The SouthState Podcast: My Take On Banking, Leadership and FinTech

Last week, I had the pleasure of spending a few minutes with Tom Fitzgerald and Caleb Stevens on their Community Bank Podcast. Produced by SouthState’s Correspondent Division, the two dedicate their pod to helping community bankers grow themselves, their team — and their profits. For about 23 minutes, the three of us explored:

  • The hallmarks of a great business leaders;
  • The biggest trends I’ve observed in banking over the last 5 years;
  • The role of community banks (less than 1B in assets);
  • Who’s gaining traction in the bank technology space; and
  • How I feel about curiosity & empathy.

Oh yes, and I botched my ice cream analogy early on. As someone with a sweet tooth, I meant to reference Baskin & Robbins‘ 31 flavors of ice cream while talking leadership characteristics. As a child in Needham, MA, the idea that I’d have to choose between chocolate, coffee, oreo, cookie dough, etc posed a real challenge — especially as we’d go as a post-dentist treat! So when Caleb asks me about key facets of leadership in banking today, please understand my Covid-brain took me back to those fun childhood memories… which is how I wound up bellyflopping on the analogy!!

A Conversation with Richard Davis About Listening, Learning and Leading

One sentence on LinkedIn sparked today’s post.

Yes, a comment shared by a fellow W&L alum, Melissa Sawyer, inspired me. She noted:

Much attention is being paid to the well-orchestrated CEO transitions at Merck and Amazon this week, which reinforce the important role that thoughtful succession planning and good governance play in corporate America.

A partner in the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, I interviewed Melissa as part of our Looking Ahead series in 2019. Since meeting her, I continue to find her perspectives on governance and regulatory issues timely — and spot on.

So when I saw her take on Kenneth Frazier’s and Jeff Bezos’ career decisions this morning, my mind immediately went to a conversation I had with the former CEO of U.S. Bank about his well orchestrated succession plan.

Filmed in advance of our exclusive Inspired By Acquire or Be Acquiredcontent pop-up,” Richard Davis provided valuable insight into sharing intelligence to build others up. He also explained the steps he took to position his successor, Andy Cecere, for success. Rather than edit my conversation down to just that clip, here is the full conversation between Richard (now President & CEO, Make-A-Wish Foundation of America), and me.

We start by talking about culture, purposes and values (1:21). Next, how industry leaders can inspire the societies and communities they serve (5:06). We talked about laying the foundation for a well received transition (8:20) before exploring the equation IQ+EQ+CQ (12:22). Finally, how companies become places that employees want to work for (15:49).

#AOBA21

*Another dot to connect? Our Editor-at-Large, Jack Milligan, talked with the Senior Chairman of Melissa’s law firm, Rodgin Cohen, as part of this digital program. The two explored the heightened cybersecurity threats facing banks today, his outlook for bank M&A in 2021 and how regulation could change under the Biden Administration. For those with access to Inspired By Acquire or Be Acquired’s exclusive digital content, take a look at An Interview with Rodgin Cohen.

Here’s To The Optimists

Fad diets, self-care recommendations and admonishments to “turn the page.”

We all know what’s coming up in our news feeds. But before we give into these New Year’s cliches, let’s take a minute to appreciate how so many were able to pivot in such unexpected ways.

Knowing that one can successfully change should serve many well in this new year.

While resilience — and perseverance — took center stage in 2020, I find culture, technology and growth showed up in new ways as well.

CULTURE, REVEALED

During the darkest of economic times, I was amazed by examples of creativity, commitment and collaboration to roll out the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. When social issues exploded, proud to see industry leaders stand tall against racism, prejudice, discrimination and bigotry. With work-from-home pressures challenging the concepts of teamwork and camaraderie, delighted by how banks embraced new and novel ways to communicate.

TECHNOLOGY, FIRST

Seeing business leaders share their intelligence and experiences to help build others’ confidence stands out. So, too, does how few shied away from technology, which clearly accelerated the transformation of the financial sector. The rush to digital this spring forced banking leaders to assess their capabilities — and embrace new tools and strategies to “do something more.” As the financial sectors’ technology integration continues, this mindset of finding answers — rather than merely identifying barriers — should benefit quite a few.

GROWTH, POSSIBLE

Many banks considered JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup as their biggest challenges and competitors entering 2020. Now, I’d wager Venmo, Square and Chime command as much attention. However, competition typically brings out the best in executives; with mergers and acquisitions activity poised to resume and new fintech relationships taking root, growing one’s bank is still possible.

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So here’s to the optimists. Leaders are defined by their actions, and many deserve to take a well-earned bow for making their colleagues’ and clients’ lives better. While we leave a year marked by incredible unemployment, economic uncertainties and political scars, I’ve found a negative mindset never leads to a happy life. Rather than lament all that went sideways this year, I choose to commemorate the unexpected positives. As I do, I extend my best to you and yours.

With appreciation,

Al

*This reflection also appears in Bank Director’s newsletter, The Slant. A new addition to our editorial suite of products in 2020, I invite you to sign up for this free Saturday newsletter here.

Tech Trends in Banking (Since WFH Began)

WASHINGTON, DC — Since March, I’ve talked with quite a few bank CEOs about their interest in modern and secure technologies. The underlying focus? Improving the experience provided to their customers.

In parallel to such one-on-one conversations, my colleague, Emily McCormick, surveyed 157 independent directors, chief executive officers, chief operating officers and senior technology executives of U.S. banks to understand how technology drives strategy at their institutions — and how those plans have changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

She conducted the survey in June and July — and we just released the results in Bank Director’s 2020 Technology Survey, sponsored by CDW. Here are a few key takeaways:

Focus on Experience
Eighty-one percent of respondents say improving the customer experience drives their bank’s technology strategy; 79% seek efficiencies.

Driving the Strategy Forward
For 64% of respondents, modernizing digital applications represents an important piece of their bank’s overall technology strategy. While banks look to third-party providers for the solutions they need, they’re also participating in industry groups (37%), designating a high-level executive to focus on innovation (37%) and engaging directors through a board-level technology committee (35%). A few are taking internal innovation even further by hiring developers (12%) and/or data scientists (9%), or building an innovation lab or team (15%).

Room for Improvement
Just 13% of respondents say their small business lending process is fully digital, and 55% say commercial customers can’t apply for a loan digitally. Retail lending shows more progress; three-quarters say their process is at least partially digital.

Spending Continues to Rise
Banks budgeted a median of $900,000 for technology spending in fiscal year 2020, up from $750,000 last year. But financial institutions spent above and beyond that to respond to Covid-19, with 64% reporting increased spending due to the pandemic.

Impact on Technology Roadmaps
More than half say their bank adjusted its technology roadmap in response to the current crisis. Of these respondents, 74% want to enhance online and mobile banking capabilities. Two-thirds plan to upgrade — or have upgraded — existing technology, and 55% prioritize adding new digital lending capabilities.

Remote Work Permanent for Some
Forty-two percent say their institution plans to permanently shift more of its employees to remote work arrangements following the Covid-19 crisis; another 23% haven’t made a decision.

Interestingly, this survey reveals that fewer banks rely on their core provider to drive their technology strategy. Forty-one percent indicated that their bank relies on its core to introduce innovative solutions, down from 60% in last year’s survey. Sixty percent look to non-core providers for new solutions. Interested to learn more? I invited you to view the full results of the survey on BankDirector.com.

When Will Bank Mergers Return?

WASHINGTON, DC — The bank M&A market is currently in a deep chill, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.  It is unclear when deal activity will heat up, so who better to ask than Tom Michaud, the President & CEO, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, A Stifel Company, as part of Bank Director’s new AOBA Summer Series.  In this one-on-one, I ask him about:

  • The banking industry’s second quarter results;
  • Why bank stocks have not participated in the overall market recovery;
  • The medium and long term implications of the pandemic on the industry;
  • The area of Fintech he thinks will be the hottest for the balance of 2020; and
  • How the November elections might impact the banking industry.

There are 10 videos in the AOBA Summer Series, with topics directed at C-suite executives or boards. We talk about how important scale has become, given compressing net interest margins, increasing efficiency ratios and climbing credit costs. We explore why banks’ technology strategy cannot be delegated. We observe why some banks will come out of this experience in a bigger, stronger position. And we look at leadership, appreciating that many executives are leading in new, more positive and impactful ways. To watch, click here.

My Conversation with the CEO of Atlantic Union Bankshares

WASHINGTON, DC — Leaders are defined by their actions, especially when facing adversity.  In our just-released AOBA Summer Series, three standout CEOs joined us in a series of one-on-one conversations.  Each provided a personal view on how their concepts of leadership vary; all, however, described their aspirations to provide exceptional quality and sustained performance.

Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 5.21.46 PM

For instance, Chuck Sulerzyski, President & CEO, at Peoples Bank joined John Maxfield, Editor-in-Chief for Bank Director magazine.  They talked about the bank’s response to the unfolding coronavirus crisis and how a bank like Peoples might offset some of the pressure on its earnings.

Stephen Steinour, Chairman, President & CEO, Huntington Bancshares virtually sat down with Jack Milligan, Editor-at-Large for Bank Director magazine.  The two explored how he continues to work with the bank’s board of directors to plan for a future beyond the pandemic.

And as you can see here, I had the distinct pleasure of talking with John Asbury, President & CEO, Atlantic Union Bankshares.  We talked about leading in new, more positive and impactful ways.

With the U.S. economy slowly recovering from its devastating pause, what we don’t know easily exceeds what we do. But, as we reflect on the COVID-19 crisis and its subsequent impact on the country, a few industry trends are becoming visible. Hence the introduction of Bank Director’s AOBA Summer Series, now streaming for free on BankDirector.com

Who is the Next nCino?

WASHINGTON, DC — With this week’s news that nCino is readying itself for an IPO, I thought to postulate about who “the next nCino” might be in the fintech space. By this, I mean the tech company about whom bank executives cite as doing right by traditional institutions.

For context, nCino developed a cloud-based operating system for financial institutions. The company’s technology enables both customers and financial institutions to work on a single platform that’s optimized for both retail and commercial accounts. In simple terms, they provide everything from retail and commercial account opening to portfolio management for all of a bank’s loans.

In its IPO filing, the company says it works with more than 1,100 financial institutions globally — whose assets range in size from $30 million to $2 trillion. Personally, I remember their start and been impressed with their growth. Indeed, I’ve known about nCino since its early Live Oak Bank days. I’ve gotten to know many on their executive team, and just last Fall shared a stage with their talented CEO, Pierre Naudé, at our annual Experience FinXTech conference in Chicago.

Al Dominick, CEO of Bank Director + FinXTech, Frank Sorrentino, Chairman & CEO of ConnectOne Bank and Pierre Naude, CEO of nCino at 2019’s Experience FinXTech Conference in Chicago, IL.

So as I think about who might become “the next” nCino in bankers’ minds across the United States, I begin by thinking about those offering solutions geared to a bank’s interest in Security, leveraging Data + Analytics, making better Lending decisions, getting smarter with Payments, enhancing Digital Banking, streamlining Compliance and/or improving the Customer Experience. Given their existing roster of bank clients, I believe the “next nCino” might be one of these five fintechs:

While I have spent time with the leadership teams from each of these companies, my sense that they might be “next” reflects more than personal insight. Indeed, our FinXTech Connect platform sheds light on each company’s work in support of traditional banks.

For instance, personal financial management (PFM) tools are often thought of as a nice perk for bank customers, designed to improve their experience and meet their service expectations. But when a PFM is built with data analytics backing it, what was seen as a perk can be transformed into a true solution — one that’s more useful for customers while producing revenue-generating insights for the bank. The money management dashboard built by Utah-based MX Technologies does just that.

Spun out of Eastern Bank in 2017 (itself preparing for an IPO), Boston-based Numerated designed its offering to digitize a bank’s credit policy, automate the data-gathering process and provide marketing and sales tools that help bank clients acquire new small business loans. Unlike many alternative lenders that use a “black box” for credit underwriting, Numerated has an explainable credit box, so its client banks understand the rules behind it.

Providing insight is something that Autobooks helps small business with. As a white-label product that banks can offer to their small-business customers, Autobooks helps to manage business’s accounting, bill pay and invoicing from within the institution’s existing online banking system. Doing so removes the need for small businesses to reconcile their financial records and replaces traditional accounting systems such as Quickbooks.

The New York-based MANTL developed an account opening tool that comes with a core integration solution banks can use to implement this and other third- party products. MANTL allows a bank to keep its existing core infrastructure in place while offering customers a seamless user experience. It also drives efficiency & automation in the back-office.

Finally, Apiture’s digital banking platform includes features such as digital account opening, personal financial management, cash flow management for businesses and payments services. What makes Apiture’s business model different from most, though, is that each of those features can also be unbundled from the platform and sold as individual modules that can be used to upgrade any of the bank’s existing systems.

Of course, these are but five of hundreds of technology companies with proven track records of working with financial institutions. Figuring out what a bank needs — and who might support them in a business sense — is not a popularity contest. But I’m keen to see how banks continue to engage with these five companies in the months to come.

2 Years’ Worth of Transformation in 2 months

WASHINGTON DC — Microsoft Corp. CEO Satya Nadella noted in late April, “we’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months,” due to the speedy adoption and implementation of new technology by the U.S. business sector.

As our team at Bank Director writes, “navigating the short-term impacts of these shifts has bankers working round-the-clock to keep pace, but the long-term effects could differentiate the companies that take advantage of this extraordinary moment to pivot their operations.” This transformation makes up the core of the discussions taking place at Microsoft’s Envision Virtual Forum for Financial Services.

As part of that event, I sat down (virtually) with Luke Thomas, Microsoft’s managing director, U.S. banking and financial providers, to discuss how financial institutions can use this opportunity to modernize their operations. Together, we addressed the adoption of technology, legacy vs. new core providers and how business leaders encourage continued improvement.

This seven-minute video runs on both Microsoft and Bank Director’s websites, with a longer write-up on the Covid-19 Shift appearing here.

Predicting The Future, Based On 6 Timeless Tenets

WASHINGTON, DC — Over the years, I’ve used this blog to share stories and ideas that reflect words like resiliency, agility and resourcefulness.  Typically, posts distill my experiences gained through travel or conversation.  Today, I am taking a slight detour in order to highlight a new project that gets to the heart of running a strong and successful business.

Our team crafted this 20-page report from interviews with more than a dozen CEOs.  All from top-performing financial institutions, you will recognize names like Brian Moynihan from Bank of America, Rene Jones from M&T Bank and Greg Carmichael from Fifth Third. This piece offers unique and valuable insights on:

  1. Leadership;
  2. Growth;
  3. Risk management;
  4. Culture;
  5. Stakeholder prioritization; and
  6. Capital allocation.

Bank Director and nCino, a provider of cloud-based services to banks, collaborated on this special project, which takes its inspiration from Amazon’s business model.

Entitled The Flywheel of Banking: Six Timeless Tenets of Extraordinary Banks, I strongly encourage anyone interested in the future of the banking industry to take the time to read it.  Make no mistake, this is no 500 word op-ed.  But it will be worth the hour or so it takes to unpack the insight and inspiration gleaned by our team.  I invite you to let me know what you think.

Experience FinXTech As We #WFH

WASHINGTON, DC — By the time the NFL announced plans to host the draft from various remote locations, nearly every other sports league had postponed or canceled their events.

The decision raised eyebrows.

The NFL draft has become a must-attend in-person event, as evidenced by the record-breaking 600,000 turnout in Nashville, Tennessee, last year. As a fan, I wondered if the league was putting their own interests too far ahead of others by going forward with a new, unproven format just to keep to this activity on the calendar.

It turns out, the digital nature of the three-day event resonated in many positive ways. The draft was viewed by 55 million viewers over the three-day event, according to the league. Naturally, some of the viewership reflected an appetite for new, non-pandemic related content. But from a business perspective, it showed how migrating an in-person event entirely online could, in a pinch, work.

As we all try our best to live normal lives from our homes, the NFL’s success with the draft gives me confidence in our decision to go remote with our annual Experience FinXTech.

Much as the NFL drew a great audience to Music City last year, so too were we excited to welcome a stellar audience to Bank Director’s hometown in early May. Just as the NFL figured out how to provide viewers with new glimpses into their team’s futures, so too will our Experience FinXTech as we move online. Ours will just be in terms of how and where financial technology companies and financial institutions might develop relationships that beget future successes.

Experience FinXTech parallels the NFL draft based on the concept of team-building. Just as every NFL franchise faces its own challenges, so too does every financial institution. Indeed, the ever-expanding digital chasm between the biggest banks and community institutions remains a major strategic challenge in terms of talent, tools and dollars spent.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to building a team, there are lessons that executives and leadership teams might entertain from their peers during a program like this one. Indeed, we have heard and seen incredible examples of community banks pulling together to serve their constituents as best they can, however they can, during this time. This program allows us to share examples.

Bank Director’s desire to help community banks succeed in all circumstances provides an impetus for moving to video and webinars instead of waiting until the late fall to meet in person. Helping banks and fintechs get smarter about immediate opportunities to develop meaningful relationships is incredibly relevant. The time is now to assess a business strategy and make decisions that could reshape your institution’s future. Access to timely, verified and reliable information is something we didn’t want to delay in providing.

Indeed, Experience FinXTech will touch on areas where technology can assist banks to provide counseling, assistance and a personal touch to their existing and potential customers. In addition, we talk about authentication. The need to embrace the cloud. Filling in the missing pieces in the digital commercial banking product set.

Beginning on May 5, we take a pragmatic approach to new business relationships, collaborations and strategic investments. We offer virtual demonstrations to help viewers see proven technologies available to banks with regards to security, data and analytics, internal systems, lending, digital banking, payments, compliance and the customer experience.

With so many elements of our economy being challenged, we know our “next normal” will look very different from what we’ve become accustomed to. Connecting interests, and ideas, to help banks and fintechs navigate their futures is why we ultimately decided to offer this year’s experience online, for free, to anyone interested in joining us.

I look forward to welcoming people to this year’s Experience FinXTech and promise that references to certain NFL teams will be kept to a minimum.

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Thanks to the support of these companies, we are able to extend complimentary registration for Experience FinXTech. To sign up, please click here.

An Optimist’s Dilemma

WASHINGTON, DC — At this time two years ago, optimism swept across the banking sector.  The change in administration gave us a steepened yield curve.  Investors predicted improved economic growth.  Many anticipated regulatory relief and the prospect of major corporate tax cuts.

The future of banking looked promising.

Now, pragmatism has worn that luster. Many have concerns about the growing divide between the biggest banks and everyone else. Throughout 2018, moderate loan and dull deposit growth proved persistent themes for banks.

The future appears far more challenging.

As the year winds down, I find the cyclical nature of banking of particular interest. While an optimist by nature, I fear we’re entering a harder operating environment.

  • We’re getting closer to a turn in the credit cycle.
  • We saw investors bail on bank stocks in October.
  • We see big banks closing rural and suburban branches—opting for digital services instead.

Against this backdrop, I take some comfort in a new book by Dorris Kearns Goodwin, “Leadership in Turbulent Times.”  Goodwin provides anecdotes about controlling negative emotions, like President Abraham Lincoln’s “hot letters”—his own missives of his frustrations he then put aside, hoping he’d never have to send what he’d written.

Leadership in Turbulent Times

So in that spirit, consider this my “Lincoln letter” to a bank’s CEO and board, albeit with an optimist’s take.

Please pay attention to the vast amounts being spent on digital advertising.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PwC estimate U.S. digital ad spending will hit $100 billion by year-end. This number might shock those thinking about where and how they want to tell their bank’s story through videos, social media and other digital means. Nonetheless, considering what’s being spent to court the attention of your “loyal” constituents might spark new ideas for where to invest time and effort.

When thinking tech, intertwine conversations about talent.
With venture capitalists still pouring money into startups offering basic banking services, potential employees have even more options to spend their energy and creativity. For any bank, the demand for the talent needed to deliver new digital capabilities will significantly outpace the available labor pool. If you don’t have a team now, I worry your bank might be challenged to successfully create meaningful technology partnerships.

Culture is eating strategy (and new initiatives) for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Many executives have talked with me about how they’re working hard to ensure the bank’s existing culture keeps pace with the evolution of the industry. We all deal with execution risk—but as that old saying goes, if all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you’ve ever gotten.

Windows of opportunity most certainly exist.  What those windows are, and how long they remain open, remains a moving target — one we intend to focus on next month at our 25th annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference, Jan. 27-29 at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge in Phoenix, Arizona.

*This first ran in Bank Director’s weekly newsletter, The Slant, on December 8.

Making Great Hires

Quickly:

  • Next week, Bank Director hosts its annual Bank Compensation & Talent Conference at the Four Seasons outside of Dallas, Texas.  In advance of the event, a few of my thoughts on how banks might be inspired by Netflix, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Pinnacle Financial Partners.

WASHINGTON, DC — As one of the best-performing stocks on Wall Street, you can bank on Netflix spending billions of dollars on even more original programming, even without a profit. Likewise, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s consumer and community banking unit attracted a record amount of net new money in the third quarter.

How do I know this, and what’s the same about these two things?

Read their most recent earnings reports. Netflix doesn’t hide its formula for success, and JPMorgan boasts about its 24% earnings growth — fueled by the consumer and community banking unit — which beat analyst projections.

While we all have access to information like this, taking the time to dig into and learn about another’s business, even when not in direct competition or correlation to your own, is simply smart business, which is why I share these two points in advance of Bank Director’s annual Bank Compensation & Talent ConferenceBank Director’s annual Bank Compensation & Talent Conference.  Anecdotes like these prove critical to the development of programs like the one we host at the Four Seasons outside of Dallas, Nov. 5-7.

Allow me to explain.

Executives and board members at community banks wrestle with fast-shifting consumer trends — influenced by companies like Netflix — and increasing financial performance pressures influenced by JPMorgan’s deposit gathering strategies.

Many officers and directors recognize that investors in financial institutions prize efficiency, prudence and smart capital allocation. Others sense their small and mid-size business customers expect an experience their bank may not currently offer.

With this in mind, we aim to share current examples of how stand-out business leaders are investing in their organization’s future in order to surface the most timely and relevant information for attendees to ponder.  For instance, you’ll hear me talk about Pinnacle Financial Partners, a $22 billion bank based in Nashville. Terry Turner, the bank’s CEO, shared this in their most recent earnings report:

“Our model of hiring experienced bankers to produce outsized loan and deposit growth continues to work extremely well. Last week, we announced that we had hired 23 high-profile revenue producers across all of our markets during the third quarter, a strong predictor of our continued future growth. This compares to 39 hires in the second quarter and 22 in the first quarter. We believe our recruiting strategies are hitting on all cylinders and have resulted in accelerated hiring in our markets, which is our principal investment in future growth.”

This philosophy personally resonates, as I believe financial institutions need to:

  1. Employ “the right” people;
  2. Strategically set expectations around core concepts of how the bank makes money, approaches credit, structures loans, attracts deposits and prices its products in order to;
  3. Perform on an appropriate and repeatable level.

Pinnacle’s recruitment efforts align with many pieces of this year’s conference. Indeed, we will talk strategically about talent and compensation strategies and structuring teams for the future, and explore emerging initiatives to enhance recruiting efforts. We also explore big-picture concepts like:

Making Incredible Hires

While you’re courting top talent, let’s start the conversation about joining the business as well as painting the picture about how all of this works.

Embracing Moments of Transformation

With advances in technology, we will help you devise a clear vision for where your people are heading.

Creating Inclusive Environments

With culture becoming a key differentiator, we will explore what makes for a high-performing team culture in the financial sector.

As we prepare to welcome nearly 300 men and women to Dallas to talk about building teams and developing talent, pay attention to the former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan. He recently told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that the United States has the “the tightest market, labor market, I’ve ever seen… concurrently, we have a very slow productivity increase.”

What does this mean for banks in the next one to three years? Hint: we’ll talk about it at #BDComp18.