3 Approaches to Shaping a Bank’s Digital Future

  • To compete in this new era of heightened digital competition, it is more important than ever for banks of all sizes to stay committed to the quest of constant improvement.

WASHINGTON, DC — How should you position your bank for the future — or, for that matter, the present?  This is one of the most perplexing questions challenging leadership teams right now.  It is not a new consideration; indeed, the industry has been in a constant state of evolution for as long as anyone on our team can remember. Yet lately, it has taken on a new, possibly more existential sense of urgency.

Fortunately, there are examples of banks, of different sizes and a variety of business models, keeping pace with changing consumer expectations and commercial clients’ needs. The industry seems to be responding to the ongoing digital revolution in banking in three ways.

#1: Forge Your Own Digital Frontier

The biggest banks—those like JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co.—have the resources to forge their own paths on the digital frontier. These banks spend as much as $11 billion a year each on technology. Each hires thousands of programmers to conceptualize digital solutions for customers. And you know what? Their results are impressive.

As many as three-quarters of deposit transactions are completed digitally at these banks (take a minute and let that number sink in).  A growing share of sales, account openings and money transfers take place over these banks’ digital channels as well. This allows these banks to winnow down their branch networks meaningfully while still gaining retail deposit market share.

*IMO, the next step in their evolution is to combine digital delivery channels with insights gleaned from data. It’s by marrying the two, I believe, that banks can gain a competitive advantage by improving the financial lives of their customers.

#2: Look Outside For Tailored Solutions

Just below the biggest banks are super-regional and regional banks.  They too are fully embracing technology, although they tend to look outside their organizations for tailored solutions that will help them compete in this new era (rather than develop the solutions themselves).

These banks talk about integration as a competitive advantage. They argue that they can quickly and nimbly integrate digital solutions developed elsewhere—growing without a burdensome branch network while also benefiting from the latest technologies without bearing the risk and cost of developing many of those solutions themselves. It is a way, in other words, for them to have their cake and eat it too.

U.S. Bancorp and PNC Financial Services Group fall into this category. Both are reconfiguring their delivery channels, reallocating funds that would be spent on expanding and updating their branch networks to digital investments.

In theory, this makes it possible for these banks to expand into new geographic markets with far fewer branches. Indeed, U.S. Bancorp announced recently that it will use a combination of digital channels and new branches to establish a physical retail beachhead in Charlotte, North Carolina. PNC Financial is doing the same in Dallas, Texas, among other markets.

#3: Go Off-the-Shelf

Finally, smaller community banks are adopting off-the-shelf solutions offered by their core providers—Fidelity National Information Services (FIS), Fiserv and Jack Henry & Associates.

This approach can be both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because these solutions have enabled upwards of 90 percent of community banks to offer mobile banking applications—table stakes nowadays in the industry. It is a curse because it further concentrates the reliance of community banks on a triumvirate of service providers.

In the final analysis, however, it is important to appreciate that smaller banks based outside of major metropolitan areas still have a leg up when it comes to tried-and-true relationship banking. Their share of loans and deposits in their local markets could even grow if the major money-center banks continue fleeing smaller markets in favor of big cities.

Smaller regional and community banks dominate small business loans in their markets—a fact that was recently underscored by LendingClub Corp.’s decision to close its small business lending unit. These loans still require local expertise—the type of expertise that resides in their hometown banks. The same is true of agriculture loans.

Let’s Not Forget: Banks Are Still Banks

Trust is still the top factor cited by customers in the selection process. And loans must still be underwritten in a responsible way if a bank wants to survive the irregular, but not infrequent, cycles that define our economy. The net result is that some community banks are not only surviving in this new digital era, they are thriving.

But this isn’t a call to complacency—far from it.

3 Trends (and 3 Issues) Every Bank’s Board Needs To Consider

Quickly:

  • The challenges faced by financial institutions today are as numerous as they are nuanced. Be it data security, emerging technology, fraud, crisis management and/or the effectiveness of internal controls, I opened the 12th annual Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference by laying out a number of key governance, risk and compliance issues and trends.

CHICAGO — While a sophomore at Washington & Lee University, a professor loudly (and unexpectedly) chastised a close friend of mine for stating the obvious. With a wry laugh, he thanked my classmate “for crashing through an open door.” Snark aside, his criticism became a rallying cry for me to pause and dive deeper into apparently simple questions or issues.

Audit16x9

I shared this anecdote with some 400 attendees earlier today; indeed, I teed up Bank Director’s annual program by reminding everyone from the main stage that:

  1. We’re late in the economic cycle;
  2. Rates are rising; and
  3. Pressure on lending spreads remains intense.

Given the composition of this year’s audience, I acknowledged the obvious nature of these three points. I did so, however, in order to surface three trends we felt all here should have on their radar.  I followed that up with three emerging issues to make note of.

TREND #1:
Big banks continue to roll-out exceptional customer-facing technology.

Wells Fargo has been kicked around a lot in the press this year, but to see how big banks continue to pile up retail banking wins, take a look at Greenhouse by Wells Fargo, their app designed to attract younger customers to banking.

TREND #2:
Traditional core IT providers — Fiserv, Jack Henry & FIS — are under fire.

As traditional players move towards digital businesses, new players continue to emerge to help traditional banks become more nimble, flexible and competitive.  Here, FinXact and Nymbus provide two good examples of legitimate challengers to legacy cores.

TREND #3:
Amazon lurks as the game changer.

Community banker’s fear Amazon’s potential entry into this market; according to Promontory Interfinancial Network’s recent business outlook, it is their greatest threat.

In addition to these trends, I surfaced three immediate issues that banks must tackle

ISSUE #1:
Big banks attract new deposits at a much faster pace than banks with less than $1 billion assets.

If small banks can’t easily and efficiently attract deposits, they basically have no future. ‘Nuf said.

ISSUE #2: 
Bank boards need to know if they want to buy, sell or grow independently.

In a recent newsletter, Tom Brown of Second Curve Capital opined that “if you have less than $5 billion in assets, an efficiency ratio north of 65%, deposit costs above 60 basis points, and earn a return on equity in the single digits, this really is time to give some thought to selling.”  As I shared on LinkedIn yesterday, the 3 biggest bank M&A deals of the year took place in May: Fifth Third Bancorp’s $4.6 billion purchase of MB Financial, Cadence Bancorp’s $1.3 billion acquisition of State Bank Financial and Independent Bank Group’s $1 billion agreement to buy Guaranty Bancorp. 
 I don’t see the pace of consolidation slowing any time soon — and know that banks need to ask if they want (and can) be buyers or sellers.

ISSUE #3:
The risk of data breaches across industries continues to increase.

Be it risk management, internal control or third-party security considerations, every aspect of an institution is susceptible to a data breach — and managing these threats and identifying appropriate solutions takes a village that includes the most senior leaders of an organization.

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Just as banks need to develop their audit and risk capabilities, skills and talents, so too do officers and directors have both an opportunity and the responsibility to stay abreast of various trends and topics.  Bank Director’s event continues tomorrow with some fascinating presentations. To see what’s been shared already, take a look at Twitter, where I’m tweeting using @aldominick and #BDAudit18.

Ranking the 10 Biggest Banks

Quickly:

  • Bank Director’s year-long Ranking Banking study focuses less on current profitability and market capitalization & more on how the top 10 banks in the U.S. are strategically positioned for success.

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

WASHINGTON, DC — It is with tremendous pride that I share the results of Bank Director’s year-long study on America’s 10 largest banks.
  As my colleague, Bill King, wrote to open our inaugural Ranking Banking, we felt that a truly comprehensive analysis of the largest banks was missing, one that includes not just profitability or customer satisfaction ratings, but also compiles numerous measures of strength and financial health — a project to rank each of the largest banks for each major line of business based on qualities that all big banks need.

For instance, we decided to rank banks for branch networks, mobile banking, innovation and wealth management. We analyzed corporate banking and small business lending. We interviewed experts in the field and did secret shopper visits to the biggest banks to find out what the customer experience was like.  Unlike other rankings, we even included complaints lodged with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as one of many customer satisfaction metrics that we analyzed.  In other words, there is little about the biggest banks in the nation that we left out.

So who came out on top?

JPMorgan Chase & Co. topped Bank Director’s 2018 Ranking Banking study.

In fact, Chase won five of the ten individual categories and ranked near the top in three more, and was judged by Bank Director to be the most worthy claimant of the title Best of the Biggest Banks.  The individual category winners are:

Best Branch Network: Wells Fargo & Co.

Despite its well-publicized unauthorized account opening scandal, Wells Fargo topped the branch category by showing the best balance of deposit growth and efficiency, and scored well on customer experience reports from Bank Director’s on-site visits.

Best Board: Citigroup

In ranking the boards of directors of the big banks, Bank Director analyzed board composition by factors such as critical skill sets, diversity, median compensation relative to profitability and independence. Citigroup’s board best balanced all components.

Best Brand: JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Chase and runner-up Capital One Financial Corp. stood out for their media spend as a percentage of revenue, and both exhibited strong customer perception metrics.

Best Mobile Strategy: JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Chase has been successful in driving new and existing customers to its mobile products, leading to an impressive digital footprint, measured through mobile app downloads. The bank’s app also scored well with consumers.

Best Core Deposit Growth Strategy: BB&T Corp.

BB&T had a low cost of funds compared to the other ranked banks, and its acquisitions played a strong role in its core deposit growth, which far surpassed the other banks in the ranking.

Most Innovative: JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Chase most successfully balanced actual results with sizeable investments in technological innovation. These initiatives include an in-residence program and a financial commitment to the CFSI Financial Solutions Lab. Chase has also been an active investor in fintech companies.

Best Credit Card Program: JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Chase barely edged out fast-growing Capital One to take the credit card category, outpacing most of its competitors in terms of credit card loan volume and the breadth of its product offering. Chase also scored well with outside brand and market perception studies.

Best Small Business Program: Wells Fargo & Co.

Wells Fargo has long been recognized as a national leader in banking to small businesses, largely because of its extensive branch structure, and showed strong loan growth, which is difficult to manage from a large base. Wells Fargo is also the nation’s most active SBA lender and had the highest volume of small business loans.

Best Bank for Big Business: JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Big banks serve big businesses well, and finding qualitative differences among the biggest players in this category—Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup—is difficult. But Chase takes the category due to its high level of deposit share, loan volume and market penetration.

Best Wealth Management Program: Bank of America Corp.

With Merrill Lynch fueling its wealth management division, Bank of America topped the category by scoring highly in a variety of metrics, including number of advisors (more than 18,000 at last count) and net revenue for wealth and asset management, as well as earning high marks for market perception and from Bank Director’s panel of experts.

FWIW…

The 10 largest U.S. retail banks play an enormously important role in the nation’s economy and the lives of everyday Americans. For example, at the end of 2016, the top 10 banks accounted for over 53 percent of total industry assets, and 57 percent of total domestic deposits, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The top four credit card issuers in 2016—JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup and Capital One Financial Corp.—put more than 303 million pieces of plastic in the hands of eager U.S. consumers, according to The Nilson Report.

The 5 Corners of Technological Innovation in Financial Services

To grasp what the future of banking holds, look no further than the five areas of focus for Wells Fargo.  Last week, the best performing large bank in the United States launched an “Innovation Group” in San Francisco.  As they share, this team will will work in partnership with its major businesses to meet evolving customer needs and stay ahead of the shifting competitive landscape.  Initially, such efforts will center on five areas:

  • Research and development;
  • Innovation strategies;
  • Payment strategies;
  • Design and delivery; and
  • Analytics.

As a nationwide, diversified, community-based financial services company with $1.7 trillion in assets, Wells Fargo now has six innovation labs along with its startup “accelerator.”  Given that a number of the world’s largest finance sector companies are reviewing their business models following the rapid growth of “fintech” entrants in the sector, the investment in both time and resources by Wells Fargo gives shape to the potential future of banking.

Wells Fargo Labs invite customers to “Come out and Play: Be one of the first to test out latest ideas and technologies – from still-in-development beta offerings to newly launched products.”

Personally, I’m drawn to this new addition to the Wells family in light of a report by the World Economic Forum, supported by Deloitte Consulting, entitled The Future of Financial Services:How disruptive innovations are reshaping the way financial services are structured, provisioned and consumed.

As noted by the paper’s lead author, “for decades, banks and insurers have employed similar, highly profitable business models. But they realize those models are coming under pressure due to fintech innovations… Financial technology companies are deploying online platforms, have small capital bases, and make strategic use of data, to acquire customers and revenues at a fast pace. Banks and insurers noted that, and are contemplating their response.”  So as major players like Wells Fargo explore the “transformative potential of new entrants and innovations on business models in financial services,” seeing the cards they are putting on the table provides real color for what the future holds for many here in the U.S.

Is Walmart the Next Big Bank

Part four of a five piece series on emerging threats to banks from non-financial companies. To read parts one through three, click on “For Banks, the Sky IS Falling,” “PayPal is Eating Your Bank’s Lunch” and “The Bank of Facebook.”

At the risk of crashing through an open door, did you know that the retail juggernaut Wal-Mart Stores Inc. launched Bluebird in partnership with American Express late in 2012 so users can direct deposit their paychecks, make bill payments, withdraw cash from ATMs and write checks?  Yes, customers also have access to mobile banking, which includes features like remote deposit capture and person-to-person (P2P) payments.  So does this position Wal-Mart as the next SIFI (*no disrespect to CIT following their announced acquisition of OneWest in a $3.4Bn stock & cash deal earlier this week)?

Walmart bank logo.001

Cue Robin Thicke

According to Wal-Mart, 95% of Americans live within 15 miles of one of its stores.  So I think its fair to say that Wal-Mart continues to blur lines between banking and shopping as it added yet another financial service to its stores across the country.  Indeed, the retailer announced this spring that customers can transfer money to and from any of its 4,000 stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.  As this article in Forbes highlighted, low income workers who don’t have traditional bank accounts are turning to prepaid cards and alternatives to checking accounts.  Banks like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo are trying to fill that gap with prepaid and reload able cards — something Wal-Mart has been offering for years.

Where Is That Achilles Heel?

Unlike online competitors to a bank, Wal-Mart enjoys huge brand recognition and an established customer base that feels comfortable walking into their local “branch.”  In fact, banks that already operate inside Walmarts reap among the highest fees from customers of any banks in the nation, according to a WSJ analysis.  But the very demographic the retail company serves — one that expects and demands rock-bottom pricing — may not favor a “B of W.”

Indeed, banking at Wal-Mart is a lot more expensive than shopping there.  As noted by in the WSJ, most U.S. banks earn the bulk of income through lending.  Among the 6,766 banks in the Journal’s examination, “just 15 had fee income higher than loan income — including the five top banks operating at Wal-Mart.”  Would the company really want to race to the bottom in terms of pricing its financial products (ones that would not be federally insured) and compete with its own tenants?

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

It is worth noting that Wal-Mart has tried to get into banking since the late 1990s.  It was thwarted in attempts to buy a savings-and-loan in Oklahoma and a bank in California — and later dropped a bid for its own banking charter in 2007.  While I’m not suggesting the new logo depicted above is anything more than a simple rendering by yours truly, it wouldn’t surprise me if the company explored even more creative ways to compete with financial institutions in the future.

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To comment on this piece, please click the white plus sign in the bottom right gray circle on this page or share your thoughts with me via Twitter (I’m @aldominick).  Next up, how crowdsourcing sites like Kiva and Kickstarter allow customers to bypass their bank to get funding for a business idea.

FI Tip Sheet: Some of Banking’s Best CEOs

Last month on Yahoo Finance, Sydney Finkelstein, professor of management and an associate dean at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, produced a list of the Best CEOs of 2013, one that includes Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Pony Ma of Tencent,  John Idol of Michael Kors, Reed Hastings of Netflix and Akio Toyoda of Toyota.  Inspired by his picks, I reached out to a number of colleagues that work for professional services firms to ask their thoughts on the top CEOs at financial institutions — along with why they hold them in such regard.  What follows in this morning’s tip sheet are myriad thoughts on some of the best CEOs in the business today — broken down into three categories: the “biggest banks” with $50Bn+ in assets, those with more than $5Bn but less than $50Bn and finally, those in the $1Bn to $5Bn size range.

AboutThatRatio = image for Jan 10.001

(1) Top CEOs at financial institutions over $50Bn

The names and logos of institutions over $50Bn — think M&T with some $83Bn in assets, KeyCorps with $90Bn, PNC with $305Bn and US Bancorp with $353Bn — are familiar to most.  Leading these massive organizations are some tremendously talented individuals; for example, John Stumpf, the CEO at Wells Fargo.  Multiple people shared their respect for his leadership of the fourth largest bank in the U.S. (by assets) and the largest bank by market capitalization.  According to Fred Cannon, the Director of Research at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, John “has created and maintains a unified culture around one brand, (one) that demonstrates strength and stability.  Wells is exhibit #1 in the case for large banks not being bad.”

Similarly, U.S. Bancorp’s Richard Davis garnered near universal respect, with PwC’s Josh Carter remarking “Richard has continued to steer US bank through stormy seas, continuing to stay the course running into the downturn, taking advantage of their position of relative strength, weathering the National Foreclosure issues and managing to avoid being considered part of ‘Wall Street’ even though US Bank is one of the 6 largest banks in the U.S.”

Finally, Steve Steinour, the CEO at Huntington Bancshares, inspired several people to comment on his work at the $56Bn institution.  Case-in-point, Bill Hickey, the co-Head of the Investment Banking Group at Sandler O’Neill, pointed out that since taking the helm in 2009, Steve has led a “remarkable turnaround… Huntington is now a top performer and is positioned to be the dominant regional bank in the Midwest.”

(2) Top CEOs at financial institutions between $5Bn and $50Bn

For banks between $5Bn and $50Bn, Greg Becker at Silicon Valley Bank garnered quite a few votes.  Headquartered in Santa Clara, California, I think they are one of the most innovative banks out there — and several people marveled that it has only grown and diversified under Greg’s leadership.  According to Josh Carter, “what they’re doing is a good example of how a bank can diversify their lending approach while maintaining a prudent credit culture.”  This echoes what Fred Cannon shared with me; specifically, that the $23Bn NASDAQ-listed institution is “the premier growth bank with a differentiated product.”  

Fred also cited the leadership of David Zalman, the Chairman & Chief Executive Officer at Prosperity Bancshares Inc., a $16 billion Houston, Texas-based regional financial holding company listed on the NYSE.  According to Fred, David demonstrates how to grow and integrate through acquisitions that is a model for other bank acquirors.  C.K. Lee, Managing Director for Investment Banking at Commerce Street Capital, elaborated on David’s successes, noting their development “from a small bank outside Houston to one of the most disciplined and practiced acquirers in the country and more than $20 billion in assets. The stock has performed consistently well for investors and the acquired bank shareholders – and now they are looking for additional growth outside Texas.”

Keeping things in the Lone Star state, C.K. also mentioned Dick Evans at Frost Bank.  In C.K.’s words, “this is a bank that stayed true to its Texas roots, maintained a conservative lending philosophy, executed well on targeted acquisitions and a created distinctive brand and culture. As Texas grew into an economic powerhouse, Frost grew with it and Mr. Evans was integral to that success.”

Finally, Nashville’s Terry Turner, the CEO of Pinnacle Financial Partners, drew Bill Hickey’s praise, as he “continues to successfully take market share from the larger regional competitors in Nashville and Knoxville primarily as the result of attracting and retaining high quality bankers. Financial performance has been impressive and as a result, continues to trade at 18x forward earnings and 2.4x tangible book value.”

(3) Top CEOs at financial institutions from $1Bn to $5Bn

For CEOs at banks from $1Bn to $5Bn, men like Rusty Cloutier of MidSouth Bank (“a banker’s banker”), David Brooks of Independent Bank Group (“had a breakout year in 2013”) and Leon Holschbach from Midland States Bancorp (“they’ve not only grown the bank but added significant presence in fee-income businesses like trust/wealth management and merchant processing”) drew praise.  So too did Jorge Gonzalez at City National Bank of Florida.  According to PwC’s Josh Carter, Jorge took over a smaller bank in 2007 “with significant deposit concentrations, large exposures to South Florida Real Estate, weathered a pretty nasty turn in the economy and portfolio value and emerged with a much stronger bank, diversified loan portfolio and retained key relationships.  Jorge has also managed to maintained an exceptional service culture, with a significant efficiency level and has combined relationship driven sales to grow the bank.  Jorge has also diversified the product mix and is one of the few smaller banks that can really deliver on the small bank feel with big bank capabilities.”

In addition, Banner Bank’s CEO, Mark Grescovich, won points for his work at the commercial bank headquartered in Walla Walla, Washington.  Mark became CEO in August 2010 (prior to joining the bank, Mark was the EVP and Chief Corporate Banking Officer for the $24Bn, Ohio-based standout FirstMerit). In Fred Cannon’s words, the transformation “is truly exceptional and Mark accomplished this by encouraging and utilizing a talented team of bankers from legacy Banner.”

Finally, Ashton Ryan at First NBC in New Orleans is one I’ve been told to watch.  Indeed, C.K. Lee shared how “Ryan capitalized on the turmoil in New Orleans banking to turn in strong organic growth, with targeted acquisitions along the way. The bank is recently public and has been rewarded by the market with a strong currency to go with its strong balance sheet and earnings.”

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In addition to the list above, I have been very impressed by Peter Benoist at Enterprise Bank in St. Louis, look up to Michael Shepherd, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for Bank of the West and BancWest Corporation and respect the vision of Frank Sorrentino at ConnectOne.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I realize there are many, many more leaders who deserve praise and recognition.  Click the “+” button on the bottom right of this page to comment on this piece and let me know who else might be recognized for their leadership prowess.

Aloha Friday!

Can Banking Be Right-Sized?

Size matters?
Size matters?

Although its been said many times, many ways, I can’t tell you what size really matters in banking today. Pick a number…  $500M in asset size?  $1Bn?  $9.9Bn?  Over $50Bn?  7,000 institutions?  6,000?  3,000? Less?  As a follow-up to last week’s guest post by Bank Director magazine’s editor, I spent some extra time thinking about where we are heading as an industry — and the size and types of banks + bankers leading the way.  What follows are three things I’m thinking about to wrap up the week that shows that size matters; albeit, in different ways.

(1) Not a single de novo institution has been approved in more than two years (astonishing considering 144 were chartered in 2007 alone) and the banking industry is consolidating.  Indeed, the number of federally insured institutions nationwide shrank to 6,891 in the third quarter after this summer — falling below 7,000 for the first time since federal regulators began keeping track in 1934, according to the FDIC.  Per the Wall Street Journal, the decline in bank numbers, from a peak of more than 18,000, has come almost entirely in the form of exits by banks with less than $100 million in assets, with the bulk occurring between 1984 and 2011.   I’ve written about how we are “over-capacity;” however, an article on Slate.com takes things to an entirely different level.  In America’s Microbank Problem, Matthew Yglesias posits America has “far far far too many banks…. (that) are poorly managed… can’t be regulated… can’t compete.”  He says we should want the US Bankcorps and PNCs and Fifth Thirds and BancWests of America to swallow up local franchises and expand their geographical footprints.  He sees the ideal being “effective competition in which dozens rather than thousands of banks exist, and they all actually compete with each other on a national or regional basis rather than carving up turf.”  While I have no problem with fewer banks, limiting competition to just the super regional and megabanks is a terrible thought.  Heck, the CEO of Wells Fargo & Co. wrote in the American Banker this August how vital community banks are to the economy.  So let me cite a rebuttal to Slate’s piece by American Banker’s Washington bureau chief Rob Blackwell.  Rob, I’m 100% with you when you write “small banks’ alleged demise is something to resist, not cheer on” and feel compelled to re-share Mr. Stumpf’s opinion:

…we need well-managed, well-regulated banks of all sizes—large and small—to meet our nation’s diverse financial needs, and we need public policies that don’t unintentionally damage the very financial ecosystem they should keep healthy.

(2) To the consolidation side of things, a recent Bank Director M&A survey found 76% of respondents expect to see more bank deals in 2014.  Within this merger mix exists strategic affiliations.  While the term “merger of equals” is a misnomer, there are real benefits of a strategic partnership when two like-sized banks join forces.  Case-in-point, the recent merger between Rockville Bank and United Bank (which will take the United name).  Once completed, the institution will have about $5 billion in assets and be the 4th largest bank in the Springfield, MA and Hartford, CT metropolitan area.  According to a piece authored by  Jim Kinney in The Republican, United Bank’s $369 million merger with the parent of Connecticut’s Rockville Bank “is a ticket to the big leagues for both banks.”  In my opinion, banks today have a responsibility to invest in their businesses so that they can offer the latest products and services while at the same time keep expenses in check to better weather this low interest rate environment.  United Bank’s president-to-be echoed this sentiment.  He shared their “dual mandate in the banking industry these days is to become more efficient, because it is a tough interest rate environment, and continue to grow… But it is hard to grow and save money because you have to spend money to make money.”   Putting together two banks of similar financial size gives the combined entity a better chance to this end.

(3) In terms of growth — and by extension, innovation — I see new mobile offerings, like those from MoneyDesktop, adding real value to community banks nationwide.  This Utah-based tech firm provides banks and credit unions with a personal financial management solution that integrates directly with online banking platforms.  As they share, “account holders are changing. There is an ongoing shift away from traditional brick & mortar banking. Technology is providing better ways for account holders to interact with their money, and with financial institutions.”  By working directly with online banking, core and payment platforms, MoneyDesktop positions institutions and payment providers as financial hubs and offers marketing tools that dramatically impact loan volume, user acquisition and wallet-share.  As technology levels the playing field upon which institutions compete, banks that leverage account holder banking information to solidify relationships bodes well for bank and customer alike.

Aloha Friday!

The Buying and Selling of Banks

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I think I know what’s around the bend…

As we wind down the dog days of summer, I re-read my last eight posts before outlining this week’s piece.  By design, I placed a heavier emphasis on stories that related to building customer relationships and opportunities tied to organic growth rather than multi-national issues and regulatory reform.  To build off these ideas, I thought to share three pieces that address “what’s next” in the United States and Europe.  The first focuses on potential changes overseas; the second, on domestic mergers and acquisitions; to close, I share the thoughts of Wells Fargo’s CEO on the importance of community banks.

(1) “What’s next for the restructuring of Europe’s banks,” a question that parallels many conversations taking place within boardrooms, think tanks, government offices and media rooms across the U.S.  Penned by members of the financial services team at McKinsey, this op-ed shows how Europe’s banks, like their U.S. counterparts, have had to re-evaluate their short and long-term prospects based on stagnant economic conditions.  Many “continue to face pressure from difficult funding conditions, a transition to higher costs of capital, changing regulations and tighter capital requirements.”  The authors make a case that many “need to shed capital-intensive operations and simplify businesses to compete more profitably in fewer market segments.”  All told, this report claims Europe’s banks are “considering the sale of up to 725 business lines across various business segments and geographies.”  If true, this might result in greater numbers of strategic mergers of like-sized banks.  Do you agree that this story sounds eerily familiar to the one playing out here in the States?

(2) Staying closer to home, bankers and advisers alike debate how quickly consolidation will play out in the coming years.  Personally, I see it taking place over a longer period than some might forecast.  To this point, I think I have a friend in Raymond James’ Anthony Polini (their Managing Director of Equity Research).  Anthony shared his perspectives with an audience of CEOs, Chairmen and board members at Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference this January.  There, he opined that industry consolidation “is inevitable” as banks come to grips with new regulations, lower growth rates, higher capital/reserve requirements and lower long-term margins/returns.

Earlier this week, he penned a mid-year report that builds on those ideas.  He lays out how “the current slow growth environment fosters M&A as a quicker means for balance sheet growth and to achieve operating efficiencies in this revenue-challenged environment.”  In his team’s estimation, meaningful industry consolidation takes place over the next 5 to 10 years rather than a large wave that occurs over just a few.  This belies his belief that banks are “sold and not bought.”

Using this logic, coupled with an improving (albeit slowly) economy, modestly better asset quality and shades of loan growth, he believes “an M&A target’s view of franchise value will remain above that of potential acquirers. Put another way… expect the disconnect between buyers’ and sellers’ expectations to remain wide but slowly move closer to equilibrium over time.”

(3) Not to be lost amid this consolidation talk is a perspective from John Stumpf, the chairman and chief executive of Wells Fargo, as to why “Community Banks Are Vital to Our Way of Life.”  In his words

“…we need well-managed, well-regulated banks of all sizes—large and small—to meet our nation’s diverse financial needs, and we need public policies that don’t unintentionally damage the very financial ecosystem they should keep healthy. “

He continues that “almost 95% of all U.S. banks are community banks. They provide nearly half of all small loans to U.S. businesses and farms. In one out of five U.S. counties, community banks are the only banking option for local residents and businesses. Many small towns… would have little access to banks, and the services they provide, without our system of community banks.”  Significant words from one of banking’s biggest voices.  Not the first time he’s shared this opinion, and hopefully, not the last.

Aloha Friday!