On the Horizon for Bank CEOs, Their Leadership Teams and Boards

WASHINGTON, DC — Can community banks out-compete JP Morgan, BofA and Wells Fargo?  This is the elephant in the room awaiting 853 bank executives and board members — representing 432 Banks — at our upcoming Acquire or Be Acquired Conference.  The lights don’t officially come up on our 25th annual event at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge until Sunday, January 27.  So in advance, three big questions I anticipate fielding in the desert.

Does 2019 Become the Year of BigTech?

As noted by H2 Ventures and KPMG, Amazon is providing payment services and loans to merchants on its platform, while Facebook recently secured an electronic money licence in Ireland.  Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent have become dominant operators in China’s $5.5 trillion payments industry.  Add in Fiserv’s recent $22B acquisition of First Data and Plaid’s of Quovo and we might be seeing the start of a consolidation trend in the financial technology sector.  Will such investments and tie-ups draw the attention of big technology companies to the financial services industry?

Has the window to sell your bank already closed?

When I heard the rumor that BBVA might be buying UK-based Atom Bank — one of the proverbial European challenger banks — I started to look at acquisition trends here in the U.S.  Case-in-point, we put together the following graphic in December for BankDirector.com

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We know that some community banks have been holding out hopes of higher pricing multiples or for a strategic partner.  These institutions might find the window of opportunity to stage an exit isn’t as open as it was just a few years ago. This doesn’t mean the window has shut — but I do think an honest assessment of what’s realistic, at the board level, is appropriate.

Wither the bond market?

A NY Times op-ed piece  posits that the bond market reveals growing cracks in the financial system.  Authored by Sheila Bair, the former chairwoman of the FDIC, and Gaurav Vasisht, director of financial regulation at the Volcker Alliance, it warns that “regulators are not doing enough to make sure that banks are prepared.”  While the duo calls for thicker capital cushions for big banks and tighter leveraged loan underwriting standards, I wonder how executives joining us in Arizona feel about this potential threat to our economy?
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As the premier bank M&A event for bank CEOs, senior management and board members, Bank Director’s 25th annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference brings together key bank leaders from across the country to explore merger & acquisition strategies and financial growth opportunities. If you’re joining us in the desert, I’ll share a few FYIs later this week. If you’re unable to join us in Phoenix, AZ, I’ll be tweeting from @aldominick and using #AOBA19 when sharing on social platforms like LinkedIn.

Shh, Disruption in Banking Continues

Quickly:

  • I spent yesterday afternoon at Capital One Growth Ventures’ inaugural VC & Startup Summit, an event that inspired today’s post.

WASHINGTON, DC — I’m hard pressed to find anyone willing to contest the notion that technology continues to disrupt traditional banking models. Now, I realize the “D” word jumped the shark years ago. Personally, I try my best to keep my distance from employing the adjective to describe what’s taking place in the financial world vis-a-vis technology. However, banks of all sizes continue to reassess, and re-imagine, how financial services might be structured, offered and embraced given the proliferation of new digital offerings and strategies.

As I reflect on the first quarter of 2018, it strikes me that we’re living in an industry marked by both consolidation and displacement. Yes, many bank executives have fully embraced the idea that technology — and technological innovation — is a key strategic imperative. However, few banks have a clear strategy to acquire the necessary talent to fully leverage new technologies. On the flip side, I get the sense that a number of once-prominent FinTech companies are struggling to scale and gain customer adoption at a level needed to stay in business. Nonetheless, the divide between both parties remains problematic given the potential to help both sides grow and remain relevant.

While banks explore new ways to generate top-line growth and bottom-line profits through partnerships, collaboration and technology investments, I have some concerns. For instance, the digital expectations of consumers and small & mid-sized businesses may become cost-prohibitive for banks under $1Bn in assets. So allow me to share what’s on my mind given recent conversations, presentations and observations about the intersection of fin and tech.

FIVE ON MY MIND

  1. With all the data issues coming to light courtesy of Facebook, how can banks extract the most revenue from the data available to them (*and how much will it cost)?
  2. As banks become more dependent on technology partners, what level of control —over both costs and data — should a bank be willing to trust to third parties?
  3. What does the arrival of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, mean for a financial institutions’ current workforces?
  4. Amazon’s announced checking account partnership with JPMorgan Chase begs the question: how dependent should banks become on big technology companies?
  5. How many larger banks will acquire smaller institutions that cannot keep up with the cost and pace of technology in Q2?

Significant technological changes continue to impact the financial community. In the weeks to come, I’ll relay what I learn about these five issues in subsequent posts. If you’re interested, I tweet @AlDominick and encourage you to check out @BankDirector and @FinXTech for more.

The Bank of Facebook

Part three of a five piece series on emerging threats to banks from non-financial companies.  For context on today’s piece, take a look at “For Banks, the Sky IS Falling” and “PayPal is Eating Your Bank’s Lunch” (aka parts one and two).

As banking becomes more mobile, companies that power our mobile lifestyle have emerged as real threats to financial institutions.  While common in Europe — where Google, Vodafone and T-Mobile already compete head-to-head with traditional banks by offering mobile and web-based financial services — let me play out a scenario where Facebook decides to enter the banking space in order to remain relevant to its vast U.S. audience.

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The New Math?

I recently shared the results of a TD Bank survey — one that shows millennials are banking online and on their mobile devices more frequently than in a branch. In fact, 90% of survey respondents said they use online or mobile tools for their everyday banking activities, such as checking balances or paying bills, and 57% said they are using mobile banking more frequently than they were last year.  So add this idea to  Facebook’s voracious appetite for views, visitors and preference data at a time when users are dialing back on status updates and not sharing candid photos on the site.  The sum of these two parts?  It might not be a matter of will; rather, when, Facebook stands up its own online bank in the U.S.

From Concept to Reality?

What I lay out above isn’t a radical thought; indeed, Fortune magazine ran a story on this very topic (Facebook Wants to be Your Online Bank).  The authors opine:

Someday soon, Facebook users may pay their utility bills, balance their checkbooks, and transfer money at the same time they upload vacation photos to the site for friends to see.  Sure, the core mission of the social media network is to make the world more connected by helping people share their lives. But Facebook knows people want to keep some things — banking, for example — private. And it wants to support those services too.

In a separate piece, Fortune shares “there remains a huge untapped market for banking services, including the exchange of money between family and friends living in different cities, and international money transfers between family in developed and developing countries.”

In fact, Facebook recently made the news when it announced plans to enable commerce from its social networks.  According to a post on Pymnts.com (Is Yelp + Amazon the Mobile Commerce Game Changer?), Facebook is testing a “Buy” button that can enable purchasing directly from a promotion inside a user’s news feed.  Now, I’m not getting into the social commerce conversation; simply pointing out that Facebook’s dive into traditional banking may not be as far off as some might think.

Banks as the New Black?

Facebook is already a licensed money transmitter, enabling the social media giant to process payments to application developers for virtual products.  As much as it has the technological chops — and financial clout — to enter the banking space, its Achilles heal may be the very thing that banks are built on: privacy.  Facebook relies on its members seeing and responding to their friends (and acquaintances) activity and updates.  Noticing a friend make a deposit to the “Bank of Facebook” or take a loan from said institution might not precipitate your own business.  The one thing I can see is an attempt by Facebook to acquire an online bank to jump-start its efforts to reach a specific demographic.  In that case, it might be as simple as “the Bank” powered by Facebook.  Regardless, I’d keep an eye on Facebook’s disclosures and press releases when it comes to payments, social commerce and financial services.

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To comment on this piece, click on the grey circle with the white plus sign on the bottom right or send me your thoughts via Twitter (I’m @aldominick). Next up, a look at the threats posed to a bank’s business by retail giant Wal-Mart.

PayPal is Eating Your Bank’s Lunch

Part two of a five piece series on emerging threats to banks from non-financial companies.  To read part one, “For Banks, the Sky IS Falling,” click the hyperlinked title.

I am not big on scare tactics, so apologies in advance of my next sentence.  But when HP’s chief technologist for financial services, Ross Feldman calls PayPal “the poster child of new technology,” adding, “they are the No. 1 scary emerging player in the eyes of bankers” how can you not be concerned?  PayPal, a subsidiary of eBay, is already a major player in the person-to-person payment business (P2P) and is poised to take a massive bite out of traditional banking revenue.

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What is PayPal Up To?

To preface this part of today’s post, keep in mind that as an unregulated entity, PayPal is not subject to the same regulations and compliance expenses as banks.  I share this oh-so-salient point as the company moves towards mobile payments with its apps and one-touch payment services.  The fact that PayPal embraces these offerings isn’t surprising, as so many bank users — myself included — prize 24/7 convenience.  Certainly,  companies that don’t meet user demands will not survive.

Moving away from individual expectations to small business demands, I am seeing more small businesses switch from traditional merchant accounts offered by the banks to those like PayPal’s.  As Nathalie Reinelt of Aite Group’s Retail Banking group shared, “ubiquitous smartphones and inefficiencies in legacy payments have propelled the digital wallet into the payments ecosystem—consumers are interested in it, merchants are willing to adopt it, and financial services companies cannot ignore it.”

So What’s A Banker to Do?

Where I see PayPal falling short — admittedly, most banks too — is an inability to help customers make decisions on what to buy, and where and when to buy it.  So let me shout it as loud as I can: exploit this achilles heel while you still can!  There are companies like MoneyDesktop (a leading provider of online and mobile money management solutions), Ignite Sales (a company whose “recommendation solutions” helps increase customer acquisition & retention while optimizing profitability), etc. that have been stood up to keep banks relevant.  There is a real opportunity for banks to do more than simply allow the same types of services digitally that were once only available in-person.

The window of opportunity is open for banks to expand what banking means to consumers by offering online services that go beyond their traditional business model.  The question boils down to this: will the board & senior leadership accept the risk to try something new to make sure they aren’t just warding off advances from the B of A’s of the world — but also the PayPal’s and their peers?

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To comment on this piece, click on the grey circle with the white plus sign on the bottom right or send me your thoughts via Twitter (I’m @aldominick).  Next up, pieces on two of the biggest non-bank competitors whose names you may have heard of: Facebook and Walmart.