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Banking & Finance

Dogwood Bank Eyes growth With Merger

By Jenny Callison, posted Mar 1, 2024
Dogwood State Bank, which maintains a branch in Wilmington, announced Feb. 1 that it has signed a definitive merger agreement to acquire Community First Bank, based in Seneca, South Carolina. 

If regulators approve the transaction, the resulting financial institution – which will continue as Dogwood State Bank – will have assets of about $2.2 billion.

In addition to its Wilmington office, Raleigh-based Dogwood has branches in Charlotte, Sanford, Fayetteville, Morehead City and Greenville, North Carolina, as well as loan production offices in Charleston and Greenville, South Carolina. 

Community First maintains seven full-service financial centers in upstate South Carolina, three in North Carolina and two in Tennessee. 

The merger is a good geographic match, according to Mark Johnson, Dogwood’s Wilmington market executive.

“We’ve been dipping our toes into that [South Carolina] market; it’s been on our radar for a while,” he said. “The merger fills out our footprint nicely, with Charlotte and a couple of locations in Tennessee.”

The merger is good for both institutions, said Dogwood President and CEO Steve Jones.

“It gives us a bigger balance sheet,” he said. “We’ll have more capital to lend, and it increases our legal lending limit. Most importantly, Community First Bank has great consumer lending delivery, which will give Dogwood greater consumer lending and deposit abilities.”

Since its re-establishment under new leadership in 2019, Dogwood State Bank has focused more on commercial banking rather than consumer banking, Jones said.

“We have only one branch in each of our markets, so it’s hard to have consumer banking on anything but a limited basis,” he said, adding that Community First, with its emphasis on consumer deposits and consumer lending, will help Dogwood “dive deeper into the consumer side.” 

For its part, Dogwood has developed a technology platform that will benefit Community First customers when the two banks merge. 

“We have focused on online banking for businesses; they don’t have that,” he said of Community First Bank. “It’s a great marriage. They have been around more than 25 years in their markets, so when we put both [banks] together, one and one equals three.” 

Community First Bank’s president and CEO echoed the merger’s prospective benefits in the announcement. 

While the bank has been successful in its markets, Richard Burleson said, “To continue growing, to provide cutting-edge technology and to become more profitable, we need a partner who can provide us the opportunity to better serve our customers with a much larger balance sheet, enhanced technology and expanded products and services.”

The directors of both financial institutions have approved the merger agreement. The transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2024, subject to shareholder and regulatory approvals.
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