Risk Management: Most Certainly An Ongoing Process

Next week, Bank Director releases its annual Risk Practices Survey.  In advance of that report, let me share an excerpt from a risk management-focused piece by KPMG’s Lynn McKenzie and Edmund Green — How a Board Can Credibly Challenge Management on Risk — that foreshadows some of the results. 

As our industry evolves, banks increasingly rely on complex models to support economic, financial and compliance decision-making processes. Considering the full board of a bank is ultimately responsible for understanding an institution’s key risks — and credibly challenging management’s assessment and response to those risks — let me share the eight considerations that KPMG wrote about for board members as they evaluate their risk oversight.

(1) Do our board members (particularly directors on audit or risk committees) know our bank’s top enterprise risks — those that threaten our bank’s strategy, business model, or existence?

(2) Does our bank have a formal risk management process? Do directors know how management identifies and manages risks, both existing and emerging, and if there is a process of accountability? Does the board have comfort that management has the proper talent to manage today’s risks?

(3) Does the bank have a formal risk appetite statement? If not, how does the board oversee that management is not taking risks outside of the bank’s stated risk tolerance? Is there a protocol to escalate a risk issue directly to the board? Is there evidence that management recognizes the critical need to timely communicate risk issues to board members? Is there a process for the board to evaluate the impact of compensation on management’s risk-taking?

(4) As the bank takes on new initiatives or offers new products and services, does the board understand the process to evaluate the risks prior to decisions being made? Is there a clear threshold for when items need to be brought to the board before finalizing a decision?

(5) In examining management’s reporting process, are directors concerned whether they are getting relevant data? Are they getting so much detail that it cannot be absorbed? Are they getting data at such a high level that it’s impossible to evaluate risk?

(6) Does the board recognize that risk management done well adds competitive advantage and value by addressing gaps in operations? Viewing risk management solely as a compliance function increases the chances of wasting time and money.

(7) Is the board ensuring that, in dealing with the regulators, the bank is “getting credit’’ for the risk management activities it is doing well by being able to describe the programs that have been instituted—or actions taken—that will enable the bank to “harvest value” from its enterprise risk management process?

(8) Finally, given the importance of “tone at the top,’’ are directors satisfied that the proper culture of “doing the right thing’’ exists across the organization?

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As many know by now, the 2,300+ page 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.  Not surprisingly, many institutions under these thresholds have similarly established committees and recruited executives into their bank.

By taking a more comprehensive approach to risk management, I continue to see institutions reap the benefits with improved financial performance… and yes, this too foreshadows next week’s research report.  To view the entire KPMG article, here is the link (don’t worry, no registration required).  I’ll post more about the Risk Practices Survey along with a link to both the full results and summary report here next week.

Let’s Talk Compensation

This Sunday, I fly to Chicago for Bank Director’s annual Bank Executive & Board Compensation Conference.  As I prepare to head towards the city that splits its allegiance between the Cubs & WhiteSox, my thoughts move from baseball — congratulations to the new World Series champion San Francisco Giants — to the people, products and performances of various financial institutions.  As I will be blogging and tweeting from our annual event, I thought to use today’s post to tee-up what you can expect on AboutThatRatio.com next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

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Since the demise of AIG, Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers in 2008, take a minute and think about how many significant changes have occurred throughout the entire financial community.  From new capital requirements to greater scrutiny on executive compensation, these “Dodd-Frank” years remind me of the aftermath of Sarbanes-Oxley’s introduction in the early 2000s in as much as board members continue to wrestle with the ‘what ifs’ and ‘how comes’ of the regulatory environment.

While much of the action taken by nearly every institutions a few years ago can best be described as reactionary and defensive, it strikes me that there are quite a few banks transforming their operating models to stay both relevant and competitive today.   For this reason, I am excited for our team to host several hundred bank executives and outside directors focused on the creation of sustainable long-term value for shareholders next week.  In terms of posts:

  • Monday’s looks at the recruitment, development and compensation of a bank’s most essential talent — both within a bank and on its board.
  • On Tuesday, the “main day” of our conference, I will share the trending topics from the day.  Last year, I wrote how board members and executives continued to struggle with measuring executive performance and retaining key talent.
 At the same time, I made note that many felt the environment in which banks operate in demands productivity, proficiency with technology and the ability to sell.  So I’ll juxtapose last year’s findings with this year’s themes.
  • Wednesday’s piece will be a bit simpler, a 90 second video I’ll have filmed from the conference.

Next Friday’s column?  More of a behind-the-scenes picture recap of the conference as I recently did for Bank Director’s “anniversary.”  Throughout, you can keep track of various conversations on Twitter by following @BankDirector and me, @AlDominick and/or by using #BDComp14.

Happy Halloween!

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.”

Guest Post: Variety is the Spice of Life

As promised, a special guest author for this Friday’s column: Bank Director magazine’s Managing Editor, Naomi Snyder.  Having shared my key takeaways from our annual Bank Audit & Risk Committees conference on Wednesday and Thursday, I invited Naomi to share her post-conference thoughts on my blog.  So this morning’s title is as much about truth in advertising as it is an invitation to learn what my friend and colleague deemed timely and relevant.

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At Al’s request, I’m going to step in and give a quick recap of Bank Director’s Audit and Risk Committees Conference in Chicago this week.  As you can tell from this picture, nearly 300 people attended our conference at The Palmer House hotel and they got a lot of frightening news about risks for their financial institutions, including cyber risk, interest rate risk, compliance and reputation risk in the age of social media.  I’m going to address three of those points today.

Interest Rate Risk

Many banks are extending credit at a fixed rate of interest for longer terms in an effort to compete and generate much-needed returns. This will be a problem for some of them when interest rates rise and low cost deposits start fleeing for higher rates elsewhere. You could assume the liability/asset equation will equal out, but will it? Steve Hovde, the president and CEO of the investment bank Hovde Group in Chicago, is worried about a bubble forming, saying he has seen credit unions offer 10- or 15-year fixed rate loans at 3.25 percent interest. “I’m seeing borrowers get better deals with good credit quality than they have ever gotten in history,” he says.

Reputation Risk

In an age of social media, anyone can and does tweet or post on Facebook any complaint against your bank. Cyber attacks, such as the one that befell Target Corp., can be devastating and cost the CEO his or her job. Rhonda Barnat, managing director of The Abernathy MacGregor Group Inc., says it’s important not to cater to TV news, such as telling a reporter that your employee’s laptop was stolen at a McDonald’s with sensitive customer information, prompting a visit by the camera crew to the McDonald’s. Not disclosing how many customer records were stolen could keep you off the front page. Focus on the people who matter most: your customers and investors and possibly, your regulators. They want to know how you are going to fix the problem that impacts them.

Compliance Risk

Regulators are increasingly breathing down the necks of bank directors, wanting evidence the board is actively engaged and challenging management. The official minutes need to reflect this demand, without necessarily going overboard with 25 pages of detailed discussion, for example. Local regulators are increasingly deferring questions to Washington, D.C., where they can get stuck in limbo. When regulators do give guidance, it is often only verbal and can cross the line into making business decisions for the bank, says Robert Fleetwood, a partner at Barack Ferrazzano in Chicago. In such an environment, it’s important to have good relations with your regulators and to keep them informed.

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About Naomi: Prior to joining our team, she spent 13 years as a business reporter for newspapers in South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee. Most recently, she was a reporter for The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper. She also was a correspondent for USA Today. Naomi has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Illinois.  To follow her wit and wisdom on Twitter, follow @naomisnyder.

The Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference – Day Two Wrap Up

With all of the information provided at this year’s Bank Audit & Risk Committees conference(#BDAudit14 via @bankdirector), I think it is fair to write that some attendees might be heading home thinking “man, that was like taking a refreshing drink from a firehose.”  As I reflect on my time in Chicago this week, it strikes me that many of the rules and requirements being placed on the biggest banks will inevitably trickle down to smaller community banks.  Likewise, the risks and challenges being faced by the biggest of the big will also plague the smallest of the small.  Below, I share two key takeaways from yesterday’s presentations along with a short video recap that reminds bankers that competition comes in many shapes and sizes.

The Crown Fountain in Millennium Park
The Crown Fountain in Millennium Park

Trust, But Verify

To open her “New Audit Committee Playbook” breakout session, Crowe Horwath’s Jennifer Burke reinforced lessons from previous sessions that a bank’s audit committee is the first line of defense for the board of directors and shareholders.  Whether providing oversight to management’s design and implementation with respect to internal controls to consideration of fraud risks to the bank, she made clear the importance of an engaged and educated director.  Let me share three “typical pitfalls” she identified for audit committee members to steer clear of:

  1. Not addressing complex accounting issues;
  2. Lack of open lines of communication to functional managers; and
  3. Failure to respond to warning event.

To these points, let me echo her closing remarks: it is imperative that a board member understand his/her responsibility and get help from outside resources (e.g. attorneys, accountants, consultants, etc.) whenever needed.

Learn From High-profile Corporate Scandals

Many business leaders are increasingly aware of the need to create company-specific anti-fraud measures to address internal corporate fraud and misconduct.  For this reason, our final session looked at opening an investigation from the board’s point-of-view.  Arnold & Porter’s Brian McCormally kicked things off with a reminder that the high-profile cyber hacks of Neiman Marcus and Target aren’t the only high-profile corporate scandals that bankers can learn from.  The former head of enforcement at the OCC warned that regulators today increasingly expect bank directors to actively investigate operational risk management issues.  KPMG’s Director of Fraud Risk Management, Ken Jones, echoed his point.  Ken noted the challenge for bank executives and board members is “developing a comprehensive effort to (a) understand the US compliance and enforcement mandates — and how this criteria applies to them; (b) identify the types of fraud that impact the organization; (c) understand various control frameworks and the nature of controls; (d) integrate risk assessments, codes of conduct, and whistleblower mechanisms into corporate objectives; and (e) create a comprehensive anti-fraud program that manages and integrates prevention, detection, and response efforts.”

A One-Minute Video Recap

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To comment on this piece, click on the green circle with the white plus (+) sign on the bottom right. If you are on twitter, I’m @aldominick.  P.S. — check back tomorrow for a special guest post on AboutThatRatio.com.

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!

Bank Director in the Wall Street Journal

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As the sun shines down on Washington, D.C., some “light” Saturday morning reading on the Wall Street Journal’s Risk + Compliance Journal this morning:

Banks with a separate board-level risk committee report a higher median return on assets and return on equity compared to banks that govern risk within a combined audit/risk committee or within the audit committee, according to the Risk Practices Survey from Bank Director and banking and payments technology company FIS. The survey found smaller banks are adopting risk practices required only of much larger companies, and that almost all banks with more than $1 billion in assets now have a chief risk officer and 63% govern risk within a separate risk committee of the board.

To read the full piece on recent surveys and reports dealing with risk and compliance issues, click here.

Joining a Bank’s Risk Committee?

Risk committees, chief risk officers, risk appetite programs, stress tests and enterprise risk management programs were not a major part of most board’s focus six years ago — but they are now.  As a risk committee typically coordinates risk oversight with the audit and other committees, today’s post builds on yesterday’s piece, Joining a Bank’s Audit Committee.  Please understand, there are so many risks that can undermine a bank today that this column simply tees up the where a committee member might focus his/her time.

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Most bankers understand the concept of financial risk.  For those directors joining a risk committee?  Let’s just say they really need to understand the risks of running an operation that relies on numerous internal processes, systems and people to be successful.   Indeed, a committee member must focus on the full range of complex and often interrelated risks, including:

  • Strategic
  • Credit
  • IT
  • Market
  • Operational
  • Compliance
  • Liquidity
  • Legal
  • Reputation

Yes, risk oversight is a fundamental responsibility of the entire board; however, I hear that individual risk committee members should develop a broad view of issues across their organization to both see and know how they relate to one another.  My two cents: (a) its imperative to define your own bank’s risk appetite before communicating risk management plans throughout the bank (b) if you have one, work with your chief risk officer to determine what forward-facing metrics you want consistent focus on in order to identify and react to emerging threats.

If you’re interested…

Here are three resources that can help you go deeper into this topic:

Tomorrow’s focus: a check-in from the Bank Board Training Forum at the Hermitage hotel in Nashville, TN.

Building for the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha Friday!

This part of Washington remains open

Happy hour comes earlier to the District these days...
Happy hour comes earlier to the District these days…

Nothing political on About That Ratio today.  Business as usual here in our D.C. office.  Sure, the streets might be emptier, but as you can tell from this picture of the Dubliner (outside our offices), 5:00 just comes a little earlier these days.

(1) I wrote about payments, and Bitcoin, a few weeks ago.  On Wednesday, Bloomberg ran a piece called “If This Doesn’t Kill Bitcoin, What Will?” In case you missed it, the alleged operator of the Bitcoin-based online marketplace Silk Road was arrested in San Francisco on Tuesday on money-laundering and narcotics-trafficking charges.  While the Bloomberg piece lays out some pretty crazy things (e.g. a murder-for-hire plot), it does invite a broader discussion on the viability of Bitcoin or other virtual currencies.  As the author shares, this week’s event “highlights how using an ostensibly untraceable currency makes for a lovely invitation to blackmailers.”  Lovely indeed, and certainly not the end of the debate about Bitcoin’s future.

(2) As I pondered the future of payment networks like this, I found myself reading a blog authored by Jim Marous: “It’s Time for Banks & Credit Unions to Embrace Change.” Jim’s a good follow on twitter (@JimMarous) and I really like the KPMG report he cites in his post (Reshaping Banking in a Dynamic Business and Regulatory Climate). Jim opens with a disheartening truth: while “technology and distribution channels have changed, banks and credit unions are still faced with many of the same strategic challenges we talked about 20 years ago.”  A good primer for anyone preparing their 2014 strategic plans.

(3) Finally, a tip of the cap to American Banker for their article on Georgia Commerce’s agreement to buy Brookhaven Bank in Atlanta.  As they write, this is a sign that in some parts of the country, “it is becoming more financially advantageous to sell out instead of raising capital.”  When Selling a Bank Becomes Preferable to Raising Capital requires a subscription to AB; however, its clear to me that industry and economic headwinds challenge banks both large and small. In a sense, the boards’ decision to merge shouldn’t surprise but may inspire other community bank CEOs and their directors to consider staging an exit rather than gearing up for a capital raise.

Before wishing everyone a great Friday, let me single out our Associate Publisher, Kelsey Weaver, and wish her the best of luck as she moves home to Nashville next Monday. Fortunately she will remain with our team; our happy little D.C. office, however, will not be the same.  ##WWGS

Aloha Friday!

Swimming With Sharks

A resident of the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas
A resident of the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas

I’ve been on a lot of planes lately, and while I read a ton, I also listened to several interesting podcasts to pass the time.  One in particular brought statistician Nate Silver and author Malcolm Gladwell together with ESPN’s Bill Simmons to discuss how periodicals are adjusting to the Internet age (ok, some sports came up too). I liked their premise that it doesn’t take much skill to be the first to do something, but the later you are, the smarter you have to be.  Much as the publishing/media industry needs to speed up the creative process, so too do financial institutions of all sizes.  Take a listen to the podcast if you’re interested in their take; for three things I’m thinking about based on the last four days, read on.

(1) Yes, credit unions and banks are both financial institutions; this, however, is where the similarities end in my opinion.  I spend so much of my time with bankers that I decided to flip the script and attend the National Directors’ Convention for credit unions in Las Vegas this week.  As I depart the Mandalay Bay (today’s draft title was “Banking on Sin”), today’s tongue-in-cheek title is a nod to those organizations that compete with banks.  True, I enjoyed the cheerleading aspect of certain sessions; for example, “A Higher Purpose: Why Credit Unions Are Different Than Banks.”  Nonetheless, as session after session juxtaposed a credit union’s marketing, lending and risk & compliance efforts with those of community banks, I’m not sure why credit unions should continue to be exempt from taxes as they are.  Look, my Grandfather helped set up a credit union in Massachusetts, and I appreciate why credit unions were initially granted nonprofit status.  But as they directly compete with banks, the tax question stirs the pot at our conferences… and does have me scratching my head about the fairness of an uneven playing field.

(2) Woody Allen is credited with saying 90% of life is showing up. But John Kanas and his team at Florida-based BankUnited (which has $12.6 billion in assets) are doing a lot more than that.  At least, that’s what I’m thinking after reading “A Steal of a Deal” by our very talented Managing Editor, Naomi Snyder.  While a lot of attention in Bank Director’s current issue goes to “The Top Performing Banks” due to our scorecard that ranks all NYSE and NASDAQ listed banks, Naomi’s piece is a must-read.  As you will see, the best mid-sized bank in the country is headed by an incredible dealmaker with an appetite not just for risk but with an eye for long-term growth.

(3) Thinking about growing a bank puts a board’s role in strategic planning front and center.  So when Promontory’s founder and CEO, Gene Ludwig, writes that “Big Changes Loom for Bank Boards,” I think it’s an appropriate link to share.  In a piece that runs on American Banker, the former head of the OCC writes “the do’s and don’ts of board governance are still emerging, and there is an honest debate over the core topics — how effective new and detailed expectations are at improving safety and soundness, and whether new standards are merging the concepts of governance and management. However, the fact of the matter is that regulators are not going to back away from their enhanced expectations for the board. Board members and managers who do not take heed proceed at their peril.”  Take a read if you’re interested in his nine points a bank and its board might consider in today’s highly charged regulatory environment.

Aloha Friday!

Back in the Saddle

A summer vacation sunset
A summer vacation sunset

It’s been a few weeks since I last shared what I’ve heard, learned or discussed on this site. Yes, vacation treated me well. But I’m excited to get back into the swing of things and especially pleased to welcome two new people to the Bank Director team: Katy Prejeant and Jake Massey. Both can be followed on Twitter @BankDirectorAE and @WJ_Massey. As always, what follows are three things that relate to bank executives and boards that caught my eye and/or ear this week.

(1) Drive a few hours west of our Nashville offices and you can find Memphis-based Mercer Capital. The advisory firm assists banks, thrifts and credit unions with “corporate valuation requirements and transactional services.” Each month, their Bank Watch newsletter pulls together a series of articles from around the web. From stress testing to Basel III, ESOPs to a Midwestern public bank peer report, there are some interesting reads this month. But one that caught my eye wasn’t in their report – it can be found on their main site. It’s a white paper on Creating the Potential for Shared Upside. Authored by Jeff Davis (a speaker at last year’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference), the piece reviews various financial issues arising when community banks merge or sell to a larger, public institution. With many anticipating an upswing in M&A deals in the second half of 2013, it is an interesting perspective to consider.

(2) In past posts, I have noted how the banking industry is a mature one. That is, where competing on price with the BofA’s of the world may best be seen as a fool’s errand. Nonetheless, McKinsey’s classic article on “Setting Value, Not Price” should be a must read this week. While not specific to the financial space, they lay out a reality where ”people buy products and services not on price alone but on customer value: the relationship between costs and benefits.” Although this trade-off has long been recognized as critical for marketing, this month’s “Insights & Publications” shows that businesses frequently get their price–benefit position wrong. They wrote in 1997 that “value” may be one of the most overused and misused terms in marketing and pricing. If you’re game, drop me a line below and let me know if you agree this is still the case.

(3) Spend any time talking with a bank’s CEO, and keeping pace with technology (and by extension, technology risk management) is sure to come up in a discussion that involves improving their business, brand and reputation. According to a new “FS Viewpoints” published by PwC, financial institutions have, for too long, “viewed technology risk management as a defensive tactic or regulatory compliance activity.” Based on the consultancy’s observations, “existing approaches to technology risk management often provide limited value to the business.” They see a real opportunity to leverage technology risk management to provide strategic business value. This piece shows how leading institutions are shifting their focus on risk management, moving from a fragmented and reactive compliance approach to a more balanced, business-aligned, risk-based strategy.
Aloha Friday!