Disrupt (or die trying)

Georgia peaches...
Georgia peaches…

If you’ve been on this site before, you probably recognize a pattern to my writing. Each Friday, I share three things I heard, learned or saw during the week.  In past posts, I’ve penned a number of “disruptive” stories that ranged from Brett King’s perspectives on banks (“Does Banking Need a Re-boot”) to John Cantarella’s on Time Inc.’s digital strategies (“Dass de Thing”).  So it should come as no surprise that I furiously began writing today’s column on a flight home from Atlanta on Wednesday evening.  I’d just spent several hours in the offices of the William Mills Agency, one of the nation’s preeminent financial public relations and marketing firms, and left inspired.  What follows are just three of the many Fintech companies the agency represents that are doing some pretty cool things.  IMHO, banks of all sizes might pay attention to these tech companies if they want to disrupt the status quo rather than have their status quo disrupted.

(1) In Bank Director’s home town of Nashville, TN resides the corporate marketing team for CSI, a leading provider of end-to-end technology solutions.  The public company delivers core processing, managed services, mobile and Internet solutions, payments processing along with print and electronic distribution & regulatory compliance solutions to financial institutions.  I like their resource center, but really appreciate their blog that highlights myriad client success stories.  For instance, “How One Bank “does” Social Media Right” shines a light on First Kentucky’s one and only social media strategy.  To wit: not a word about CSI’s involvement with the bank in favor of why the bank decided not to sell things to its social fans and followers.  A “fun and light” client example that shows a more intimate side of the bank vis-a-vis one of their preferred service providers.

(2) For many financial institutions, the gap between the strategy set by the board and subsequent execution can be quite wide.  As Steve Hovde (an investment banker and regular speaker at some of our larger events) shared with us, “bankers are conservative by nature, and the credit crisis served as a stark reminder why they should be. Still, many banks—particularly smaller, community banks—are reluctant to take advantage of strategic opportunities that could significantly enhance shareholder value.” So when First Midwest Bank (a not-so-small $9 billion institution based in Illinois) needed to measure product and customer profitability to support pricing and product offering decisions with accurate contribution margin results, I learned they turned to Axiom EPM.  The company, a provider of financial planning and performance management software, affords “visibility into profitability across the organization.” If you’re keen to learn how First Midwest analyzes profitability at their bank, you might take a look at this on-demand video.

(3) To wrap things up, let me pose a question: how fast would you switch to a different bank if you were the victim of online banking fraud?  Before you answer below (hint, hint), can you guess the percentage of your peers that would immediately?  From a banker’s perspective, such cyber risk poses a real threat to a business model.  Having worked in the IT space for 5+ years, I was curious if its possible to offer online and mobile banking with no possibility of this happening to a customer… ever.  Entersekt, a South African company with designs on the U.S. market, believes it is.  According to a few of the good folks at William Mills, the folks there are the pioneers in transaction authentication.  That is, the company “harnesses the power of electronic certificate technology with the convenience of mobile phones” to provide financial institutions and their customers with full protection from online banking fraud.  Authenticating millions of transactions globally, none of Entersekt’s clients have experienced a successful phishing attack on their systems since implementing the company’s technology.  A pretty impressive accomplishment, and nice way for me to wrap up this week’s column.

Aloha Friday!

Dass de Thing

photo (10)

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!!

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!