While it may have been an unusual sight to see a bank doing business on a federal holiday, Optus Bank had a purpose for opening its doors on Monday.
As crowds celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. a block away at the S.C. Statehouse, folks filled the bank's lobby at 1241 Main St., mingling amid hot chocolate and coffee in support of both the business and its goals.
"This is arguably one of the most important banks I can think of," said Kat Taylor, co-founder and CEO of Oakland, Calif.-based Beneficial State Bank and wife of Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer.
Taylor was in town to support longtime friend Dominik Mjartan, president and CEO of Optus Bank, which is finalizing its name change and transition to its Main Street office. Founded in 1921 as Victory Savings Bank, the first black-owned bank in South Carolina, the institution was known as S.C. Community Bank from 1999 until its relaunch as Optus last year.
With the new name and relocation from the corner of Sumter and Taylor streets have come new fortunes. The bank's total assets increased from a low of $47.8 million in September 2017 to $72 million as of December 2019, Mjartan said, while net loans have grown from a low of $28.75 million to $48 million. Deposits have increased from a low of $41.5 million to $64 million, while nonperforming assets have decreased from $4.3 million to $1.36 million.
In light of these upward trends, the bank was removed from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s troubled bank list in March 2018. But the number Mjartan, who became the bank's CEO in September 2017, points to with the most pride is this: Nearly 90% of Optus' loans are invested in low-income communities or minority businesses or homes.
That's the figure Taylor, along with state leaders including U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, highlighted Monday, with King's legacy a top-of-mind topic.
"We need banks to come back to Main Street and support our communities, because that's where they're getting their deposit funding from," said Taylor, who first met Mjartan during his 12 years with Arkansas-based Southern Bancorp. "Banks are quasi-public, and they should serve the public interest."
Jennifer Clyburn Reed, a Columbia businesswoman, the director of USC's Center for the Education and Equity of African American Students and Clyburn's daughter, said Optus has helped her do just that. One of the businesses Reed runs with her husband, a real estate company...