Disrupt (or die trying)

Georgia peaches...
Georgia peaches…

If you’ve been on this site before, you probably recognize a pattern to my writing. Each Friday, I share three things I heard, learned or saw during the week.  In past posts, I’ve penned a number of “disruptive” stories that ranged from Brett King’s perspectives on banks (“Does Banking Need a Re-boot”) to John Cantarella’s on Time Inc.’s digital strategies (“Dass de Thing”).  So it should come as no surprise that I furiously began writing today’s column on a flight home from Atlanta on Wednesday evening.  I’d just spent several hours in the offices of the William Mills Agency, one of the nation’s preeminent financial public relations and marketing firms, and left inspired.  What follows are just three of the many Fintech companies the agency represents that are doing some pretty cool things.  IMHO, banks of all sizes might pay attention to these tech companies if they want to disrupt the status quo rather than have their status quo disrupted.

(1) In Bank Director’s home town of Nashville, TN resides the corporate marketing team for CSI, a leading provider of end-to-end technology solutions.  The public company delivers core processing, managed services, mobile and Internet solutions, payments processing along with print and electronic distribution & regulatory compliance solutions to financial institutions.  I like their resource center, but really appreciate their blog that highlights myriad client success stories.  For instance, “How One Bank “does” Social Media Right” shines a light on First Kentucky’s one and only social media strategy.  To wit: not a word about CSI’s involvement with the bank in favor of why the bank decided not to sell things to its social fans and followers.  A “fun and light” client example that shows a more intimate side of the bank vis-a-vis one of their preferred service providers.

(2) For many financial institutions, the gap between the strategy set by the board and subsequent execution can be quite wide.  As Steve Hovde (an investment banker and regular speaker at some of our larger events) shared with us, “bankers are conservative by nature, and the credit crisis served as a stark reminder why they should be. Still, many banks—particularly smaller, community banks—are reluctant to take advantage of strategic opportunities that could significantly enhance shareholder value.” So when First Midwest Bank (a not-so-small $9 billion institution based in Illinois) needed to measure product and customer profitability to support pricing and product offering decisions with accurate contribution margin results, I learned they turned to Axiom EPM.  The company, a provider of financial planning and performance management software, affords “visibility into profitability across the organization.” If you’re keen to learn how First Midwest analyzes profitability at their bank, you might take a look at this on-demand video.

(3) To wrap things up, let me pose a question: how fast would you switch to a different bank if you were the victim of online banking fraud?  Before you answer below (hint, hint), can you guess the percentage of your peers that would immediately?  From a banker’s perspective, such cyber risk poses a real threat to a business model.  Having worked in the IT space for 5+ years, I was curious if its possible to offer online and mobile banking with no possibility of this happening to a customer… ever.  Entersekt, a South African company with designs on the U.S. market, believes it is.  According to a few of the good folks at William Mills, the folks there are the pioneers in transaction authentication.  That is, the company “harnesses the power of electronic certificate technology with the convenience of mobile phones” to provide financial institutions and their customers with full protection from online banking fraud.  Authenticating millions of transactions globally, none of Entersekt’s clients have experienced a successful phishing attack on their systems since implementing the company’s technology.  A pretty impressive accomplishment, and nice way for me to wrap up this week’s column.

Aloha Friday!

Swimming without a bathing suit?

A full house in Chicago
A full house in Chicago

A busy week in Chicago… one highlighted by Bank Director’s annual Bank Audit Committee at the JW Marriott that kicked off on Wednesday morning and wrapped up about a few hours ago. For those that missed the event, today’s title comes from a conversation I had with the CEO of Fifth Third before he took the stage as our keynote speaker. Without going into too much detail, it refers to a line favored by our former publisher (and head of the FDIC) Bill Seidman. At conferences like this one, Bill was fond of saying when times are good, no one sees what is happening under water. But when things get tough and the tide goes out, well, you see who has been swimming without a bathing suit. In that spirit, what follows are three things I heard while hosting 350+ men and women, an audience representing 150 banks from 38 states.

(1) To kick off the conference, we invited the head of Hovde Financial to present on “Navigating Complex Financial, Strategic and Regulatory Challenges.” While we welcomed attendees from institutions as large as SunTrust, Fifth Third and KeyCorp, Steve Hovde’s presentation made clear that while larger banks like these continue to increase in size, many smaller community banks are fighting for survival in today’s regulatory and low-interest rate environment. Case-in-point, mobile banking technology is already in place at larger banks, fewer options are available to smaller banks to replace declining fee revenue (which could offset declines in net interest margins) and increased regulatory burdens favor large banks with economies of scale.

All of this suggests M&A should be hot and heavy. However, Steve pointed out that 2013 has not started out strong from a deal volume standpoint. In fact, only 59 deals were announced through April; annualized, this will result in significantly less deals than in 2012. Naturally, this leads many to think about building through more organic means.  To this end, he suggests that bank boards and management teams focus on questions like:

  • Is adequate organic growth even available today?
  • Are branches in urban markets more important than rural markets?
  • How much expense base would need to be added to fund the growth compared to the revenue generated by new loans?
  • Are we better off deepening penetration of existing markets or expanding physical premises into neighboring markets or both?
  • What steps can we take to enhance web and mobile platforms?

(2) In the spirit of asking questions like these, it strikes me that everyone has something to learn as we come through one of the deepest recessions in history. As businesses and regulatory agencies debate what could have been done differently, everyone is looking for an answer to avoid the next one, or at least, minimize its impact. Clearly, as directors and officers search for ways to manage future risks, they need to understand how to work together without impeding the organizations’ efficiency of operations while preparing for unexpected events.

Accordingly, we opened this morning with a session to explore this unique balance of corporate governance. The session included Bill Knibloe, a Partner at Crowe Horwath, Bill Hartmann, the Chief Risk Officer at KeyCorp and Ray Underwood, the Bank Risk Committee Chairman at Union Savings Bank. Together, they emphasized the need for both management and the board to understand current initiatives, future initiatives and various risks embedded in each to design plans for various oversight roles. For me, “plan to manage, not eliminate” stuck out in their comments.  If you were with us in Chicago, I wonder what was yours?

(3) Think about this: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­it might be easier and safer today to rob banks with a computer than with a gun. While banks design their internal controls to help mitigate risk, our final session of the day looked at how an audit committee needs to properly address cyber risk as more and more attempt to attack an institution through the web. Here’s a link to a piece authored by our Managing Editor, Naomi Snyder, entitled Five questions to ask about cyber security; short, sweet and to the point. I hope to have more on this topic early next week as it kept the room full (I took the picture above just a few minutes before the close). Until next week…

Aloha Friday!