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…

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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.

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.

10 Questions I Plan To Ask During Acquire Or Be Acquired

Quickly:

  • Despite improving economic conditions, the business of banking remains difficult.

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

PHOENIX, AZ — For all the talk of bank consolidation, there are still 5,700+ banks in the United States.  But let’s not kid ourselves.  For many community banks today, earnings pressures + regulatory and compliance costs + the continued impact of technology = a recurring challenge.

While the number of banks in business will inevitably shrink over the next 10 years — perhaps being cut in half — I remain bullish on the overall future of this industry. If December’s tax reform spurs capital spending and job creation by small- and medium-sized businesses, many of the banks joining us here in Arizona stand to benefit. But will the recent tax cut induce companies to invest more than they already planned to? This is but one of a number of questions I look forward to asking on stage through the first day of Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference.

Below, ten more questions I anticipate asking:

  1. Are FinTechs the industry’s new de novos?
  2. What does it mean that the banking world is deposit rich yet asset poor?
  3. Why are certain credit unions thinking about about buying banks?
  4. In terms of technology spending levels, where are dollars being earmarked and/or spent?
  5. With respect to small business lending, do credit unions or FinTechs pose a more immediate challenge to community banks?
  6. What is an appropriate efficiency ratio for a bank today?
  7. Will big M&A buyers get back in the game this year?
  8. What are some of the critical items in due diligence that are under appreciated?
  9. What does an activist investor look for in a bank?
  10. Is voice recognition the next huge source of growth for banks?

We have an exciting — and full day — coming up at the Arizona Biltmore. To keep track of the conversations via Twitter, I invite you to follow @AlDominick @BankDirector and @Fin_X_Tech.  In addition, to see all that is shared with (and by) our attendees, we’re using the conference hashtag #AOBA18.

21 Reasons I Am Excited About Acquire or Be Acquired

Quickly:

  • Making banking digital, personalized and in compliance with regulatory expectations remains an ongoing challenge for the financial industry. This is just one reason why a successful merger — or acquisition — involves more than just finding the right cultural match and negotiating a good deal.

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

PHOENIX, AZ — As the sun comes up on the Arizona Biltmore, I have a huge smile on my face. Indeed, our team is READY to host the premier financial growth event for bank CEOs, senior management and members of the board: Bank Director’s 24th annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference. This exclusive event brings together key leaders from across the financial industry to explore merger & acquisition strategies, financial growth opportunities and emerging areas of potential collaboration.

AOBA Demographics

The festivities begin later today with a welcoming reception on the Biltmore’s main lawn for all 1,125 of our registered attendees.  But before my team starts to welcome people, let me share what I am looking forward to over the next 72 hours:

  1. Saying hello to as many of the 241 bank CEOs from banks HQ’d in 45 states as I can;
  2. Greeting 669 members of a bank’s board;
  3. Hosting 127 executives with C-level titles (e.g. CFO, CMO and CTO);
  4. Entertaining predictions related to pricing and consolidation trends;
  5. Hearing how a bank’s CEO & board establishes their pricing discipline;
  6. Confirming that banks with strong tangible book value multiples are dominating M&A;
  7. Listening to the approaches one might take to acquire a privately-held/closely-held institution;
  8. Learning how boards debate the size they need to be in the next five years;
  9. Engaging in conversations about aligning current talent with future growth aspirations;
  10. Juxtaposing economic expectations against the possibilities for de novos and IPOs in 2018;
  11. Getting smarter on the current operating environment for banks — and what it might become;
  12. Popping into Show ’n Tells that showcase models for cooperation between banks and FinTechs;
  13. Predicting the intersection of banking and technology with executives from companies like Salesforce, nCino and PrecisionLender;
  14. Noting the emerging opportunities available to banks vis-a-vis payments, data and analytics;
  15. Moderating this year’s Seidman Panel, one comprised of bank CEOs from Fifth Third, Cross River Bank and Southern Missouri Bancorp;
  16. Identifying due diligence pitfalls — and how to avoid them;
  17. Testing the assumption that buyers will continue to capitalize on the strength of their shares to meet seller pricing expectations to seal stock-driven deals;
  18. Showing how and where banks can invest in cloud-based software;
  19. Encouraging conversations about partnerships, collaboration and enablement;
  20. Addressing three primary risks facing banks — cyber, credit and market; and
  21. Welcoming so many exceptional speakers to the stage, starting with Tom Michaud, President & CEO of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Inc., a Stifel Company, tomorrow morning.

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.

Bank CEOs and Their Boards Can Lay Claim to These 5 Technologies

Quickly:

▪ Regional and community banks continue to lay claim to innovative technologies that attract new customers, enhance retention efforts, improve efficiencies, cut costs and bolster security.

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

ATLANTA — The digital distribution of financial goods and services is a HUGE issue for bank executives and their boards.  Margins on banking products continue to decline due to increased competition.  In my opinion, this provides ample incentivize for banks to seek partnerships with specialized product and service providers.

I shared this thought earlier today at Bank Director’s annual Bank Board Training Forum. During my remarks to an audience of 203 officers and directors (representing 84 financial institutions), I laid out five potential area of collaboration that community bank CEOs and their boards might spend more time discussing:

1. New core technologies;
2. Machine learning / Artificial intelligence applications;
3. RegTech;
4. Payments; and
5. White labeling product offerings.

I elaborated on why I think our audience needs to explore each area before expanding on how banks might take steps to incorporate such technologies into their culture and business.  I wrapped up by providing examples of companies in each space that attendees might learn more about.

For instance, when it comes to the core technological systems offered by Fiserv, Jack Henry and FIS, many banks are investing in “integration layers” to bridge the needs of client‐facing systems with their core system. While these layers have proven valuable, banks are also aware of the need to migrate away from legacy cores should the flexibility they desire not come from these companies.  Hence the advent of companies like Finxact, a cloud banking platform promising to be the most transparent and open core banking system available.

In terms of machine learning and artificial intelligence, I see five potential use cases for banks to consider: smarter customer acquisition, better Know-Your-Customer efforts, improved customer service, smarter and faster account openings and the ability to offer more competitive loans.  Here, I am impressed with the work being done by companies like Kasisto, whose conversational AI platform is pre-loaded with thousands of banking intents and millions of banking sentences.  It promises to fulfill requests, solve problems, predict customers’ needs and improve performance on its own using sophisticated machine learning.

Given the cost and complexity of compliance, RegTech offerings promise to simplify fraud prevention and detection, improve the interpretation of regulation while accelerating reporting functions.  Further, RegTech companies held simplify data access, storage and management while strengthening risk management efforts.  There are quite a few companies in this fast-growing space that I highlighted.  One is Fortress Risk Management, a company whose advanced analytics predict and detect financial crime while its tool enable efficient case management, dispute management, reporting and regulatory compliance.

With respect to payments, our rapidly changing and oh-so-interconnected markets of debit, credit, mobile, prepaid and digital payments proves both a blessing and a potential curse for traditional institutions. As we move toward a cashless society and payments become less visible, banks need to maximize their opportunities to become the default payment method, and keep abreast of innovations in credit scoring, faster payments, analytics, security and fraud detection.  Case-in-point, BluePay delivers non-interest income to banks of all sizes by aggregating customer data coupled with the latest merchant processing technology.

Finally, white label product offerings are nothing new.  However, technology companies like SimplyCredit and StrategyCorps continue to help banks reshape and rethink customer engagement, setting new and higher bars for their’s clients’ experiences.  For banks seeking innovations like rapid loan adjudication, partnering with technology providers like these enables a bank to keep pace with the customer experience expectations set by large technology firms.

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If you weren’t able to join us in Atlanta and are curious about today’s featured image, here is a link to the pdf: 2017 Bank Board Training Presentation (Tech-focused). As I shared, New Zealand’s All Blacks are the world’s most successful sporting outfit, undefeated in over 75% of their international rugby matches over the last 100 years.  Their willingness to change their game (and their culture) when they were at the top of their game inspired me — and allowed me to challenge our attendees to think if they are willing to do the same with their banks.  I’m also inspired by my colleagues who helped develop this year’s program. From our conference team to editorial group, marketing to data departments, I’m proud to work with a great group dedicated to the idea that a strong board makes contributes to a strong bank.

Strong Board. Strong Bank

Quickly:

  • A bank’s CEO, Chairman and board of directors face a number of challenges in today’s ever competitive, highly regulated and rapidly evolving financial services industry.

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

ATLANTA — Complex regulations, technological innovations and a highly competitive environment that leaves little room for error have placed unprecedented demands on the time and talents of bank boards.  Still, no one I’m with today seems interested in pity or sympathy.  To wit, I’m in Atlanta, at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, as we host Bank Director’s annual Bank Board Training Forum.  With us are 200+ men and women committed to strengthening their bank’s performance by enhancing the skills and abilities of their boards.

I’m buoyed by their collective optimism, especially having surfaced myriad governance issues, compliance challenges, audit responsibilities, risk concerns and areas of potential liability. What follows are five takeaways from presentations made today that are growth, risk or team-oriented.

  1. When it comes to growing one’s bank, an acquisition of another institution certainly helps a buyer achieve operating scale efficiencies, which in turn increases its valuation.
  2. In addition to traditional M&A as a driver of growth, we are seeing more partnerships with (and outright acquisitions of) non-banks in order to enhance non-interest income and the expansion of net interest margins.
  3. Personally, I appreciated Jim McAlpin (a partner at the law firm of Bryan Cave) for elaborating on the phrase “Strong Governance Culture.” As he explained, the regulatory community takes this to mean a well developed system of internal oversight and a board culture focused on risk management.
  4. When it comes to risk, financial institutions face a quite a few. Indeed, Eve Rogers, a Partner at Crowe Horwath, touched on cybersecurity, economic factors, regulatory changes, shrinking margins and fee restrictions. As she made clear, proactively identifying, mitigating, and, in some cases, capitalizing on these risks provides a distinct advantage to the banks here with us.
  5. In terms of compensation, a good checklist for all banks includes (a) the bank’s compensation philosophy, (b) specific details for how to incorporate a performance plan against a strategic plan and (c) details around how one’s compensation peer group was formed — and when was it last updated.

Tomorrow morning, I share some new ideas for approaching technology in terms of growth and efficiency given the digital distribution of financial goods and services.  As I noted from the stage, we’re seeing some banks, rather than hire from the ground up, take a plug-and-play approach for partnering (or acquiring) FinTech companies. While I certainly intend to talk about the culture and team aspects of technology tomorrow, my focus goes to how and where machine learning, RegTech, payments, white labeling opportunities and core providers allow financial institutions to present a cutting-edge looks and feels to its customers under the bank’s brand.  (*If you’re interested, click here.)

Consolidation Trends in Banking

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

Quickly:

  • Nationwide consolidation in the banking space will continue; at least, that is my sense based on conversations and presentations at Crowe Horwath’s Bank Leadership and Profitability Improvement Conference.

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So much of this morning was spent talking about growth through mergers and acquisitions (M&A) that I couldn’t help but flash back to January’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference.  Thematically, I went into that event expecting the unexpected.  Given this morning’s presentations on growing one’s bank, I believe that mindset still holds water.

For example, Tom Michaud, the president and CEO of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, described 2016 and 2017 as one bumpy ride.  From recession fears to lower-for-longer rates, the initial euphoria after the presidential election (at least in terms of stock prices, which went up 27% – 30%) to the uncertainty of regulatory relief, he reminded us of where we are coming from relative to where we might be heading.  I am always curious to hear what Tom thinks about the state of banking; below, ten things I learned from him this morning:

  1. The interest rate outlook is a bit cloudier than it was in November;
  2. Regional banks have had excellent earnings per share growth relative to the overall market;
  3. We have an active pace of consolidation — nearly 5% of the industry is merging;
  4. The most prolific acquirers can buy 2, maybe 3 banks, at best each year;
  5. M&A deals are getting bigger — not ’97 or ’98 levels, but bigger than where they’ve been;
  6. Large buyers are not in the game right now — buyers $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);
  7. Buyers are completing their acquisitions in 6 months or less;
  8. Banks with strong tangible book value multiples are dominating M&A;
  9. There have been 37 bank IPOs since 2013 — and the market today is open to small bank IPOs; and
  10. If you’re running a bank, you better be watching (like a hawk) the FinTech charters being pursued by companies like SoFi.

Following Tom’s presentation, we doubled down on growing-the-bank type topics with a session involving Rick Childs, a partner at Crowe Horwath, Jim Ryan, the CFO at Old National Bancorp, Jim Consagra, EVP and COO at United Bancshares and Bryce Fowler, chief financial officer at Triumph Bancorp.

From pricing discipline to acquisitions of privately-held/closely-held companies, the guys made clear that “there are only so many deals out there.”  They shared how boards need to determine the size they want to be, honestly assess the talent they have relative to such aspirations and determine how growth through M&A aligns with enterprise risk management positioning.  Essentially, their remarks made clear that a successful merger or acquisition involves more than just finding the right match and negotiating a good deal.

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As I shared with yesterday’s post, my thanks to Crowe Horwath, Stifel, Keefe Bruyette & Woods and Luse Gorman for putting together this year’s Bank Leadership and Profitability Improvement Conference at The Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, California.

The Intersection of Leadership and Profitability

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

Quickly

  • Key takeaways from one of my favorite summer banking events, Crowe Horwath’s Bank Leadership and Profitability Improvement Conference.

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This morning, on the first of my two flights from Washington National to Monterey, California, I learned that Walmart customers might soon be able to get installment loans for big-ticket items through Affirm, a San Francisco-based FinTech I first wrote about in 2014 (For Banks, the Sky IS Falling).  Per the Wall Street Journal, the companies reportedly are nearing an agreement on a pilot program.  This potential partnership caught my eye as I prepared for today and tomorrow’s conference.  Indeed, relationships like these make clear that when it comes to growth and efficiency, the digital distribution of financial goods and services is a significant issue for the banking industry.

This idea took further shape when I walked into the conference center at the Inn at Spanish Bay.  Immediately upon entering the room, I found John Epperson, a partner at Crowe and Jay Tuli, senior vice president retail banking and residential lending at Leader Bank, sharing their opinions on partnership strategies involving banks and FinTechs.  From the stage, they touched on increasing net interest margins via improved pricing strategies on commercial loans, approaches to streamline mortgage application processes, ideas to reduce staff counts for loan administration processes and how to improve customer experiences through online rent payment solutions.

Their perspectives lined up with those we recently shared on BankDirector.com.  To wit, “many banks have realized advantages of bank-FinTech partnerships, including access to assets and customers.  Since most community banks serve discreet markets, even a relatively simple loan purchase arrangement can unlock new customer relationships and diversify geographic concentrations of credit.  Further, a FinTech partnership can help a bank serve its legacy customers; for instance, by enabling the bank to offer small dollar loans to commercial customers that the bank might not otherwise be able to efficiently originate on its own.”

Of all the difficult issues that bank leadership must deal with, I am inclined to place technology at the top of the list.  Banks have long been reliant on technology to run their operations, but in recent years, technology has become a primary driver of retail and small business banking strategy.  John and Jay simply reinforced this belief.

In addition to their thoughts on collaboration, this afternoon’s sessions focused on ‘Liquidity and Balance Sheet Management,’ ‘Fiscal Policy During Regulatory Uncertainty’ and ‘Managing Your Brand in a Digital World.’  While I took note of a number of issues, three points really stood out:

  • Yes, banks can make money while managing decreasing margins and a flat yield curve.
  • Asset growth without earnings growth is a concern for many because of loan pricing.
  • How a CFO sets a target(s) for interest rate risk may start with an “it depends” type response — but gets nuanced quickly thereafter.

Finally, I’m not holding my breath on the industry receiving regulatory relief any time soon.  I get the sense many here aren’t either.  But it would be nice to see some business people brought in to run various agencies and I’m looking forward to the perspectives of tomorrow’s first guest speaker, Congressman John Ratcliffe.

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My thanks to Crowe Horwath, Stifel, Keefe Bruyette & Woods + Luse Gorman for putting together this year’s Bank Leadership and Profitability Improvement Conference at The Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, California.  I’ll check in with additional takeaways based on tomorrow’s presentations.

What Makes M&T A Great Community Bank?

A few months ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about M&T Bank appearing “to be just another big regional lender — but that doesn’t account for its CEO.”  Their piece coincided with our editorial team’s preliminary analysis of this strong financial institution.  We wondered: what’s behind M&T’s consistent success, why and how does M&T work like a community bank — and how is M&T playing a unique role reshaping public schools in Buffalo, New York?  These questions form the basis for Bank Director Magazine’s current cover story.  Authored by our Editor-in-Chief Jack Milligan, what follows is an account of how this upstate New York bank grew by making “quality loans to worthy borrowers” while following the lead of its dynamic Chief Executive..
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Any bank that exceeds $50 billion in assets carries the regulatory designation of being a Systemically Important Financial Institution, or SIFI. As such, they are subject to stricter supervision by the Federal Reserve than smaller banks receive, including higher capital requirements and mandatory stress testing. A community bank is an amorphous concept that means different things to different people, but certain characteristics are implied in the common understanding: It usually has a strong business focus and makes most of its money from lending, it has deep roots in the community because that is where its customers are located, and it is small. “Small” within this context is also imprecise. Certainly any institution that meets that definition under $1 billion would be considered a community bank, although many institutions over that threshold level would make the same claim.

But what about a Buffalo, New York-based $123 billion asset bank that operates in eight states and the District of Columbia?

M&T Bank Corp., the top ranked bank in Bank Director’s 2017 Bank Performance Scorecard for the $50 billion and above asset category, lives in both worlds.  M&T is the country’s 18th largest commercial bank and must adhere to all the requirements of a SIFI. But it also has deep roots in the communities it serves—as deep as most smaller banks. M&T not only meets the consumer and business banking needs of those communities, but also spends time and money trying to make them better places to live.

In this, M&T reflects the interests and values of its 83-year-old chairman and chief executive officer, Robert G. Wilmers, who has run the bank since 1983 when it had just $2 billion in assets. Wilmers believes deeply in the importance of strong local communities, if his 2016 letter to M&T’s shareholders is any guide. In the letter, Wilmers expressed concern about the health and well being of middle-class families and small-business owners who form the foundation of M&T’s customer base. The culprits that Wilmers identified are a monetary policy that has kept interest rates low, and excessive regulation. Low rates have benefited the wealthy more than middle-class families, who tend to be savers rather than investors. And M&T’s customer research has found that while small companies could benefit from borrowing at today’s low rates, many business owners are reluctant to expand in what they feel is an overregulated environment.

“Policies designed to benefit the majority have perversely only benefited a few,” he wrote. “The impacts of these decisions … are real,” Wilmers added. “In particular, the middle class and small businesses are losing ground. So, too, are their communities.”

M&T has a relatively straightforward business model compared to other institutions its size. M&T focuses its lending on consumers and small- and middle-sized businesses, and also provides wealth management and fiduciary services through its Wilmington Trust subsidiary to individuals and corporations. It doesn’t have a capital markets operation or wide array of specialty lending businesses, so it has some of the business model characteristics of a community bank, if not the size.

As is common with many Scorecard winners, M&T’s performance was marked by its balance. It did not place first in any of the five metrics that make up the Scorecard—return on average assets, return on average equity, the ratio of tangible common equity to tangible capital, nonperforming assets as a percentage of loans and other real estate owned, and net charge offs as a percentage of average loans. Its best scores were fifth place finishes for return on assets and net charge offs out of 22 banks in the $50 billion and above category. Scorecard winners tend to be those banks that do well on all of the metrics rather than dominating one or two.

The bank reported net income for 2016 of $1.32 billion, a 22 percent increase over 2015. Although fee income growth was essentially flat in a year-over-year comparison, loan growth was strong in 2016, with commercial and industrial credits growing 11 percent and commercial real estate loans 15 percent for the year. Residential real estate loans actually declined 14 percent last year as the bank let many of the jumbo mortgages that came with its 2015 acquisition of Hudson City Bancorp run off. M&T also shed nearly $2.6 billion in interest-bearing deposits it acquired with Hudson City, a thrift that relied on certificates of deposit for most of its funding. This 34 percent decline in high-cost liabilities, combined with its strong loan growth, resulted in a 22 percent rise in the bank’s net interest income for the year. M&T’s efficiency ratio dropped from 58.0 percent in 2015 to 56.1 last year, and this improvement also helped boost its profitability.

Over the long term, M&T has been a good performer in terms of asset quality and their earnings profile … and they tend to do well among large bank peers,” says Rita Sahu, a credit research analyst who covers M&T for Moody’s Investors Service. Sahu points out that M&T’s expenses were higher in 2014 and 2015 because of some charges related to the Hudson City purchase, and also because the bank had to spend heavily to strengthen its Bank Secrecy Act compliance infrastructure before the Fed would approve the Hudson City acquisition. Putting those issues behind it also helped boost the bank’s profitability last year.

M&T has attracted a strong following among institutional investors who value its predictability. The bank hasn’t posted a quarterly loss going back to 1976, and also had the lowest percentage of credit losses among money center and superregional banks during the financial crisis. Investors especially appreciate how much the bank’s stock price has, well, appreciated. Frank Schiraldi, an equity analyst at Sandler O’Neill + Partners who covers M&T, says the stock’s total return since June 1997 is 747 percent. This performance easily beats both the S&P 500 and SNL Mid Cap U.S. Bank Index for total return. M&T’s own investor presentation points out that just 23 of the 100 largest U.S. banks that were operating in 1983 when Wilmers took over are still around today. Among those, M&T ranks number one in stock price appreciation, with a compound average growth rate of 15 percent. “That’s pretty special,” Schiraldi says.

An important contributor to M&T’s performance last year was the acquisition of Hudson City, which closed in November 2015. Headquartered in Paramus, New Jersey, Hudson City operated on a traditional thrift model with its reliance on high- cost time deposits to fund a home loan origination platform that was heavily focused on jumbo mortgages, a product that M&T did not offer. So why did M&T do the deal? “If you looked at our distribution network prior to Hudson City, it was like a bagel and New Jersey was the hole,” explains Vice Chairman Rich Gold. “We had it surrounded, but we had nothing in New Jersey. This strategically filled a hole and now when you look at our distribution we’re covered from New York all the way down to Richmond, Virginia.”

While Hudson City was important for its geography, there were certain things it didn’t offer. As a traditional thrift, it had only a small percentage of core deposits and little in the way of business or consumer loans. “Our challenge now is to make something more out of the franchise than what it was,” says Gold. That transformation is underway, and it’s a process that M&T is very practiced at. Hudson City was M&T’s 23rd acquisition of either branches or whole institutions since 1987, and many of those deals involved thrifts. Gold says that successfully introducing a bank culture to a thrift takes time, and is facilitated by taking experienced M&T managers and seeding them throughout the old thrift franchise. “They understand the drill,” he says. “They understand what needs to be done. They understand the cultural complexion of [M&T] and are able to not only represent that but teach it.”

Announced in August 2012, the Hudson City deal would take over three years to close because of deficiencies the Fed found in M&T’s risk management infrastructure, particularly its BSA and anti-money laundering compliance efforts. The acquisition of Hudson City was going to substantially increase M&T’s asset size, and the Fed required that the bank strengthen its risk management program accordingly. “We probably did outgrow our infrastructure,” says Gold. “That’s shame on us. We missed that cue and we shouldn’t have, and I think we all recognize that and readily admit that.” M&T would eventually invest hundreds of millions of dollars building out an enterprise risk management infrastructure, including BSA and anti-money laundering compliance, an effort that was led by Gold.

And yet for all that, Hudson City has still turned out to be a good acquisition for M&T, even if it took much longer for the benefits to surface than anyone there expected. “It was still accretive from an earnings standpoint and from a tangible book value standpoint, so financially it was still a very good deal,” says Schiraldi. The Hudson City deal could also turn out to be a big driver of M&T’s growth over the next couple of years as the bank continues to build out the New Jersey franchise.

The bank made a $30 million tax-deductible cash contribution to the M&T Charitable Foundation in the fourth quarter of last year, which reduced its net income by $18 million, or 12 cents of diluted earnings per common share. For all of 2016, the M&T Charitable Foundation contributed $28 million to more than 3,600 not-for-profit organizations across its footprint, and its employees contributed over 234,000 volunteer hours.

Of course, many banks support community activities with their time and money. But few bank CEOs have stated their commitment quite so publicly as Wilmers has, and one undertaking in particular reflects both his values and interests—as do many things at the bank. With an undergraduate degree from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, Wilmers has put his stamp on the bank during the 34 years that he has run it. Its relatively simple business model of checking accounts, loans and investment management advice fits comfortably with Wilmers’ description of the role that banks are supposed to play. “Banks are there to take care of people’s surplus liquidity, and help them buy a car and build a house and manage a business,” he said in an interview. “Part of that is making sure that things go well in the community, and that’s sort of like being for Mother’s Day.”

Wilmers is not the easiest interview for a journalist. He is polite and courteous, but has a tendency to reply to most questions with a brief answer or a deflection. An hour spent with him is to experience a fox hunt from the perspective of the hound. But Wilmers’ commitment to community—and particularly education—is real. He gives full voice to both in his 2016 shareholders letter, with roughly half of its 34 pages devoted to those concerns. (He also spent a lot of time complaining about bank regulation.) But when asked whether the American Dream, as it is embodied in middle-class families and small-business owners, is beginning to fray, Wilmers had this to say: “[Thirty years ago], 70 percent of the work force didn’t have a high school degree. Thirty years from now, 70 percent of the work force will need more than a college degree, in a time when arguably our educational system is getting worse, not better. That’s a big, big problem.”

And it’s a problem that M&T has spent its own time and money on. In 1993, the bank took over School 68, a poorly performing public school in the northeast section of Buffalo, an inner city neighborhood where, today, 33 percent of the residents live below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate is nearly 12 percent. School 68 was converted to a not-for-profit charter school in 2004 and renamed the Westminster Community Charter School, and today it teaches 550 students in kindergarten through the eighth grade. M&T has invested $16.6 million in the school to date, which includes a significant renovation to the building, and it manages all of the school’s operations. “Bob’s whole goal with Westminster was to see if he could change student academic outcomes and students’ lives and [their] families’ lives,” says Pamela Hokanson, president and senior director of schools for Buffalo Promise Neighborhood (BPN), an umbrella organization that oversees the school. As a charter school, Westminster receives about 60 percent of its funding from the State of New York. M&T and the Annie Casey Foundation provide the balance of the funding.

Walking through the facility with Hokanson and Principal Rob Ross on an afternoon in late May of this year, the halls were full of the joyful noise of children who seemed very happy to be there. Tuition is free and the school has a 95 percent attendance rate, the highest of any school in the City of Buffalo, according to Ross. “Of course, social ills creep in every now and then, but our goal is that the students’ experience in school should be safe, it should be positive, and we want them to walk away thinking of something they did today, whether it was the book they read or how they solved a problem with classmates as they were working through math or science,” Ross says.

In 2011, M&T was awarded a five-year, $6 million grant by the U.S. Department of Education to establish BPN, which M&T matched and Hokanson was then able to use as leverage to raise an additional $18 million from other organizations. The Buffalo Promise program now includes two additional schools, one of them an early learning center that was built in 2013 and acts as a feeder to Westminster. M&T contributed $3.5 million toward its construction. The bank also spent approximately $1.5 million renovating homes in the BPN footprint in 2014 and 2015.

M&T’s financial support is vital to BPN in other ways as well. Hokanson is actually an employee of the bank—her bank title is administrative vice president—but she is just one of eight bank employees who work for BPN. Sixteen other BPN employees are funded through an Annie Casey Grant and the M&T Charitable Foundation.

It is doubtful that M&T makes much, if any, money off of the nearly 12,000 residents who live in the BPN community. But it is a community that Wilmers and M&T have invested heavily in nonetheless. And there are children at Westminster whose lives are being changed as a result. Some years back, BPN created a scholarship program, also funded by M&T, that pays the tuition for its best students to attend the top private high schools in Buffalo. There are currently 30 students in the program. In May, the school hosted a dinner that was attended by all of the previous scholarship winners, plus the new class. Ross smiled when he talked about “seeing the dining hall filled with grandmas, and moms and dads and realizing that every one of those kids—yes, they got a scholarship—but they were working really hard not just to keep the scholarship but excel.”

Trying to make lives better. By anyone’s definition, that’s the work of a community bank.

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Our Bank Performance Scorecard is a ranking of the 300 largest U.S. banks, broken into three asset size categories. For a full explanation of the Scorecard and all of the rankings, click here.

A Look Back at AOBA: A Week in Pictures

#AOBA17 – final conference intel
By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps (aka Bank Director and FinXTech) | @aldominick

Quickly:

  • 686 bankers comprised the 1,076 registered attendees — a figure that reflects the participation of 379 financial institutions.
  • 24 of our awesome team were on-site hosting this year’s event — all are celebrating what we affectionately refer to as “AOBA Day” by taking today off as a company holiday.

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This has become something of a sharing tradition… a look back at a phenomenal week in Arizona.  New this year?  The welcome video we arranged to introduce our team to our guests on Sunday morning.

As I shared in a Sunday afternoon post (Trending at Acquire or Be Acquired), the best way to understand this event’s popularity is to look at this picture from Sunday morning at 8:16 AM (e.g. one minute after I turned the stage over to our first speaker, the CEO of KBW, Tom Michaud).  Already, we had 900+ in their seats for this 2.5 day program.  Let me say that one more time… 900+ in their seats on a sunny Sunday Arizona morning.

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So with that in mind, take a look at some of the photos shared by our on-site photographer, Keith Alstrin (Alstrin Photography).

If you’re interested in what is being discussed for the present + future by some of the industry’s most influential executives, I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick along with @BankDirector and its @Fin_X_Tech platform.  To take a further trip back and see what was being shared with (and by) our attendees at Acquire or Be Acquired, we encouraged the use of #AOBA17.  We are excited to do this again next year and hope you’ll save the date!!

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We Are On To FinTech Week

#AOBA17 conference intel (Friday)
By Al Dominick, CEO of Bank Director | @aldominick

Quickly

  • The “bank of the future” is not about technology, it is all about customers.
  • For many financial institutions, the time may be right to retire legacy systems for cloud-based platforms.
  • Numerous financial technology companies are developing new strategies, practices and products that will dramatically influence the future of banking..

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The intersection of technological innovation with strong depository franchises may lead to more efficient banking processes, reductions in fraud and a win/win/win for banks, financial technology firms (fintechs) and consumers.  Globally, nearly $23 billion of venture capital and growth equity has been deployed to fintechs over the past five years, and this number is growing quickly. Still, the nature and extent of impact that fintechs have on the industry remains unclear.

Throughout this week’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference, bank CEOs talked about the continually changing nature of financial services — with fintech often front and center.  For many, collaboration between traditional institutions and emerging technology firms bodes well for their future.  Here, Bank Director’s FinXTech provides authoritative, relevant and trusted content to a hugely influential audience, specifically:

  • Fintechs who view banks as potentially valuable channels or distribution partners;
  • Banks looking to grow and/or innovate with fintech companies’ help and support; and
  • Institutional investors, venture capitalists, state & federal regulators, government officials and academicians helping to shape the future of banking.

We designed FinXTech as a peer-to-peer resource that connects this hugely influential audience around shared areas of interest and innovation.  As a host of FinTech Week in New York City this April 24 – 28 (along with Empire Startups), we bring together senior executives from banks, technology companies and investment firms from across the U.S. to shine a light on what is really generating top line growth and bottom line profits through partnerships, collaboration and investments.

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Given the changing nature of banking today, this week-long event in New York City looks at the various issues impacting banks, non-banks and technology companies alike.  So as we move towards FinTech Week in New York City, I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, FinXTech’s President, Kelsey Weaver @KelseyWeaverFXT@BankDirector and our @Fin_X_Tech platform and/or check out the FinTech Week New York website for more.