber security. The agencies are likely to devote more resources to this part of their safety and soundness examination than they have in the past.

In addition, pursuant to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (the “FACT Act”) and the implementing regulations of the federal banking agencies and Federal Trade Commission, the Bank is required to have in place an “identity theft red flags” program to detect, prevent and mitigate identity theft. The Bank has implemented an identity theft red flags program designed to meet the requirements of the FACT Act and the joint final rules. Additionally, the FACT Act amends the Fair Credit Reporting Act to generally prohibit a person from using information received from an affiliate to make a solicitation for marketing purposes to a consumer, unless the consumer is given notice and a reasonable opportunity and a reasonable and simple method to opt out of the making of such solicitations.

Federal Home Loan Bank System. The Bank is a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank ("FHLB") of Atlanta, which is one of 12 regional FHLBs that administer home financing credit for depository institutions. Each FHLB serves as a reserve or central bank for its members within its assigned region. It is funded primarily from proceeds derived from the sale of consolidated obligations of the FHLB System. It makes loans or advances to members in accordance with policies and procedures established by the Board of Directors of the FHLB, which are subject to the oversight of the Federal Housing Financing Board. All advances from the FHLB, which are subject to the oversight of the Federal Housing Finance Board. All advances from the FHLB are required to be fully secured by sufficient collateral as determined by the FHLB.

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Effect of Governmental Monetary Policies. Our earnings are affected by domestic economic conditions and the monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government and its agencies. The Federal Reserve’s monetary policies have had, and are likely to continue to have, an important impact on the operating results of commercial banks through its power to implement national monetary policy in order, among other things, to curb inflation or combat a recession. The monetary policies of the Federal Reserve have major effects upon the levels of bank loans, investments and deposits through its open market operations in U.S. government securities and through its regulation of the discount rate on borrowings of member banks and the reserve requirements against member bank deposits. It is not possible to predict the nature or impact of future changes in monetary and fiscal policies. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 3, 2020, the Federal Open Market Committee (“FOMC”) reduced the targeted federal funds interest rate range by 50 basis points to 1.00% to 1.25%. On March 15, 2020, the FOMC again lowered the federal funds rate to a target range of 0.0% to 0.25%.

Incentive Compensation. The Dodd-Frank Act requires the federal bank regulators and the SEC to establish joint regulations or guidelines prohibiting incentive-based payment arrangements at specified regulated entities having at least $1 billion in total assets that encourage inappropriate risks by providing an executive officer, employee, director or principal shareholder with excessive compensation, fees, or benefits or that could lead to material financial loss to the entity. In addition, these regulators must establish regulations or guidelines requiring enhanced disclosure to regulators of incentive-based compensation arrangements. The agencies proposed such regulations in April 2011. However, the 2011 proposal was replaced with a new proposal in May 2016, which makes explicit that the involvement of risk management and control personnel includes not only compliance, risk management and internal audit, but also legal, human resources, accounting, financial reporting and finance roles responsible for identifying, measuring, monitoring or controlling risk-taking. A final rule had not been adopted as of December 31, 2020.

In June 2010, the Federal Reserve, the FDIC and the OCC issued a comprehensive final guidance on incentive compensation policies intended to ensure that the incentive compensation policies of banking organizations do not undermine the safety and soundness of such organizations by encouraging excessive risk-taking. The guidance, which covers all employees that have the ability to materially affect the risk profile of an organization, either individually or as part of a group, is based upon the key principles that a banking organization’s incentive compensation arrangements should (i) provide incentives that do not encourage risk-taking beyond the organization’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 organization’s board of directors.

The Federal Reserve will review, as part of the regular, risk-focused examination process, the incentive compensation arrangements of banking organizations, such as the Company, that are not “large, complex banking organizations.” These reviews will be tailored to each organization based on the scope and complexity of the organization’s activities and the prevalence of incentive compensation arrangements. The findings of the supervisory initiatives will be included in reports of examination. Deficiencies will be incorporated into the organization’s supervisory ratings, which can affect the organization’s ability to make acquisitions and take other actions. Enforcement actions may be taken against a banking organization if its incentive compensation arrangements, or related risk-management control or governance processes, pose a risk to the organization’s safety and soundness and the organization is not taking prompt and effective measures to correct the deficiencies.

In addition, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “Tax Act”), which was signed into law in December 2017, contains certain provisions affecting performance-based compensation. Specifically, the pre-existing exception to the $1 million deduction limitation applicable to performance-based compensation was repealed. The deduction limitation is now applied to all compensation exceeding $1.0 million, for our covered employees, regardless of how it is classified, which could have an adverse effect on our income tax expense and net income.

Concentrations in Commercial Real Estate. Concentration risk exists when FDIC-insured institutions deploy too many assets to any one industry or segment. A concentration in commercial real estate is one example of regulatory concern. The interagency Concentrations in Commercial Real Estate Lending, Sound Risk Management Practices guidance (“CRE Guidance”) provides supervisory criteria, including the following numerical indicators, to assist bank examiners in identifying banks with potentially significant commercial real estate loan concentrations that may warrant greater supervisory scrutiny: (i) commercial real estate loans exceeding 300% of capital and increasing 50% or more in the preceding three years or (ii) construction and land development loans exceeding 100% of capital. The CRE Guidance does not limit banks’ levels of commercial real estate lending activities, but rather guides institutions in developing risk management practices and levels of capital that are commensurate with the level and nature of their commercial real estate concentrations. On December 18, 2015, the federal banking agencies issued a statement to reinforce prudent risk-management practices related to commercial real estate lending, having observed substantial growth in many commercial real estate asset and lending markets, increased competitive pressures, rising commercial real estate concentrations in banks, and an easing of commercial real estate underwriting standards. The federal bank agencies reminded FDIC-insured institutions to maintain underwriting discipline and exercise prudent risk-management practices to identify, measure, monitor and manage the risks arising from commercial real estate lending. In addition, FDIC-insured institutions must maintain capital commensurate with the level and nature of their commercial real estate concentration risk.

Based on the Bank’s loan portfolio as of December 31, 2020, it did not exceed the 300% and 100% guidelines for commercial real estate loans. The Bank will continue to monitor its portfolio to manage this increased risk.

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Item 1A. Risk Factors.

The following risk factors and other information included in this Annual Report on Form 10-K should be carefully considered. The risks and uncertainties described below are not the only ones we face. Additional risks and uncertainties not presently known to us or that we currently deem immaterial also may adversely impact our business operations. If any of the following risks occur, our business, financial condition, operating results, and cash flows could be materially adversely affected.

Risks Related to Economic Conditions, Including as a Result of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The global COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected our business, financial condition and results of operations, and the ultimate effect of the pandemic on our business, financial condition and results of operations will depend on future developments and other factors that are highly uncertain.

The global COVID-19 pandemic and related government-imposed and other measures intended to control the spread of the disease, including restrictions on travel and the conduct of business, such as stay-at-home orders, quarantines, travel bans, border closings, business and school closures and other similar measures, have had a significant impact on global economic conditions and have negatively impacted certain aspects of our business, financial condition and results of operations, and may continue to do so in the future. The governmental and social response to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented slow-down in economic activity and a related increase in unemployment. The COVID-19 pandemic, and related efforts to contain it, have also caused significant disruptions in the functioning of the financial markets and have increased economic and market uncertainty and volatility.

Given the ongoing, dynamic and unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is difficult to predict the full impact the pandemic will have on our business. While certain factors point to improving economic conditions, uncertainty remains regarding the path of the economic recovery, the mitigating impacts of government interventions, the success of vaccine distribution and the efficacy of administered vaccines, as well as the effects of the change in leadership resulting from the recent elections. The COVID-19 pandemic may subject us to any of the following risks, any of which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, liquidity, results of operations, risk-weighted assets and regulatory capital:

because the incidence of reported COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations and deaths varies significantly by state and locality, the economic downturn caused by the pandemic may be deeper and more sustained in certain areas, including those in which we do business, relative to other areas of the country;  

our ability to market our products and services may be impaired by a variety of external factors, including a prolonged reduction in economic activity and continued economic and financial market volatility, which could cause demand for our products and services to decline, in turn making it difficult for us to grow assets and income;  

if the economy is unable to substantially reopen and high levels of unemployment continue for an extended period of time, loan delinquencies, problem assets, and foreclosures may increase, resulting in increased charges and reduced income;  

collateral for loans, especially real estate, may decline in value, which may reduce our ability to liquidate such collateral and could cause loan losses to increase and impair our ability over the long run to maintain our targeted loan origination volume;  

our allowance credit losses may have to be increased if borrowers experience financial difficulties beyond forbearance periods, which will adversely affect our net income;

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an increase in non-performing loans due to the COVID-19 pandemic would result in a corresponding increase in the risk-weighting of assets and therefore an increase in required regulatory capital;  

the net worth and liquidity of borrowers and loan guarantors may decline, impairing their ability to honor commitments to us;  

as the result of the reduction of the Federal Reserve’s target federal funds rate to near 0%, the yield on our assets may decline to a greater extent than the decline in our cost of interest-bearing liabilities, reducing our net interest margin and spread and reducing net income;  

deposits could decline if customers need to draw on available balances as a result of the economic downturn;  

a material decrease in net income or a net loss over several quarters could result in a decrease in the rate of our quarterly cash dividend;  

the borrowing needs of our clients may increase, especially during this challenging economic environment, which could result in increased borrowing against our contractual obligations to extend credit;  

we face heightened cybersecurity risk in connection with our operation of a remote working environment, which risks include, among others, greater phishing, malware, and other cybersecurity attacks, vulnerability to disruptions of our information technology infrastructure and telecommunications systems, increased risk of unauthorized dissemination of confidential information, limited ability to restore our systems in the event of a systems failure or interruption, greater risk of a security breach resulting in destruction or misuse of valuable information, and potential impairment of our ability to perform critical functions—all of which could expose us to risks of data or financial loss, litigation and liability and could seriously disrupt our operations and the operations of any impacted customers;  

we rely on third party vendors for certain services and the unavailability of a critical service or limitations on the business capacities of our vendors for extended periods of time due to the COVID-19 pandemic could have an adverse effect on our operations; and  

as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be unexpected developments in financial markets, legislation, regulations and consumer and customer behavior.  

Even after the COVID-19 outbreak has subsided, we may continue to experience materially adverse impacts to our business as a result of the virus’s global economic impact, including the availability of credit, adverse impacts on our liquidity and any recession that has occurred or may occur in the future. There are no comparable recent events that provide guidance as to the effect the spread of COVID-19 as a global pandemic may have, and, as a result, the ultimate impact of the outbreak is highly uncertain and subject to change. We do not yet know the full extent of the impacts on our business, our operations or the global economy as a whole. However, the effects could have a material impact on our results of operations and heighten many of our known risks described herein.

Our business may be adversely affected by conditions in the financial markets and economic conditions generally.

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 and whose success we rely on to drive our growth, is highly dependent upon the business environment in the primary markets where we operate and in the United States as a whole. Unlike larger banks that are more geographically diversified, we are a regional bank that provides banking and financial services to customers primarily in Greenville, Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina; Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte, North Carolina; and Atlanta, Georgia. The economic conditions in these local markets may be different from, and in some instances worse than, the economic conditions in the United States as a whole.

Some elements of the business environment that affect our financial performance include short-term and long-term interest rates, the prevailing yield curve, inflation and price levels, monetary and trade policy, unemployment and the strength of the domestic economy and the local economy in the markets in which we operate. Unfavorable market conditions can result in a deterioration in the credit quality of our borrowers and the demand for our products and services, an increase in the number of loan delinquencies, defaults, charge-offs, foreclosures, additional provisions for loan losses, adverse asset values of the collateral securing our loans and an overall material adverse effect on the quality of our loan portfolio. Unfavorable or uncertain economic and market conditions can be caused by declines in economic growth, business activity or investor or business confidence; limitations on the availability or increases in the cost of credit and capital; increases in inflation or interest rates; high unemployment; natural disasters; epidemics and pandemics (such as COVID-19); or a combination of these or other factors.

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The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is fluid and continues to evolve and there is pervasive uncertainty surrounding the future economic conditions that will emerge in the months and years following the onset of the pandemic. Even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, the U.S. economy will likely require some time to recover from its effects, the length of which is unknown, and during which we may experience a recession. In addition, there are continuing concerns related to, among other things, the level of U.S. government debt and fiscal actions that may be taken to address that debt, depressed oil prices and a potential resurgence of economic and political tensions with China that may have a destabilizing effect on financial markets and economic activity. Economic pressure on consumers and overall economic uncertainty may result in changes in consumer and business spending, borrowing and saving habits. These economic conditions and/or other negative developments in the domestic or international credit markets or economies may significantly affect the markets in which we do business, the value of our loans and investments, and our ongoing operations, costs and profitability. Declines in real estate values and sales volumes and high unemployment or underemployment may also result in higher than expected loan delinquencies, increases in our levels of nonperforming and classified assets and a decline in demand for our products and services. These negative events may cause us to incur losses and may adversely affect our capital, liquidity and financial condition.

Our small- to medium-sized business target markets may have fewer financial resources to weather a downturn in the economy.

We target the banking and financial services needs of small- and medium-sized businesses. These businesses generally have fewer financial resources in terms of capital borrowing capacity than larger entities. If general economic conditions negatively affect these businesses in the markets in which we operate, our business, financial condition, and results of operations may be adversely affected.

A significant portion of our loan portfolio is secured by real estate, and events that negatively affect the real estate market could hurt our business.

As of December 31, 2020, approximately 84.6% of our loans had real estate as a primary or secondary component of collateral. The real estate collateral in each case provides an alternate source of repayment in the event of default by the borrower and may deteriorate in value during the time the credit is extended. A weakening of the real estate market in our primary market areas could result in an increase in the number of borrowers who default on their loans and a reduction in the value of the collateral securing their loans, which in turn could have an adverse effect on our profitability and asset quality. Deterioration in the real estate market could cause us to adjust our opinion of the level of credit quality in our loan portfolio. If we are required to liquidate the collateral securing a loan to satisfy the debt during a period of reduced real estate values, our earnings and capital could be adversely affected. Acts of nature, including hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, fires and floods, which may cause uninsured damage and other loss of value to real estate that secures these loans, may also negatively affect our financial condition.

Risks Related to Lending Activities

Our loan portfolio contains a number of real estate loans with relatively large balances.

Because our loan portfolio contains a number of real estate loans with relatively large balances, the deterioration of one or a few of these loans could cause a significant increase in nonperforming loans, which could result in a net loss of earnings, 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 financial condition and results of operations.

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Commercial real estate loans increase our exposure to credit risk.

At December 31, 2020, 50.4% of our loan portfolio was secured by commercial real estate. Loans secured by commercial real estate are generally viewed as having more risk of default than loans secured by residential real estate or consumer loans because repayment of the loans often depends on the successful operation of the property, the income stream of the borrowers, the accuracy of the estimate of the property’s value at completion of construction, and the estimated cost of construction. Such loans are generally more risky than loans secured by residential real estate or consumer loans because those loans are typically not secured by real estate collateral. An adverse development with respect to one lending relationship can expose us to a significantly greater risk of loss compared with a single-family residential mortgage loan because we typically have more than one loan with such borrowers. Additionally, these loans typically involve larger loan balances to single borrowers or groups of related borrowers compared with single-family residential mortgage loans. Therefore, the deterioration of one or a few of these loans could cause a significant decline in the related asset quality. A return of recessionary conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic could result in a sharp increase in loans charged-off and could require us to significantly increase our allowance for loan losses, which could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition, results of operations, and cash flows.

Environmental liability associated with commercial lending could result in losses.

In the course of business, the Bank may acquire, through foreclosure, or deed in lieu of foreclosure, properties securing loans it has originated or purchased which are in default. Particularly in commercial real estate lending, there is a risk that hazardous substances could be discovered on these properties. In this event, the Bank may be required to remove these substances from the affected properties at our sole cost and expense. The cost of this removal could substantially exceed the value of affected properties. We may not have adequate remedies against the prior owner or other responsible parties and could find it difficult or impossible to sell the affected properties. These events could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.

Imposition of limits by the bank regulators on commercial and multi-family real estate lending activities could curtail our growth and adversely affect our earnings.

In 2006, the FDIC, the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued joint guidance entitled “Concentrations in Commercial Real Estate Lending, Sound Risk Management Practices” (the “CRE Guidance”). Although the CRE Guidance did not establish specific lending limits, it provides that a bank’s commercial real estate lending exposure could receive increased supervisory scrutiny where total non-owner occupied commercial real estate loans, including loans secured by apartment buildings, investor commercial real estate, and construction and land loans, represent 300% or more of an institution’s total risk-based capital, and the outstanding balance of the commercial real estate loan portfolio has increased by 50% or more during the preceding 36 months. Our level of commercial real estate and multi-family loans represents 218.5% of the Bank’s total risk-based capital at December 31, 2020.

In December 2015, the regulatory agencies released a new statement on prudent risk management for commercial real estate lending (the “2015 Statement”). In the 2015 Statement, the regulatory agencies, among other things, indicate the intent to continue “to pay special attention” to commercial real estate lending activities and concentrations going forward. If the FDIC, our primary federal regulator, were to impose restrictions on the amount of commercial real estate loans we can hold in our portfolio, for reasons noted above or otherwise, our earnings would be adversely affected.

Repayment of our commercial business loans is often dependent on the cash flows of the borrower, which may be unpredictable, and the collateral securing these loans may fluctuate in value.

At December 31, 2020, commercial business loans comprised 14.4% of our total loan portfolio. Our commercial business loans are originated primarily based on the identified cash flow and general liquidity of the borrower and secondarily on the underlying collateral provided by the borrower and/or repayment capacity of any guarantor. The borrower’s cash flow may be unpredictable, and collateral securing these loans may fluctuate in value. Although commercial business loans are often collateralized by equipment, inventory, accounts receivable, or other business assets, the liquidation of collateral in the event of default is often an insufficient source of repayment because accounts receivable may be uncollectible and inventories may be obsolete or of limited use. In addition, business assets may depreciate over time, may be difficult to appraise, and may fluctuate in value based on the success of the business. Accordingly, the repayment of commercial business loans depends primarily on the cash flow and credit worthiness of the borrower and secondarily on the underlying collateral value provided by the borrower and liquidity of the guarantor. If these borrowers do not have sufficient cash flows or resources to pay these loans as they come due or the value of the underlying collateral is insufficient to fully secure these loans, we may suffer losses on these loans that exceed our allowance for loan losses.

We may have higher loan losses than we have allowed for in our allowance for loan losses.

Our actual loans losses could exceed our allowance for loan losses and therefore our historic allowance for loan losses may not be adequate. As of December 31, 2020, 50.4% of our loan portfolio was secured by commercial real estate. Repayment of such loans is generally considered more subject to market risk than residential mortgage loans. Industry experience shows that a portion of loans will become delinquent and a portion of loans will require partial or entire charge-off. Regardless of the underwriting criteria utilized, losses may be experienced as a result of various factors beyond our control, including among other things, changes in market conditions affecting the value of loan collateral, the cash flows of our borrowers and problems affecting borrower credit. If we suffer loan losses that exceed our allowance for loans losses, our financial condition, liquidity or results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.

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While the fiscal stimulus and relief programs appear to have delayed any materially adverse financial impact to the Bank, once these stimulus programs have been exhausted, we believe our credit metrics could worsen and loan losses could ultimately materialize. Any potential loan losses will be contingent upon a number of factors beyond our control, such as the resurgence of the virus, including any new strains, offset by the potency of the vaccine along with its extensive distribution, and the ability for customers and businesses to return to their pre-pandemic routines.

Our decisions regarding allowance for loan losses and credit risk may materially and adversely affect our business.

Making loans and other extensions of credit is an essential element of our business. Although we seek to mitigate risks inherent in lending by adhering to specific underwriting practices, our loans and other extensions of credit may not be repaid. The risk of nonpayment is affected by a number of factors, including:

the duration of the credit;  

credit risks of a particular client;  

changes in economic and industry conditions; and  

in the case of a collateralized loan, risks resulting from uncertainties about the future value of the collateral.  

We attempt to maintain an appropriate allowance for loan losses to provide for probable losses in our loan portfolio. We periodically determine the amount of the allowance based on consideration of several factors, including but not limited to:

an ongoing review of the quality, mix, and size of our overall loan portfolio;  

our historical loan loss experience;  

evaluation of economic conditions;  

regular reviews of loan delinquencies and loan portfolio quality;  

ongoing review of financial information provided by borrowers; and  

the amount and quality of collateral, including guarantees, securing the loans.  

The determination of the appropriate level of the allowance for loan losses inherently involves a high degree of subjectivity and requires us to make significant estimates of current credit risks and future trends, all of which may undergo material changes. Continuing deterioration in economic conditions affecting borrowers, 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 allowance for loan losses. In addition, regulatory agencies periodically review our allowance for loan losses and may require an increase in the provision for loan losses or the recognition of further loan charge-offs, based on judgments different than those of management. In addition, if charge-offs in future periods exceed the allowance for loan losses, we will need additional provisions to increase the allowance for loan losses. Any increases in the allowance for loan losses will result in a decrease in net income and, possibly, capital, and may have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.

Lack of seasoning of our loan portfolio may increase the risk of credit defaults in the future.

Due to the growth of the Bank and expansion into new markets over the past several years, a portion of the loans in our loan portfolio and our lending relationships are of relatively recent origin. In general, loans do not begin to show signs of credit deterioration or default until they have been outstanding for some period of time, a process we refer to as “seasoning.” As a result, a portfolio of older loans will usually behave more predictably than a newer portfolio. Because our loan portfolio is relatively new, the current level of delinquencies and defaults may not be representative of the level that will prevail when the portfolio becomes more seasoned, which may be higher than current levels. If delinquencies and defaults increase, we may be required to increase our provision for loan losses, which would adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.

A percentage of the loans in our portfolio currently include exceptions to our loan policies and supervisory guidelines.

All of the loans that we make are subject to written loan policies adopted by our board of directors and to supervisory guidelines imposed by our regulators. Our loan policies are designed to reduce the risks associated with the loans that we make by requiring our loan officers to take certain steps that vary depending on the type and amount of the loan, prior to closing a loan. These steps include, among other things, making sure the proper liens are documented and perfected on property securing a loan, and requiring proof of adequate insurance coverage on property securing loans. Loans that do not fully comply with our loan policies are known as “exceptions.” We categorize exceptions as policy exceptions, financial statement exceptions and document exceptions. As a result of these exceptions, such loans may have a higher risk of loan loss than the other loans in our portfolio that fully comply with our loan policies. In addition, we may be subject to regulatory action by federal or state banking authorities if they believe the number of exceptions in our loan portfolio represents an unsafe banking practice.

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Risks Related to Capital and Liquidity

Liquidity needs could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.

Dividends from the Bank provide the primary source of funds for the Company. The primary sources of funds of the Bank are client deposits and loan repayments. While scheduled loan repayments are a relatively stable source of funds, they are subject to the ability of borrowers to repay the loans. The ability of borrowers to repay loans can be adversely affected by a number of factors, including changes in economic conditions, adverse trends or events affecting business industry groups, reductions in real estate values or markets, business closings or lay-offs, inclement weather, natural disasters and international instability.

Additionally, deposit levels may be affected by a number of factors, including rates paid by competitors, general interest rate levels, regulatory capital requirements, returns available to clients on alternative investments and general economic conditions. Accordingly, we may be required from time to time to rely on secondary sources of liquidity to meet withdrawal demands or otherwise fund operations. Such sources include proceeds from FHLB advances, sales of investment securities and loans, and federal funds lines of credit from correspondent banks, as well as out-of-market time deposits. While we believe that these sources are currently adequate, there can be no assurance they will be sufficient to meet future liquidity demands, particularly if we continue to grow and experience increasing loan demand. We may be required to slow or discontinue loan growth, capital expenditures or other investments or liquidate assets should such sources not be adequate.

The Company is a stand-alone entity with its own liquidity needs to service its debt or other obligations. Other than dividends from the Bank, the Company does not have additional means of generating liquidity without obtaining additional debt or equity funding. If we are unable to receive dividends from the Bank or obtain additional funding, we may be unable to pay our debt or other obligations.

We may be subject to more stringent capital requirements in the future.

We are subject to regulatory requirements specifying minimum amounts and types of capital that we must maintain. From time to time, the regulators change these regulatory capital adequacy guidelines. If we fail to meet these minimum capital guidelines and other regulatory requirements, we or our subsidiaries may be restricted in the types of activities we may conduct and we may be prohibited from taking certain capital actions, such as paying dividends and repurchasing or redeeming capital securities.

In particular, the capital requirements applicable to the Bank under the Basel III rules become fully phased-in on January 1, 2019. The Bank is now required to satisfy additional, more stringent, capital adequacy standards than it had in the past. While we expect to meet the requirements of the Basel III rules, we may fail to do so. Failure to meet minimum capital requirements could result in certain mandatory and possible additional discretionary actions by regulators that, if undertaken, could have an adverse material effect on our financial condition and results of operations. In addition, these requirements could have a negative impact on our ability to lend, grow deposit balances, make acquisitions or make capital distributions in the form of dividends or share repurchases. Higher capital levels could also lower our return on equity.

Legal, Accounting, Regulatory and Compliance Risks

We are subject to extensive regulation that could restrict our activities, have an adverse impact on our operations, and impose financial requirements or limitations on the conduct of our business.

We operate in a highly regulated industry and are subject to examination, supervision, and comprehensive regulation by various regulatory agencies. We are subject to regulation by the Federal Reserve. The Bank is subject to extensive regulation, supervision, and examination by our primary federal regulator, the FDIC, the regulating authority that insures client deposits, and by our primary state regulator, the S.C. Board. Also, as a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank, the Bank must comply with applicable regulations of the Federal Housing Finance Board and the Federal Home Loan Bank. Regulation by these agencies is intended primarily for the protection of our depositors and the deposit insurance fund and not for the benefit of our shareholders. The Bank’s activities are also regulated under consumer protection laws applicable to our lending, deposit, and other activities. A sufficient claim against us under these laws could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations.

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Failure to comply with laws, regulations or policies could also result in heightened regulatory scrutiny and in sanctions by regulatory agencies (such as a memorandum of understanding, a written supervisory agreement or a cease and desist order), civil money penalties and/or reputation damage. Any of these consequences could restrict our ability to expand our business or could require us to raise additional capital or sell assets on terms that are not advantageous to us or our shareholders and could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. While we have policies and procedures designed to prevent any such violations, such violations may occur despite our best efforts.

We face risks related to the adoption of future legislation and potential changes in federal regulatory agency leadership, policies, and priorities.

With a new Congress taking office in January 2021, Democrats have retained control of the U.S. House of Representatives, and have gained control of the U.S. Senate, albeit with a majority found only in the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Harris. However slim the majorities, though, the net result is unified Democratic control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, and consequently Democrats will be able to set the agenda both legislatively and in the Administration. We expect that Democratic-led Congressional committees will pursue greater oversight and will also pay increased attention to the banking sector’s role in providing COVID-19-related assistance. The prospects for the enactment of major banking reform legislation under the new Congress are unclear at this time.

Moreover, the turnover of the presidential administration has produced, and likely will continue to produce, certain changes in the leadership and senior staffs of the federal banking agencies, the CFPB, SEC, and the Treasury Department. These changes could impact the rulemaking, supervision, examination and enforcement priorities and policies of the agencies. Of note, promptly after taking office, President Biden issued an Executive Order instituting a “freeze” of certain recently-finalized and pending regulations to allow for review by incoming Administration officials. As a result of this Executive Order, recently-adopted regulations may be subject to further notice-and-comment rulemaking and, more broadly, agency rulemaking agendas may be disrupted. The potential impact of any changes in agency personnel, policies and priorities on the financial services sector, including the Bank, cannot be predicted at this time. Regulations and laws may be modified at any time, and new legislation may be enacted that will affect us. Any future changes in federal and state laws and regulations, as well as the interpretation and implementation of such laws and regulations, could affect us in substantial and unpredictable ways, including those listed above or other ways that could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations.

We face a risk of noncompliance and enforcement action with the Bank Secrecy Act and other anti-money laundering statutes and regulations.

The federal Bank Secrecy Act, the USA Patriot Act and other laws and regulations require financial institutions, among other duties, to institute and maintain effective anti-money laundering programs and file suspicious activity and currency transaction reports as appropriate. The federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, established by the U.S. Treasury to administer the Bank Secrecy Act, is authorized to impose significant civil money penalties for violations of those requirements and has engaged in coordinated enforcement efforts with the individual federal banking regulators, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service. There is also increased scrutiny of compliance with the rules enforced by OFAC. Federal and state bank regulators also focus on compliance with Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering regulations. If our policies, procedures and systems are deemed deficient or the policies, procedures and systems of the financial institutions that we have already acquired or may acquire in the future are deficient, we would be subject to liability, including fines and regulatory actions such as restrictions on our ability to pay dividends and the necessity to obtain regulatory approvals to proceed with certain aspects of our business plan, including our acquisition plans, which would negatively affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. Failure to maintain and implement adequate programs to combat money laundering and terrorist financing could also have serious reputational consequences for us.

Federal, state and local consumer lending laws may restrict our ability to originate certain mortgage loans or increase our risk of liability with respect to such loans and could increase our cost of doing business.

Federal, state and local laws have been adopted that are intended to eliminate certain lending practices considered “predatory.” These laws prohibit practices such as steering borrowers away from more affordable products, selling unnecessary insurance to borrowers, repeatedly refinancing loans and making loans without a reasonable expectation that the borrowers will be able to repay the loans irrespective of the value of the underlying property. Loans with certain terms and conditions and that otherwise meet the definition of a “qualified mortgage” may be protected from liability to a borrower for failing to make the necessary determinations. In either case, we may find it necessary to tighten our mortgage loan underwriting standards in response to the CFPB rules, which may constrain our ability to make loans consistent with our business strategies. It is our policy not to make predatory loans and to determine borrowers' ability to repay, but the law and related rules create the potential for increased liability with respect to our lending and loan investment activities. They increase our cost of doing business and, ultimately, may prevent us from making certain loans and cause us to reduce the average percentage rate or the points and fees on loans that we do make.

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We are subject to federal and state fair lending laws, and failure to comply with these laws could lead to material penalties.

Federal and state fair lending laws and regulations, such as the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Fair Housing Act, impose nondiscriminatory lending requirements on financial institutions. The Department of Justice, CFPB and other federal and state agencies are responsible for enforcing these laws and regulations. Private parties may also have the ability to challenge an institution's performance under fair lending laws in private class action litigation. A successful challenge to our performance under the fair lending laws and regulations could adversely impact our rating under the Community Reinvestment Act and result in a wide variety of sanctions, including the required payment of damages and civil money penalties, injunctive relief, imposition of restrictions on merger and acquisition activity and restrictions on expansion activity, which could negatively affect our reputation, business, financial condition and results of operations.

The Federal Reserve may require us to commit capital resources to support the Bank.

The Federal Reserve requires a bank holding company to act as a source of financial and managerial strength to a subsidiary bank and to commit resources to support such subsidiary bank. Under the “source of strength” doctrine, the Federal Reserve may require a bank holding company to make capital injections into a troubled subsidiary bank and may charge the bank holding company with engaging in unsafe and unsound practices for failure to commit resources to such a subsidiary bank. In addition, the Dodd-Frank Act directs the federal bank regulators to require that all companies that directly or indirectly control an insured depository institution serve as a source of strength for the institution. Under these requirements, in the future, we could be required to provide financial assistance to the Bank if the Bank experiences financial distress.

A capital injection may be required at times when we do not have the resources to provide it, and therefore we may be required to borrow the funds. In the event of a bank holding company's bankruptcy, the bankruptcy trustee will assume any commitment by the holding company to a federal bank regulatory agency to maintain the capital of a subsidiary bank. Moreover, bankruptcy law provides that claims based on any such commitment will be entitled to a priority of payment over the claims of the holding company's general unsecured creditors, including the holders of its note obligations. Thus, any borrowing that must be done by the holding company in order to make the required capital injection becomes more difficult and expensive and will adversely impact the holding company's cash flows, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.

A new accounting standard will result in a significant change in how we recognize credit losses and may have a material impact on our financial condition or results of operations.

In June 2016, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (“FASB”) issued an accounting standard update, “Financial Instruments-Credit Losses (Topic 326), Measurement of Credit Losses on Financial Instruments,” which replaces the current “incurred loss” model for recognizing credit losses with an “expected loss” model referred to as the Current Expected Credit Loss (“CECL”) model. Under the CECL model, we will be required to present certain financial assets carried at amortized cost, such as loans held for investment and held-to-maturity debt securities, at the net amount expected to be collected. The measurement of expected credit losses is to be based on information about past events, including historical experience, current conditions, and reasonable and supportable forecasts that affect the collectability of the reported amount. This measurement will take place at the time the financial asset is first added to the balance sheet and periodically thereafter. This differs significantly from the “incurred loss” model required under current generally accepted accounting principles (“GAAP”), which delays recognition until it is probable a loss has been incurred. Accordingly, we expect that the adoption of the CECL model will materially affect how we determine our allowance for loan losses and could require us to significantly increase our allowance. Moreover, the CECL model may create more volatility in the level of our allowance for loan losses. If we are required to materially increase our level of allowance for loan losses for any reason, such increase could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.

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The new CECL standard will become effective for us on January 1, 2023 and for interim periods within that year. We are currently evaluating the impact the CECL model will have on our accounting, but we expect to recognize a one-time cumulative-effect adjustment to our allowance for loan losses as of the beginning of the first reporting period in which the new standard is effective, consistent with regulatory expectations set forth in interagency guidance issued at the end of 2016. We cannot yet determine the magnitude of any such one-time cumulative adjustment or of the overall impact of the new standard on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

Risks Related to Our Operations

Competition with other financial institutions may have an adverse effect on our ability to retain and grow our client base, which could have a negative effect on our financial condition or results of operations.

The banking and financial services industry is very competitive and includes services offered from other banks, savings and loan associations, credit unions, mortgage companies, other lenders, and institutions offering uninsured investment alternatives. Legal and regulatory developments have made it easier for new and sometimes unregulated competitors to compete with us. The financial services industry has and is experiencing an ongoing trend towards consolidation in which fewer large national and regional banks and other financial institutions are replacing many smaller and more local banks. These larger banks and other financial institutions hold a large accumulation of assets and have significantly greater resources and a wider geographic presence or greater accessibility. In some instances, these larger entities operate without the traditional brick and mortar facilities that restrict geographic presence. Some competitors have more aggressive marketing campaigns and better brand recognition, and are able to offer more services, more favorable pricing or greater customer convenience than the Bank. In addition, competition has increased from new banks and other financial services providers that target our existing or potential clients. As consolidation continues among large banks, we expect other smaller institutions to try to compete in the markets we serve. This competition could reduce our net income by decreasing the number and size of the loans that we originate and the interest rates we charge on these loans. Additionally, these competitors may offer higher interest rates, which could decrease the deposits we attract or require us to increase rates to retain existing deposits or attract new deposits. Increased deposit competition could adversely affect our ability to generate the funds necessary for lending operations which could increase our cost of funds.

The financial services industry could become even more competitive as a result of legislative, regulatory and technological changes and continued consolidation. Banks, securities firms and insurance companies can merge as part of a financial holding company, which can offer virtually any type of financial service, including banking, securities underwriting, insurance (both agency and underwriting) and merchant banking. Technological developments have allowed competitors, including some non-depository institutions, to compete more effectively in local markets and have expanded the range of financial products, services and capital available to our target clients. If we are unable to implement, maintain and use such technologies effectively, we may not be able to offer products or achieve cost-efficiencies necessary to compete in the industry. In addition, some of these competitors have fewer regulatory constraints and lower cost structures.

We rely on other companies to provide key components of our business infrastructure.

Third parties provide key components of our business operations such as data processing, recording and monitoring transactions, online banking interfaces and services, internet connections and network access. While we have selected these third party vendors carefully, we do not control their actions. Any problem caused by these third parties, including poor performance of services, data breaches, failure to provide services, disruptions in communication services provided by a vendor and failure to handle current or higher volumes, could adversely affect our ability to deliver products and services to our clients and otherwise conduct our business, and may harm our reputation. Financial or operational difficulties of a third party vendor could also hurt our operations if those difficulties interfere with the vendor’s ability to serve us. Replacing these third party vendors could also create significant delay and expense. Accordingly, use of such third parties creates an unavoidable inherent risk to our business operations.

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We may be adversely affected by the soundness of other financial institutions.

Financial services institutions are interrelated as a result of trading, clearing, counterparty, or other relationships. We have exposure to many different industries and counterparties, and routinely execute transactions with counterparties in the financial services industry, including commercial banks, brokers and dealers, investment banks, and other institutional clients. Many of these transactions expose us to credit risk in the event of a default by a counterparty or client. In addition, our credit risk may be exacerbated when the collateral held by the Bank cannot be realized upon or is liquidated at prices not sufficient to recover the full amount of the credit or derivative exposure due to the Bank. Any such losses could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.

We are subject to losses due to errors, omissions or fraudulent behavior by our employees, clients, counterparties or other third parties.

We are exposed to many types of operational risk, including the risk of fraud by employees and third parties, clerical recordkeeping errors and transactional errors. Our business is dependent on our employees as well as third-party service providers to process a large number of increasingly complex transactions. We could be materially and adversely affected if employees, clients, counterparties or other third parties caused an operational breakdown or failure, either as a result of human error, fraudulent manipulation or purposeful damage to any of our operations or systems.

In deciding whether to extend credit or to enter into other transactions with clients and counterparties, we may rely on information furnished to us by or on behalf of clients and counterparties, including financial statements and other financial information, which we do not independently verify. We also may rely on representations of clients and counterparties as to the accuracy and completeness of that information and, with respect to financial statements, on reports of independent auditors. For example, in deciding whether to extend credit to clients, we may assume that a client’s audited financial statements conform with GAAP and present fairly, in all material respects, the financial condition, results of operations and cash flows of the client. Our financial condition and results of operations could be negatively affected to the extent we rely on financial statements that do not comply with GAAP or are materially misleading, any of which could be caused by errors, omissions, or fraudulent behavior by our employees, clients, counterparties, or other third parties.

Our operational or security systems may experience an interruption or breach in security, including as a result of cyber-attacks.

We rely heavily on communications and information systems to conduct our business. Any failure, interruption or breach in security of these systems, including as a result of cyber-attacks, could result in failures or disruptions in our client relationship management, deposit, loan, and other systems and also the disclosure or misuse of confidential or proprietary information. While we have systems, policies and procedures designed to prevent or limit the effect of the failure, interruption or security breach of our information systems, there can be no assurance that any such failures, interruptions or security breaches will not occur or, if they do occur, that they will be adequately addressed. The occurrence of any failures, interruptions or security breaches of our information systems could damage our reputation, result in a loss of client business, subject us to additional regulatory scrutiny, or expose us to civil litigation and possible financial liability, any of which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

Furthermore, information security risks for financial institutions have generally increased in recent years in part because of the proliferation of new technologies, the use of the Internet and telecommunications technologies to conduct financial transactions, and the increased sophistication and activities of organized crime, hackers, terrorists, activists, and other external parties. Our technologies, systems, networks, and our customers’ devices may become the target of cyber-attacks or information security breaches that could result in the unauthorized release, gathering, monitoring, misuse, loss or destruction of our or our customers’ confidential, proprietary and other information, or otherwise disrupt our or our customers’ or other third parties’ business operations. As cyber threats continue to evolve, we may also be required to expend significant additional resources to continue to modify or enhance our protective measures or to investigate and remediate any information security vulnerabilities.

While we have not experienced any material losses relating to cyber-attacks or other information security breaches to date, we may suffer such losses in the future and any information security breach could result in significant costs to us, which may include fines and penalties, potential liabilities from governmental or third party investigations, proceedings or litigation, legal, forensic and consulting fees and expenses, costs and diversion of management attention required for investigation and remediation actions, and the negative impact on our reputation and loss of confidence of our customers and others, any of which could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition and operating results.

Our controls and procedures may fail or be circumvented.

We regularly review and update our internal controls, disclosure controls and procedures, and corporate governance policies and procedures. Any system of controls, 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. Any failure or circumvention of our controls and procedures or failure to comply with regulations related to controls and procedures could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.

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Failure to keep pace with technological change 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 impact on our business and, in turn, our financial condition and results of operations.

Our profitability is dependent on our banking activities.

Because we are a bank holding company, our profitability is directly attributable to the success of the Bank. Our banking activities compete with other banking institutions on the basis of products, service, convenience and price, among others. Due in part to both regulatory changes and consumer demands, banks have experienced increased competition from other entities offering similar products and services. We rely on the profitability of the Bank and dividends received from the Bank for payment of our operating expenses and satisfaction of our obligations. As is the case with other similarly situated financial institutions, our profitability will be subject to the fluctuating cost and availability of funds, changes in the prime lending rate and other interest rates, changes in economic conditions in general, and other factors.

Risks Related to Our Industry

We are subject to interest rate risk, which could adversely affect our financial condition and profitability.

A significant portion of our banking assets are subject to changes in interest rates. As of December 31, 2020, approximately 81% of our loan portfolio was in fixed rate loans, while only 19% was in variable rate loans. Like most financial institutions, our earnings significantly depend on our net interest income, the principal component of our earnings, which is the difference between interest earned by us from our interest-earning assets, such as loans and investment securities, and interest paid by us on our interest-bearing liabilities, such as deposits and borrowings. 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 will be more sensitive to changes in market interest rates than our interest-earning assets, or vice versa. In either event, if market interest rates should move contrary to our position, this “gap” will negatively impact our earnings. Many factors beyond our control impact interest rates, including economic conditions, governmental monetary policies, inflation, recession, changes in unemployment, the money supply, and disorder and instability in domestic and foreign financial markets. Changes in monetary policies of the various government agencies could influence not only the interest we receive on loans and securities and the interest we pay on deposits and borrowings, but such changes could also affect our ability to originate loans and obtain deposits, the fair value of our financial assets and liabilities, and the average duration of our assets and liabilities.

In a declining interest rate environment, there may be an increase in prepayments on loans as borrowers refinance their loans at lower rates. Interest rate increases often result in larger payment requirements for our floating interest rate borrowers, which increases the potential for default. At the same time, the marketability of the property securing a loan may be adversely affected by any reduced demand resulting from higher interest rates. An increase (or decrease) in interest rates may also require us to increase (or decrease) the interest rates that we pay on our deposits. Changes in interest rates also can affect the value of loans, securities and other assets. An increase in interest rates that adversely affects the ability of borrowers to pay the principal or interest on loans may lead to increases in nonperforming assets, charge-offs and delinquencies, further increases to the allowance for loan losses, and a reduction of income recognized, among others, which could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and cash flows. Further, when we place a loan on non-accrual status, we reverse any accrued but unpaid interest receivable, which decreases interest income. At the same time, we continue to have a cost to fund the loan, which is reflected as interest expense, without any interest income to offset the associated funding expense. Thus, an increase in the amount of nonperforming assets could have a material adverse impact on our net interest income.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FOMC cut short-term interest rates to a record low range of 0% to 0.25%, and the Federal Reserve has indicated it expects rates to remain within this range through 2023 and possibly longer. If short-term interest rates continue to remain at their historically low levels for a prolonged period and assuming longer-term interest rates fall further, we could experience net interest margin compression as our interest-earning assets would continue to reprice downward while our interest-bearing liability rates could fail to decline in tandem, which would have an adverse effect on our net interest income.

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In addition, our mortgage operations provide a portion of our noninterest income. We generate mortgage revenues primarily from gains on the sale of residential mortgage loans pursuant to programs currently offered by Fannie Mae, Ginnie Mae or Freddie Mac. In a rising or higher interest rate environment, our originations of mortgage loans may decrease, resulting in fewer loans that are available to be sold to investors, which would decrease mortgage revenues in noninterest income. In addition, our results of operations are affected by the amount of noninterest expenses associated with mortgage activities, such as salaries and employee benefits, other loan expense, and other costs. During periods of reduced loan demand, our results of operations may be adversely affected to the extent that we are unable to reduce expenses commensurate with the decline in loan originations.

Higher FDIC deposit insurance premiums and assessments could adversely affect our financial condition.

Our deposits are insured up to applicable limits by the Deposit Insurance Fund of the FDIC and are subject to deposit insurance assessments to maintain deposit insurance. As an FDIC-insured institution, we are required to pay quarterly deposit insurance premium assessments to the FDIC. Although we cannot predict what the insurance assessment rates will be in the future, either deterioration in our risk-based capital ratios or adjustments to the base assessment rates could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition, results of operations, and cash flows.

The phase-out of LIBOR could negatively impact our net interest income and require significant operational work.

The United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority, which regulates the London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”), has announced that it will not compel panel banks to contribute to LIBOR after 2021. The discontinuance of LIBOR has resulted in significant uncertainty regarding the transition to suitable alternative reference rates and could adversely impact our business, operations, and financial results.

The Federal Reserve, in conjunction with the Alternative Reference Rates Committee, a steering committee comprised of large U.S. financial institutions, has endorsed replacing the U.S. dollar LIBOR with a new index calculated by short-term repurchase agreements, backed by Treasury securities (“SOFR”). SOFR is observed and backward looking, which stands in contrast with LIBOR under the current methodology, which is an estimated forward-looking rate and relies, to some degree, on the expert judgment of submitting panel members. Given that SOFR is a secured rate backed by government securities, it will be a rate that does not take into account bank credit risk (as is the case with LIBOR). In November 2020, the federal banking agencies issued a statement that says that banks may use any reference rate for its loans that the bank determines to be appropriate for its funding model and customer needs.

We have exposure to LIBOR-based products, including loans and securities, and we are preparing to transition away from the widespread use of LIBOR to alternative rates. As of December 31, 2020, $82.7 million, or 3.9% of our loan portfolio, was tied to LIBOR. We continue to monitor market developments and regulatory updates, including recent announcements from the ICE Benchmark Administrator to extend the cessation date for several USD LIBOR tenors to June 30, 2023, as well as collaborate with regulators and industry groups on the transition. The manner and impact of this transition, as well as the effect of these developments on our funding costs, loan and investment and trading securities portfolios, asset-liability management, and business, is uncertain.

Negative public opinion surrounding the Company and the financial institutions industry generally could damage our reputation and adversely impact our earnings.

Reputation risk, or the risk to our business, earnings and capital from negative public opinion surrounding the Company and the financial institutions industry generally, is inherent in our business. Negative public opinion can result from our actual or alleged conduct in any number of activities, including lending practices, corporate governance and acquisitions, and from actions taken by government regulators and community organizations in response to those activities. Negative public opinion can adversely affect our ability to keep and attract clients and employees and can expose us to litigation and regulatory action. Although we take steps to minimize reputation risk in dealing with our clients and communities, this risk will always be present given the nature of our business.

Consumers may decide not to use banks to complete their financial transactions.

Technology and other changes are allowing parties to complete financial transactions through alternative methods that historically have involved banks. For example, consumers can now maintain funds that would have historically been held as bank deposits in brokerage accounts, mutual funds or general-purpose reloadable prepaid cards. Consumers can also complete transactions such as paying bills and/or transferring funds directly without the assistance of banks. The process of eliminating banks as intermediaries, known as “disintermediation,” could result in the loss of fee income, as well as the loss of customer deposits and the related income generated from those deposits. The loss of these revenue streams and the lower cost of deposits as a source of funds could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.

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Risks Related to Our Strategic Plans

We are dependent on key individuals and the loss of one or more of these key individuals could curtail our growth and adversely affect our prospects.

R. Arthur Seaver, Jr., our chief executive officer and Michael D. Dowling, our chief financial officer and chief operating officer, both have extensive and long-standing ties within our primary market area and substantial experience with our operations, and each has contributed significantly to our growth. If we lose the services of any of these individuals, they would be difficult to replace and our business and development could be materially and adversely affected.

Our success also depends, in part, on our continued ability to attract and retain experienced loan originators, as well as other management personnel, including other executive vice presidents. Competition for personnel is intense, and we may not be successful in attracting or retaining qualified personnel. Our failure to compete for these personnel, or the loss of the services of several of such key personnel, could adversely affect our growth strategy and materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations, and financial condition.

The success of our growth strategy depends on our ability to identify and retain individuals with experience and relationships in the markets in which we intend to expand.

To expand our franchise successfully, we must identify and retain experienced key management members with local expertise and relationships in these markets. We expect that competition for qualified management in the markets in which we may expand will be intense and that there will be a limited number of qualified persons with knowledge of and experience in the community banking industry in these markets. Even if we identify individuals that we believe could assist us in establishing a presence in a new market, we may be unable to recruit these individuals away from more established financial institutions. In addition, the process of identifying and recruiting individuals with the combination of skills and attributes required to carry out our strategy requires both management and financial resources and is often lengthy. Our inability to identify, recruit, and retain talented personnel to manage new offices effectively would limit our growth and could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition, and results of operations.

We will face risks with respect to future expansion.

We routinely evaluate opportunities to expand into new markets, as we did in Columbia, South Carolina in 2007, Charleston, South Carolina in 2012, Raleigh, North Carolina in 2017, Atlanta, Georgia in 2017, Summerville, South Carolina and Greensboro, North Carolina in 2018 and Charlotte, North Carolina in 2021. We may also expand our lines of business or offer new products or services as well as seek to acquire other financial institutions or parts of those institutions. Our merger and acquisition activities could be material and could require us to use a substantial amount of common stock, cash, other liquid assets, and/or incur debt. Moreover, these types of expansions involve various risks, including:

the time and costs of evaluating new markets, hiring or retaining experienced local management, and opening new offices and the time lags between these activities and the generation of sufficient assets and deposits to support the costs of the expansion;  

the incurrence and possible impairment of goodwill associated with an acquisition and possible adverse effects on our results of operations;   

the potential inaccuracy of the estimates and judgments used to evaluate credit, operations, management, and market risks with respect to a target institution;  

incurring the time and expense associated with identifying and evaluating potential merger or acquisition targets and other expansion opportunities and negotiating potential transactions, resulting in management’s attention being diverted from the operation of our existing business;  

the possibility that the expected benefits of a transaction may not materialize in the timeframe expected or at all, or may be costlier to achieve;  

the risk that we may be unsuccessful in attracting and retaining deposits and originating high quality loans in new markets;  

difficulty or unanticipated expense associated with converting the operating systems of an acquired or merged company into ours;  

delay in completing a merger, acquisition or other expansion activities due to litigation, closing conditions or the regulatory approval process; and  

the risk of loss of key employees and clients of the Company or the acquired or merged company.  

There is no assurance that existing branches or future branches will maintain or achieve deposit levels, loan balances or other operating results necessary to avoid losses or produce profits. Our growth may entail an increase in overhead expenses as we add new branches and staff. There are considerable costs involved in opening branches, and new branches generally do not generate sufficient revenues to offset their costs until they have been in operation for at least a year or more. Accordingly, any new branches we establish can be expected to negatively impact our earnings for some period of time until they reach certain economies of scale. Our historical results may not be indicative of future results or results that may be achieved, particularly if we continue to expand.

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Failure to successfully address these and other issues related to our expansion could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations, including short-term and long-term liquidity, and could adversely affect our ability to successfully implement our business strategy.

New lines of business or new products and services may subject us to additional risk.

From time to time, we may implement new lines of business or offer new products and services within existing lines of business. There are substantial risks and uncertainties associated with these efforts, particularly in instances where the markets are not fully developed. In developing and marketing new lines of business and/or new products and services, we may invest significant time and resources. Initial timetables for the introduction and development of new lines of business and/or new products or services may not be achieved and price and profitability targets may not prove feasible. External factors, such as compliance with regulations, competitive alternatives, and shifting market preferences, may also impact the successful implementation of a new line of business and/or a new product or service. Furthermore, any new line of business and/or new product or service could have a significant impact on the effectiveness of our system of internal controls. Failure to successfully manage these risks in the development and implementation of new lines of business and/or new products or services could have a material adverse effect on our business and, in turn, our financial condition and results of operations.

Risks Related to Our Common Stock

Our ability to pay cash dividends is limited, and we may be unable to pay future dividends even if we desire to do so.

The Federal Reserve has issued a policy statement regarding the payment of dividends by bank holding companies. In general, the Federal Reserve’s policies provide that dividends should be paid only out of current earnings and only if the prospective rate of earnings retention by the bank holding company appears consistent with the organization’s capital needs, asset quality and overall financial condition. The Federal Reserve’s policies also require that a bank holding company serve as a source of financial strength to its subsidiary banks by standing ready to use available resources to provide adequate capital funds to those banks during periods of financial stress or adversity and by maintaining the financial flexibility and capital-raising capacity to obtain additional resources for assisting its subsidiary banks where necessary. Further, under the prompt corrective action regulations, the ability of a bank holding company to pay dividends may be restricted if a subsidiary bank becomes undercapitalized. These regulatory policies could affect the ability of the Company to pay dividends or otherwise engage in capital distributions.

Statutory and regulatory limitations apply to the Bank’s payment of dividends to the Company. As a South Carolina chartered bank, the Bank is subject to limitations on the amount of dividends that it is permitted to pay. Unless otherwise instructed by the S.C. Board, the Bank is generally permitted under South Carolina state banking regulations to pay cash dividends of up to 100% of net income in any calendar year without obtaining the prior approval of the S.C. Board. The FDIC also has the authority under federal law to enjoin a bank from engaging in what in its opinion constitutes an unsafe or unsound practice in conducting its business, including the payment of a dividend under certain circumstances. If the Bank is not permitted to pay cash dividends to the Company, it is unlikely that we would be able to pay cash dividends on our common stock. Moreover, holders of our common stock are entitled to receive dividends only when, and if declared by our board of directors.

Our stock price may be volatile, which could result in losses to our investors and litigation against us.

Our stock price has been volatile in the past and several factors could cause the price to fluctuate substantially in the future. These factors include but are not limited to: actual or anticipated variations in earnings, changes in analysts’ recommendations or projections, our announcement of developments related to our businesses, operations and stock performance of other companies deemed to be peers, new technology used or services offered by traditional and non-traditional competitors, news reports of trends, irrational exuberance on the part of investors, new federal banking regulations, and other issues related to the financial services industry. Our stock price may fluctuate significantly in the future, and these fluctuations may be unrelated to our performance. General market declines or market volatility in the future, especially in the financial institutions sector, could adversely affect the price of our common stock, and the current market price may not be indicative of future market prices. Stock price volatility may make it more difficult for you to resell your common stock when you want and at prices you find attractive. Moreover, in the past, securities class action lawsuits have been instituted against some companies following periods of volatility in the market price of its securities. We could in the future be the target of similar litigation. Securities litigation could result in substantial costs and divert management’s attention and resources from our normal business.

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Future sales of our stock by our shareholders or the perception that those sales could occur may cause our stock price to decline.

Although our common stock is listed for trading on The NASDAQ Global Market, the trading volume in our common stock is lower 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 relatively low trading volume of our common stock, significant sales of our common stock in the public market, or the perception that those sales may occur, could cause the trading price of our common stock to decline or to be lower than it otherwise might be in the absence of those sales or perceptions.

Economic and other circumstances may require us to raise capital at times or in amounts that are unfavorable to us. If we have to issue shares of common stock, they will dilute the percentage ownership interest of existing shareholders and may dilute the book value per share of our common stock and adversely affect the terms on which we may obtain additional capital.

We may need to incur additional debt or equity financing in the future to make strategic acquisitions or investments or to strengthen our capital position. Our ability to raise additional capital, if needed, will depend on, among other things, conditions in the capital markets at that time, which are outside of our control and our financial performance. We cannot provide assurance that such financing will be available to us on acceptable terms or at all, or if we do raise additional capital that it will not be dilutive to existing shareholders.

If we determine, for any reason, that we need to raise capital, subject to applicable NASDAQ rules, our board generally has the authority, without action by or vote of the shareholders, to issue all or part of any authorized but unissued shares of stock for any corporate purpose, including issuance of equity-based incentives under or outside of our equity compensation plans. Additionally, we are not restricted from issuing additional common stock or preferred stock, including any securities that are convertible into or exchangeable for, or that represent the right to receive, common stock or preferred stock or any substantially similar securities. The market price of our common stock could decline as a result of sales by us of a large number of shares of common stock or preferred stock or similar securities in the market or from the perception that such sales could occur. If we issue preferred stock that has a preference over the common stock with respect to the payment of dividends or upon liquidation, dissolution or winding-up, or if we issue preferred stock with voting rights that dilute the voting power of the common stock, the rights of holders of the common stock or the market price of our common stock could be adversely affected. Any issuance of additional shares of stock will dilute the percentage ownership interest of our shareholders and may dilute the book value per share of our common stock. Shares we issue in connection with any such offering will increase the total number of shares and may dilute the economic and voting ownership interest of our existing shareholders.

Provisions of our articles of incorporation and bylaws, South Carolina law, and state and federal banking regulations, could delay or prevent a takeover by a third party.

Our articles of incorporation and bylaws could delay, defer, or prevent a third party takeover, despite possible benefit to the shareholders, or otherwise adversely affect the price of our common stock. Our governing documents:

authorize a class of preferred stock that may be issued in series with terms, including voting rights, established by the board of directors without shareholder approval;  

authorize 10,000,000 shares of common stock and 10,000,000 shares of preferred stock that may be issued by the board of directors without shareholder approval;  

classify our board with staggered three year terms, preventing a change in a majority of the board at any annual meeting;  

require advance notice of proposed nominations for election to the board of directors and business to be conducted at a shareholder meeting;  

grant the board of directors the discretion, when considering whether a proposed merger or similar transaction is in the best interests of the Company and our shareholders, to take into account the effect of the transaction on the employees, clients and suppliers of the Company and upon the communities in which offices of the Company are located, to the extent permitted by South Carolina law;

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provide that the number of directors shall be fixed from time to time by resolution adopted by a majority of the directors then in office, but may not consist of fewer than five nor more than 25 members; and  

provide that no individual who is or becomes a "business competitor" or who is or becomes affiliated with, employed by, or a representative of any individual, corporation, or other entity which the board of directors, after having such matter formally brought to its attention, determines to be in competition with us or any of our subsidiaries (any such individual, corporation, or other entity being a "business competitor") shall be eligible to serve as a director if the board of directors determines that it would not be in our best interests for such individual to serve as a director (any financial institution having branches or affiliates within Greenville County, South Carolina is presumed to be a business competitor unless the board of directors determines otherwise).  

In addition, the South Carolina business combinations statute provides that a 10% or greater shareholder of a resident domestic corporation cannot engage in a "business combination" (as defined in the statute) with such corporation for a period of two years following the date on which the 10% shareholder became such, unless the business combination or the acquisition of shares is approved by a majority of the disinterested members of such corporation's board of directors before the 10% shareholder's share acquisition date. This statute further provides that at no time (even after the two-year period subsequent to such share acquisition date) may the 10% shareholder engage in a business combination with the relevant corporation unless certain approvals of the board of directors or disinterested shareholders are obtained or unless the consideration given in the combination meets certain minimum standards set forth in the statute. The law is very broad in its scope and is designed to inhibit unfriendly acquisitions but it does not apply to corporations whose articles of incorporation contain a provision electing not to be covered by the law. Our articles of incorporation do not contain such a provision. An amendment of our articles of incorporation to that effect would, however, permit a business combination with an interested shareholder even though that status was obtained prior to the amendment.

Finally, the Change in Bank Control Act and the Bank Holding Company Act generally require filings and approvals prior to certain transactions that would result in a party acquiring control of the Company or the Bank.

Our common stock is not an insured deposit and is not guaranteed by the FDIC.

Shares of our common stock are not a bank deposit and, therefore, losses in value are not insured by the FDIC, any other deposit insurance fund or by any other public or private entity. Investment in shares of our common stock is inherently risky for the reasons described herein and our shareholders will bear the risk of loss if the value or market price of our common stock is adversely affected.

General Risk Factors

We may be subject to claims and litigation asserting lender liability.

From time to time, clients and others make claims and take legal action pertaining to our performance of fiduciary responsibilities. These claims are often referred to as “lender liability” claims and are sometimes brought in an effort to produce or increase leverage against us in workout negotiations or debt collection proceedings. Lender liability claims frequently assert one or more of the following allegations: breach of fiduciary duties, fraud, economic duress, breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and similar claims. Whether customer claims and legal action related to the performance of our responsibilities are founded or unfounded, if such claims and legal actions are not resolved in a favorable manner, they may result in significant financial liability and/or adversely affect our market reputation, products and services, as well as potentially affecting customer demand for those products and services. Any financial liability or reputation damage could have a material adverse effect on our business, which, in turn, could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations and liquidity.

From time to time we are, or may become, involved in suits, legal proceedings, information-gatherings, investigations and proceedings by governmental and self-regulatory agencies that may lead to adverse consequences.

Many aspects of the banking business involve a substantial risk of legal liability. From time to time, we are, or may become, the subject of information-gathering requests, reviews, investigations and proceedings, and other forms of regulatory inquiry, including by bank regulatory agencies, self-regulatory agencies, the SEC and law enforcement authorities. The results of such proceedings could lead to significant civil or criminal penalties, including monetary penalties, damages, adverse judgements, settlements, fines, injunctions, restrictions on the way we conduct our business or reputational harm.

Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments.

None.

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Item 2. Properties.

Our principal executive offices and the Bank's main office is located at 100 Verdae Boulevard, Suite 100, Greenville, South Carolina 29607. In addition, we currently operate seven additional offices located in Greenville, Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina, one office in Raleigh, North Carolina, one office in Greensboro, North Carolina, and one office in Atlanta, Georgia. We recently received regulatory approval to open a retail office in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well. We lease six of our offices and own the remaining five locations. During the fourth quarter of 2020, we consolidated our three Columbia, South Carolina locations into one and subsequently sold the two remaining offices. In addition, the Company owns a piece of property in Greenville, South Carolina on which it is currently constructing a new bank headquarters. Management believes the terms of the various leases are consistent with market standards and were arrived at through arm's-length bargaining.

Item 3. Legal Proceedings.

In the ordinary course of operations, we may be a party to various legal proceedings from time to time. We do not believe that there is any pending or threatened proceeding against us, which, if determined adversely, would have a material effect on our business, results of operations, or financial condition.

Item 4. Mine Safety Disclosures.

None.

PART II

Item 5. Market for Common Equity, Related Shareholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities.

Market Information and Holders of Record

Our common stock is currently traded on the NASDAQ Global Market under the symbol “SFST.” We had approximately 2,600 shareholders of record on February 10, 2021.

Dividends

We have not declared or paid any cash dividends on our common stock since our inception. For the foreseeable future, we do not intend to declare cash dividends. We intend to retain earnings to grow our business and strengthen our capital base. Our ability to pay cash dividends depends primarily on the ability of our subsidiary, the Bank to pay dividends to us. As a South Carolina chartered bank, the Bank is subject to limitations on the amount of dividends that it is permitted to pay. Unless otherwise instructed by the S.C. Board, the Bank is generally permitted under South Carolina state banking regulations to pay cash dividends of up to 100% of net income in any calendar year without obtaining the prior approval of the S.C. Board. The FDIC also has the authority under federal law to enjoin a bank from engaging in what in its opinion constitutes an unsafe or unsound practice in conducting its business, including the payment of a dividend under certain circumstances.

Equity Compensation Plan Information

The following table sets forth equity compensation plan information at December 31, 2020. The number of shares and the exercise prices for options have been adjusted for the 10% stock dividends in 2006, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

 

Plan Category

Number of securities

to be issued upon

exercise of

outstanding options,

warrants and rights (a)

Weighted-average

exercise price of

outstanding options,

warrants and rights (b)

Number of securities

remaining available for

future issuance under

equity compensation

plans (c) (excluding

securities reflected in

column(a))

Equity compensation plans approved by security holders

2010 Stock Incentive Plan – options

226,585

$

21.49

-

2016 Equity Incentive Plan – options

268,610

37.05

123,827

2016 Equity Incentive Plan – restricted stock

-

-

25,524

2020 Equity Incentive Plan

-

-

450,000

Total

495,195

$

29.93

599,351

 

(1)

Under the terms of the 2010 Plan no further incentive stock option awards may be granted, effective March 16, 2020; however, the Plan will remain in effect until all awards have been exercised or forfeited and we determine to terminate the Plan.

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Stock Performance Graph

The performance graph below compares the Company’s cumulative total return over the most recent five-year period with the SNL Southeast Bank Index, a banking industry performance index for the southeastern United States, and the Russell 2000 Index, a small-cap stock market index which the Company was added to in June 201z6. Returns are shown on a total return basis, assuming the reinvestment of dividends and a beginning stock index value of $100 per share.

image provided by client

 

Period Ending

12/31/2015

12/31/2016

12/31/2017

12/31/2018

12/31/2019

12/31/2020

Southern First Bancshares

100.00

158.59

181.72

141.28

187.18

155.73

SNL Southeast Bank Index

100.00

132.75

164.21

135.67

191.06

172.07

Russell 2000 Index

100.00

121.31

139.08

123.76

155.35

186.36

On March 11, 2020, the Company announced a share repurchase plan allowing us to repurchase up to 383,650 shares of our common stock (the “Repurchase Plan”). As of December 31, 2020, we have not repurchased any of the shares authorized for repurchase under the Repurchase Plan. The Company is not obligated to purchase any such shares under the Repurchase Plan, and the Repurchase Plan may be discontinued, suspended or restarted at any time; however, repurchases under the Repurchase Plan after December 31, 2020 would require additional approval of our Board of Directors and the Federal Reserve.

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The following table reflects share repurchase activity during the fourth quarter of 2020:

(d) Maximum

(c) Total

Number (or

Number of

Approximate

Shares (or

Dollar Value) of

Units)

Shares (or

(a) Total

Purchased as

Units) that May

Number of

Part of Publicly

Yet Be

Shares (or

(b) Average

Announced

Purchased

Units)

Price Paid per

Plans or

Under the Plans

Period

Purchased

Share (or Unit)

Programs

or Programs

 

October 1 – October 31

-

$

-

-

383,650

November 1 – November 30

-

-

-

383,650

December 1 – December 31

-

-

-

383,650

Total

-

-

383,650

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Item 6. Selected Financial Data

The following table sets forth our selected historical consolidated financial information for the periods and as of the dates indicated. We derived our balance sheet and income statement data for the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2016 from our audited consolidated financial statements. You should read this information together with “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” and our audited consolidated financial statements and the related notes thereto, which are included elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

 

Years Ended December 31,

(dollars in thousands, except per share data)

2020

2019

2018

2017

2016

BALANCE SHEET DATA

Total assets

$

2,482,587

$

2,267,195

$

1,900,614

$

1,624,625

$

1,340,908

Investment securities

98,364

74,642

79,026

72,065

70,222

Loans (1)

2,142,867

1,943,525

1,677,332

1,387,070

1,163,644

Allowance for loan losses

44,149

16,642

15,762

15,523

14,855

Deposits

2,142,758

1,876,124

1,648,136

1,381,123

1,091,151

FHLB advances and other borrowings

25,000

110,000

50,000

67,200

115,200

Subordinated debentures

35,998

35,890

13,403

13,403

13,403

Common equity

228,294

205,860

173,916

149,686

109,872

Preferred stock

-

-

-

-

-

Shareholders’ equity

228,294

205,860

173,916

149,686

109,872

SELECTED RESULTS OF OPERATIONS DATA

Interest income

$

94,818

$

92,652

$

76,657

$

61,209

$

51,191

Interest expense

15,008

25,383

16,505

10,333

8,192

Net interest income

79,810

67,269

60,152

50,876

42,999

Provision for loan losses

29,600

2,300

1,900

2,000

2,300

Net interest income after provision for loan losses

50,210

64,969

58,252

48,876

40,699

Noninterest income

27,353

14,983

10,201

9,337

10,846

Noninterest expenses

53,744

44,473

39,763

34,552

31,176

Income before income tax expense

23,819

35,479

28,690

23,661

20,369

Income tax expense

5,491

7,621

6,401

10,616

7,333

Net income

18,328

27,858

22,289

13,045

13,036

Preferred stock dividends

-

-

-

-

-

Net income available to common shareholders

$

18,328

$

27,858

$

22,289

$

13,045

$

13,036

PER COMMON SHARE DATA

Basic

$

2.37

$

3.70

$

3.02

$

1.86

$

2.06

Diluted

2.34

3.58

2.88

1.76

1.94

Book value

29.37

26.83

23.29

20.37

17.00

Weighted average number of common shares outstanding:

Basic, in thousands

7,719

7,528

7,384

7,006

6,318

Diluted, in thousands

7,824

7,773

7,737

7,393

6,721

SELECTED FINANCIAL RATIOS

Performance Ratios:

Return on average assets

0.76

%

1.35%

1.27%

0.87%

1.04%

Return on average equity

8.49

%

14.72%

13.83%

9.66%

12.73%

Return on average common equity

8.49

%

14.72%

13.83%

9.66%

12.73%

Net interest margin, tax equivalent(2)

3.55

%

3.43%

3.58%

3.57%

3.63%

Efficiency ratio (3)

50.15

%

54.07%

56.52%

57.38%

57.90%

Asset Quality Ratios:

Nonperforming assets to total loans (1)

0.43

%

0.35%

0.35%

0.54%

0.53%

Nonperforming assets to total assets

0.37

%

0.30%

0.31%

0.46%

0.46%

Net charge-offs to average total loans

0.10

%

0.08%

0.11%

0.10%

0.10%

Allowance for loan losses to nonperforming loans

547.14

%

244.95%

270.36%

212.60%

270.95%

Allowance for loan losses to total loans

2.06

%

0.86%

0.94%

1.12%

1.28%

Holding Company Capital Ratios:

Total risk-based capital ratio

14.38

%

13.73%

12.49%

13.27%

12.11%

Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio

11.97

%

11.63%

11.53%

12.11%

10.86%

Leverage ratio

9.70

%

10.10%

10.14%

10.26%

9.42%

Common equity tier 1 ratio(4)

11.32

%

10.94%

10.73%

11.15%

9.71%

Tangible common equity(5)

9.20

%

9.08%

9.15%

9.21%

8.19%

Growth Ratios:

Change in assets

9.50

%

19.29%

16.99%

21.16%

10.15%

Change in loans

10.26

%

15.87%

20.93%

19.20%

15.79%

Change in deposits

14.21

%

13.83%

19.33%

26.57%

10.69%

Change in net income to common shareholders

-34.21

%

24.99%

70.86%

0.07%

28.22%

Change in earnings per common share - diluted

-34.64

%

24.31%

63.64%

-9.28%

25.16%

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Footnotes to table:

(1)

Excludes loans held for sale.

(2)

The tax-equivalent adjustment to net interest income adjusts the yield for assets earning tax-exempt income to a comparable yield on a taxable basis.

(3)

Noninterest expense divided by the sum of net interest income and noninterest income.

(4)

The common equity tier 1 ratio is calculated as the sum of common equity divided by risk-weighted assets.

(5)

The common equity ratio is calculated as total equity less preferred stock divided by total assets.

Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

The following discussion and analysis identifies significant factors that have affected our financial position and operating results during the periods included in the accompanying financial statements. We encourage you to read this discussion and analysis in conjunction with the financial statements and the related notes and the other statistical information also included in this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

OVERVIEW

Our business model continues to be client-focused, utilizing relationship teams to provide our clients with a specific banker contact and support team responsible for all of their banking needs. The purpose of this structure is to provide a consistent and superior level of professional service, and we believe it provides us with a distinct competitive advantage. We consider exceptional client service to be a critical part of our culture, which we refer to as "ClientFIRST."

At December 31, 2020, we had total assets of $2.48 billion, a 9.5% increase from total assets of $2.27 billion at December 31, 2019. The largest components of our total assets are loans which were $2.14 billion and $1.94 billion at December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively. Our liabilities and shareholders’ equity at December 31, 2020 totaled $2.25 billion and $228.3 million, respectively, compared to liabilities of $2.06 billion and shareholders’ equity of $205.9 million at December 31, 2019. The principal component of our liabilities is deposits which were $2.14 billion and $1.88 billion at December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively.

Like most community banks, we derive the majority of our income from interest received on our loans and investments. Our primary source of funds for making these loans and investments is our deposits, on which we pay interest. Consequently, one of the key measures of our success is our amount of net interest income, or the difference between the income on our interest-earning assets, such as loans and investments, and the expense on our interest-bearing liabilities, such as deposits and borrowings. Another key measure is the difference between the yield we earn on these interest-earning assets and the rate we pay on our interest-bearing liabilities, which is called our net interest spread. In addition to earning interest on our loans and investments, we earn income through fees and other charges to our clients.

Our net income available to common shareholders for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019 was $18.3 million and $27.9 million, or diluted earnings per share (“EPS”) of $2.34 and $3.58 for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively. The decrease in net income resulted primarily from increases in our provision for loan loss and noninterest expense, partially offset by an increase in net interest income and noninterest income. In addition, our net income available to shareholders was $22.3 million, or EPS of $2.88 for the year ended December 31, 2018.

COVID-19 PANDEMIC

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create extensive disruptions to the global economy and financial markets and to businesses and the lives of individuals throughout the world. In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely restricted the level of economic activity in our markets. Federal and state governments have taken, and may continue to take, unprecedented actions to contain the spread of the disease, including quarantines, travel bans, shelter-in-place orders, closures of businesses and schools, fiscal stimulus, and legislation designed to deliver monetary aid and other relief to businesses and individuals impacted by the pandemic. Although in various locations certain activity restrictions have been relaxed and businesses and schools have reopened with some level of success, in many states and localities the number of individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 has increased significantly, which may cause a freezing or, in certain cases, a reversal of previously announced relaxation of activity restrictions and may prompt the need for additional aid and other forms of relief.

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The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is fluid and continues to evolve, adversely affecting many of the Bank’s clients. The unprecedented and rapid spread of COVID-19 and its associated impacts on trade (including supply chains and export levels), travel, employee productivity, unemployment, consumer spending, and other economic activities has resulted in less economic activity, lower equity market valuations and significant volatility and disruption in financial markets. In addition, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, market interest rates have declined significantly, with the 10-year Treasury bond falling below 1.00% on March 3, 2020, for the first time, although bond yields have recently begun to rise, nearing where they were before the pandemic in February 2020. In March 2020, the Federal Open Market Committee reduced the targeted federal funds interest rate range to 0% to 0.25%. These reductions in interest rates and the other effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have had, and are expected to continue to have, possibly materially, an adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. For instance, the pandemic has had negative effects on the Bank’s interest income, provision for loan losses, and certain transaction-based line items of noninterest income. The ultimate extent of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our business, financial condition and results of operations is currently uncertain and will depend on various developments and other factors, including, the effect of governmental and private sector initiatives, the effect of the recent rollout of vaccinations for the virus, whether such vaccinations will be effective against any resurgence of the virus, including any new strains, and the ability for customers and businesses to return to their pre-pandemic routine.

Our business, financial condition and results of operations generally rely upon the ability of our borrowers to repay their loans, the value of collateral underlying our secured loans, and demand for loans and other products and services we offer, which are highly dependent on the business environment in our primary markets where we operate and in the United States as a whole.

As we progress through the pandemic, the majority of our team has returned to working in the office at this time; however, we maintain the ability to shift to working remotely as needed. Our offices continue to operate in a drive-thru only mode with “in-person” client meetings available by appointment to maintain the safety of our team and our clients. We believe this strategy, combined with our digital technology, has been extremely effective in serving our clients, and allowed us to consolidate our three Columbia, South Carolina offices into one location. The sale of our two Columbia office buildings was completed on October 9, 2020.

We are focused on servicing the financial needs of our commercial and consumer clients and have offered flexible loan payment arrangements, including short-term loan modifications or forbearance payments, and reduced or waived certain fees on deposit accounts. We continue to assist clients with these accommodations on a case by case basis. Future governmental actions may require these and other types of client-related responses. In response to the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”), established under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, we became a small business administration approved lender in an effort to assist our clients through this challenging time. In 2020, we processed 853 loans under the PPP for a total of $97.5 million, receiving lender fee income of $3.9 million. As the regulations and guidance for PPP loans and the forgiveness process continued to change and evolve, management recognized the operational risk and complexity associated with this portfolio and decided to pursue the sale of the PPP loan portfolio to a third party better suited to support and serve our PPP clients through the loan forgiveness process. We believe this loan sale allowed our team to focus on serving our clients and proactively monitoring and addressing credit risk brought on by the pandemic. On June 26, 2020, we completed the sale of our PPP loan portfolio to The Loan Source Inc., together with its servicing partner, ACAP SME LLC, and immediately recognized SBA lender fee income of $2.2 million, net of sale and processing costs, which is included in other noninterest income in the consolidated financial statements.

Through December 31, 2020, we had granted deferrals on loan payments for 864 loans, with aggregate outstanding loan principal balances of approximately $599.6 million as of December 31, 2020, of which 91% were commercial loans. As of December 31, 2020, 98% of these loans have reached the end of their deferral period and have begun to resume normal payments.

The table below provides a breakdown of loan modification requests due to the COVID-19 pandemic by type of concession. At December 31, 2020, there were two modified loan totaling $13.5 million with a remaining deferral period.

December 31, 2020

(dollars in thousands)

# Loans

Amount

% of Total Portfolio

Payment deferrals

590

$

452,897

21.1

%

Interest only

265

143,596

6.7

%

Financial difficulty (TDR)

9

3,154

0.1

%

864

$

599,647

27.9

%

In accordance with the CARES Act, the Company implemented loan modification programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Company elected the accounting policy in the CARES Act to not apply TDR accounting to loans modified for borrowers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Company granted short-term loan deferrals to six client relationships, with loans totaling $3.2 million at December 31, 2020, which were considered TDRs due to the client experiencing financial difficulty before the pandemic. In certain cases, we have made a second three-month deferral to our clients based on individual circumstances for the borrower.

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As we closely monitor credit risk and our exposure to increased loan losses resulting from the impact of COVID-19 on our commercial clients, we have identified two industries considered to be at higher risk for credit loss. The table below identifies the outstanding and committed loan balances for each of these industries. Of the $61.5 million of loans modified in these industries as of December 31, 2020, 78% have begun to resume normal payments.

 

December 31, 2020

(dollars in thousands)

# Loans

Balance Outstanding

% of Total Loans Outstanding

Total Modified Balance

% Modified

Deferral Complete

% Deferral Complete

% Past Due 30 Days or More

% on Nonaccrual

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