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Bank failures in Southwest Florida according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.:
■ Riverside Bank of the Gulf Coast, Cape Coral
Failed: Feb. 13
Acquired by: TIB Bank
■ Partners Bank, Naples
Failed: Oct. 23
Acquired by: Stonegate Bank
■ Hillcrest Bank Florida, Naples
Failed: Oct. 23
Acquired by: Stonegate Bank
■ Orion Bank, Naples
Failed: Nov. 13
Acquired by: IberiaBank
■ Commerce Bank of Southwest Florida, Fort Myers
Failed: Nov. 20
Acquired by: Central Bank
■ Florida Community Bank, Immokalee
Failed: Jan. 29
Acquired by: Premier American Bank, N.A.
■ Marco Community Bank, Marco Island
Failed: Feb. 19
Acquired by: Mutual of Omaha Bank
■ Bank of Florida - Southwest, Naples
Failed: May 28
Acquired by: EverBank
In 2011: none
■ The Royal Palm Bank of Florida, Naples
Failed: July 20
Acquired by: First National Bank of the Gulf Coast
NAPLES — In four years, state and federal regulators have shut down nine troubled banks in Lee and Collier counties.
But most of those failures happened in 2009 and 2010. There were none in 2011, while in 2012 regulators shuttered one — The Royal Palm Bank of Florida in Naples.
Now, there are just two community banks headquartered in Collier County. Lee has six active local banks, according to the Florida Office of Financial Regulation.
Local bankers are optimistic about 2013, with the region's economy continuing to heal. It appears the worst is over, with unemployment falling and real estate picking up.
"The banks here that have weathered the storm are stronger — and weaker banks have left the market whether by selling to another bank or they have failed," said Thomas Ray, CEO and president of Encore National Bank. "Our banks, locally, are well-positioned to support the economy."
In 2012, bank failures slowed statewide and nationally. There were 51 in the U.S., down from 92 in 2011. But the fallout from the financial crisis continues.
On Monday, Encore, based in Port Charlotte, announced its purchase of two distressed Southwest Florida offices of Liberty Bank, headquartered in Iowa. The acquired offices are in Bonita Springs and North Naples. They once operated under a separate state charter, but the Naples bank, Liberty Bank Florida, became troubled — and then merged with its larger sister bank in 2010 after catching the eye of regulators for its "unsafe and unsound practices."
Encore has other offices in Naples, Fort Myers, Port Charlotte and Sun City Center, Fla. With the purchase of Liberty Bank's two offices, Encore assumed another $80 million in deposits and acquired about $17 million in loans.
The likelihood of another wave of bank failures in Southwest Florida has eased in part because there are fewer local banks around, Ray said.
In 2009, five banks failed in Lee and Collier counties. Regulators swept in and closed another three in 2010.
One of the more high-profile failures in Naples was Orion Bank. The bank's former boss, Jerry Williams, and three other men went to prison for their involvement in a scheme designed to make the failing bank appear in better financial shape than it was so regulators wouldn't shut it down. The bank failed in November 2009.
Minnesota-based Central Bank acquired the troubled Bank of Naples in July as the local bank appeared to be headed for failure after losing more than $30 million since 2007. Most of the losses were blamed on problem loans the local bank suffered after Southwest Florida's real estate market collapsed.
In late 2009, Central Bank also took over the failed Commerce Bank of Southwest Florida in Fort Myers.
The latest bank failure in Lee and Collier counties came in late July, when regulators shut down Royal Palm. First National Bank of the Gulf Coast, headquartered in Naples, acquired the community bank's three branches and took over most of its assets.
After several years of losses, First National — which opened in late 2009 — has been profitable this year. Through the third quarter, the bank had earned $791,000, according to its call report filed with regulators.
"This year we obtained reoccurring core profitability. That's opposed to being profitable because of one-time gains," said Florida Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, and First National's president.
"We've had a lot of loan activity, a significant amount of loan growth," said Gary Tice, the bank's chairman and CEO.
Tice sees opportunities for growth in the banking world in Southwest Florida, but said much will depend on what actions the federal government takes on the national debt and tax front, which could deter home-purchasing decisions and hurt local businesses.
"There are issues that we don't control, but Florida because of its low taxes could be a beneficiary of the actions taken by the U.S. government and other states. That is just my belief," Tice said.
Richter believes the state will see more bank failures in 2013.
"There are still some banks in the state of Florida that are dealing with nonperforming assets and challenged capital ratios," he said. "The lion's share is probably behind us ... But it's not really over."
Colleen Kvetko, president and CEO of Shamrock Bank of Florida in Naples, said big banks are recovering faster in part because they're able to offer more fee-based products and services and their volume of business is so much greater.
"Community banks are seeing light at the end of the tunnel," she said. "We just have a longer way to go, versus the big banks. The big banks definitely have an advantage."
Her bank is still dealing with bad loans, though its core earnings have improved this year, she said.
Through Sept. 30, the bank had lost nearly $1.8 million this year, after making large loan write-offs in the second quarter, according to its call report filed with regulators.
At Shamrock, the mortgage business has been good, mostly fueled by the lower interest rates, she said.
A few months ago, Shamrock opened a long-awaited bank branch in the town of Ave Maria, in eastern Collier County. She expects to see more lending opportunities, especially for homes.
"I think it's going to be a great season for everybody, not just for retail, but for banks and for restaurants, and especially for real estate," Kvetko said. "There is a lot of cash out there waiting. A lot of people are just waiting to make that move, either to buy a second home or to sell their current home and upgrade to the next level."