15 Banks and Fintechs Doing it Right

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Many bank CEOs and their executive teams are looking for emerging methods, products and services to reach new customer segments to drive growth. Today, I identify fifteen banks in the United States, all under $20Bn in asset size, that are growing with the help of fintech companies.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

With the rise of many innovative, non-traditional financial services companies, leaders of financial institutions can find themselves overwhelmed when it comes to selecting the right partners.  If you are running a bank that doesn’t have multiple incubators, accelerators and skunk work projects already under way, knowing where to participate with the fintech community can prove quite the challenge.  Should it be with an upstart touting a new credit decisioning models?  What about one with a new lending model?  In the quest to become more “nimble” and responsive to consumer demands, do you partner? Refer business? Accept referrals?  The list of not-so-rhretorical questions goes on and on…

Now, quite a bit of digital ink has been spilled over the creativity and aspirations of the fintech community (and its many investors) to transform banking.  But not nearly as much for banks looking to do the same.  While the efforts of major players like Wells Fargo and Capital One garner well-deserved attention, it is my belief that for fintech companies keen to collaborate (and not compete) with banks, developing relationships with banks from $1Bn to $10Bn — there are approximately 550 — and those from $10Bn to $50Bn — there are approximately 75 — may prove as lucrative over the next few years as working with the 30 banks that have assets from $50Bn up.

With this parameter in mind, I polled a few of my team at Bank Director to compile a list of banks, all under $20Bn in asset size, that “play well” with fintechs to show that you don’t have to be the biggest of the big to benefit from this wave of new market participants.  Here, in no particular order, are fifteen banks with notable relationships and/or efforts.

  1. Eastern Bank checks in at $9.7B in asset size, and the Massachusetts-based bank stands out for bringing on some great fintech talent; notably, hiring ex-Perkstreet CEO Dan O’Malley and several of his colleagues to lead its innovation unit;
  2. California’s Fremont Bank ($2.7B) caught our eye, as the bank was a fast adopter of Apple Pay;
  3. River City Bank ($1.3B, Sacramento) has a fintech guy — Ryan Gilbert, Better Finance — on their board;
  4. The Bancorp ($4.5B) backs a lot of fintech/nonbank firms like Moven and Simple;
  5. Radius Bank (just under $1Bn) is a Boston institution with just two physical locations — but is forming alliances with fintech startups to be “everywhere;”
  6. Union Bank & Trust in Nebraska works with Betterment, an automated investing service, to offer its customers a smart, simple and easy way to invest;
  7. A real pioneer, CBW Bank ($14.5B) is a community bank in Kansas and one of the first U.S. banks to use the Ripple protocol for modern, real-time payments between the U.S. and other countries globally;
  8. In the Pacific Northwest, Washington Trust ($4B) is vocal on being tech-friendly;
  9. In Texas, First Financial ($6B) is big on mobile and being innovative — working with Mitek, they are the first regional bank to offer mobile photo bill pay);
  10. Banc of California ($6B) uses nCino to automate and standardize its commercial and SBA lending;
  11. PacWest ($16B) are all about lending to technology and fintech companies;
  12. The Bank of the Internet, BofI, is a full-service internet bank with $5 billion in assets;
  13. Everbank ($16B) plays well with Fintech while adorning the stadium of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars;
  14. Rockland Trust has a SVP of digital and payments innovation, which is unusual for a $5.6 billion dollar bank; and
  15. The $17 billion-asset First National Bank of Omaha hosts a weekend-long hackathon, a competition common in the tech world but rarely hosted by banks, to attract talent into its ranks.

By no means is this a complete list of community banks collaborating with fintechs in the U.S.  If I was to expand the list up in size, you can bet larger regional standouts like KeyBank would merit recognition for their work with companies like HelloWallet.  In the spirit of learning/sharing, who else should be added to this list?  Let me know via twitter or by leaving a comment below.

Quick Guide: Banking’s Digital Transformation (#Payments)

Developing faster payments capabilities is a critical element within the banking industry’s digital transformation.

In yesterday’s post (The 5 Corners of Technological Innovation in Financial Services), I looked at the introduction of an Innovation Group at Wells Fargo that, in the words of their CEO, “puts an even larger focus on creating the products, services, and technologies” that will allow the institution to stay competitive and allow its customers to do their banking when, where, and how they would like.

As I dug into the Wells story — which received a lot of play from the press — It strikes me that to successfully transition one’s business model, innovation teams such as this one need to work in concert with major business groups like wholesale and commercial banking, commercial real estate, trust and wealth management, and payments / consumer banking.  As I consider how banks actually operate — e.g. how work is done, the degree of automation, the pricing and design of products and underlying compensation systems — I revisited several videos from Bank Director’s annual FinTech Day @ NASDAQ.  One, of Ben Plotkin, Vice Chairman of Stifel / Executive Vice President of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, stands out, as he shares his perspective on how banks of all sizes can find success.

Ben touched on the payments space, and I too am curious to explore the role banks must play in the emerging payments ecosystem.  Here, Accenture provides valuable context as the world becomes more digital: “speed in all aspects of financial services is increasingly important. The payments ecosystem is no exception. Faster payments are taking shape across the globe—and may become industry standard.  While faster payments can enhance the customer experience and improve cash flows, it introduces a number of complexities, such as capital costs, and accounting and fraud systems impacts. In the short term, providing the impression of a near-real-time payment through memo posting and verifying the certainty of payment could be implemented sooner, and may meet expected market demand.”

Certainly, the trend toward digital money continues to gain momentum, and when it comes to the payment space, there are emerging technologies that have the potential to dominate the financial landscape (e.g. P2P & Blockchain methods).  Case-in-point, Stripe, the California-based online payments company, has raised new investments which have raised the company valuation to $5 billion.  Per a report in yesterday’s Let’s Talk Payments (h/t Brad Leimer @leimer), the funding “was led by financial giant Visa and experts believe this is a huge endorsement for Stripe. The company had previously raised a total funding of $190 million from high-profile investors including PayPal co-founders, Sequoia Capital, Box CEO Aaron Levie, Khosla Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz and others.”  As The New York Times reported, the companies’ strategic alliance will give Stripe access to Visa’s global network of issuers and acquirers.  BI Intelligence Payments Insider notes the companies will also collaborate to create online checkout solutions and buy buttons that can be plugged into developers’ websites anywhere.

How we pay, borrow and invest continues to change the way we conduct our financial payments.  It is fascinating to watch as companies like Stripe, PayPal, Dwolla, etc hustle to simplify how businesses accept payments through mobile applications while banks like Wells Fargo invest to do the same.

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.

Size Matters – and Other Banking Notes From the Bay Area

The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco
Walking up to the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco

Last week, Lexington, Virginia… this week, San Francisco, California… next week, Chicago, Illinois.  Yes, conference season is back and in full swing.  I’m not looking for sympathy; heck, for the past few days, I’ve set up shop in Nob Hill (at the sublime Ritz-Carlton) to lead our Western Peer Exchange.  Traveling like this, and spending time with a number of interesting CEOs, Chairmen, executives and board members, is why I love my job.  What follows are three observations from my time here in NorCal that I’m excited to share.

(1) On Wednesday, I took a short drive up to San Mateo to learn more about Kony, a company that specializes in meeting multi-channel application needs.  I have written about customer demands for “convenient” banking services in past posts — e.g. Know Thy Customer –and will not try to hide my interest in FinTech success stories.  Learning how their retail banking unit works with financial institutions to deliver a “unified and personalized app experience” proved an inspiring start to my trip.  Consequently, our Associate Publisher and I talked non-stop about the rapid evolution and adoption of technologies after we wrapped things up and drove back towards San Francisco.  We agreed that consumer expectations, relative to how banks should be serving them, continues to challenge many strategically. To this end, Kony may be worth a look for those curious about opportunities inherent in today’s mobile technology.  Indeed, their team will host a webinar that features our old friend Brett King to examine such possibilities.

(2) When it comes to banks, size matters.  To wit, bigger banks benefit from their ability to spread fixed costs over a larger pool of earning assets.  According to Steve Hovde, an investment banker and one of the sponsors of our event, “too big to fail banks have only gotten bigger.”  He observed that the top 15 institutions have grown by nearly 55% over the past six years.  Wells Fargo, in particular, has grown 199% since ’06.  With more than 90% of the banking companies nationwide operating with assets of less than $1 billion, it is inevitable that consolidation will be concentrated at the community bank level.  However, as yesterday’s conversations once again proved, size doesn’t always trump smarts.  I said it yesterday and will write it again today.  Our industry is no longer a big vs. small story; rather, it is a smart vs. stupid one.

(3) That said, “nobody has told banks in the northwestern U.S. that bank M&A is in the doldrums.”  According to the American Banker, two deals were announced and another terminated after the markets closed Wednesday.  Naturally, this should put pressure on banks in the region to keep buying each other.  Here in San Francisco, the one being discussed was Heritage Financial’s combination with Washington Banking Co.  According to The News Tribune, this is “very much a merger between equals, similar in size, culture and how each does business.”  Now, the impetus behind ‘strategic affiliations’ (don’t call them mergers of equals) comes down to creating value through cost cuts and wringing out efficiencies.  The thinking, at least during cocktails last night, was that deals like these happen to build value for the next few years in order to sell at higher multiples.  Certainly, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.  In a few months at our Acquire or Be Acquired conference, I anticipate it generating quite a few opinions.

Aloha Friday!

Financially Focused Friday Fun

1st stop at the Ferry Building in SF
Always my 1st stop at the Ferry Building in SF

What does my favorite, favorite, favorite purveyor of coffee have to do with banking (and payments)? I’ll do my best to connect the dots in this week’s financially focused Friday post. If you missed the last few week’s, take a spin on our way back machine, aka the search button on left.

As I do every Friday, what follows are three stories that I read/watched/heard this week. While tempted to open with a longer mention of seagulls, social media and white smoke, let me see if a picture really is worth a thousand words. This one succinctly captures the feelings that many community bankers have shared with regards to the last few year’s worth of new government regulation and scrutiny. It also sets up the first of this week’s three points:

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  • The WSJ ran an interesting piece entitled Small Banks in U.S. Hit by Rising Insurance Costs earlier this week. The premise: thousands of small U.S. banks “are feeling a financial pinch from the government’s efforts to punish executives and directors of banks that collapsed during the height of the financial crisis.” While I promise not to dwell on insurance costs or D+O liability issues today, Robin Sidel’s coverage (which I think originated at our M&A conference in January?) echoes what I’ve heard from bank executives. Namely, “the insurance squeeze is the latest headache for community banks that are still grappling with fallout from the financial crisis. Low interest rates, new regulations and tepid loan demand are pressuring profit. Many small banks would like to get out of the jam by selling themselves but can’t find buyers.”

Truth be told, I’m a bit talked out about bank M&A this week, so I won’t go down that path for point number two. Organic growth proves far more interesting — as its currently far more elusive:

  • On the same day I sat down with the founder and CEO of the Bank of Georgetown (who I think is doing a heckuva job building his bank), I had the chance to catch up with John Cantarella, President, Digital, News & Sports Group at Time Inc. Both talked about how banks are growing/changing; albeit, in much different terms. While Bank of Georgetown continues to build through commercial lending, let me share some thoughts inspired by John. In full disclosure, he recently sat down with our Chairman and agreed to speak to bank CEOs, board members and C-level execs our Growth conference in New Orleans. Subsequently, John and I talked about the focus of his presentation, “Standing Out in a Digital World,” and how he might introduce disruptive technologies and the companies bringing them to market (e.g. Simple and Square). If you’re not familiar with Square, its considered one of the hottest companies in the mobile payments space. When I hopped on their site to dig deeper, I saw that Blue Bottle Coffee Co. recently adopted Square for its point-of-sale. You should DM our Associate Publisher to find out how long she thinks it took for me to add this to today’s piece. So consider this my nod to both companies, our conference and this DC community bank. All interesting stories that really should have their own posts. Hmmm…. next week?

Finally, I do take comfort knowing a pendulum can swing only so far. While strictly my opinion, I believe too many folks within the various regulatory bodies focused on financial institutions (not hedge funds, not multi-national financial services organizations) are missing huge opportunities to contribute to — and communicate with — the banks they oversee. While I get off my soapbox, let me conclude with my third and final point from this week:

  • I saw the Comptroller of the Currency discussed community bank supervision at the Independent Community Bankers of America Annual Convention yesterday. I’m not in Las Vegas nor attending their event, so I simply hope the OCC’s lawyers didn’t totally overhaul his remarks. There are a lot of very real questions/concerns I know bankers would like addressed (e.g. Basel III, the tax benefits credit unions enjoy compared to community banks, etc.). If you were there and care to share, I’d be interested in any feedback/insight…

Aloha Friday to all!