A Complete Guide to Bank Director’s Audit & Risk Committees Conference

Whether it is a complex product, new service or emerging line of business, this year’s Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference examines the many issues and opportunities being faced in boardrooms at financial institutions of all sizes across the country.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

While much has been written about how and where banks might grow, with new opportunities come new challenges.  With our industry undergoing significant change, boards must be highly informed in order to proactively oversee the management of security risks, compliance challenges and reputational issues.  At this year’s Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference, we focus in on key accounting, risk and regulatory issues that challenge bankers and board members alike.  Today’s column tees up this year’s program, one that opens on Wednesday at the JW Marriott in Chicago, IL.

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Wednesday, June 10

Before the curtains officially come up, we offer a series of pre-conference programs; most notably, a series of peer exchanges exclusive to a bank’s audit and risk committee chairs.  Modeled upon our annual Bank Chairman/CEO Peer Exchange, small groups of directors meet in closed door, off-the-record peer exchanges for candid discussions about various hot topics.  In addition, we have added a cyber security workshop that allows attendees to play out various scenarios that involve a hack, breach or attack.  Finally, we offer a primer for newer audit and risk committee members and chairs that provides a framework for both roles and responsibilities.

Thursday, June 11

According to several bankers I have recently talked to, this has become a must-attend event for audit committee members, audit committee chairs, CEOs, CFOs, presidents, corporate secretaries, internal auditors, chief risk managers and other senior executives who works closely with the audit and/or risk committee.  This year, we cover pertinent issues such as enterprise risk management, fraud, relations with internal and external auditors, audit committee oversight and regulatory changes for banks.  It is this ability to focus in on critical concerns and complex scenarios to a very specific group of officers and directors that sets us apart from others.  At a time when audit and risk committee members are being asked to take on more responsibilities and perform at higher levels than ever before, the presentations made on day one are laser-focused on key financial, risk management and regulatory issues.

Friday, June 12

A significant imperative for members of a bank’s board today?  Fully integrate risk management, compliance and ethics “that fit” into a particular bank’s culture.  On day two, we look at how this might be done while addressing many other challenges.  Indeed, some of the key risks facing banks today (that regulators expect boards and senior managers to address) include:

  • Strategic risk as banks adapt business models to respond to the current economic and competitive landscapes;
  • Management succession and retention of key staff;
  • Loosening loan underwriting standards;
  • Expansion into new products and services;
  • Exposure to interest rate risk;
  • Oversight of third party service providers;
  • Increased volume and sophistication of cyber threats;
  • BSA/AML risk from higher-risk services and customer relationships; and
  • Maintaining effective compliance management systems.

The presenters at this event are some of the leading experts in accounting, legal, consulting and regulatory areas, as well as experienced bank officers and directors.  From Sullivan & Cromwell to KPMG, Arnold & Porter to Crowe, Latham & Watkins to FIS, we are pleased to bring some of the industry’s foremost advisors together in Chicago.

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To follow the conversation via Twitter, check out #BDAUDIT15, @bankdirector and @aldominick.

Know Your Tribe

So… I initially planned to dive into interest rate risk this morning. Prevalent in most M&A conversations taking place in bank boardrooms today, I thought to focus on banks working to protect their equity value as interest rates rise. However, in reviewing the outline for today’s piece, I realized a different kind of risk inspired me: the risk of becoming something you are not.  While I do anticipate posting a piece on interest rate risk in the near future, today’s column parallels the thoughts of Seth Godin.  Specifically, a blog he authored this week entitled “In Search of Meaningful.”

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In his piece, Seth looks at online media and how “people have been transfixed by scale, by numbers, by rankings… how many eyeballs, how big is the audience, what’s the pass along, how many likes, friends, followers, how many hits?  You cannot win this game and I want to persuade you… to stop trying.”  It strikes me that he could just as well be writing about financial institutions competing for relevance in today’s competitive and crowded environment.  While I’ve linked to his post above, see if you follow my logic based on this representative quote:

It’s no longer possible to become important to everyone, not in a reliable, scalable way… But it is possible to become important to a very-small everyone, to a connected tribe that cares about this voice or that story or this particular point of view. It’s still possible to become meaningful, meaningful if you don’t get short-term greedy about any particular moment of mass, betting on the long run instead.

Over the past six months, I have been fortunate to hear how numerous bank CEOs and Chairmen plan to position their institutions for long-term growth.  As I process Godin’s perspective, let me pay his perspectives forward with three of my own specific to community banks:

#1 – You Don’t Have To Be BIG To Be Successful

By this I mean smarts trumps size any day of the week.  While more banks put their liquidity to work, fierce competition puts pressures on rates and elevates risk.  While easy to frame the dynamics of our industry in terms of asset size, competing for business today is more of a “smart vs. stupid” story than a “big vs. small” one.

#2 – You Don’t Have To Be Everywhere

Nor can you be — so stick to what you know best.  I know that margin compression and an extra helping of regulatory burden means times couldn’t be more challenging for growth in community or regional banking.  But that doesn’t mean you have to be all things to all people.  Case-in-point, I was lucky to spend some time with Burke & Herbert Bank’s CEO in Northern Virginia earlier this week.  As they say, “the world has changed quite a bit since 1852 (*the year the bank opened its doors) – that you may be conducting most of your life from your computer, smartphone and/or whatchamajiggy. That’s why we constantly adapt to the way you live and bank.”  Today Burke & Herbert Bank has more than $2 billion in assets and 25 branches throughout Northern Virginia.  Still, they remain a neighborhood bank, choosing to “stay local” as Virginia’s oldest bank.

#3 – You Don’t Have To Do What Everyone Else Does

As Godin writes, the “problem with generic is that it’s easy go as well as easy come.”  Just because USAA rolls out a new mobile offering doesn’t mean you need to — and if BofA decides to reprice a product, can you really compete with them on price?  So which community banks are doing it right in my opinion?  Well, if you’re in Nashville and focused on the medical and music & entertainment industries you probably know Avenue Bank, if you’re a business in the Pacific Northwest, you most likely work with (or at least respect) Banner Bank.  And if you are in the oil and gas business in Texas, First Financial is a big player.  The common thread that binds these three banks together: they have a laser-like focus on their ideal customer base.

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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!

Guest Post: Variety is the Spice of Life

As promised, a special guest author for this Friday’s column: Bank Director magazine’s Managing Editor, Naomi Snyder.  Having shared my key takeaways from our annual Bank Audit & Risk Committees conference on Wednesday and Thursday, I invited Naomi to share her post-conference thoughts on my blog.  So this morning’s title is as much about truth in advertising as it is an invitation to learn what my friend and colleague deemed timely and relevant.

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At Al’s request, I’m going to step in and give a quick recap of Bank Director’s Audit and Risk Committees Conference in Chicago this week.  As you can tell from this picture, nearly 300 people attended our conference at The Palmer House hotel and they got a lot of frightening news about risks for their financial institutions, including cyber risk, interest rate risk, compliance and reputation risk in the age of social media.  I’m going to address three of those points today.

Interest Rate Risk

Many banks are extending credit at a fixed rate of interest for longer terms in an effort to compete and generate much-needed returns. This will be a problem for some of them when interest rates rise and low cost deposits start fleeing for higher rates elsewhere. You could assume the liability/asset equation will equal out, but will it? Steve Hovde, the president and CEO of the investment bank Hovde Group in Chicago, is worried about a bubble forming, saying he has seen credit unions offer 10- or 15-year fixed rate loans at 3.25 percent interest. “I’m seeing borrowers get better deals with good credit quality than they have ever gotten in history,” he says.

Reputation Risk

In an age of social media, anyone can and does tweet or post on Facebook any complaint against your bank. Cyber attacks, such as the one that befell Target Corp., can be devastating and cost the CEO his or her job. Rhonda Barnat, managing director of The Abernathy MacGregor Group Inc., says it’s important not to cater to TV news, such as telling a reporter that your employee’s laptop was stolen at a McDonald’s with sensitive customer information, prompting a visit by the camera crew to the McDonald’s. Not disclosing how many customer records were stolen could keep you off the front page. Focus on the people who matter most: your customers and investors and possibly, your regulators. They want to know how you are going to fix the problem that impacts them.

Compliance Risk

Regulators are increasingly breathing down the necks of bank directors, wanting evidence the board is actively engaged and challenging management. The official minutes need to reflect this demand, without necessarily going overboard with 25 pages of detailed discussion, for example. Local regulators are increasingly deferring questions to Washington, D.C., where they can get stuck in limbo. When regulators do give guidance, it is often only verbal and can cross the line into making business decisions for the bank, says Robert Fleetwood, a partner at Barack Ferrazzano in Chicago. In such an environment, it’s important to have good relations with your regulators and to keep them informed.

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About Naomi: Prior to joining our team, she spent 13 years as a business reporter for newspapers in South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee. Most recently, she was a reporter for The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper. She also was a correspondent for USA Today. Naomi has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Illinois.  To follow her wit and wisdom on Twitter, follow @naomisnyder.