Seeking Size and Scale

With Wednesday’s announcement that BB&T has a deal in place to acquire Susquehanna Bancshares in a $2.5 billion deal, I felt inspired to focus on the mergers & acquisitions space today.  You see, if 2013 was the year of the merger-of-equals (MOEs), it seems that 2014 has become the year of “seeking size and scale.”

As I’ve shared in past posts, 2013 was characterized by a series of well-structured mergers which produced a dramatic improvement in shareholder reaction to bank M&A.  For example, Umpqua & Sterling,  United Financial Bancorp & Rockville Financial and Bank of Houston & Independent Bank.  Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen some pretty interesting transactions announced that are not MOEs; specifically, Sterling Bancorp buying Hudson Valley Holding in New York, Banner picking up AmericanWest Bank in the Pacific Northwest and the afore-mentioned BB&T deal.

Don’t Be Fooled, Size Matters

As evidenced by the Sterling and Banner acquisitions, the desire for scale and efficiencies is prompting certain institutions to expand.  While regulatory costs and concerns have been cited in previous years as deterents to a transaction, isn’t it interesting that both of these deals position the acquiring institution near the $10Bn threshold (*important as crossing this asset threshold invites new levels of scrutiny and expense).  But like John Thain suggested earlier this year, “the key is being big enough so that you can support all of the costs of regulation.”  Still, comments made by Richard Davis, chairman and chief executive of U.S. Bancorp, about the BB&T agreement should temper some enthusiasm about the biggest players jumping in to the M&A space a la the $185 Bn-in-size BB&T. “This is not a deal you’d ever see us do,” he said at conference in New York hosted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, adding “it’s both out-of-market and it’s fairly expensive.”

I’m Serious, It Matters?!?

Earlier this year, Deloitte published The Top Ten Issues for Bank M&A.  In light of the BB&T deal, it is worth revisiting.  To open, the authors opine “size matters when it comes to regulatory constraints on the banking sector: The bigger the players, the more restrictions on banking activities, including M&A. Banks with less than $10 billion in total assets face the least restriction, while the very largest Systemically Important Financial Institutions (SIFIs) experience the highest level of constraints. Among the major regulatory actions that are expected to hold considerable sway over bank M&A in 2014 are the Volcker Rule, Basel III capital requirements, global liquidity rules, stress testing, and anti-money laundering (AML) and Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) compliance laws.”

Who I’m Taking to Buy a Lottery Ticket

Finally, a tip of the hat to Frank Cicero, the Global Head of Financial Institutions Group at
Jefferies. He reminded me on Wednesday that every prediction he made in a piece he wrote for at the beginning of the year has come to pass…fewer MOE’s, bigger premiums, regional banks returning to bank M&A.  Personally, I’m wondering if he wants to walk into the lotto store with me this weekend?

Aloha Friday!

FI Tip Sheet: Some of Banking’s Best Female CEOs

According to a recent report by Catalyst, 46.9% of the U.S. labor force is female; but only 16.9% of Fortune 500 corporate board seats are held by women and 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. This got me thinking about the financial sector and why there are so few… along with wondering who are some of the best. Yes, the number of women serving as chief executives is spectacularly small, and the same is true in the banking industry.  Nonetheless, there are a number that standout and what follows in today’s tip sheet are some of them.


Two CEOs at “Big Brands”
Last month, I wrote how the names and logos of institutions over $50Bn — think M&T with some $83Bn in assets, PNC with $305Bn and US Bancorp with $353Bn – are familiar to most. Leading these massive organizations are some tremendously talented individuals; to today’s focus, Beth Mooney, the CEO of KeyCorp, deserves recognition. The $89 billion Cleveland-based bank operates branches in 14 states from New York to Alaska. Of note, she is the only female CEO running a financial institution included in the S&P 500. So I made immediate note of Ken Usdin’s comments about her success. Ken is the Managing Director of Equity Research for U.S. Banks at Jefferies, and notes “Beth has done a very good job streamlining the organization, improving the business model in retail banking and tightening the focus and integration of Key’s various commercial banking businesses.”

Like Beth, Barbara Yastine, the Chief Executive Officer and President of Ally Bank deserves praise for the role she’s played since assuming the post in May of 2012. Consider that Ally Bank, the direct banking subsidiary of Ally Financial Inc., announced this past year it had crossed the $40 billion threshold in deposits from retail customers.  Quite an accomplishment given its parent company, the former GMAC, was described in an American Banker piece as “a poster child of the financial crisis and could have buckled under the weight of its bad loans without a bailout.” In addition to a portfolio of straightforward products, Ally Bank has introduced popular online and mobile banking tools backed by a robust customer service platform under her care and guidance.

Four CEOs at Strong Community Banks
A dynamo in her own right, Cathy Nash, the former President and CEO at Citizens Republic Bancorp (who orchestrated a great merger deal with FirstMerit last year) pointed me towards Jean Hale of Community Trust Bancorp in Kentucky. Ms. Hale has been CEO since July of 1999 and guides the NASDAQ-listed company with total assets at $3.6 billion.

From the Commonwealth of Kentucky let me move to my first home state of Massachusetts. There, you will find Dorothy Savarese, the president and CEO of The Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank, leading 400 employees while presiding over an institution with $2.3Bn in assets. Serving the community since 1855, this is one of those bank logos I always get excited to see come summer vacation.

Separately, I also hear that Melanie Dressel, President and CEO, Columbia Banking System out of Tacoma, Washington, is a female CEO to watch. With the bank’s acquisition of West Coast in 2012, this is one of the largest community banks in the Pacific Northwest: 141 banking offices, including 80 branches in Washington State and 61 branches in Oregon.

Finally, Scott Winslow at RFi applauded Julie Thurlow at Reading Co-op Bank in Massachusetts as “smart, gracious and very focused on leading her team of folks to the right decisions for the bank and her community. One of the sharper CEOs I have met in the community banking world.”

Four I Want to Learn More About
As I prepared for today’s piece, I looked at various analyst reports, stories authored by our team, performance rankings and research notes. I took note of four CEOs — and their institutions — that I am curious to learn more about. For example, Sheila Mathews at Four Corners Community Bank. I also want to learn more about the work Peyton Patterson is doing up in Connecticut as Bankwell’s CEO. Finally, Bank Director’s own CEO, Joan Susie (a woman herself), told me that Diane Dewbrey at Foundation Bank in Bellevue, WA is really smart and interesting and that Laurie Stewart, president and CEO of Sound Community Bank in Seattle, is impressive.

Even with all this snow on the ground, let me close with a very warm Aloha Friday!