FI Tip Sheet: Strong Board, Strong Bank

As the banking industry continues to regain its health, efficiency and productivity are key elements in positioning a bank to grow.  Still, the reality remains there is an overcapacity in the US banking industry and the consolidation trend that brought the number of bank charters from over 14,000 to under 7,000 over the last 25 years will continue.  So let me sum in up in word letters: OTSS… only the strong survive.  Today’s post builds on this idea and offers a few takeaways from day one of the Bank Board Training Forum.

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Don’t Cry For Me

Yes, a more demanding regulatory and business environment has placed a substantial burden on bank directors and their boards. However, nearly every conversation/presentation focused on what’s possible — and not what’s broken.  Here are a few characteristics of successful “growth” banks:

  • They have a history of executing accretive transactions that are supported in the market both post-announcement and in terms of performance over time.
  • They tend to under promise and over deliver

While mergers and acquisitions is the principal growth strategy for many of these institutions, don’t sleep on building organically.  Indeed, many of the banks in attendance look at M&A as a complement to their growth plans.

An appetite for technology
We welcomed 117 bank officers and directors to the Hermitage in Nashville yesterday (and I’ll be getting up on stage in a few minutes to do so again this morning).  We went old school and put pen + paper in front of these men and women and asked a few true/false technology-specific questions.  47% have responded so far and here’s what I’m finding:

  • T/F: Our executive team has two people with strong technology understanding/experience…  43 responded true and only 12, false.
  • T/F: I would describe my bank as innovative… 40 responded true and 15 false
  • T/F: Mobile banking is an important part of our strategy… 46 responded true and 8, false

Growing Through Innovation
I heard one bank is consolidating some 200 different software packages, while another introduced concierge banking.  Interestingly, 11 bankers wrote on the survey above that the most innovative “thing” they are doing right now involves mobile banking.

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I’ll try to post more later today, as several of the afternoon conversations tied growth into risk and audit concerns, two topics I’ve covered earlier this week.  Aloha Friday!

FI Tip Sheet: The Innovator’s Dilemma

Over the past few years, I have seen significant change within the banking community — much of it defensive or in response to government intervention and oversight.  According to a white paper recently published by McLagan, “a great deal has been said about the excesses and errors of the past; however (sic), the current focus for banks, in particular, must be on the need to innovate or risk becoming stagnant and losing the ability to compete for exceptional talent.”  This morning’s column focuses on the “innovator’s dilemma,” vis-a-vis three questions.

Everything is AwesomeDo We Need Sustainable or Disruptive Technology ?

I have talked with a number of Chairmen and CEOs about their strategic plans that leverage financial technology to strengthen and/or differentiate their bank.  After one recent chat, I went to my bookshelf in search of Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail.”  His book inspired today’s title — and fuels this first question.  Christensen writes about two types of technologies: sustaining and disruptive.  Sustaining technologies are those that improve product performance.  As he sees it, these are technologies that most large companies are familiar with; technologies that involve improving a product that has an established role in the market.  Most large companies are adept at turning sustaining technology challenges into achievements.  However, large companies have problems dealing with disruptive technologies — an observation that, in my view, does not bode well for many traditionally established banks.

“Discovering markets for emerging technologies inherently involves failure, and most individual decision makers find it very difficult to risk backing a project that might fail because the market is not there.”

While risk is inherent to banks of all sizes, taking chances on emerging technologies continues to challenge many officers and directors.  To this end, I thought about the themes explored in Christensen’s book after spending time in Microsoft’s New York City offices last week.  While there, I heard how big banks are generating revenues by acquiring new customers while retaining, up-selling and cross-selling to existing customers.  I left impressed by the various investments being made by the JP Morgans of the banking world, at least in terms of customer relationships and experience management along with analytics and core system modernization.  I do, however, wonder how any entrenched bank can realistically embrace something “uber-esque” (read: disruptive) that could truly transform the industry.

Do We Have the Staff We Need?

Consider the following question from the perspective of a relatively new hire: “I have a great idea for a product or service… who can I talk with?”  A few months ago, Stephen Steinour, the President & Chief Executive Officer at Huntington Bancshares, keynoted Bank Director’s annual Bank Executive & Board Compensation conference and addressed this very thing.  As he shared to an audience of his peers: “the things I assumed from my era of banking are no longer valid.”  Rather than tune out ideas from the field in favor of age and experience, he explained how his $56Bn+ institution re-focused on recruiting “the right” employees for the company they wanted (not necessarily what they had), with a particular emphasis on attracting the millennial generation into banking.  He admitted it’s a challenge heightened by public perception of the industry as one that “takes advantage of people and has benefited from government bailouts.”  Still, he made clear the team they are hiring for reflects a new cultural and staffing model designed to drive real, long-term change.  I wonder how many banks would (or could) be so bold?

Do We Have The Right Business Model?

I’ve heard it said that “forces of change” will compel banks to reinvent their business models.  Take the business model of core retail banking. According to a piece authored by McKinsey (Why U.S. Banks Need a New Business Model), over the past decade, banks continued to invest in branches as a response to free checking and to the rapid growth in consumer borrowing.  But regulations “undermining the assumptions behind free checking and a significant reduction in consumer borrowing have called into question the entire retail model.  In five years, branch banking will probably look fundamentally different as branch layouts, formats, and employee capabilities change.”  Now, I’m not sure banking’s overall business model needs a total overhaul; after all, it still comes back to relationships and reputations.  Nonetheless, many smaller banks appear ripe for a change.  And yes, the question of how they have structured their business is one some are beginning to explore.

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To comment on this piece, click on the green circle with the white plus sign on the bottom right.  Looking ahead, expect a daily post on About That Ratio next week.  I’ll be in Nashville at the Hermitage Hotel for Bank Director’s Bank Board Training Program.  Leading up to, and at, this educational event, I’ll provide an overview on the various issues being covered.  Namely, risk management and auditing issues, compensation, corporate governance, regulation and strategic planning.  Thanks for reading, and Aloha Friday!

Does Banking Need a Re-boot?

Now that I’ve baited you with the headline, let me tie it to the opinions of Brett King (who, in full disclosure, we just confirmed as a speaker at Bank Director’s upcoming Growth conference at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans).

Shawmut HD.001

A history lesson for those non-Bostonians reading today’s post.  Shawmut Bank was established in Boston in 1836 and its logo, the stylized bust of Chief Obbatinewat — seen above — became widely recognizable in the Greater Boston area over the next 150 years.  Heck, we had one in our house!  Sadly, the name and logo were retired in 1995 as a result of the merger of Shawmut and Fleet.  But for me — and many others I’ve met (hello Bank of the West’s CEO) — “the Chief” still inspires a smile and a story.

Robert Parrish -- #OO
Robert Parrish — #OO

In my last post, I wrote that its not easy for a bank to build a strong brand.  Still, as some are finding, the rewards can be immense.  So I bring up “the Chief” (not to be confused with the equally awesome Robert Parish who dominated the paint for the Boston Celtics) as an example of a formerly strong brand that still stirs emotions and memories.  It also provides a tie into what I’ve been reading of Brett’s in terms of building a “sticky” customer experience and developing a multi-channel distribution strategy.

Admittedly, his “BANK 2.0” book reminded me of many I read while in the IT space.  For example, those authored by Clay Shirky; at least, in terms of crowdsourcing, “disruptive” customer behaviors, technology shifts and new business models.   But as Brett focuses on our financial community, I’m eager to crack open his “BANK 3.0” to see what he thinks might redefine financial services and payments.  I’m particularly interested in his POV with respect to:

  • Where social media might shine a light on pricing, processes and heretofore obtuse policies;
  • How “customer advocacy” is killing traditional brand marketing; and
  • The growth of the ‘de-banked’ consumer who might not need a bank at all.

I’m always interested in hearing who’s “doing it right” in order to learn and share their stories.  So I ask: in addition to Brett’s ideas, any suggestions for other authors, entrepreneurs, innovators, etc. worth a follow/read?  Hit me up on Twitter or feel free to leave a comment below.  I’ll re-post later this week as part of my “Friday Follow” inspired column.

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FWIW, the Growth Conference focuses on how a bank’s board can become actively involved in building the bank – in securing customers, identifying lending opportunities, promoting the bank in the community, etc. Its a complement to our annual M&A conference, Acquire or Be Acquired, which I covered in detail on my DCSpring21 blog last month.