Current Challenges Facing Bank Executives in 2016 (a video overview from Acquire or Be Acquired)

The fun began bright & early here at the Arizona Biltmore, home of this year’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference.  This annual event explores a bank’s financial growth opportunities — and brings a significant number of bank CEOs, board members and C-level executives to the desert.  In this short video, I share a few key take aways from this morning’s presentations specific to the challenges being faced by bank CEOs in attendance.  Sorry, no mention of a flat yield curve (even though the interest rate environment certainly merits more then just this mention).

Welcome to the Arizona Biltmore and Bank Director’s 22nd annual AOBA

As we prepare to kick off this year’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference, I offer my take on one theme I anticipate being brought up early — and discussed often: the return of regional acquirers who are positioning themselves to challenge the true big guys in banking.

9 Banks I Bet People Will Be Talking About at Acquire or Be Acquired

I planned to write about a number of banks I was excited to see this weekend at AOBA.  But as Steve Jobs once shared “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” In this spirit, let me highlight nine banks that I anticipate our attendees will be talking about in Arizona at Bank Director’s annual M&A conference.

In a few minutes, I’ll hop an American flight to Phoenix for this year’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference.  Before I depart the cold and slush of D.C. for some warmth and sun in the desert, this is my take on the banks I anticipate people talking about when we’re all together:

  • Bank of the West — and not just because their CEO is keynoting this year’s conference.  The bank, with more than 700 branches in the Midwest and Western United States, has long been a personal favorite of mine and competes in markets where many look for inspiration.
  • Bank of North Carolina — because they’ve been wheeling and dealing and are a great example of how an acquirer successfully integrates cultures (*yes, their CEO also speaks at AOBA this year on a CEO panel entitled Finding the Right Partners).
  • United Bank — having picked up a trophy franchise of their own in my hometown (another personal favorite of mine, Bank of Georgetown) they’ve made a number of interesting deals over the past few years and I bet have more on their mind.
  • BB&T — having dealt for Susquehanna in ’14 and National Penn in ‘15, it is fair to ask: who’s next?

By no means are these all of the banks that will come up in conversation; rather, those that are top of mind.

One final thought before hopping my flight west.  The recent volatility in the stock market may be impacting institutions considering a capital raise, IPO or acquisition — but this week’s deal pace is far different then at this time in recent years.  The patterns I’m beginning to see is a concentrated effort to get to over the $5Bn asset mark and into that sweetest of spots: the $5Bn to $50Bn asset class.  A point I’ll elaborate on in an upcoming post/video.

So if you are interested in following the conference conversations via social channels, I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector, and search & follow #AOBA16 to see what is being shared with (and by) our attendees.  Safe travels to those 930 men & women joining us this weekend!

Five Reasons Why Banks Might Consider Selling in 2016

You might think every bank CEO I meet wants to talk about buying another institution; truth-be-told, some recognize that tying up with another makes a lot of sense.  So this post looks at why now may be the right time for a bank’s CEO and board to consider a sale.  It plays off the idea that in many markets, organic growth options are limited and times are tough for banks, especially those under $1Bn in asset size.

By Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

Over the past three years, a number of bank executives and board members have struggled with whether to buy or sell their bank — or pursue growth independently.  Over the same time, Bank Director has welcomed more than 1,300 bankers — from more than 500 financial institutions — to our annual M&A conference to explore their short- and long-term options.

This year, those numbers go up in a BIG way. Indeed, we have 600 bankers from 300+ banks joining us at the Arizona Biltmore for “AOBA” this upcoming Sunday through Tuesday.  To me, this signals that more potential buyers & sellers are getting off the sidelines and into the bank merger and acquisition game.  So in advance of Bank Director’s 22nd annual conference, here are five challenges that a bank’s CEO and board might want to consider.

  • Peer-to-peer lenders, credit unions and some — not all — FinTech startups either are (or will be) fierce competitors to community banks.  In addition, non-bank giants in technology, retail, media, entertainment and telecom are making noise about entering banking.
  • When margins decline, bankers try to compensate by improving operational efficiencies.  While slow growth + strong cost controls may allow for short term survival, such an equation doesn’t bode well for the long-term viability of many institutions where investors expect more significant gains.
  • The pressures prompting larger banks to innovate — sluggish loan demand, depressed revenue, higher compliance costs — are the same ones that will continue to force smaller banks to pursue a sale.
  • Let’s face it: the typical bond between a bank and a customer is is not personal nor very strong and the absence of real customer loyalty undermines the traditional business model most banks operate from (*and yes, I know that banks with dedicated customer bases enjoy significant advantages over any potential competitors. But let’s be honest about how dedicated such customers really are).
  • Finally, at many community banks, older management teams and a dearth of local talent mean there may be no one to hand over the reins to in the coming years.

Now, it has been said that business is not about longevity, it is about relevance.  So as Bank Director’s team continues to gear up for this year’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference, these five questions merit serious conversation and consideration both leading up to, and at, our 22nd annual event. For those not able to join us — but interested in following conversations such as these — I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector, and search & follow #AOBA16 to see what is being shared by (and with) our attendees.

7 Bank M&A Trends for 2016

With this morning’s news that Huntington and FirstMerit are set to merge, it is clear that more and more buyers & sellers are getting off the sidelines and into the bank merger and acquisition (M&A) game.  So in advance of Bank Director’s 22nd annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference, seven M&A trends to consider.

By Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

As I shared in yesterday’s post, we are putting the finishing touches on this year’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference. With nearly 600 bank officers & directors from 300+ banks joining us at the Arizona Biltmore for “AOBA” this Sunday through Tuesday, what follows are seven trends in bank M&A that I expect this hugely influential audience to hear and work to address.

  • Deal volume is holding steady; however, median deal price is on the rise.  One caveat: pricing has a strong correlation to both the size & location of a seller + the size of the potential buyer.
  • Growing banks must seize upon opportunities based on future needs, not just present needs
  • At the same time, more investors are taking a “what have you done for me lately” approach and emphasizing nearer-term results. Further, activist investors are becoming more prominent and driving some of this action.
  • Capturing efficiencies continues to be one of the most compelling forces driving industry consolidation.
  • When people tell you that size doesn’t matter, realize that banks with less than $500 million in assets have had the lowest return on equity for 11 out of the past 12 quarters (per SNL). Expect even more sellers to emerge from this part of the industry.
  • As the regulatory environment becomes increasingly difficult to maneuver, it is safe to anticipate an increase in merger activity — mostly for banks with less than $50 billion of assets.
  • As evidenced by Huntington Bancshares announcing today that it would buy FirstMerit Corporation in a deal worth $3.4 billion in stock and cash, mergers are a viable option for growth among the larger regionals.  While we don’t have the same kinds of national consolidators buying up banks like they once did, deals like this one, KeyCorp announcing it would buy First Niagara Financial Group and New York Community Bancorp that it would buy Astoria Financial at least opens the possibilities of larger players getting back in the merger game.

Whether you are coming to the conference or just interested in following the conversations, I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick and/or @BankDirector — and search & follow #AOBA16 to see what is being shared with and by our attendees.

4 Things to Know In Advance of Bank Director’s 2016 Acquire or Be Acquired Conference

Why banks are bought or sold involves much more than just the numbers making sense. Indeed, to successfully negotiate a merger transaction, buyers & sellers must bridge the gap between a number of financial, legal, accounting and social challenges. So in advance of this year’s biggest merger and acquisitions (M&A) conference, a few things I feel attendees of “AOBA” should know.

By Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

Starting this Sunday at the Arizona Biltmore, Bank Director’s team once again opens the doors to our annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference — affectionately called “AOBA” (ay-oh-bah).  About this time last year, I wrote about a record turnout, one we will exceed in a few days when 925 men and women arrive at this architectural gem.

By design, the numbers I share in the image above only reflect key data from the financial institutions attending.  In fact, we are prepared to welcome another 60+ professional services firms and product companies to the Biltmore.   While I am particularly impressed by the caliber of support provided to the industry by our sponsoring companies, today’s post focuses on a handful of issues impacting the officers and directors joining us from strong and well performing community banks.

While big banks typically garner mainstream headlines — Wells Fargo, Citi, JPMorganChase and Bank of America account for a whopping $8.1 Trillion of the $17.3 Trillion assets held by banks in the U.S. — the buying and selling of banks takes place outside their domain.  The overwhelming majority of deals today involve community banks, many of whom have their CEOs attending AOBA.  So for this hugely influential audience, here are my key points to know and consider before the conference kicks off.

  • M&A remains attractive inasmuch as successful transactions improve operating leverage, earnings, efficiency and scale.
  • Today’s regulatory environment can hold up a deal — so it has become popular to note that banks can make acquisitions depending on how “clean” both the buyer and seller are + how big the resulting bank becomes.
  • As seen in their superior financial metrics (e.g. ROAA and ROAE), larger banks are growing and consistently outperforming smaller banks.
  • Small and mid-sized banks’ importance to the overall economy and select business sectors remains in place; however, their earnings potential is less diverse then big banks, making them more vulnerable to new competitors and shifts in pricing of financial products.

Certainly, the buying and selling of banks has been the industry’s “great game” for the last couple of decades.  As the conference agenda reflects, we dive deeper into topics like these and look at pre-deal considerations, post-integration challenges and everything in between.  So for those not able to join us — but interested in following the conversations — I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector, and search & follow #AOBA16 to see what is being shared with (and by) our attendees.

Size & Scale: The King and Queen of Bank M&A?

Earlier this week, I shared my perspectives on bank M&A with the Wall Street Journal.  What follows builds off the piece that ran in Tuesday’s print edition, highlighting key findings from Bank Director’s annual Bank M&A Survey.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

At a time when J.P. Morgan is getting smaller, the pressure is on for smaller banks to get bigger.  As KPMG recently shared with BankDirector.com, there was a 25% increase in bank deals in the U.S. in 2014, compared to 2013, and there is a good possibility that the number of deals in 2015 will exceed that of 2014.  One reason for this: a larger institution can spread costs (such as investments and regulatory burdens) across a larger customer and revenue base.

Not surprisingly, 67% of executives and board members responding to Bank Director’s 2016 Bank M&A Survey say they see a need to gain more scale if they are going to be able to survive in a highly competitive industry going forward.  As our director of research, Emily McCormick, shared, “many of these respondents (62%) also see a more favorable climate for bank deals, hinting at a more active market for 2016 as banks seek size and scale through strategies that combine organic growth with the acquisitions of smaller banks.”

While the majority of bank executives and boards surveyed feel a need to grow, respondents don’t agree on the size banks need to be in order to compete today.  A slim majority, 32%, identified $1 billion in assets as the right size… interesting, but not surprising, when you consider that 89% of commercial banks and savings institutions are under $1 billion in assets, according to the FDIC (*personally, I’m of the opinion that $5Bn is the new $1Bn, but that’s a topic for another day).  On to the key findings from this year’s research:

  • Two-thirds report their bank intends to participate in some sort of acquisition over the next 12 months, whether it’s a healthy bank (51%), a branch (20%), a nondepository line of business (14%), a loan portfolio (6%) and/or a financial technology firm (a scant 2%).
  • Respondents indicate that credit culture, at 32%, and retaining key talent that aligns with the buyer’s culture, at 31%, are the most difficult aspects of the post-merger integration process.
  • More institutions are using social media channels to communicate with customers after the close of the deal. 55% of respondents who purchased a bank in 2014 or 2015 used social media, compared to 42% of 2011-2013 deals and just 14% of 2008-2010 deals (*FWIW, Facebook, at 26%, is the most popular channel for respondents).
  • Fifty-six percent of respondents have walked away from a deal in the past three years.  Of the respondents who indicate they declined to buy, 60% cite deal price while 46% blame the credit quality of the target institution.
  • Why do banks sell? Of the executives and board members associated with banks sold from 2012 to 2015, 55% say they sold because shareholders wanted to cash out.  Despite concerns that regulatory costs are causing banks to sell, just 27% cite this burden as a primary motivator.

The full survey results are now available online at BankDirector.com, and will be featured in the 1st quarter, 2016 issue of Bank Director magazine.  In addition, for those executives interested in connecting with many of the key decision makers driving the deals mentioned above, our annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference will be held at the Arizona Biltmore from January 31 through February 2.

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Our 2016 Bank M&A Survey, sponsored by Crowe Horwath LLP, examines current attitudes and challenges regarding bank M&A, and what drives banks to buy and sell. The survey was completed in September 2015 by 260 chief executive officers, independent directors and senior executives of U.S. banks, and former executives and directors of banks that have been acquired from 2012-2015.

Bank Mergers and Acquisitions

“The reality is organic growth is tough,’’ said Chris Myers, the president and CEO of the $7.2-billion Citizens Business Bank in Ontario, California, who spoke at our Acquire or Be Acquired conference in January.  His bank is one of those in the “sweet spot” for higher valuations and higher profitability, but even he feels the pressure to grow. “A lot of banks are stretching to try to grow [loans] and do things they wouldn’t have done in the past,’’ he said, commenting on the competition for good loans. “ We are going to need to do some acquisitions.”

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

The classic build vs. buy decision confronts executives in every industry.  For bank CEOs and board members today, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) remain attractive inasmuch as successful transactions improve operating leverage, earnings, efficiency and scale.  While I recently wrote that the best acquisition a bank can make is of a new customer, today’s post looks at what’s happening with bank M&A by sharing a few of my monthly columns that live on BankDirector.com:

  • Why Big Banks Aren’t Merging — with global companies announcing huge acquisitions, I look at where the banking industry is today.
  • Stressed Into Selling — after the largest U.S.-based banks passed the Federal Reserve’s stress tests, I write about modeling various economic conditions that might help a bank’s board to anticipate potential challenges and opportunities.
  • Don’t Sell The Bank —  figuring out when a bank should be a buyer—or a seller—had been on my mind since the Royal Bank of Canada announced a deal for “Hollywood’s bank,” City National, and this piece explored why now is not the time to sell.
  • Why Book Value Isn’t the Only Way to Measure a Bank — as the market improves and more acquisitions are announced, why I expect to see more attention to earnings and price to earnings as a way to value banks.
  • Deciding Whether to Sell or Go Public — while the decision to sell a company weighs heavily on every CEO, there comes a point where a deal makes too much financial and cultural sense to ignore.

In addition to these five columns, I invite you to read this month’s column, “Mind These Gaps,” which posts today on BankDirector.com.  It focuses on various pitfalls that have upended deals that, on paper, looked promising (e.g. due diligence and regulatory minefields, the loss of key talent/integration problems and bad timing/market conditions).  With perspectives from some of the country’s leading investment bankers and attorneys, it is one I’m pleased to share.  Don’t worry, unlike other sites, there is no registration — or payment — required.

Three Observations from the Bank Board Growth & Innovation Conference

Select news and notes from the first day of Bank Director’s annual growth conference at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

I mentioned this from the stage earlier today… every January, Bank Director hosts a huge event in Arizona focused on bank mergers and acquisitions.  Known as “AOBA,” our Acquire or Be Acquired conference has grown significantly over the years (this year, we welcomed some 800 to the desert).  After the banking M&A market tumbled to a 20-year low in 2009 of just 109 transactions, it has gradually recovered from the effects of the crisis. In fact, there were 288 bank and thrift deals last year, which was a considerable improvement on volume of 224 deals in 2013.  As our editorial team has noted, the buying and selling of banks has been the industry’s great game for the last couple of decades, but it’s a game that not all banks can — or want to — play.  Indeed, many bank CEOs have a preference to grow organically, and its to these growth efforts that we base today and tomorrow’s program.

Key Takeaway

To kick things off, we invited Fred Cannon, Executive Vice President & Director of Research at KBW, to share his thoughts on what constitutes franchise value. While he opened with a straight-forward equation to quantify franchise value over time — (ROE – Cost of Equity) × Market Premium — what really stuck with me during his presentation is the fact that a logo does not create franchise value, a brand does.  As he made clear, it is contextual (e.g. by industry’s served, technologies leveraged and clients maintained) and requires focus (e.g. you can’t be all things to all people).  Most notably, small and focused institutions trump small and complex ones.

Trending Topics

Anecdotally, the issues I took note of where, in no particular order:

  • Banks must be selective when integrating new technology into their systems.
  • The ability to analyze data proves fundamental to one’s ability to innovate.
  • When it comes to “data-driven decisions,” the proverbial life cycle can be thought of as (1) capture (2) store (3) analyze (4) act.
  • You don’t need a big deposit franchise to be a strong performing bank (for example, take a look at County Bancorp in Wisconsin)
  • We’ve heard this before, but size does matter… and as the size of bank’s balance sheet progresses to $10 billion, publicly traded banks generate stronger profitability and capture healthier valuations.

Picked Up Pieces

A really full day here in New Orleans, LA — with quite a few spirited discussions/debates.  Here are some of the more salient points I made note of throughout the day:

  • Selling services to large, highly regulated organization is a real challenge to many tech companies.
  • Shadow banking? Maybe its time I start calling them “Challenger banks.”
  • CB Insight’s has a blog called “unbundling the bank” — to understand the FinTech ecosystem, take a look at how they depict how “traditional banks are under attack from a number of emerging specialist startups.”
  • A few sidebar conversations about Wells Fargo’s incubator program, which the San Francisco bank began last August… interest in how the program involves direct investment in a select group of startups and six months of mentoring for their leaders.

To see what’s being written and said here in New Orleans, I invite you to follow @bankdirector, @aldominick + #BDGrow15.

Bank Director’s 2015 Acquire or Be Acquired Conference: A Week in Pictures

As we wrap up “AOBA week” there are so many to thank… be it Kelsey for reminding me that “coffee is for closers“… Katilyn, Robert and Daniel for their contributions as recognized by their peers (“stay thirsty my friends”)… Laura, Mika and Michelle for bringing the prize patrol to the golf course… the list goes on & on of the super heroes we had band together to make this year’s event such a success.  Also, a HUGE congratulations to our controller, Ryan McDonald, and his wife who welcomed their first child into the world this week (a healthy baby boy).  So allow me to share some “behind the scenes” pictures from our time at The Phoenician. 

If you’re interested to see what we’ve covered, you can click on a number of posts (this video about a CEO panel and this  recap of three things I noticed on Sunday, this video about the new consolidators, this video from Sunday night, this written recap from Monday, this video from Monday evening, this video from Tuesday and this written recap from Tuesday).  Also, our managing editor, Naomi Snyder, authored a number of great highlights pieces that posted to BankDirector.com.  And as a final recap of Acquire or Be Acquired, let me share the video I used to welcome the team to our wrap-up dinner on Tuesday night (w/ thanks to our friends at Snapshot for doing this with me!)

P.S. – it is Aloha Friday!

Wrapping Up Bank Director’s 2015 Acquire or Be Acquired Conference

To paraphrase the New England Patriot’s Bill Belichick, we are #OnToNashville.  Yes, Bank Director’s 2015’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference is solidly in the books and our annual Bank Board Training Forum at the historic Hermitage hotel in Nashville, TN is now “on the clock.”  But before I depart from sunny Arizona, a very big thank you to everyone who made this possible!

Three Observations From Bank Director’s 2015 Acquire or Be Acquired Conference (Tuesday)

News and notes from the final day of Bank Director’s annual Acquire or Be Acquired conference.

Key Takeaway

As always, the one constant in life is change.  Right now, with deflation in the Eurozone (is it time to bid Greece goodbye from the EU?), declining oil prices and the sluggish growth of the U.S. economy, optimism about banking’s future is tempered by present uncertainties.  As we heard from KBW, a handful of factors have contributed to the slower pace of our economic recovery:

  • Resetting of global GDP growth expectations;
  • Europe nearing closer to deflation;
  • Japan expanding its stimulus spending;
  • Modest wage growth; and
  • Conservative consumer and small business confidence.

Nonetheless, there is a true sense of optimism permeating the conference here at The Phoenician… especially in terms of the future of community banking.

Trending Topics

A spirited half-day of conversations and presentations that ranged from capital raises to digital growth opportunities.  With respect to trending topics, I made note of the following: to drive growth, the biggest banks are exploring opportunities in three areas: (1) deals for smaller product/technology/capability based companies, (2) analytics and (3) digital; as I noted on Sunday, bank M&A deals per year (as a % of total banks) are at historically high levels — and we see banks with strong tangible book value multiples dominating the M&A space; finally, there is a widening gap in terms of buyer valuations meeting seller expectations.

Picked Up Pieces

I made note of the following this morning:

  • Google’s partnership with Lending Club came up early and sparked quite a few sidebar-type conversations;
  • New skills, better analytics is where bigger banks are struggling the most.
  • Per Josh Carter at PwC, mobile phones, wearables and integrated devices (car, shopping cart, item RFID tags) have barely scratched the surface in terms of how they will shape our lives.
  • Several presenters noted the multi-charter bank model is under pressure.
  • Looking ahead, bank stocks may struggle to outperform the broader market if unable to meet earning-per-share (EPS) expectations.
  • By extension, if the Federal Reserve does not raise interest rates, EPS estimates will be at risk for negative revisions.

I will post a recap video tomorrow morning on About That Ratio and you can use the hashtag #AOBA15 to read through the last three days tweets.  Now, it is time for me to head out to the golf course to shake off the rust at our annual golf tournament.