3 Approaches to Shaping a Bank’s Digital Future

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

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

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

#1: Forge Your Own Digital Frontier

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

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

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

#2: Look Outside For Tailored Solutions

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

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

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

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

#3: Go Off-the-Shelf

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

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

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

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

Let’s Not Forget: Banks Are Still Banks

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

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

5 Trends from Acquire or Be Acquired 2019

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

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SAVE THE DATE:

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

For early-bird registration, please click here.

Everything You Need to Know About 2019’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best of FinXTech’s Annual Summit

Quickly:

  • FinXTech’s annual Summit brought together senior executives from across the financial space to focus on new growth strategies and opportunities related to technology.

PHOENIX — I’ve spent the past few days with bank leaders, technology executives, investors and analysts interested to explore emerging trends, opportunities and challenges facing many as they look to grow and scale their businesses.  So as I prepare to head home to DC after some wonderfully exciting days at Bank Director’s annual FinXTech Summit, a few highlights from my time in the desert.

The 10 Finalists for 3 FinXTech Awards

For me, one of the signature pieces of this year’s program occurred on Thursday evening.  Under the stars, we recognized ten partnerships, each of which exemplified how banks and financial technology companies work together to better serve existing customers, attract new ones, improve efficiencies, bolster security and promote innovation.  The finalists for this year’s Best of FinXTech Awards can be seen in this video.

Winners of the 2018 Best of FinXTech Awards

We introduced these awards in 2016 to identify and recognize those partnerships that exemplify how collaborative efforts can lead to innovative solutions and growth in the banking industry.  This year, we focused on three areas of business creativity:

  • Startup Innovation, to recognize successful and innovative partnerships between banks and startup fintech companies that have been operating for less than five years.
  • Most Innovative Solution of the Year, to highlight forward-thinking ideas, we recognized partnerships that have resulted in new and innovative solutions in the financial space.
  • Best of FinXTech Partnership, a category to recognize outstanding collaboration between a financial institution and fintech company, we based this award on growth by revenue, customers and/or reputation plus the strength of integration.

The winners? Radius Bank and Alloy for Startup Innovation, CBW Bank and Yantra Financial Technology for Innovative Solution of the Year and Citizens Financial Group and Fundation for Best of FinXTech Partnership.  To learn more about each, check out this cover story on BankDirector.com

Favorite #FinXTech18 tweet

Well played with the ZZ Top reference — now we just needs to grow out that beard and drop a pair of RayBans into the shot.

Favorite picture

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Three timely (and paraphrased) comments

  1. COMMUNICATION is key…. said nearly every presenter.
  2. Make the tough call to kill bad tech or a bad relationship. You’ll lose customers if you don’t react quickly (h/t to our VP of Research, Emily McCormick).
  3. Change is the key to being valuable; start thinking and working like a startup (h/t @nabeelmahmood).

Video Recaps

During our time in the desert, we shared a number of videos on BankDirector.com.  The page with all videos can be found on FinXTech Annual Summit: Focusing on What’s Possible.  To get a sense of what these short videos look like, here is an example:

Thanks to all those who joined us at the Phoenician.  For more ideas and insight from this year’s event, I invite you to take a look at what we’ve shared on BankDirector.com (*no registration required).

3 Ways Banks Can Pick Up their Pace of Creativity

Quickly:

  • Financial institutions need a culture that allows for, and encourages, leadership teams to test & implement new approaches to traditional banking.

PHOENIX — Many financial institutions face a creativity crisis.  Legacy systems and monolithic structures stifle real change at many traditional banks — while newer technology leaders move quickly to pick up the slack.  During the first day of our annual FinXTech Summit at the Phoenician, I picked up on a few practical ideas to break down a few of the most common barriers to innovation inside financial institutions.

As our managing editor, Jake Lowary, wrote for BankDirector.com this morning, “the cultural and philosophical divides between banks and fintech companies is still very apparent, but the two groups have generally come to agree that it’s far more lucrative to establish positive relationships that benefit each, as well as their customers, than face off on opposite ends of the business landscape.”

So with this in mind, I invite you to follow the conference conversations via our social channels, where our team continues to shares ideas and information from Day 2 of this event using @BankDirector and @Fin_X_Tech on Twitter. In addition, you can search & follow #FinXTech18 to see what’s being shared with (and by) our attendees.

Kicking off FinXTech’s Summit

Quickly:

  • Technology continues to transform nearly every aspect of the financial services industry — from mobile payments to peer-to-peer lending to financial management.

PHOENIX — Tomorrow morning, we kick off our annual FinXTech Summit.  As I wrote yesterday, this annual event serves as our “in-person” bridge between banks and qualified technology companies.  Personally, I am so impressed to witness numerous financial institutions transforming how they offer banking products and services to businesses and individuals.  As such, I find myself eager to engage in tomorrow’s conversations around:

  • Partnerships, collaboration and enablement;
  • How and where banks can invest in cloud-based software; and
  • The business potential of machine learning, advanced analytics and natural language processors.

Joining us at the Phoenician are senior executives from high-performance banks like Capital One, Customers Bank, Dime Community Bancshares, First Interstate Bank, IBERIABANK, Mechanics Bank, Mutual of Omaha Bank, PacWest, Pinnacle Financial, Seacoast National Bank, Silicon Valley Bank, South State Bank, TCF National Bank, Umpqua, Union Bank & Trust, USAA and US Bancorp.  Long-time tech players like Microsoft share their opinions alongside strong upstarts like AutoBooks during this two-day program.  So before I welcome nearly 200 men and women to this year’s conference, allow me to share a few of my preliminary thoughts going into the event:

For those with us here in Arizona, you’ll find nearly every presentation explores what makes for a strong, digitally-solid bank.  So to see what’s trending, I invite you to follow the conference conversations via our social channels. For instance, I am @AlDominick on Twitter — and our team shares ideas and information through @BankDirector plus our @Fin_X_Tech platform.  Finally, search & follow #FinXTech18 to see what’s being shared with (and by) our attendees.

The Intersection of Ideas and Opportunities

Quickly:

  • In a few days, the lights come up on the annual FinXTech Summit, a program that explores ways for banks to delight customers, generate top-line growth and enhance bottom-line profits through partnerships and investments in technology companies.

PHOENIX — When I last stepped foot in Arizona, it was to host Bank Director’s annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference.  The January event attracts a hugely influential audience focused on mergers, acquisitions and growth strategies & tactics.  While there, we noticed quite a few presentations explored how and where financial institutions might invest in, or better integrate, digital opportunities.  So, as a complement to Acquire or Be Acquired, I’m back in the desert to dive deeper into myriad ideas for banks to improve profitability and efficiency with the help of technology firms.

As we prepare to host our FinXTech Annual Summit at the Phoenician, take note: smart banks are investing and/or partnering with technology companies because they realize it’s cheaper and faster than building something themselves.  Further, the largest banks in the U.S. are rapidly evolving with advances in artificial intelligence across chatbots, robo-advisors, claims, underwriting, IoT and soon blockchain — all of which add another layer of potential to further shake-up traditional business models.  In fact, there was a palatable sense among bankers at AOBA about the evolution in financial technology.

Nonetheless, many banks, especially those between $500M and $30Bn in assets, are on the outside looking in — and this is where FinXTech’s Summit story begins.

From exploring data to leveraging cognitive computing to gaining efficiencies in backroom processes, this year’s event surfaces a number of potent ideas.  For instance, we shine a light on how bank leadership can truly unleash the potential of a technology partner.  Further, we pull current quotes and issues like these to discuss and debate:

One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontent. Their expectations are never static — they go up. It’s human nature. We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied. People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary’
Jeff Bezos, Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Likewise, we share our takes on key acquisitions — like JP Morgan’s acquisition of WePay — while identifying how institutions leverage newer technologies to improve efficiency ratios and in some cases, boost franchise valuations.

In a sense, FinXTech’s Summit serves as our “in-person” bridge between banks and qualified technology companies.  For those joining us, we’ll touch on various products and services for security, data & analytics, infrastructure, lending, mobile banking, payments and regtech while convening an exceptionally senior audience of 200+.  Throughout the event, I’ll share my thoughts via Twitter, where I’m @AlDominick and using #FinXTech18.  Finally, I’ll author a daily update on this site with my observations from the conference.

3 Key RegTech Themes

Quickly:

  • Machine learning, advanced analytics and natural language processors dominated conversations at yesterday’s RegTech program at NASDAQ’s MarketSite.

NEW YORK — Where will technology take us next?  As many banks embrace digital tools and strategies, they inevitably grapple with regulatory uncertainty.  This naturally creates friction in terms of staffing levels, operational expenses and investment horizons.  With so many regional and national banks continuing to grow in size and complexity, the responsibility to provide appropriate oversight and management escalates in kind.

Likewise, as more and more community banks rely on technology partners to transform how they offer banking products and services, management teams and boards of directors grapple to assess how such relationships impact compliance programs and regulatory expectations.  Can technology truly deliver on its promise of efficiency, risk mitigation and greater insight into customer behavior?

To address questions and observations like these, my team hosted the Reality of RegTech at NASDAQ’s MarketSite on April 18.  Entering the MarketSite, we aspired to surface ideas for banks to better detect compliance and regulatory risks, assess risk exposure and anticipate future threats by engaging with technology partners.

Over the years, our annual one trek to NASDAQ’s New York home afforded us opportunities to:

  • Learn how BNY Mellon encourages innovation on a global scale;
  • Identify where early-stage technology firms realistically collaborate with financial services providers; and
  • Explore lending strategies and solutions for community banks.

This year, we focused on the intersection of technology with regulation, noting that banks can and should expect an overall increase in regulatory constraints on topics including supervision, systemic risk (such as stress tests), data protection and customer protection.

For Forward-Thinking Banks

At Bank Director, we see the emergence of regulatory-focused technology companies helping leadership teams to bridge the need for efficiency and security with growth aspirations. However, understanding how and when to leverage such technologies confounds many executives.  As our Emily McCormick wrote in advance of the event, forward-thinking banks are looking within their own organizations to figure out how the deployment of regtech fits into the institution’s overall strategic goals while matching up with culture, policies, processes and talent.

Key Takeaways

  1. RegTech is, by its very nature, constantly evolving.  Current solutions focus on one of two things: reducing the cost of compliance via automation or leveraging technology to deliver more effective compliance.
  2. The flip side to the promise of these solutions is a skepticism and concern by both regulators and banks that RegTechs really are in this for the long-haul, are reliable and “safe” to work with.
  3. A first step for banks not already using RegTech?  Develop an implementation road map for one specific need (e.g. BSA / AML) which aligns to the overall strategic vision of the organization (in this case, a desire to grow through acquisition).

Interesting Reads on RegTech

Multiple presentations touched on how and where banks can maximize the potential benefits of their RegTech endeavors by addressing key risks; for instance: uncertain development paths, provider reliability, increased regulatory scrutiny, limited judgment and privacy concerns.  For those looking to go deeper on these issues:

  1. PwC authored a Regulatory Brief that discusses (a) how banks are using RegTechs, (b) the current RegTech landscape, and (c) what banks should do to prepare for RegTech.
  2. Continuity offers an e-book along with a step-by-step system for predictable, repeatable compliance results.
  3. Ascent blogs about the impact of artificial intelligence on regulatory compliance in its Top 5 Ways AI in Compliance Will Affect You in 2017.

Multiple members of the team shared insight and inspiration with #RegTech18 on Twitter (usually tying into our @Fin_X_Tech and @BankDirector handles).  Finally, be sure to check out BankDirector.com (no subscription required) as our editorial team offers up a number of perspectives on RegTech and this year’s event.

Shh, Disruption in Banking Continues

Quickly:

  • I spent yesterday afternoon at Capital One Growth Ventures’ inaugural VC & Startup Summit, an event that inspired today’s post.

WASHINGTON, DC — I’m hard pressed to find anyone willing to contest the notion that technology continues to disrupt traditional banking models. Now, I realize the “D” word jumped the shark years ago. Personally, I try my best to keep my distance from employing the adjective to describe what’s taking place in the financial world vis-a-vis technology. However, banks of all sizes continue to reassess, and re-imagine, how financial services might be structured, offered and embraced given the proliferation of new digital offerings and strategies.

As I reflect on the first quarter of 2018, it strikes me that we’re living in an industry marked by both consolidation and displacement. Yes, many bank executives have fully embraced the idea that technology — and technological innovation — is a key strategic imperative. However, few banks have a clear strategy to acquire the necessary talent to fully leverage new technologies. On the flip side, I get the sense that a number of once-prominent FinTech companies are struggling to scale and gain customer adoption at a level needed to stay in business. Nonetheless, the divide between both parties remains problematic given the potential to help both sides grow and remain relevant.

While banks explore new ways to generate top-line growth and bottom-line profits through partnerships, collaboration and technology investments, I have some concerns. For instance, the digital expectations of consumers and small & mid-sized businesses may become cost-prohibitive for banks under $1Bn in assets. So allow me to share what’s on my mind given recent conversations, presentations and observations about the intersection of fin and tech.

FIVE ON MY MIND

  1. With all the data issues coming to light courtesy of Facebook, how can banks extract the most revenue from the data available to them (*and how much will it cost)?
  2. As banks become more dependent on technology partners, what level of control —over both costs and data — should a bank be willing to trust to third parties?
  3. What does the arrival of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, mean for a financial institutions’ current workforces?
  4. Amazon’s announced checking account partnership with JPMorgan Chase begs the question: how dependent should banks become on big technology companies?
  5. How many larger banks will acquire smaller institutions that cannot keep up with the cost and pace of technology in Q2?

Significant technological changes continue to impact the financial community. In the weeks to come, I’ll relay what I learn about these five issues in subsequent posts. If you’re interested, I tweet @AlDominick and encourage you to check out @BankDirector and @FinXTech for more.

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.

The Paths High Performing Banks Take to Growth and Innovation

Quickly:

  • I’m in Utah at the Montage Deer Valley for the second day of the Association for Financial Technology’s Fall Summit.
  • This afternoon, I shared my thoughts on the pace of change impacting banks as part of AFT’s Fintech Leadership Industry Update.

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

PARK CITY — For those that attended Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference this January, you may recall slides illustrating the consolidating nature of the banking industry over the past 25 years.  This decrease in the number of banks is the result of several major factors; most notably, changing banking laws, changing technologies, changing economics and changing consumer behaviors.

Given the audience we share information with (e.g. bank CEOs and their leadership teams), I continue to hear talk about steady, albeit slow, loan growth, some margin improvement and a continued emphasis on expense control.  However, it is apparent from the outside looking in that many banks still lack the true flexibility to continually innovate in terms of both products and services — and how they are delivered.

This is downright scary when you consider that Amazon’s Lending Service surpassed $3 billion in loans to small businesses since it was launched in 2011.  As I shared in my remarks, Amazon loaned over $1 billion to small businesses in the past twelve months.  Over 20,000 small businesses have received a loan from Amazon and more than 50% of the businesses Amazon loans to end up taking a second loan.  This is a major threat to the established financial community, because if there is one thing community banks and large banks agree on, it is that the small business market is important.  This will not change any time soon, and for community banks in particular, a greater share of the small business market may be their only path to survival.

So what I shared this afternoon were real-world examples of bank CEOs focused on carrying out a long-term growth strategy in creative, yet highly focused, ways.  For instance, several of the banks I referenced are attempting to re-engineer their technology and data infrastructure using modern systems and processes, developed internally and augmented through partnerships with fintech companies.  For instance, I cited a newer partnership between First Horizon’s First Tennessee bank unit and D3 Banking. In addition, I used examples like US Bancorp, PNC and Fifth Third before highlighting five more institutions that range from $10Bn to $50Bn in asset size.

I did so because we are witnessing an intense struggle on the part of financial services providers to harness technology in order to maintain relevance in the lives of their customers.  The eight banks I cited today have different leadership approaches; all, however, are considered high-performers. For those interested, here is a link to my presentation: Bank Director and FinXTech 2017 AFT Presentation.

The caveat to my presentation, remarks and writing: it might appear easy to create a strategic direction to improve efficiency and bolster growth in the years ahead. But many bank executives and their boards are being cautioned to prepare for false starts, unexpected detours and yes, stretches of inactivity — all of which impacts tech companies like those here in Park City at AFT.  Still, a vision without action is a dream; action without vision, a nightmare.  For these banks, strong leadership have set a clear course for their futures.

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.

_ _ _

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.