Giving Thanks

Winston Churchill once said, “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”  I believe we all aspire to see the proverbial glass as half full — so this quote is one I thought to share as we wrap up this Thanksgiving week.  As I do each Friday, what follows are three things I’m thinking about; in this case, what I’m grateful for — in a professional sense — that reflects Churchill’s sentiment.

(1) The Harvard Business Review ran a piece this April entitled Three Rules for Making a Company Truly Great.  It began “much of the strategy and management advice that business leaders turn to is unreliable or impractical. That’s because those who would guide us underestimate the power of chance.”  Here, I want to pause and give thanks to my tremendous colleagues at Bank Director — dreamers and implementors alike — who prove that fortune really does favor the prepared mind (and team).

(2) I believe that leadership is a choice and not a position.  As a small company with big ambitions, I find that setting specific directions — but not methods — motivates our team to perform at a high level and provide outstanding support and service to our clients.  This parallels the principle value of McKinsey & Co., one eloquent in its simplicity: “we believe we will be successful if our clients are successful.”  I read this statement a number of years ago, and its stuck with me ever since.  As proud as I am for our company’s growth, we owe so much to the trust placed in us by nearly 100 companies and countless banks.  Personally, I am in debt to many executives for accelerating my understanding of issues and ideas that would take years to accumulate in isolation.  Since returning to Bank Director three years ago, I have been privileged to share time with executives from standout professional services firms like KBW, Sandler O’Neill, Raymond James, PwC, KPMG, Crowe, Grant Thornton, Davis Polk, Covington, Fiserv… and the list goes on and on.  These are all great companies that support financial institutions in significant ways.  Spending time with executives within these firms affords me a great chance to hear what’s trending, where challenges may arise and opportunities they anticipate for their clients.  As such, I am thankful to be in a position where no two days are the same — and my chance to learn never expires.

(3) Finally, I so appreciate the support that I receive from my constituents throughout our industry.  It might be an unexpected compliment from a conference attendee, a handwritten thank you note from a speaker or the invitation to share my perspectives with another media outlet.  Regardless of how it takes shape, let me pay forward this feeling by thanking our newest hires, Emily Korab, Taylor Spruell and Dawn Walker, for expressing an interest in the team we’ve assembled and goals we’ve set.  Taking the leap to join a company of 17 strong might scare some towards larger organizations, but I’m really excited to work with all three and expect great things from each.

A late Happy Thanksgiving and of course, Aloha Friday!

A Build vs Buy Banking Story

For the first time in a while, I get the sense that members of the boards at financial institutions across the country are not just ready, but also eager, to embrace various strategies that leverage emerging technologies.  Accordingly, what follows are three things I’m thinking about as the week wraps up that have a distinctly tech spin to them.

pyramid-on-the-us-one-dollar-bill

Bringing IT In-House

Kudos to Scott Mills — President of The William Mills Agency — for sharing this American Banker profile of FirstBank, a $13 billion Denver institution.  With more than 115 locations in Colorado, Arizona and California, the bank is unusual in that it develops its own core banking software — made possible by an in-house IT team of 250+, or 12% of the bank’s 2,100 workers.  According to the piece, having a “homegrown core and in-house expertise enables the bank to be nimble and make changes quickly.”  Obviously, banks continue to use technology to generate efficiencies.  In fact, I’m seeing some community banks come up with creative solutions to meet their needs.  Case-in-point, this recent Bank Board & Executive Survey — conducted by Bank Director and sponsored by consulting firm Grant Thornton LLP — shows 84% of bankers surveyed plan investments in new technologies to make their institutions more efficient.  Still, FirstBank’s efforts to build instead of buying from outside vendors trumps any other bank’s effort that I’ve come across this year.  Oh yeah, their blog is pretty darn good too.

Finding the Right Partner(s)

For those more comfortable collaborating with firms who specialize in developing IT solutions, let me pass along an observation from my time with CEOs in San Francisco and Chicago.  Over the last month or so, I’ve talked with at least 13 CEOs about how they plan to stay — or potentially become — relevant in the markets they serve.  I’m not that surprised to hear that many want to get rid of branches — but do wonder as they turn to technology to fill in the gap if they have the right people in leadership positions.  Many smaller banks are focused on C&I lending and serving their business communities, so I don’t wonder about their branching focus, but do wonder about their hiring practices.  Certainly, it will become even more imperative to understand the various technology opportunities — and risks — what with so many “non-technical” executives and board members setting paths forward.

Square Peg, Round Hole?

Finally, I have something of a payments-focused writing streak going on this site, and I’m keeping it going thanks to this WSJ report vis-a-vis Square, the payments startup with a square credit-card reader.  As I found out, the company is eliminating a monthly flat-fee option for smaller businesses in favor of its usual “per swipe” fee.  The change is “prompting concern among some of Square’s more than four million customers, which include small businesses that were attracted to Square because it offered a cheaper alternative to traditional credit-card processors, which charge swipe fees of 1.5% to 3%.”  I wonder if this is opportunity knocking for community banks?  Certainly other point-of-sale vendors have seen it that way.

##

To comment on this piece, click on the green circle with the white plus (+) sign on the bottom right. If you are on twitter, I’m @aldominick.  Aloha Friday!

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.

Image

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.

%d bloggers like this: