Since the credit crisis, most community banks have been able to grow and improve their financial condition. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), almost 60 percent of community banks reported higher year-over-year earnings for the period ending in the third quarter of 2015. In addition, community banks have increased assets by 5.6 percent and total loans and leases by 8.5 percent for the same period adjusted for mergers. While these growth numbers do not represent the pre-credit crisis years, the industry is showing an improvement. The percentage of unprofitable community banks are at the lowest level in many years. Community banks are defined by the FDIC Community Bank Study, December 2012, and one of the criteria is that these banks are “likely to be owned privately or have public shares that are not widely traded.”
What do improving conditions mean to banks and their compensation plans? Some banks have seen challenges in retaining key officers given increased competition for top talent, while other bankers believe they are now in a position to invest in additional key talent to grow their organization. For banks that have implemented various types of compensation plans, it may mean including an additional key officer in these plans. Attractive executive compensation plans include market-based salary, annual bonus based on performance, stock options or restricted stock (where applicable), reasonable contributions to a 401(k) or other qualified retirement plan, medical care and other standard benefits, change- in-control agreement and a custom-tailored nonqualified retirement plan.
Another important trend is the disruption created in many markets by mergers. The purchasing bank wants to retain the top lenders and others revenue generators, but the change in ownership can cause those individuals to consider other options. Competing banks that have developed a game plan for such situations will be positioned to hire some of these talented individuals. A nonqualified plan (customized for each executive) can play a vital role in attracting and retaining these individuals.
Another trend that has been taking place is an increase in the number of community banks that previously only offered salary and annual bonus plans, but are now providing more comprehensive compensation packages for key executives. This is a result of increased competition for executives as well as improved earnings.
Nonqualified plans need to be tailored to meet the needs of the individual. For example, a younger officer in his or her 30s may not see the value of a retirement benefit targeted at age 67, but would see value in a plan that allows for earlier cash distributions to pay for a child’s college education or that allows for early retirement at age 55. Many organizations use a combination of plans and approaches to attract and retain their key people. Here are some examples of situations and challenges bankers have faced when contemplating compensation plans:
- You have an executive in his mid-50s who has contributed to leading and growing the organization but has not yet been rewarded for his efforts. This executive’s compensation focus is now being more directed at retirement and wealth building rather than solely increases in current cash compensation. Consider a supplemental executive retirement plan (SERP) plan and perhaps a long-term incentive plan. He may also be interested in deferring current salary.
- You have young officers in their 30s and 40s who are high producers and need to be compensated for their efforts with more than just base salary and annual bonus amounts. Consider a performance-based nonqualified benefit plan or a combination of a SERP and performance-based nonqualified plan. It is important to tie these individuals to your bank if you remain independent, but it can also enhance the sales price if these individuals stay with the purchasing bank in the event your bank is sold. Properly designed nonqualified plans can substantially increase the probability they will stay in either scenario.
- For closely held banks that would like their management team to think like owners, consider nonqualified plans using a phantom stock or stock appreciation rights approach or, if another type of deferred compensation plan is adopted, consider linking the interest credited to the executive’s account to the bank’s return on equity.
With an improving economy and asset growth of community banks, along with a higher than normal level of merger activity, banks have been adding officers to existing long term incentive and nonqualified benefit plans or developing and implementing new plans to compete with other banks for talent. Utilizing more than one compensation strategy or plan can be an important element in attracting and retaining talent. The bank’s franchise value is dependent on its level of success in attracting and retaining key executives.
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