Stonegate Bank agrees to handle Cuba's banking services
By Donna Gehrke-White and Doreen Hemlock
Stonegate Bank in Pompano Beach has agreed to open an account for the
Cuban government, a move that could speed renewal of diplomatic
relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
Stonegate executives agreed to provide banking services to Cuba at the
request of the U.S. State Department, a source told the Sun Sentinel.
Dave Seleski, president and CEO of Stonegate, was not available for
comment Wednesday, but he met recently with Cuban officials.
Bank spokeswoman Suzanne N. Schmidt said, "Stonegate Bank is not able to
comment at this time."
Stonegate Bank CEO David Seleski (Amy Beth Bennett, Sun Sentinel)
Cuba's government offices in the U.S. have been without a U.S. bank for
more than one year after its previous banker, M&T Bank of Buffalo, N.Y.,
stopped handling accounts for foreign governments. That meant that visas
at Cuba's Washington office had to be paid in cash, for example.
Other U.S. banks had not opened an account for Cuba, concerned about
compliance hurdles under the U.S. embargo against the communist-led nation.
But times are changing, now that the Obama administration on Dec. 17
began a new policy of engagement with Cuba that aims to renew diplomatic
relations after a half-century of hostilities.
Obama's push includes the removal of Cuba from Washington's list of
state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that expires May 29.
Josefina Vidal, a Cuban diplomat leading her country's talks with the
U.S., has said that finding a U.S. bank was vital to restoring normal
relations between the two countries. Without a bank, Cuba was unable to
process government transactions in the U.S. such as payments for visas,
passports and consular services.
"It would be almost impossible to open a regular, normal embassy in
Washington, a Cuban embassy, without a bank," Vidal told ABC News recently.
A senior U.S. State Department official said Tuesday that Cuba had found
a bank to handle its U.S. accounts, but the official did not identify
Stonegate Bank, started in 2005 in Fort Lauderdale and led by veteran
banker Seleski, has grown fast in recent years, partly by buying and
merging with other banks, the latest being Community Bank of Broward.
The consolidated banking operation — which goes under the Stonegate name
— now has the most deposits of any community bank based in Broward.
Stonegate has 10 branches in Broward and three in Palm Beach County.
In all, Stonegate has 21 offices on the east and west coasts of Florida,
according to the bank's website. Those offices include sites in the
Tampa and Sarasota area.
Many local banks would shy away from working with the Cuban government —
especially since many of their customers fled the island or have family
or friends who did, said South Florida bank analyst Ken Thomas.
In contrast, Stonegate bills itself as a "private bank for business" and
has many investors from Wall Street, including hedge funds and other
institutional investors, Thomas said.
Stonegate is well regarded by analysts for strong operations, earning
the top five-star mark from Bauer Financial, a bank rating group in
Coral Gables. Just a decade old, Stonegate avoided the frenzy of real
estate loans in the early 2000s that soured later during the financial
The bank reported $1.9 billion in deposits as of March 31, up from $1.45
billion on Dec. 31 — an increase attributed to the purchase of Community
Bank of Broward.
Outstanding loans totaled $1.73 billion, compared with 1.31 billion on
Stonegate's stock closed at $29.91, up 2.05 percent, in trading
Wednesday on the Nasdaq.
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Source: South Florida's Stonegate Bank to open account for Cuban
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