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.

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.

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.

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.

_ _ _

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.

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.

Whether They Want To or Not, Banks Need to Open Up

Apart from interest rates, the two biggest issues that bank executives seem to wrestle with are regulatory and compliance costs.  I sense another emerging challenge coming to shore; specifically, how to “open up” one’s business structure in terms of developing partnerships and permitting others to leverage their customer data and/or capabilities.

For bankers, this challenge comes with significant reputation and customer risk.

Now, it is hard to truly disrupt the concept of banking — and I shared this opinion from the stage at Bank Director’s annual Bank Executive & Board Compensation Conference this morning.  However, I did adjust some of my welcoming remarks based on the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s position that consumers can control their own financial data, including to let third parties help them manage their finances.  As I learned from Jo Ann Barefoot’s Fireside Chat with CFPB Director Richard Cordray at Money 2020, the CFPB “is not content to sit passively by as mere spectators watching these technologies develop.”  According to his prepared remarks:

Many exciting products we see… depend on consumers permitting companies to access their financial data from financial providers with whom the consumer does business. We recognize that such access can raise various issues, but we are gravely concerned by reports that some financial institutions are looking for ways to limit, or even shut off, access to financial data rather than exploring ways to make sure that such access, once granted, is safe and secure.

Since reading the CFPB’s position, Ms. Barefoot’s recap and the Wall Street Journal’s synopsis, I decided to talk with various bank executives and board members that are here with us at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island about this stance.  As I note in this video, I sense both an ongoing struggle — and a sincere interest — to truly understand the role of technology.  For those I talked with, this is as much about “becoming sticky” to their customers as it is about embracing or defending themselves against “the new.”

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For more about this year’s conference, I invite you to take a look at BankDirector.com.  Also, a virtual high-five to the team here for a great first day.  You all rock!

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FinTech Day is One Week Away

The fabric of the financial industry continues to evolve as new technology players emerge and traditional participants transform their business models. Through partnerships, acquisitions or direct investments, incumbents and upstarts alike have many real and distinct opportunities to grow and scale.  If 2015 was all about startups talking less about disruption and more about cooperation, I see 2016 as the year that banks reciprocate.

By Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

Next Tuesday, at Nasdaq’s MarketSite in Time Square, our team hosts our annual “FinTech Day.” With so many new companies pushing their way into markets and product lines that traditionally have been considered the banking industry’s turf, we look at what fintech means for traditional banks. Likewise, we explore where emerging fintech players may become catalysts for significant change with the support of traditional players.  When it comes to trends like the personalization of banking, the challenges of scaling a company in our highly regulated industry and what shifting customer expectations portend for banks and fintechs alike, we have a full day planned. Take a look at some of the issues we will address.

Riding The Wave Of Change
Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director
Robert H. McCooey, Jr., Senior Vice President of Listing Services, Nasdaq

At a time when changing consumer behavior and new technologies are inspiring innovation throughout the financial services community, we open this year’s program with a look at how collaboration between traditional institutions and emerging technology firms bodes well for the future.

Banking’s New DNA
Michael M. Carter, CEO, BizEquity
Vivian Maese, Partner, Latham & Watkins
Eduardo Vergara, Head of Payments Services & Global Treasury Product Sales, Silicon Valley Bank
Moderated by: Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

With continuous pressure to innovate, banks today are learning from new challengers, adapting their offerings and identifying opportunities to collaborate.  With this opening session, we focus on the most pressing issues facing banks as they leverage new tools and technologies to compete.

Who Has the Power to Transform Banking
Jeana Deninger, Senior Vice President, Marketing, CoverHound, Inc.
Brooks Gibbins, Co-Founder & General Partner, FinTech Collective
Colleen Poynton, Vice President, Core Innovation Capital
Moderated by: Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

While fintech startups continue to spearhead the technological transformation of financial services, recent efforts by systemically important financial institutions call into question who reallly has the power to tranform banking. From an investment perspective, recent market turmoil may put some opportunities on hold – while others now have a higher, sharper bar to clear. In this session, we talk to investors about the traits that they look for when backing a venture in the context of a changing economic environment.

Opportunities to Reinvigorate the Banking Industry
Tom Kimberly, General Manager, Betterment Institutional
Thomas Jankovich, Principal & Innovation Leader, US Financial Services Practice, Deloitte Consulting LLP
Pete Steger, Head of Business Development, Kabbage, Inc.
Moderated by: Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

Many fintech companies are developing strategies, practices and new technologies that will dramatically influence how banking gets done in the future. However, within this period of upheaval – where considerable market share will be up for grabs – ambitious banks can leapfrog both traditional and new rivals. During this hour, we explore various opportunities for financial services companies to reinvigorate the industry.

Opportunities to Financially Participate in Fintech
Joseph S. Berry, Jr., Managing Director, Co-Head of Depositories Investment Banking, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Inc. A Stifel Company
Kai Martin Schmitz, Leader FinTech Investment LatAm, Global FinTech Investment Group, International Finance Corporation
Moderated by: Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

While large, multinational banks have made a series of investments in the fintech community, there is a huge, untapped market for banks to become an early-stage investor in fintech companies. Based on the day’s prior conversations, this session looks at opportunities for banks to better support emerging companies looking to grow and scale with their support.

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While this special event on March 1 is sold out, you can follow the conversations by using #Fintech16 @aldominick @bankdirector @finxtech and @bankdirectorpub.  And as a fun fact, I’ll be ringing the closing bell next Tuesday flanked by our Chairman and our Head of Innovation.  So if you are by a television and can turn on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, etc at 3:59, you’ll see some smiling faces waving at the cameras.

Community and Regional Banks are Crucial to the Vibrancy of Our Communities

As we head into the final day of Acquire or Be Acquired, its clear to me that there are some great opportunities for community and regional banks to compete effectively and recapture market share in 2016.

*Thanks to our keynote speaker, J. Michael Shepherd, Chairman & CEO, Bank of the West and BancWest Corporation for inspiring today’s title and video.

 

Acquire or Be Acquired: Don’t Overlook This

Thanks to our keynote speaker, J. Michael Shepherd, pictured above. The Chairman & CEO, Bank of the West and BancWest Corporation, he inspired quite a few with both his wit and wisdom.

Over the past few days at Bank Director’s annual Acquire or Be Acquired conference, various speakers have touched on a number of key strategic growth issues.  From exploring an acquisition to growing loans, controlling expenses to managing capital, the discussions hit the “timely and relevant” standard that we consider essential.  They also reinforced my sense that more boards and their management teams are seriously considering an acquisition as their primary growth plan than at this time last year.

As our editor-in-chief opined, the heightened level of interest could certainly be explained by the continued margin pressure that banks have been operating under for the last several years.  For those thinking about buying another, my short video recap from the mid-way point of AOBA offers a heads up about a pre-deal consideration not to be overlooked.

 

What’s Happening at Acquire or Be Acquired

Throughout the first day of Bank Director’s 22nd annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference, I found quite a few presentations focused on the emergence of mid-sized regional banks that are growing through the consolidation of smaller banks.  Clearly, mergers & acquisitions provide an avenue for some banks to drive improved operating leverage, earnings, efficiency and scale.  At the same time, the pressures prompting larger banks to innovate — sluggish loan demand, depressed revenue, higher compliance costs — are the same ones forcing smaller banks to pursue a sale.

By Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

For those unfamiliar with “AOBA,” this annual event explores issues like the one mentioned above.  Since the conference kicked off at 8 AM on a Sunday, this morning’s post shares three short video recaps from my time at the Arizona Biltmore followed by links to recent posts specific to this conference.

In addition to these videos, below are links to four of my posts specific to the event:

If these types of conversations interest you, take a look at what we’re sharing on BankDirector.com.  Additionally, I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector, and search & follow #AOBA16 to see what is being shared with (and by) the 930 men & women in attendance.