How A Cat Named Jackson Ties Into the Biggest Tech IPO in 15 Years

As we wind down the year, I’m taking a look back on the biggest tech IPO of 2020.

WASHINGTON, DC — I first ventured into nCino‘s Wilmington, NC headquarters when the pioneer in cloud banking and digital transformation solutions employed less than ten people. Today, that number exceeds 1,000. Since that first flight into ILM, I have met a number of their senior team, enjoyed myself at their annual nSight conferences and heard how cloud-based companies like theirs appeal to bank executives and their boards.

Their employment growth parallels the success of their business, one that transitioned from a private company to a public one this summer. As you can see, their IPO (code-named “Project Jackson”) made it on the cover of Bank Director magazine this summer.

I was delighted that our editorial team chose both the story name, and cover art, based on the inspiration behind “Project Jackson.” In addition, proud that we shed light on a much bigger story; namely, how the Covid-19 pandemic impacts the process of going public.

As an early New Years gift, I took this out from behind the BankDirector.com paywall and share the unabridged article, authored by John Maxfield, below.

Project Jackson

Nobody at nCino slept well the night of July 13, 2020. The company, a pioneer of cloud-based services for financial institutions, was going public the next day. Never before had the spotlight shone so intensely on the rapidly growing technology company based in Wilmington, North Carolina. It was a moment of truth. Its leadership team and employees had spent almost a decade building the company — now investors would judge it over the course of a single day. Going public is always a gamble, but never more so than in a global pandemic.

Dory Weiss woke up early the next morning. The 41-year-old vice president of engineering at nCino was scrambling to upload photos onto a mobile app. The app would broadcast images taken by nCino employees onto Nasdaq’s seven-story monitor in Times Square. What better way to mark the occasion, Weiss thought, than a picture of her cats with an nCino-themed pinata that a colleague gave her for Cinco de Mayo? There was only one problem. “Getting cats to do anything you want them to do is a fool’s errand,” Weiss laments. “So there was this laughably bad photograph of the cats and my partner, Katie, trying to stage them.”

Similar scenes were unfolding in hundreds of homes across Wilmington and around the world. Over 900 nCino employees in 12 countries uploaded more than 6,000 photos that morning. They then spent hours watching a livestream of Nasdaq’s giant monitor as it cycled through the images.

Weiss arrived at nCino’s headquarters around 8 a.m. Hundreds of her colleagues would have done the same, but for the social-distancing restrictions enacted to slow the spread of Covid-19. The few dozen who showed up that morning planted themselves in a pair of common areas on the second and third floors, with the rest patched in remotely.

Everyone was watching CNBC.

“There’s an IPO today,” announced David Faber, co-anchor of CNBC’s morning show, Squawk on the Street. “nCino, N-C-N-O. Cloud software for financial institutions — fintech.”

“I want that,” co-anchor and Mad Money host Jim Cramer responded. “What is it? nCino?”

“Yeah. N-C-N-O,” Faber repeated.

“Done. I want 10%.”

After pricing at $31 per share the night before, nCino’s stock opened for trading at $71 two minutes before noon. People erupted into cheers. By the end of the day, nCino’s stock closed at $91.59, good for a 195% surge on its first day as a public company. Only one other technology company in the past 20 years — China’s search engine giant, Baidu, which debuted in 2005 — performed better.

Had this been the height of the tech bubble in early 2000, no one would have been surprised. But this was two weeks after the close of the worst economic quarter in the United States since the Great Depression. Nearly a third of economic output had vanished. Four months earlier, 6.9 million people filed for unemployment benefits in a single week. How did nCino’s share price nearly triple in this environment? And how did its executives, employees and advisors navigate the intricacies of filing an initial public offering — from securing regulatory approval, to enticing investors, to actually listing on the exchange — when they couldn’t meet with each other, let alone investors, in person?

The story of nCino’s IPO — code-named “Project Jackson,” after CEO Pierre Naudé’s cat, which was named after the nCino employee, Reid Jackson, whose car it was found under one day in the company’s parking lot — is compelling on its own. Yet, it also sheds light on a bigger story about how the process of going public may have been permanently altered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The journey to become a publicly traded company started for nCino at a meeting on the 27th floor of Bank of America Corp.’s building in midtown Manhattan on Sept. 24, 2019. The nation’s second largest bank by assets was acting as its lead underwriter; it’s also an nCino client. “We sat down, talked about the company and mapped out the process, working backward from when we wanted to go public,” recalls Jonathan Rowe, chief marketing officer of nCino.

The original plan was to debut in late May. That way, nCino could benefit from the results of its latest fiscal year, which would close on Jan. 31, yet still beat the summer lull when traders and portfolio managers flee New York City for places like the Hamptons.

The biggest undertaking at that stage was drafting the S-1, the document submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission for an IPO. In nCino’s case, its S-1 ran 322 pages, densely packed with legalese, risk factors, an explanation of the business and financial statements for the preceding three years. “Drafting the S-1 is an incredibly involved process,” says nCino’s chief corporate development and legal officer, Greg Orenstein, who took the lead on the process. “Essentially, we are describing over eight years’ worth of work, product development, innovation and customer success in one document for investors to use to decide whether to invest in our company.” Hours were spent parsing the simplest terms, like how to distinguish between banks that were customers of nCino, and customers of those banks — nCino has “customers,” it decided; its bank customers have “clients.”

Everything proceeded like clockwork in the two months after nCino confidentially filed its S-1 on the Thursday before Christmas 2019. Its IPO working group responded to questions and addressed requested edits to the document from the SEC. Its financial team closed the books on the 2020 fiscal year. And its executives and advisors began preparing the presentation they would use on its roadshow, a grueling two weeks spent flying around the country pitching the company’s stock to institutional investors.

Then Covid-19 struck.

“We were moving along as the virus spread around the country, then the markets started getting hit,” recalls David Rudow, nCino’s chief financial officer. “The speed at which the stock market declined was very concerning. To me, it’s like, ‘The market is discounting some really bad news.’”

By mid-March, the stock market was in freefall. The S&P 500 dropped 9.5% on March 12 — the sixth worst drop in the history of the index. Four days later, it tumbled 12% — the biggest single-day decline since Black Monday on Oct. 19, 1987. All told, the S&P 500 had lost 38% of its value by then. Meanwhile, the Chicago Board Options Exchange’s Volatility Index, or VIX, a measure of expected future stock market volatility, spiked by a factor of five — exceeded in recent years only in the immediate wake of Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy in 2008.

“The arrival of the pandemic and market volatility was really an opportunity to sit back and try to figure out what was going to happen,” says Martin Wellington, managing partner at Sidley Austin’s office in Palo Alto, California, who served as nCino’s outside counsel in the IPO process. “I’ve done IPOs and lots of other capital markets transactions in the midst of market volatility, but the thing that made this fundamentally different was the inability to have physical interactions with people.”

By late March, Rudow says, it became a foregone conclusion. “We said, ‘You know what? We’re just going to hold off.’”

The decision to delay the IPO fell to nCino’s CEO, Naudé, a distinguished-looking South African who’s built like a rugby player and speaks with an Afrikaans accent.

Sharing the stage with Frank Sorrentino (CEO of ConnectOne Bank) and Pierre Naudé at Experience FinXTech

The 61-year-old executive grew up as one of five children of a well-to-do farmer in Worcester, South Africa. From an early age, he fit the psychological profile of an entrepreneur, exhibiting a restless disdain for authority and an appetite for competition. “I always struggled with authority over me, people trying to tell me what to do,” he says. Despite this, Naudé served an obligatory year in the South African military after graduating from high school. He spent three months in basic training and two months in guerrilla warfare training before returning to his hometown for the last seven months to effectively serve as a beat cop. “Nothing ever happened,” he says. “If I think back, still to this day, I think we were as useless as you possibly could get.”

A turning point came after Naudé finished his military service. “I sat back and said, ‘What am I going to do now?’” he recalls. “I literally did not have a plan.” So he applied for a job at a bank — Boland Bank, the equivalent of a regional bank in the United States. He spent the next few months learning how to program, and then the following eight years doing just that. One of Boland’s claims to fame during Naudé’s time at the bank, and a project he was intimately involved in, was stringing together the first ATM network in South Africa. “We wrote lots of code, wrote the core, wrote teller systems, wrote deposit systems, a loan system, et cetera,” Naudé says.

After traveling to the United States to train and scout technology for Boland, Naudé immigrated with his wife and infant daughter to America in 1987. He moved first to Philadelphia, where he worked as a consultant. He then moved to Iowa, working while going to school at Upper Iowa University, before a former colleague from Boland recruited him to work at S1 Corp., a software development company near Atlanta. It was at S1, which specialized in payment processing and financial services software, that Naudé made the connections that later brought him to nCino.

Naudé is a popular leader by all accounts. “Why do I always tear up when this man talks,” commented an nCino employee in an internal chat log provided to the author from a company “all-hands” meeting in April 2020. “For those of you who are starting on your career paths and are fortunate enough to be part of the nCino family,” wrote another, “embrace it and appreciate it. There is no other company that even comes close in culture to what we have here.”

This is intentional. “The thing I want to make sure you understand is that we have never paid a consultant to come and tell us about culture and values and those things,” Naudé says. “I think the benefit of being 30 years old, coming to America, starting at the bottom again, and working for a variety of managers — that experience gave me a deep understanding of the value of people. And so when we started the company, literally after about six months, we probably had 20 people, I thought, ‘Well, it’s probably time to get our values together.’ So I drew them up. They’re the same values that drive us today.”

Among Naudé’s colleagues at nCino, Orenstein probably knows him best. “I’ve been fortunate to know Pierre for 15 years and I consider him a dear friend,” says Orenstein, who had previously worked with Naudé at S1. “Pierre is just Pierre. There’s no pretending to be someone he’s not. He’s just an extremely transparent person, and as you spend time with him, you pick up on that.”

While Naudé decided in early March to delay nCino’s IPO, the project’s working group of executives, legal advisors and investment bankers continued laboring behind the scenes. It was never a matter of if nCino would go public, only a matter of when. One question looming over them was whether it was even possible to pull off an IPO in a pandemic, given that they wouldn’t be able to meet prospective investors in person.

It was proposed in early April that they start testing the waters with investors over video-conferencing platforms like Zoom Video Communications and BlueJeans by Verizon. The initial reaction, Wellington recalls, was, “We’ll never do that. Let’s just wait for this to pass, and then in May, when we can get back together with people, we’ll go around and do the usual testing-the-waters meetings.” Within weeks, however, their perspective had shifted. “We were like, ‘Okay, we’re doing this virtually,’” says Wellington, who advises regularly on IPOs. “The bankers were saying, ‘Yeah, we’ve done one or two, and it seems to work pretty well. But of course, we’ll wait for this to pass before we can do the roadshow, because no one would ever invest in an IPO without being able to meet the management team in person.’”

After the federal government declared the Covid-19 pandemic a national emergency on March 12, the IPO market froze. Not a single company went public for the rest of the month, compared to nine IPOs over the same period in 2019. The market started thawing in April, with new listings slowly trickling out. The pace picked up in May, with seven IPOs in the first week alone. But the breakthrough moment came on May 21.

That day, shares of direct-to-consumer insurance company SelectQuote climbed 35% on its first day of trading. That opened the floodgates. Thirty-seven companies went public in June, nearly a dozen more than in June 2019. Among those was ZoomInfo Technologies, which closed 62% higher in its debut. Far from being an IPO apocalypse, 2020 had become a bonanza.

“We thought in late March and early April that you would never get an IPO done in this market,” Wellington says. “But not only were IPOs getting done, the receptivity to them was surprising, frankly.”

The Federal Reserve is largely to thank for this. By March 15, it had cut the federal funds rate to 0%. That same day, it announced a round of quantitative easing, an unconventional monetary policy tool first deployed in the financial crisis of 2008-09 that floods capital markets with liquidity in order to drive down long-term interest rates. Over the next two and a half months, the Fed purchased $2.8 trillion worth of government bonds and other long-term securities. This lowered bond yields and triggered a deluge of capital into equities — especially technology stocks. Throughout the following four months, despite a steep drop in economic activity and sharp increase in unemployment, the S&P 500 recovered most of its lost ground, led by the likes of Amazon.com, Microsoft Corp. and Apple.

These events coincided with auspicious developments within nCino, too. On May 18, it completed its first-quarter review, capturing the company’s success with the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan program administered by the Small Business Administration designed to help small businesses survive the pandemic. All told, banks originated over $50 billion in PPP loans using nCino’s cloud-based Bank Operating System. New customers purchased its software; existing customers subscribed to new services. The coronavirus crisis had become a proving ground for nCino.

The moment was ripe, nCino’s executives concluded. They decided to pull the trigger after Memorial Day. The company would go public in mid-July.

We wanted to be one of the companies that helped open the IPO market,” Rowe explains. “We’ve always seen ourselves as a leader in cloud banking, so we brought that same mentality to the IPO process — not only from the perspective of the financial services industry, but for the economy overall.”

The success of nCino through the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who had followed the company. Amongst its founding software benefits, as it incubated within Live Oak Bancshares in 2010, was facilitating remote work.

The Wilmington-based bank specialized in originating SBA loans to veterinarians, which minimized credit risk because the loans were backed by the government. But to generate enough scale to earn a respectable profit, the strategy had to expand nationwide. In lieu of branches, Live Oak bought a pair of corporate jets — “branches in the sky” — to shuttle loan officers around the country winning business. There was just one catch. To make the vision a reality, the bank needed software that enabled its loan officers to remotely complete loan files from end to end.

Of the millions of lines of code embedded in nCino’s software, Nathan Snell wrote the first one. Even on a video conference call, the 34-year-old chief innovation officer of nCino emits the peculiar breed of confidence that’s born from a union of acute intelligence and knowing success from a young age. As the son of an engineer, Snell grew up surrounded by technology in Santa Cruz, California. His earliest memory is of using a soldering iron to build computers. He taught himself how to program and, at age 11, convinced a popular talk radio host in San Francisco to hire him to design her website.

Snell eventually made his way to Live Oak in 2010, after graduating from the University of North Carolina Wilmington and getting to know the bank’s founder and CEO, James “Chip” Mahan, and president, Neil Underwood. “I wasn’t actually sure if I wanted to join them fully, so I did some consulting to start,” Snell says. “About a week in, I was looking at how they were operating and was like, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of opportunity here.’ I spent a lot of time with Chip and Neil, and they were both just phenomenal. As a budding entrepreneur, I was like, ‘Wow, it would be amazing to be able to work directly with these guys and learn from them.’ So I shuttered what I was doing and joined them full-time.”

In doing so, Snell became nCino’s first employee.

From its earliest days, nCino had grand ambitions. Naudé hung a sign in its makeshift office space declaring it the global headquarters of the worldwide leader in cloud banking. “Every day you walked in and you’re like, ‘Wow, we’re the worldwide leader with only 10 people,’” recounts Rowe, who joined the company eight years ago as one of its earliest employees.

The year 2012 proved to be a seminal one for nCino. After other banks expressed interest in Live Oak’s software, nCino, a play on the Spanish word for “oak,” was spun out as a separate company. By the end of that year, the newly independent company had raised $9 million in capital, hired more employees and signed on 25 customers. It followed that in 2013 by raising $10 million from Wellington Management Co., a prominent institutional investor in the banking space, and hosting its first user conference, nSight, which long-tenured employees look back on as the company’s coming-out party. Over the next five years, nCino would grow to 130 customers and 270 employees.

Originally, nCino focused on the smaller institutions that populate the financial services industry — community and regional banks as well as credit unions. But that changed in late 2014, when SunTrust Banks, a $205 billion bank at the time, became its first enterprise banking client. (SunTrust has since merged with BB&T Corp. to form Truist Financial Corp., the sixth largest commercial bank in the United States. It remains an nCino customer.)

SunTrust was spending north of $20 million a year to digitize its commercial lending system. That’s when Pam Kilday, head of operations for its wholesale bank, came across nCino. “I thought, ‘This is exactly what I’m trying to build for not only commercial loans, but all of business banking,’” Kilday recalls. “We decided to investigate the feasibility of bringing nCino in, doing kind of a co-development, which flew in the face of everything we had been doing. At first, just about everybody wanted to fire me.”

(A year after retiring from SunTrust in 2018, Kilday joined nCino’s board of directors.)

The technology wasn’t the only thing that attracted SunTrust to nCino, Kilday says — it was also the people. “I thought Pierre was the real deal,” she says. “Everything we saw, every commitment they made to us at that time, they delivered. Whether it was documentation on their security setup, whether it was their contractual agreements with Salesforce at the time. Everything they told me was true. If they could do something, they would say it. If they couldn’t, they would tell me.”

That may sound trite, but it’s a frequent refrain of nCino customers. “Our relationship with nCino developed before I got to know Pierre, though I’ll say he sealed the deal as most CEOs can do when they get into a high-pressure situation,” says Frank Sorrentino III, chairman and CEO of ConnectOne Bancorp, a $7.6 billion bank based in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. “But the nCino organization sold the relationship on its own. There’s a great group of people there. They’re committed to building a better mousetrap to help banks provide a level of service that clients will expect in the future.”

By the time nCino publicly filed its S-1 with the SEC on June 22, 2020, it boasted more than 1,100 bank and credit union customers, over 900 employees spread across seven global offices and $138 million in annual revenue.

On July 14, the morning of nCino’s IPO, Rowe woke up at 4 a.m. and walked three blocks to the beach. Nine years earlier, he left a position as a professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington to join the embryonic nCino team. Rowe is a study in contrasts. He masks intensity with levity. He’s an executive at nCino yet takes video calls during the pandemic in the unfinished basement of his house, framed by hastily constructed shelves and insulation falling from the ceiling.

Sitting on the beach that morning waiting for the sunrise, Rowe was more reflective than ecstatic. He had been involved in Project Jackson since the beginning. And now, despite nCino’s decision to go public in a global pandemic, there was little doubt that it would be a success. The evening before, 8 million shares of nCino’s stock, equal to 8.5% of its total outstanding share count, were allocated to institutional investors at $31 per share. The demand for the offering was 49 times oversubscribed. Far from being a hindrance, conducting a virtual roadshow, consisting of more than 50 meetings over five days, proved to be a blessing in disguise. “I didn’t think about it until now,” says Rudow, “but because you’re touching so many more people, it probably helped build the book.”

But Rowe and the marketing team’s work wasn’t done. They mailed over 900 swag boxes to employees, packed with miniature nCino-themed bells to mark the occasion. They repainted and reconfigured Naudé’s office to serve as a makeshift studio for the media interviews he would conduct that day. And along with Nasdaq, they co-hosted an internal broadcast giving nCino employees a behind-the-scenes view of the day’s events, walking them through exactly how a company goes public.

While the stock market opens for trading at 9:30 a.m. EST, it isn’t until later in the morning that newly listed companies on Nasdaq start to actively trade. “We do not open up our IPOs at the same time as the broader market,” explains Joe Brantuk, chief client officer at Nasdaq. “There’s about 8,000 publicly traded companies in the United States and we want to give portfolio managers and traders an opportunity to position their existing holdings at the market open before turning their focus to new listings.”

Instead, Nasdaq reserves a “quotation window” for each new listing on the morning it debuts. This is the on-deck circle, if you will, just before a company’s stock begins trading. During this window, which can last from 10 minutes to multiple hours, Nasdaq’s market makers work with a stock’s underwriters to find an “indicative price” at which there’s a balance between buyers and sellers. If there are too many sellers relative to buyers, the stock could dramatically fall. If there are too many buyers relative to sellers, the reverse will happen. Neither is ideal. To minimize volatility, the goal is to find the price at which approximately 10% of the newly listed shares will trade hands — nCino’s magic number was 800,000 shares.

The quotation window for nCino opened at 10:10 a.m.

At 10:15 a.m., Nasdaq’s market makers were fielding buy orders for 4.7 million shares versus sell orders of 200,000 shares.

At 10:48 a.m., 486,000 shares were paired off at $62.

At 11:00 a.m., 708,000 shares were paired off at $65.

At 11:15 a.m., the threshold had been reached: 931,000 shares paired off at $70.

Still, they kept going.

By 11:40 a.m., 1.5 million shares were paired at $71 — about 20% of the total raise.

At 11:55 a.m., Jay Heller, head of capital markets at Nasdaq, gave the two-minute warning.

At 11:58 a.m., nCino’s stock opened for trading at $71 per share.

By 4 p.m., when the market closed for the day, nCino’s stock stood at $91.59 per share.

There is no single answer to the question of what makes for a successful IPO. The timing must be right. The story must be right. The market dynamics must be right. And, especially in the case of nCino, which went public in a pandemic, you must make the most of a challenging situation.

There is no question that nCino prevailed on all accounts. It is a company that is leading the digital revolution of one of the biggest industries in America. Its culture and story appeal to investors across the board. And its nimble response to the restrictions imposed on the IPO process from the pandemic — from negotiating the inability to meet with investors in person to orchestrating an IPO experience that nearly 1,000 remote employees could participate in — made it, in many ways, bespoke for this moment.

The Transformative Deal in Digital Health

WASHINGTON, DC — Over the past few months, I’ve shared several transformative technology deals in the financial sector on this site and in virtual presentations. From Visa acquiring Plaid to MasterCard picking up Finicity, big name players paid big time premiums to acquire technology companies to boost their games with consumers. As CEOs and their boards wrestle with competitive pressures and explore new paths to remain relevant, a huge announcement in the health space caught my attention. In fact, it reminds me of a recent bank M&A deal.

Why This Deal Matters: The Changing Competitive Landscape 

Much as last year’s deal between SunTrust and BB&T — which resulted in Truist — reflected the pressures of our digital-first world, so too does one struck in  another heavily regulated (and also incredibly important) industry. This one, between Livongo and Teladoc, impacts the whole digital healthcare market, creating a combined entity worth $38 billion.

As shared on CIO.com, Teladoc already has a significant presence in hospitals, many of whom are white-labeling the Teladoc platform for providing telehealth services, often using the Teladoc physician network to complement their network of doctors within the system.

In parallel, Livongo’s success in remote management of chronic care appears a natural complement to that business. Indeed, their whole-person platform empowers people with chronic conditions to live better and healthier lives.

As the merger release makes clear, “the highly complementary organizations will combine to create substantial value across the healthcare ecosystem, enabling clients everywhere to offer high quality, personalized, technology-enabled longitudinal care that improves outcomes and lowers costs across the full spectrum of health.”

Here, two words stand out: technology-enabled.

 Put another way, we are talking about digital transformation, which, as I recall, anchored SunTrust/BB&T’s deal.

Another Example That Scale Is Good — But How You Leverage It Is Key

Last February, BB&T and SunTrust Banks’ all-stock transaction (valued at $66 billion) was the largest U.S. bank merger in over a decade. It spawned Truist, the sixth-largest bank in the U.S. by assets and deposits. In the initial press release, both banks’ CEOs cited the desire for greater scale in order to invest in innovation and technology to create compelling digital offerings.

While Teladoc and Livongo have both been acquiring smaller startups to expand their capabilities in virtual care and digital patient engagement, it appears both are falling in Truist’s steps.  Together, the new organization promises to offer a broader set of digitally-enabled services and capabilities across an individual’s health journey. 

Given the incredible size of the combined digital health entity, I am reminded of a special episode of Looking Ahead with Keith Pagnani of the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell and Andrew Rymer of the investment bank Centerview Partners. Filmed last year at Nasdaq’s MarketSite, the three of us talked about what’s driving healthcare deals and what the regulatory process looks like for transactions.  While we focused on the combination of CVS and Aetna, I think you’ll find the rationale applies for Teladoc and Livongo.

*If you’re interested in M&A and IPO activity in the health sector, our DirectorCorps team recently introduced “The Deal on Healthcare.”  A bi-monthly communique, it rounds up the most notable announcements.  To sign up for this free newsletter, click here.

Our Partnership With Nasdaq

July 16, 2019 — I’m excited to make it official: Nasdaq Governance Solutions partnered with DirectorCorps (an information resource that provides peer insight, on crucial strategic issues, to corporate leaders through digital channels and exclusive events), to launch the new Looking Ahead: Trends in Corporate Leadership video series.

Produced for the top officers and members of the boards of publicly traded and fast-growing private companies, “Looking Ahead” explores emerging leadership trends and topics. Nasdaq just dropped the first six episodes on its new website:

  • What’s Driving Healthcare M&A
  • Surveying Cybersecurity
  • Balancing Purpose with Profit: ESG in the Spotlight
  • How to Crete a Culture of Technology Creativity
  • The Need to Know About IPOs
  • Getting Ahead of Shareholder Activism

3 Key RegTech Themes

Quickly:

  • Machine learning, advanced analytics and natural language processors dominated conversations at yesterday’s RegTech program at NASDAQ’s MarketSite.

NEW YORK — Where will technology take us next?  As many banks embrace digital tools and strategies, they inevitably grapple with regulatory uncertainty.  This naturally creates friction in terms of staffing levels, operational expenses and investment horizons.  With so many regional and national banks continuing to grow in size and complexity, the responsibility to provide appropriate oversight and management escalates in kind.

Likewise, as more and more community banks rely on technology partners to transform how they offer banking products and services, management teams and boards of directors grapple to assess how such relationships impact compliance programs and regulatory expectations.  Can technology truly deliver on its promise of efficiency, risk mitigation and greater insight into customer behavior?

To address questions and observations like these, my team hosted the Reality of RegTech at NASDAQ’s MarketSite on April 18.  Entering the MarketSite, we aspired to surface ideas for banks to better detect compliance and regulatory risks, assess risk exposure and anticipate future threats by engaging with technology partners.

Over the years, our annual one trek to NASDAQ’s New York home afforded us opportunities to:

  • Learn how BNY Mellon encourages innovation on a global scale;
  • Identify where early-stage technology firms realistically collaborate with financial services providers; and
  • Explore lending strategies and solutions for community banks.

This year, we focused on the intersection of technology with regulation, noting that banks can and should expect an overall increase in regulatory constraints on topics including supervision, systemic risk (such as stress tests), data protection and customer protection.

For Forward-Thinking Banks

At Bank Director, we see the emergence of regulatory-focused technology companies helping leadership teams to bridge the need for efficiency and security with growth aspirations. However, understanding how and when to leverage such technologies confounds many executives.  As our Emily McCormick wrote in advance of the event, forward-thinking banks are looking within their own organizations to figure out how the deployment of regtech fits into the institution’s overall strategic goals while matching up with culture, policies, processes and talent.

Key Takeaways

  1. RegTech is, by its very nature, constantly evolving.  Current solutions focus on one of two things: reducing the cost of compliance via automation or leveraging technology to deliver more effective compliance.
  2. The flip side to the promise of these solutions is a skepticism and concern by both regulators and banks that RegTechs really are in this for the long-haul, are reliable and “safe” to work with.
  3. A first step for banks not already using RegTech?  Develop an implementation road map for one specific need (e.g. BSA / AML) which aligns to the overall strategic vision of the organization (in this case, a desire to grow through acquisition).

Interesting Reads on RegTech

Multiple presentations touched on how and where banks can maximize the potential benefits of their RegTech endeavors by addressing key risks; for instance: uncertain development paths, provider reliability, increased regulatory scrutiny, limited judgment and privacy concerns.  For those looking to go deeper on these issues:

  1. PwC authored a Regulatory Brief that discusses (a) how banks are using RegTechs, (b) the current RegTech landscape, and (c) what banks should do to prepare for RegTech.
  2. Continuity offers an e-book along with a step-by-step system for predictable, repeatable compliance results.
  3. Ascent blogs about the impact of artificial intelligence on regulatory compliance in its Top 5 Ways AI in Compliance Will Affect You in 2017.

Multiple members of the team shared insight and inspiration with #RegTech18 on Twitter (usually tying into our @Fin_X_Tech and @BankDirector handles).  Finally, be sure to check out BankDirector.com (no subscription required) as our editorial team offers up a number of perspectives on RegTech and this year’s event.

March 1 is FinTech Day

Tomorrow is FinTech Day… here is what you need to know in advance of this exclusive one-day event.

What: Bank Director’s FinTech Day

When: Tuesday, March 1 2016

Where: Nasdaq’s MarketSite (4 Times Square – 43rd & Broadway)

Overview: The next few years promises to be one of profound transformation in the financial sector. Clearly, the fabric of the industry continues to evolve as new technology players emerge and traditional participants transform their business models. At FinTech Day, we address trends like the personalization of banking, the challenges of scaling a company in our highly regulated industry and what shifting customer expectations portend for all.  For the full agenda, click here.

Who is coming: Attendee lists are provided to all confirmed; unfortunately, we are at capacity and cannot accept any additional registrations.  Below, I highlight the various businesses represented.

A look at who is coming to Bank Director and FinXTech's FinTech Day on March 1

FinXTech: In addition to connecting participants from across the community, I am  excited to introduce a new digital division — FinXTech — to provide authoritative, relevant and trusted content for (a) Fintech companies who view banks as potentially valuable channel or distribution partners; (b) Banks over $1B looking to grow and/or innovate with fintech companies’ help and support; and (c) Investors and services firms interested in helping to shape the future of banking.

Misc: To follow the conversation, I invite you to follow me @aldominick or use #FinTech16.  In honor of the occasion, I will be ringing the closing bell (flanked by Joan Susie, Chairman of Bank Director and Kelsey Weaver, Publisher of Bank Director + our speakers and various executives from fintech companies and high performing banks).  So if you want to see how we wrap things up at 4:00 PM ET, I invited you to turn on CNBC, MSNBC, etc.

Fintech in 2016: A Whole Lot of Collaboration

While some of the largest and most established financial institutions have struck relationships with various financial technology firms (and not just startups / early stage), opportunities for meaningful partnerships abound.  At Bank Director’s annual FinTech Day at Nasdaq’s MarketSite in Times Square next Tuesday, we explore — with executives from the companies depicted above — what’s really possible when banks and fintechs collaborate to help each other’s businesses accelerate and scale.

By Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

A fundamental truth: individuals, along with business owners, have more choices than ever before in terms of where, when and how they bank. So a big challenge — and dare I suggest, opportunity — for leadership teams at financial institutions and fintech companies alike entails aligning services & product mixes to suit core customers’ current interests and prospective one’s expectations.

Yesterday, I shared how the fabric of the financial industry continues to evolve as new technology players emerge and traditional participants transform their business models. Indeed, many fintech companies are developing strategies, practices and new technologies that will dramatically influence how banking “gets done” in the future. However, within this period of change — where considerable market share will be up for grabs — I believe that ambitious organizations can leapfrog both traditional and emerging rivals.

Clearly, bank CEOs and their teams must seek new ways to not just stay relevant but to stand out.  While a number of banks seek to extend their footprint and franchise value through acquisition, many more aspire to build the bank internally. Some show organic growth as they build their base of core deposits and expand their customer relationships; others see the value of collaborating with fintech companies.

For a bank CEO and his/her executive team, knowing who’s a friend, and who’s a potential foe, is hugely important.  Personally, I have found this to be quite difficult for many regardless of their size or market.  Moreover, I find this to be a two-sided challenge in the sense that for a fintech founder or executive, identifying those banks open to partnering with, investing in or even acquiring a company like the one they run presents as great a challenge as it does opportunity.

So as more & more fintech companies look to partner with legacy players — and banks warm to such a dynamic — I am excited to think about the creative new partnerships that can be explored to ease payment processes, reduce fraud, save users money, promote financial planning and ultimately, move our giant industry forward.

FinTech Day is One Week Away

The fabric of the financial industry continues to evolve as new technology players emerge and traditional participants transform their business models. Through partnerships, acquisitions or direct investments, incumbents and upstarts alike have many real and distinct opportunities to grow and scale.  If 2015 was all about startups talking less about disruption and more about cooperation, I see 2016 as the year that banks reciprocate.

By Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

Next Tuesday, at Nasdaq’s MarketSite in Time Square, our team hosts our annual “FinTech Day.” With so many new companies pushing their way into markets and product lines that traditionally have been considered the banking industry’s turf, we look at what fintech means for traditional banks. Likewise, we explore where emerging fintech players may become catalysts for significant change with the support of traditional players.  When it comes to trends like the personalization of banking, the challenges of scaling a company in our highly regulated industry and what shifting customer expectations portend for banks and fintechs alike, we have a full day planned. Take a look at some of the issues we will address.

Riding The Wave Of Change
Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director
Robert H. McCooey, Jr., Senior Vice President of Listing Services, Nasdaq

At a time when changing consumer behavior and new technologies are inspiring innovation throughout the financial services community, we open this year’s program with a look at how collaboration between traditional institutions and emerging technology firms bodes well for the future.

Banking’s New DNA
Michael M. Carter, CEO, BizEquity
Vivian Maese, Partner, Latham & Watkins
Eduardo Vergara, Head of Payments Services & Global Treasury Product Sales, Silicon Valley Bank
Moderated by: Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

With continuous pressure to innovate, banks today are learning from new challengers, adapting their offerings and identifying opportunities to collaborate.  With this opening session, we focus on the most pressing issues facing banks as they leverage new tools and technologies to compete.

Who Has the Power to Transform Banking
Jeana Deninger, Senior Vice President, Marketing, CoverHound, Inc.
Brooks Gibbins, Co-Founder & General Partner, FinTech Collective
Colleen Poynton, Vice President, Core Innovation Capital
Moderated by: Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

While fintech startups continue to spearhead the technological transformation of financial services, recent efforts by systemically important financial institutions call into question who reallly has the power to tranform banking. From an investment perspective, recent market turmoil may put some opportunities on hold – while others now have a higher, sharper bar to clear. In this session, we talk to investors about the traits that they look for when backing a venture in the context of a changing economic environment.

Opportunities to Reinvigorate the Banking Industry
Tom Kimberly, General Manager, Betterment Institutional
Thomas Jankovich, Principal & Innovation Leader, US Financial Services Practice, Deloitte Consulting LLP
Pete Steger, Head of Business Development, Kabbage, Inc.
Moderated by: Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

Many fintech companies are developing strategies, practices and new technologies that will dramatically influence how banking gets done in the future. However, within this period of upheaval – where considerable market share will be up for grabs – ambitious banks can leapfrog both traditional and new rivals. During this hour, we explore various opportunities for financial services companies to reinvigorate the industry.

Opportunities to Financially Participate in Fintech
Joseph S. Berry, Jr., Managing Director, Co-Head of Depositories Investment Banking, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Inc. A Stifel Company
Kai Martin Schmitz, Leader FinTech Investment LatAm, Global FinTech Investment Group, International Finance Corporation
Moderated by: Al Dominick, President & CEO, Bank Director

While large, multinational banks have made a series of investments in the fintech community, there is a huge, untapped market for banks to become an early-stage investor in fintech companies. Based on the day’s prior conversations, this session looks at opportunities for banks to better support emerging companies looking to grow and scale with their support.

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While this special event on March 1 is sold out, you can follow the conversations by using #Fintech16 @aldominick @bankdirector @finxtech and @bankdirectorpub.  And as a fun fact, I’ll be ringing the closing bell next Tuesday flanked by our Chairman and our Head of Innovation.  So if you are by a television and can turn on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, etc at 3:59, you’ll see some smiling faces waving at the cameras.

Focused on Financial Analytics

When it comes to tapping the creativity and ingenuity of the financial technology sector, I think this equation says it best.

For me, the term “big data” jumped the shark a few years ago.  Much like investment bankers shelved their  “wave of consolidation” pitch, I remain hopeful that the clichéd data term gives way to something more appropriate, descriptive and dare I say agile?  Nonetheless, the concept of sifting through massive amounts of structured and unstructured information to identify meaningful insights is nothing to scoff at.  Truth-be-told, it has interested me since my time at Computech, a leader in agile and lean application software development and IT operations & maintenance that was recently acquired by NCI.

Figuring out discrete patterns to better prepare for the future is huge business — and I continue to see the largest financial institutions in the U.S. making investments in financial analytics.  I was reminded of this drive to leverage new technologies while re-reading my notes from a Q&A session I had with BNY Mellon’s head of Strategy and Innovation last September at our FinTech day at NASDAQ.  There, I made note of three companies — KenshoDiscern and ClearStory — that had the potential to transform part of the financial sector.  FinTech Focused.001With said notes in hand, I dove a deeper into each company’s background and offerings, finding all three bring interesting new models and technologies to bear on automating and enhancing the investment research process.  So as I’ve done with past posts (Three FinTech Companies I’m Keen On and Spotlight on FinTech), let me share a little about each one:

  • Kensho is pioneering “real-time statistical computing systems and scalable analytics architectures — the next-generation of improvements to the global financial system.”  Backed by Goldman Sachs and Google Ventures, and with clients that range from Wall Street’s global banks to several of the best performing hedge funds, think of the 2013 startup as a “Siri-style service for investors, analysts and traders” (h/t to the FT for the comparison).
  • In the interest of fair disclosure, all three of my siblings have worked for investment management firms, so they may buckle at Discern’s description of “conventional” investment research relying “on solo analysts armed with narrow expertise, simple tools and a personal network of resources. Nonetheless, it’s an important juxtaposition when you look at what its data aggregation platform offers.  If you agree with their assertion that the “earlier one becomes aware of a risk or opportunity, the less it costs” the more attracted you might be to this SF-based company.
  • Finally, the data intelligence company ClearStory works with financial institutions on collaborative research and customer acquisition analysis.  Their premise is to both speed and simplify the cycle of research across distributed teams, including “accessing, merging, analyzing files and a variety of external data sources.”  As they share, “competitiveness on the front lines of business is dictated by the speed of data access and the quality of informed decision-making.”

Personally, it is very interesting to learn about, and subsequently watch, companies like these these spur transformation. If you are game to share your thoughts on FinTechs worth watching, feel free to comment below — or via twitter, I’m @AlDominick, about those companies and offerings you find compelling.

Bank Director’s 2015 Acquire or Be Acquired Conference

Banks are increasingly interested in the topic of mergers and acquisitions, which must have something to do with our record attendance at this year’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The fun begins at The Phoenician (pictured above) this weekend with Bank Director’s 21st annual “AOBA.”  Last year, we welcomed 435 officers & directors from 271 financial institutions to the Arizona Biltmore.  This year, we have 522 bankers and bank board members from more than 300 banks in attendance. Merger activity is clearly gaining steam, and this is bringing more interested parties to the table.

AOBA15-demographics-2

Three Days in the Desert

Why banks are bought (or sold) involves much more than just the numbers making sense.  Moreover, to successfully negotiate a merger transaction, buyers and sellers must bridge the gap between a number of financial, legal, accounting and social challenges. So allow me to sketch out what’s on tap for this massive three-day event.

On Sunday…

To kick things off, we take a macro-level look at capital markets and operating conditions for banks nationwide. Additionally, we look at how M&A fits within a broad range of strategic options for a bank’s board and how some successful acquirers have aligned transactions to achieve strategic goals.  Of note, we welcome the perspectives of CEOs from high performing banks like Pinnacle National Bank, Banner Corp.First Interstate BancSystem, IBERIABANK and CVB Corp. as part of several presentations. On stage, these men will share their thoughts on what it takes to build and lead successful institutions.

On Monday…

Building on the first day of the conference, we turn our attention to the long-term preparation required by both a buyer and seller.  For instance, regulatory planning remains critical to getting deals done for both sides — especially on compliance issues.  Thematically, Monday builds on Sunday’s presentations, with sessions dedicated to helping a bank’s board make a rational buy, sell or hold decision.

On Tuesday…

To put a bow on this year’s event, we start with a look at what the biggest banks are doing today followed by a series of breakout sessions on more in-depth topics.  To conclude, we welcome the perspectives of our friends from NASDAQ who will look at trends, issues and the “movers and shakers” in the technology world that may impact growth and innovation within the financial community.  As much as AOBA explores one’s financial growth opportunities, this final session examines what’s happening outside of our industry that may precipitate new changes or challenges to a bank’s growth aspirations.  Oh and in the afternoon… we swap suits for cleats, wrapping up AOBA with our annual golf tournament.

Can’t Make it?

For those not able to join us — but interested in following the conversations — I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector, and search & follow #AOBA15 to see what is being shared with our attendees.

What Is Your Bank Worth

I’m at a 1909 Neoclassical landmark in San Francisco for Bank Director’s “Valuing the Bank” program.  Setting up shop in the beautiful Ritz-Carlton on Nob Hill is a real treat, as is welcoming a number of bank CEOs, chairmen, CFOs and outside directors to the Bay Area.  Let me share a few of my takeaways from yesterday’s conversations and tee up what’s ahead this morning.

The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco
The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco

What Drives Value Creation

To open the day, we reviewed the operating environment in terms of “what drives value creation.”  Beginning with a presentations made by the Hovde Group and Moss Adams, we touched on issues like margin compression, deposit funding, efficiency improvements and business model expansion in the context of the current environment.  One interesting, M&A-specific fact from this session: the market for high-performing banks is at a 5-year high.  Consider the number of deals greater than $25 million in deal value that were priced above 150% of tangible book value: in the last 4 quarters: 44… for the prior 18 quarters: 45.

Understanding Risk in the Context of Determining a Bank’s Worth

I made note that credit unions have seen loans grow 9.8% this past year; far quicker than the 4.9% growth at banks (h/t Hovde Group).  So as much as I’ve recently harped on non-bank competition from players like Apple and PayPal, a stark reminder that banks also need to find a way to compete with lower rates offered by credit unions to reverse this trend of losing loans.  Back to the M&A side of things, it was suggested that to maximize value, potential sellers should consider selling less profitable/smaller/rural branches.

Today’s Agenda

This morning, we will look at corporate governance and talent-specific opportunities to strengthen one’s institution.  After a series of peer exchanges, I am excited to tackle the idea that banks are sold more than they are bought.  Indeed, our final session of this program pairs David Brooks, the Chairman & CEO of  the NASDAQ-listed Independent Bank Group and Jim Stein, Vice Chairman & Houston Region CEO, Independent Bank.  Jim was the CEO at Bank of Houston and sold that bank to David’s, and together, will talk with me about how that deal was struck.

Aloha Friday!

This Week in Pictures

As our editor, Jack Milligan, writes in How One Large Bank Fosters Innovation, “conventional wisdom holds that banks are not very good at innovation — and large banks, with their entrenched bureaucracies and clumsy legacy systems, are probably worst of all. It might then come as a surprise that Bank of New York Mellon Corp. has run a highly successful innovation program that has made a meaningful contribution to the bank’s profitability, and also manages to get most of the company’s 10,000 employees involved in the process.”

Earlier this week, I shared how Declan Denehan, BNY Mellon’s managing director for strategy and innovation, provided his thoughts on staying relevant while engaging with the “startup ecosystem” during Monday’s FinTech Day.  Jack’s article offers a great summation of Declan’s perspectives — and for today’s post, I simply wanted to recap the event as a whole.  The fun for our team started well before the doors opened at 9:00; however, FinTech day kicked off with:

  • A number of video shoots in the NASDAQ studio that we will post to BankDirector.com;
  • Continued with a live-streamed discussion focused on innovation with Declan and me; and
  • Wrapped up with a closing bell ceremony and a lot of great company logos rotating on the exchange’s video board in Times Square.

FinTech Day, a collaboration between Bank Director and NASDAQ OMXattracted over 40 participants from 30 financial technology companies.  For those of you that joined us, I am pleased to share the link to the official photo gallery from the ceremony.  We are happy to send over any that you’d like as our way of saying thank you for joining us.  Simply leave a comment below, reach out via LinkedIn or Twitter and let me know what you’d like.  Below, some of the pictures in the gallery…

Before wishing everyone an Aloha Friday, let me thank the entire Bank Director team — and in particular, Kelsey Weaver, Laura Schield, Michelle King, Mika Moser, Jack Milligan and Joan Susie — for your efforts to make the day a success.  Each of you contributed something special and for that, I am very appreciative and already getting excited for next year (dare we call it FinTech 2.0)!

A Video Recap from FinTech Day at NASDAQ OMX

Before I left NASDAQ’s MarketSite, I had the chance to pop in to one of their studios to film a quick recap of “FinTech Day.”

Thanks again to our friends at NASDAQ for collaborating with us on the day and all those executives from technology firms that joined us in the city.

Waving for the network cameras
Waving for the network cameras