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.

What Makes M&T A Great Community Bank?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Research Report on Marketplace Lending

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

Quickly:

  • Lending is an estimated $15 trillion industry in the United States — and the banking industry’s share in this market is estimated to be around $6.6 trillion (~ 44% of the overall market).
  • Within the FinTech sector, lending is the largest segment in terms of funding from investors, and market altered the lending landscape.
  • Marketplace lenders — online platforms that match borrowers with lenders — will likely see some consolidation in ’17 and continue to converge with banks through partnerships, white label contracting and yes, even mergers.

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Fintech lending has grown from $12 billion in 2014 to $23.2 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach $36.7 billion in 2016, a year-over-year growth of 93 percent and 58 percent in 2015 and 2016.  This market, according to Morgan Stanley Research, is expected to grow further and reach $122 billion by 2020.

As noted throughout our Acquire or Be Acquired conference, partnerships between a bank and a tech company can take on many forms — largely based on an institution’s available capital, risk appetite and lending goals.  With FinTech solutions gaining momentum, many advisors here have encouraged banks to look at viable alternatives to meet consumer demands, maintain and expand their lending revenue and give formidable competition to those looking to take that marketshare.

With this in mind, I invite you to take a look at a new Fintech Intelligence Report on Marketplace Lending (to download the PDF version, click: fintech-intelligence-report-lending).  The research paper, developed by Bank Director’s FinXTech platform and MEDICI, a subscription-based offering from LetsTalkPayments.com, explores current market dynamics along with technology & partnership models.  As noted in this report, the gains of new FinTech companies were widely thought to be at the expense of banks; however, many banks recognized the potential value from collaboration and built relationships with FinTechs.

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While our Acquire or Be Acquired conference wrapped up yesterday, you can take a look back on the conversations + presentations that found their way onto Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector and our @Fin_X_Tech platform, and search #AOBA17 to see what was shared with (and by) our attendees.

Bank Director’s new Tech Issue

Earlier this week, we published the December issue of Bank Director Magazine, our annual Tech Issue.  Stories range from the changing nature of mobile banking to institutions moving into the cloud to a venture capitalist’s perspective on the future of banking.  I invite you to take a look.

Since starting this blog in 2012, I’ve shared my optimism that the intersection of technological innovation with strong depository franchises may lead to more efficient banking processes, reductions in fraud and a win/win/win for banks, FinTechs and consumers.  So as I read through this current digital issue, a few key takeaways:

  • When San Francisco-based Bank of the West, an $80.7 billion asset subsidiary of BNP Paribas Group, analyzed last year the bottom line impact of customers who are engaged in online banking and mobile banking, it found some surprising results. Digital customers, or those who were active online or on their mobile phones during the previous 90 days, had lower attrition rates than nondigital customers, and they contributed higher levels of revenue and products sold, said Jamie Armistead, head of digital channels at Bank of the West.
  • Automating the small-business lending process requires some deep thinking from boards and management about how much faith they’re willing to place in technology, and their ability to embrace the cultural change implicit in basing lending decisions more on data than judgment. “The marketplace is demanding quicker decisions through technology,” says Pierre Naude, CEO of nCino, a maker of bank operating systems. Bank customers, he says, are clamoring for special products and specialized coding that enable greater automation of the small-business lending process. “Bankers are waking up to the fact that speed and convenience will trump price. You can lose a customer to an alternative lender if you don’t have it.”
  • As our Editor, Naomi Snyder, shares in her welcoming letter, banks tend to have the usual board committees (think audit, compensation and risk).  But we know that few have a board-level technology committee.  So I wonder if 2017 is the year that more institutions decide to create such a group to become better informed and better prepared as the digitization of the banking industry continues?

Concomitant to this issue’s release, Chris Skinner shared his perspectives on the state of FinTech our FinXTech platform.  In his words, “it is apparent that the fintech industry has become mainstream just as fintech investing cools. What I mean by this is that fintech has matured in the last five years, going from something that was embryonic and disruptive to something that is now mainstream and real. You only have to look at firms like Venmo and Stripe to see the change. Or you only have to consider the fact that regulators are now fully awake to the change and have deployed sandboxes and innovation programs. Or that banks are actively discussing their fintech innovation and investment programs… Fintech and innovation is here to stay.”

Clearly, the pace of change in the banking space continues to accelerate.  Accordingly, I encourage you to check out what we’re doing with both Bank Director and FinXTech to help companies who view banks as potentially valuable channels or distribution partners, banks looking to grow and/or innovate with tech companies’ help and support; and institutional investors, venture capitalists, state & federal regulators, government officials and academicians helping to shape the future of banking.

Quick Guide: 2015 Growth Strategy Survey (Bank-specific)

Recently, Business Insider and the Wall Street Journal picked up Bank Director’s 2015 Growth Strategy Survey.  The research project reveals how many financial institutions continue to recognize growth in traditional areas — most notably, loans to businesses and commercial real estate — while struggling to attract a decidedly untraditional digital generation.  So in case you missed it, today’s piece highlights key findings from this annual research project. 

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

Over the weekend, our friends at the Wall Street Journal ran a very telling story about the efforts being made by the San Francisco 49ers to better engage with their millennial employee base.  Clearly, the NFL franchise’s challenge to “relate to a generation — generally described as 18-to-34-year-olds — that has been raised on smartphones and instant information” parallels that of most banks in the U.S.  In addition to being a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at what’s happening out in Santa Clara, it also sparked today’s post.

You see, as a 38-year old who runs a great privately-held company that employs quite a few folks under the age of 30, I have to admit that I am tiring of the broad strokes being used to describe millennials’ needs and ambitions.  However, I will admit to being surprised to learn that there are approximately 75 million people in the U.S. under the age of 34.  This is a huge number, especially when you hear that every day, for the next 15 years, 10,000 people will turn 65 (h/t to the CEO of Boston’s Chamber of Commerce for making me aware of this reality).

Surprisingly, 60% of the executives and board members that responded to Bank Director’s 2015 Growth Strategy Survey say their bank might not have the right products, services and delivery methods to serve the vast majority of this demographic.  While I haven’t run this by our very talented Director of Research (*hello Emily McCormick), to me, this shows that the relationships that community bankers nurtured for decades will be increasingly of less value with this emergingly-influential generation who have grown up in a digital world and who, stereotypically, value the speed with which it operates.

As the Wall Street Journal shared when reporting on our research results, “banks have watched less regulated finance companies ranging from mortgage lenders to private-equity firms encroach on many of their main businesses.  But ask an executive or board member at a bank what nonbank company they most fear, and they’re likely to name the world’s biggest technology company, Apple Inc.”  So what were our key findings?  Glad you asked…

Three key findings (click this title link to access the full report):

  1. Apple is the nonbank competitor respondents worry about most, at 40%  — just 18% of respondents indicate their bank offers Apple Pay.
  2. Bank mobile apps may not keep pace with nonbank competitors. Features such as peer-to-peer payments, indicated by 28% of respondents, or merchant discounts and deals, 9%, are less commonly offered within a traditional bank’s mobile channel. 49% of respondents indicate their bank offers personal financial management tools.
  3. Despite the rise of P2P lenders like Lending Club and Prosper in the consumer lending space, just 35% of respondents express concern that these startup companies will syphon loans from traditional banks.

Instead of millennials, banks have been finding most of their growth in loans to businesses and commercial real estate.  Yes, 75% of respondents want to understand how technology can make their bank more efficient… and 72% want to know how technology can improve the customer experience.  But I find it telling that today, loan growth remains the primary driver of profitability for the majority of responding banks.  In fact, 85% of respondents see opportunities to grow through commercial real estate loans.  As we found, executives and board members also expect to grow through commercial & industrial (C&I) lending, for 56%, and residential mortgages, at 45%.  So for those looking to predict the future of banking, I think findings like these are quite telling.  Indeed, it would appear what’s worked in the past may be what to bet on for the future.

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The 2015 Growth Strategy Survey, sponsored by technology firm CDW, reveals how bankers perceive the opportunities and challenges in today’s marketplace, and technology’s role in strategic growth. The survey was completed by 168 chief executive officers, independent directors and senior executives of U.S. banks with more than $250 million in assets in May, June and July of this year.  Ironically, last year’s survey found that credit unions, not Apple, were the “non-bank” competitor that banks were most worried about.  In fact, can you believe that Apple didn’t even make the cut?  My, how quickly times can change.

Looking for Great FinTech Ideas

A fundamental truth about banking today: individuals along with business owners have more choices than ever before in terms of where, when and how they bank. So a big challenge — and dare I suggest, opportunity — for leadership teams at financial institutions of all sizes equates to aligning services and product mixes to suit core customers’ interests and expectations.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

Sometimes, the temptation to simply copy, paste and quote Bank Director’s editor, Jack Milligan, is too much for me to resist. Recently, Jack made the case that the distinction between a bank and a non-bank has become increasingly meaningless.  In his convincing words:

“The financial service marketplace in the United States has been has crowded with nonbank companies that have competed fiercely with traditional banks for decades. But we seem to be in a particularly fecund period now. Empowered by advances in technology and data analysis, and funded by institutional investors who think they might offer a better play on growth in the U.S. economy than traditional banks, we’re seeing the emergence of a new class of financial technology – or fintech – companies that are taking dead aim at the consumer and small business lending markets that have been banking industry staples for decades.”

Truth-be-told, the fact he successfully employed a word like ‘fecund’ had me hunting down the meaning (*it means fertile).  As a result, that particular paragraph stuck in my mind… a fact worth sharing as it ties into a recent Capgemini World Retail Banking Report that I devoured on a tremendously turbulent, white-knuckling flight from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans this morning (one with a “minor” delay in Montgomery, AL thanks to this morning’s wild weather).

Detailing a stagnating customer experience, the consultancy’s comprehensive study draws attention “to the pressing problem of the middle- and back-office — two areas of the bank that have not kept pace with the digital transformation occurring in the front-office. Plagued by under-investment, the middle- and back-offices are falling short of the high level of support found in the more advanced front-offices, creating a disjointed customer experience and impeding the industry’s ability to attract, retain, and delight customers.”

Per Evan Bakker for Business Insider, the entirety of the 35-page report suggests “banks are facing two significant business threats. First, customer acquisition costs will increase as existing customers are less likely to refer their bank to others. Second, banks will lose revenue as customers leave for competitors and existing customers buy fewer products. The fact that negative sentiment is global and isn’t limited to a particular type of customer activity points to an industry wide problem. Global dissatisfaction with banks is likely a result of internal problems with products and services as well as the growing number of non-bank providers of competing products and services.”

While dealing with attacks from aggressive, non-bank competitors is certainly not a new phenomenon for traditional banks, I have taken a personal interest in those FinTech companies looking to support (and not compete with) financial institutions.  So as I set up shop at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans through Wednesday for our annual Bank Board Growth & Innovation conference, let me shine the spotlight on eight companies that may help address some of the challenges I just mentioned. While certainly just the tip of the FinTech iceberg, each company brings something interesting to the table:

As unregulated competition heats up, bank CEOs and their teams need to continue to seek ways to not just stay relevant but to stand out.  While a number of banks seek to extend their footprint and franchise value through acquisition, many more aspire to build the bank internally. Some show organic growth as they build their base of core deposits and expand their customer relationships; others see the value of collaborating with FinTech companies.  To see what’s being written and said here in New Orleans, I invite you to follow @bankdirector, @aldominick + #BDGrow15.

How the Math Works for Non-Financial Service Companies

As you probably deduced from the picture above, I’m in Chicago for Bank Director’s annual Chairman & CEO Peer Exchange.  While the conversations between peers took place behind closed doors, we teed things up with various presentations.  An early one — focused on FinTech — inspired today’s post and this specific question: as a bank executive, what do you get when you add these three variables:

Stricter capital requirements (which reduces a bank’s ability to lend) + Increased scrutiny around “high-risk” lending (decreasing the amount of bank financing available) + Increases in consumer product pricing (say goodbye to price-sensitive customers)

The unfortunate answer?

Opportunity; albeit, for non-bank financial services companies to underprice banks and take significant business from traditional players.  Nowhere is this more clear then in the lending space. Through alternative financial service providers, borrowers are able to access credit at lower borrowing costs. So who are banks competing with right now? Here is but a short list:

  • FastPay, who provides specialized credit lines to digital businesses as an advance on receivables.
  • Kabbage, a company primarily engaged in providing short-term working capital and merchant cash advance.
  • OnDeck, in business to provide inventory financing, medium-term business loans.
  • Realty Mogul, a peer-to-peer real estate marketplace for accredited investors to invest in pre-vetted investment properties.
  • BetterFinance, which provides short-term loans for consumers to pay monthly bills and purchase smartphones.
  • Lenddo, an online platform that utilizes a borrower’s social network to determine credit-worthiness.
  • Lendup, a short-term online lender that seeks to help consumers establish credit and avoid the cycle of debt.
  • Prosper, an online marketplace for borrowers to create and list loans, with retail and institutional investors funding the loans.
  • SoFi, an online network helping recent graduates refinance student loans through alumni network.

As unregulated competition heats up, bank CEOs and Chairmen continue to seek ways to not just stay relevant but to stand out.  Unfortunately, the math isn’t always in their favor, especially when alternative lenders enjoy operating costs far below banks and are not subject to the same reserve requirements as an institution.  As we were reminded, consumers and small businesses don’t really care where they borrow money from, as as long as they can borrow the money they want.

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Thanks to Halle Benett, Managing Director, Head of Diversified Financials Investment Banking, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, A Stifel Company for inspiring this post. He joined us yesterday morning at the Four Seasons Chicago and laid out the fundamental shifts in banking that have opened the door for these new competitors.  I thought the math he shared with the audience was elegant both in its simplicity — and profound in its potential results.  Let me know what you think with a comment below or message via Twitter (@aldominick).

Keeping Up With JPMorgan Chase

As much as executives at community banks need to focus on the emerging challenges posed by non-bank competitors, so too are the priorities of the globally systemic banks like Citi, BNY Mellon and JPMorgan Chase important to understand.  So file today’s post under “know thy enemy….”

At a time when many community bank CEOs sweat margin compression, efficiency improvements and business model expansion, it is very interesting to take note of the six areas of focus for JPMorgan Chase.  Last week, Gordon Smith, their Chief Executive Officer for Consumer & Community Banking, provided insight into the behemoth’s strategic agenda at the company’s investor day.  Their focus touches on the following key areas; the first five should resonate with bank leaders at institutions of all sizes:

  1. Continue to improve the customer experience and deepen relationships;
  2. Reduce expenses;
  3. Continue to simplify the business;
  4. Maintain strong control environment and automate processes;
  5. Increase digital engagement; and
  6. Lead payments innovation.

As Mr. Smith lays out, their deposit growth has been strong and core loans show continued improvement.  From a community bank CEO’s perspective, this is important as JPMorgan Chase’s organic growth may precipitate an even greater desire for smaller institutions to merge with another.  Indeed, I continue to see banks eyeing deposits, not just assets, as a catalyst for bank M&A (*this is not to suggest JPMorgan wants to buy another bank, as I don’t think regulators will allow any significant acquisitions from them nor do they seem to have even a sliver of interest. While they have a rich history of acquisition, I’m pretty sure they’ve reached their cap in terms of deposit market share).

Further, with their bank branches becoming more “advice centers,” it strikes me that many community bank operating models should aggressively shift to employing fewer people serving in more of a consultative capacity.  True, this model has been effectively emulated by some, most notably pioneered by Umpqua in the Pacific Northwest.  However, I see far too many local and community banks still arranged as if a bank will be robbed faster through the front door than it will the internet. The implication remains that a transaction trumps a relationship.  Finally, as banks like JPMorgan Chase divest various branches based on their drive for greater efficiencies, it should be helpful to think about some of their spun-off locations as potential targets that can bolster a regional presence.

So if you work for a community bank, it’s important to pay attention to the big banks. Sometimes, they can help you.

Trending at #BDComp14

This January, at Acquire or Be Acquired, I wrote that most successful banks have a clear understanding and focus of their market, strengths and opportunities.  So one big takeaway that builds on this idea from our annual Bank Executive & Board Compensation conference (#BDComp14 via @BankDirector): it is time for a bank’s compensation committee and HR officer to reassess their viability of their performance plans and incentive programs.

Today’s agenda covered a lot of ground; namely, how economic, technological and demographic trends are reshaping the financial community. With nearly 300 attendees with us in Chicago, I heard a lot of interesting comments and questions made throughout the day. Three that stood out to me from our “on-the-record” presentations:

  • The Fed’s policies are forcing banks to ask tough questions: When will rates rise? Should I make fixed rate loans in the 4% range? How will this play out? How does it affect my stock value? (Steve Hovde, the CEO of the Hovde Group)
  • It is not what you do for people that they remember; it is how you make them feel. (Scott Dueser, the Chairman & CEO of First Financial Bankshares)
  • When it comes to Dodd-Frank, I thought we’d be through it all, but its still going full force (Susan O’Donnell, a Partner at Meridian Compensation Partners)

Trending topics
Overall, the issues I took note of were, in no particular order: loan growth is now paramount to profitability; with cybersecurity risks growing, protection is becoming more and more costly (especially in terms of time & resources); standardized loan products are reducing competitive advantages of community banks (naturally impacting compensation plan participants); if compensation plans are overly complicated, step back and ask if your are trying to solve for something else; culture and performance is what it’s all about.

More to come from Chicago tomorrow…

Is Walmart the Next Big Bank

Part four of a five piece series on emerging threats to banks from non-financial companies. To read parts one through three, click on “For Banks, the Sky IS Falling,” “PayPal is Eating Your Bank’s Lunch” and “The Bank of Facebook.”

At the risk of crashing through an open door, did you know that the retail juggernaut Wal-Mart Stores Inc. launched Bluebird in partnership with American Express late in 2012 so users can direct deposit their paychecks, make bill payments, withdraw cash from ATMs and write checks?  Yes, customers also have access to mobile banking, which includes features like remote deposit capture and person-to-person (P2P) payments.  So does this position Wal-Mart as the next SIFI (*no disrespect to CIT following their announced acquisition of OneWest in a $3.4Bn stock & cash deal earlier this week)?

Walmart bank logo.001

Cue Robin Thicke

According to Wal-Mart, 95% of Americans live within 15 miles of one of its stores.  So I think its fair to say that Wal-Mart continues to blur lines between banking and shopping as it added yet another financial service to its stores across the country.  Indeed, the retailer announced this spring that customers can transfer money to and from any of its 4,000 stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.  As this article in Forbes highlighted, low income workers who don’t have traditional bank accounts are turning to prepaid cards and alternatives to checking accounts.  Banks like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo are trying to fill that gap with prepaid and reload able cards — something Wal-Mart has been offering for years.

Where Is That Achilles Heel?

Unlike online competitors to a bank, Wal-Mart enjoys huge brand recognition and an established customer base that feels comfortable walking into their local “branch.”  In fact, banks that already operate inside Walmarts reap among the highest fees from customers of any banks in the nation, according to a WSJ analysis.  But the very demographic the retail company serves — one that expects and demands rock-bottom pricing — may not favor a “B of W.”

Indeed, banking at Wal-Mart is a lot more expensive than shopping there.  As noted by in the WSJ, most U.S. banks earn the bulk of income through lending.  Among the 6,766 banks in the Journal’s examination, “just 15 had fee income higher than loan income — including the five top banks operating at Wal-Mart.”  Would the company really want to race to the bottom in terms of pricing its financial products (ones that would not be federally insured) and compete with its own tenants?

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

It is worth noting that Wal-Mart has tried to get into banking since the late 1990s.  It was thwarted in attempts to buy a savings-and-loan in Oklahoma and a bank in California — and later dropped a bid for its own banking charter in 2007.  While I’m not suggesting the new logo depicted above is anything more than a simple rendering by yours truly, it wouldn’t surprise me if the company explored even more creative ways to compete with financial institutions in the future.

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To comment on this piece, please click the white plus sign in the bottom right gray circle on this page or share your thoughts with me via Twitter (I’m @aldominick).  Next up, how crowdsourcing sites like Kiva and Kickstarter allow customers to bypass their bank to get funding for a business idea.

Good is the Enemy of Great

Jim Collins once wrote “good is the enemy of great,” opining that the vast majority of companies “never become great, precisely because the vast majority become quite good – and that is their main problem.”  I have heard many use the title of today’s piece to explain the unexpected; most recently, while talking with a friend about Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to exclude Landon Donovan from his 23-man World Cup roster (hence today’s picture c/o USA Today).  While I’ll steer clear of any soccer talk until the U.S. takes the field against Ghana in a few weeks, Collins’ statement sparked the three thoughts I share today. Indeed, being “just good” will not cut it in our highly competitive financial industry.

usatsi_7848706_168380427_lowres Let’s Be Real — Times Remain Tough

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Robin Sidel and Andrew Johnson began their “Big Profit Engines for Banks Falter” with a simple truth: “it is becoming tougher and tougher being a U.S. bank.  Squeezed by stricter regulations, a sputtering economy and anemic markets, financial institutions are finding profits hard to come by on both Main Street and Wall Street.”  Now, the U.S. financial sector and many bank stocks have “staged a dramatic recovery from the depths of the financial crisis;” as the authors point out, “historically low-interest rates aren’t low enough to spur more mortgage business and are damping market volatility, eating into banks’ trading profits.”  While I’ve written about the significant challenges facing most financial institutions – e.g. tepid loan growth, margin compression, higher capital requirements and expense pressure & higher regulatory costs — the article provides a somber reminder of today’s banking reality.

Still, for Banks Seeking Fresh Capital, the IPO Window is Open

Given how low-interest rates continue to eat into bank profits, its not surprising to hear how “opportunistic banks capable of growing loans through acquisition or market expansion” are attracting investor interest and going public.  To wit, our friends at the Hovde Group note that seven banks have filed for initial public offerings (IPOs) already this year, putting 2014 on pace to become the most active year for bank IPOs in a decade.  Based on the current market appetite for growth, “access to capital is becoming a larger consideration for management and boards, especially if it gives them a public currency with which to acquire and expand.”  If you’re interested in the factors fueling this increase in IPO activity, their “Revival of the Bank IPO” is worth a read.

Mobile Capabilities Have Become Table Stakes

I’m on the record for really disliking the word “omnichannel.”  So I smiled a big smile while reading through a new Deloitte Center for Financial Services report (Mobile Financial Services: Raising the Bar on Customer Engagement) that emphasizes the need for banks to focus more on a “post-channel” world rather than the omnichannel concept.  As their report says, this vision is “where channel distinctions are less important and improving customer experience becomes the supreme goal, no matter where or how customer interactions occur, whether at a branch, an ATM, online, or via a mobile device.”  As mobile is increasingly becoming the primary method of interaction with financial institutions, the information shared is both intuitive and impactful.

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To comment on today’s column, please click on the green circle with the white plus sign on the bottom right. If you are on twitter, I’m @aldominick.  Aloha Friday!

The Growth Conference – Thursday Recap

It is obvious that the most successful banks today have a clear understanding of, and laser-like focus on, their markets, strengths and opportunities.  One big takeaway from the first full day of Bank Director’s Growth Conference (#BDGrow14 via @bankdirector): banking is absolutely an economies of scale business.

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A 2 Minute Recap

 

Creating Revenue Growth

At events like these, our Publisher, Kelsey Weaver, has a habit of saying “well, that’s the elephant in the room” when I least expect it.  Today, I took her quip during a session about the strategic side of growth as her nod to the significant challenges facing most financial institutions — e.g. tepid loan growth, margin compression, higher capital requirements and expense pressure & higher regulatory costs.  While she’s right, I’m feeling encouraged by anecdotes shared by growth-focused bankers considering (or implementing) strategies that create revenue growth from both net interest income and fee-based revenue business lines. Rather than lament the obstacles preventing a business from flourishing, we heard examples of how and why government-guaranteed lending, asset based lending, leasing, trust and wealth management services are contributing to brighter days.

Trending Topics
Overall, the issues I took note of were, in no particular order: bank executives and board members need to fully embrace technology; there is real concern about non-bank competition entering financial services; the board needs to review its offerings based on generational expectations and demands;  and those that fail to marry strategy with execution are doomed. Lastly, Tom Brown noted that Bank of America’s “race to mediocrity” actually makes it an attractive stock to consider.  Who knew being average can pay off?

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To comment on this piece, click on the green circle with the white plus (+) sign on the bottom right.  More tomorrow from the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans.