3 Approaches to Shaping a Bank’s Digital Future

  • To compete in this new era of heightened digital competition, it is more important than ever for banks of all sizes to stay committed to the quest of constant improvement.

WASHINGTON, DC — How should you position your bank for the future — or, for that matter, the present?  This is one of the most perplexing questions challenging leadership teams right now.  It is not a new consideration; indeed, the industry has been in a constant state of evolution for as long as anyone on our team can remember. Yet lately, it has taken on a new, possibly more existential sense of urgency.

Fortunately, there are examples of banks, of different sizes and a variety of business models, keeping pace with changing consumer expectations and commercial clients’ needs. The industry seems to be responding to the ongoing digital revolution in banking in three ways.

#1: Forge Your Own Digital Frontier

The biggest banks—those like JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co.—have the resources to forge their own paths on the digital frontier. These banks spend as much as $11 billion a year each on technology. Each hires thousands of programmers to conceptualize digital solutions for customers. And you know what? Their results are impressive.

As many as three-quarters of deposit transactions are completed digitally at these banks (take a minute and let that number sink in).  A growing share of sales, account openings and money transfers take place over these banks’ digital channels as well. This allows these banks to winnow down their branch networks meaningfully while still gaining retail deposit market share.

*IMO, the next step in their evolution is to combine digital delivery channels with insights gleaned from data. It’s by marrying the two, I believe, that banks can gain a competitive advantage by improving the financial lives of their customers.

#2: Look Outside For Tailored Solutions

Just below the biggest banks are super-regional and regional banks.  They too are fully embracing technology, although they tend to look outside their organizations for tailored solutions that will help them compete in this new era (rather than develop the solutions themselves).

These banks talk about integration as a competitive advantage. They argue that they can quickly and nimbly integrate digital solutions developed elsewhere—growing without a burdensome branch network while also benefiting from the latest technologies without bearing the risk and cost of developing many of those solutions themselves. It is a way, in other words, for them to have their cake and eat it too.

U.S. Bancorp and PNC Financial Services Group fall into this category. Both are reconfiguring their delivery channels, reallocating funds that would be spent on expanding and updating their branch networks to digital investments.

In theory, this makes it possible for these banks to expand into new geographic markets with far fewer branches. Indeed, U.S. Bancorp announced recently that it will use a combination of digital channels and new branches to establish a physical retail beachhead in Charlotte, North Carolina. PNC Financial is doing the same in Dallas, Texas, among other markets.

#3: Go Off-the-Shelf

Finally, smaller community banks are adopting off-the-shelf solutions offered by their core providers—Fidelity National Information Services (FIS), Fiserv and Jack Henry & Associates.

This approach can be both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because these solutions have enabled upwards of 90 percent of community banks to offer mobile banking applications—table stakes nowadays in the industry. It is a curse because it further concentrates the reliance of community banks on a triumvirate of service providers.

In the final analysis, however, it is important to appreciate that smaller banks based outside of major metropolitan areas still have a leg up when it comes to tried-and-true relationship banking. Their share of loans and deposits in their local markets could even grow if the major money-center banks continue fleeing smaller markets in favor of big cities.

Smaller regional and community banks dominate small business loans in their markets—a fact that was recently underscored by LendingClub Corp.’s decision to close its small business lending unit. These loans still require local expertise—the type of expertise that resides in their hometown banks. The same is true of agriculture loans.

Let’s Not Forget: Banks Are Still Banks

Trust is still the top factor cited by customers in the selection process. And loans must still be underwritten in a responsible way if a bank wants to survive the irregular, but not infrequent, cycles that define our economy. The net result is that some community banks are not only surviving in this new digital era, they are thriving.

But this isn’t a call to complacency—far from it.

Making Great Hires

Quickly:

  • Next week, Bank Director hosts its annual Bank Compensation & Talent Conference at the Four Seasons outside of Dallas, Texas.  In advance of the event, a few of my thoughts on how banks might be inspired by Netflix, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Pinnacle Financial Partners.

WASHINGTON, DC — As one of the best-performing stocks on Wall Street, you can bank on Netflix spending billions of dollars on even more original programming, even without a profit. Likewise, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s consumer and community banking unit attracted a record amount of net new money in the third quarter.

How do I know this, and what’s the same about these two things?

Read their most recent earnings reports. Netflix doesn’t hide its formula for success, and JPMorgan boasts about its 24% earnings growth — fueled by the consumer and community banking unit — which beat analyst projections.

While we all have access to information like this, taking the time to dig into and learn about another’s business, even when not in direct competition or correlation to your own, is simply smart business, which is why I share these two points in advance of Bank Director’s annual Bank Compensation & Talent ConferenceBank Director’s annual Bank Compensation & Talent Conference.  Anecdotes like these prove critical to the development of programs like the one we host at the Four Seasons outside of Dallas, Nov. 5-7.

Allow me to explain.

Executives and board members at community banks wrestle with fast-shifting consumer trends — influenced by companies like Netflix — and increasing financial performance pressures influenced by JPMorgan’s deposit gathering strategies.

Many officers and directors recognize that investors in financial institutions prize efficiency, prudence and smart capital allocation. Others sense their small and mid-size business customers expect an experience their bank may not currently offer.

With this in mind, we aim to share current examples of how stand-out business leaders are investing in their organization’s future in order to surface the most timely and relevant information for attendees to ponder.  For instance, you’ll hear me talk about Pinnacle Financial Partners, a $22 billion bank based in Nashville. Terry Turner, the bank’s CEO, shared this in their most recent earnings report:

“Our model of hiring experienced bankers to produce outsized loan and deposit growth continues to work extremely well. Last week, we announced that we had hired 23 high-profile revenue producers across all of our markets during the third quarter, a strong predictor of our continued future growth. This compares to 39 hires in the second quarter and 22 in the first quarter. We believe our recruiting strategies are hitting on all cylinders and have resulted in accelerated hiring in our markets, which is our principal investment in future growth.”

This philosophy personally resonates, as I believe financial institutions need to:

  1. Employ “the right” people;
  2. Strategically set expectations around core concepts of how the bank makes money, approaches credit, structures loans, attracts deposits and prices its products in order to;
  3. Perform on an appropriate and repeatable level.

Pinnacle’s recruitment efforts align with many pieces of this year’s conference. Indeed, we will talk strategically about talent and compensation strategies and structuring teams for the future, and explore emerging initiatives to enhance recruiting efforts. We also explore big-picture concepts like:

Making Incredible Hires

While you’re courting top talent, let’s start the conversation about joining the business as well as painting the picture about how all of this works.

Embracing Moments of Transformation

With advances in technology, we will help you devise a clear vision for where your people are heading.

Creating Inclusive Environments

With culture becoming a key differentiator, we will explore what makes for a high-performing team culture in the financial sector.

As we prepare to welcome nearly 300 men and women to Dallas to talk about building teams and developing talent, pay attention to the former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan. He recently told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that the United States has the “the tightest market, labor market, I’ve ever seen… concurrently, we have a very slow productivity increase.”

What does this mean for banks in the next one to three years? Hint: we’ll talk about it at #BDComp18.

Shh, Disruption in Banking Continues

Quickly:

  • I spent yesterday afternoon at Capital One Growth Ventures’ inaugural VC & Startup Summit, an event that inspired today’s post.

WASHINGTON, DC — I’m hard pressed to find anyone willing to contest the notion that technology continues to disrupt traditional banking models. Now, I realize the “D” word jumped the shark years ago. Personally, I try my best to keep my distance from employing the adjective to describe what’s taking place in the financial world vis-a-vis technology. However, banks of all sizes continue to reassess, and re-imagine, how financial services might be structured, offered and embraced given the proliferation of new digital offerings and strategies.

As I reflect on the first quarter of 2018, it strikes me that we’re living in an industry marked by both consolidation and displacement. Yes, many bank executives have fully embraced the idea that technology — and technological innovation — is a key strategic imperative. However, few banks have a clear strategy to acquire the necessary talent to fully leverage new technologies. On the flip side, I get the sense that a number of once-prominent FinTech companies are struggling to scale and gain customer adoption at a level needed to stay in business. Nonetheless, the divide between both parties remains problematic given the potential to help both sides grow and remain relevant.

While banks explore new ways to generate top-line growth and bottom-line profits through partnerships, collaboration and technology investments, I have some concerns. For instance, the digital expectations of consumers and small & mid-sized businesses may become cost-prohibitive for banks under $1Bn in assets. So allow me to share what’s on my mind given recent conversations, presentations and observations about the intersection of fin and tech.

FIVE ON MY MIND

  1. With all the data issues coming to light courtesy of Facebook, how can banks extract the most revenue from the data available to them (*and how much will it cost)?
  2. As banks become more dependent on technology partners, what level of control —over both costs and data — should a bank be willing to trust to third parties?
  3. What does the arrival of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, mean for a financial institutions’ current workforces?
  4. Amazon’s announced checking account partnership with JPMorgan Chase begs the question: how dependent should banks become on big technology companies?
  5. How many larger banks will acquire smaller institutions that cannot keep up with the cost and pace of technology in Q2?

Significant technological changes continue to impact the financial community. In the weeks to come, I’ll relay what I learn about these five issues in subsequent posts. If you’re interested, I tweet @AlDominick and encourage you to check out @BankDirector and @FinXTech for more.

Ranking the 10 Biggest Banks

Quickly:

  • Bank Director’s year-long Ranking Banking study focuses less on current profitability and market capitalization & more on how the top 10 banks in the U.S. are strategically positioned for success.

By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps — parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech

WASHINGTON, DC — It is with tremendous pride that I share the results of Bank Director’s year-long study on America’s 10 largest banks.
  As my colleague, Bill King, wrote to open our inaugural Ranking Banking, we felt that a truly comprehensive analysis of the largest banks was missing, one that includes not just profitability or customer satisfaction ratings, but also compiles numerous measures of strength and financial health — a project to rank each of the largest banks for each major line of business based on qualities that all big banks need.

For instance, we decided to rank banks for branch networks, mobile banking, innovation and wealth management. We analyzed corporate banking and small business lending. We interviewed experts in the field and did secret shopper visits to the biggest banks to find out what the customer experience was like.  Unlike other rankings, we even included complaints lodged with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as one of many customer satisfaction metrics that we analyzed.  In other words, there is little about the biggest banks in the nation that we left out.

So who came out on top?

JPMorgan Chase & Co. topped Bank Director’s 2018 Ranking Banking study.

In fact, Chase won five of the ten individual categories and ranked near the top in three more, and was judged by Bank Director to be the most worthy claimant of the title Best of the Biggest Banks.  The individual category winners are:

Best Branch Network: Wells Fargo & Co.

Despite its well-publicized unauthorized account opening scandal, Wells Fargo topped the branch category by showing the best balance of deposit growth and efficiency, and scored well on customer experience reports from Bank Director’s on-site visits.

Best Board: Citigroup

In ranking the boards of directors of the big banks, Bank Director analyzed board composition by factors such as critical skill sets, diversity, median compensation relative to profitability and independence. Citigroup’s board best balanced all components.

Best Brand: JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Chase and runner-up Capital One Financial Corp. stood out for their media spend as a percentage of revenue, and both exhibited strong customer perception metrics.

Best Mobile Strategy: JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Chase has been successful in driving new and existing customers to its mobile products, leading to an impressive digital footprint, measured through mobile app downloads. The bank’s app also scored well with consumers.

Best Core Deposit Growth Strategy: BB&T Corp.

BB&T had a low cost of funds compared to the other ranked banks, and its acquisitions played a strong role in its core deposit growth, which far surpassed the other banks in the ranking.

Most Innovative: JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Chase most successfully balanced actual results with sizeable investments in technological innovation. These initiatives include an in-residence program and a financial commitment to the CFSI Financial Solutions Lab. Chase has also been an active investor in fintech companies.

Best Credit Card Program: JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Chase barely edged out fast-growing Capital One to take the credit card category, outpacing most of its competitors in terms of credit card loan volume and the breadth of its product offering. Chase also scored well with outside brand and market perception studies.

Best Small Business Program: Wells Fargo & Co.

Wells Fargo has long been recognized as a national leader in banking to small businesses, largely because of its extensive branch structure, and showed strong loan growth, which is difficult to manage from a large base. Wells Fargo is also the nation’s most active SBA lender and had the highest volume of small business loans.

Best Bank for Big Business: JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Big banks serve big businesses well, and finding qualitative differences among the biggest players in this category—Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup—is difficult. But Chase takes the category due to its high level of deposit share, loan volume and market penetration.

Best Wealth Management Program: Bank of America Corp.

With Merrill Lynch fueling its wealth management division, Bank of America topped the category by scoring highly in a variety of metrics, including number of advisors (more than 18,000 at last count) and net revenue for wealth and asset management, as well as earning high marks for market perception and from Bank Director’s panel of experts.

FWIW…

The 10 largest U.S. retail banks play an enormously important role in the nation’s economy and the lives of everyday Americans. For example, at the end of 2016, the top 10 banks accounted for over 53 percent of total industry assets, and 57 percent of total domestic deposits, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The top four credit card issuers in 2016—JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup and Capital One Financial Corp.—put more than 303 million pieces of plastic in the hands of eager U.S. consumers, according to The Nilson Report.

Blockchain: What It Is and How It Works

Quickly:

  • Many speculate that blockchain could turn out to be one of the most revolutionary technologies ever developed.

By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps — parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech

WASHINGTON, DC — J.P. Morgan’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, recently threw some big time shade at bitcoin.  However, as the Wall Street Journal shared this morning, he’s “still enamored with the technology that underpins it and other virtual currencies.”  For those wondering about where and why blockchain might revolutionize the business of banking, take a look at our just-released Q4 issue of Bank Director Magazine.  We dedicated our cover story to “Understanding Blockchain,” and this post teases out some of the key concepts bank executives and board members might focus in on.  Authored by John Engen, the full piece can be found, for free, here.  As you’ll read, the article covers three major points:

What is Blockchain

If you’re on the board of a typical U.S. bank, odds are that you don’t know much about blockchain, or distributed ledgers, except that there’s a heavy buzz around the space—and a lot of big bets being made. As John Engen wrote, being a know-nothing might be fine for now, but going forward could be untenable.

At its most basic, blockchain is a digital-ledger technology that allows market participants, including banks, to transfer assets across the internet quickly and without a centralized third party.

Some describe it as the next, inevitable step in the evolution of the internet; a structure to help confront concerns about security, trust and complexity that have emerged from a technology that has opened the world to sharing information.  To others, it looks more like business-process improvement software—a way to improve transparency, speed up transaction times and eliminate billions of dollars in expenses that markets pay to reconcile things like credit default swaps, corporate syndicated debt and other high-volume assets.

Where are things heading

“Trying to guess how blockchain is going to affect us in the next 20 years is kind of like standing in 1995 and trying to imagine mobile-banking technology,” said Amber Baldet, New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s blockchain program leader, in an online interview. “I’m sure the ultimate applications are things we can’t even imagine right now.”

For now, the space certainly has the feel of the 1990s internet, with hundreds of startups and billions of investment dollars chasing distributed-ledger initiatives.  Armonk, New York-based IBM Corp., a big blockchain supporter, estimates that 90 percent of “major” banks in the world—mostly those with trading, securities, payments, correspondent banking and trade finance operations—are experimenting with blockchain in some way.

Collaboration is the current buzzword

Most large banks are involved in consortiums with names like Ripple, Hyperledger, R3 and Enterprise Ethereum Alliance.  Smaller banks are taking more of a wait-and-see approach.  For all the promise of speed and efficiency, blockchain’s real power lies in its transparency, which makes data both trackable and immutable.  Ultimately, blockchain could usher in new business models, which require different ways of thinking.

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For members of a bank’s board, we created this “Blockchain 101” video.  In it, I touch on the potential application of blockchain in terms of digital identities, digital banking and cross-border payments.  In addition, the ten minute video surfaces key concepts and business ideas that remain material to many today.

*This video is just one of the offerings found in our Bank Services program designed to help board members and senior executives develop strategies to help their bank grow, while demonstrating excellence in corporate governance that shareholders and customers deserve and today’s regulators demand.

Keeping Up With JPMorgan Chase

As much as executives at community banks need to focus on the emerging challenges posed by non-bank competitors, so too are the priorities of the globally systemic banks like Citi, BNY Mellon and JPMorgan Chase important to understand.  So file today’s post under “know thy enemy….”

At a time when many community bank CEOs sweat margin compression, efficiency improvements and business model expansion, it is very interesting to take note of the six areas of focus for JPMorgan Chase.  Last week, Gordon Smith, their Chief Executive Officer for Consumer & Community Banking, provided insight into the behemoth’s strategic agenda at the company’s investor day.  Their focus touches on the following key areas; the first five should resonate with bank leaders at institutions of all sizes:

  1. Continue to improve the customer experience and deepen relationships;
  2. Reduce expenses;
  3. Continue to simplify the business;
  4. Maintain strong control environment and automate processes;
  5. Increase digital engagement; and
  6. Lead payments innovation.

As Mr. Smith lays out, their deposit growth has been strong and core loans show continued improvement.  From a community bank CEO’s perspective, this is important as JPMorgan Chase’s organic growth may precipitate an even greater desire for smaller institutions to merge with another.  Indeed, I continue to see banks eyeing deposits, not just assets, as a catalyst for bank M&A (*this is not to suggest JPMorgan wants to buy another bank, as I don’t think regulators will allow any significant acquisitions from them nor do they seem to have even a sliver of interest. While they have a rich history of acquisition, I’m pretty sure they’ve reached their cap in terms of deposit market share).

Further, with their bank branches becoming more “advice centers,” it strikes me that many community bank operating models should aggressively shift to employing fewer people serving in more of a consultative capacity.  True, this model has been effectively emulated by some, most notably pioneered by Umpqua in the Pacific Northwest.  However, I see far too many local and community banks still arranged as if a bank will be robbed faster through the front door than it will the internet. The implication remains that a transaction trumps a relationship.  Finally, as banks like JPMorgan Chase divest various branches based on their drive for greater efficiencies, it should be helpful to think about some of their spun-off locations as potential targets that can bolster a regional presence.

So if you work for a community bank, it’s important to pay attention to the big banks. Sometimes, they can help you.

Is Walmart the Next Big Bank

Part four of a five piece series on emerging threats to banks from non-financial companies. To read parts one through three, click on “For Banks, the Sky IS Falling,” “PayPal is Eating Your Bank’s Lunch” and “The Bank of Facebook.”

At the risk of crashing through an open door, did you know that the retail juggernaut Wal-Mart Stores Inc. launched Bluebird in partnership with American Express late in 2012 so users can direct deposit their paychecks, make bill payments, withdraw cash from ATMs and write checks?  Yes, customers also have access to mobile banking, which includes features like remote deposit capture and person-to-person (P2P) payments.  So does this position Wal-Mart as the next SIFI (*no disrespect to CIT following their announced acquisition of OneWest in a $3.4Bn stock & cash deal earlier this week)?

Walmart bank logo.001

Cue Robin Thicke

According to Wal-Mart, 95% of Americans live within 15 miles of one of its stores.  So I think its fair to say that Wal-Mart continues to blur lines between banking and shopping as it added yet another financial service to its stores across the country.  Indeed, the retailer announced this spring that customers can transfer money to and from any of its 4,000 stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.  As this article in Forbes highlighted, low income workers who don’t have traditional bank accounts are turning to prepaid cards and alternatives to checking accounts.  Banks like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo are trying to fill that gap with prepaid and reload able cards — something Wal-Mart has been offering for years.

Where Is That Achilles Heel?

Unlike online competitors to a bank, Wal-Mart enjoys huge brand recognition and an established customer base that feels comfortable walking into their local “branch.”  In fact, banks that already operate inside Walmarts reap among the highest fees from customers of any banks in the nation, according to a WSJ analysis.  But the very demographic the retail company serves — one that expects and demands rock-bottom pricing — may not favor a “B of W.”

Indeed, banking at Wal-Mart is a lot more expensive than shopping there.  As noted by in the WSJ, most U.S. banks earn the bulk of income through lending.  Among the 6,766 banks in the Journal’s examination, “just 15 had fee income higher than loan income — including the five top banks operating at Wal-Mart.”  Would the company really want to race to the bottom in terms of pricing its financial products (ones that would not be federally insured) and compete with its own tenants?

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

It is worth noting that Wal-Mart has tried to get into banking since the late 1990s.  It was thwarted in attempts to buy a savings-and-loan in Oklahoma and a bank in California — and later dropped a bid for its own banking charter in 2007.  While I’m not suggesting the new logo depicted above is anything more than a simple rendering by yours truly, it wouldn’t surprise me if the company explored even more creative ways to compete with financial institutions in the future.

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To comment on this piece, please click the white plus sign in the bottom right gray circle on this page or share your thoughts with me via Twitter (I’m @aldominick).  Next up, how crowdsourcing sites like Kiva and Kickstarter allow customers to bypass their bank to get funding for a business idea.

Three Thoughts on Banks and Risk

I’m heading out to Chicago and Bank Director’s annual Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference.  The agenda — focused on accounting, risk and regulatory issues — aligns with the information needs of a Chairman of the Board, Audit and/or Risk Committee Chair and Members, Internal Auditors, Chief Financial Officers and Chief Risk Officers.  Before I welcome some 300 attendees (representing over 150 financial institutions from 39 states) to the Palmer House, I thought to share three things that would keep me up at night if I traded roles with our attendees.

The Bean

(1) The Risk of New Competition

For bank executives and board members, competition takes many forms.  Not only are banks burdened with regulation, capital requirements and stress testing, they now have the added pressure of competition from non-financial institutions.  Companies such as Paypal, as well as traditional consumer brands such as Walmart, are aggressively chipping away at the bank’s customer base and threatening many financial institutions’ core business — a fact made clear by Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, at a shareholder meeting this February.

“You’d be an idiot not to think that the Googles and Apples  .  .  .  they all want to eat our lunch.  I mean, every single one of them.  And they’re going to try.”

To this end, I find myself agreeing with Accenture’s Steve Culp, Accenture’s senior managing director of Finance & Risk Services, when he writes “banks need to keep developing their risk capabilities, skills and talents, and align these skills with their agenda around future growth. If they don’t align their growth agenda with their risk capabilities—building a safe path toward growth opportunities—they will miss out on those growth opportunities.”  While I plan on diving much deeper into this topic following the conference, I definitely welcome feedback on the issue below.

(2) The Risk to A Reputation

While the Dodd-Frank Act requires publicly traded banks with more than $10 billion in assets to establish separate risk committees of the board, and banks over $50 billion to additionally hire chief risk officers, I’m seeing smaller banks proactively following suit.  Such additions, however, does not absolve directors and senior managers of financial institutions from preparing for the worst… which is easier said then done.   In some ways, a bank’s reputation is a hard-to-quantify risk.  Anyone can post negative comments online about an institution’s products, services or staff, but one only needs to look at Target’s financial performance post-cyber hack to realize that revenue and reputation goes hand-in-hand.

(3) The Risk of Cyber Criminals

Speaking of Target, earlier this year, Bank Director and FIS collaborated on a risk survey to pinpoint struggles and concerns within the boardrooms of financial institutions.  As we found, tying risk management to a strategic plan and measuring its impact on the organization proves difficult for many institutions, although those that have tried to measure their risk management program’s impact report a positive effect on financial performance.  What jumps out at me in the results of this research are the concerns over cyber and operational security.  Clearly, the number of “bad actors” who want to penetrate the bank’s defenses has increased exponentially, their tools have become remarkably sophisticated, and they learn quickly.  I read an interesting piece by an attorney at Dechert (sorry, registration required) that shows the analytical framework for cyber security is very similar to what most directors have focused on in their successful business careers: people, process and technology.  But theory is one thing, putting into practice a plan to protect your assets, entirely different.

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To comment on today’s column, please click on the green circle with the white plus sign on the bottom right. If you are on twitter, I’m @aldominick. Aloha Friday!