What Makes M&T A Great Community Bank?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

How Capital One Can Inspire Your Digital Efforts

While venture-backed fintech firms continue to garner attention for being “ahead of the times,” don’t sleep on the franchise being built by Capital One.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

Should you look at the term “innovation” and disassociate it with the banking sector, you are forgiven.  But innovative is exactly the description I favor for Capital One Financial Corp. (NYSE: COF), especially as I define the term as an ability to monetize creative ideas, products and processes.  Indeed, the McLean, VA-based bank ranked first among the 20 publicly-traded banks with assets of more than $50 billion in Bank Director magazine’s annual Bank Performance Scorecard and is widely considered at the forefront of taking a technology-based, consumer-centric focus to banking.

As we see in their financial performance, Capital One managed to increase net income and benefited from the high profitability of a substantial credit card operation and the stable funding of a regional banking franchise.  As you can read, the company rated highly on traditional profitability metrics: they posted a return on average assets (ROAA) of 1.53, a return on average equity (ROAE) of 10.33 and a Tangible Common Equity ratio of 9.82.  So while various fintech companies make news for their valuations (*hello Stripe, which received major funding from Visa and other investors, valuing the startup at $5 billion) or loan volume (**hola Lending Club, which originated nearly $2 billion in loans during Q2), I’m paying attention to Capital One’s performance.

Nonetheless, their financial numbers don’t tell the whole story.

As our editor, Jack Milligan, writes in “How Young and Hungry Fintech Companies are Disrupting the Status Quo,” the digital financial services space “is exploding in activity as new technology companies push their way into markets and product lines that traditionally have been the banking industry’s turf.” To this point, many bank executives should take note of Capital One’s focus on technology and its business model.  Its CEO, Richard Fairbank, is focused on leading the digital transformation of banking and is not shy in stating that “the winners in banking will have the capabilities of a world-class software company.  Most of the leverage and most of our investment is in building the foundational underpinnings and talent model of a great digital company.  To succeed in a digital world (you) can’t just bolt digital capabilities onto the side of an analog business.”

Cases in point, Capital One acquired money management app Level Money earlier this year to help consumers keep track of their spendable cash and savings.  Prior to that, they acquired San Francisco-based design firm Adaptive Path “to further improve its user experience with digital.”  Over the past three years, the company has also added e-commerce platform AmeriCommerce, digital marketing agency Pushpoint, spending tracker Bundle and mobile startup BankOns.  Heck, just last summer, one of Google’s “Wildest Designers” left the tech giant to join the bank.

More and more banks are realizing that they have to fundamentally change to keep up with the industry’s digital transformation.  But shifting an organizational structure — and culture — to become more focused on what customers want and expect in an increasingly digital age is no simple task.  Not everyone can offer a broad spectrum of financial products and services to consumers, small businesses and commercial clients like Capital One does.  But all can certainly learn from the investments, partnerships and efforts being made by this standout institution.

In case you’re wondering…

Bank Director’s Bank Performance Scorecard uses five key metrics that measure profitability, capitalization and asset quality. ROAA and ROAE are used to gauge each bank’s profitability.  KeyCorp (NYSE: KEY), of Cleveland, ranked second, and rated highest for capital adequacy, with a TCE ratio of 9.87. In third place, U.S. Bancorp (NYSE: USB), of Minneapolis, topped the profitability metrics with a 1.55 ROAA and 13.53 ROAE. Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) and Comerica Inc. (NYSE: CMA) rounded out the top five.

Giving Thanks for Great Leadership

We are getting close to that time of year when people start writing their top ten lists, providing year-in-review posts and taking out the proverbial crystal ball.  In this spirit, my post-Thanksgiving piece provides a list of bank CEOs I met this year that impressed me with both their bank’s performance & personal leadership styles.  From the outside looking in, I have to assume shareholders and employees alike appreciate what each has done for their organization.

A few days ago, David Reilly authored a piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Wanted: Dance Partners for Bank Merger Ball” (sorry, registration required).  Citing Bank Director’s annual M&A research report, he reminded us that it takes two to tango — and “that is still the issue for investors expecting, or hoping for, a significant pickup in bank merger activity in 2015.”  As we showed in our survey of about 200 bank directors and executives, 47% said they planned to purchase a healthy bank in the next 12 months — but 87% also said they had no intention to sell.  So a steady hand to lead an institution strikes me as imperative for those banks seeking growth through traditional, or acquisition-based, means.  This got me thinking…

Over the course of the year, I am lucky to meet Chief Executive Officers from all over the country.  To build on three posts from earlier this year (my “FI Tip Sheet: Some of Banking’s Best CEOs,” “FI Tip Sheet: Great Bank CEOs” and “FI Tip Sheet: The Top Women in Banking“) here, in no particular order, are nine community bank CEOs that made memorable impressions on me in 2014:

  • Jay Sidhu, the Chairman and CEO of Customers Bank, ran Sovereign Bank for nearly 20 years and started Customers Bank from scratch in ’97.  The bank has grown from its original five branches in the suburbs of Philadelphia to 14 offices in three states — Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Thanks to Jay’s disciplined approach to growth, Customers has seen its assets increase to $6.5 billion as of August 25.
  • Down in Texas, Scott Dueser, the Chairman, President & CEO at First Financial, embodies the concept of loyalty — to his employees, his customers and to the First Financial family as a whole (he’s been a part of it for more than 38 years).  Oh, and his bank placed first in the $5 billion to $50 billion asset category in Bank Director’s annual Bank Performance Scorecard — a ranking of the 200 largest publicly traded bank holding companies in the United States based on their 2013 financial data.
  • Up in RedSox country (sorry, CT might be a swing state between Yankees and RedSox fans, but the team from my home town is far superior), Bill Crawford leads United Financial Bancorp, the bank holding company for United Bank and Rockville Bank.  A $5 billion community bank founded in 1858 with 60 branches in New England, Bill’s determination to merge the two proverbial “equals” as seamlessly as possible reflects a real commitment to the combined teams, client bases and cultures.
  • Billed as the “bank for VCs and entrepreneurs,” Doug Bowers, the President & CEO at Square 1 Bank, oversees the NC-based bank with more then $1bn in assets.  As he shared, their focus on banking entrepreneurs and their investors is all that that they do.  Yes, it is 100% of their business.
  • Robin McGraw, embodies “intrapeneurship.”  The Chairman & CEO of Tupelo, MS-based Renasant Corporation, the parent of Renasant Bank, runs the 110-year-old financial services institution.  With approximately $5.8 billion in assets, Renasant operates more than 120 banking, mortgage, financial services and insurance offices in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. Under Robin’s watch, the bank made in-sourcing their IT work a priority — which puts them in a favorably competitive position as the world becomes even more digital.
  • I know Daryl Byrd, President & CEO at IBERIABANK Corporation, sees quite a few potential deals cross his desk as he runs the oldest and largest bank headquartered in Louisiana.  The financial holding company operates 280 combined offices and successfully serves a niche commercial and private banking target audience.  Over the past few years, IBERIABANK has been held up as one of the better acquirers in terms of integrating a team/brand into its own — something they will do again with their recently announced acquisition of Old Florida Bancshares.
  • Any time I am able to spend time with Mike Fitzgerald, the Chairman, President & CEO at Bank of Georgetown in Washington, D.C., I come away inspired.  Being a local presence since 2005 — with a great reputation for growing organically — Mike and his team have quickly made this one of the best community banks in the Washington metropolitan area.
  • John Corbett, the President & CEO at CenterState Bank of Florida, runs one of the fastest growing community banks headquartered in the Sunshine State.  Founded in 1999, CenterState Bank has grown to nearly $4 billion in assets.  Just last month, John talked with us about the need to innovate or risk becoming stagnant and losing the ability to compete for exceptional talent.
  • In terms of taking risks, David Brooks, of Independent Bank Group in Texas, can share a story or two.  As I wrote for BankDirector.com in October (Deciding Whether to Sell or Go Public), David was one of the first to take a bank public following the financial crisis, guiding the bank’s 2012 IPO that raised $100 million at 2.2 times tangible book value. The company has announced eight acquisitions since 2010; most notably, with Bank of Houston in a deal that added more than $1 billion in assets to Independent Bank when the deal closed in April.
  • Finally, a tip of my hat to Leon Holschbach, the Vice Chairman, CEO and President of Midland States Bancorp. Leon stands out for his recruitment & retention efforts and has graciously shared how his company develops executives, attracts leadership and approaches compensation in our highly competitive and economically challenging world.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I realize there are many, many more leaders who deserve praise and recognition. Click the “+” button on the bottom right of this page to comment on this piece and let me know who else might be recognized for their leadership prowess.

FI Tip Sheet: Great Bank CEOs (part 2)

“You know who’s good” might be one of my favorite conversation starters… be it talking football or baseball, banking or business, it always interests me to hear who others consider leaders in a particular field or discipline.  As the country’s economic recession gives way to recovery and many more banks return to profitability, quite a few executives have success stories to share.  This week’s tip sheet builds on last week’s post by highlighting three exceptional CEOs that lead publicly traded banks before shifting to the thoughts and opinions of two very talented colleagues.

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(1) In case you missed it, last week’s tip sheet looked at some of the best CEOs in the business today — broken down into three categories: the “biggest banks” with $50Bn+ in assets, those with more than $5Bn but less than $50Bn and finally, those in the $1Bn to $5Bn size range.  After I posted the piece, I thought about a number of bankers that could have been included in the $5 to $50Bn summary.  For example, Joe DePaolo, the president & CEO of Manhattan-based Signature Bank, a $19.7-billion asset, NASDAQ-listed financial institution.  He’s led the bank’s growth, from a mere $50 million in assets at its founding in 2001 to close to $20 billion today.

Likewise, Jim Herbert’s work to build First Republic Bank (the bank he founded in 1985 and is listed on the NYSE) deserves praise and recognition.  I shared my thoughts on Jim’s bank after meeting him last year.  For those in the know, First Republic is one of this country’s great banks. Not only is it solely focused on organic growth, it’s also focused solely on private banking. While my conversation with Jim was off-the-record, I left his office convinced its the smarts within, not the size of, a bank that will separate the have’s from the have-nots in the years ahead. Clearly, as new regulations and slim profit margins challenge the banking industry, the skills and backgrounds of the employees who work in banking must change too.

Finally, the co-head of Sandler O’Neill’s Investment Banking group, Bill Hickey, praised Vince Delie – the President & Chief Executive Officer of the 11.7Bn, NYSE-listed FNB Corproration.  According to Bill, Vince “has led FNB through four acquisitions in the last three years and three capital raise transactions… FNB continues to deliver above market returns and has been rewarded with a currency that trades at 245% of Tangible Book Value.”

(2) Before joining out team a few years ago, Bank Director Magazine’s Managing Editor, Naomi Snyder, spent 13 years as a business reporter for newspapers in South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee.  Based on this background, and her current responsibilities, I asked for her thoughts on the qualities and characteristics of a successful bank CEO.  In her words, “some of the CEOs of great banks seem to have leadership qualities without being bullies. I don’t think they hire a bunch of “yes” people who will agree with them as the ship is sinking. They don’t have charismatic personalities at the expense of honesty and ethics.”  She noted that in multiple performance rankings in Bank Director magazine, these banks show some consistent themes. “Great banks differentiate themselves from the competition. They often don’t compete on price but on quality of service, and there is no way to do that without hiring a superior staff and motivating employees to do their best.”

(3) To put some color and context to Naomi’s thoughts, I asked Jack Milligan, the Editor of Bank Director magazine, to share his thoughts on three community bank CEOs that are doing some impressive things.  The qualifier?  Keep ’em “local” — he is in Charlottesville, I’m in D.C. — and close to $1Bn size.  Fortunately for me, Jack accepted my challenge and suggested I take a look at Fairfax, VA-based First Virginia Community Bank (FVC).  Led by Chairman & CEO David Pijor, FVC was “a November 2007 de novo that has grown to $422 million in assets as of December 2013.  Pijor, a veteran of the NOVA banking market, raised $23 million in a little over eight weeks and had the bank up and running in just 11 months.  Granted, this was prior to the subprime mortgage crisis and “Great Depression,” and Pijor has had the advantage of being in one of the strongest banking markets in the country, but the bank’s loans, deposits and capital over the past 7+ years have been impressive all the same. Pijor also did a small acquisition in late 2012 that enabled FVC to expand into neighboring Arlington County. I would expect to see big things out of this little bank.”

Next, he pointed me towards Citizens & Northern Corp., a financial institution based in Wellsboro, PA and led by their Chairman & CEO, Chuck Updegraff.  As Jack shared, “C&N is situated in North Central Pennsylvania, not exactly a banking growth market although the local economy has received a bit of a lift from natural gas exploration in the Marcellus Shale Region. This is just a very well-run bank that makes the most of what its market has to offer, and Updegraff deserves credit for running a very tight ship.  C&N has a little over $1.3 billion in assets and was the top ranked $1-$5 billion bank on Bank Director’s 2012 Bank Performance Scorecard and the 2nd ranked bank in 2013.”

Finally, Jack lauded National Bankshares Inc., an organization that counts James Rakes as its Chairman & CEO.  Per Jack: “if you’ve ever been to Blacksburg, VA – the home of Virginia Tech University and a neighbor of nearby Radford University in Christiansburg – you know that it’s a beehive of activity nestled in the mountains and forests of Southwestern Virginia. At just slightly over $1 billion in assets,National Bankshares is another well-managed bank that takes full advantage of everything its market has to offer – in its case a relatively strong local economy that benefits from having two vibrant universities. Virginia Tech is the 2nd largest public college in the state and is a major research institution. National was the 3rd ranked bank in the $1-$5 billion category in the 2012 Bank Performance Scorecard, and placed 6th in 2013.”

Now, I will tease Jack that he could have talked about a number of fine community banks in the Washington, D.C. area (for example, the Bank of Georgetown, which has grown considerably under the leadership of Mike Fitzgerald, their Chairman, President & CEO).  Nonetheless, his is a good look at those institutions that may not have national brand recognition, but are strong and stable pieces of their local communities.

Aloha Friday!