Creating Options

Earlier this week, I welcomed officers and directors from across the United States to Nashville, TN. From a stage (and not a Zoom), I asked them:

What are your options as we head into the Fall? No, not your personal ability to buy or sell an asset or security.  Rather, the options you, as a leaders of your bank, see for the institution you are a part of today?

Strategically speaking, this is a fundamental issue for those in a leadership position to address.

Sure, there are topics that will dominate boardroom discussions — such as diversifying earnings streams and differentiating the bank’s reputation relative to others.

But let me ask you: who are your competitors? By extension, who are the peer groups that you should be basing your performance against?  Once answering these, what options do you know are available, right now, that can put space between your bank and their business?  Further, what options do you need to create in order to stay both relevant, and competitive in the months ahead?

Creating “optionality” is a concept that continues to rattle around in my mind. Indeed, it ties into the concept of franchise value and is one that members of a bank’s board need to prioritize. It opens conversations around delivery methods and channels, business relationships and partnerships — and yes, growth opportunities (be it organic or through acquisition).

As we talked about in Nashville, banks are under enormous pressure to prepare for an unknown future. Ahead of this year’s exclusive in-person event, I came up with three basic questions I find timely and relevant. Take a read and let me know if you agree.

The SouthState Podcast: My Take On Banking, Leadership and FinTech

Last week, I had the pleasure of spending a few minutes with Tom Fitzgerald and Caleb Stevens on their Community Bank Podcast. Produced by SouthState’s Correspondent Division, the two dedicate their pod to helping community bankers grow themselves, their team — and their profits. For about 23 minutes, the three of us explored:

  • The hallmarks of a great business leaders;
  • The biggest trends I’ve observed in banking over the last 5 years;
  • The role of community banks (less than 1B in assets);
  • Who’s gaining traction in the bank technology space; and
  • How I feel about curiosity & empathy.

Oh yes, and I botched my ice cream analogy early on. As someone with a sweet tooth, I meant to reference Baskin & Robbins‘ 31 flavors of ice cream while talking leadership characteristics. As a child in Needham, MA, the idea that I’d have to choose between chocolate, coffee, oreo, cookie dough, etc posed a real challenge — especially as we’d go as a post-dentist treat! So when Caleb asks me about key facets of leadership in banking today, please understand my Covid-brain took me back to those fun childhood memories… which is how I wound up bellyflopping on the analogy!!

Baseball’s Best… and FinTech Relationships?

The premier slugger and center-fielder for the Los Angeles Angels is an eight-time All-Star and three-time American League MVP — winning the award in 2014, 2016, and 2019 while finishing second in the 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2018 votes.

According to ESPN, he’s the best player going into this new season, based on his record for nearly a decade.

So, how did Mike Trout fall to the 25th pick in the Major League Baseball draft in 2009?

*And yes, I am still a die-hard RedSox fan… hello Big Papi!

Sure, there were some can’t-miss prospects alongside him. The Washington Nationals pegged Stephen Strasburg to be their ace — and selected him with the first pick. He’s no slouch himself — 112 wins, three All-Star games and a World Series title later, the organization has no regrets.

But back in 2009, 24 names were called before Mike Trout, this once in a generation player, heard his. Many of them never reached the majors, let alone Trout’s level.

Professional sports’ drafts are all about taking risks, dreaming big and building for a franchise’s future. These decisions ultimately impact wins, losses and financial futures of organizations for years to come.

For those charged with improving their teams, technology and delivery models, the implications of Mike Trout’s draft should give you pause. With so many technology companies stealing headlines these days, the question about “who’s next” in the financial technology space parallels what baseball teams go through each year.

Ask yourself: How do you and your colleagues look at what’s available? How do you evaluate a future potential fit? How do you commit to another business that can propel you forward, or leave you lamenting what could have been?

So much of a bank’s future depends on its leadership team’s ambition and appetite to take chances today. Inevitably, I find business leaders returning to two basic questions when it comes to a new potential business relationship:

  1. How can I drive new revenue with their support?
  2. How do I become more efficient with their help?

A baseball appears to have two seams; in reality, they’re 216 individual stitches. Similarly for banks, multiple small decisions add up to a big picture.

Just as baseball teams need to be realistic in terms of allocating capital, so do financial institutions when considering their tech spend. No financial services company can choose a relationship that guarantees success.

Like any good general manager, a banking leader needs to prioritize what’s the right fit for the team. Some banks and credit unions may modernize back-office technology, which has the potential to improve efficiency, reduce errors and free up resources for growth. Others may look at solutions that improve customer experiences or drive sales.

Regardless of where you are in your current approach to technology, you need courage to take the first step — and the discipline to take the next. While your team might miss on a Mike Trout, take comfort that there is more than one way to build a team.

Doing your own homework on who’s out there might just net you an MVP.

Inspired By The Joshua Tree

WASHINGTON, DC — It turns out, Bono knew something about banking. 

Thirty-four years ago, an Irish band came up with an album that sounded revolutionary for its time. U2’s “The Joshua Tree” went on to sell more than 25 million copies, firmly positioning it as one of the world’s best-selling albums. Hits like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” remain in heavy rotation on the radio, television and movies.

Talk about staying relevant. As it turns out, U2 had some wisdom for us all.

Relevance is one of those concepts that drives so many business decisions. For Bank Director, the term carries special importance, as we postpone our annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference to January 30 through Feb. 1, 2022. In past years, this special event drew more than 1,300 bankers, bank directors and advisors to discuss concepts of relevance and competition in Phoenix.

While we wait for our return to the Arizona desert, we got to work on a new digital offering to fill the sizable peer-insight chasm that now exists.

The result: Inspired By Acquire or Be Acquired.

Think of this as a new pop-up website, one that disappears after a few glorious weeks. Available exclusively on BankDirector.com, this on-demand package consists of timely short-form videos, CEO interviews, live “ask me anything”-type sessions and proprietary research. Topics range from building value to doing a deal, enhancing culture to addressing competition — and yes, technology’s continued impact on our industry.

Everything within this board-level intelligence package provides insight from exceptionally experienced investment bankers, attorneys, consultants, accountants, fintech executives and bank CEOs.  So with a nod towards Paul David Hewson (aka Bono) and his bandmates in U2, here’s a loose interpretation of how three of their Joshua Tree songs are relevant to bank leadership teams. 

With or Without You

(The question all dealmakers ask themselves.) 

Many aspects of an M&A deal are quantifiable: think dilution, valuation and cost savings. But perhaps the most important aspect — whether the deal ultimately makes strategic sense — is not. As regional banks continue to pair off with their peers, I talked with a successful dealmaker, Bryan Jordan, the CEO of First Horizon National Corp., about mergers of equals.

c/o Inspired By Acquire or Be Acquired

Where the Streets Have No Name

(Banks can help clients when they need it most.)

A flood of new small businesses emerged in 2020. In the third quarter 2020 alone, more than 1.5 million new business applications were filed in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly double the figure for the same period the year before. Small businesses need help from banks as they wander the streets of their new ventures. So, I asked Dorothy Savarese, the Chair and CEO of Cape Cod 5, how her community bank positions itself to help these new business customers. One part of her answer really resonated with me, as you’ll see in this short video clip.

Running to Stand Still

(Slow to embrace new opportunities? Don’t let this become your song.)

With the rising demand for more compelling delivery solutions, banks continue to find themselves in competition with technology companies. Here, open banking provides real opportunities for incumbents to partner with newer players. Ideally, such relationships provide customers greater ownership over their financial information, a point reinforced by Michael Coghlan, the CEO of BrightFi.


These short videos provide a snapshot of the conversations and presentations that will be available February 4. To find out more about Inspired By Acquire or Be Acquired, I invite you to take a longer look at what’s on our two-week playlist.

Here’s To The Optimists

Fad diets, self-care recommendations and admonishments to “turn the page.”

We all know what’s coming up in our news feeds. But before we give into these New Year’s cliches, let’s take a minute to appreciate how so many were able to pivot in such unexpected ways.

Knowing that one can successfully change should serve many well in this new year.

While resilience — and perseverance — took center stage in 2020, I find culture, technology and growth showed up in new ways as well.

CULTURE, REVEALED

During the darkest of economic times, I was amazed by examples of creativity, commitment and collaboration to roll out the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. When social issues exploded, proud to see industry leaders stand tall against racism, prejudice, discrimination and bigotry. With work-from-home pressures challenging the concepts of teamwork and camaraderie, delighted by how banks embraced new and novel ways to communicate.

TECHNOLOGY, FIRST

Seeing business leaders share their intelligence and experiences to help build others’ confidence stands out. So, too, does how few shied away from technology, which clearly accelerated the transformation of the financial sector. The rush to digital this spring forced banking leaders to assess their capabilities — and embrace new tools and strategies to “do something more.” As the financial sectors’ technology integration continues, this mindset of finding answers — rather than merely identifying barriers — should benefit quite a few.

GROWTH, POSSIBLE

Many banks considered JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup as their biggest challenges and competitors entering 2020. Now, I’d wager Venmo, Square and Chime command as much attention. However, competition typically brings out the best in executives; with mergers and acquisitions activity poised to resume and new fintech relationships taking root, growing one’s bank is still possible.

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So here’s to the optimists. Leaders are defined by their actions, and many deserve to take a well-earned bow for making their colleagues’ and clients’ lives better. While we leave a year marked by incredible unemployment, economic uncertainties and political scars, I’ve found a negative mindset never leads to a happy life. Rather than lament all that went sideways this year, I choose to commemorate the unexpected positives. As I do, I extend my best to you and yours.

With appreciation,

Al

*This reflection also appears in Bank Director’s newsletter, The Slant. A new addition to our editorial suite of products in 2020, I invite you to sign up for this free Saturday newsletter here.

What Is FinXTech Connect?

WASHINGTON, DC — Last month, our team celebrated ten years of “Bank Director 2.0.” As I look back on what we’ve accomplished, a few projects stand out. Today, I’m shining a light on the development of our FinXTech Platform, which we built specifically for financial institutions.

Bank Director’s FinXTech debuted on March 1, 2016 at Nasdaq’s MarketSite in Times Square. Positioned at the intersection of Financial Institutions and Technology Leaders, FinXTech connects key decision makers across the financial sector around shared areas of interest.

We initially focused on bank technology companies providing solutions geared to Security, leveraging Data + Analytics, making better Lending decisions, getting smarter with Payments, enhancing Digital Banking, streamlining Compliance and/or improving the Customer Experience.

As our brand (and team) grew, we heard from a number of bank executives about the challenges they faced in discovering potential technology partners and solutions. To help solve this issue, we built FinXTech Connect.

Sorting through the technology landscape is no easy feat. Nor is finding, comparing and vetting potential technology partners. But week-by-week, and month-by-month, we added to this proprietary platform by engaging with bankers and fintech executives alike. All the while, asking (whenever we could) bankers who they wanted to learn more about at events like our annual Summit or Experience FinXTech events.

Banks today are in the eye of a digital revolution storm. A reality brought about, in no small part, by this year’s Covid-19 pandemic. So I am proud that the work we do helps banks make smarter business decisions that ultimately help their clients and communities. To wit, the various relationships struck up between banks and fintechs to turn the SBA’s PPP program into a reality.

As we look ahead, I’m excited to see Bank Director’s editorial team continue to carefully vet potential partners with a history of financial performance and proven roster of financial industry clients. For those companies working with financial institutions that would like to be considered for inclusion in FinXTech Connect, I invite you to submit your company for consideration.

When Will Bank Mergers Return?

WASHINGTON, DC — The bank M&A market is currently in a deep chill, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.  It is unclear when deal activity will heat up, so who better to ask than Tom Michaud, the President & CEO, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, A Stifel Company, as part of Bank Director’s new AOBA Summer Series.  In this one-on-one, I ask him about:

  • The banking industry’s second quarter results;
  • Why bank stocks have not participated in the overall market recovery;
  • The medium and long term implications of the pandemic on the industry;
  • The area of Fintech he thinks will be the hottest for the balance of 2020; and
  • How the November elections might impact the banking industry.

There are 10 videos in the AOBA Summer Series, with topics directed at C-suite executives or boards. We talk about how important scale has become, given compressing net interest margins, increasing efficiency ratios and climbing credit costs. We explore why banks’ technology strategy cannot be delegated. We observe why some banks will come out of this experience in a bigger, stronger position. And we look at leadership, appreciating that many executives are leading in new, more positive and impactful ways. To watch, click here.

My Conversation with the CEO of Atlantic Union Bankshares

WASHINGTON, DC — Leaders are defined by their actions, especially when facing adversity.  In our just-released AOBA Summer Series, three standout CEOs joined us in a series of one-on-one conversations.  Each provided a personal view on how their concepts of leadership vary; all, however, described their aspirations to provide exceptional quality and sustained performance.

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For instance, Chuck Sulerzyski, President & CEO, at Peoples Bank joined John Maxfield, Editor-in-Chief for Bank Director magazine.  They talked about the bank’s response to the unfolding coronavirus crisis and how a bank like Peoples might offset some of the pressure on its earnings.

Stephen Steinour, Chairman, President & CEO, Huntington Bancshares virtually sat down with Jack Milligan, Editor-at-Large for Bank Director magazine.  The two explored how he continues to work with the bank’s board of directors to plan for a future beyond the pandemic.

And as you can see here, I had the distinct pleasure of talking with John Asbury, President & CEO, Atlantic Union Bankshares.  We talked about leading in new, more positive and impactful ways.

With the U.S. economy slowly recovering from its devastating pause, what we don’t know easily exceeds what we do. But, as we reflect on the COVID-19 crisis and its subsequent impact on the country, a few industry trends are becoming visible. Hence the introduction of Bank Director’s AOBA Summer Series, now streaming for free on BankDirector.com

Streaming Now: The AOBA Summer Series

Dreaming of a trip to Phoenix, and the Acquire or Be Acquired Conference, next January doesn’t seem so odd this summer.

WORKING FROM HOME — For decades, business leaders began to book their travel to the Arizona desert — for Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference — in early August. As evidenced by the nearly 1,400 at the Arizona Biltmore earlier this year, the annual event has become a true stomping ground for CEOs, executives and board members. Many laud it as the place to be for those that take the creation of franchise value seriously. I’ve even heard it referred to as the unofficial kickoff of banking’s new year.

Just seven months ago, Acquire or Be Acquired once again brought together industry leaders from across the United States to explore merger opportunities, acquisition trends and financial growth ideas.  With 418 banks represented, participants considered strategies specific to lending, deposit gathering and brand-building. They talked regulation, met with exceptional fintechs and networked with their peers under sunny skies.

Not one openly worried about a global pandemic.

Yet here we are, all of us dealing with fast-moving challenges and unimaginable risks.

So what can we do to help?

This is the question that proved the catalyst for our new AOBA Summer Series.  Indeed, we created this free, on-demand, compilation of thought leadership pieces to provide pragmatic information and real-world insight.

With CEOs and leadership teams being called upon to make decisions they have never been trained for, we realized the type of information typically shared in January has immediate merit this summer.  So instead of waiting until winter, this new Summer Series provides both color and context to the tough decisions — those with profound long-term consequences — that confront executives every day.

Ten videos comprise the AOBA Summer Series, with topics appropriate for the C-suite’s or board’s consideration.  Streaming on BankDirector.com, we talk about how important scale has become in the banking industry… how one’s technology strategy cannot be delegated… how it certainly seems that there will be banks that come out of this in a bigger, stronger state.  Here’s a screen-grab of what you’ll come across:

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In one-on-one conversations like these, we acknowledge how net interest margins are compressing — which will drive up efficiency ratios — and credit costs are climbing.  And we look at leadership, appreciating that many are leading in new, more positive and impactful ways.  In addition, this new series provides:

A SNAPSHOT ON CURRENT CONDITIONS
At our January Acquire or Be Acquired Conference, Tom Michaud, President & CEO, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, A Stifel Company, provided his outlook for the industry. Now, we ask him to update his perspectives on M&A activity and share his take on the potential implications of the pandemic.  

HOW FINTECHS FIT
A growing number of technology companies have been founded to serve the banking industry.  Not all of them have what it takes to satisfy bankers.  During various sessions we learn how a variety of banks approach innovation — and the specific attributes a leadership team should look for in a new fintech relationship.

THE LEVERS OF VALUE CREATION
With nCino’s CMO, Jonathan Rowe, our Editor-in-Chief talks about the levers of creating value vis-a-vis the flywheel of banking. Together, they explain how certain technologies promote efficiency, which promotes prudence, thereby promoting profits, which can then be invested in technology, starting the cycle all over again.

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Hearing from investment bankers, attorneys, accountants, fintechs, investors and — yes, other bankers — about the outlook for growth and change in the industry proves a hallmark for Acquire or Be Acquired, be it in-person or online. 

As this new series makes clear, The future is being written in ways unimaginable just a few months ago.  We invite you to watch how industry leaders are making sense of the current chaos for free on BankDirector.com.

2 Years’ Worth of Transformation in 2 months

WASHINGTON DC — Microsoft Corp. CEO Satya Nadella noted in late April, “we’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months,” due to the speedy adoption and implementation of new technology by the U.S. business sector.

As our team at Bank Director writes, “navigating the short-term impacts of these shifts has bankers working round-the-clock to keep pace, but the long-term effects could differentiate the companies that take advantage of this extraordinary moment to pivot their operations.” This transformation makes up the core of the discussions taking place at Microsoft’s Envision Virtual Forum for Financial Services.

As part of that event, I sat down (virtually) with Luke Thomas, Microsoft’s managing director, U.S. banking and financial providers, to discuss how financial institutions can use this opportunity to modernize their operations. Together, we addressed the adoption of technology, legacy vs. new core providers and how business leaders encourage continued improvement.

This seven-minute video runs on both Microsoft and Bank Director’s websites, with a longer write-up on the Covid-19 Shift appearing here.

An Easy Way to Lose Sight of Critical Risks

CHICAGO — Let me ask you a question:

How does the executive team at your biggest competitor think about their future? Are they fixated on asset growth or loan quality? Gathering low-cost deposits? Improving their technology to accelerate the digital delivery of new products? Finding and training new talent?

The answers don’t need to be immediate or precise. But we tend to fixate on the issues in front of us and ignore what’s happening right outside our door, even if the latter issues are just as important.

Yet, any leader worth their weight in stock certificates will say that taking the time to dig into and learn about other businesses, even those in unrelated industries, is time well spent.

Indeed, smart executives and experienced outside directors prize efficiency, prudence and smart capital allocation in their bank’s dealings. But here’s the thing: Your biggest—and most formidable—competitors strive for the same objectives.

So when we talk about trending topics at today and tomorrow’s Bank Audit and Risk Committees Conference in Chicago, we do so with an eye not just to the internal challenges faced by your institution but on the external pressures as well.

As my team at Bank Director prepares to host 317 women and men from banks across the country this morning, let me state the obvious: Risk is no stranger to a bank’s officers or directors. Indeed, the core business of banking revolves around risk management—interest rate risk, credit risk, operational risk. To take things a step further:

Given this, few would dispute the importance of the audit committee to appraise a bank’s business practices, or of the risk committee to identify potential hazards that could imperil an institution. Banks must stay vigilant, even as they struggle to respond to the demands of the digital revolution and heightened customer expectations.

I can’t overstate the importance of audit and risk committees keeping pace with the disruptive technological transformation of the industry. That transformation is creating an emergent banking model, according to Frank Rotman, a founding partner of venture capital firm QED Investors. This new model focuses banks on increasing engagement, collecting data and offering precisely targeted solutions to their customers.

If that’s the case—given the current state of innovation, digital transformation and the re-imagination of business processes—is it any wonder that boards are struggling to focus on risk management and the bank’s internal control environment?

When was the last time the audit committee at your bank revisited the list of items that appeared on the meeting agenda or evaluated how the committee spends its time? From my vantage point, now might be an ideal time for audit committees to sharpen the focus of their institutions on the cultures they prize, the ethics they value and the processes they need to ensure compliance.

And for risk committee members, national economic uncertainty—given the political rhetoric from Washington and trade tensions with U.S. global economic partners, especially China—has to be on your radar. Many economists expect an economic recession by June 2020. Is your bank prepared for that?

Bank leadership teams must monitor technological advances, cybersecurity concerns and an ever-evolving set of customer and investor expectations. But other issues can’t be ignored either.

So as I prepare to take the stage to kick off this year’s Bank Audit and Risk Committees Conference, I encourage everyone to remember that minds are like parachutes. In the immortal words of musician Frank Zappa: “It doesn’t work if it is not open.”

5 Trends from Acquire or Be Acquired 2019

WASHINGTON, DC — To get a sense of what trended at Bank Director’s 25th annual Acquire or Be Acquired conference, here’s a link to five video check-ins.  All 2 minutes or less in length, these summarize various topics and trends shared with 1,300+ attendees.

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SAVE THE DATE:

Acquire or Be Acquired Conference
January 26-28, 2020 | Arizona Biltmore Resort | Phoenix, AZ

For early-bird registration, please click here.