Daily Briefing: Sunday at Acquire or Be Acquired

PHOENIX — When Bank Director first introduced our Acquire or Be Acquired Conference 25 years ago, some 15,000 banks operated in the United States. While that number has shrunk considerably — there are 5,120 banks today — the inverse holds true for the importance of this annual event. What follows are two short videos from our first day in the desert that surface a few key ideas shared with our 1,300+ attendees.

Three Interesting Stats:

  1. Of the 5,120 banks in the U.S., 4,631 are under $1Bn in asset size and 489 are over that amount.
  2. Two years ago, we talked about the sweet spot of banking being banks between $5B and $10B in asset size; now, its those with assets of $50B+.
  3. Digital channels drive 35% of primary banking relationship moves, while branches drive only 26%.

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  • Whether you are able to join us in person or are simply interested in following the conference conversations via our social channels, I invite you to follow @AlDominick @BankDirector and @Fin_X_Tech on Twitter. Search & follow #AOBA19 to see what is being shared with and by our attendees.
  • Everything You Need to Know About 2019’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference

    WASHINGTON, DC — So, there’s this guy named Warren Buffet who has a few thoughts on business. This Nebraska-based investor once opined “I’d rather pay a fair price for a wonderful company than a wonderful price for a fair company.”  Quite sagacious — and appropriate to share in advance of our 25th annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference which takes place January 27-29 at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge in Arizona.

    Since we last hit the desert, several regional banks have been active in the M&A market — and may continue to look for merger opportunities to build up scale. In addition, we’ve seen how tax reform had a big impact on the industry, with many making investments to grow their business.

    Now, with the government shutdown straining our economy, big banks beating community banks on the digital front and shifting team & cultural dynamics, we have a lot of ground to cover over two-and-a-half days. Interested to see what we have planned? Take a look at the full agenda.

    While I am excited to reconnect with quite a few folks, I am particularly interested in a number of strategic issues that will be discussed. For instance:

    1. Since the stock market doesn’t always reward longer-term thinking, what does a bank’s CEO needs to focus on, especially with many stocks being valued as if a recession is imminent;
    2. How can regional and local banks boost their deposits given the biggest banks 2018 deposit gather successes;
    3. How laggards to the digital movement can catch up with their peers? (One suggestion: take a look at Finxact, a “Tesla-like” financial technology company that offers an innovative, open-core banking platform. I believe it will quickly become a legitimate challenger to FIS, Jack Henry and Fiserv);
    4. The M&A outlook for 2019;
    5. How institutions can gain/acquire/rent the skills needed to vet and negotiate with potential FinTech partners;
    6. When we might see IPOs — realizing the SEC has to re-open before this occurs; and
    7. How many new bank applications will be approved by the FDIC, realizing that 14 were last year.

    For those joining us in Arizona, I encourage men to bring a sports coat or a jacket for the evenings as we plan to be outside for our receptions and the desert quickly cools off once the sun sets. In addition, the rumors of people being in their seats at 7:15 – 7:30 on Sunday morning? 100% true. We start at 7:45 AM and there are quite a few pictures from last January’s event if you need visual proof.

    Finally, the digital materials for the conference can be found on BankDirector.com. Once you register on-site, you’ll be given a passcode to access the materials that can be used throughout the event.

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    Whether you are able to join us in person or are simply interested in following the conference conversations via our social channels, I invite you to follow @AlDominick @BankDirector and @Fin_X_Tech on Twitter. Search & follow #AOBA19 to see what is being shared with and by our attendees. If you are going to be with us in Arizona and we’re not already connected here on LinkedIn, drop me a note and let’s fix that.

    On the Horizon for Bank CEOs, Their Leadership Teams and Boards

    WASHINGTON, DC — Can community banks out-compete JP Morgan, BofA and Wells Fargo?  This is the elephant in the room awaiting 853 bank executives and board members — representing 432 Banks — at our upcoming Acquire or Be Acquired Conference.  The lights don’t officially come up on our 25th annual event at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge until Sunday, January 27.  So in advance, three big questions I anticipate fielding in the desert.

    Does 2019 Become the Year of BigTech?

    As noted by H2 Ventures and KPMG, Amazon is providing payment services and loans to merchants on its platform, while Facebook recently secured an electronic money licence in Ireland.  Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent have become dominant operators in China’s $5.5 trillion payments industry.  Add in Fiserv’s recent $22B acquisition of First Data and Plaid’s of Quovo and we might be seeing the start of a consolidation trend in the financial technology sector.  Will such investments and tie-ups draw the attention of big technology companies to the financial services industry?

    Has the window to sell your bank already closed?

    When I heard the rumor that BBVA might be buying UK-based Atom Bank — one of the proverbial European challenger banks — I started to look at acquisition trends here in the U.S.  Case-in-point, we put together the following graphic in December for BankDirector.com

    ma-infographic-final_1

    We know that some community banks have been holding out hopes of higher pricing multiples or for a strategic partner.  These institutions might find the window of opportunity to stage an exit isn’t as open as it was just a few years ago. This doesn’t mean the window has shut — but I do think an honest assessment of what’s realistic, at the board level, is appropriate.

    Wither the bond market?

    A NY Times op-ed piece  posits that the bond market reveals growing cracks in the financial system.  Authored by Sheila Bair, the former chairwoman of the FDIC, and Gaurav Vasisht, director of financial regulation at the Volcker Alliance, it warns that “regulators are not doing enough to make sure that banks are prepared.”  While the duo calls for thicker capital cushions for big banks and tighter leveraged loan underwriting standards, I wonder how executives joining us in Arizona feel about this potential threat to our economy?
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    As the premier bank M&A event for bank CEOs, senior management and board members, Bank Director’s 25th annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference brings together key bank leaders from across the country to explore merger & acquisition strategies and financial growth opportunities. If you’re joining us in the desert, I’ll share a few FYIs later this week. If you’re unable to join us in Phoenix, AZ, I’ll be tweeting from @aldominick and using #AOBA19 when sharing on social platforms like LinkedIn.

    3 Trends (and 3 Issues) Every Bank’s Board Needs To Consider

    Quickly:

    • The challenges faced by financial institutions today are as numerous as they are nuanced. Be it data security, emerging technology, fraud, crisis management and/or the effectiveness of internal controls, I opened the 12th annual Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference by laying out a number of key governance, risk and compliance issues and trends.

    CHICAGO — While a sophomore at Washington & Lee University, a professor loudly (and unexpectedly) chastised a close friend of mine for stating the obvious. With a wry laugh, he thanked my classmate “for crashing through an open door.” Snark aside, his criticism became a rallying cry for me to pause and dive deeper into apparently simple questions or issues.

    Audit16x9

    I shared this anecdote with some 400 attendees earlier today; indeed, I teed up Bank Director’s annual program by reminding everyone from the main stage that:

    1. We’re late in the economic cycle;
    2. Rates are rising; and
    3. Pressure on lending spreads remains intense.

    Given the composition of this year’s audience, I acknowledged the obvious nature of these three points. I did so, however, in order to surface three trends we felt all here should have on their radar.  I followed that up with three emerging issues to make note of.

    TREND #1:
    Big banks continue to roll-out exceptional customer-facing technology.

    Wells Fargo has been kicked around a lot in the press this year, but to see how big banks continue to pile up retail banking wins, take a look at Greenhouse by Wells Fargo, their app designed to attract younger customers to banking.

    TREND #2:
    Traditional core IT providers — Fiserv, Jack Henry & FIS — are under fire.

    As traditional players move towards digital businesses, new players continue to emerge to help traditional banks become more nimble, flexible and competitive.  Here, FinXact and Nymbus provide two good examples of legitimate challengers to legacy cores.

    TREND #3:
    Amazon lurks as the game changer.

    Community banker’s fear Amazon’s potential entry into this market; according to Promontory Interfinancial Network’s recent business outlook, it is their greatest threat.

    In addition to these trends, I surfaced three immediate issues that banks must tackle

    ISSUE #1:
    Big banks attract new deposits at a much faster pace than banks with less than $1 billion assets.

    If small banks can’t easily and efficiently attract deposits, they basically have no future. ‘Nuf said.

    ISSUE #2: 
Bank boards need to know if they want to buy, sell or grow independently.

    In a recent newsletter, Tom Brown of Second Curve Capital opined that “if you have less than $5 billion in assets, an efficiency ratio north of 65%, deposit costs above 60 basis points, and earn a return on equity in the single digits, this really is time to give some thought to selling.”  As I shared on LinkedIn yesterday, the 3 biggest bank M&A deals of the year took place in May: Fifth Third Bancorp’s $4.6 billion purchase of MB Financial, Cadence Bancorp’s $1.3 billion acquisition of State Bank Financial and Independent Bank Group’s $1 billion agreement to buy Guaranty Bancorp. 
 I don’t see the pace of consolidation slowing any time soon — and know that banks need to ask if they want (and can) be buyers or sellers.

    ISSUE #3:
    The risk of data breaches across industries continues to increase.

    Be it risk management, internal control or third-party security considerations, every aspect of an institution is susceptible to a data breach — and managing these threats and identifying appropriate solutions takes a village that includes the most senior leaders of an organization.

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    Just as banks need to develop their audit and risk capabilities, skills and talents, so too do officers and directors have both an opportunity and the responsibility to stay abreast of various trends and topics.  Bank Director’s event continues tomorrow with some fascinating presentations. To see what’s been shared already, take a look at Twitter, where I’m tweeting using @aldominick and #BDAudit18.

    Do You Know These 3 Cs of Banking?

    Quickly:

    • When it comes to talk about bank mergers and acquisitions, It has been written that the questions rarely change — but the conversations prove irresistible.

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

    PHOENIX, AZ — If you’re with us here at the Arizona Biltmore for Bank Director’s annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference, you’ve heard that banks with low‐cost core deposits continue to attract interest from acquirers.  So as banks wrestle with increased funding costs, that observation sparked an idea about what constitutes the “three Cs” of banking today:

    1. Compliance
    2. Cost Control
    3. Consolidation

    For instance, having good on-going relations with one’s regulators is hugely important. In fact, I heard several prominent attorneys share that regulatory risk remains the greatest obstacle to completing an M&A deal.  So having the bank in position to act quickly and confidently when an opportunity arises is a major advantage in today’s competitive M&A environment.  I take this to mean no enforcement actions, satisfactory CRA, good HCR results, etc.

    As was discussed yesterday afternoon, when an acquirer can present a credible narrative that a potential deal is consistent with a well-considered strategy — and that the company has the infrastructure appropriate to the new organization, you find a well received merger.

    In terms of consolidation, we saw a number of presentations note the 261 bank M&A deals, worth an aggregate $26.38 billion, announced in 2017.  As a point of reference, 241 deals were announced — worth an aggregate $26.79 billion — in 2016.  According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, the median deal value-to-tangible common equity ratio climbed significantly in 2017 to 160.6%, compared to 130.6% for 2016.  Last December alone, 32 deals worth a combined $1.84 billion were announced and the median deal value-to-tangible common equity ratio was 156.5%.

    Throughout the fourth quarter, there were 74 bank deals announced in the US, which was the most active quarter since 83 deals were announced in the fourth quarter of 2015. However, last quarter’s $4.4 billion aggregate deal value was the lowest since the third quarter of 2015, which totaled $3.43 billion.

    These are by no means the only Cs in banking.  Credit, core technology providers, (tax) cuts… all, huge issues.  So along these lines, I made note of a few more issues for buyers, for sellers — and for those wishing to remain independent.  Take a look:

    If you are interested in following the final day of the conference via our social channels, I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector, or search #AOBA18 to see what is being shared with (and by) our nearly 1,200 attendees.

    10 Questions I Plan To Ask During Acquire Or Be Acquired

    Quickly:

    • Despite improving economic conditions, the business of banking remains difficult.

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

    PHOENIX, AZ — For all the talk of bank consolidation, there are still 5,700+ banks in the United States.  But let’s not kid ourselves.  For many community banks today, earnings pressures + regulatory and compliance costs + the continued impact of technology = a recurring challenge.

    While the number of banks in business will inevitably shrink over the next 10 years — perhaps being cut in half — I remain bullish on the overall future of this industry. If December’s tax reform spurs capital spending and job creation by small- and medium-sized businesses, many of the banks joining us here in Arizona stand to benefit. But will the recent tax cut induce companies to invest more than they already planned to? This is but one of a number of questions I look forward to asking on stage through the first day of Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference.

    Below, ten more questions I anticipate asking:

    1. Are FinTechs the industry’s new de novos?
    2. What does it mean that the banking world is deposit rich yet asset poor?
    3. Why are certain credit unions thinking about about buying banks?
    4. In terms of technology spending levels, where are dollars being earmarked and/or spent?
    5. With respect to small business lending, do credit unions or FinTechs pose a more immediate challenge to community banks?
    6. What is an appropriate efficiency ratio for a bank today?
    7. Will big M&A buyers get back in the game this year?
    8. What are some of the critical items in due diligence that are under appreciated?
    9. What does an activist investor look for in a bank?
    10. Is voice recognition the next huge source of growth for banks?

    We have an exciting — and full day — coming up at the Arizona Biltmore. To keep track of the conversations via Twitter, I invite you to follow @AlDominick @BankDirector and @Fin_X_Tech.  In addition, to see all that is shared with (and by) our attendees, we’re using the conference hashtag #AOBA18.

    Trending at Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference

    #AOBA17 conference intel (Sunday)
    By Al Dominick, CEO of Bank Director | @aldominick

    Quickly

    • We could see over 200 merger transactions despite a declining number of banks in 2017.
    • There is a clear trend on M&A pricing multiples being driven by bank profitability and asset quality.
    • For banks, too little capital is not the only issue — too much capital and the inability to produce sufficient returns on capital is equally problematic.

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    What is my bank worth?  How will the changing tax environment affect bank values?  When is the right time to buy (or sell) a bank?  What are the most significant factors affecting bank value?  These were just some of the questions surfaced this morning here in Arizona.  In this video recap of Sunday morning’s presentations at Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference, I share a few observations about the conversations taking place around issues such as these.

    Given the focus of this three-day event, I anticipate many subsequent presentations building off of these points.  For those interested in issues such as these, I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector and its @Fin_X_Tech platform, and search & follow #AOBA17 to see what is being shared with (and by) our attendees.

    Eagerly Anticipating Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference

    In the face of this month’s political transitions, bank executives and their boards face some major issues without clear answers.  For instance, many continue to speculate on the Fed’s interest rate hikes while others pontificate on potential regulatory changes (hello CFPB).  While convenient to cite November’s election results, keep in mind that we, as an industry, were already in a period of significant transformation.  Still, it’s a titanic-sized understatement to say Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s surprise victory shook up the world. 

    While change remains a constant in life, I am personally and professionally excited to return to the Arizona desert later this month for a great tradition: Bank Director’s annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference.  With a record turnout joining us at “AOBA,” I’ve begun to assess various business models of institutions I know will be represented.  For instance, those categorized by:

    • Organic Growth vs. Acquisitive Growth;
    • Branch Light Model vs. Traditional Models; and
    • CRE Focused Lenders vs. C&I Focused Lenders.

    I am finding there are multiple dimensions to such business structures — and I anticipate conversations later this month will help me to better understand how the market values such companies.

    As AOBA helps participants to explore their financial growth options, I am keen to hear perspectives on the “right size” of a bank today — especially if certain asset-based constraints (think $10B, $50B) are removed.  Given a number of recent conversations, I expect increased IPOs and M&A activity in the banking space and look forward to hearing the opinions of others.

    Finally, with the advance of digital services, I’m curious how technology trends might impact bank M&A, and more broadly, banking as a whole given the impact on branch networks.  Indeed, as branches become less important, they become less valuable… which impacts deal valuations and pricing going forward.

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    Between now and the start of the conference, I intend to share a whole lot more about Bank Director’s 23rd annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference on this site, on LinkedIn and via Twitter. If you’re curious to keep track, I invite you to subscribe to this blog, and follow me on twitter where I’m @aldominick and using #AOBA17.

    The #1 Reason That Potential Buyers and Sellers Walk Away From a Bank M&A Deal

    According to Bank Director’s 2017 M&A Survey, price is the top reason that potential buyers and sellers have walked away from a deal in the past three years.

    With the final days of November upon us, we are a mere 61 days away from hosting Bank Director’s annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference.  This three-day event explores the various financial growth options available to a bank’s CEO, executives and board members; accordingly, I thought to share some highlights from our just-released Bank M&A Survey that resonate with this audience.

    This research project — sponsored by Crowe Horwath LLP and led by our talented Emily McCormick — reflects the opinions of 200+ CEOs, CFOs, Chairmen and directors of U.S. banks.  As Rick Childs, a partner at Crowe, and someone I respect for his opinions and experiences shares, “good markets and good lending teams are the keys for many acquirers, and are the starting point for their analysis of potential bank partners.”  While we cover a lot of ground with this survey, below are five points that stood out to me:

    • An increasing number of respondents feel that the current environment for bank M&A is stagnant or less active: 45% indicate that the environment is more favorable for deals, down 17 points from last year’s survey.
    • 46% indicate that their institution is likely or very likely to purchase another bank by the end of 2017.
    • 25% report that they’re open to selling the bank, considering a sale or actively seeking an acquirer. Of these potential sellers, 54% cite regulatory costs as the reason they would sell the bank, followed by shareholder demand for liquidity (48%) and limited growth opportunities (39%).
    • Price, at 38%, followed by cultural compatibility, at 26%, remain the two greatest challenges faced by boards as they consider potential acquisitions. Price is identified as the top reason that potential buyers and sellers have walked away from a deal in the past three years.
    • 45% report that they are seeing a deterioration in loan underwriting standards within the industry, leading to possible credit quality issues in the future.

    Driven by shareholder pressures in a low-growth and highly regulated environment, some community banks could be seeking an exit in the near future. But which banks are positioned to get the best price in today’s market?  This survey provides potential answers to that question — foreshadowing certain conversations I’m sure will occur in January during our 23rd annual Acquire or Be Acquired conference.

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    My thanks to Rick and his colleagues at Crowe for their continued support of this research project.  To see past year’s results — and other board-level research reports we’ve shared — I invite you to take a look at the free-to-access research section on BankDirector.com

    Bank Director’s 2017 Acquire or Be Acquired Conference

    Sunday, January 29th, may seem like quite a ways off… but not for my team at Bank Director.  Indeed, we are full-steam ahead as we prepare to host the premier banking event for CEOs, senior management and board members: our Acquire or Be Acquired Conference.  AOBA continues to draw key leaders together in order to explore financial growth options; in 2017, we host this three-day program at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge in Phoenix, AZ.

    Each month, Tim Melvin shares nuanced observations on the banking space in his Community Bank Investor Newsletter.  In his October 2016 edition, he points out that “scale and earnings growth are still among the main drivers of M&A activity, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.”  Clearly, the need and desire to grow exists at virtually every organization, something I’ve picked up on while talking with bank CEOs about next January’s event.

    2016 AOBA Demographics c:o Bank Director and Al Dominick

    As you can see from this image, our 22nd annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference brought together key leaders from across the country.  I addition to the 590+ bankers in attendance, an additional 300+ executives from leading professional services and product companies joined us.  During (and following) our time in the desert, I shared various observations on this site (e.g. Five Reasons Why Banks Might Consider Selling in 2016 and Community and Regional Banks are Crucial to the Vibrancy of Our Communities).  In the simplest of terms, I left Arizona with a sense that more bank boards and their management teams were seriously considering M&A as a growth plan than perhaps in previous years — a view formed by the continued margin pressure that banks have been operating under for the last several years.

    Ironically, there is a growing likelihood that the bank M&A market in 2016 will see declines in both deal volume and pricing compared to the previous two years, even as the industry’s underlying fundamentals remain relatively unchanged.  Nonetheless, registration patterns for 2017 suggest an increase in bank executive’s appetites to explore a merger, to prepare for an acquisition, to grow loans, to capturing efficiencies & managing capital to partnering with fintech companies (*all topics that will be covered in ’17).  So for those of you looking to refine and/or enhance your growth playbook, I invite you to review the agenda for January’s program that we just updated on BankDirector.com.

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    FWIW: we have welcomed over 5,000 CEOs, Chairmen and members of a bank’s board to this conference over the years, and we anticipate 2017 will be the biggest ever – with over 900 attendees focused on the future of their banks.  Most come with one or more officers of their bank and yes, many bring their spouses.

    What’s Happening at Acquire or Be Acquired

    Throughout the first day of Bank Director’s 22nd annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference, I found quite a few presentations focused on the emergence of mid-sized regional banks that are growing through the consolidation of smaller banks.  Clearly, mergers & acquisitions provide an avenue for some banks to drive improved operating leverage, earnings, efficiency and scale.  At the same time, the pressures prompting larger banks to innovate — sluggish loan demand, depressed revenue, higher compliance costs — are the same ones forcing smaller banks to pursue a sale.

    By Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

    For those unfamiliar with “AOBA,” this annual event explores issues like the one mentioned above.  Since the conference kicked off at 8 AM on a Sunday, this morning’s post shares three short video recaps from my time at the Arizona Biltmore followed by links to recent posts specific to this conference.

    In addition to these videos, below are links to four of my posts specific to the event:

    If these types of conversations interest you, take a look at what we’re sharing on BankDirector.com.  Additionally, I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector, and search & follow #AOBA16 to see what is being shared with (and by) the 930 men & women in attendance.

    Five Reasons Why Banks Might Consider Selling in 2016

    You might think every bank CEO I meet wants to talk about buying another institution; truth-be-told, some recognize that tying up with another makes a lot of sense.  So this post looks at why now may be the right time for a bank’s CEO and board to consider a sale.  It plays off the idea that in many markets, organic growth options are limited and times are tough for banks, especially those under $1Bn in asset size.

    By Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

    Over the past three years, a number of bank executives and board members have struggled with whether to buy or sell their bank — or pursue growth independently.  Over the same time, Bank Director has welcomed more than 1,300 bankers — from more than 500 financial institutions — to our annual M&A conference to explore their short- and long-term options.

    This year, those numbers go up in a BIG way. Indeed, we have 600 bankers from 300+ banks joining us at the Arizona Biltmore for “AOBA” this upcoming Sunday through Tuesday.  To me, this signals that more potential buyers & sellers are getting off the sidelines and into the bank merger and acquisition game.  So in advance of Bank Director’s 22nd annual conference, here are five challenges that a bank’s CEO and board might want to consider.

    • Peer-to-peer lenders, credit unions and some — not all — FinTech startups either are (or will be) fierce competitors to community banks.  In addition, non-bank giants in technology, retail, media, entertainment and telecom are making noise about entering banking.
    • When margins decline, bankers try to compensate by improving operational efficiencies.  While slow growth + strong cost controls may allow for short term survival, such an equation doesn’t bode well for the long-term viability of many institutions where investors expect more significant gains.
    • The pressures prompting larger banks to innovate — sluggish loan demand, depressed revenue, higher compliance costs — are the same ones that will continue to force smaller banks to pursue a sale.
    • Let’s face it: the typical bond between a bank and a customer is is not personal nor very strong and the absence of real customer loyalty undermines the traditional business model most banks operate from (*and yes, I know that banks with dedicated customer bases enjoy significant advantages over any potential competitors. But let’s be honest about how dedicated such customers really are).
    • Finally, at many community banks, older management teams and a dearth of local talent mean there may be no one to hand over the reins to in the coming years.

    Now, it has been said that business is not about longevity, it is about relevance.  So as Bank Director’s team continues to gear up for this year’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference, these five questions merit serious conversation and consideration both leading up to, and at, our 22nd annual event. For those not able to join us — but interested in following conversations such as these — I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector, and search & follow #AOBA16 to see what is being shared by (and with) our attendees.