FI Tip Sheet: Is 2014 the Year of the Bank IPO?

Good things come in threes — like insightful/inspiring meetings in New York, Nashville and D.C. this week.  By extension, keep an eye out for a Sunday, Monday and Tuesday post on About That Ratio.  Yes, I’m heading to Chicago for Bank Director’s annual Chairman/CEO Peer Exchange at the Four Seasons (#chair14) and plan to share my thoughts and observations on issues like strategic planning, risk management and leveraging emerging technologies each day.  Finally, I hope the three points I share today (e.g. a look at what the future holds for branches to a rise in public offerings) prove my original sentiment correct.

banking2020-hero1

I’ve been surprised… by the # of conversations I’ve had about branch banking.

With many of the mega and super-regional banks focused on expense control, I find myself talking fairly regularly about how these institutions are taking a “fresh look” at reducing their branch networks.  Typically, these conversations trend towards well-positioned regional and community banks — and how many now look to branch acquisitions as low risk and cost effectives ways to enter a new market or bolster an existing market.  I expect these conversations to continue next week in Chicago — but thought to share today as it again came to the fore earlier this week in NYC.  While there, I had a chance to catch up on PwC’s latest offerings and perspectives.  Case-in-point, one of their current research pieces shows that, despite the emergence of new competitors and models:

“the traditional bank has a bright future – the fundamental concept of a trusted institution acting as a store of value, a source of finance and as a facilitator of transactions is not about to change. However, much of the landscape will change significantly, in response to the evolving forces of customer expectations, regulatory requirements, technology, demographics, new competitors, and shifting economics.”

banking2020-hero3

The two images above come from an information-rich micro-site (Retail Banking 2020) PwC shares.  Personally, I found these statistics fascinating and foreshadow my second point about creative approaches to win new business.

I’ve been thinking about… fin’tech companies + their “solutions.”

Here, I want to give major props to our friends at the William Mills Agency in Atlanta.  Their annual “Bankers as Buyers” report shares ideas, concepts and research about financial technology from 30 of the top influencers in the country and those forces driving change today.  This year’s report lays out trends for the coming year, including:

  • Branch Network Transformation;
  • Mobile 3.0;
  • Big Data Drives Marketing & Fights Fraud;
  • Payments Technology Stampede;
  • Banks Focus on Underbanked and Wealthy; and
  • Compliance Strategies.

Take a look at their work and download the free report if you’re interested.

I’ve been talking about… the number of banks going public.

Is 2014 the year of the bank IPO? According to Tom Michaud, the president and CEO of Stifel Financial’s KBW, it just might be.  I had a chance to get together with Tom earlier this week and he got me thinking about how many are going to pursue a public market to raise capital versus doing so privately.  He shared the story of Talmer Bancorp (TLMR), which went public on Valentine’s Day.  When it did, it marked the biggest bank IPO in three years (yes, KBW’s Banking & Capital Markets teams completed the $232 million Initial Public Offering, acting as joint bookrunner).  As he shared their story with me, it became clear that as more banks go public, we will see more buyers entering into the M&A market — since most bank deals are being done with stock these days.  It strikes me that going public presents an alternative for private banks… rather than sell now, they might find a more receptive market should their story be a good one.

Aloha Friday!

Mele Kalikimaka

The banking marketplace today is dramatically different from what it was just three years ago.  Since returning to the industry in 2010, I’ve seen a lot of change — and not all good.  Nonetheless, I am bullish on the future of banking.  While some in the media tend to criticize financial institutions and harp on measures like one’s Texas ratio (which models a bank’s risk profile to fail — and also inspired this site’s name), I prefer to focus on financial institutions as the fabric of our neighborhoods and communities.  When I write About That Ratio it is in stark contrast to those who deride the importance of banks.  I am not blind to the problems facing many bankers today, nor ignorant of errors and indiscretions made by some of our larger names.  Still, count me an optimist that better times are ahead.  So before my family and I take off for Christmas in Tulum, Mexico, one last About That Ratio for 2013 that shares three things from the week that was.

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(1) While many year-end blogs take a look back,  Jim Marous authored a comprehensive forward-looking post on his “Bank Marketing Strategies” blog.  His 2014 Top 10 Retail Banking Trends and Predictions compiles opinions from 60 global financial services leaders — including bankers, credit union executives, industry providers, financial publishers, editors and bloggers, advisors, analysts and fintech followers.  I appreciated his invitation to contribute and thought to share the crowd’s top three trends for 2014:

  1. The “Drive-to-Digital” trend will impact delivery, marketing and service usage;
  2. Payment disruption will increase vis-a-vis new players, technologies and innovations; and
  3. Increased competition from “neobanks” and non-traditional players will accelerate.

Take a read through these and the subsequent seven points offered up.  As Jim writes, “disruption will continue at an unprecedented pace and that the industry will look different this time next year.”

(2) It is hard to escape the reshaping of the banking industry through merger activity; in particular, the return of negotiated, strategic bank combinations.  While in San Francisco a few months ago, I wrote about Heritage Financial’s combination with Washington Banking Co.  Forgive the use of “merger of equals” to describe the deal; however, that misnomer best represents the agreement.  Some see these deals becoming more popular as bankers seek to build value for the next few years in order to sell at higher multiples.  Others cite a desire to create more immediate value through cost cuts and efficiencies.  Regardless of who’s driving and who’s riding, there were quite a few notable deals in 2013; for example, Umpqua and Sterling and the recent “51/49” deal between United Financial Bancorp and Rockville Financial.  I get the sense that more boards will consider deals structured like these to accelerate “scaling up” without utilizing cash as the currency for an acquisition.  Time will tell if I’m right.

(3) Finally, I readily admit my excitement to welcoming men and women from across the country to various Bank Director events next year.  From our BIG M&A conference at the Arizona Biltmore in January to The Growth Conference at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans in May to a peer exchange for officers & directors at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, we have a lot planned.  These events are a big part of our 23 year-old company’s business — and its pretty darn cool to participate in various conversations that relate to growth, innovation and “what’s working.”  I’m not alone in thinking it is time for bank CEOs and their boards to go on the offensive.  Competing successfully in a marketplace, managing shareholder expectations, overcoming regulatory obstacles, developing talent and leadership for the next generation, and, most of all, ensuring that one’s institution has the option of choosing whether to “acquire or be acquired”… yup, topics galore for me to cover here in 2014.

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I end every Friday post with a nod to my mother-in-law (who passed away four years ago).  She lived on the Big Island for several years and became quite fond of the “Aloha Friday” tradition; hence, the sign off.  The only Hawaiian saying that puts a bigger smile on my face is today’s title: Mele Kalikimaka!

Can Banking Be Right-Sized?

Size matters?
Size matters?

Although its been said many times, many ways, I can’t tell you what size really matters in banking today. Pick a number…  $500M in asset size?  $1Bn?  $9.9Bn?  Over $50Bn?  7,000 institutions?  6,000?  3,000? Less?  As a follow-up to last week’s guest post by Bank Director magazine’s editor, I spent some extra time thinking about where we are heading as an industry — and the size and types of banks + bankers leading the way.  What follows are three things I’m thinking about to wrap up the week that shows that size matters; albeit, in different ways.

(1) Not a single de novo institution has been approved in more than two years (astonishing considering 144 were chartered in 2007 alone) and the banking industry is consolidating.  Indeed, the number of federally insured institutions nationwide shrank to 6,891 in the third quarter after this summer — falling below 7,000 for the first time since federal regulators began keeping track in 1934, according to the FDIC.  Per the Wall Street Journal, the decline in bank numbers, from a peak of more than 18,000, has come almost entirely in the form of exits by banks with less than $100 million in assets, with the bulk occurring between 1984 and 2011.   I’ve written about how we are “over-capacity;” however, an article on Slate.com takes things to an entirely different level.  In America’s Microbank Problem, Matthew Yglesias posits America has “far far far too many banks…. (that) are poorly managed… can’t be regulated… can’t compete.”  He says we should want the US Bankcorps and PNCs and Fifth Thirds and BancWests of America to swallow up local franchises and expand their geographical footprints.  He sees the ideal being “effective competition in which dozens rather than thousands of banks exist, and they all actually compete with each other on a national or regional basis rather than carving up turf.”  While I have no problem with fewer banks, limiting competition to just the super regional and megabanks is a terrible thought.  Heck, the CEO of Wells Fargo & Co. wrote in the American Banker this August how vital community banks are to the economy.  So let me cite a rebuttal to Slate’s piece by American Banker’s Washington bureau chief Rob Blackwell.  Rob, I’m 100% with you when you write “small banks’ alleged demise is something to resist, not cheer on” and feel compelled to re-share Mr. Stumpf’s opinion:

…we need well-managed, well-regulated banks of all sizes—large and small—to meet our nation’s diverse financial needs, and we need public policies that don’t unintentionally damage the very financial ecosystem they should keep healthy.

(2) To the consolidation side of things, a recent Bank Director M&A survey found 76% of respondents expect to see more bank deals in 2014.  Within this merger mix exists strategic affiliations.  While the term “merger of equals” is a misnomer, there are real benefits of a strategic partnership when two like-sized banks join forces.  Case-in-point, the recent merger between Rockville Bank and United Bank (which will take the United name).  Once completed, the institution will have about $5 billion in assets and be the 4th largest bank in the Springfield, MA and Hartford, CT metropolitan area.  According to a piece authored by  Jim Kinney in The Republican, United Bank’s $369 million merger with the parent of Connecticut’s Rockville Bank “is a ticket to the big leagues for both banks.”  In my opinion, banks today have a responsibility to invest in their businesses so that they can offer the latest products and services while at the same time keep expenses in check to better weather this low interest rate environment.  United Bank’s president-to-be echoed this sentiment.  He shared their “dual mandate in the banking industry these days is to become more efficient, because it is a tough interest rate environment, and continue to grow… But it is hard to grow and save money because you have to spend money to make money.”   Putting together two banks of similar financial size gives the combined entity a better chance to this end.

(3) In terms of growth — and by extension, innovation — I see new mobile offerings, like those from MoneyDesktop, adding real value to community banks nationwide.  This Utah-based tech firm provides banks and credit unions with a personal financial management solution that integrates directly with online banking platforms.  As they share, “account holders are changing. There is an ongoing shift away from traditional brick & mortar banking. Technology is providing better ways for account holders to interact with their money, and with financial institutions.”  By working directly with online banking, core and payment platforms, MoneyDesktop positions institutions and payment providers as financial hubs and offers marketing tools that dramatically impact loan volume, user acquisition and wallet-share.  As technology levels the playing field upon which institutions compete, banks that leverage account holder banking information to solidify relationships bodes well for bank and customer alike.

Aloha Friday!

A Build vs Buy Banking Story

For the first time in a while, I get the sense that members of the boards at financial institutions across the country are not just ready, but also eager, to embrace various strategies that leverage emerging technologies.  Accordingly, what follows are three things I’m thinking about as the week wraps up that have a distinctly tech spin to them.

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Bringing IT In-House

Kudos to Scott Mills — President of The William Mills Agency — for sharing this American Banker profile of FirstBank, a $13 billion Denver institution.  With more than 115 locations in Colorado, Arizona and California, the bank is unusual in that it develops its own core banking software — made possible by an in-house IT team of 250+, or 12% of the bank’s 2,100 workers.  According to the piece, having a “homegrown core and in-house expertise enables the bank to be nimble and make changes quickly.”  Obviously, banks continue to use technology to generate efficiencies.  In fact, I’m seeing some community banks come up with creative solutions to meet their needs.  Case-in-point, this recent Bank Board & Executive Survey — conducted by Bank Director and sponsored by consulting firm Grant Thornton LLP — shows 84% of bankers surveyed plan investments in new technologies to make their institutions more efficient.  Still, FirstBank’s efforts to build instead of buying from outside vendors trumps any other bank’s effort that I’ve come across this year.  Oh yeah, their blog is pretty darn good too.

Finding the Right Partner(s)

For those more comfortable collaborating with firms who specialize in developing IT solutions, let me pass along an observation from my time with CEOs in San Francisco and Chicago.  Over the last month or so, I’ve talked with at least 13 CEOs about how they plan to stay — or potentially become — relevant in the markets they serve.  I’m not that surprised to hear that many want to get rid of branches — but do wonder as they turn to technology to fill in the gap if they have the right people in leadership positions.  Many smaller banks are focused on C&I lending and serving their business communities, so I don’t wonder about their branching focus, but do wonder about their hiring practices.  Certainly, it will become even more imperative to understand the various technology opportunities — and risks — what with so many “non-technical” executives and board members setting paths forward.

Square Peg, Round Hole?

Finally, I have something of a payments-focused writing streak going on this site, and I’m keeping it going thanks to this WSJ report vis-a-vis Square, the payments startup with a square credit-card reader.  As I found out, the company is eliminating a monthly flat-fee option for smaller businesses in favor of its usual “per swipe” fee.  The change is “prompting concern among some of Square’s more than four million customers, which include small businesses that were attracted to Square because it offered a cheaper alternative to traditional credit-card processors, which charge swipe fees of 1.5% to 3%.”  I wonder if this is opportunity knocking for community banks?  Certainly other point-of-sale vendors have seen it that way.

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To comment on this piece, click on the green circle with the white plus (+) sign on the bottom right. If you are on twitter, I’m @aldominick.  Aloha Friday!

Building for the Future

Typically, my Friday columns on About That Ratio highlights three thoughts from the previous week; case-in-point, “On Fee Income + Staying Relevant.”  To vary things up, I’m expanding today’s piece by looking to five of the leading financial technology companies for inspiration.  In no particular order, something I learned from each specific to financial institutions’ efforts or opportunities to build for the future.

(1) Let me open with this visual representation about “engaging with digital consumers.”  Infograhphically speaking (their words, not mine), Infosys took a look at the complex behaviors consumers display when sharing their personal data.  Specifically, the technology company polled 5,000 “digitally savvy consumers” in five countries about how they trade personal data in the retail, banking and healthcare sectors. Their resulting study shows the key challenge facing business is to navigate the complex behaviors consumers display when sharing their personal data.

digital-consumer-circle

(2) Given these digital consumers’ growing use of smartphones — and comfort with their built-in cameras — image capture is a logical next step for bill enrollment and payments via mobile devices.  So it makes sense that Fiserv recently launched “Snap-to-Pay” — a feature that enables consumers to pay bills with a snap of their smartphone cameras.  Essential bill information, such as the company to be paid and the amount due, is captured by taking a picture of a paper bill and then used to automatically populate the appropriate fields on the smartphone screen.  Yup, another cool addition to the payments space.

(3) Competing with Infosys and Fiserv for financial institutions’ business and loyalty is FIS, the world’s largest provider of banking and payments technology.  For the third year in a row, the company achieved the No. 1 ranking on the FinTech 100, an annual listing of the top technology providers to the financial services industry compiled by American Banker, Bank Technology News and research firm IDC Financial Insights.  As I perused their site, I paused on their mobile prepaid solutions to see what they offer for the un-banked and under-banked consumers.  These potential customers represent a significant opportunity to financial institutions, and the suite of mobile offerings offered by FIS looks to robust and user-friendly.

(4) I’m a loyal American Airlines frequent flier (1,417,248 program miles to-date and going strong) and frequent user of their mobile app.  So when I saw that American Airlines Federal Credit Union completed its conversion to a new core processing system offered by Jack Henry & Associates earlier this week, I took note.  While I’m not a customer, I knew about the credit union thanks to in-flight magazines and connections through DFW.  What I didn’t realize is the size of the Texas-based credit union. It has more than $5.6 billion in assets and operates as the thirteenth largest in the United States.  Likewise, I didn’t realize that Jack Henry & Associates’ products and services are delivered through just three business units, with one supporting more than 750 credit unions of all asset sizes.

(5) Thinking about the airlines makes me think of government control and oversight (hello FAA, TSA, etc).  Just as some try to treat the airline industry as a public utility (it is not), so do some look at the banking space (again, it is not).  Still, increased regulatory involvement and tighter credit markets require greater emphasis on IT governance and risk compliance.  For this reason, numerous North American and European banks rely on Cognizant for risk management solutions across their operations in credit risk, operational risk and market risk.  As they share in Tackling Financial Crime, financial institutions seeking new revenue streams have “taken refuge in technologically advanced IT-enabled solutions… to stay ahead of the competition.”  However, the increasing use of plastic money, e-commerce, online banking and high-tech payment processing infrastructure has opened up new opportunities for financial criminals.  Hm, how to end on a positive.  Perhaps a link to the governance, risk and compliance solutions bank officers & directors might want to learn more about to defend against such cyber crime…

Aloha Friday!

Size Matters – and Other Banking Notes From the Bay Area

The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco
Walking up to the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco

Last week, Lexington, Virginia… this week, San Francisco, California… next week, Chicago, Illinois.  Yes, conference season is back and in full swing.  I’m not looking for sympathy; heck, for the past few days, I’ve set up shop in Nob Hill (at the sublime Ritz-Carlton) to lead our Western Peer Exchange.  Traveling like this, and spending time with a number of interesting CEOs, Chairmen, executives and board members, is why I love my job.  What follows are three observations from my time here in NorCal that I’m excited to share.

(1) On Wednesday, I took a short drive up to San Mateo to learn more about Kony, a company that specializes in meeting multi-channel application needs.  I have written about customer demands for “convenient” banking services in past posts — e.g. Know Thy Customer –and will not try to hide my interest in FinTech success stories.  Learning how their retail banking unit works with financial institutions to deliver a “unified and personalized app experience” proved an inspiring start to my trip.  Consequently, our Associate Publisher and I talked non-stop about the rapid evolution and adoption of technologies after we wrapped things up and drove back towards San Francisco.  We agreed that consumer expectations, relative to how banks should be serving them, continues to challenge many strategically. To this end, Kony may be worth a look for those curious about opportunities inherent in today’s mobile technology.  Indeed, their team will host a webinar that features our old friend Brett King to examine such possibilities.

(2) When it comes to banks, size matters.  To wit, bigger banks benefit from their ability to spread fixed costs over a larger pool of earning assets.  According to Steve Hovde, an investment banker and one of the sponsors of our event, “too big to fail banks have only gotten bigger.”  He observed that the top 15 institutions have grown by nearly 55% over the past six years.  Wells Fargo, in particular, has grown 199% since ’06.  With more than 90% of the banking companies nationwide operating with assets of less than $1 billion, it is inevitable that consolidation will be concentrated at the community bank level.  However, as yesterday’s conversations once again proved, size doesn’t always trump smarts.  I said it yesterday and will write it again today.  Our industry is no longer a big vs. small story; rather, it is a smart vs. stupid one.

(3) That said, “nobody has told banks in the northwestern U.S. that bank M&A is in the doldrums.”  According to the American Banker, two deals were announced and another terminated after the markets closed Wednesday.  Naturally, this should put pressure on banks in the region to keep buying each other.  Here in San Francisco, the one being discussed was Heritage Financial’s combination with Washington Banking Co.  According to The News Tribune, this is “very much a merger between equals, similar in size, culture and how each does business.”  Now, the impetus behind ‘strategic affiliations’ (don’t call them mergers of equals) comes down to creating value through cost cuts and wringing out efficiencies.  The thinking, at least during cocktails last night, was that deals like these happen to build value for the next few years in order to sell at higher multiples.  Certainly, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.  In a few months at our Acquire or Be Acquired conference, I anticipate it generating quite a few opinions.

Aloha Friday!