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.”

In the Face of Intense Competition

Financial institutions face intense competition from non-banks like PayPal, American Express, Walmart and Quicken Loans…  and a rapidly changing demographic that demands new approaches to attract and retain customers (be it individual or business).  Today’s post takes a look at two financial technology companies working to keep banks relevant as customers increasingly expect a“one stop shop” in all areas of their lives.

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Over on FiveThirtyEight.com

On FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver’s newly launched website at ESPN, the editorial team leverages statistical analysis to tell compelling stories about politics, science and yes, sports.  While much digital ink has been spilled on this week’s NFL draft,  the site’s chief economics writer, Ben Casselman, authored a piece that caught my eye.  Thanks to a keynote presentation by Fox News’ Juan Williams at this January’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference, I’m far more aware of the changing demographics of the United States — and what that means for financial institutions.

 

Based on my conversations with Juan in the desert, I found early inspiration for today’s piece while pouring over Ben’s What Baby Boomers’ Retirement Means For the U.S. Economy.  In combination with economic shifts — both domestically and globally — it is clear that changing demographics are transforming businesses.  As we trend towards a younger populace, Ben writes “all else equal, fewer workers means less economic growth… If more of the population is young or old that leaves fewer working-age people to support them and contribute to the economy.”  Clearly, banks need to be prepared to serve a population that will live longer.  Maybe more importantly, they need to court their most valuable customers — Gen X&Y and Millennials (relationships built, “gulp” through online & mobile experiences).

Putting Checks into the Cloud

In the world of checks, VerifyValid acknowledges that “paper is simply a vessel for holding information. The real check is the data fields it contains: the check number, the amount, the routing number, the recipient, and most important of all, the authorizing action which says that the account holder agrees to pay the stated amount to the payee.”  I had a chance to see Paul Doyle, the company’s Founder & CEO, inspire a crowd of CEOs and board members at The Growth Conference last week.  Flying home from New Orleans, I spent some time learning how the company overcame the challenge in providing this information electronically in such a way that prevents fraud.  As I see it, VerifyValid lowers an organization’s costs while increasing efficiency and financial security with every payment.  IMHO, their 2 minute, 25 second video is worth a watch.

Making Money Simple, Attractive and Intelligent

Located “in the heart of Utah’s Silicon Slopes,” MoneyDesktop is redefining the way millions of people interact with their finances.  As one of the fastest-growing financial technology providers, MoneyDesktop positions banks and credit unions as the financial hub of their account holders — think Mint on steroids — with its personal financial management, data-driven analytics and marketing technologies.  Some 450 financial institutions rely on this software-as-a-service vendor… and I saw last night they have plans to grow significantly in the months to come.  They write, and I agree, that account holders are changing.  “There is an ongoing shift away from traditional brick & mortar banking (and) technology is providing better ways for account holders to interact with their money, and with financial institutions.”  An interesting company delivering a very clean and user-friendly experience.

Aloha Friday!

Who Says There Is No Growth In Banking

Two big takeaways from the second day of Bank Director’s 2nd annual Growth conference (#BDGrow14): institutions of all sizes are challenged when it comes to standing out from the crowd & enhancing your mobile banking presence should be a top priority for all boards of directors.

A 2 Minute Recap on the Past 4 Months

 

Take No Risk, Make No Money
While some may not think about enterprise risk management in the context of growing one’s bank, Crowe’s Jennifer Burke made clear that proactively identifying, mitigating, and in some cases, capitalizing on risks provides a distinct advantage to a bank.  Keep in mind that even smaller institutions — with less complex business structures — face myriad risks that might significantly affect their ability to meet their growth plans.  As Jennifer shared, those that proactively identify and respond to risks and opportunities gain a competitive advantage over their peers, especially in responding to our ever-changing business environment.

Millennial and the End of Banking?

The Times-Picayune ran a nice story in today’s edition based on The Growth Conference.  The newspaper noted that “younger generations report more comfort with online and mobile banking tools, posing a hurdle for banks used to ginning up business through face-to-face interactions.”  So it is fair to ask if banks should be scared of the millennial generation.  According to Daryl Byrd, president and CEO of IberiaBank, the answer is no.  As mentioned in this piece (Will Millennials be the end of banking as we know it? Bank execs weigh in at Growth Conference in New Orleans), Byrd was among a panel of industry leaders gathered at the Bank Director Growth Conference to discuss business trends, including the challenges in reaching younger customers.  Byrd, “who noted he is the father of three Millennials, said his children, like many in their generation, aren’t building wealth as much as they are taking on debt. That means their demand for banking services will be limited in the near term,” he said.

Trending Topics

The issues I took note of this morning were, in no particular order:

  • Just like “synergy” became a cliché, so too might “omni” when it comes to delivering a consistent customer experience (e.g. omni-screen, omni-channel, etc);
  • Not all customers are created equally;
  • A bank’s board has the chance to re-set strategies to target, acquire, engage, grow and retain customers… but need to look ahead to what’s possible as opposed to the past to see what has historically delivered results.

To comment on this piece, click on the green circle with the white plus sign on the bottom right. Safe travels home to all who joined us in New Orleans this week (and yes, 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.

Let the Good Times Roll

Checking in from a rain-soaked Reagan National airport, where I think I see the plane I’ll take down to New Orleans taxiing towards its gate.  Yes, it’s “Growth Week” at Bank Director, and I’m heading to the Crescent City to host bank CEOs, Chairmen and board members keen to focus on big picture business issues surrounding growth (not necessarily associated with mergers and acquisitions) and profitability.

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A Deep Dive

I realize the phrase “let the good times roll” is most frequently heard during Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans; I’m using it to tee up Bank Director’s Growth Conference that kicks off tomorrow morning at the Ritz-Carlton.  Once the lights come up, I’ll be interested to hear:

  • How growth is driving pricing;
  • Why efficiency & productivity are both key elements in positioning a bank to grow; and
  • If “overcapacity” in the US banking industry offers opportunities.

I’m particularly excited for our opening session with Thomas Brown, CEO, Second Curve Capital.  We’ve asked him to help us “set the table” for the next two days of conversations with an outlook for banks across the country by reviewing the current capital market and operating conditions, thereby providing financial context to the next two days’ presentations.  If I don’t cover his remarks in my post tomorrow, you can bet our editor, Jack Milligan, will on his must-read blog The Bank Spot.

A Look Back

Much of last year’s conversation revolved around technology and the need to adapt to a changing marketplace, as well as the importance of creating a unique niche in a competitive landscape dominated by the biggest banks.  Many of our bank speakers at the conference had a more nuanced view of technological change. Richard Hill, the chief retail banking officer for the $19-billion asset Hancock Holding Co. in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said when he got into banking in the 1970s, the prediction was that checks would go away and branch banking would go away. That clearly didn’t happen, or at least not at the accelerated pace that many predicted. The problem for his bank and for many others is that profits are getting squeezed with low interest rates, and the bank needs to make investments that expand revenue. As he said, “a great challenge we have is figuring all this out.”

Take Our Your Crystal Balls

Let me wrap up by sharing a 2 minute video our team compiled on the “future” of banking.  We played it at our Acquire or Be Acquired conference in January and the perspectives of KPMG’s national banking leader, the CEO of Congressional Bank, etc. are worth a watch and listen.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

The Single Greatest Constraint on Growth

With the revenue pressures facing the banking industry being some of the most intense in decades, banks need to think more constructively about their businesses. At the same time, changing consumer behavior could drive the industry to reallocate its resources to less traditional growth channels in order to stay ahead.  In my view, the words of an English naturalist reflect the single greatest constraint on growth today.

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Powerful Forces

One of our long-term corporate sponsors, PwC, recently shared their thoughts on the future of the retail banking industry.  In their view, “powerful forces are reshaping the banking industry, creating an imperative for change. Banks need to choose what posture they want to adopt – to lead the change, to follow fast, or to manage for the present. Whatever their chosen strategy, leading banks will need to balance execution against… critical priorities and have a clear sense of the posture they wish to adopt.”  If you, like our friends from PwC, are joining us in New Orleans later this week to dive into this very topic, their compelling “Retail Banking 2020” report might make for good airplane company.

Looking Back in Order to Look Ahead

Last year, John Eggemeyer, a Founder and Managing Principal of Castle Creek Capital LLC, helped me to kick off our inaugural Growth Conference.  As a lead investor in the banking industry since 1990, he shared his views on our “mature industry,” That is, banking follows a historic pattern of other mature industries: excess capacity creates fierce competition for business which in turn makes price, not customer service, the key differentiator.  While offering myriad thoughts on what makes for a great bank,  John did share some hard-to-swallow statistics and opinions for a crowd of nearly 200 bankers and industry executives:

  • Publicly traded banks from $1 billion to $5 billion in assets saw their stock values rise at about half the rate of the broader market as a whole since early 2009.
  • Of the 300 or so publicly traded banks in that size range, only about 60 of them traded at their pre-recession price multiples.
  • In the last 40 years, bank stocks always followed the same pattern in a recession: falling in value quicker than the rest of the market and recovering quicker.

I share these three points to provide context for certain presentations later this week.  Some build on his perspectives while others update market trends and behavior.  Still, an interesting reminder of where we were at this time last year.

Getting Social-er

Yesterday, I shared the hashtag for The Growth Conference (#BDGrow14).  Thanks to our Director of Research — @ehmccormick — and Director of Marketing — @Michelle_M_King — I can tell you that nearly 30% of the attending banks have an active twitter account; 78% of sponsors do.  On the banking side, these include the oldest and largest institution headquartered in Louisiana — @IBERIABANK, a Connecticut bank first chartered in 1825 with over $3.5 billion in assets — @LibertyBank_CT and a Durham, NC-based bank that just went public last month — @Square1Bank.  On the corporate side of things, one of the top marketing and communications firms for financial companies —@wmagency, a tech company that shares Bank Director’s love of orange — @Fiserv and a leading provider of personal financial management — @MoneyDesktop join us.  Just six of many institutions and service providers I’m looking forward to saying hello to.

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More to come — from New Orleans, not D.C. — tomorrow afternoon.

Its Growth Week

Its finally here… “Growth Week” at Bank Director.  Yes Discovery Channel, you can keep your shark week.  What we’re about to get into is far more interesting (at least, to some): what’s working in banking today.  Most of our team heads down to the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans tomorrow and Wednesday for our 2014 Growth Conference.  Before they do, the first of five posts dedicated to building a business.

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Think Distinct

Innovation means doing things differently.  Not just offering new products or offerings — but doing things differently across the entire business model.  Going into this event, I know many believe there are simply too many banks offering similar products and services.  I tend to think institutions are challenged when it comes to being distinctive compared with the competitor across the street.  This is not a new issue; however, there are more and more strategies emerging and enablers coming to market that can drive brand value, customer satisfaction and profitable growth.  Case-in-point: the work of our friends at StrategyCorps, whose idea is “be bold… go beyond basic mobile banking.”  One of the sponsors of the conference, I am excited to hear how  financial institutions, like First Financial, benefit from their mobile & online consumer checking solutions in order to enhance customer engagement and increase fee income.

Looking Back in Order to Look Ahead

While easy to frame the dynamics of our industry in terms of asset size, competing for business today is more of a “smart vs. not-so-smart” story than a “big vs. small.” During one of my favorite sessions last year — David AND Goliath — Peter Benoist, the president and CEO of St. Louis-based Enterprise Financial Services Corp, reminded his peers that as more banks put their liquidity to work, fierce competition puts pressures on rates and elevates risk.  As I went back to my notes in advance of this week’s event, my biggest takeaway from his presentation was we all talk about scale and net interest margins… but it’s clear that you need growth today regardless of who you are.  It is growth for the sake of existence.

Getting Social

To keep track of the conversation pre-, on-site and post-event on Twitter, use #BDGrow14 and/or @bankdirector + @aldominick.  In addition, I plan to post every day this week to About That Ratio, with tomorrow’s piece touching on the diminished importance of branch networks to underscore the importance of investments in technology.