FASB Sheds Light On CECL Delay Decision


CECL-8-15-19.pngSmall community banks are poised to receive a delay in the new loan loss standard from the accounting board.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board is changing how it sets the effective dates for major accounting standards, including the current expected credit loss model or CECL. They hope the delay, which gives some banks an extra one or two years, provides them with more time to access scarce external resources and learn from the implementation lessons of larger banks.

Bank Director spoke with FASB member Susan Cosper ahead of the July 27 meeting discussing the change. She shed some light on the motivations behind the change and how the board wants to help community banks implement CECL, especially with its new Q&A.

BD: Why is FASB considering a delay in some banks’ CECL effective date? Where did the issue driving the delay come from?
SC: The big issue is the effective date philosophy. Generally speaking, we’ve split [the effective dates] between [Securities and Exchange Commission] filers or public business entities, and private companies and not-for-profits. Generally, the not-for-profits and private companies have gotten an extra year, just given their resource constraints and educational cycle, among other things.

We started a dialogue after the effective date of the revenue recognition standard with our small business advisory committee and private company council about whether one year was enough. They expressed a concern that one [extra] year is difficult, because they don’t necessarily have enough time to learn from what public companies have done, they have resource constraints and they have other standards that they’re dealing with.

We started to think about whether we needed to give private companies and not-for-profits extra time. And at the same time, did we need to [expand that] to small public companies as well?

BD: What does this mean for CECL? What would change?
SC: For the credit loss standard, we had a three-tiered effective date, which is a little unusual. Changing how we set effective dates would essentially collapse that into two tiers. We will still have the SEC filers, minus the small reporting companies, with an effective date of Jan. 1, 2020.

We would take the small reporting companies and group it with the “all-other” category, and push that out until Jan. 1, 2023. It essentially gives the non-public business entities an extra year, and the small reporting companies an extra two years.

BD: How long has FASB considered changing its philosophy for effective dates? It seems sudden, but I’m sure the board was receiving an increasing amount of feedback, and identified this as a way to address much of that feedback.
SC: We’ve been thinking about this for a while. We’ve asked our advisory committees and counsels a lot of questions: “How did it go? Did you have enough time? What did you learn?” Different stakeholder groups have expressed concern about different standards, but it was really trying to get an understanding of why they needed the extra time and concerns from a resource perspective.

When you think about resources, it’s not just the internal resources. Let’s look at a community bank or credit union: Sometimes they’re using external resources as well. There are a lot of larger companies that may be using those external resources. [Smaller organizations] may not have the leverage that some of the larger organizations have to get access to those resources.

BD: For small reporting companies, their CECL effective date will move from January 2020 to January 2023. How fast do you think auditors or anyone advising these SRCs can adopt these changes for them?
SC: What we’ve learned is that the smaller companies wait longer to actually start the adoption process. There are many community banks that haven’t even begun the process of thinking about what they need to do to apply the credit loss standard.

It also affords [FASB] an opportunity to develop staff Q&As and get that information out there, and help smaller community banks and credit unions understand what they need to do and how they can leverage their existing processes.

When we’ve met with community banks and credit unions, sometimes they think they have to do something much more comprehensive than what they actually need to do. We’re planning to travel around the country and hold meetings with smaller practitioners — auditors, community banks, credit unions — to educate them on how they can leverage their existing processes to apply the standard.

BD: What kind of clarity does FASB hope to provide through its reasonable and supportable forecast Q&A that’s being missed right now? [Editor’s note: According to FASB, CECL requires banks to “consider available and relevant information, including historical experience, current conditions, and reasonable and supportable forecasts,” when calculating future lifetime losses. Banks revert to their historical loss performance when the loan duration extends beyond the forecast period.]
SC: There are so many different aspects of developing the reasonable and supportable forecast in this particular Q&A. We have heard time and time again that there are community banks that believe they need to think about econometrics that affect banks in California, when they only operate in Virginia. So, we tried to clarify: “No, you need to think about the types of qualitative factors that would impact where you are actually located.”

The Q&A tries to provide an additional layer of clarity about what the board’s intent was, to help narrow what a bank actually has to do. It also provides some information on other types of metrics that banks could use, outside of metrics like unemployment. It talks about how to do the reversion to historical information, and tries to clarify some of the misinformation that we have heard as we’ve met with banks.

BD: People have a sense about what the words “reasonable” and “supportable” mean, but maybe banks feel that they should buy a national forecast because that seems like a safe choice for a lot of community banks.
SC: Hindsight is always 20-20, but I think people get really nervous with the word “forecast.” What we try to clarify in the Q&A is that it’s really just an estimate, and what that estimate should include.

BD: Is the board concerned about the procrastination of banks? Or that at January 2022, banks might expect another delay?
SC: What we’re really hoping to accomplish is a smooth transition to the standard, and that the smaller community banks and the credit unions have the opportunity to learn from the implementation of the larger financial institutions. In our conversations with community banks, they’re thinking about it and want to understand how they can leverage their existing processes.

BD: What is FASB’s overall sense of banks’ implementation of CECL?
SC: What we have heard in meetings with the larger financial institutions is that they’re ready. We’re seeing them make public disclosure in their SEC filings about the impact of the standard. We’ve talked to them extensively about some of how they’ve accomplished implementation. After the effective date comes, we will also have conversations with them about what went well, what didn’t go well and what needs clarification, in an effort to help the smaller financial institutions with their effective date.

Community Bank Succession Planning in Seven Steps


succession-6-25-19.pngSuccession planning is vital to a bank’s independence and continued success, but too many banks lack a realistic plan, or one at all.

Banks without a succession plan place themselves in a precarious, uncertain position. Succession plans give banks a chance to assess what skills and competencies future executives will need as banking evolves, and cultivate and identify those individuals. But many banks and their boards struggle to prepare for this pivotal moment in their growth. Succession planning for the CEO or executives was in the top three compensation challenges for respondents to Bank Director’s 2018 Compensation Survey.

The lack of planning comes even as regulators increasing treat this as an expectation. This all-important role is owned by a bank’s board, who must create, execute and update the plan. But directors may struggle with how to start a conversation with senior management, while executives may be preoccupied with running the daily operations of the bank and forget to think for the future of the bank without them. Without strong board direction and annual check-ins, miscommunications about expected retirement can occur.

Chartwell has broken down the process into seven steps that can help your bank’s board craft a succession plan that positions your institution for future growth. All you have to do is start.

Step 1: Begin Planning
When it comes to planning, there is no such thing as “too early.” Take care during this time to lay down the ground work for how communication throughout the process will work, which will help everything flow smoothly. Lack of communication can lead to organizational disruption.

Step 2: The Emergency Plan
A bank must be prepared if the unexpected occurs. It is essential that the board designates a person ahead of time to take over whatever position has been vacated. The emergency candidate should be prepared to take over for a 90-day period, which allows the board or management team time to institute short- and long-term plans.

Step 3: The Short-Term Plan
A bank should have a designated interim successor who stays in the deserted role until it has been satisfactorily filled. This ensures the bank can operate effectively and without interruption. Often, the interim successor becomes the permanent successor.

Step 4: Identify Internal Candidates
Internal candidates are often the best choice to take over an executive role at a community bank, given their understanding of the culture and the opportunity to prepare them for the role, which can smooth the transition. It is recommended that the bank develop a handful of potential internal candidates to ensure that at least one will be qualified and prepared to take over when the time comes. Boards should be aware that problems can sometimes arise from having limited options, as well as superfluous reasons for appointments, such as loyalty, that have no bearing on the ability to do the job.

Step 5: Consider External Candidates
It is always prudent for boards to consider external candidates during a CEO search. While an outsider might create organization disruption, he or she brings a fresh perspective and could be a better decision to spur changes in legacy organizations.

Step 6: Put the Plan into Motion
The board of directors is responsible for replacing the CEO, but replacing other executives is the CEO’s job. It is helpful to bring in a third-party advisory firm to get an objective perspective and leverage their expertise in succession and search. When the executive’s transition is planned, it can be helpful to have that person provide his or her perspective to the board. This gives the board or the CEO insight into what skills and traits they should look for. Beyond this, the outgoing executive should not be involved in the search for their successor.

Step 7: Completion
Once the new executive is installed, it is vital to help him or her get situated and set up for success through a well-planned onboarding program. This is also the time to recalibrate the succession plan, because it is never too early to start planning.

The Most Effective Bank Directors Share These Two Qualities


director-6-14-19.pngBanks have a slim margin for error.

They typically borrow $10 for every $1 of equity, which can amplify any missteps or oversight. Robust oversight by a board of directors, and in particular the audit and risk committees, is key to the success of any institution.

“At the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, we have consistently found a strong correlation between overall bank health and the level of director engagement,” wrote Kansas City Fed President Esther George in the agency’s governance manual, “Basics for Bank Directors.” “Generally, we have seen that the institutions that are well run and have fewer problems are under the oversight of an engaged and well-informed board of directors.”

This may sound trite, but the strongest bank boards embrace a collective sense of curiosity and cognitive diversity, according to executives and directors at Bank Director’s 2019 Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference in Chicago.

Balancing revenue generation against risk management requires a bank’s audit and risk committees to invite skepticism, foster intelligent discussion and create a space for constructive disagreements. Institutions also need to remain abreast of emerging risks and changes that impact operations and strategy.

This is why curiosity, in particular, is so important.

“It’s critical for audit committee members to have curiosity and a critical mind,” says Sal Inserra, a partner at Crowe LLP. “You need to ask the tough questions. The worst thing is a silent audit committee meeting. It’s important to be inquisitive and have a sense of curiosity.”

Board members who are intellectually curious can provide credible challenges to management, agrees John Erickson, a director at Bank of Hawaii Corp.

Focusing on intellectual curiosity, as opposed to a set of concrete skills, can also broaden the pool of individuals that are qualified to sit on a bank’s audit and risk committees. These committees have traditionally been the domain of certified public accountants, but a significant portion of audit committee members in attendance at the conference were not CPAs.

Robert Glaser, the audit committee chair at Five Star Bank, sees that diversity of experience as an advantage for banks. He and several others say a diversity of experiences, or cognitive diversity, invites and cultivates diversity of thought. These members should be unafraid to bring their questions and perspectives to meetings.

Having non-CPAs on the audit committee of Pacific Premier Bancorp has helped the firm manage the variety of risks it faces, says Derrick Hong, chief audit executive at Pacific Premier. The audit committee chair is a CPA, but the bank has found it “very helpful” to have non-CPAs on the committee as well, he says.

Audit and risk committee members with diverse experiences can also balance the traditional perspective of the CPA-types.

It’s important [for audit committee members] to have balance. Bean counters don’t know everything,” says Paul Ward, chief risk officer at Community Bank System, who self-identifies as a “bean counter.”

“Some of the best questions I’ve seen [from audit committee members] have come from non-CPAs,” Ward says.

However, banks interested in cultivating intellectual curiosity and cognitive diversity in their audit and risk committees still need to identify board members with an appreciation for financial statements, and the work that goes into crafting them. After all, the audit committee helps protect the financial integrity of a bank through internal controls and reporting, not just reviewing financial statements before they are released.

Executives and board chairs also say that audit and risk committee members need to be dynamic and focus on how changes inside and outside the bank can alter its risk profile. Intellectual curiosity can help banks remain focused on these changes and resist the urge to become complicit.

I’ll be the first to admit that qualities like curiosity and cognitive diversity sound cliché. But just because something sounds cliché, doesn’t mean it isn’t also true.

One Strategy to Improve Board Performance


performance-4-19-19.pngDoes greater diversity improve the performance of corporate boards, or is it just an exercise in political correctness?

Cognitive diversity—also called diversity of thought—has particular relevance to bank boards of directors, which are overwhelmingly made up of older white men with general business backgrounds.

This is not an indictment against older white men per se, but rather a recognition that a group of people with similar backgrounds and experiences are more likely to think alike than not. The same could be said about other homogenous social groups. For example, a team of older Latinas or younger black men might also be subject to groupthink.

“We’re only going to get the right outcomes if we have the right people around the table,” says Jayne Juvan, a partner at Tucker Ellis who is vice chair of the American Bar Association’s corporate governance committee and frequently advises corporate boards on governance matters.

It would be a mistake to dismiss board diversity as a political issue pushed by feminists, LGBT advocates and progressive Democrats. Even some of the world’s largest institutional investors think it’s a good idea.

In his annual letter to chief executive officers in 2018, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink said the investment company would “continue to emphasize the importance of a diverse board” at companies BlackRock invests in. These companies are “less likely to succumb to groupthink or miss threats to a company’s business model,” he wrote. “And they are better able to identify opportunities that provide long-term growth.”

State Street Global Advisors, another big institutional investor, announced in September of last year that it will update its voting guidelines in 2020 for firms that have no women on their boards and have failed to engage in “successful dialogue on State Street Global Advisor’s board diversity program for three consecutive years.”

As part of the new guidelines, State Street will vote against the entire slate of board members on the nominating committee of any public U.S. company that does not have at least one woman on its board.

There is, in fact, a strong business case for cognitive diversity. Studies show that diverse groups or teams make better decisions than homogenous ones.

Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity of their executive teams were 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile, according to a 2017 study by McKinsey & Co. The study also found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity were 33 percent more likely to outperform companies in the bottom quartile. Both findings were statistically significant.

“On the complex tasks we now carry out in laboratories, boardrooms, courtrooms, and classrooms, we need people who think in different ways,” wrote University of Michigan professor Scott Page in his book “The Diversity Bonus: How Great Teams Pay Off in the Knowledge Economy.”

“And not in arbitrarily diverse ways,” he continued. “Effective diverse teams are built with forethought.”

Page differentiates cognitive diversity from “identity” diversity, which is defined by demographic characteristics like race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and national origin. But striving for identity diversity, through characteristics such as race and gender, and the different life experiences and perspectives that result, can help boards and organizations cultivate cognitive diversity.

Yet, Juvan says boards also need to gain insight into how potential directors think and process information, which they can do by appointing them to advisory boards or working with them in other capacities. Banks that have separate boards for their depository subsidiaries, for instance, could use those as a farm system to evaluate candidates for the holding company board.

“I think it’s about creating a pipeline of candidates well in advance of the time that you actually need them, and really getting to know those candidates in a deeper way … as opposed to thinking a year out that we’re going to have an opening and … [working] with a recruiting firm,” she says. “I don’t think it’s something that, even if you work with a recruiting firm, you should fully outsource to somebody else.”

Why Your Board’s Risk Committee Structure Matters


committee-4-18-19.pngCommunity bank boards have a lot of regulatory leeway when it comes how they oversee the critical risks facing their organizations, including cybersecurity. Because of this latitude, many boards are working to find the best way to properly address these risks, congruent with the size and complexity of their institution.

“We’re evolving, and I think banks our size are evolving, because we are in that grey area around formal risk management,” says Robert Bradley, the chief risk officer at $1.4 billion asset Bank of Tennessee, based in Kingsport, Tennessee. “There’s no one way to approach risk management and governance.”

As a result, some banks govern risk within a separate risk committee, while others opt for the audit committee or address their institution’s risks as a full board.

And governance of cybersecurity is even more unresolved. Most oversee cybersecurity within the risk committee (27 percent) or technology committee (25 percent), according to Bank Director’s 2019 Risk Survey. A few—just 8 percent—have established a board-level cybersecurity committee.

“Those that have formed a cyber committee, whether they’re small or big, I think it’s an indication of how significant they believe it is to the institution,” says Craig Sanders, a partner at survey sponsor Moss Adams.

Does a bank’s governance structure make a difference in how boards approach oversight? It might. Our analysis finds a correlation between committee structure and executive responsibilities, communications with key executives and board discussions on risk.

The majority of respondents say their bank employs a chief information security officer, though many say that executive also focuses on other areas of the bank. Whether a bank employs a dedicated CISO tends to be a function of the size and complexity of the bank’s cyber program, says Sanders.

Banks that govern cybersecurity within a risk committee or a cybersecurity committee are more likely to employ a CISO.

CISO.png

The reporting structure for the CISO varies, with a majority of CISOs reporting to the CEO (32 percent) and/or the chief risk officer (31 percent). However, the reporting structure differs by committee.

Banks with a cybersecurity committee seem to prefer that their CISO reports to the CEO (36 percent). However, 27 percent say the CISO reports to the CRO, and a combined 27 percent say the CISO reports to the chief information officer or chief technology officer. Similarly, if cybersecurity is overseen in the technology committee, the CISO often reports to the CEO (33 percent) and/or the CIO or CTO (a combined 29 percent).

However, the CISO is more likely to report to the CRO (49 percent) if cybersecurity is governed within the risk committee.

Interestingly, the audit committee is most likely to insert itself into the CISO’s reporting structure when it governs cybersecurity. Of these, 32 percent say the CISO reports to the audit committee, 37 percent to the CEO and 32 percent to the CRO.

Sanders believes more CISOs should report to the relevant committee or the full board. “I view that position almost like internal audit. They shouldn’t be reporting up through management,” he says.

Establishing a dedicated committee is a visible sign that a board is taking a matter seriously. Committees can also provide an opportunity for directors to focus and educate themselves on an issue. So, it’s perhaps no surprise that the few bank boards that have established cybersecurity committees are dedicating more board time to the subject, as evidenced in this chart.

cybersecurity.png

Risk and audit committees are tasked with a laundry list of issues facing their institutions. It’s hard to fit cybersecurity into the crowded agendas of these committees. However, it does make one question whether cybersecurity is addressed frequently enough by these boards.

Governance structure also seems to impact how frequently cybersecurity is discussed by the full board. With a cybersecurity committee, 46 percent say cybersecurity is part of the agenda at every board meeting, and 27 percent discuss the issue quarterly. Boards that address cybersecurity in the risk or audit committee are more likely to schedule a quarterly discussion as a board.

review.png

When boards take responsibility for cybersecurity at the board level—rather than assigning it to a committee—almost half say cybersecurity is on the agenda twice a year or annually. With this structure, 31 percent discuss it at every board meeting.

How frequently should boards be talking about cybersecurity?

“More is better, right?” says Sanders. “The requirement, from a regulatory standpoint, is that you only report to the board annually. So, anybody that’s doing it more than annually is exceeding the regulator’s expectation,” which is a good approach, he adds.

Few banks have cybersecurity committees, and it’s worth noting that boards with a cybersecurity committee are more likely to have a cybersecurity expert as a member. That expertise likely makes them feel better equipped to establish a committee.

Community bank boards have long grappled with how to govern risk in general. For several years following the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010, risk committees were only required at banks above $10 billion in assets. Now, following passage of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act in 2018, that threshold is even higher, at $50 billion in assets.

But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: The 2019 Risk Survey confirms that boards aren’t suddenly dissolving their risk committees. Forty-one percent of banks—primarily, but not exclusively, above $1 billion in assets—have a separate board-level risk committee.

The survey indicates there’s good reason for this.

Ninety-six percent of respondents whose bank governs risk within a board-level risk committee say the CRO or equivalent meets quarterly or more with the full board. Audit committees are almost on par, at 89 percent. But interestingly, that drops to 79 percent at banks who oversee risk as a full board.

Bank of Tennessee’s audit and risk committee meets quarterly, and Bradley says that getting a handle on the bank’s overall risk governance is a priority for 2019. That includes getting more comprehensive information to the board.

“The board has all the right governance and oversight committees for ALCO, for credit, for all of those kinds of things, but we haven’t had a one-stop-shop rollup for [the overall risk] position of the bank, and that’s one of the things I’m focused on for 2019,” Bradley says. “Going forward, what I would like to do is [meet] with the risk committee at least quarterly, and with the full board, probably twice a year.”

Bank Director’s 2019 Risk Survey, sponsored by Moss Adams, reveals the views of 180 bank leaders, representing banks ranging from $250 million to $50 billion in assets, about today’s risk landscape, including risk governance, the impact of regulatory relief on risk practices, the potential effect of rising interest rates and the use of technology to enhance compliance. The survey was conducted in January 2019.

For additional information on the responsibilities of a bank’s risk committee, please see Bank Director’s Board Structure Guideline titled “Risk Committee Structure.”

2019 Risk Survey: Cybersecurity Oversight


risk-3-25-19.pngBank leaders are more worried than ever about cybersecurity: Eighty-three percent of the chief risk officers, chief executives, independent directors and other senior executives of U.S. banks responding to Bank Director’s 2019 Risk Survey say their concerns about cybersecurity have increased over the past year. Executives and directors have listed cybersecurity as their top risk concern in five prior versions of this survey, so finding that they’re more—rather than less—worried could be indicative of the industry’s struggles to wrap their hands around the issue.

The survey, sponsored by Moss Adams, was conducted in January 2019. It reveals the views of 180 bank leaders, representing banks ranging from $250 million to $50 billion in assets, about today’s risk landscape, including risk governance, the impact of regulatory relief on risk practices, the potential effect of rising interest rates and the use of technology to enhance compliance.

The survey also examines how banks oversee cybersecurity risk.

More banks are hiring chief information security officers: The percentage indicating their bank employs a CISO ticked up by seven points from last year’s survey and by 17 points from 2017. This year, Bank Director delved deeper to uncover whether the CISO holds additional responsibilities at the bank (49 percent) or focuses exclusively on cybersecurity (30 percent)—a practice more common at banks above $10 billion in assets.

How bank boards adapt their governance structures to effectively oversee cybersecurity remains a mixed bag. Cybersecurity may be addressed within the risk committee (27 percent), the technology committee (25 percent) or the audit committee (19 percent). Eight percent of respondents report their board has a board-level cybersecurity committee. Twenty percent address cybersecurity as a full board rather than delegating it to a committee.

A little more than one-third indicate one director is a cybersecurity expert, suggesting a skill gap some boards may seek to address.

Additional Findings

  • Three-quarters of respondents reveal enhanced concerns around interest rate risk.
  • Fifty-eight percent expect to lose deposits if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates by more than one hundred basis points (1 percentage point) over the next 18 months. Thirty-one percent lost deposit share in 2018 as a result of rate competition.
  • The regulatory relief package, passed in 2018, freed banks between $10 billion and $50 billion in assets from stress test requirements. Yet, 60 percent of respondents in this asset class reveal they are keeping the Dodd-Frank Act (DFAST) stress test practices in place.
  • For smaller banks, more than three-quarters of those surveyed say they conduct an annual stress test.
  • When asked how their bank’s capital position would be affected in a severe economic downturn, more than half foresee a moderate impact on capital, with the bank’s capital ratio dropping to a range of 7 to 9.9 percent. Thirty-four percent believe their capital position would remain strong.
  • Following a statement issued by federal regulators late last year, 71 percent indicate they have implemented or plan to implement more innovative technology in 2019 to better comply with Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) rules. Another 10 percent will work toward implementation in 2020.
  • Despite buzz around artificial intelligence, 63 percent indicate their bank hasn’t explored using AI technology to better comply with the myriad rules and regulations banks face.

To view the full results of the survey, click here.

Balancing the Relationships of Constituents


investor-1-16-19.pngOftentimes, as supporters of community banks, we can perceive an inquiring shareholder might not favor the bank remaining independent. But there are times when this perception might be warranted.

Shareholders, in the end, are still people. Though they align into different groups with different interests, people are ultimately in charge. Often, it is a misunderstanding of the role of management and the board, the bank’s role, the shareholder’s role, and the goals and objectives of each that cause distractions.

Here are several points to consider.

Management and the board
Management must understand that they work for the board. The board works for the shareholders. The amount of influence any board can have is directly correlated to its collective ownership of the company. Without a meaningful stake, outside investors will have the most say. If the board doesn’t own 100 percent of the stock, it has a fiduciary duty to the other shareholders. This seems an elementary concept, but if the board and management team don’t really understand the legal and practical implications of ownership and reporting, it can precipitate a communication breakdown and misalignment of interests.

Insiders must align independent shareholders’ interests with their own and avoid setting themselves up for a lifetime job to only serve themselves.

Transparency and communication
Banking is one of the most transparent industries in the U.S., so communicate often with your shareholders. A lack of communication and transparency leads to mistrust and misalignment of interests. If the bank is private, then a quarterly newsletter with summary financials should be included, along with book value per share and market value per share, if known or done by a third party. At minimum, book value per share should be provided.

Market for stock
If the bank is public, this is not much of an issue, but privately-held banks need a market of some kind. The bank should get a valuation once a year, and engage a third party to make a market in the stock or facilitate communication between shareholders with knowledge of last trades.

Pricing is important. If you have your private bank stock selling for tangible book or less, an enterprising shareholder may seek to put the bank in play for control value.

If the private bank stock is selling at 1.5 to 2 times tangible book value, it makes it much more difficult to put it in play, and most shareholders feel thankful for the rich minority valuation. Valuation can be very important as a strategy for independence.

Types of shareholders
When adding shareholders during a capital raise, consider their investment horizon, type, and propensity for involvement and activism. An ongoing assessment of these qualities is very important.

Generational transfers can change all these goals, and if the bank’s management and board are not prepared for these different investment goals, it can be a shock.
Private equity funds are short term, focused on internal rate of return (IRR) and controlling, or at least heavily involved, as investors. Some institutional investors are passive and long term. Some are very familiar with long-term community bank investing, and some are not.

Local, long-term community-based individuals can make wonderful investors but can present problems as well. A good investment banking advisor will categorize these diverse investor types and offering type situations, and analyze them with the bank.

Inquiring shareholders
When a shareholder asks about performance, liquidity or selling the bank, your first reaction is key to setting the tone. You should always take a meeting, listen and politely consider your response.

This will probably be a two-meeting process. Two things to make certain: Don’t bring your lawyer and investment banker to the initial meeting, and certainly don’t ignore the shareholder.

Bringing the bank’s lawyer and investment banker, and ignoring the shareholder are two responses by management teams and boards that have things to hide. Attorneys and investment bankers may provide you counsel and advice but need not participate in the initial meeting.

The bottom line
Hold an annual or semi-annual meeting at your bank to address potential shareholder issues. Frequently, too little importance is placed on all constituent groups involved in the success of the bank and its future.

The management team and the board can and should be steering toward a successful future for their bank, and doing so with satisfied shareholders.

How Progressive Banks Use Board Software


software-1-7-19.pngThere’s a little magic in board meetings. Industry veterans — each armed with decades of wisdom and expertise — come together to make decisions that dictate the future of your bank. Each decision affects the lives of the employees and the customers they loyally serve.

Those decisions matter. So why not make them as effective as possible?

Achieving the best outcome in every board decision requires effective decision-making. That’s why progressive banks invest in board management software.

Transitioning to board software saves banks over $10,000 in annual administrative costs, but that pales in comparison to the broader benefits of better governance.

How? Let’s look at how technology can deliver better decisions from your board.

Streamlining Organization
The biggest brains in banking are often the busiest. When you bring those brains together, every minute counts. But bank board packets are notoriously lengthy. Organizing and navigating materials can be a drain on meeting time.

Board management software makes it easy to drag and drop files into your board book, rearrange pages, and access everything at the touch of a button. The best board software supports interactive agendas and robust search features, allowing directors to search multiple documents and navigate from a single location. These features limit the “information overload” during board meetings, and keep directors focused on more pertinent discussions.

Banks use board management technology to organize material between various committees. Administrators can configure access to material by individual users (i.e. a specific board member) or their role on a particular committee. Quality board software extends the same security features and granularity of information control to users at the committee level as it does for the board itself.

The right technology helps maintain focus in the boardroom by centralizing information and making it easy to navigate. Spending less time flipping through pages means having more time for decisions that matter most to your bank.

Maximizing Security
Board software enhances the security of confidential information and makes it easier to control how that information is shared.

Directors can securely share private bank records with examiners and regulators. Streamlining this process means gaining earlier access to audit reports, which often guide a board’s decision-making.

Board members can also add their executive assistants to the software, giving them access to the information they need while avoiding the risks associated with sharing confidential materials via email.

Enhancing the privacy and security of board documents and communications allows directors to provide more honest insights and, ultimately, more informed decisions.

Strengthening Communication
Board management software improves director communication beyond the boardroom, making materials available for review and discussion at any time.

Banks can use the software’s annotation features to share thoughts and feedback among board members. Directors can take notes directly on the page of a board book as they would a physical copy. They can also share their notes with others.

The benefits these features serve are twofold; (1) increasing the portability of information means having more informed and prepared directors, and (2) more informed decisions about the future of your bank.

Optimizing Deliberation
Board software doesn’t just strengthen communication, it optimizes deliberation. Voting and e-signature features optimize a board’s efficiency while survey features allow members to quickly gauge consensus over an issue as it’s being discussed. Surveys can also be used before meetings to prioritize agenda items or after meetings for ancillary voting on outcomes and process improvements.

The best board software provides directors with the option to accept anonymous survey responses, which allows board members to submit candid, honest feedback and paves the way for more effective decision-making.

Leveraging easy-to-use software keeps board members organized and engaged, strengthening their communication and maximizing administrative efficiency. Investing in management technology is an easy win for progressive banks interested in making better decisions across the board.

Twelve Steps for Successful Acquisitions


acquisition-11-21-18.pngOftentimes bankers and research analysts espouse the track records of acquisitive banks by focusing on the outcomes of transactions, not the work that went into getting them announced. As you and your board consider growing your bank franchise via purchases of, or mergers with, other banks, consider these steps as a guideline to better outcomes:

  1. Prepare your management team
    Does your team have any track record in courting, negotiating, closing and integrating a merger? If not, perhaps adding to your team is warranted.
  2. Prepare your board
    Understand what your financial goals and stress-points are, create a subcommittee to work with management on strategy, get educated about merger contracts and fiduciary obligations.
  3. Prepare your largest shareholders
    In many privately held banks there are large shareholders, families or individuals, who would have their ownership diluted if stock were used as currency to pay for another bank. It is important to get their support on your strategy as the value of their holdings will be impacted (hopefully positively) by your actions.
  4. Prepare your employees 
    While you cannot be specific about your targets until you need to broaden the “circle of trust,” let key employees know that their organization wants to grow via purchases. They will deal with the day-to-day reality of integration, get them excited that your organization is one they want to be with long-term.
  5. Prepare your counsel
    Just as some bankers focus on commercial or consumer loans, some law firms focus on regulatory matters, loan documents or corporate finance. Does your current counsel have demonstrated experience in merger processes? In addition, your counsel should help to educate your Board about the steps required to complete a transaction.
  6. Prepare the Street
    We have seen in recent months several large bank acquisitions announced where the market was unpleasantly surprised; a bank they viewed as a seller suddenly became a buyer. Some of these companies have since underperformed the broader bank market by 5 to 10 percent. If it has been several years between acquisitions, prep the market beforehand that you might resume the strategy. BB&T recently laid parameters for going back on the acquisition trail. And while their stock was down some on the news, it has since more than recovered.
  7. Prepare your IT providers 
    Most customers are lost when you close your transaction by the small annoyances that come with a systems conversion. Understand if your current core systems have additional capacity or begin to get systems in place that can grow as you grow.
  8. Prepare your regulator(s)
    Whether it is the state, the FDIC, OCC or the Fed, they generally do not like surprises. Get some soft guidance from them on their expectations for capital levels and growth rates. Before you formally announce any merger, with your counsel, give the regulators a courtesy heads-up.
  9. Prepare your rating agency
    If you are a rated bank, think about your debt holders as well as equity holders, especially if you need access to acquisition financing. Share with them the broad plan of growth and your tolerances for goodwill and other negative capital events.
  10. Prepare your financing sources
    Do you have a line-of-credit in place at the holding company that could be drawn to finance the cash portion of acquisition consideration? Have you demonstrated that you can fund in the senior or subordinated debt markets, perhaps by pre-funding capital? Are there large shareholders willing to commit more equity to your strategy?
  11. Prepare your targets
    If the Street does not know, and your shareholders do not know, and your bankers and lawyers do not know, then the targets you might have in mind also will not know you are a buyer. Courting another CEO is a time-consuming process, but completely necessary and should be started 12-18 months before you are in the position to pull the trigger. Your goal is to be on their “A” list of calls, and have the chance to compete, either exclusively or in a controlled auction process.
  12. Prepare to walk away 
    After you have done all this work, it is easy to get “deal fever” when that first process comes along. Sometimes you need to recognize it is a trial run for the real thing and be prepared to pack your bags and go home. The best deal most companies have ever done is the one they didn’t do.

A Roadmap for Productive Board Discussions


bank-board-10-11-18.pngYou can’t drive a car to a new destination without a roadmap, and a board can’t conduct a productive meeting—and ultimately, effectively oversee the organization—without a well-thought agenda that keeps meetings focused on discussing what’s important, and helping the board stay proactive on the potential opportunities and threats facing their bank. What’s placed on that agenda, and when it’s discussed, differs a bit from bank to bank. But there are several issues that should be on every agenda, and some that should be addressed regularly, albeit less frequently.

At every meeting
Bank board agendas don’t differ from a standard corporate agenda in many respects. There should be a call to order, review and approval of minutes from the previous meeting, and a review of reports.

For a bank, every meeting should include a review of financial reports, with the chief financial officer on hand to address questions and discuss items in detail. Directors will also want to review loan reports, at which point the board will typically hear from the senior loan officer. Reports from the committee chairs should also be heard at every board meeting.

New business will include updates on strategic initiatives, including milestones and progress. Actions taken by the bank to address regulatory concerns should also be addressed, though how frequently this item appears on the agenda will depend on how much hot water the bank is in with its examiners. Trends impacting the growth and financial performance of the bank should also be discussed.

Old business should also be addressed in the agenda, and it’s an area often overlooked by banks, according to Bob Brown, a managing director at Kaplan Partners and board member at $84 million asset County Savings Bank in Essington, Pennsylvania. He previously spent 40 years at PwC. If management was instructed to take a certain action, or the board decided it would circle back to an issue, those matters shouldn’t be dropped.

Regular items to address
Risk, cybersecurity and technology are top concerns for bank boards, but directors are split on how often these topics need to be discussed by the full board. Twenty-six percent of respondents to Bank Director’s 2018 Risk Survey said their board discusses cybersecurity at every meeting, compared to 37 percent who do so quarterly. Half of the respondents to the 2018 Technology Survey said their board discusses technology at every meeting, compared to 37 percent who cover the topic quarterly.

The board should discuss management and incentive compensation semiannually, advises Brown. And don’t forget the auditors: Internal auditors should address the board semiannually, and external auditors annually.

Board education should be woven into the agenda at least quarterly, and should cover a variety of topics relevant to directors’ level of expertise as well as any ongoing regulatory, economic or competitive concerns. Regularly bringing in outside experts can also stimulate productive dialogue among board members.

Every year, the board should review board and committee charters, as well as key policies and loan loss reserves. The makeup of the board should also be assessed annually, using a board matrix or evaluation, or both. A board matrix is a grid that lists all the directors on one axis, and the skill sets and attributes needed on the board on the other. This check-the-box-style exercise can be an easy way to identify gaps where additional expertise is needed.

Strategic planning should occur annually and will drive the agenda by setting the priorities that the board will want to follow up on throughout the year. “That then drives what senior management does,” says Jim McAlpin, a partner and leader of the financial services client service group at the law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner. Does the bank need to renew its contract with its core vendor, or seek another solution? Does it make sense to build a new branch? These decisions should be fueled by the strategic plan. “It’s good to take stock, set direction and plan, and then over the course of the next year refer back to that plan and refer back to the priorities when engaging with the CEO,” he says.

McAlpin recommends that strategic planning take place off site if possible, with the board spending a half day or day talking about the bank’s strategic direction.

The board chairman—or the lead director, if the chairman is not independent—often develops the agenda, with input from the chief executive. Committee chairmen should also weigh in to ensure those areas are addressed. Individual directors should feel welcome to contribute to the agenda, and there should be room to speak up during meetings. “A good agenda should include a line item in which the chair asks if there are any additional matters the directors think should be addressed,” says McAlpin.

An annual discussion that sets the agenda for the year—tied to the strategic planning session—can help boards better drive what’s on the agenda, says Brown. The governance and nominating committee can then take that conversation and finetune the scope of the board’s agenda for the year, with input from the board before it’s finalized.

Getting the right input
It’s important to hear from other members of the management team and ask questions directly of the heads of the respective areas of the organization, rather than relying on one source—the CEO—for that information. Ideally, the board should hear from the CFO at every board meeting to address financial matters. The heads of legal, compliance, human resources and information technology should also be available to address their areas of expertise, when needed. McAlpin recommends asking open-ended questions to gain their perspectives and address any of the board’s concerns. “If I were a board member, I’d rather [their answers] be unfiltered,” rather than through the CEO, he says.

Brown also recommends that the board hear from business line leaders at least annually, to better understand these important areas of the business.

Aside from better understanding the bank, it’s important for the board to understand the depth of the management team. “Perhaps the most important role a board has is selecting and evaluating the CEO,” says Brown. “Succession planning is a key responsibility, and understanding the management team’s depth, strengths and weaknesses of management team members, and having the chance to see them in action … is really important.”

Independent directors should also make time to discuss issues without management present, in an executive session, advises Brown.

Facilitating effective discussions
The board agenda will structure the discussion, but it’s on the board to ensure those discussions are fruitful. First and foremost, materials should be provided in advance, so directors have time to prepare.

Remote participation has become more common as technological solutions like web conferencing make this option easier and can be a good way to attract younger candidates with diverse backgrounds, who may still be building their careers, to the board, says Dottie Schindlinger, vice president at Diligent. But make sure discussions are secure. Don’t reuse the same conference call number and passcode every time—this can easily be accessed by a disgruntled ex-employee, for example, who then gains access to sensitive conversations. And directors shouldn’t use their personal emails to discuss board matters. Web portals, such as that offered by Diligent, can help boards store and access information, and communicate safely.

Remote attendance can have its disadvantages, and there are always directors who tend to dominate a discussion. An effective facilitator—usually the chairman or lead director—will overcome these hurdles and ensure everyone’s voice is heard. Pointed, open-ended questions can help engage introverted board members. Making sure one director speaks at a time cuts out crosstalk and helps remote directors understand what’s discussed.

McAlpin emphasizes that it’s important to have an actual discussion—not just directors passively listening to what the CEO has to say, or other members of management, or the committee chairs. And this underscores the need to assemble a strong board. “Some of the most effective CEOs, I’ve found, are those who purposefully build a strong board—a board consisting of board members with a range of strong experience, good insight and a willingness to share feedback and make suggestions,” he says.