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TAMPA BANK PLACED UNDER TIGHT CONTROL

Among the bank's promises are to control the level of problem loans.

Federal and state regulators are imposing tight restrictions on Century Bank of Florida in an effort to keep the Tampa institution financially sound.

Century chief executive Jose Vivero signed an administrative agreement with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and the Florida Office of Financial Regulation, that was effective Aug. 25, that gives regulators wide control over banking decisions.

Among other promises, the bank has agreed to hire an independent consultant acceptable to regulators within 30 days and submit a plan to strengthen board oversight within 60 days. Century agreed to better control the level of problem loans, improve its underwriting standards and get approval before it extends credit to any borrower deemed as "doubtful" or "substandard."

In an interview Thursday, Vivero said his bank already has corrected many of the problems cited by regulators, but he acknowledged the credit crisis has taken a toll. "We're having some credit issues like many of the banks," he said. "Many of our customers are feeling the impact of the downturn. ... We went through the residential (real estate) crisis, and now we're facing the commercial loan crisis."

Based on conversations with other area bankers, Vivero expects regulators will be spending a lot of time in the state in coming months. "By the end of 2009 or beginning of 2010, I think half of the banks in Florida are going to be under some form of regulatory agreement," he said.

One other Tampa institution, First Commercial Bank of Tampa Bay, has been operating under a regulatory consent order to shore up its finances.

Florida-based ratings agency Bauer Financial recently said the roster of severely troubled Florida banks, which it calls zero-stars, has nearly doubled to 40. But Century Bank wasn't on that worst-of-the-worst list. In Bauer's second-quarter report, Century rated three stars, or "adequate." (An unaffiliated institution called Century Bank in Sarasota is a zero-star bank.)

Century Bank of Florida, which has $80 million in assets and $67 million in deposits, has a single branch/headquarters location: 716 W Fletcher Ave. in Tampa.

Existing shareholders plan to infuse about $3 million in additional capital into the bank, Vivero said.

Vivero also applauded regulators for being aggressive in scrutinizing banks, though he described their motives as reactionary.

"The regulators are responding to the criticism that they have failed to head off the financial crisis," he said. "In our opinion, they should have been doing this several years ago."

Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8242.

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