5 Trending Topics at the Acquire or Be Acquired Conference

Quickly:

  • Large buyers are not in the bank M&A game right now; indeed, banks $25Bn and below continue to drive M&A activity. Case-in-point, 95% of total M&A deals since 2011 have buyer assets less than $25Bn. Might this change in 2018?

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

PHOENIX, AZ — Michael Porter, the noted economist, researcher and teacher, once said, “strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different. The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. No one can tell you which rules to break, but you can acquire more skill in determining which rules to break given your talents and circumstances right now.”

Porter’s perspectives came back to me while listening to KBW’s CEO, Tom Michaud. Yesterday morning, Tom talked about the strategic paths that a bank’s CEO might consider in the years to come. As he shared, pressure from investors to deploy capital stimulated M&A discussions in 2017 — and will continue to impact deals in 2018. He also noted that pressure placed on deposit costs, as interest rates rise, contributes to the potential acceleration of bank consolidation. These were just two of the many notes I jotted down during the first day of our annual event. Broadly speaking, what I heard fell into five categories:

1. Economic trends
2. Regulatory trends
3. Small business lending trends
4. Management succession trends
5. Technological innovation trends

Many banks enter 2018 with steady, albeit slow loan growth — while recognizing modest margin improvement as they continue to focus on controlling expenses. Accordingly, I thought to elaborate on the issues I found interesting and/or compelling. Feel free to comment below if other points caught your eye or ear.

Economic Trends

FJ Capital authored a piece in late October that noted how, as the Fed progresses further into the tightening phase of the interest rate cycle, banks will find it more difficult to fund loan growth by raising new low‐cost deposits. Their view, which I heard echoed here, is banks with low‐cost core deposits will become more valuable over the next few years as banks wrestle with increased funding costs. In addition to this idea, I made note that banks with a strong deposit base could be more attractive to buyers as interest rates rise. However, a remark I’ve heard at past events re-emerged here. Namely, making a small bank profitable is hard; exiting, even harder.

Regulatory Trends

Given the audience here, I wasn’t surprised by the continued talk of removing the synthetic $10Bn designation. If the Fed, FDIC and OCC raise the $50Bn threshold as spelled out in Dodd Frank, we could see more banks in the $20Bn – $40Bn range come together. Given that large regional banks usually can pay high prices for smaller targets, unleashing this capacity could reignite more M&A and boost community bank valuations. In addition, the Community Reinvestment Act remains a major headwind in bank mergers. Many here want improvements in the CRA process, which in turn could reduce regulatory risk for bank M&A.

Small business lending

When it comes to the lifeblood of most banks — small business lending — a recurring question has been where and how community banks can take market share from larger banks. My two cents: closing loans faster is key, as is structuring loans to fit specific borrower profiles while being supremely responsive to the customer. Oh, and credit is a big theme right now — and the best clients typically have the best credit.

Management succession

An inescapable comment / observation: aging management teams and board members has been a primary driver of bank consolidation of late. I noted that the average age of a public bank CEO and Chairman is 60 and 66, respectively. It was suggested that this demographic alone plays a key factor in the next few year’s consolidation activity.

Technological trends

When it comes to bank mergers, one of the big drivers of deals is the rise in technology-driven competition (*along with regulatory costs and executive-succession concerns). I sense that most traditional banks haven’t really figured out the digital migration process we’ve embraced as a world. Finally, it appears that the biggest banks are winning the war for retail deposits.  This is an issue that many management teams and boards should be discussing…

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For those of you interested in following the conference conversations via our social channels, I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector and our @Fin_X_Tech platform, and search & follow #AOBA18 to see what is being shared with (and by) our attendees.

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.

Happy July 5th!

Union Station in D.C.
Union Station in D.C.

As we wrap up this short week, here are three “stories” that caught my eye. As I pack my family up for a few week’s vacation in New England, please enjoy. Happy 5th of July!

1. On Monday, Curtis Carpenter shared with me the news that Prosperity Bank in Texas acquired First Victoria — a deal struck for approximately 2.3x tangible book and 18x earnings. As Houston’s Business Journal details, Prosperity has been on an acquisition streak for some time. The bank has completed six merger or acquisition agreements in the past 18 months. Maybe this deal portends a busier 2nd half of the year, deal-wise, than the first? Certainly something Curtis and his team at Sheshunoff & Co. stand ready to support.

2. On Tuesday, the Fed held an open meeting to finalize “highly-anticipated rules” needed to implement Basel III’s capital requirements in the United States. Since its proposal last year, many executives from banks under $10Bn in asset size have expressed strong concerns with several aspects of the proposed rule. Now, the plan adopted on Tuesday will force all banks to hold more and higher quality capital. However, smaller banks will have a bit more leeway with their capital — which should allow them to take more risks than their larger competitors. While the Fed’s plan requires the nation’s largest banks to abide by stricter capital requirements than had been originally planned, mid-size and community banks appear to have received several breaks. Fed governors, according to the American Banker, said the final package offered an “appropriate sensitivity” in its treatment of smaller-sized financial institutions, “forgoing placing too much burden on firms while still strengthening overall capital standards.” If you want to dig deeper, this table from the Fed highlights those provisions most relevant to smaller, non-complex banking organizations and compares the new capital requirements to the current standards.

3. A lot of digital ink was spilled on Basel III this week; in my opinion, I think the ABA wrote it best: “the real test for Basel III is whether the rule makes it easier or more difficult for banks to serve their customers. If it makes it harder, that’s not what our still-recovering economy needs.” So on a much lighter note, the ICBA shared a top 50 “Community Bank Leaders in Social Media.” Based on fans/followers, engagement, content and frequency of posts, the small bank advocate lists the social media channels being put to use. All have a Facebook page; interestingly, not all have a Twitter account, few utilize YouTube and shockingly few employ LinkedIn (shh… don’t ask about Pintrest, Instagram or other social sites frequented by their young customers). Taking it a step further, they shared a top 20 “Community Banker Influencers on Twitter.” While I’m not sure how some qualified based on the number of followers and/or tweets, it is a good list of bankers if you’re looking to start or expand your twitter-verse.

Aloha Friday!

A #FF-Inspired Financial Roundup

Checking in from St. Louis, the “Gateway to the West”

A somewhat abbreviated Friday Follow-inspired post (coming to you from the great state of Missouri). On this Good Friday, I’m keeping things simple and sharing “just” three things I learned this week.

  • Of the news this week, Senator Tim Johnson’s announcement that he will not seek re-election in 2014 is especially noteworthy.  Why?  Well, the Democrat from South Dakota chairs the powerful Senate Banking Committee.  His departure, according to this report from the Wall Street Journal, sets the stage for a hotly contested race to succeed him.  This should interest many bank executives; “while he is regarded as sympathetic to the concerns of financial firms that operate in his home state, including community banks, Mr. Johnson has also fought GOP attempts to roll back or water down portions of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law.” I wonder if the next chair will push for legislation to breakup the big banks as the committee has discussed?  As you can read in the American Banker (subscription required), guessing has already begun.
  • While I’d like to move off the topic of legislation and regulation, our own Chairman forwarded a client alert from the law firm of Goodwin Procter that kept my attention on rules and procedures.  The title, Nasdaq Proposes Rule Requiring Internal Audit Function at All Listed Companies, says a lot.  As you dig in, you’ll see this would go into effect by year-end.  From a bankers point-of-view, financial institutions that are publicly traded already face the pressure of doing more with fewer resources.  Every business function, including internal audit, is expected to bring value to an institution.  So, much like the Senator’s announcement, this proposed rule is one to watch.
  • Finally, on the payments front, there’s been a lot of talk about the mobile consumer and his/her mobile wallet.  For example, how Google Wallet poses a threat to big banks that make $$ off of card products.  Yes, mobile devices have increasingly become tools that consumers use for banking, payments, budgeting and shopping. However, in this WSJ article (Consumer Using Phones to Bank, but Not Buy) we’re told “Americans are increasingly using their phones to avoid a trip to the bank, but they still have little interest in having mobile devices replace their wallets.”  The piece builds on the results of a Federal Reserve survey released on Wednesday.  The Fed finds the adoption of various tools isn’t as robust as one might be led to believe.  If you have the time, it might be worth downloading the Fed’s results.

Aloha Friday!