The Intersection of Leadership and Profitability

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

Quickly

  • Key takeaways from one of my favorite summer banking events, Crowe Horwath’s Bank Leadership and Profitability Improvement Conference.

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This morning, on the first of my two flights from Washington National to Monterey, California, I learned that Walmart customers might soon be able to get installment loans for big-ticket items through Affirm, a San Francisco-based FinTech I first wrote about in 2014 (For Banks, the Sky IS Falling).  Per the Wall Street Journal, the companies reportedly are nearing an agreement on a pilot program.  This potential partnership caught my eye as I prepared for today and tomorrow’s conference.  Indeed, relationships like these make clear that when it comes to growth and efficiency, the digital distribution of financial goods and services is a significant issue for the banking industry.

This idea took further shape when I walked into the conference center at the Inn at Spanish Bay.  Immediately upon entering the room, I found John Epperson, a partner at Crowe and Jay Tuli, senior vice president retail banking and residential lending at Leader Bank, sharing their opinions on partnership strategies involving banks and FinTechs.  From the stage, they touched on increasing net interest margins via improved pricing strategies on commercial loans, approaches to streamline mortgage application processes, ideas to reduce staff counts for loan administration processes and how to improve customer experiences through online rent payment solutions.

Their perspectives lined up with those we recently shared on BankDirector.com.  To wit, “many banks have realized advantages of bank-FinTech partnerships, including access to assets and customers.  Since most community banks serve discreet markets, even a relatively simple loan purchase arrangement can unlock new customer relationships and diversify geographic concentrations of credit.  Further, a FinTech partnership can help a bank serve its legacy customers; for instance, by enabling the bank to offer small dollar loans to commercial customers that the bank might not otherwise be able to efficiently originate on its own.”

Of all the difficult issues that bank leadership must deal with, I am inclined to place technology at the top of the list.  Banks have long been reliant on technology to run their operations, but in recent years, technology has become a primary driver of retail and small business banking strategy.  John and Jay simply reinforced this belief.

In addition to their thoughts on collaboration, this afternoon’s sessions focused on ‘Liquidity and Balance Sheet Management,’ ‘Fiscal Policy During Regulatory Uncertainty’ and ‘Managing Your Brand in a Digital World.’  While I took note of a number of issues, three points really stood out:

  • Yes, banks can make money while managing decreasing margins and a flat yield curve.
  • Asset growth without earnings growth is a concern for many because of loan pricing.
  • How a CFO sets a target(s) for interest rate risk may start with an “it depends” type response — but gets nuanced quickly thereafter.

Finally, I’m not holding my breath on the industry receiving regulatory relief any time soon.  I get the sense many here aren’t either.  But it would be nice to see some business people brought in to run various agencies and I’m looking forward to the perspectives of tomorrow’s first guest speaker, Congressman John Ratcliffe.

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My thanks to Crowe Horwath, Stifel, Keefe Bruyette & Woods + Luse Gorman for putting together this year’s Bank Leadership and Profitability Improvement Conference at The Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, California.  I’ll check in with additional takeaways based on tomorrow’s presentations.

While Everybody’s Talking About the Future of Banking…

It seems like everyone has an opinion about what the future holds for banking… but what does banking actually look like today?

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

For the past few years, Bank Director magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Jack Milligan, has spearheaded our Bank Performance Scorecard, a ranking of the largest U.S. publicly traded banks and thrifts. The most recent version, which appears in our third quarter issue, ranked all banks and thrifts listed on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq OMX.  Jack and his team sorted them into three separate asset categories: $1 billion to $5 billion, $50 billion to $50 billion and $50 billion and above — and we ranked them using a set of metrics that measured profitability, capitalization and asset quality based on 2014 calendar year data.

While this data shines a light on some of banking’s standout performers, my last few months of travel across the U.S. has revealed less familiarity with the banking industry then I expected. So today, instead of focusing on economic, political, demographic or technological forces reshaping the banking landscape, allow me to share some statistics I think are important to know:

  1. Banks with less than $10 billion in assets have lost over half of their market share in the past 20 years.
  2. The corollary? The five largest banks now hold almost 44% of all banking assets in the country.
  3. Despite totaling 89% of all banks, institutions under $1B in assets hold only 8.3% of the industry’s assets.

With competition coming from both the top of the market and from non-traditional players, I have talked with numerous bank CEOs and various members of their executive teams who tell me how imperative it is for them to really focus on improving efficiencies and enhancing organic growth prospects.  In addition, as big banks invest in customer acquisition, and non-traditional players continue to eat away at earnings potential, it strikes me that of all of the risks facing a bank’s key leadership team today (for instance, regulatory, market and cyber) knowing when to buy, sell or grow independently has to be high on the list. After all, the most profitable financial companies are often those whose strategies are intentional, focused and differentiated… and are showing current revenue growth with strong visibility towards future performance.

Of course, any discussion about the world in which banks live today has to acknowledge two significant business threats. Since most banking products tend to be commodities that are available at any number of bank and non-bank providers, the first concerns customer acquisition costs. Personally, I believe such costs will increase as existing customers become less likely to refer their bank to others. This leads to the second threat; namely, banks will lose revenue as customers leave for competitors and existing customers buy fewer products.

So a high-level look at where things are today. I realize this takes a very broad brush to a mature industry. Still, to understand where banks might be heading, I find it helpful to be grounded in where they are today.

What To Do With FinTech

For the 699 financial institutions over $1Bn in asset size today, the drive to improve one’s efficiency ratio is a commonly shared goal.  In my mind, so too should be developing relationships with “friendly” financial technology (FinTech) companies.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

Small banks in the United States — namely, the 5,705 institutions under $1Bn in assets* — are shrinking in relevance despite their important role in local economies.  At last week’s Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference in Chicago, Steve Hovde, the CEO of the Hovde Group, cautioned some 260 bankers that the risks facing community banks continue to grow by the day, citing:

  • The rapid adoption of costly technologies at bigger banks;
  • Declining fee revenue opportunities;
  • Competition from credit unions and non-traditional financial services companies;
  • Capital (in the sense that larger banks have more access to it);
  • An ever-growing regulatory burden; and
  • The vulnerability all have when it comes to cyber crime.

While many community banks focus on survival, new FinTech companies have captured both consumer interest and investor confidence.  While some of the largest and most established financial institutions have struck relationships with various technology startups, it occurs to me that there are approximately 650 more banks poised to act — be it by taking the fight back to competitive Fintech companies or collaborating with the friendly ones.

According to John Depman, national leader for KPMG’s regional and community banking practice, “it is critical for community banks to change their focus and to look for new methods, products and services to reach new customer segments to drive growth.”  I agree with John, and approach the intersection of the financial technology companies with traditional institutions in the following manner:

For a bank CEO and his/her executive team, knowing who’s a friend, and who’s a potential foe — regardless of size — is hugely important.  It is also quite challenging when, as this article in Forbes shows, you consider that FinTech companies are easing payment processes, reducing fraud, saving users money, promoting financial planning and ultimately moving our giant industry forward.

This is a two-sided market in the sense that for a FinTech founder and executive team, identifying those banks open to partnering with, investing in, or acquiring emerging technology companies also presents great challenges, and also real upside.  As unregulated competition heats up, bank CEOs and their leadership teams continue to seek ways to not just stay relevant but to stand out.  In my opinion, working together benefits both established organizations and those startups trying to navigate the various barriers to enter this highly regulated albeit potentially lucrative industry.

*As of 6/1, the total number of FDIC-insured Institutions equaled 6,404. Within this universe, banks with assets greater than $1Bn totaled 699. Specifically, there are 115 banks with $10Bn+, 76 with $5Bn-$10Bn and 508 with $1Bn – $5Bn.

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.

A Pop Quiz on the Future of Banking

I was not planning on a sixth consecutive column focused on non-bank competition; however, as I prepare to present at Moss Adams’ 14th Annual Community Banking conference in Huntington Beach, California on August 26, a “bonus” post on this topic.  As you will see, today’s piece builds on the premise that many community bank leaders have real opportunities to expand what banking means to individual and business customers by offering services that go beyond a traditional business model. So to wrap up this week, sharpen your pencils for this pop quiz.

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Are WE the generation that has learned how to live without a bank?
So much has been written about millenials learning to live without a bank… but ask yourself: have you learned how to live without your bank?  If you could not direct deposit your paycheck, do you have ready alternatives?  I thought so.  Financing for your house? Your business?  I am simply pointing out the inconvenient truth that it is not just the wet-behind-the-ears customers that might already know how to live without a bank.  That said, just because many have learned to live “without” a traditional banking relationship doesn’t mean most want to.  I will let a thought from Diebold support this thought, but before I do, have to ask:

Who’s getting that Kabbage?

As a platform for online merchants to borrow working capital, Kabbage fills a small business lending gap that I have to imagine many community banks should desire (h/t Mitchell Orlowsky @ Ignite Sales).  As I learned this week, Kabbage works with small businesses that are unable to obtain credit from traditional sources. According to TechCrunch, “the startup has closed a $270 million credit facility from Guggenheim Securities, the investment banking and capital markets division of Guggenheim Partners. Atlanta, Georgia-based Kabbage will use the funds to build out its financing business both in the U.S. and beyond. This is one of the largest credit facilities ever issued to a small business lender, and possibly the biggest in the online lending space.” Since opening for business almost three years ago, Kabbage has advanced more than $250 million to small businesses, the company says   Just another example of competition facing many business-oriented banks today.

If Diebold can change, why can’t you?
From the outside looking in, one can make the case that the last truly disruptive technology for banks was the ATM. And when you think ATMs, Diebold has to be top-of-mind.  So when the technology company acknowledges the following, why can’t more banks course correct and be where people are going (and not where they might appear to be)?

The retail financial services industry is in the midst of an epic change and will soon look very different than it did just a few years ago. Consumers are changing what they want out of their banks. Our research proves that consumers want additional convenience to access their bank anytime, anywhere, anyhow, all while maintaining a personal connection with their bank.

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Regardless of how you did on this pop quiz, please feel free to leave a comment below by clicking on the white plus sign (within the grey circle at the bottom of this page).  I invite you to follow me on Twitter (@aldominick) where you can publicly or privately share your thoughts with me.

Aloha Friday!

PayPal is Eating Your Bank’s Lunch

Part two of a five piece series on emerging threats to banks from non-financial companies.  To read part one, “For Banks, the Sky IS Falling,” click the hyperlinked title.

I am not big on scare tactics, so apologies in advance of my next sentence.  But when HP’s chief technologist for financial services, Ross Feldman calls PayPal “the poster child of new technology,” adding, “they are the No. 1 scary emerging player in the eyes of bankers” how can you not be concerned?  PayPal, a subsidiary of eBay, is already a major player in the person-to-person payment business (P2P) and is poised to take a massive bite out of traditional banking revenue.

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What is PayPal Up To?

To preface this part of today’s post, keep in mind that as an unregulated entity, PayPal is not subject to the same regulations and compliance expenses as banks.  I share this oh-so-salient point as the company moves towards mobile payments with its apps and one-touch payment services.  The fact that PayPal embraces these offerings isn’t surprising, as so many bank users — myself included — prize 24/7 convenience.  Certainly,  companies that don’t meet user demands will not survive.

Moving away from individual expectations to small business demands, I am seeing more small businesses switch from traditional merchant accounts offered by the banks to those like PayPal’s.  As Nathalie Reinelt of Aite Group’s Retail Banking group shared, “ubiquitous smartphones and inefficiencies in legacy payments have propelled the digital wallet into the payments ecosystem—consumers are interested in it, merchants are willing to adopt it, and financial services companies cannot ignore it.”

So What’s A Banker to Do?

Where I see PayPal falling short — admittedly, most banks too — is an inability to help customers make decisions on what to buy, and where and when to buy it.  So let me shout it as loud as I can: exploit this achilles heel while you still can!  There are companies like MoneyDesktop (a leading provider of online and mobile money management solutions), Ignite Sales (a company whose “recommendation solutions” helps increase customer acquisition & retention while optimizing profitability), etc. that have been stood up to keep banks relevant.  There is a real opportunity for banks to do more than simply allow the same types of services digitally that were once only available in-person.

The window of opportunity is open for banks to expand what banking means to consumers by offering online services that go beyond their traditional business model.  The question boils down to this: will the board & senior leadership accept the risk to try something new to make sure they aren’t just warding off advances from the B of A’s of the world — but also the PayPal’s and their peers?

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To comment on this piece, click on the grey circle with the white plus sign on the bottom right or send me your thoughts via Twitter (I’m @aldominick).  Next up, pieces on two of the biggest non-bank competitors whose names you may have heard of: Facebook and Walmart.

For Banks, the Sky IS Falling

The first in a five part series on emerging threats to banks from non-financial companies.

For bank executives and board members, competition takes many forms.  Not only are banks burdened with regulation, capital requirements and stress testing, they now have the added pressure of competition from non-financial institutions.  In case you haven’t been paying attention, companies such as Paypal, as well as traditional consumer brands such as Walmart, are aggressively chipping away at banks’ customer base and threatening many financial institutions’ core businesses.  So today’s piece tees up my next four columns by acknowledging the changes taking place within — and immediately outside — our $14 trillion industry.

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The race is on…

A few months ago, at Bank Director’s annual Growth Conference in New Orleans, I polled an audience of CEOs, Chairmen and board members and found the vast majority (a whopping 91%) have real concerns about non-banks entering financial services.  These bankers aren’t alone in their concerns about competition from unregulated entities.  Just days after polling this audience, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, warned an audience of investors that he sees Google and Facebook specifically as potential competition for the banking giant.  As he notes, both offer services, such as P2P, that could chip away at income sources for banks.

…and its not pride coming up the backstretch

As Emily McCormick wrote, Facebook is already a licensed money transmitter, enabling the social media giant to process payments to application developers for virtual products. Likewise, the retail behemoth Wal-Mart 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.  This makes the results of a recent TD Bank survey about millennials banking online and on their mobile devices more frequently than in a branch so relevant.  Specifically, 90% of survey respondents said they use online or mobile tools for their everyday banking activities, such as checking balances or paying bills, and 57% said they are using mobile banking more frequently than they were last year.

Along the lines of “what is the industry losing”: eventually you’re going to have a generation that has learned how to live without a bank.  That’s a very sky-is-falling, long-term consequence of not adapting.  But there’s also an opportunity for retail banks to do more than simply allow the same types of services digitally that were once only available in-person.  Banks could actually expand what banking means to consumers by offering online services that go beyond their legacy business model.

What I am hearing

Of course, non-banks can, conceptually, expand what banking means to consumers by offering online services that go beyond legacy business models too.  However, the sheer complexity of entering this market is one reason why we have yet to see a startup that truly rebuilds the banking industry brick by brick.  At least, that is the perspective shared by Max Levchin, founder and CEO of online payments startup Affirm, a company with the goal of bringing simplicity, transparency, and fair pricing to consumer credit.  As the co-founder and former CTO of PayPal, Levchin is one of the pioneers within the payments industry.   In a recent piece in Wired magazine (The Next Big Thing You Missed: Startup’s Plan to Remake Banks and Replace Credit Cards Just Might Work), he notes

I don’t know if I want to own a bank. But I do want to lend money in a transparent way, and I want to create an institution people love… I want to be the community bank equivalent for the 21st century, where people say: ‘I trust my banker. He’s a good guy who’s looking out for me.’

Coopetition anyone?

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To comment on this piece, click on the grey circle with the white plus sign on the bottom right.  Next up, a look at PayPal, a the e-commerce business that is “eating the banking industry’s lunch.”

Three Thoughts on Banks and Risk

I’m heading out to Chicago and Bank Director’s annual Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference.  The agenda — focused on accounting, risk and regulatory issues — aligns with the information needs of a Chairman of the Board, Audit and/or Risk Committee Chair and Members, Internal Auditors, Chief Financial Officers and Chief Risk Officers.  Before I welcome some 300 attendees (representing over 150 financial institutions from 39 states) to the Palmer House, I thought to share three things that would keep me up at night if I traded roles with our attendees.

The Bean

(1) The Risk of New Competition

For bank executives and board members, competition takes many forms.  Not only are banks burdened with regulation, capital requirements and stress testing, they now have the added pressure of competition from non-financial institutions.  Companies such as Paypal, as well as traditional consumer brands such as Walmart, are aggressively chipping away at the bank’s customer base and threatening many financial institutions’ core business — a fact made clear by Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, at a shareholder meeting this February.

“You’d be an idiot not to think that the Googles and Apples  .  .  .  they all want to eat our lunch.  I mean, every single one of them.  And they’re going to try.”

To this end, I find myself agreeing with Accenture’s Steve Culp, Accenture’s senior managing director of Finance & Risk Services, when he writes “banks need to keep developing their risk capabilities, skills and talents, and align these skills with their agenda around future growth. If they don’t align their growth agenda with their risk capabilities—building a safe path toward growth opportunities—they will miss out on those growth opportunities.”  While I plan on diving much deeper into this topic following the conference, I definitely welcome feedback on the issue below.

(2) The Risk to A Reputation

While the Dodd-Frank Act requires publicly traded banks with more than $10 billion in assets to establish separate risk committees of the board, and banks over $50 billion to additionally hire chief risk officers, I’m seeing smaller banks proactively following suit.  Such additions, however, does not absolve directors and senior managers of financial institutions from preparing for the worst… which is easier said then done.   In some ways, a bank’s reputation is a hard-to-quantify risk.  Anyone can post negative comments online about an institution’s products, services or staff, but one only needs to look at Target’s financial performance post-cyber hack to realize that revenue and reputation goes hand-in-hand.

(3) The Risk of Cyber Criminals

Speaking of Target, earlier this year, Bank Director and FIS collaborated on a risk survey to pinpoint struggles and concerns within the boardrooms of financial institutions.  As we found, tying risk management to a strategic plan and measuring its impact on the organization proves difficult for many institutions, although those that have tried to measure their risk management program’s impact report a positive effect on financial performance.  What jumps out at me in the results of this research are the concerns over cyber and operational security.  Clearly, the number of “bad actors” who want to penetrate the bank’s defenses has increased exponentially, their tools have become remarkably sophisticated, and they learn quickly.  I read an interesting piece by an attorney at Dechert (sorry, registration required) that shows the analytical framework for cyber security is very similar to what most directors have focused on in their successful business careers: people, process and technology.  But theory is one thing, putting into practice a plan to protect your assets, entirely different.

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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!