Banks Have to Grow to be Competitive

As I reflect on my time at Bank Director’s Growing the Bank conference, I can’t shake the fact that many banks across the United States continue to struggle to grow their deposits and/or expand asset bases.  What follows is a piece authored by Tim Melvin, a gifted writer who joined us at the Four Seasons outside of Dallas.  Tim specializes in value investing and has written numerous articles in various publications on the subject of value investing, the stock market and the world around us.  With his permission, I’m sharing his perspectives on our event.

I just returned from the Bank Director 2016 Growing The Bank Conference in Dallas and I have to say it was one of the more interesting meetings I’ve attended this year. This conference covered everything from the 30,000 foot view of the rapidly changing banking industry to the nuts and bolts of day-to-day stuff and I came away with an even deeper appreciation of the industry and the opportunity.

The threats and potential posed by what are commonly known as Fintech companies was heavily featured during the two-day event. Nobody is quite sure if they’re friend or foe yet and there was a lot of wary circling like a road weary cowboy and an unsure Indian trying to decide to break bread together or lock hands on throats. Mobile and cybersecurity were also topics on everyone’s minds, as both are going to play an enormous role in deciding if a bank grows or withers away to obscurity.

Closer Look At Fintech

The Fintech discussion was perhaps one of the most interesting of the meeting. While banks may see some of the Fintech lenders like LendingClub (NYSE: LC), Sindeo and On Deck Capital (NYSE:ODNK) are seen as a real threat to traditional lenders, I think we will find that it’s not as big a threat as we might currently think.

The first time we have a credit hiccup or recession, these lenders will find out just how important to success a core deposit-based funding source can be. When markets dry up in the bad times, investors aren’t going to as easy a source of funds as they are in the current benign and yield starved markets. I think what’s far more likely to happen is the technology that allows for high-speed decision making, easier underwriting and razor focused marketing will end up being sold to the banks to improve their offering.

As Steven Hovde of the Hovde Group warned the crowd in Dallas, “Fintech and banks are going to end up marrying up. It’s the only way you are both going to survive. If you think you can do it on your own, you are sadly, sadly mistaken.”

Naomi Snyder, the editor at Bank Director, put a little differently when she wrote an article for the magazines website following the conference: “The tech companies have something many banks lack: innovative products and simple, customer-friendly digital solutions for a changing world. Meanwhile, the banks have some things many of the tech companies lack: actual customers and a more stable funding base.”

Although the fast-moving high tech kids of Fintech and the stuffy old bankers may at first appear to be as mismatched, as James Carville and Mary Matalin may need to find a partnership that has worked out as well as theirs has. They may not initially like each other but they need each other.

Mobile Banking

I think Dave Defazio of Strategycorps scared a lot of community bankers when he talked about the future of mobile banking in his session. He pointed out the tremendous lead that the bigger banks have in this space and the competition from apps like Apple Pay, Venmo and other apps that, to be honest, I’ve never even heard of before but are increasingly popular for managing finances and making payments among the millennial set. For folks who think the ATM and drive-up window are newfangled innovations the world of mobile banking is a bit frightening. What makes it even more frightening is that if you don’t compete well in the mobile space, you won’t retain the next generation of customer. They expect everything to be done on the fly and right now using mobile devices.

The millennial customer is just different. The use their mobile device to pay for their Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX), pay their share of the bar tab, watch movies, read books, pay bills and manage their finances. Apparently you can even use an app to collect your boarding pass, as I found out after running out of the bar after the first day to get to the business center and print out my boarding pass exactly 24 hours before takeoff. When I returned and expressed my disappointment at getting a B slotting on Southwest (NYSE: LUV) I was told that I should just get the app to avoid this in the future.

I didn’t even know there was an airplane app, but now I can count myself among the airplane app aristocracy thank to my slightly younger and far more tech savvy friends at Bank Director.

I caught up with Defazio on Tuesday morning and we chatted a bit more about the challenges and opportunities of mobile banking. He told me over coffee, “Banks are not just competing against other banks’ mobile apps, but instead against the very best apps on the planet, apps like Uber to Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) to Waze. Customer expectations are very high, and banks must make it their mission to have an app that people can’t live without. Community banks must do a better job of responding to changes in customer behaviors and expectations. The big banks have raced out to a big lead. The time is now for banks to go beyond transactions and do a better job of connecting with their customers’ mobile lifestyles. In particular, I’m seeing the big banks add mobile tools that assist people with their shopping tasks. They know that helping people save a dollar is just as good as helping them make a dollar of interest.”

I chatted with several bankers and the discussion of mobile frankly scares many of them. One banker said if this is the future of banking, then community banking is just dead. I think he overstated the case, but community banks are going to have to aggressively look for partners like Strategycorps to build and offer a much better mobile experience. Those that can’t, or don’t want to, should consider hanging out the for sale sign right away as they simply won’t be competitive in the future. They can probably get a better multiple in a deal now than in a few years when deposits are bleeding out to more mobile sensitive banks at a rapid rate.

Steven Hovde gave a talk on the search for efficiency in the industry. Hovde is an investment banker serving community banks, a majority owner of several smaller banks and is part owner of a real estate development company that borrows from banks so he sees all sides of the industry. He pointed out that the more efficient a bank is the higher then returns on assets and the higher valuation of the institutions stock. Both of these make for happier shareholders. He said the best way to gain efficiency in the banking industry today is to grow the size of the bank.

Right now, we have historically low net interest margins, growing regulatory costs and a huge need to spend money on technology, especially in mobile and cyber security. GDP growth is slow and there are no real signs that it will improve dramatically anytime soon. The loan markets are increasingly competitive and the regulators are focusing on the one area where community banks had an edge, commercial real estate. It really is a “grow or die” world and the majority of banks need to get to $1 billion in assets to quit operating in survival mode and the $5 billion level to thrive in the current economy.

The best way to grow remain via mergers and acquisitions. Hovde told us, “As the regulatory environment becomes increasingly difficult to maneuver for smaller banks, we expect deal activity for smaller institutions to continue as they search for greater efficiencies.” While this is not necessarily great news for bankers running smaller banks, it’s good news for me as bank stock investor and I continue to seek out and buy smaller publicly traded banks.

That’s A Wrap

The Growing the Bank Conference is more of a nuts and bolts, but I walked away with two overriding insights. First banks must look to partner with or even buy the innovative aggressive fintech companies. They cannot compete with them without disastrous consequences so they must partner with them. For their part, most of the fintech competitors need the banks and their large customer base and deposit funding. It may be a shotgun wedding in some cases, but nuptials will be needed for both to survive and thrive.

My second takeaway is that although it sounds like a slogan, “Grow or Die” is a real thing. To thrive in today’s difficult markets, banks need to grow to at least that $5 billion asset level. With the exception of a few niche small town and rural banks the $1 billion asset level is really needed just to be a viable competitor. The best way to grow in a slow growth economy is to buy smaller banks or engage in a merger of equals that increases returns for the ban, as well as shareholders. All of this is good news for us as small bank investors.

The Trade of the decade in community bank stock rolls on.

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To read more of Tim’s work on Benzinga, click here and to follow Tim on Twitter, his handle is @timmelvin.

Growing the Bank – Photo Recap

Creativity and collaboration took center stage at Bank Director’s Growing The Bank conference this Monday and Tuesday at the Four Seasons Resort & Club at Las Colinas in Irving, Texas.  There, leadership teams from banks, non-banks and financial technology companies alike focused on opportunities to grow revenue, deposits, brands, market size and market share through innovation and collaboration.  Below, a few of the photos taken for us by John Sloan of  Foxtrot Photography.

For more on the issues and ideas surfaced throughout the event, check out BankDirector.com and FinXTech.com.

Early Takeaways from Bank Director’s Growing the Bank Conference

With continuous pressure on bankers to grow earnings, developing clear strategies, repeatable practices and incorporating exceptional user-experience technologies has to be high on almost every executives to-do list.

How do you bank?

By taking a pause before answering this question, you will appreciate how, regardless of age, we all expect greater pricing transparency, ease of use and always-on access to personal information as part of an integrated banking experience.  The challenge for most bankers?  What many consider state-of-the-art today — in terms of features and services — quickly becomes part of the norm that will be expected and insisted upon in the coming years.

At this morning’s Growing the Bank Conference, I jotted down a few thoughts that builds on this “how do you bank” query.

  • When it comes to the classic build or buy technology decision, partnerships are now de rigueur — with 87% of our 240+ person audience indicating they see technology as presenting opportunities to banks (and not threats).
  • Historically, banks organize themselves along a line of products; however, many have suggested re-orienting operations around customer needs and expectations.
  • To retain deposits, banks should ramp up their customer relationship programs, increase cross-selling efforts and invest in product lines that attract stable deposits.

While we haven’t gotten deep into the payments space (yet), I do encourage bank executives to think about the dramatic growth in that area of banking  — which continues to transform how efficiently banks connect with their customers.  Likewise, I wasn’t kidding when I suggested attendees spend some time reading the OCC’s “Supporting Responsible Innovation” white paper.

Finally, a “did-you-know” that I meant to share from the stage during my conversation with Brian Read, Executive Vice President, Retail Banking, Umpqua Holdings Corp. and Umpqua Bank.  According to the Federal Reserve, 85% of mobile banking users — a bank’s “most advanced” clients — still use branches from time to time. So as he shared with us, there really is a place for a physical presence in banking today.

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*FWIW, we’re in Dallas at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Las Colinas in Dallas, Texas where the annual Byron Nelson golf tournament wrapped up yesterday evening.  The picture above is of Jordan Spieth — the former number one player in the Official World Golf Ranking and two-time major winner — a gift to some of my team who were intent on getting a photo of him.  As a former student of St. Marks, I will not hold it against him that he went to Jesuit, a rival high school.

A Bank’s Future Is _____

Today’s pop quiz

A bank’s future is:

(a)  Bright

(b) Non-existent

(c) Technology-dependent

(d) Unclear

By deliberating before answering this question (and subsequently leaving a reply below), you will better understand how + why my team at Bank Director developed the agenda for our Growing the Bank Conference.

Next Monday and Tuesday, at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Las Colinas in Dallas, we are excited to welcome 230+ executives from traditional and emerging financial services companies to explore:

  • The power of partnerships between banks and fintechs;
  • How to embrace change; and
  • Intelligently experimenting with emerging tools and products.

As I wrote in 3 Quick Takeaways from #fintech16 (aka Bank Director’s FinTech Day at Nasdaq’s MarketSite), many technology companies have developed strategies, practices and new technologies that will dramatically influence how banking gets done in the future.  For example:

  • Nymbus is transforming the way traditional banks and financial institutions support and interact with their customers through its core processing solution;
  • nCino is a leader in cloud banking with a dynamic bank operating system; and
  • Geezeo offers an integrated suite of online tools and services; notably, a sleek Personal Financial Management (PFM) solution.

However, within this period of upheaval — where considerable market share will be up for grabs — ambitious banks can leapfrog both traditional and new rivals.  So if you are joining us, be advised that this is not a place to sit quietly and be told what’s not working in banking. This two-day exchange of ideas allowed for candid conversations and presentations banking leaders from around the United States eager to address challenging issues and emerging opportunities.  If you are interested in following the conversation via Twitter, @bankdirector uses #BDGrow16.  In addition, we will share various takeaways via LinkedIn and I’ll be posting regularly to this site.

P.S. – I’ll read the best answer to today’s question to open the conference, so don’t be shy in sharing your answer below.

 

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.

Reaching For The Summit

When you say the word summit, what do you think of?  For me, it is a book; specifically, Let My People Go Surfing by Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard. I was reminded of Yvon’s thoughts while flying home to DC from last week’s Bank Board Growth & Innovation conference in New Orleans.  While there, I had a chance to share time and ideas with some 150 bank CEOs, board members and executives. As most banks wrestle with the concept of banking a generation that doesn’t necessarily see the need for a bank, I think Yvon’s opinion that “how you climb a mountain is more important than reaching the top” is a strong reminder for bankers that the little things really do count with customers today.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

Having been on numerous airplanes over the last few weeks, I have enjoyed the luxury of time without phone calls and sometimes emails and instant messages.  This digital solitude afforded me a chance to really dive into a number of thought-provoking white papers, analyst reports and research pieces.  Three, in particular, stand out, for looking ahead to what banking might become, not merely stating the obvious that bankers are being challenged as never before.

The World Retail Banking Report (from Capgemini Financial Services and Efma)

Abstract: Retail banking customers today have more choices than ever before in terms of where, when, and how they bank—making it critical for financial institutions to present options that appeal directly to their customers’ desires and expectations.

Growing the Digital Business / Accenture Mobility Research 2015 (from Accenture)

Abstract: The emergence and adoption of digital technologies has rapidly transformed businesses and industries around the globe. Mobile technologies have been especially impactful, as they have enabled companies to not only streamline their operations, but also engage more effectively with customers and tap into new sources of revenue.

Disrupting Banking: The FinTech Startups That Are Unbundling Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America (from CB Insights)

Abstract: Banks run the risk of being out-innovated and may lose their edge not because of their incumbent, large competitors, but because emerging startups inflict upon them a death by a thousand cuts.  And because a picture is worth more than 1,000 words:

source: CB Insights
source: CB Insights

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Finally, a welcome to our friends at KBW who just hopped into the Twitter pool yesterday. With so many talented men and women working there, I have no qualms suggesting a follow of their handle – @KBWfinthink (h/t to our Emily McCormick for the heads up)

This Week in Pictures – New Orleans

It has been said that the best acquisition a bank can make is of a new customer.  But let’s face it: for most banks, organic growth is hard. For those wanting to grow revenue, deposits, brand, market size and market share, we hosted a “Growth” conference at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans earlier this week.  Below, some pictures from our time in the Crescent City along with links to organic growth & FinTech-specific content.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

Clearly, there has been an enormous shift in asset concentration and customer loyalty during the past two decades. Today, the ten biggest banks in the U.S. have more assets than all of the other institutions combined.  Concurrently, major consumer brands such as Apple and Google have emerged as significant non-bank competitors.  As such, we designed this year’s Bank Board Growth & Innovation Conference around the concept of building sustainable franchise value.

To stay both relevant and competitive, I believe that building a culture of disciplined growth that encourages creativity and risk taking is essential. For a bank’s CEO, executive team and board, this requires a combination of knowledge, skill and courage – things we designed this conference, a complement to our annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference, to provide.  Behind the scenes, our team works hard to deliver a “Four Seasons”-level of service — and I am especially proud of how everyone navigated the weather challenges that hit the city on Monday.  It was great to arrive to so many smiling faces!

For those curious about the topics and trends covered at the event, you can up on what was covered by clicking on:

In addition, take a look at what our editor, Jack Milligan, has shared on his blog, The Bank Spot.  And since its Friday, I’ll take the liberty of closing with laissez les bons temps rouler!

Looking for Great FinTech Ideas

A fundamental truth about banking today: individuals along with business owners have more choices than ever before in terms of where, when and how they bank. So a big challenge — and dare I suggest, opportunity — for leadership teams at financial institutions of all sizes equates to aligning services and product mixes to suit core customers’ interests and expectations.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

Sometimes, the temptation to simply copy, paste and quote Bank Director’s editor, Jack Milligan, is too much for me to resist. Recently, Jack made the case that the distinction between a bank and a non-bank has become increasingly meaningless.  In his convincing words:

“The financial service marketplace in the United States has been has crowded with nonbank companies that have competed fiercely with traditional banks for decades. But we seem to be in a particularly fecund period now. Empowered by advances in technology and data analysis, and funded by institutional investors who think they might offer a better play on growth in the U.S. economy than traditional banks, we’re seeing the emergence of a new class of financial technology – or fintech – companies that are taking dead aim at the consumer and small business lending markets that have been banking industry staples for decades.”

Truth-be-told, the fact he successfully employed a word like ‘fecund’ had me hunting down the meaning (*it means fertile).  As a result, that particular paragraph stuck in my mind… a fact worth sharing as it ties into a recent Capgemini World Retail Banking Report that I devoured on a tremendously turbulent, white-knuckling flight from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans this morning (one with a “minor” delay in Montgomery, AL thanks to this morning’s wild weather).

Detailing a stagnating customer experience, the consultancy’s comprehensive study draws attention “to the pressing problem of the middle- and back-office — two areas of the bank that have not kept pace with the digital transformation occurring in the front-office. Plagued by under-investment, the middle- and back-offices are falling short of the high level of support found in the more advanced front-offices, creating a disjointed customer experience and impeding the industry’s ability to attract, retain, and delight customers.”

Per Evan Bakker for Business Insider, the entirety of the 35-page report suggests “banks are facing two significant business threats. First, customer acquisition costs will increase as existing customers are less likely to refer their bank to others. Second, banks will lose revenue as customers leave for competitors and existing customers buy fewer products. The fact that negative sentiment is global and isn’t limited to a particular type of customer activity points to an industry wide problem. Global dissatisfaction with banks is likely a result of internal problems with products and services as well as the growing number of non-bank providers of competing products and services.”

While dealing with attacks from aggressive, non-bank competitors is certainly not a new phenomenon for traditional banks, I have taken a personal interest in those FinTech companies looking to support (and not compete with) financial institutions.  So as I set up shop at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans through Wednesday for our annual Bank Board Growth & Innovation conference, let me shine the spotlight on eight companies that may help address some of the challenges I just mentioned. While certainly just the tip of the FinTech iceberg, each company brings something interesting to the table:

As unregulated competition heats up, bank CEOs and their teams need to continue to seek ways to not just stay relevant but to stand out.  While a number of banks seek to extend their footprint and franchise value through acquisition, many more aspire to build the bank internally. Some show organic growth as they build their base of core deposits and expand their customer relationships; others see the value of collaborating with FinTech companies.  To see what’s being written and said here in New Orleans, I invite you to follow @bankdirector, @aldominick + #BDGrow15.