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.”

3 Approaches to Shaping a Bank’s Digital Future

  • To compete in this new era of heightened digital competition, it is more important than ever for banks of all sizes to stay committed to the quest of constant improvement.

WASHINGTON, DC — How should you position your bank for the future — or, for that matter, the present?  This is one of the most perplexing questions challenging leadership teams right now.  It is not a new consideration; indeed, the industry has been in a constant state of evolution for as long as anyone on our team can remember. Yet lately, it has taken on a new, possibly more existential sense of urgency.

Fortunately, there are examples of banks, of different sizes and a variety of business models, keeping pace with changing consumer expectations and commercial clients’ needs. The industry seems to be responding to the ongoing digital revolution in banking in three ways.

#1: Forge Your Own Digital Frontier

The biggest banks—those like JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co.—have the resources to forge their own paths on the digital frontier. These banks spend as much as $11 billion a year each on technology. Each hires thousands of programmers to conceptualize digital solutions for customers. And you know what? Their results are impressive.

As many as three-quarters of deposit transactions are completed digitally at these banks (take a minute and let that number sink in).  A growing share of sales, account openings and money transfers take place over these banks’ digital channels as well. This allows these banks to winnow down their branch networks meaningfully while still gaining retail deposit market share.

*IMO, the next step in their evolution is to combine digital delivery channels with insights gleaned from data. It’s by marrying the two, I believe, that banks can gain a competitive advantage by improving the financial lives of their customers.

#2: Look Outside For Tailored Solutions

Just below the biggest banks are super-regional and regional banks.  They too are fully embracing technology, although they tend to look outside their organizations for tailored solutions that will help them compete in this new era (rather than develop the solutions themselves).

These banks talk about integration as a competitive advantage. They argue that they can quickly and nimbly integrate digital solutions developed elsewhere—growing without a burdensome branch network while also benefiting from the latest technologies without bearing the risk and cost of developing many of those solutions themselves. It is a way, in other words, for them to have their cake and eat it too.

U.S. Bancorp and PNC Financial Services Group fall into this category. Both are reconfiguring their delivery channels, reallocating funds that would be spent on expanding and updating their branch networks to digital investments.

In theory, this makes it possible for these banks to expand into new geographic markets with far fewer branches. Indeed, U.S. Bancorp announced recently that it will use a combination of digital channels and new branches to establish a physical retail beachhead in Charlotte, North Carolina. PNC Financial is doing the same in Dallas, Texas, among other markets.

#3: Go Off-the-Shelf

Finally, smaller community banks are adopting off-the-shelf solutions offered by their core providers—Fidelity National Information Services (FIS), Fiserv and Jack Henry & Associates.

This approach can be both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because these solutions have enabled upwards of 90 percent of community banks to offer mobile banking applications—table stakes nowadays in the industry. It is a curse because it further concentrates the reliance of community banks on a triumvirate of service providers.

In the final analysis, however, it is important to appreciate that smaller banks based outside of major metropolitan areas still have a leg up when it comes to tried-and-true relationship banking. Their share of loans and deposits in their local markets could even grow if the major money-center banks continue fleeing smaller markets in favor of big cities.

Smaller regional and community banks dominate small business loans in their markets—a fact that was recently underscored by LendingClub Corp.’s decision to close its small business lending unit. These loans still require local expertise—the type of expertise that resides in their hometown banks. The same is true of agriculture loans.

Let’s Not Forget: Banks Are Still Banks

Trust is still the top factor cited by customers in the selection process. And loans must still be underwritten in a responsible way if a bank wants to survive the irregular, but not infrequent, cycles that define our economy. The net result is that some community banks are not only surviving in this new digital era, they are thriving.

But this isn’t a call to complacency—far from it.

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.

Daily Briefing: Sunday at Acquire or Be Acquired

PHOENIX — When Bank Director first introduced our Acquire or Be Acquired Conference 25 years ago, some 15,000 banks operated in the United States. While that number has shrunk considerably — there are 5,120 banks today — the inverse holds true for the importance of this annual event. What follows are two short videos from our first day in the desert that surface a few key ideas shared with our 1,300+ attendees.

Three Interesting Stats:

  1. Of the 5,120 banks in the U.S., 4,631 are under $1Bn in asset size and 489 are over that amount.
  2. Two years ago, we talked about the sweet spot of banking being banks between $5B and $10B in asset size; now, its those with assets of $50B+.
  3. Digital channels drive 35% of primary banking relationship moves, while branches drive only 26%.

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  • Whether you are able to join us in person or are simply interested in following the conference conversations via our social channels, I invite you to follow @AlDominick @BankDirector and @Fin_X_Tech on Twitter. Search & follow #AOBA19 to see what is being shared with and by our attendees.
  • Everything You Need to Know About 2019’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference

    WASHINGTON, DC — So, there’s this guy named Warren Buffet who has a few thoughts on business. This Nebraska-based investor once opined “I’d rather pay a fair price for a wonderful company than a wonderful price for a fair company.”  Quite sagacious — and appropriate to share in advance of our 25th annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference which takes place January 27-29 at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge in Arizona.

    Since we last hit the desert, several regional banks have been active in the M&A market — and may continue to look for merger opportunities to build up scale. In addition, we’ve seen how tax reform had a big impact on the industry, with many making investments to grow their business.

    Now, with the government shutdown straining our economy, big banks beating community banks on the digital front and shifting team & cultural dynamics, we have a lot of ground to cover over two-and-a-half days. Interested to see what we have planned? Take a look at the full agenda.

    While I am excited to reconnect with quite a few folks, I am particularly interested in a number of strategic issues that will be discussed. For instance:

    1. Since the stock market doesn’t always reward longer-term thinking, what does a bank’s CEO needs to focus on, especially with many stocks being valued as if a recession is imminent;
    2. How can regional and local banks boost their deposits given the biggest banks 2018 deposit gather successes;
    3. How laggards to the digital movement can catch up with their peers? (One suggestion: take a look at Finxact, a “Tesla-like” financial technology company that offers an innovative, open-core banking platform. I believe it will quickly become a legitimate challenger to FIS, Jack Henry and Fiserv);
    4. The M&A outlook for 2019;
    5. How institutions can gain/acquire/rent the skills needed to vet and negotiate with potential FinTech partners;
    6. When we might see IPOs — realizing the SEC has to re-open before this occurs; and
    7. How many new bank applications will be approved by the FDIC, realizing that 14 were last year.

    For those joining us in Arizona, I encourage men to bring a sports coat or a jacket for the evenings as we plan to be outside for our receptions and the desert quickly cools off once the sun sets. In addition, the rumors of people being in their seats at 7:15 – 7:30 on Sunday morning? 100% true. We start at 7:45 AM and there are quite a few pictures from last January’s event if you need visual proof.

    Finally, the digital materials for the conference can be found on BankDirector.com. Once you register on-site, you’ll be given a passcode to access the materials that can be used throughout the event.

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    Whether you are able to join us in person or are simply interested in following the conference conversations via our social channels, I invite you to follow @AlDominick @BankDirector and @Fin_X_Tech on Twitter. Search & follow #AOBA19 to see what is being shared with and by our attendees. If you are going to be with us in Arizona and we’re not already connected here on LinkedIn, drop me a note and let’s fix that.

    On the Horizon for Bank CEOs, Their Leadership Teams and Boards

    WASHINGTON, DC — Can community banks out-compete JP Morgan, BofA and Wells Fargo?  This is the elephant in the room awaiting 853 bank executives and board members — representing 432 Banks — at our upcoming Acquire or Be Acquired Conference.  The lights don’t officially come up on our 25th annual event at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge until Sunday, January 27.  So in advance, three big questions I anticipate fielding in the desert.

    Does 2019 Become the Year of BigTech?

    As noted by H2 Ventures and KPMG, Amazon is providing payment services and loans to merchants on its platform, while Facebook recently secured an electronic money licence in Ireland.  Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent have become dominant operators in China’s $5.5 trillion payments industry.  Add in Fiserv’s recent $22B acquisition of First Data and Plaid’s of Quovo and we might be seeing the start of a consolidation trend in the financial technology sector.  Will such investments and tie-ups draw the attention of big technology companies to the financial services industry?

    Has the window to sell your bank already closed?

    When I heard the rumor that BBVA might be buying UK-based Atom Bank — one of the proverbial European challenger banks — I started to look at acquisition trends here in the U.S.  Case-in-point, we put together the following graphic in December for BankDirector.com

    ma-infographic-final_1

    We know that some community banks have been holding out hopes of higher pricing multiples or for a strategic partner.  These institutions might find the window of opportunity to stage an exit isn’t as open as it was just a few years ago. This doesn’t mean the window has shut — but I do think an honest assessment of what’s realistic, at the board level, is appropriate.

    Wither the bond market?

    A NY Times op-ed piece  posits that the bond market reveals growing cracks in the financial system.  Authored by Sheila Bair, the former chairwoman of the FDIC, and Gaurav Vasisht, director of financial regulation at the Volcker Alliance, it warns that “regulators are not doing enough to make sure that banks are prepared.”  While the duo calls for thicker capital cushions for big banks and tighter leveraged loan underwriting standards, I wonder how executives joining us in Arizona feel about this potential threat to our economy?
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    As the premier bank M&A event for bank CEOs, senior management and board members, Bank Director’s 25th annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference brings together key bank leaders from across the country to explore merger & acquisition strategies and financial growth opportunities. If you’re joining us in the desert, I’ll share a few FYIs later this week. If you’re unable to join us in Phoenix, AZ, I’ll be tweeting from @aldominick and using #AOBA19 when sharing on social platforms like LinkedIn.

    I’ve spent the last 8 years engaged in board-level conversations. This is what I’ve found.

    Quickly:

    • Members of a board have a duty of loyalty and also of care; at strong boards, these core responsibilities provide a foundation for five additional behaviors.

    WASHINGTON, DC — This past week, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting San Antonio, Texas.  As I flew home on Thursday, I found myself reflecting on how purpose-driven companies (like the one I visited) focus on what their customers truly care about.  By extension, I spent time reflecting on how a board might best support and encourage this mindset.

    As I wrote for a piece that posted on BankDirector.com yesterday morning, one of my favorite proverbs when talking about the value of high-performing teams is to go fast, go alone; to go far, go together.  Now, as my team prepares to head out to Chicago to welcome some 200 people to the Four Seasons Chicago for our annual Bank Board Training Forum, this mindset once again came front and center.

    Given the financial industry’s rapid pace of change, one would be forgiven to think the best course of action would be to go fast at certain challenges.  However, at the board level, navigating an industry marked by both consolidation and emerging threats demands coordinated, strategic planning.

    Since I re-joined our company in September of 2010, I’ve noticed five key elements characterize many boards at high-performing banks.  Some are specific to the individual director; others, to the team as a whole.

    #1: The Board Sees Tomorrow’s Challenges as Today’s Opportunities

    Despite offering similar products and services, a small number of banks consistently outperform others in the industry.  One reason: their boards realize we’re in a period of significant change, where the basic premise of “what is a bank” is under considerable scrutiny.  Rather than cower, they’ve set a clear vision for what they want to be and hold their team accountable to concepts such as efficiency, discipline and the smart allocation of capital.

    #2: Each Board Member Embraces a Learner’s Mindset

    Great leaders aren’t afraid to get up from their desks and explore the unknown.  Brian Moynihan, the chairman and CEO of Bank of America, recently told our Executive Editor that “reading is a bit of a shorthand for a broader type of curiosity.  The reason I attend conferences is to listen to other people, to pick up what they’re talking and thinking about… it’s about being willing to listen to people, think about what they say.  It’s about being curious and trying to learn… The minute you quit being educated formally your brain power starts to shrink unless you educate yourself informally.”

    (*Spoiler alert: you can read more from Bank Director’s exclusive conversation with Moynihan in the upcoming 4th quarter issue of Bank Director magazine.)

    #3: The Board Prizes Efficiency

    In simplest terms, an efficiently run bank earns more money.  This allows it to write better loans, to suffer less during downturns in a credit cycle, to position it to buy less-prudent peers at a discount all while gaining economies of scale.

    #4: Each Board Member Stays Disciplined

    While discipline applies to many issues, those with a laser focus on building franchise value truly understand what their bank is worth now — and might be in the future.  Each independent director prizes a culture of prudence, one that applies to everything from underwriting loans to third-party relationships.

    #5: The Board Adheres to a People-Products-Performance Approach

    Smart boards don’t pay lip service to this mindset.  Collectively, they understand their institution needs to (a) have the right people, (b) strategically set expectations around core concepts of how the bank makes money, approaches credit, structures loans, attracts deposits and prices its products in order to (c) perform on an appropriate and repeatable level.

    Looking ahead, I feel a sixth pillar could emerge for leading institutions; namely, diversity of talent.  Now, I’m not talking diversity for the sake of diversity. I’m looking at getting the best people with different backgrounds, experiences and talents into the bank’s leadership ranks.  Unfortunately, while many talk the talk on diversity, far fewer walk the walk.  For instance, a recent New York Times piece that revealed female executives generally still lack the same opportunities to move up the ranks and there are still simply fewer women in the upper management pipeline at most companies.

    At Bank Director, we believe ambitious bank boards see the call for greater diversity as a true opportunity to create a competitive advantage. This aligns with Bank Director’s 2018 Compensation Survey, where 87 percent of bank CEOs, executives and directors surveyed believe a diverse board has a positive impact on the performance of the bank.  Yet, just 5 percent of CEOs above $1 billion in assets are female, 77 percent don’t have a single diverse member on their board and only 20 percent have a woman on the board.

    So as we prepare to explore the strong board, strong bank concept in Chicago, I’m reminded of another adage, this one from Henry Ford.  If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you’ve ever got…

    ##

    If you’re curious about what we’re talking about in Chicago, I encourage you to follow the conversation on social media, where we’re using #BDTrain18 to tag shared ideas on LinkedIn and Twitter.

    An Early Look at the 2019 Acquire or Be Acquired Conference

    Quickly:

    • Bank Director’s 2019 Acquire or Be Acquired Conference takes place next January 27 – 29 at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge in Phoenix, AZ.  To register, click here.

    WASHINGTON, DC — As the last few hours of July tick by, our team continues to build towards next winter(!) and the premier bank M&A event for CEOs, senior management and board members: Bank Director’s annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference. This special event brings together key bank leaders from across the country to explore merger & acquisition strategies, consolidation trends and financial growth opportunities.

    Earlier this year, we welcomed 1,200+ to the Arizona desert — and anticipate a similar audience when we return a week before next year’s Super Bowl. We’ve recently added a lot of new information on January’s program to BankDirector.com; if you’re interested to see what we’re planning, I invite you to take a look.

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    In addition to Acquire or Be Acquired, I am really excited to host two conferences before we return to the desert.  On September 10-11 at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, we host our very popular Bank Board Training Forum.  This two-day program provides bank directors with the education and training needed to address the issues and challenges facing them in today’s ever competitive, highly regulated and rapidly evolving banking and financial services industry.

    From November 5 – 7, at the Four Seasons Resort & Club Dallas at Las Colinas (a short hop from DFW airport), we convene Bank Director’s annual Bank Compensation & Talent Conference to focus on the recruitment, development and compensation of a bank’s most essential talent.  While in Dallas, leading advisers share their perspectives on building and supporting the best teams by providing first-hand information on the strategies and plans being used by successful banks today.

    If you’re interested in any of these three exceptional programs, you can learn more here.

    What (Bank) Directors Think

    Quickly:

    CHICAGO — Guess what?  As institutions continue to seek out growth and efficiencies through technology, they in turn expose themselves to new risks and liabilities. Understanding the two-sided nature of this proverbial coin reflects just one of the many nuanced conversations that took place during our annual Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference.  If you’re not familiar with this exclusive event, we invite bank leaders from across the country to take a broad and strategic view at the risk landscape, while also focusing on specific actions to improve a bank’s performance.

    Indeed, our team put together an agenda filled with opportunities to improve existing audit and risk functions.  In addition, we surfaced new ideas around issues and topics such as cybersecurity, credit quality, blockchain, rising interest rates and financial reporting.

    Personally, I was thrilled to welcome more than 400 men and women to the Swissotel Chicago — with over 300 participants comprising bank CEOs, chairmen, board members, CFOs, CROs, senior executives and internal auditors.  Throughout our time together, we took the opportunity to pose a series of questions to this hugely influential and knowledgeable audience.  As we discovered, the increasing level of U.S. debt proved the biggest macroeconomic concern for this group by a wide margin.  Yes, we polled this group using an audience response device and found 52% placed this issue as their top concern — far outpacing the 15% who cited a potential recession and 13% who pointed towards a political crisis.

    Such in-person polling provides quite a bit of insight as to where we might be heading as an industry and an economy.  What follows are five additional survey results from this year’s event on how this experienced audience feels about various hot topics.

    Q: What do you think is the biggest risk to the industry?

    54% = Technology changes and FinTech
    20% = Recession risk and loan quality
    17% = Flattening yield curve
    6% = Pushed out by consolidation
    4% = Regulatory scrutiny

    Q: What are your expectations for deposit competition in your markets over the next year?

    78% = We face stiff competition; deposit pricing will be a key concern
    13% = Our ability to compete for deposits will improve as rates rise
    9% = Unsure

    Q: As rates rise, are you concerned about loan terms within the bank’s existing loan portfolio?

    50% = No
    35% = Yes, but for a short period of time
    10% = Yes, I’m deeply concerned
    4% = Unsure

    Q: What is your greatest concern about deploying RegTech within your bank?

    23% = Updates to internal processes / infrastructure
    22% = Cost of RegTech solutions
    21% = Identifying valid solutions
    17% = Vetting providers / third party management
    15% = Internal skills
    3% = Regulatory acceptance

    Q: Do you believe the bank’s board has the necessary level of cybersecurity expertise?

    78% = No
    18% = Yes
    4% = Unsure

    I’ll keep my observations on these findings to personal conversations… That said, from improving risk oversight, mastering new reporting requirements and staying ahead on compliance, this year’s conference provided practical takeaways for participants to bring back to their banks.  Curious to see what we covered?  I encourage you to take a look at BankDirector.com or search for @BankDirector and #BDAudit18 on Twitter.

    The Best of Bank Director’s 2018 Acquire Or Be Acquired Conference?

    Quickly:

    PHOENIX, AZ — Well, that was fun!  Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference wrapped up on Tuesday evening, and with the benefit of a day to reflect on a jammed-packed experience, a few personal highlights from our time at the Arizona Biltmore.

    Favorite tweets

    Favorite picture

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    I am SO proud to work with such a great team that truly embodies our #1 core cultural value of helping to make other’s successful.

    Three timely (and paraphrased) comments

    When it comes to identifying banks to buy… core deposits are more important than loans — David Zalman, Chairman & CEO, Prosperity Bancshares Inc.

    Earnings accretion is answer 1,2,3,4 and 5 out of five possible answers to the question “what is most important in bank M&A” — Robert G. Sarver, Chairman & CEO, Western Alliance Bancorporation

    If you sell your bank for cash, you’re truly selling your bank.  If you sell your bank for stock, you’re really investing in another’s future — Bill Hickey, Principal, Co-Head, Investment Banking, Sandler O’Neill + Partners, L.P.

    Best comment (unintentional comedy)

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    On Monday, during the Prioritizing Risk & Reward session that she moderated, our President, Mika Moser, brought the house down.  John Allison, the Chairman of Home BancShares just shared that he’d made a whole lot of millionaires at his bank when Mika deadpanned, “you gotta any available teller positions?”  Great stuff Mika!

    Is this really a case to partner with FinTechs?

    I’ve seen estimates that some 90% of FinTech startups will fail — for a variety of reasons (e.g. no one wants the product, cash shortage, etc).  So, when I do the math and consider that we have some 5,000 FinTechs looking to make it big, only 10% have a realistic chance. Out of these 500 or so companies, only the ones capable of consolidating and expanding across niches will acquire a significant enough footing in the market to ensure resilience and sustainable long-term growth. Banks, start your engines…

    Video Recaps

    In case you missed it, we shared a number of videos on BankDirector.com this week.  The page with all videos can be found here: The Pulse of Acquire or Be Acquired. To get a sense of what these short videos look like, here is an example from Sunday.

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    If you missed the daily recaps shared on LinkedIn, Twitter and BD.com, here is a thumbnail with all the videos created. To playback the conference conversations via our social channels, I invite you to take search #AOBA18 to see what was shared by our attendees.

    Do You Know These 3 Cs of Banking?

    Quickly:

    • When it comes to talk about bank mergers and acquisitions, It has been written that the questions rarely change — but the conversations prove irresistible.

    By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps — parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech.

    PHOENIX, AZ — If you’re with us here at the Arizona Biltmore for Bank Director’s annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference, you’ve heard that banks with low‐cost core deposits continue to attract interest from acquirers.  So as banks wrestle with increased funding costs, that observation sparked an idea about what constitutes the “three Cs” of banking today:

    1. Compliance
    2. Cost Control
    3. Consolidation

    For instance, having good on-going relations with one’s regulators is hugely important. In fact, I heard several prominent attorneys share that regulatory risk remains the greatest obstacle to completing an M&A deal.  So having the bank in position to act quickly and confidently when an opportunity arises is a major advantage in today’s competitive M&A environment.  I take this to mean no enforcement actions, satisfactory CRA, good HCR results, etc.

    As was discussed yesterday afternoon, when an acquirer can present a credible narrative that a potential deal is consistent with a well-considered strategy — and that the company has the infrastructure appropriate to the new organization, you find a well received merger.

    In terms of consolidation, we saw a number of presentations note the 261 bank M&A deals, worth an aggregate $26.38 billion, announced in 2017.  As a point of reference, 241 deals were announced — worth an aggregate $26.79 billion — in 2016.  According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, the median deal value-to-tangible common equity ratio climbed significantly in 2017 to 160.6%, compared to 130.6% for 2016.  Last December alone, 32 deals worth a combined $1.84 billion were announced and the median deal value-to-tangible common equity ratio was 156.5%.

    Throughout the fourth quarter, there were 74 bank deals announced in the US, which was the most active quarter since 83 deals were announced in the fourth quarter of 2015. However, last quarter’s $4.4 billion aggregate deal value was the lowest since the third quarter of 2015, which totaled $3.43 billion.

    These are by no means the only Cs in banking.  Credit, core technology providers, (tax) cuts… all, huge issues.  So along these lines, I made note of a few more issues for buyers, for sellers — and for those wishing to remain independent.  Take a look:

    If you are interested in following the final day of the conference via our social channels, I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector, or search #AOBA18 to see what is being shared with (and by) our nearly 1,200 attendees.

    5 Trending Topics at the Acquire or Be Acquired Conference

    Quickly:

    • Large buyers are not in the bank M&A game right now; indeed, banks $25Bn and below continue to drive M&A activity. Case-in-point, 95% of total M&A deals since 2011 have buyer assets less than $25Bn. Might this change in 2018?

    By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps — parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech.

    PHOENIX, AZ — Michael Porter, the noted economist, researcher and teacher, once said, “strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different. The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. No one can tell you which rules to break, but you can acquire more skill in determining which rules to break given your talents and circumstances right now.”

    Porter’s perspectives came back to me while listening to KBW’s CEO, Tom Michaud. Yesterday morning, Tom talked about the strategic paths that a bank’s CEO might consider in the years to come. As he shared, pressure from investors to deploy capital stimulated M&A discussions in 2017 — and will continue to impact deals in 2018. He also noted that pressure placed on deposit costs, as interest rates rise, contributes to the potential acceleration of bank consolidation. These were just two of the many notes I jotted down during the first day of our annual event. Broadly speaking, what I heard fell into five categories:

    1. Economic trends
    2. Regulatory trends
    3. Small business lending trends
    4. Management succession trends
    5. Technological innovation trends

    Many banks enter 2018 with steady, albeit slow loan growth — while recognizing modest margin improvement as they continue to focus on controlling expenses. Accordingly, I thought to elaborate on the issues I found interesting and/or compelling. Feel free to comment below if other points caught your eye or ear.

    Economic Trends

    FJ Capital authored a piece in late October that noted how, as the Fed progresses further into the tightening phase of the interest rate cycle, banks will find it more difficult to fund loan growth by raising new low‐cost deposits. Their view, which I heard echoed here, is banks with low‐cost core deposits will become more valuable over the next few years as banks wrestle with increased funding costs. In addition to this idea, I made note that banks with a strong deposit base could be more attractive to buyers as interest rates rise. However, a remark I’ve heard at past events re-emerged here. Namely, making a small bank profitable is hard; exiting, even harder.

    Regulatory Trends

    Given the audience here, I wasn’t surprised by the continued talk of removing the synthetic $10Bn designation. If the Fed, FDIC and OCC raise the $50Bn threshold as spelled out in Dodd Frank, we could see more banks in the $20Bn – $40Bn range come together. Given that large regional banks usually can pay high prices for smaller targets, unleashing this capacity could reignite more M&A and boost community bank valuations. In addition, the Community Reinvestment Act remains a major headwind in bank mergers. Many here want improvements in the CRA process, which in turn could reduce regulatory risk for bank M&A.

    Small business lending

    When it comes to the lifeblood of most banks — small business lending — a recurring question has been where and how community banks can take market share from larger banks. My two cents: closing loans faster is key, as is structuring loans to fit specific borrower profiles while being supremely responsive to the customer. Oh, and credit is a big theme right now — and the best clients typically have the best credit.

    Management succession

    An inescapable comment / observation: aging management teams and board members has been a primary driver of bank consolidation of late. I noted that the average age of a public bank CEO and Chairman is 60 and 66, respectively. It was suggested that this demographic alone plays a key factor in the next few year’s consolidation activity.

    Technological trends

    When it comes to bank mergers, one of the big drivers of deals is the rise in technology-driven competition (*along with regulatory costs and executive-succession concerns). I sense that most traditional banks haven’t really figured out the digital migration process we’ve embraced as a world. Finally, it appears that the biggest banks are winning the war for retail deposits.  This is an issue that many management teams and boards should be discussing…

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    For those of you interested in following the conference conversations via our social channels, I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector and our @Fin_X_Tech platform, and search & follow #AOBA18 to see what is being shared with (and by) our attendees.