Leaving is an inevitable part of life. Everybody ages and, whether by choice or by circumstance, we won’t forever be doing what we are doing today. This law is true for your bank as much as it is for yourself. It is essential to take steps now to prevent the inevitable transitions that are in the future. As individuals, we are constantly questioning whether we are prepared for the next stage of life. “Have I saved enough for retirement?” “Is my estate in order?” As directors, we need to be making similar plans for our bank’s future.
Succession planning can be broken down into three areas: management succession, board succession and ownership succession.
When succession planning is first addressed by a bank, typically management succession is what comes to mind. This naturally includes the chief executive officer’s position, but should also include other vital roles in the bank such as chief financial officer, chief operating officer and your bank’s senior lending officers.
Some banks are challenged when trying to start a formal succession plan: "Who should you include and how should you start?” Banks should start with the most predictable event possible, the eventual retirement of current executives. Not all current executives will necessarily know the exact date they plan to retire, but an age range of 65 to 67 is a good start. As far as whom to include in the plan, it is important to remember that it is not necessary to name a successor now. Identifying a small pool of potential successors is often sufficient. But what banks need to remember is that part of a successful succession plan is ensuring that the people in your plan are still at the bank when you need them. Many banks are incorporating executive benefit/BOLI plans that have golden handcuffs in order to retain all potential successors in the succession plan.
Knowing what you should plan for is always beneficial, but when designing a formal succession plan, banks need to address other contingencies besides the eventual retirement of the current management team. Death, disability and other unexpected events may create a critical situation for those banks that don’t have an emergency succession plan in addition to their long-term succession plan. Depending on the readiness of those involved, the person who takes over running the bank in case of an emergency may very well not be the same person who is the identified successor in the long-term plan.
One of the most challenging aspects of succession planning is board succession. Many banks have mandatory retirement ages typically ranging from age 70 to 75. If your bank does not currently have a mandatory retirement age, you can use nonqualified benefit plans to provide a benefit to those who you may require to retire at a specific age. This can facilitate their retirement from the board in a respectful and dignified way. You may also consider grandfathering the existing board members from a new policy you wish to implement. If that step is taken, the bank still needs to recruit young directors in preparation for the succession of the aging board. In the current regulatory environment, the role of the director is much more involved than in previous years. Often, the most successful banks have diversity on their boards, including various ages and backgrounds, to bring different perspectives regarding the strategic direction of the bank. One concept that seems to be successful for many of our clients is creating an advisory board made up of younger, successful, local business men and women to assist the bank in spreading its marketing footprint. They also typically provide great insight into the needs of the younger generation of bank customers. And many of them bring potentially profitable customers to the bank. As directors reach the mandatory retirement age, the board may recruit full-time directors from the advisory board, which makes for a much smoother transition.
Though many owners do not share their ownership succession plan with the rest of the board or key members of management, it is helpful to know how to plan for the succession of the bank. Utilizing nonqualified benefit plans for key management is beneficial in keeping the management team in place during the ownership succession of the bank.
Open communication is a key factor when considering all forms of succession planning. The more people are aware of the planning that banks are doing, the more comfortable both employees and customers will be during any portion of a transition of succession.