Last week, Lexington, Virginia… this week, San Francisco, California… next week, Chicago, Illinois. Yes, conference season is back and in full swing. I’m not looking for sympathy; heck, for the past few days, I’ve set up shop in Nob Hill (at the sublime Ritz-Carlton) to lead our Western Peer Exchange. Traveling like this, and spending time with a number of interesting CEOs, Chairmen, executives and board members, is why I love my job. What follows are three observations from my time here in NorCal that I’m excited to share.
(1) On Wednesday, I took a short drive up to San Mateo to learn more about Kony, a company that specializes in meeting multi-channel application needs. I have written about customer demands for “convenient” banking services in past posts — e.g. Know Thy Customer –and will not try to hide my interest in FinTech success stories. Learning how their retail banking unit works with financial institutions to deliver a “unified and personalized app experience” proved an inspiring start to my trip. Consequently, our Associate Publisher and I talked non-stop about the rapid evolution and adoption of technologies after we wrapped things up and drove back towards San Francisco. We agreed that consumer expectations, relative to how banks should be serving them, continues to challenge many strategically. To this end, Kony may be worth a look for those curious about opportunities inherent in today’s mobile technology. Indeed, their team will host a webinar that features our old friend Brett King to examine such possibilities.
(2) When it comes to banks, size matters. To wit, bigger banks benefit from their ability to spread fixed costs over a larger pool of earning assets. According to Steve Hovde, an investment banker and one of the sponsors of our event, “too big to fail banks have only gotten bigger.” He observed that the top 15 institutions have grown by nearly 55% over the past six years. Wells Fargo, in particular, has grown 199% since ’06. With more than 90% of the banking companies nationwide operating with assets of less than $1 billion, it is inevitable that consolidation will be concentrated at the community bank level. However, as yesterday’s conversations once again proved, size doesn’t always trump smarts. I said it yesterday and will write it again today. Our industry is no longer a big vs. small story; rather, it is a smart vs. stupid one.
(3) That said, “nobody has told banks in the northwestern U.S. that bank M&A is in the doldrums.” According to the American Banker, two deals were announced and another terminated after the markets closed Wednesday. Naturally, this should put pressure on banks in the region to keep buying each other. Here in San Francisco, the one being discussed was Heritage Financial’s combination with Washington Banking Co. According to The News Tribune, this is “very much a merger between equals, similar in size, culture and how each does business.” Now, the impetus behind ‘strategic affiliations’ (don’t call them mergers of equals) comes down to creating value through cost cuts and wringing out efficiencies. The thinking, at least during cocktails last night, was that deals like these happen to build value for the next few years in order to sell at higher multiples. Certainly, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. In a few months at our Acquire or Be Acquired conference, I anticipate it generating quite a few opinions.