Experience FinXTech As We #WFH

WASHINGTON, DC — By the time the NFL announced plans to host the draft from various remote locations, nearly every other sports league had postponed or canceled their events.

The decision raised eyebrows.

The NFL draft has become a must-attend in-person event, as evidenced by the record-breaking 600,000 turnout in Nashville, Tennessee, last year. As a fan, I wondered if the league was putting their own interests too far ahead of others by going forward with a new, unproven format just to keep to this activity on the calendar.

It turns out, the digital nature of the three-day event resonated in many positive ways. The draft was viewed by 55 million viewers over the three-day event, according to the league. Naturally, some of the viewership reflected an appetite for new, non-pandemic related content. But from a business perspective, it showed how migrating an in-person event entirely online could, in a pinch, work.

As we all try our best to live normal lives from our homes, the NFL’s success with the draft gives me confidence in our decision to go remote with our annual Experience FinXTech.

Much as the NFL drew a great audience to Music City last year, so too were we excited to welcome a stellar audience to Bank Director’s hometown in early May. Just as the NFL figured out how to provide viewers with new glimpses into their team’s futures, so too will our Experience FinXTech as we move online. Ours will just be in terms of how and where financial technology companies and financial institutions might develop relationships that beget future successes.

Experience FinXTech parallels the NFL draft based on the concept of team-building. Just as every NFL franchise faces its own challenges, so too does every financial institution. Indeed, the ever-expanding digital chasm between the biggest banks and community institutions remains a major strategic challenge in terms of talent, tools and dollars spent.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to building a team, there are lessons that executives and leadership teams might entertain from their peers during a program like this one. Indeed, we have heard and seen incredible examples of community banks pulling together to serve their constituents as best they can, however they can, during this time. This program allows us to share examples.

Bank Director’s desire to help community banks succeed in all circumstances provides an impetus for moving to video and webinars instead of waiting until the late fall to meet in person. Helping banks and fintechs get smarter about immediate opportunities to develop meaningful relationships is incredibly relevant. The time is now to assess a business strategy and make decisions that could reshape your institution’s future. Access to timely, verified and reliable information is something we didn’t want to delay in providing.

Indeed, Experience FinXTech will touch on areas where technology can assist banks to provide counseling, assistance and a personal touch to their existing and potential customers. In addition, we talk about authentication. The need to embrace the cloud. Filling in the missing pieces in the digital commercial banking product set.

Beginning on May 5, we take a pragmatic approach to new business relationships, collaborations and strategic investments. We offer virtual demonstrations to help viewers see proven technologies available to banks with regards to security, data and analytics, internal systems, lending, digital banking, payments, compliance and the customer experience.

With so many elements of our economy being challenged, we know our “next normal” will look very different from what we’ve become accustomed to. Connecting interests, and ideas, to help banks and fintechs navigate their futures is why we ultimately decided to offer this year’s experience online, for free, to anyone interested in joining us.

I look forward to welcoming people to this year’s Experience FinXTech and promise that references to certain NFL teams will be kept to a minimum.

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Thanks to the support of these companies, we are able to extend complimentary registration for Experience FinXTech. To sign up, please click here.

The University of Maryland’s Marketing and Finance Super Day

I’m looking forward to keynoting today’s University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith School of Business’ Marketing and Finance Super Day.  What follows is a sneak peak of my remarks on the intersection of technology with financial services and why FinTech matters to business-school students.

Investments in financial technology have grown exponentially in the past decade – rising from $1.8 billion in 2010 to $19 billion in 2015.  Global investments in financial technology ventures in Q1 2016 were reported to reach $5.3 billion, representing a 67% increase over the same period last year.  Still, profitability remains elusive for many large FinTechs, despite attracting large volumes of customers and creating significant revenue.  So against this backdrop, I developed my remarks for current MBA students and fellow Smith-school alumni.

The opinions I’ll share reflect a number of conversations I’ve had throughout the year.  One, made by Chris Flowers at the International Finance Corporation’s annual FinTech CEO Summit this October, certainly bears mention.  In his words, a bank “is not just a business model, it is a regulatory concept and a social undertaking.”  So as much as some expect recent investments to radically change the nature of banking, I’m far more optimistic that creative new partnerships will emerge that ease payment processes, reduce fraud, save users money and promote financial planning.

Since this is a more academic audience, my remarks explain how the fabric of the financial industry continues to evolve as new technology players emerge and traditional participants transform their business models.  As part of the school’s Marketing and Finance Super Day, I’ll provide insight into the profound transformations taking place throughout the financial sector while sharing graphics like these from our friends at LetsTalkPayments

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If you’re interested to see the full presentation, I’ll share a link on LinkedIn and Twitter later today after I wrap up my remarks.

Whether They Want To or Not, Banks Need to Open Up

Apart from interest rates, the two biggest issues that bank executives seem to wrestle with are regulatory and compliance costs.  I sense another emerging challenge coming to shore; specifically, how to “open up” one’s business structure in terms of developing partnerships and permitting others to leverage their customer data and/or capabilities.

For bankers, this challenge comes with significant reputation and customer risk.

Now, it is hard to truly disrupt the concept of banking — and I shared this opinion from the stage at Bank Director’s annual Bank Executive & Board Compensation Conference this morning.  However, I did adjust some of my welcoming remarks based on the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s position that consumers can control their own financial data, including to let third parties help them manage their finances.  As I learned from Jo Ann Barefoot’s Fireside Chat with CFPB Director Richard Cordray at Money 2020, the CFPB “is not content to sit passively by as mere spectators watching these technologies develop.”  According to his prepared remarks:

Many exciting products we see… depend on consumers permitting companies to access their financial data from financial providers with whom the consumer does business. We recognize that such access can raise various issues, but we are gravely concerned by reports that some financial institutions are looking for ways to limit, or even shut off, access to financial data rather than exploring ways to make sure that such access, once granted, is safe and secure.

Since reading the CFPB’s position, Ms. Barefoot’s recap and the Wall Street Journal’s synopsis, I decided to talk with various bank executives and board members that are here with us at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island about this stance.  As I note in this video, I sense both an ongoing struggle — and a sincere interest — to truly understand the role of technology.  For those I talked with, this is as much about “becoming sticky” to their customers as it is about embracing or defending themselves against “the new.”

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For more about this year’s conference, I invite you to take a look at BankDirector.com.  Also, a virtual high-five to the team here for a great first day.  You all rock!

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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.

About That Elephant Coming Out of the Corner (*hello cyber security & banking)

Last summer, a cyberattack on JPMorgan Chase by Russian hackers compromised the accounts of 83 million households and seven million small businesses.  While the New York Times reports the crime did not result in the loss of customer money or the theft of personal information, it was one of the largest such attacks against a bank.  A data breach like this illustrates the clear and present danger cyber criminals pose to the safety and soundness of the financial system.  In my opinion, there can be nothing more damaging to the reputation of, and confidence in, the industry as a whole than major security breaches.

Yesterday, Bank Director released its annual Risk Practices Survey, sponsored by FIS, the world’s largest global provider dedicated to banking and payments technologies. As I read through the results, it became immediately apparent that cyber security is the most alarming risk issue for individuals today.  So while I layout the demographics surveyed at the end of this piece, it is worth noting that 80% of those directors and officers polled represent institutions with between $500 million and $5 billion in assets — banks that are, in my opinion, more vulnerable than their larger counterparts as their investment in cyber protection pales to what JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, etc are spending.  In fact, the banks we surveyed allocated less than 1% of revenues to cybersecurity in 2014.  Accordingly, I’m gearing my biggest takeaway to community bankers since those individuals most frequently cited cyber attacks as a top concern.

Interestingly, individual concern hasn’t yet translated into more focus by bank boards. Indeed, less than 20% say cybersecurity is reviewed at every board meeting — and 51% of risk committees do not review the bank’s cybersecurity plan.  As I read through our report, this has to be a wakeup call for bank boards. While a number of retailers have made the news because of hacks and data thefts, this remains an emerging, nuanced and constantly evolving issue.

It would not surprise me if bank boards start spending more time on this topic as they are more concerned than they were last year. But I do see the need to start requiring management to brief them regularly on this issue, and start educating themselves on the topic.  In terms of where to focus early conversations if you’re not already, let me suggest bank boards focus on:

  • The detection of cyber breaches and penetration testing;
  • Corporate governance related to cyber security;
  • The bank’s current (not planned) defenses against breaches; and
  • The security of third-party vendors.

Personally, I don’t doubt that boards will spend considerably more time on this issue — but things have changed a lot in the last year in terms of news on data breaches.  If bankers want to start assessing the cybersecurity plan in the same way they look at the bank’s credit policies and business plan, well, I’d sleep a lot sounder.

So I’ll go on record and predict that boards will become more aware and take on a more active role in the coming months — and also expect that regulators will start demanding that boards review cybersecurity plans, and that all banks have a cybersecurity plans.  To take this a step further, check out this piece by the law firm Arnold & Porter: Cybersecurity Risk Preparedness: Practical Steps for Financial Firms in the Face of Threats.

About this report

Bank Director’s research team surveyed 149 independent directors and senior executives of U.S. banks with more than $500 million in assets to examine risk management practices and governance trends, as well as how banks govern and manage cybersecurity risk. 43% of participants serve as an independent director or chairmen at their bank. 21% are CEOs, and 17% serve as the bank’s chief risk officer.

Bank Director’s 2015 Acquire or Be Acquired Conference Primer

On Sunday, January 25, we kick off Bank Director’s 21st annual “Acquire or Be Acquired” Conference (@bankdirector and #AOBA15) at the luxurious Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Arizona.  I am so very excited to be a part of this three day event — and am supremely proud of our team that is gearing up to host more than 800 men and women.  With so many smart, talented and experienced speakers on the agenda, let me share a primer on a few terms and topics that will come up.  In addition, you will find several links to recent research studies that will be cited before I share one example of the type of issues being both presented and addressed at “AOBA.”

Colorful Language

Just as M&A is a colorful — and complex — issue, so too are the words, terms and considerations used by attorneys, investment bankers and consultants in management meetings, in the boardroom or at the negotiating table.  Here are three terms I thought to both share and define in advance of AOBA (ay-o-bah):

  • Triangular merger: This happens when the acquirer creates a holding company to acquire the target and both the acquirer and the target become subsidiaries of the holding company.
  • Cost of capital: You could say this is the cost to a company of its capital, but another way to look at it simply is this: the minimum return you need to generate for your investors, both shareholders and debt holders. This is what it costs you to operate and pay them back for their investment.
  • Fixed exchange ratio: This is the fixed amount for which the seller exchanges its shares for the acquirer’s shares. If the buyer’s stock price falls significantly post-announcement, that could mean the seller is getting significantly less value.

Again, these are but three of the many terms one can expect to hear when it comes to structuring, pricing and negotiating a bank merger or acquisition.

Research Reports

Throughout the year, our team asks officers and directors of financial institutions to share their thoughts on board-specific issues — like growth and more specifically, mergers & acquisitions.  Allow me to share an overview on these two research reports along with links to the full results:

Of note: 84% of the officers and board members who responded to this Growth Strategy Survey, sponsored by the technology firm CDW, say that today’s highly competitive environment is their institutions’ greatest challenge when it comes to organic growth — a challenge further exacerbated by the increasing number of challengers from outside the industry primed to steal business from traditional banks.

Of note: There’s no shortage of financial institutions seeking an acquisition in 2015, but fewer banks plan to sell than last year, according to the bank CEOs, senior officers and board members who completed Bank Director’s 2015 Bank M&A Survey, sponsored by Crowe Horwath LLP.

Valuing a Bank

Understanding what one’s bank is really worth today is hugely important.  Whether buying, selling or simply growing organically, a bank needs metrics in place to know and grow its valuation.  On BankDirector.com this past October, I shared why earnings are becoming more important than tangible book value (Why Book Value Isn’t the Only Way to Measure a Bank). Clearly, a bank that generates greater returns to shareholders is more valuable; thus, the emphasis on earnings and returns rather than book value.  Yes, investors and buyers will always use book value as a way to measure the worth of banks. Still, I anticipate conversations at the conference that builds on the idea that as the market improves and more acquisitions are announced, we should expect to see more attention to earnings and price-to-earnings as a way to value banks.

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Please feel free to comment on today’s piece below or share a thought via Twitter (I’m @aldominick).  More to come from the “much-warmer-than-Washingon DC” Arizona desert and Acquire or Be Acquired in the days to come.

In the spirit of a Friday Follow

In the spirit of Twitter’s #FridayFollow, here are three stories related to the financial community that I read/watched/heard this week:

(#1) If you were at Bank Director’s 19th annual Acquire or Be Acquired conference last month, you heard that declining net interest margins, loan growth and regulatory challenges are the top concerns for banking leaders. In the following video, Grant Thornton’s Nichole Jordan discusses these concerns and provides insight into what bank executives and members of a board might do about them.

 

(#2) While I live in Washington D.C., our company considers Nashville home. In the shadows of Union Station, Avenue Bank maintains its oh-so-cool headquarters. I met with our “neighbor’s” President & COO yesterday afternoon and wound up talking about quite a few things. SEC sports, the upcoming Masters, branding (that’s their hummingbird below) and gasp(!), even a bit of banking.

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When I asked if he’d read this cover story in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal (“Business Loans Flood the Market“) about more banks competing for lending opportunities, he said he hadn’t. But, he did have good reason: he’d been talking about that very thing in Knoxville (at UT’s business school) the night before. While a subscription is required, the story lays out how banks are putting “their liquidity to work, but added competition puts pressure on rates and elevates risk.”

(#3) Finally, I receive a number of insightful research reports and newsletters. One of the better ones, IMHO, comes from Clark Street Capital. Each week, the Chicago-based firm shares its perspectives on banking, real estate, and the debt and loan sale markets. Worth a sign up.

About that title…

urlSo about the name of my new, banking-focused blog: it flies in the face of the so-called “Texas ratio” that originally inspired it. If you’re not familiar with this ratio, it measures a bank’s credit troubles. Simply put, the higher one’s Texas ratio, the more severe the bank’s credit troubles. According to the Dallas Fed:

Bankers, particularly those in Texas, cringe at any reference to the Texas ratio. Of all the metrics used in finance, the Texas ratio is among the most feared because it can be used as an early warning signal to identify financial institutions at greatest risk of failure…

By design, this site will explore issues and opportunities relevant to key leadership throughout our financial community. So, I felt the title fits with a wink and a nod to my focus and interests.

You see, I’m bullish on the future of banking. While some want to criticize and harp on things like a Texas ratio (which, truth be told, should be renamed to reflect recent challenges in Georgia or Florida), I’m keen to explore the many ways banks continue to support our neighborhoods and communities as they grow through acquisition or innovative new strategies and/or tactics.

Make no mistake: the risk & compliance sides of banking will take a secondary position to how banks deliver value to their customers, communities and shareholders. As I spend a lot of time talking with bank executives and board members + leaders at those companies providing services and support to FIs, I intend to pass along some of what I’m seeing, learning and thinking on a weekly basis. But for now, “ciao, ciao,” and thanks for checking out my latest writing venture!