Predicting The Future, Based On 6 Timeless Tenets

WASHINGTON, DC — Over the years, I’ve used this blog to share stories and ideas that reflect words like resiliency, agility and resourcefulness.  Typically, posts distill my experiences gained through travel or conversation.  Today, I am taking a slight detour in order to highlight a new project that gets to the heart of running a strong and successful business.

Our team crafted this 20-page report from interviews with more than a dozen CEOs.  All from top-performing financial institutions, you will recognize names like Brian Moynihan from Bank of America, Rene Jones from M&T Bank and Greg Carmichael from Fifth Third. This piece offers unique and valuable insights on:

  1. Leadership;
  2. Growth;
  3. Risk management;
  4. Culture;
  5. Stakeholder prioritization; and
  6. Capital allocation.

Bank Director and nCino, a provider of cloud-based services to banks, collaborated on this special project, which takes its inspiration from Amazon’s business model.

Entitled The Flywheel of Banking: Six Timeless Tenets of Extraordinary Banks, I strongly encourage anyone interested in the future of the banking industry to take the time to read it.  Make no mistake, this is no 500 word op-ed.  But it will be worth the hour or so it takes to unpack the insight and inspiration gleaned by our team.  I invite you to let me know what you think.

Evaluating Board Performance

New regulations, technological innovations and a highly competitive environment that leaves little room for error have placed unprecedented demands on the time and talents of bank boards and their individual directors.  As many who support the banking space can attest, a strong board begins with a set of enlightened governance policies and procedures that center on honesty, personal integrity and accountability.

At Bank Director, we coined the phrase “strong board, strong bank” in response to the mounting pressures placed on the banking community.  Over the years, we have introduced new research projects, conferences and magazine issues to provide exceptionally timely and relevant information to a hugely influential audience.

As I prepare to head down to Florida (and the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island) this weekend for our annual Bank Executive & Board Compensation conference, I am anticipating conversations about potential regulatory changes and current strategic challenges related to a bank’s growth and profitability.  Alongside my colleagues Michelle King and Amanda Wages, I also expect to field questions from the audience (depicted in the image above) about how high performing corporate boards employ evaluation tools that match the talents & experiences of their board members to an organization’s strategic goals.  FWIW, I anticipate such inquiries as many consultants and attorneys encourage such assessments — and the board performance self-evaluation tool we designed & offer to banks has earned a strong reputation for providing an independent review of a board’s effectiveness.

To be sure, the banking industry seems to be doing well based on a variety of measures — profitability is high, credit quality is much improved and tangible capital ratios are stronger than ever. However, such financial measures don’t necessarily reflect the challenges facing many banks and their boards.  So in advance of our annual event, I asked our research team to roll up the results from twenty-two bank boards — all randomly selected — that completed a performance survey this year.

While tempting to look at individual board results and draw conclusions, anonymously lumping this group together allows some interesting patterns to emerge given more then 200 individual responses:

  • 50% recognize a need for more diversity on the board;
  • 55% say they need more expertise/knowledge in technology on the board, and 44% indicate a need for more training on IT issues;
  • 51% are dissatisfied with some aspect of the bank’s succession plan, for the CEO and/or the board; and
  • 56% are certain they have the M&A experience to meet the bank’s growth goals (44% say no or are unsure).

While these four points caught my eye, I asked our Director of Research, Emily McCormick, what stands out to her. In her words:

“Many boards lack a consensus on their succession plan, meaning that they’re often not on the same page regarding the depth of that plan. That, to me, is a red flag.”

Anecdotally, many bank CEOs — and board members — that I’ve talked with in person know they need new skills, particularly in technology, and recognize a need for diversity. But as we find, few want to add additional board members.  A fact to keep in mind next week as we explore how to build and support the best teams based on the strategies and tactics being used by successful companies today.

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We designed our Bank Service offerings to help board members and senior executives develop strategies to help their bank grow, while demonstrating excellence in corporate governance that shareholders and customers deserve and today’s regulators demand.  To learn more, click here.

Size & Scale: The King and Queen of Bank M&A?

Earlier this week, I shared my perspectives on bank M&A with the Wall Street Journal.  What follows builds off the piece that ran in Tuesday’s print edition, highlighting key findings from Bank Director’s annual Bank M&A Survey.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

At a time when J.P. Morgan is getting smaller, the pressure is on for smaller banks to get bigger.  As KPMG recently shared with BankDirector.com, there was a 25% increase in bank deals in the U.S. in 2014, compared to 2013, and there is a good possibility that the number of deals in 2015 will exceed that of 2014.  One reason for this: a larger institution can spread costs (such as investments and regulatory burdens) across a larger customer and revenue base.

Not surprisingly, 67% of executives and board members responding to Bank Director’s 2016 Bank M&A Survey say they see a need to gain more scale if they are going to be able to survive in a highly competitive industry going forward.  As our director of research, Emily McCormick, shared, “many of these respondents (62%) also see a more favorable climate for bank deals, hinting at a more active market for 2016 as banks seek size and scale through strategies that combine organic growth with the acquisitions of smaller banks.”

While the majority of bank executives and boards surveyed feel a need to grow, respondents don’t agree on the size banks need to be in order to compete today.  A slim majority, 32%, identified $1 billion in assets as the right size… interesting, but not surprising, when you consider that 89% of commercial banks and savings institutions are under $1 billion in assets, according to the FDIC (*personally, I’m of the opinion that $5Bn is the new $1Bn, but that’s a topic for another day).  On to the key findings from this year’s research:

  • Two-thirds report their bank intends to participate in some sort of acquisition over the next 12 months, whether it’s a healthy bank (51%), a branch (20%), a nondepository line of business (14%), a loan portfolio (6%) and/or a financial technology firm (a scant 2%).
  • Respondents indicate that credit culture, at 32%, and retaining key talent that aligns with the buyer’s culture, at 31%, are the most difficult aspects of the post-merger integration process.
  • More institutions are using social media channels to communicate with customers after the close of the deal. 55% of respondents who purchased a bank in 2014 or 2015 used social media, compared to 42% of 2011-2013 deals and just 14% of 2008-2010 deals (*FWIW, Facebook, at 26%, is the most popular channel for respondents).
  • Fifty-six percent of respondents have walked away from a deal in the past three years.  Of the respondents who indicate they declined to buy, 60% cite deal price while 46% blame the credit quality of the target institution.
  • Why do banks sell? Of the executives and board members associated with banks sold from 2012 to 2015, 55% say they sold because shareholders wanted to cash out.  Despite concerns that regulatory costs are causing banks to sell, just 27% cite this burden as a primary motivator.

The full survey results are now available online at BankDirector.com, and will be featured in the 1st quarter, 2016 issue of Bank Director magazine.  In addition, for those executives interested in connecting with many of the key decision makers driving the deals mentioned above, our annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference will be held at the Arizona Biltmore from January 31 through February 2.

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Our 2016 Bank M&A Survey, sponsored by Crowe Horwath LLP, examines current attitudes and challenges regarding bank M&A, and what drives banks to buy and sell. The survey was completed in September 2015 by 260 chief executive officers, independent directors and senior executives of U.S. banks, and former executives and directors of banks that have been acquired from 2012-2015.

About That Elephant Coming Out of the Corner (*hello cyber security & banking)

Last summer, a cyberattack on JPMorgan Chase by Russian hackers compromised the accounts of 83 million households and seven million small businesses.  While the New York Times reports the crime did not result in the loss of customer money or the theft of personal information, it was one of the largest such attacks against a bank.  A data breach like this illustrates the clear and present danger cyber criminals pose to the safety and soundness of the financial system.  In my opinion, there can be nothing more damaging to the reputation of, and confidence in, the industry as a whole than major security breaches.

Yesterday, Bank Director released its annual Risk Practices Survey, sponsored by FIS, the world’s largest global provider dedicated to banking and payments technologies. As I read through the results, it became immediately apparent that cyber security is the most alarming risk issue for individuals today.  So while I layout the demographics surveyed at the end of this piece, it is worth noting that 80% of those directors and officers polled represent institutions with between $500 million and $5 billion in assets — banks that are, in my opinion, more vulnerable than their larger counterparts as their investment in cyber protection pales to what JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, etc are spending.  In fact, the banks we surveyed allocated less than 1% of revenues to cybersecurity in 2014.  Accordingly, I’m gearing my biggest takeaway to community bankers since those individuals most frequently cited cyber attacks as a top concern.

Interestingly, individual concern hasn’t yet translated into more focus by bank boards. Indeed, less than 20% say cybersecurity is reviewed at every board meeting — and 51% of risk committees do not review the bank’s cybersecurity plan.  As I read through our report, this has to be a wakeup call for bank boards. While a number of retailers have made the news because of hacks and data thefts, this remains an emerging, nuanced and constantly evolving issue.

It would not surprise me if bank boards start spending more time on this topic as they are more concerned than they were last year. But I do see the need to start requiring management to brief them regularly on this issue, and start educating themselves on the topic.  In terms of where to focus early conversations if you’re not already, let me suggest bank boards focus on:

  • The detection of cyber breaches and penetration testing;
  • Corporate governance related to cyber security;
  • The bank’s current (not planned) defenses against breaches; and
  • The security of third-party vendors.

Personally, I don’t doubt that boards will spend considerably more time on this issue — but things have changed a lot in the last year in terms of news on data breaches.  If bankers want to start assessing the cybersecurity plan in the same way they look at the bank’s credit policies and business plan, well, I’d sleep a lot sounder.

So I’ll go on record and predict that boards will become more aware and take on a more active role in the coming months — and also expect that regulators will start demanding that boards review cybersecurity plans, and that all banks have a cybersecurity plans.  To take this a step further, check out this piece by the law firm Arnold & Porter: Cybersecurity Risk Preparedness: Practical Steps for Financial Firms in the Face of Threats.

About this report

Bank Director’s research team surveyed 149 independent directors and senior executives of U.S. banks with more than $500 million in assets to examine risk management practices and governance trends, as well as how banks govern and manage cybersecurity risk. 43% of participants serve as an independent director or chairmen at their bank. 21% are CEOs, and 17% serve as the bank’s chief risk officer.