Kicking off FinXTech’s Summit

Quickly:

  • Technology continues to transform nearly every aspect of the financial services industry — from mobile payments to peer-to-peer lending to financial management.

PHOENIX — Tomorrow morning, we kick off our annual FinXTech Summit.  As I wrote yesterday, this annual event serves as our “in-person” bridge between banks and qualified technology companies.  Personally, I am so impressed to witness numerous financial institutions transforming how they offer banking products and services to businesses and individuals.  As such, I find myself eager to engage in tomorrow’s conversations around:

  • Partnerships, collaboration and enablement;
  • How and where banks can invest in cloud-based software; and
  • The business potential of machine learning, advanced analytics and natural language processors.

Joining us at the Phoenician are senior executives from high-performance banks like Capital One, Customers Bank, Dime Community Bancshares, First Interstate Bank, IBERIABANK, Mechanics Bank, Mutual of Omaha Bank, PacWest, Pinnacle Financial, Seacoast National Bank, Silicon Valley Bank, South State Bank, TCF National Bank, Umpqua, Union Bank & Trust, USAA and US Bancorp.  Long-time tech players like Microsoft share their opinions alongside strong upstarts like AutoBooks during this two-day program.  So before I welcome nearly 200 men and women to this year’s conference, allow me to share a few of my preliminary thoughts going into the event:

For those with us here in Arizona, you’ll find nearly every presentation explores what makes for a strong, digitally-solid bank.  So to see what’s trending, I invite you to follow the conference conversations via our social channels. For instance, I am @AlDominick on Twitter — and our team shares ideas and information through @BankDirector plus our @Fin_X_Tech platform.  Finally, search & follow #FinXTech18 to see what’s being shared with (and by) our attendees.

Early Takeaways from Bank Director’s Growing the Bank Conference

With continuous pressure on bankers to grow earnings, developing clear strategies, repeatable practices and incorporating exceptional user-experience technologies has to be high on almost every executives to-do list.

How do you bank?

By taking a pause before answering this question, you will appreciate how, regardless of age, we all expect greater pricing transparency, ease of use and always-on access to personal information as part of an integrated banking experience.  The challenge for most bankers?  What many consider state-of-the-art today — in terms of features and services — quickly becomes part of the norm that will be expected and insisted upon in the coming years.

At this morning’s Growing the Bank Conference, I jotted down a few thoughts that builds on this “how do you bank” query.

  • When it comes to the classic build or buy technology decision, partnerships are now de rigueur — with 87% of our 240+ person audience indicating they see technology as presenting opportunities to banks (and not threats).
  • Historically, banks organize themselves along a line of products; however, many have suggested re-orienting operations around customer needs and expectations.
  • To retain deposits, banks should ramp up their customer relationship programs, increase cross-selling efforts and invest in product lines that attract stable deposits.

While we haven’t gotten deep into the payments space (yet), I do encourage bank executives to think about the dramatic growth in that area of banking  — which continues to transform how efficiently banks connect with their customers.  Likewise, I wasn’t kidding when I suggested attendees spend some time reading the OCC’s “Supporting Responsible Innovation” white paper.

Finally, a “did-you-know” that I meant to share from the stage during my conversation with Brian Read, Executive Vice President, Retail Banking, Umpqua Holdings Corp. and Umpqua Bank.  According to the Federal Reserve, 85% of mobile banking users — a bank’s “most advanced” clients — still use branches from time to time. So as he shared with us, there really is a place for a physical presence in banking today.

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*FWIW, we’re in Dallas at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Las Colinas in Dallas, Texas where the annual Byron Nelson golf tournament wrapped up yesterday evening.  The picture above is of Jordan Spieth — the former number one player in the Official World Golf Ranking and two-time major winner — a gift to some of my team who were intent on getting a photo of him.  As a former student of St. Marks, I will not hold it against him that he went to Jesuit, a rival high school.

Seeking Size and Scale

With Wednesday’s announcement that BB&T has a deal in place to acquire Susquehanna Bancshares in a $2.5 billion deal, I felt inspired to focus on the mergers & acquisitions space today.  You see, if 2013 was the year of the merger-of-equals (MOEs), it seems that 2014 has become the year of “seeking size and scale.”

As I’ve shared in past posts, 2013 was characterized by a series of well-structured mergers which produced a dramatic improvement in shareholder reaction to bank M&A.  For example, Umpqua & Sterling,  United Financial Bancorp & Rockville Financial and Bank of Houston & Independent Bank.  Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen some pretty interesting transactions announced that are not MOEs; specifically, Sterling Bancorp buying Hudson Valley Holding in New York, Banner picking up AmericanWest Bank in the Pacific Northwest and the afore-mentioned BB&T deal.

Don’t Be Fooled, Size Matters

As evidenced by the Sterling and Banner acquisitions, the desire for scale and efficiencies is prompting certain institutions to expand.  While regulatory costs and concerns have been cited in previous years as deterents to a transaction, isn’t it interesting that both of these deals position the acquiring institution near the $10Bn threshold (*important as crossing this asset threshold invites new levels of scrutiny and expense).  But like John Thain suggested earlier this year, “the key is being big enough so that you can support all of the costs of regulation.”  Still, comments made by Richard Davis, chairman and chief executive of U.S. Bancorp, about the BB&T agreement should temper some enthusiasm about the biggest players jumping in to the M&A space a la the $185 Bn-in-size BB&T. “This is not a deal you’d ever see us do,” he said at conference in New York hosted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, adding “it’s both out-of-market and it’s fairly expensive.”

I’m Serious, It Matters?!?

Earlier this year, Deloitte published The Top Ten Issues for Bank M&A.  In light of the BB&T deal, it is worth revisiting.  To open, the authors opine “size matters when it comes to regulatory constraints on the banking sector: The bigger the players, the more restrictions on banking activities, including M&A. Banks with less than $10 billion in total assets face the least restriction, while the very largest Systemically Important Financial Institutions (SIFIs) experience the highest level of constraints. Among the major regulatory actions that are expected to hold considerable sway over bank M&A in 2014 are the Volcker Rule, Basel III capital requirements, global liquidity rules, stress testing, and anti-money laundering (AML) and Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) compliance laws.”

Who I’m Taking to Buy a Lottery Ticket

Finally, a tip of the hat to Frank Cicero, the Global Head of Financial Institutions Group at
Jefferies. He reminded me on Wednesday that every prediction he made in a piece he wrote for BankDirector.com at the beginning of the year has come to pass…fewer MOE’s, bigger premiums, regional banks returning to bank M&A.  Personally, I’m wondering if he wants to walk into the lotto store with me this weekend?

Aloha Friday!

Mele Kalikimaka

The banking marketplace today is dramatically different from what it was just three years ago.  Since returning to the industry in 2010, I’ve seen a lot of change — and not all good.  Nonetheless, I am bullish on the future of banking.  While some in the media tend to criticize financial institutions and harp on measures like one’s Texas ratio (which models a bank’s risk profile to fail — and also inspired this site’s name), I prefer to focus on financial institutions as the fabric of our neighborhoods and communities.  When I write About That Ratio it is in stark contrast to those who deride the importance of banks.  I am not blind to the problems facing many bankers today, nor ignorant of errors and indiscretions made by some of our larger names.  Still, count me an optimist that better times are ahead.  So before my family and I take off for Christmas in Tulum, Mexico, one last About That Ratio for 2013 that shares three things from the week that was.

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(1) While many year-end blogs take a look back,  Jim Marous authored a comprehensive forward-looking post on his “Bank Marketing Strategies” blog.  His 2014 Top 10 Retail Banking Trends and Predictions compiles opinions from 60 global financial services leaders — including bankers, credit union executives, industry providers, financial publishers, editors and bloggers, advisors, analysts and fintech followers.  I appreciated his invitation to contribute and thought to share the crowd’s top three trends for 2014:

  1. The “Drive-to-Digital” trend will impact delivery, marketing and service usage;
  2. Payment disruption will increase vis-a-vis new players, technologies and innovations; and
  3. Increased competition from “neobanks” and non-traditional players will accelerate.

Take a read through these and the subsequent seven points offered up.  As Jim writes, “disruption will continue at an unprecedented pace and that the industry will look different this time next year.”

(2) It is hard to escape the reshaping of the banking industry through merger activity; in particular, the return of negotiated, strategic bank combinations.  While in San Francisco a few months ago, I wrote about Heritage Financial’s combination with Washington Banking Co.  Forgive the use of “merger of equals” to describe the deal; however, that misnomer best represents the agreement.  Some see these deals becoming more popular as bankers seek to build value for the next few years in order to sell at higher multiples.  Others cite a desire to create more immediate value through cost cuts and efficiencies.  Regardless of who’s driving and who’s riding, there were quite a few notable deals in 2013; for example, Umpqua and Sterling and the recent “51/49” deal between United Financial Bancorp and Rockville Financial.  I get the sense that more boards will consider deals structured like these to accelerate “scaling up” without utilizing cash as the currency for an acquisition.  Time will tell if I’m right.

(3) Finally, I readily admit my excitement to welcoming men and women from across the country to various Bank Director events next year.  From our BIG M&A conference at the Arizona Biltmore in January to The Growth Conference at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans in May to a peer exchange for officers & directors at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, we have a lot planned.  These events are a big part of our 23 year-old company’s business — and its pretty darn cool to participate in various conversations that relate to growth, innovation and “what’s working.”  I’m not alone in thinking it is time for bank CEOs and their boards to go on the offensive.  Competing successfully in a marketplace, managing shareholder expectations, overcoming regulatory obstacles, developing talent and leadership for the next generation, and, most of all, ensuring that one’s institution has the option of choosing whether to “acquire or be acquired”… yup, topics galore for me to cover here in 2014.

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I end every Friday post with a nod to my mother-in-law (who passed away four years ago).  She lived on the Big Island for several years and became quite fond of the “Aloha Friday” tradition; hence, the sign off.  The only Hawaiian saying that puts a bigger smile on my face is today’s title: Mele Kalikimaka!

Snowquester’d

The White House on 12/18/09
My attempts at photography: the White House on 12/18/09…

Summary: Yes, it’s snowing in the DMV… no, this picture of the White House doesn’t capture today’s totals just yet.  Nonetheless, the run on gas, food and firewood started early yesterday.  So what better time to post something new to About That Ratio than with the snow coming down and the power and wi-fi still on?

I’ve already touched on “Rebooting the Bank;” with today’s piece, I’m taking a look at “rebooting the branch.”  Whereas Brett King inspired my previous entry, credit for today’s falls to PwC.

Recently, I’ve had the chance to talk with several of the firm’s partners about the rise of the digitally driven consumer and commensurate high-cost infrastructure of physical banking locations.  I believe we’re in agreement that if the branch model stays on its current course, it will become a financial burden to banks; ultimately, cutting deep into cross-channel profitability.  So today, I thought to share some information produced by PwC that looks at reinventing branch banking in a multi-channel, global environment.

Yes, the branch of the future has a critical place in banks’ overall channel strategy.  However, in its December “FS Viewpoint,” the professional services firm cites the cost of a branch transaction being approximately 20x higher than a mobile transaction… and more than 40x higher than an online one.  Consequently, banks are beginning to adopt a mix of the following five branch models in order to compete and improve their ROI:

  1. Assisted self-service branches that cater to retail and small-business customers on the go with high-function kiosks;
  2. In-store and corporate branches; for example, in grocery stores and corporate office buildings;
  3. Full-service branches that provide one-stop banking (sales and service) to retail and small-business customers who prefer privacy and face-to-face interactions;
  4. Community centers that have a smaller footprint than traditional branches; and
  5. Flagship stores that deliver sales and advisory expertise while showcasing emerging capabilities to sophisticated customers.

The logic behind a mixed approach?  It increases the bank’s geographic relevance to consumers and balances customer needs, revenue opportunities and cost to achieve growth.

Anecdotally, I’ve recently talked with two CEOs, Ray Davis from Umpqua and Stephen Steinour from Huntington, about their branching strategies in advance of keynote speeches they’ve made at our Acquire or Be Acquired and Lending conferences.  It strikes me that when banks like theirs assess a prospective branching opportunity, they deliberate on things like:

  • How do you develop specific financial criteria for measuring branch performance;
  • How do you decide whether the best path to building customers is adding branches, or operating with a more centralized marketing strategy; and
  • What are the advantages — and potential pitfalls — of growing a branch network.

So as the snow continues to fall outside, I’m digging deeper into PwC’s perspectives.  As a “bonus” to the white paper referenced about, let me also share a video from the firm “Look Before You Leap: Analyze Customer and Business Impact Carefully Before Implementing Product Change.”  While the title is a mouthful, the message, pretty succinct.