What (Bank) Directors Think

Quickly:

CHICAGO — Guess what?  As institutions continue to seek out growth and efficiencies through technology, they in turn expose themselves to new risks and liabilities. Understanding the two-sided nature of this proverbial coin reflects just one of the many nuanced conversations that took place during our annual Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference.  If you’re not familiar with this exclusive event, we invite bank leaders from across the country to take a broad and strategic view at the risk landscape, while also focusing on specific actions to improve a bank’s performance.

Indeed, our team put together an agenda filled with opportunities to improve existing audit and risk functions.  In addition, we surfaced new ideas around issues and topics such as cybersecurity, credit quality, blockchain, rising interest rates and financial reporting.

Personally, I was thrilled to welcome more than 400 men and women to the Swissotel Chicago — with over 300 participants comprising bank CEOs, chairmen, board members, CFOs, CROs, senior executives and internal auditors.  Throughout our time together, we took the opportunity to pose a series of questions to this hugely influential and knowledgeable audience.  As we discovered, the increasing level of U.S. debt proved the biggest macroeconomic concern for this group by a wide margin.  Yes, we polled this group using an audience response device and found 52% placed this issue as their top concern — far outpacing the 15% who cited a potential recession and 13% who pointed towards a political crisis.

Such in-person polling provides quite a bit of insight as to where we might be heading as an industry and an economy.  What follows are five additional survey results from this year’s event on how this experienced audience feels about various hot topics.

Q: What do you think is the biggest risk to the industry?

54% = Technology changes and FinTech
20% = Recession risk and loan quality
17% = Flattening yield curve
6% = Pushed out by consolidation
4% = Regulatory scrutiny

Q: What are your expectations for deposit competition in your markets over the next year?

78% = We face stiff competition; deposit pricing will be a key concern
13% = Our ability to compete for deposits will improve as rates rise
9% = Unsure

Q: As rates rise, are you concerned about loan terms within the bank’s existing loan portfolio?

50% = No
35% = Yes, but for a short period of time
10% = Yes, I’m deeply concerned
4% = Unsure

Q: What is your greatest concern about deploying RegTech within your bank?

23% = Updates to internal processes / infrastructure
22% = Cost of RegTech solutions
21% = Identifying valid solutions
17% = Vetting providers / third party management
15% = Internal skills
3% = Regulatory acceptance

Q: Do you believe the bank’s board has the necessary level of cybersecurity expertise?

78% = No
18% = Yes
4% = Unsure

I’ll keep my observations on these findings to personal conversations… That said, from improving risk oversight, mastering new reporting requirements and staying ahead on compliance, this year’s conference provided practical takeaways for participants to bring back to their banks.  Curious to see what we covered?  I encourage you to take a look at BankDirector.com or search for @BankDirector and #BDAudit18 on Twitter.

Blockchain: What It Is and How It Works

Quickly:

  • Many speculate that blockchain could turn out to be one of the most revolutionary technologies ever developed.

By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps — parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech

WASHINGTON, DC — J.P. Morgan’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, recently threw some big time shade at bitcoin.  However, as the Wall Street Journal shared this morning, he’s “still enamored with the technology that underpins it and other virtual currencies.”  For those wondering about where and why blockchain might revolutionize the business of banking, take a look at our just-released Q4 issue of Bank Director Magazine.  We dedicated our cover story to “Understanding Blockchain,” and this post teases out some of the key concepts bank executives and board members might focus in on.  Authored by John Engen, the full piece can be found, for free, here.  As you’ll read, the article covers three major points:

What is Blockchain

If you’re on the board of a typical U.S. bank, odds are that you don’t know much about blockchain, or distributed ledgers, except that there’s a heavy buzz around the space—and a lot of big bets being made. As John Engen wrote, being a know-nothing might be fine for now, but going forward could be untenable.

At its most basic, blockchain is a digital-ledger technology that allows market participants, including banks, to transfer assets across the internet quickly and without a centralized third party.

Some describe it as the next, inevitable step in the evolution of the internet; a structure to help confront concerns about security, trust and complexity that have emerged from a technology that has opened the world to sharing information.  To others, it looks more like business-process improvement software—a way to improve transparency, speed up transaction times and eliminate billions of dollars in expenses that markets pay to reconcile things like credit default swaps, corporate syndicated debt and other high-volume assets.

Where are things heading

“Trying to guess how blockchain is going to affect us in the next 20 years is kind of like standing in 1995 and trying to imagine mobile-banking technology,” said Amber Baldet, New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s blockchain program leader, in an online interview. “I’m sure the ultimate applications are things we can’t even imagine right now.”

For now, the space certainly has the feel of the 1990s internet, with hundreds of startups and billions of investment dollars chasing distributed-ledger initiatives.  Armonk, New York-based IBM Corp., a big blockchain supporter, estimates that 90 percent of “major” banks in the world—mostly those with trading, securities, payments, correspondent banking and trade finance operations—are experimenting with blockchain in some way.

Collaboration is the current buzzword

Most large banks are involved in consortiums with names like Ripple, Hyperledger, R3 and Enterprise Ethereum Alliance.  Smaller banks are taking more of a wait-and-see approach.  For all the promise of speed and efficiency, blockchain’s real power lies in its transparency, which makes data both trackable and immutable.  Ultimately, blockchain could usher in new business models, which require different ways of thinking.

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For members of a bank’s board, we created this “Blockchain 101” video.  In it, I touch on the potential application of blockchain in terms of digital identities, digital banking and cross-border payments.  In addition, the ten minute video surfaces key concepts and business ideas that remain material to many today.

*This video is just one of the offerings found in our Bank Services program designed to help board members and senior executives develop strategies to help their bank grow, while demonstrating excellence in corporate governance that shareholders and customers deserve and today’s regulators demand.

Inspired by U.S. Bank’s CEO at Acquire or Be Acquired

#AOBA17 conference intel (Monday/Tuesday)
By Al Dominick, CEO of Bank Director | @aldominick

Quickly

  • Most M&A activity will continue to take place among banks with assets between $1 billion and $10 billion.
  • For an acquirer, the level of underwriting for deposits can be more rigorous then underwriting for loans.  Indeed, because of BSA & AML concerns, it takes a high degree of effort to realistically measure the risk of buying “someone else’s cooking.”
  • This year’s keynote, Richard Davis, is the Chairman & CEO of U.S. Bank — which has $446 billion in assets.  FWIW, he started his career as a bank teller at Security Pacific Bank in Los Angeles on his 18th birthday.

_ _ _

Over the past decade, U.S. Bank’s consistent results made it, according to the Wall Street Journal, a darling with investors and analysts.  While impressive, their CEO’s perspectives on where we are now — and where we might be heading — inspired this short video recap.

In addition to his remarks on building a great team, his perspectives on technology struck a real chord given my background (I worked at great technology company in Bethesda, MD for 6+ years).  Specifically, his encouragement to focus on:

  • Tokenization/EMV/mobile
  • Real time payments
  • Open APIs
  • Identity management
  • Distributed ledger / blockchain
  • Internet of things (IoT)
  • Machine learning

In subsequent posts, I’ll elaborate on these issues.  But for those interested in following the conference conversations that are more M&A-oriented via our social channels, I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector and its @Fin_X_Tech platform, and search & follow #AOBA17 to see what is being shared with (and by) our attendees.

The Promise of 8 Blockchain Companies

Yesterday, I spent the majority of my day at the Economist Conference’s “Finance Disrupted” in New York City.  As an early hook to their first panel discussion entitled ‘Building the blockchain: The promise and perils’, we learned that venture capitalists invested nearly $500 million in blockchain business last year — up from $2 million just three years ago.  While I’ve shared my perspectives on the potential applications for blockchain in previous posts (Blockchain 101 – a Primer for a Bank’s CEO and Board), panels like these underscore the immense potential of this technology.

“Blockchain technology continues to redefine not only how the exchange sector operates, but the global financial economy as a whole.”

– Bob Greifeld, Chief Executive of NASDAQ

Like many, I see potential for blockchain technology to revolutionize many areas of the financial industry — think securities trading, payments, fraud prevention and regulatory compliance.  Moreover, a new report from Deloitte explores how blockchain could be used in loyalty rewards programs.  Still, as our industry transforms, there is real uncertainty around what the future of the banking industry will look like.

This is why I take note of comments like those from BNY Mellon’s CEO, Gerald Hassell. On his Q1 earnings call, he opined “we think blockchain can be transformative.  We’re spending a lot of time and energy on it, but I think it’s going to take some time to see it play out in a full, meaningful way. We actually see ourselves as one of the major participants in using the technology to improve the efficiency of our operations and the resiliency of our operations.”

While additional big-time players — such as Goldman Sachs, Visa and NASDAQ — garner headlines for their investments in crypto-currencies & blockchain technology, I spent last night and this morning looking at eight blockchain companies that might help you to form your own opinions on the potential of this technology:

For more about these companies — and their funding sources — I encourage you to check out this piece on Lets Talk Payments.  Not familiar with LTP?  It is a fast-growing global destination for news, insights & data-driven research in emerging financial services.  Much like the information shared by both FinXTech and Bank Director, LTP’s content is fiercely independent, thought provoking and always up-to-date, in a way that continues to inform, engage and inspire.

Blockchain 101 – a Primer for a Bank’s CEO and Board

The rapid transformation of the financial services industry — due to technological innovations and shifting customer expectations — is quite remarkable. One of the most revolutionary technologies is blockchain, which might transform not just banking but also the media industry, insurance companies and government agencies (to name but three).  Be it digital identities, digital banking or cross-border payments, the potential applications of blockchain are immense.  So for those most responsible for being the champions and evangelists for growth within a bank, we produced this “Blockchain 101” video to highlight potential applications of this database for recording transactions.

*This video is a part of Bank Director’s online training series — exclusively available to a bank’s CEO and their officers & directors as part of their annual Bank Services program relationship.  I thought it was appropriate to make an exception today and share this particular primer in advance of our upcoming Growing The Bank conference.  We will host this program next Monday and Tuesday at the Four Seasons Resort and Club at Las Colinas — and blockchain’s potential will surely be discussed.

Quick Guide: Banking’s Digital Transformation (#Payments)

Developing faster payments capabilities is a critical element within the banking industry’s digital transformation.

In yesterday’s post (The 5 Corners of Technological Innovation in Financial Services), I looked at the introduction of an Innovation Group at Wells Fargo that, in the words of their CEO, “puts an even larger focus on creating the products, services, and technologies” that will allow the institution to stay competitive and allow its customers to do their banking when, where, and how they would like.

As I dug into the Wells story — which received a lot of play from the press — It strikes me that to successfully transition one’s business model, innovation teams such as this one need to work in concert with major business groups like wholesale and commercial banking, commercial real estate, trust and wealth management, and payments / consumer banking.  As I consider how banks actually operate — e.g. how work is done, the degree of automation, the pricing and design of products and underlying compensation systems — I revisited several videos from Bank Director’s annual FinTech Day @ NASDAQ.  One, of Ben Plotkin, Vice Chairman of Stifel / Executive Vice President of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, stands out, as he shares his perspective on how banks of all sizes can find success.

Ben touched on the payments space, and I too am curious to explore the role banks must play in the emerging payments ecosystem.  Here, Accenture provides valuable context as the world becomes more digital: “speed in all aspects of financial services is increasingly important. The payments ecosystem is no exception. Faster payments are taking shape across the globe—and may become industry standard.  While faster payments can enhance the customer experience and improve cash flows, it introduces a number of complexities, such as capital costs, and accounting and fraud systems impacts. In the short term, providing the impression of a near-real-time payment through memo posting and verifying the certainty of payment could be implemented sooner, and may meet expected market demand.”

Certainly, the trend toward digital money continues to gain momentum, and when it comes to the payment space, there are emerging technologies that have the potential to dominate the financial landscape (e.g. P2P & Blockchain methods).  Case-in-point, Stripe, the California-based online payments company, has raised new investments which have raised the company valuation to $5 billion.  Per a report in yesterday’s Let’s Talk Payments (h/t Brad Leimer @leimer), the funding “was led by financial giant Visa and experts believe this is a huge endorsement for Stripe. The company had previously raised a total funding of $190 million from high-profile investors including PayPal co-founders, Sequoia Capital, Box CEO Aaron Levie, Khosla Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz and others.”  As The New York Times reported, the companies’ strategic alliance will give Stripe access to Visa’s global network of issuers and acquirers.  BI Intelligence Payments Insider notes the companies will also collaborate to create online checkout solutions and buy buttons that can be plugged into developers’ websites anywhere.

How we pay, borrow and invest continues to change the way we conduct our financial payments.  It is fascinating to watch as companies like Stripe, PayPal, Dwolla, etc hustle to simplify how businesses accept payments through mobile applications while banks like Wells Fargo invest to do the same.