Bank M&A

Radius Bank CEO Talks LendingClub Acquisition

Last week, a $1.4 billion asset community bank
sent shockwaves through the financial industry when it agreed to be acquired by
national fintech, LendingClub Corp.

What most people are talking about is what
LendingClub will gain – access to a cheaper and more secure funding, freedom
from loan sponsorship fees it pays to its current partner, Salt Lake City-based
WebBank, and the ability to wade into other traditional banking activities. But
what does the deal mean for the acquisition target, Boston-based Radius Bank?
And what does it say about the future of banking?

I caught up with Mike Butler, president and
CEO of Radius Bancorp, to find out. The following excerpts from our
conversation are edited for brevity, clarity and flow.

BD: What does this deal mean for Radius Bank’s business model?
MB: We think we’re a fintech company with a bank charter. And LendingClub is obviously a fintech that’s thinking about banking. When you bring them together, it’s a nice combination of two companies looking to do the same thing.

Radius will have an opportunity to plug itself
into the infrastructure of LendingClub and leverage a lot more of what we’ve
built to provide both of our clients with better products and services. We will
be operating out of our Boston location here in the Innovation District, not
only driving our direct-to-consumer business, but also our commitment to fintechs
on the strategic partnership side. As part of our early discussions with
LendingClub,there was a lot of
interest in our banking-as-a-service model, and we think that’s a great
opportunity for us to expand further.

What a lot of people haven’t been paying as
much attention to are our commercial lines of business and the opportunity for
us to provide LendingClub with the diversification on the loan side that
everybody’s looking for.

BD: You mentioned that Radius will be plugging into LendingClub’s infrastructure. What are your thoughts on how the companies will meld their teams?
MB: We’re going to help accelerate what is a fairly strong knowledge base inside LendingClub about regulatory and traditional banking. So we get a chance to leapfrog based on our work and our relationship with our regulator.

This is nothing like a traditional bank merger
where cost saves are part of it. Things like overlapping technology and
elimination of headquarters or branches are all distractions inside a
traditional merger that keep you away from leveraging the beauty of a
combination.We’ve got an acute
focus on our objective of delivering superior products and services into the
marketplace, and we won’t be distracted by those other issues, which will allow
us to be more successful.

BD: I know Radius is run a lot like a tech company. Did that play a part in the relationship with LendingClub?
MB: It’s a big part of it. There is a cultural connection in any good merger. We’ve hired a lot of people from outside the banking industry and are teaching them banking. LendingClub has a whole group of technology people that they are teaching banking to as well. So, there’s a lot of cultural connections with what we’re trying to accomplish.

Beyond the cultural connection of people and
mission, our national deposit gathering with industry-leading online banking
and the awards we win for our product, make us a perfect match for a company
like LendingClub, who also does business nationally.

As fintechs have evolved, they’ve done a great
job in proving that they can take some banking products and produce them in a
much more consumer-friendly way. But I think what we always thought is there
would be a rebundling, in which companies would recognize that operating within
a bank charter allows them more flexibility and profitability to deliver their
products and services to clients. This deal reflects that; it’s the first step
in the rebundling of financial services.

BD: How have regulators responded to the deal?
MB: LendingClub has been in the de novo application process for over a year, predominantly with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. And I think it’s safe to say that the regulators were positioned to issue a de novo charter to LendingClub, but LendingClub felt – and did feel all along – that an acquisition was a faster path. We were lucky enough to find each other over six months ago to start talking about this. And so a lot of work has been done behind the scenes.

In our discussions about the opportunity for a
fintech to buy a bank, we’re extremely confident that the Federal Reserve and
the OCC – and both of their offices of innovation – recognize the inevitability
of this type of event and want to participate in helping the future and being a
part of it, rather than not being part of it. So, we’re excited and optimistic
about how the process will go.

BD: Do you think your model might be a clearer path to getting fintechs involved in traditional banking activities?
MB: I obviously do; we’re a fintech company with a bank charter. I always said, “Why wouldn’t a fintech company want to acquire a bank that had forward-looking people and technology as a path to create what we see as the future of the industry?”

You’ve got to be careful about the number of
banks that may be out there that are really prepared to help accelerate a
fintech to get to the next level. That will be the challenge with  people pursuing this avenue, and that’s why
we’re excited to be the first one. But I do think the combination of fintechs
and banks will become more and more prevalent.

BD: Is this the start of a new trend?
MB: I think it is, and I think you’ll see a couple of things happen. I can’t tell the future, but I think there will be several more banks that have considered developing more digital technology accept and move forward on doing that. And I think you will see more fintechs taking a look at banks as a way to rebundle and provide themselves with a path to profitability.

I do think there will be many that wait to see
how the approval process takes place. I don’t think there’ll be a rush to it.
Matter of fact, we like our competitive advantage. Another year with a
competitive advantage would be good for us. So that’s OK by us.

BD: What does this deal say about the future of banking?
MB: It signals that technology has to become the number one component and driver to acquiring and servicing clients at the level that today’s consumer demands.

If banks haven’t been believing that technology is going to be a big player, then they need to start developing something quicker, rather than later, as it relates to their own business – to think about how they will participate in the future.

What I tell bankers is that transforming a bank into a digital platform is not an insurmountable task. I hope that I’ve proven to people that it can be done, and it can be done very successfully.


Amber Buker

Amber Buker is the program director of FinXTech Connect, a curated online directory of bank-friendly fintech companies. She conducts interviews with senior bank leaders and technology executives, writes profiles on fintech companies and maintains a database of information that helps banks source potential technology partners. Prior to Bank Director, Amber served as the Program Director for the Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville. She earned her Juris Doctor with honors and a certificate in intellectual property from Lewis and Clark Law School in 2015 and holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Northeastern State University. Amber is a member of the Tennessee Bar Association, where she serves on the Executive Council of the LGBT Section of the state bar.