Strong Board. Strong Bank

Quickly:

  • A bank’s CEO, Chairman and board of directors face a number of challenges in today’s ever competitive, highly regulated and rapidly evolving financial services industry.

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

ATLANTA — Complex 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.  Still, no one I’m with today seems interested in pity or sympathy.  To wit, I’m in Atlanta, at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, as we host Bank Director’s annual Bank Board Training Forum.  With us are 200+ men and women committed to strengthening their bank’s performance by enhancing the skills and abilities of their boards.

I’m buoyed by their collective optimism, especially having surfaced myriad governance issues, compliance challenges, audit responsibilities, risk concerns and areas of potential liability. What follows are five takeaways from presentations made today that are growth, risk or team-oriented.

  1. When it comes to growing one’s bank, an acquisition of another institution certainly helps a buyer achieve operating scale efficiencies, which in turn increases its valuation.
  2. In addition to traditional M&A as a driver of growth, we are seeing more partnerships with (and outright acquisitions of) non-banks in order to enhance non-interest income and the expansion of net interest margins.
  3. Personally, I appreciated Jim McAlpin (a partner at the law firm of Bryan Cave) for elaborating on the phrase “Strong Governance Culture.” As he explained, the regulatory community takes this to mean a well developed system of internal oversight and a board culture focused on risk management.
  4. When it comes to risk, financial institutions face a quite a few. Indeed, Eve Rogers, a Partner at Crowe Horwath, touched on cybersecurity, economic factors, regulatory changes, shrinking margins and fee restrictions. As she made clear, proactively identifying, mitigating, and, in some cases, capitalizing on these risks provides a distinct advantage to the banks here with us.
  5. In terms of compensation, a good checklist for all banks includes (a) the bank’s compensation philosophy, (b) specific details for how to incorporate a performance plan against a strategic plan and (c) details around how one’s compensation peer group was formed — and when was it last updated.

Tomorrow morning, I share some new ideas for approaching technology in terms of growth and efficiency given the digital distribution of financial goods and services.  As I noted from the stage, we’re seeing some banks, rather than hire from the ground up, take a plug-and-play approach for partnering (or acquiring) FinTech companies. While I certainly intend to talk about the culture and team aspects of technology tomorrow, my focus goes to how and where machine learning, RegTech, payments, white labeling opportunities and core providers allow financial institutions to present a cutting-edge looks and feels to its customers under the bank’s brand.  (*If you’re interested, click here.)

Looking for Great FinTech Ideas

A fundamental truth about banking today: 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 of all sizes equates to aligning services and product mixes to suit core customers’ interests and expectations.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

Sometimes, the temptation to simply copy, paste and quote Bank Director’s editor, Jack Milligan, is too much for me to resist. Recently, Jack made the case that the distinction between a bank and a non-bank has become increasingly meaningless.  In his convincing words:

“The financial service marketplace in the United States has been has crowded with nonbank companies that have competed fiercely with traditional banks for decades. But we seem to be in a particularly fecund period now. Empowered by advances in technology and data analysis, and funded by institutional investors who think they might offer a better play on growth in the U.S. economy than traditional banks, we’re seeing the emergence of a new class of financial technology – or fintech – companies that are taking dead aim at the consumer and small business lending markets that have been banking industry staples for decades.”

Truth-be-told, the fact he successfully employed a word like ‘fecund’ had me hunting down the meaning (*it means fertile).  As a result, that particular paragraph stuck in my mind… a fact worth sharing as it ties into a recent Capgemini World Retail Banking Report that I devoured on a tremendously turbulent, white-knuckling flight from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans this morning (one with a “minor” delay in Montgomery, AL thanks to this morning’s wild weather).

Detailing a stagnating customer experience, the consultancy’s comprehensive study draws attention “to the pressing problem of the middle- and back-office — two areas of the bank that have not kept pace with the digital transformation occurring in the front-office. Plagued by under-investment, the middle- and back-offices are falling short of the high level of support found in the more advanced front-offices, creating a disjointed customer experience and impeding the industry’s ability to attract, retain, and delight customers.”

Per Evan Bakker for Business Insider, the entirety of the 35-page report suggests “banks are facing two significant business threats. First, customer acquisition costs will increase as existing customers are less likely to refer their bank to others. Second, banks will lose revenue as customers leave for competitors and existing customers buy fewer products. The fact that negative sentiment is global and isn’t limited to a particular type of customer activity points to an industry wide problem. Global dissatisfaction with banks is likely a result of internal problems with products and services as well as the growing number of non-bank providers of competing products and services.”

While dealing with attacks from aggressive, non-bank competitors is certainly not a new phenomenon for traditional banks, I have taken a personal interest in those FinTech companies looking to support (and not compete with) financial institutions.  So as I set up shop at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans through Wednesday for our annual Bank Board Growth & Innovation conference, let me shine the spotlight on eight companies that may help address some of the challenges I just mentioned. While certainly just the tip of the FinTech iceberg, each company brings something interesting to the table:

As unregulated competition heats up, bank CEOs and their teams need to continue to seek 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.  To see what’s being written and said here in New Orleans, I invite you to follow @bankdirector, @aldominick + #BDGrow15.

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!

The Growth Conference – Thursday Recap

It is obvious that the most successful banks today have a clear understanding of, and laser-like focus on, their markets, strengths and opportunities.  One big takeaway from the first full day of Bank Director’s Growth Conference (#BDGrow14 via @bankdirector): banking is absolutely an economies of scale business.

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A 2 Minute Recap

 

Creating Revenue Growth

At events like these, our Publisher, Kelsey Weaver, has a habit of saying “well, that’s the elephant in the room” when I least expect it.  Today, I took her quip during a session about the strategic side of growth as her nod to the significant challenges facing most financial institutions — e.g. tepid loan growth, margin compression, higher capital requirements and expense pressure & higher regulatory costs.  While she’s right, I’m feeling encouraged by anecdotes shared by growth-focused bankers considering (or implementing) strategies that create revenue growth from both net interest income and fee-based revenue business lines. Rather than lament the obstacles preventing a business from flourishing, we heard examples of how and why government-guaranteed lending, asset based lending, leasing, trust and wealth management services are contributing to brighter days.

Trending Topics
Overall, the issues I took note of were, in no particular order: bank executives and board members need to fully embrace technology; there is real concern about non-bank competition entering financial services; the board needs to review its offerings based on generational expectations and demands;  and those that fail to marry strategy with execution are doomed. Lastly, Tom Brown noted that Bank of America’s “race to mediocrity” actually makes it an attractive stock to consider.  Who knew being average can pay off?

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To comment on this piece, click on the green circle with the white plus (+) sign on the bottom right.  More tomorrow from the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans.

Its Growth Week

Its finally here… “Growth Week” at Bank Director.  Yes Discovery Channel, you can keep your shark week.  What we’re about to get into is far more interesting (at least, to some): what’s working in banking today.  Most of our team heads down to the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans tomorrow and Wednesday for our 2014 Growth Conference.  Before they do, the first of five posts dedicated to building a business.

Growth-Key-Card-1

Think Distinct

Innovation means doing things differently.  Not just offering new products or offerings — but doing things differently across the entire business model.  Going into this event, I know many believe there are simply too many banks offering similar products and services.  I tend to think institutions are challenged when it comes to being distinctive compared with the competitor across the street.  This is not a new issue; however, there are more and more strategies emerging and enablers coming to market that can drive brand value, customer satisfaction and profitable growth.  Case-in-point: the work of our friends at StrategyCorps, whose idea is “be bold… go beyond basic mobile banking.”  One of the sponsors of the conference, I am excited to hear how  financial institutions, like First Financial, benefit from their mobile & online consumer checking solutions in order to enhance customer engagement and increase fee income.

Looking Back in Order to Look Ahead

While easy to frame the dynamics of our industry in terms of asset size, competing for business today is more of a “smart vs. not-so-smart” story than a “big vs. small.” During one of my favorite sessions last year — David AND Goliath — Peter Benoist, the president and CEO of St. Louis-based Enterprise Financial Services Corp, reminded his peers that as more banks put their liquidity to work, fierce competition puts pressures on rates and elevates risk.  As I went back to my notes in advance of this week’s event, my biggest takeaway from his presentation was we all talk about scale and net interest margins… but it’s clear that you need growth today regardless of who you are.  It is growth for the sake of existence.

Getting Social

To keep track of the conversation pre-, on-site and post-event on Twitter, use #BDGrow14 and/or @bankdirector + @aldominick.  In addition, I plan to post every day this week to About That Ratio, with tomorrow’s piece touching on the diminished importance of branch networks to underscore the importance of investments in technology.

Dass de Thing

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Today’s Friday Follow-inspired column takes a decidedly cajun turn (I tink dats rite) with a look back on time spent at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans. Fancy, for sure. Financially focused? Absolutely, thanks to Bank Director’s inaugural Growth Conference.

The slow economic recovery continues to challenge banks ability to grow as businesses both large and small reduce their leverage. Additionally, tepid growth (or in some cases, continued decline) in real-estate values presents challenges in the growth of consumer and commercial mortgage portfolios. Layer on the increased focus of larger banks on growing their C&I and small business lending portfolios due to increased regulatory pressure on consumer products and you understand how challenging it is for community or regional bank CEOs and boards to devise effective growth strategies. These obstacles did not, however, deter a crowd of nearly 200 bankers and industry executives from sharing their insight and opinions earlier this week.

(1) For example, Josh Carter from PwC covered what some of the fastest growing community banks are doing, both those who have grown through M&A, as well as digging a level deeper into those who are successfully growing organically. In his address, he noted a few bright spots have given the banking industry hope that economic and financial recovery is just around the corner (e.g. consumer confidence continues to improve, unemployment is on the decline and the home price index continues to tick up). As such, he believes there are five key areas that community banks should focus on to drive growth in their respective markets:

  • Emphasize productivity over efficiency;
  • Sharpen your business model; that is, serve niche segments, provide tailored offerings, excel at service quality, etc.;
  • Innovate within your business model, as banks that succeed most often are the ones that continually evolve and out-innovate their peers;
  • Pursue opportunistic M&A deals; and
  • Broaden your product portfolio.

(2) Preceding Josh was Jay Sidhu, the Chairman & CEO at Customers Bank. If you’re looking for a bank that is leading the field in terms of core income, net loans/leases and core non-interest income, look no further than his bank, which is expanding its business in three states — Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Jay captivated his peers with a look at the changing face of banks in the United States and the role of a board and CEO in positioning bank to take advantage of this changing environment. Tops for him: an “absolute clarity of your vision, strategy, goals and tactics; there must be absolute alignment between board and management… (along with a) passion for continuous improvement.”

(3) Bank 3.0Finally, Brett King and Sankar Krishnan explored the “end-game” in the emergence of the mobile wallet and what it means for the “humble bank account.” With more than 60% of the world’s population without a bank account and the ubiquitous nature of mobile phone handsets and the increasingly pervasive pre-paid ‘value store’ – the two openly considered will banks still be able to compete. I’ll have more on this session in a subsequent post that combines Brett’s presentation with one made by John Cantarella, President, Digital, Time Inc. News and Sports Group. For now, let me suggest a trip to Amazon to check out Brett’s latest book, Bank 3.0: Why Banking Is No Longer Somewhere You Go But Something You Do.

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A big shout out to the entire Bank Director team who made this first conference such a success. Laura, Michelle, Mika, Kelsey, Jack, Misty, Jennifer, Daniel, Naomi, Joan, Bill… way to go!

Aloha Friday!!