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.

How Capital One Can Inspire Your Digital Efforts

While venture-backed fintech firms continue to garner attention for being “ahead of the times,” don’t sleep on the franchise being built by Capital One.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

Should you look at the term “innovation” and disassociate it with the banking sector, you are forgiven.  But innovative is exactly the description I favor for Capital One Financial Corp. (NYSE: COF), especially as I define the term as an ability to monetize creative ideas, products and processes.  Indeed, the McLean, VA-based bank ranked first among the 20 publicly-traded banks with assets of more than $50 billion in Bank Director magazine’s annual Bank Performance Scorecard and is widely considered at the forefront of taking a technology-based, consumer-centric focus to banking.

As we see in their financial performance, Capital One managed to increase net income and benefited from the high profitability of a substantial credit card operation and the stable funding of a regional banking franchise.  As you can read, the company rated highly on traditional profitability metrics: they posted a return on average assets (ROAA) of 1.53, a return on average equity (ROAE) of 10.33 and a Tangible Common Equity ratio of 9.82.  So while various fintech companies make news for their valuations (*hello Stripe, which received major funding from Visa and other investors, valuing the startup at $5 billion) or loan volume (**hola Lending Club, which originated nearly $2 billion in loans during Q2), I’m paying attention to Capital One’s performance.

Nonetheless, their financial numbers don’t tell the whole story.

As our editor, Jack Milligan, writes in “How Young and Hungry Fintech Companies are Disrupting the Status Quo,” the digital financial services space “is exploding in activity as new technology companies push their way into markets and product lines that traditionally have been the banking industry’s turf.” To this point, many bank executives should take note of Capital One’s focus on technology and its business model.  Its CEO, Richard Fairbank, is focused on leading the digital transformation of banking and is not shy in stating that “the winners in banking will have the capabilities of a world-class software company.  Most of the leverage and most of our investment is in building the foundational underpinnings and talent model of a great digital company.  To succeed in a digital world (you) can’t just bolt digital capabilities onto the side of an analog business.”

Cases in point, Capital One acquired money management app Level Money earlier this year to help consumers keep track of their spendable cash and savings.  Prior to that, they acquired San Francisco-based design firm Adaptive Path “to further improve its user experience with digital.”  Over the past three years, the company has also added e-commerce platform AmeriCommerce, digital marketing agency Pushpoint, spending tracker Bundle and mobile startup BankOns.  Heck, just last summer, one of Google’s “Wildest Designers” left the tech giant to join the bank.

More and more banks are realizing that they have to fundamentally change to keep up with the industry’s digital transformation.  But shifting an organizational structure — and culture — to become more focused on what customers want and expect in an increasingly digital age is no simple task.  Not everyone can offer a broad spectrum of financial products and services to consumers, small businesses and commercial clients like Capital One does.  But all can certainly learn from the investments, partnerships and efforts being made by this standout institution.

In case you’re wondering…

Bank Director’s Bank Performance Scorecard uses five key metrics that measure profitability, capitalization and asset quality. ROAA and ROAE are used to gauge each bank’s profitability.  KeyCorp (NYSE: KEY), of Cleveland, ranked second, and rated highest for capital adequacy, with a TCE ratio of 9.87. In third place, U.S. Bancorp (NYSE: USB), of Minneapolis, topped the profitability metrics with a 1.55 ROAA and 13.53 ROAE. Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) and Comerica Inc. (NYSE: CMA) rounded out the top five.

Three Observations from the Bank Board Growth & Innovation Conference

Select news and notes from the first day of Bank Director’s annual growth conference at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

I mentioned this from the stage earlier today… every January, Bank Director hosts a huge event in Arizona focused on bank mergers and acquisitions.  Known as “AOBA,” our Acquire or Be Acquired conference has grown significantly over the years (this year, we welcomed some 800 to the desert).  After the banking M&A market tumbled to a 20-year low in 2009 of just 109 transactions, it has gradually recovered from the effects of the crisis. In fact, there were 288 bank and thrift deals last year, which was a considerable improvement on volume of 224 deals in 2013.  As our editorial team has noted, the buying and selling of banks has been the industry’s great game for the last couple of decades, but it’s a game that not all banks can — or want to — play.  Indeed, many bank CEOs have a preference to grow organically, and its to these growth efforts that we base today and tomorrow’s program.

Key Takeaway

To kick things off, we invited Fred Cannon, Executive Vice President & Director of Research at KBW, to share his thoughts on what constitutes franchise value. While he opened with a straight-forward equation to quantify franchise value over time — (ROE – Cost of Equity) × Market Premium — what really stuck with me during his presentation is the fact that a logo does not create franchise value, a brand does.  As he made clear, it is contextual (e.g. by industry’s served, technologies leveraged and clients maintained) and requires focus (e.g. you can’t be all things to all people).  Most notably, small and focused institutions trump small and complex ones.

Trending Topics

Anecdotally, the issues I took note of where, in no particular order:

  • Banks must be selective when integrating new technology into their systems.
  • The ability to analyze data proves fundamental to one’s ability to innovate.
  • When it comes to “data-driven decisions,” the proverbial life cycle can be thought of as (1) capture (2) store (3) analyze (4) act.
  • You don’t need a big deposit franchise to be a strong performing bank (for example, take a look at County Bancorp in Wisconsin)
  • We’ve heard this before, but size does matter… and as the size of bank’s balance sheet progresses to $10 billion, publicly traded banks generate stronger profitability and capture healthier valuations.

Picked Up Pieces

A really full day here in New Orleans, LA — with quite a few spirited discussions/debates.  Here are some of the more salient points I made note of throughout the day:

  • Selling services to large, highly regulated organization is a real challenge to many tech companies.
  • Shadow banking? Maybe its time I start calling them “Challenger banks.”
  • CB Insight’s has a blog called “unbundling the bank” — to understand the FinTech ecosystem, take a look at how they depict how “traditional banks are under attack from a number of emerging specialist startups.”
  • A few sidebar conversations about Wells Fargo’s incubator program, which the San Francisco bank began last August… interest in how the program involves direct investment in a select group of startups and six months of mentoring for their leaders.

To see what’s being written and said here in New Orleans, I invite you to follow @bankdirector, @aldominick + #BDGrow15.

Three Observations From Bank Director’s 2015 Acquire or Be Acquired Conference (Tuesday)

News and notes from the final day of Bank Director’s annual Acquire or Be Acquired conference.

Key Takeaway

As always, the one constant in life is change.  Right now, with deflation in the Eurozone (is it time to bid Greece goodbye from the EU?), declining oil prices and the sluggish growth of the U.S. economy, optimism about banking’s future is tempered by present uncertainties.  As we heard from KBW, a handful of factors have contributed to the slower pace of our economic recovery:

  • Resetting of global GDP growth expectations;
  • Europe nearing closer to deflation;
  • Japan expanding its stimulus spending;
  • Modest wage growth; and
  • Conservative consumer and small business confidence.

Nonetheless, there is a true sense of optimism permeating the conference here at The Phoenician… especially in terms of the future of community banking.

Trending Topics

A spirited half-day of conversations and presentations that ranged from capital raises to digital growth opportunities.  With respect to trending topics, I made note of the following: to drive growth, the biggest banks are exploring opportunities in three areas: (1) deals for smaller product/technology/capability based companies, (2) analytics and (3) digital; as I noted on Sunday, bank M&A deals per year (as a % of total banks) are at historically high levels — and we see banks with strong tangible book value multiples dominating the M&A space; finally, there is a widening gap in terms of buyer valuations meeting seller expectations.

Picked Up Pieces

I made note of the following this morning:

  • Google’s partnership with Lending Club came up early and sparked quite a few sidebar-type conversations;
  • New skills, better analytics is where bigger banks are struggling the most.
  • Per Josh Carter at PwC, mobile phones, wearables and integrated devices (car, shopping cart, item RFID tags) have barely scratched the surface in terms of how they will shape our lives.
  • Several presenters noted the multi-charter bank model is under pressure.
  • Looking ahead, bank stocks may struggle to outperform the broader market if unable to meet earning-per-share (EPS) expectations.
  • By extension, if the Federal Reserve does not raise interest rates, EPS estimates will be at risk for negative revisions.

I will post a recap video tomorrow morning on About That Ratio and you can use the hashtag #AOBA15 to read through the last three days tweets.  Now, it is time for me to head out to the golf course to shake off the rust at our annual golf tournament.

Be Proud Of The Past But Look To The Future

In Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge spends some quality time with the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Yet-to-Come.  Inspired by this holiday classic, and these decorative lights adorning Macy’s in New York City, today’s column mirror’s Dickens’ structure with three points on bank M&A, Capital One and Lending Club’s IPO..

Past: Three Bank M&A Deals You May Have Missed

Last week, my monthly M&A column posted on BankDirector.com (A Few Notable Deals You May Have Missed in 2014).  My premise: to successfully negotiate a merger transaction, buyers and sellers normally must bridge the gap between a number of financial, legal, accounting and social challenges. Couple this with significant barriers these days to acquiring another bank—such as gaining regulatory approval— and it’s no wonder that bigger financial deals remained scarce this year.

For as much digital ink as was spilled on BB&T Corp.’s $2.5-billion acquisition of Susquehanna Bancshares a few weeks ago, here are three deals worth noting from 2014: (1) Ford Financial plans to buy up to a 65 percent stake in Mechanics Bank, (2) Sterling Bancorp’s agreement to buy Hudson Valley and (3) United Bankshares completed acquisition of Virginia Commerce Bancorp.

Certainly, banking acquisitions like these three show a commitment to profitability and efficiency—and reflect solid asset quality and sound capital positions. There is more than one way to grow your bank and these banks are proving it.

Present: Catch the Digital Wave While You Can

A few days ago, the Washington Business Journal’s Mark Holan — @WBJHolan — wrote a very timely and relevant piece about Capital One’s Richard Fairbank, who says “the world won’t wait for banks to catch the digital wave.”  As Mark noted, Fairbank recently shared myriad thoughts at the Goldman Sachs U.S. Financial Services Conference in New York, opining:

“Banking is an inherently digital product… Money is digital. Banking is both about money and also about contracts about how money will be moved and managed. There is not a lot of physical inventory. This business is just crying out to be revolutionized and the world won’t wait.”

~Capital One’s CEO

Fairbank also cautioned the banking industry “has had a stunted and slowed evolution relative to the inherent nature of just how digital this product is” due to regulation, massive capital requirements, risk management issues, and other funding constraints.  He also said most banks are too focused on technology’s impact on physical branches or building the coolest app to satisfy customers.

Future: Why Lending Club’s IPO is Important

When it comes to financial innovation, many investors look outside the traditional banking space.  Take Lending Club, which touts itself as “America’s #1 credit marketplace, transforming banking to make it more efficient, transparent and consumer friendly. We operate at a lower cost than traditional bank loans and pass the savings on to borrowers in the form of lower rates and to investors in the form of solid returns.”  So I think their December 11th IPO on the NYSE is very important for bankers to take note of.

Much as Fairbank talks about transforming Capital One to match consumer’s digital demands, the firm stated in a pre-IPO filing that “borrowers are inadequately served by the current banking system.”  By positioning itself as the future of the lending business, it is not surprising to see entire columns dedicated to the the future of the company, as well as the future of the banking industry (see: The Death Of Banking: A LendingClub Story).  Feel free to draw your own conclusions, but certainly pay attention to upstart competitors like these.

Innovating the Capital One Way: Do YOU Think This Is The New Normal?

bd8a817e833e9bb01ddf91949fce917bAs shared in Bank Director’s current issue, peer-to-peer lenders, like San Francisco-based Lending Club, are beginning to gain traction as an alternative to banks in both the commercial and consumer loan space.

In the retail sector, well-funded technology companies like Google, Amazon and a host of others are swimming around like sharks looking to tear off chunks of revenue, particularly in the $300 billion a year payments business. These disruptors, as many consultants call them, are generally more nimble and quicker to bring new products to market.

While being “attacked by aggressive competitors from outside the industry is certainly not a new phenomenon for traditional banks,” it is fair to ask what a bank can do today. For inspiration, take a look at what Richard Fairbank, the Chairman and CEO of Capital One, had to say on a recent earnings call.

Ultimately the winners in banking will have the capabilities of a world-class software company. Most of the leverage and most of our investment is in building the foundational underpinnings and talent model of a great digital company. To succeed in a digital world (you) can’t just bolt digital capabilities onto the side of an analog business.

I thought this was particularly interesting given our editor’s take in this quarter’s issue: “if you’re a traditional banker, it’s time to recognize (if you don’t already) that a growing number of consumers — many of them young, well educated and upwardly mobile—can get along just fine without you.”  Clearly, it would be foolish for any bank CEO or director to operate with a false sense of security that their institution won’t need to adapt.

So is Capital One’s “approach” to business the way of the future for many big banks?  

Drop me a line or send me a tweet (@aldominick) and let me know what you think.  Aloha Friday!