Should 1,900 Banks Restructure After Tax Reform?


strategy-2-18-19.pngOne of the big story lines of 2018 was tax reform, which should put more money in the pockets of consumers and businesses to grow, hire, and borrow more from banks.

Shareholders of Subchapter-S banks may ask whether the benefits of Sub-S status are as meaningful in the new tax environment. Roughly 35 percent of the 5,400 banks in the U.S. are Subchapter-S corporations, and given the changes brought by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, some choices made under the prior tax regime should be revisited.

Prior to tax reform, the benefits of Sub-S status were apparent given the double taxation of C-Corp earnings with its corporate tax rate of 35 percent, plus the individual dividend tax rate of 20 percent. That’s compared to the S-Corp, which only carried the individual income tax rate up to 39.5 percent.

Tax reform lowered the C-Corp tax rate to 21 percent, lowered the maximum individual rate to 37 percent, and created a potential 20 percent deduction of S-Corp pass-through earnings, all of which make the choice much more complicated.

Add complexities about how to calculate the 20 percent pass-through deduction on S-Corp earnings, the 3.8 percent net investment income tax on C-Corp dividends and some S-Corp pass-through earnings, and it becomes more challenging to decide which is best.

Here are some broad concepts to consider:

  • S-Corp shareholders are taxed on the corporation’s earnings at the individual’s tax rate. If the corporation does not pay dividends to shareholders, the individual tax is being paid before the individual receives the actual distribution. 
  • The individual tax on S-Corp earnings may be mitigated by the 20 percent pass-through deduction allowed by the IRS, but not all the rules have been written yet. 
  • A C-Corp will pay the 21 percent corporate tax, but individual tax liability is deferred until shareholders are paid dividends. The longer the deferral, the more likely a C-Corp structure could be more tax efficient.

The impact of growth, acquisitions, distributions, and capitalization requirements are interrelated and critical in determining which entity makes the most sense.

If a bank is growing quickly and distributing a large percentage of its earnings, its retained earnings may not be sufficient to maintain required capital levels and may require outside capital, especially if the bank is considering growth through acquisition. Because an S-Corp is limited in the type and number of shareholders, its access to outside capital may also be limited, often to investments by management, board, friends, family and community members.

A bank with little or no growth may be able to fully distribute its earnings and still maintain required capital levels. Depending on the impact of Internal Revenue Code Section 199A, state taxes, the 3.8 percent net investment income tax and other factors, Subchapter S status may be more tax efficient.

Section 199A permits the deduction of up to 20 percent of qualifying trade or business income and can be critical to determining whether Subchapter-S makes sense. For shareholders with income below certain thresholds, the deduction is not controversial and can have a big impact.

For shareholders with income above the thresholds, the deduction could be limited or eliminated if the business income includes specified service trade or business income, which includes investment management fees and may include trust and fiduciary fees and other non-interest income items.

S-Corp structures can be terminated at any time. If your bank is a C-Corp and considering a Subchapter S election for the 2019 calendar tax year, the election is due on or before March 15, 2019.

Given the level of complexity and amount of change brought about by the new tax legislation, it is clear that that decisions made under the old rules should be revisited.

Exclusive: An Interview with Brian Moynihan


bank-of-america-2-14-19.pngBank Director’s writers and editors talk with the best bankers in the United States to inform the stories we publish on BankDirector.com and in Bank Director magazine. But these conversations often go deeper and extend beyond the subject matter of those stories, leaving a lot of immensely valuable information on the cutting room floor, so to speak.

With this in mind, we are making available—exclusively to our members—the unabridged transcripts of these conversations. It is our belief that the insights found within them can help bankers gain knowledge and improve their own institutions.

For the cover story in the fourth quarter 2018 issue of Bank Director magazine, Executive Editor John Maxfield interviewed Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America Corp., at the bank’s New York City offices.

While the story focused on how Moynihan, who has led Bank of America since 2010, transformed the bank’s culture and performance, the conversation also delved into his views on growth, risk management and other topics of interest to bank leaders.

In this lengthy interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity, Moynihan shares:

  • The sources of his philosophy on banking
  • The principles that inform Bank of America’s revamped growth philosophy
  • How history informs his view of the future
  • Lessons learned from the financial crisis
  • How Bank of America deepens relationships with existing customers
  • Why operating leverage helps the bank better manage risk

Larry De Rita, Bank of America’s senior vice president of corporate communications, is also quoted in the transcript.

download.png Download transcript for the full exclusive interview

Fuel for More M&A in 2019



How will economic factors like today’s strong stock market and rising interest rates, along with the banking industry’s demand for core deposits, impact profitability and growth in 2019? Dory Wiley of Commerce Street Capital predicts we’ll see more deals. Find out why in this video.

  • M&A Drivers in 2019
  • What to Know About Valuations
  • Powering Future Growth
  • Headwinds Facing the Industry

How History’s Playbook Can Help You Grow Today


leadership-1-30-19.pngOne might assume that many attendees at Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference in Arizona left town with an M&A game plan focused solely on their next acquisition, but a legendary banker suggested a different strategy.

John B. McCoy, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Banc One Corp., recommended during a presentation on the final day of the conference that bankers consider a strategy his father used that ended up revolutionizing banking.

This year’s conference, which celebrated its 25th anniversary, was held at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge resort in Phoenix.

McCoy’s advice is a page taken directly from the playbook of his father, John G. McCoy, who founded Bank One and turned it into a regional powerhouse before it was eventually acquired by JPMorgan Chase & Co. in 2004.

“One of the things he did, which I suggest for all of you, is he set aside that first year 4 percent of the profits, (which) went to (research and development) to do new things, not fix old problems,” McCoy said.

The advice is especially prescient today because the banking industry is being pressured to keep pace with an evolving digital economy and changing customer preferences for how they bank, especially in the retail sector.

Bank One spent that money building an exceptional retail franchise. It was the first bank to place ATMs in every branch, add drive-thru lanes at its branches, offer a Bank of America credit card and essentially invent the country’s first debit card.

“That set us off,” McCoy said. “One took us to the next.”

That investment strategy played an important role in its growth: Bank One’s assets grew from $140 million in 1958—when it was the smallest of three banks in Columbus, Ohio—to more than $8 billion 25 years later, eventually becoming the sixth-largest bank in the country.

Early in its history, Bank One pursued an ambitious M&A strategy where it bought dozens of small banks—first in Ohio and later in surrounding states—using a concept that it called the “Uncommon Partnership,” where it would leave the management team of the acquired bank in place while centralizing many of its back office functions to save money. In fact, McCoy said they would only acquire a bank if the CEO agreed to stay in place.

Bank One also limited the risks of its acquisition program by never buying a bank that was more than 20 percent of its own asset size.

An announcement on Monday that Detroit-based Chemical Financial Corp. was acquiring Minneapolis-based TCF Financial in a $3.6 billion deal, creating the country’s 27th largest bank with $45 billion in assets, also generated a lot of talk during the conference. Chemical and TCF billed the transaction as a merger of equals even though Chemical’s shareholders will own 54 percent of the merged company.

While some some conference presenters suggested that mergers of equals could occur with more frequency given the recent declines in bank valuations, which has made it more difficult for acquirers to pay a big takeover premium, others were more skeptical.

Tom Brown, founder and CEO of the hedge fund Second Curve Capital, which invests exclusively in banks and other financial companies, doubted that those deals will become regular. For one thing, there are significant social issues to resolve, like which CEO will end up running the company, how many directors from the two banks will constitute the new board and what will the new company’s name be. (In the TCF/Chemical deal, the new company’s headquarters will be in Chemical’s hometown of Detroit, but it will take the TCF name.)

“They’re just really tough to do,” Brown said during the conference’s closing session. “Someone who has been a CEO is not going to take a different role. And, while they all make great sense to me as an investor, the amount of work before the deal could even be agreed upon is just too challenging.”

Several speakers at the conference also said that smaller banks will need to gain scale to compete in a consolidating industry. Conventional wisdom says that scale helps improve efficiency, reduces costs and boosts profitability–but the urge to grow bigger purely for the scale must be tempered, Brown said.

“I talk to all sorts of CEO’s who are $250 billion assets and they still think they don’t have scale,” Brown said. “Let’s just stop using the get bigger to get scale idea because I haven’t seen that work yet.”

The Three M&A Virtues of M&T


merger-1-4-19.pngM&T Bank Corp.—the $117 billion asset bank holding company headquartered in Buffalo, New York—is well-known for its disciplined approach to M&A, a strategy that has served the big regional bank well through the 18 whole-bank acquisitions it has made since 1987.

Its most recent deal, which closed in November 2015, was also its biggest—the purchase of Hudson City Bancorp, a Paramus, New Jersey-based regional thrift that expanded M&T’s reach in New Jersey, Connecticut and parts of New York City, adding $37 billion in assets and $18 billion in deposits.

The well-priced deal led to M&T’s first-place tie with Phoenix, Arizona-based Western Alliance Bancorp. for the Best M&A Strategy in Bank Director’s 2019 RankingBanking study.

Given M&T’s three decades of successful deals, Bank Director interviewed M&T Chief Financial Officer Darren King to explore the bank’s philosophy around M&A. He says three values drive its M&A strategy.

The first—and perhaps most important value—is patience. Put simply, if a deal doesn’t align with M&T’s strategy, it won’t happen.

“We’ve never been a bank that’s been interested in growth just for growth’s sake,” says King. M&T is laser-focused on getting a return on the dollars invested, whether that’s for an acquisition, an investment in technology or any other investment made to grow and improve the business.

“Our job is to provide our shareholders with a better-than-average return on their investment,” says King. That focus on returns—rather than chasing growth—yields the discipline the bank needs to execute on its strategy.

Part of that patience means the bank will wait for the right partner—one that is committed to the long-term success of the deal. This is the second value that drives dealmaking at M&T.

“One of the places that helps you earn that return [on investment] is the price that you pay,” says King. Committed partners tend to hold to a more long-term view on that point. “Our hope is that anyone who is a willing partner—which is precondition for us for the combination—would like to be paid in our stock, and therefore the price [paid] isn’t necessarily a reflection of the value that would be created for both [entities’] shareholders by putting the two organizations together.” A lower price in a successful transaction will have a positive impact on M&T’s stock—which benefits the seller as a stockholder.

Having so-called skin in the game by taking stock in the transaction also represents a commitment from the seller that the acquired bank’s management team will stay on board to ensure the future success of the merged entity—and raise the value of the stock.

“They don’t want someone to sell their bank to M&T, and go away and retire,” says Brian Klock, a managing director at Keefe, Bruyette and Woods, who covers M&T. “They want to have those local managers and executives that will make a difference and be the M&T leader in that market, so they want those executives to stay around. If they take M&T stock and don’t take as big a price, that’s a commitment from the bank that’s selling to them.”

The final value for M&T is its consideration for the size and location of the target.

“We’re cautious not to go too big, because then it increases the risk,” says King. Integrating a large deal can get out of hand if a bank bites off more than it can chew. But a deal can’t be too small either, he says, because some of the risks related to integration and conversion aren’t scalable. “If you’re going to take on that risk, it needs to be worth the trip,” King says.

M&T also prefers in-market deals or locations in contiguous markets, where its brand is well known.

Outsiders may see M&T as a bank focused on price, but that’s not the case, says King. “If you look at our history, people would describe us as focused on price, and we buy troubled assets,” he says.

Economic downturns tend to yield troubled franchises with strong long-term potential. Having the discipline to focus on long-term returns—not just price—puts M&T in a position to take advantage of opportunities in the marketplace. M&T scooped up four banks—totaling more than $10 billion in assets—from late 2007 through August 2009. It gained another $10.8 billion through its acquisition of Wilmington Trust in May 2011.

It’s often said the best deal is the one you don’t make. By making deals that adhere to three key M&A virtues—patience, focusing on in-market targets that are the right size, and finding a committed partner—M&T’s disciplined approach has served it well.

What Bankers Should Know About Conversational AI in 2019


omnichannel-12-21-18.pngWe’ve come a long way since filmgoers watched nervously as the computer “Hal” struck out on his own with the bland yet threatening response, “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that,” in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Today, humans are comfortable interacting with machines. Twenty-five percent of customer service and support operations will integrate virtual customer assistant (VCA) or chatbot technology by 2020, up from less than 2 percent in 2017, according to Gartner, Inc. And in some cases, consumers seem to prefer machines to humans. Therapy bots like Woebot are successful in part because users don’t experience the fear of judgment that may exist speaking with another human.

The technology that enables machine-to-human interactions is known as conversational AI. It powers virtual assistants across apps, websites, messaging and smart speakers. In 2018, we saw virtual assistants take off in banking – finding their way into the apps and websites of the world’s largest banks. Pilots turned into production, and virtual assistants started engaging with real consumers at scale.

This technology is a growth engine for banks by servicing customers more efficiently, engaging customers to boost brand loyalty and acquiring customers to increase their lifetime value. But all conversational AI solutions are not the same.

Here are three key trends for banks implementing conversational AI in 2019.

Think omnichannel, not multichannel
Consumers’ expectations for banking are evolving from siloed multichannel experiences to deeply personalized omnichannel experiences. They expect the experience with their bank to be consistent and informed, no matter which channel they interact on, and they expect to move smoothly between channels. Banks implementing conversational AI should support “channel traveling” and never lose sight of who the customer is – not just their unique ID, but their preferences, history and more.

Make sure your solution supports sophisticated customer journeys and hand-offs between channels. Your customer should be able to start a conversation with your virtual assistant on Amazon Alexa, and the virtual assistant should be smart enough to follow up with more related details in the mobile app. The virtual assistant knows the optimal interaction model for each channel and generates the right response for the channel of choice.

Conversations that explain “why”
By now, consumers are accustomed to automated assistants that respond to them. A virtual assistant that answers questions has become table stakes. In 2019 and beyond, we’ll see consumers gravitate toward services that can give them answers to questions and explain their finances. People will come to expect answers to “why” in addition to “what.”

For example, customers will want to know their balance, but also why it is lower than expected. Or, they may ask if they can afford a vacation now, and if they could still afford it in six months. They’ll want to know their FICO score, and why it is lower than last year.

Banking customers already know chatbots can give their balance and move their money. In 2019, their expectation will be that conversational AI will do more to help manage their money with context and insights.

The era of available data is here
After years of waiting for banking data to be available, the future is finally here. Inspired by regulations such as PSD2, or the Payment Services Directive, in the European Union, large banks around the world are adopting open banking standards and launching modern developer portals that enable a new world of banking services. This is good for conversational AI, because its real value comes from personalized, actionable experiences—experiences that require data and services. With financial institutions such as Wells Fargo, Citi, Mastercard and Standard Chartered streamlining access to APIs, building meaningful conversational experiences and integrating them with the banks’ other services will be much easier and faster.

In 2018, we’ve seen conversational AI is here to stay, and in 2019, we need to make virtual assistants do more than respond to FAQs and complete simple tasks. Banks implementing conversational AI should remember consumer expectations are growing every year. To meet those expectations, leverage the abundance of available data via APIs to create omnichannel customer journeys that can understand your customers and explain the context to them.

How to Build Shareholder Value When Economic Growth Slows


shareholder-12-4-18.pngBanking has been on an impressive run since the end of the 2009 recession. Now, as the industry finds itself with sky-high valuations, the market is wondering what banks can do for an encore.

Whatever comes next must be defined by a clear strategy for building shareholder value. That’s because the next 12-18 months are likely to show some level of marketplace pullback. A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that the U.S. economy has likely peaked and that we should expect slower growth on both the consumer and business sides. This means that formulating a strategic plan is increasingly vital.

These six ideas offer some places to start:

1) Balance CRE exposure with C&I growth
One of the commercial growth engines has been the commercial real estate space. But as the demand cycle begins to flatten, many small and mid-size banks are refocusing their attention on the commercial and industrial loan sector. Although it’s a slower, relationship-oriented build, there is an opportunity for a more sustainable, mutually beneficial relationship that could span several years. As a result, we expect continued demand for high-performing C&I lenders over the next 18-24 months who can drive the right kind of volume for the banks.

2) Bolster non-interest income businesses
Non-interest income has always been a big topic. But the banking industry needs to go beyond simply focusing on service-fee opportunities. That can mean creating new businesses around payments, treasury management and areas of wealth management. It can also include non-traditional businesses like insurance, which can offer a nice annuity-based income stream.

3) Play hard in the talent wars
Nearly 60 percent of employers struggle to fill job vacancies within 12 weeks—and by 2030, the global talent shortage could reach upwards of 85 million people. For banks, this means emphasizing three basic strategies that go beyond monetary compensation: a) Develop and enhance career development and retention programs; b) create an emotional bond between employees and the bank itself; and c) involve human-resource executives in formulating deliberate talent-search strategies.

4) Ensure value realization in a pricey M&A market
Banks need a clearly defined strategy around managing mergers and acquisitions. Where will banks find targets and opportunities? Whether the strategy is opportunistic or deliberately acquisitive, banks must create a structured playbook that more than earns back the premium paid by the acquirer.

5) Develop a deliberate deposit strategy
There is no single answer to the deposit funding challenge facing most banks today. But here are areas worth exploring: a) Make sure retail checking and money market products are positioned to retain loyal checking customers; b) bolster treasury management solution capabilities and develop industry niches to grow specialty deposits; and c) align sales team goals and incentives to reflect the priority of deposit growth and retention. The key is putting together a detailed funding plan–and executing a deposit strategy that balances deposit growth with overall cost of funds in 2019.

6) Execute on the channel delivery shift
Make plans to keep moving into a digital world and navigate the world of tech. This really comes down to ensuring a significant return on your channel investments. When making any investments in delivery channels—whether brick-and-mortar, contact centers or a digital strategy—they have to be looked at in three areas. How much will the investment help with customer acquisition? How much will it help to retain profitable clients? And what is the cost?

Building a great strategic plan is actually creating a great story—for the board, for investors, for the employee base and for prospective talent. Then, when looking at financial rigor and value, embrace the idea of relentless execution with milestones, key performance indicators and focus. Success is derived not just from the plan, but also from the notion that everybody has their fingerprints on it by the time the process is done.

No matter the focus over the next three to five years, break it down into its basic parts, create a story and execute on it. Because in the end, success comes down to relentless execution.

2019 Bank M&A Survey: What’s Driving Growth


acquisition-12-3-18.pngOver the past year, Congress has passed both tax reform and regulatory relief—signed into law by President Donald Trump in December 2017 and May 2018, respectively. And the Trump administration has appointed regulators who appear to be more favorable to the industry, including former bankers Joseph Otting, to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and Jelena McWilliams, to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

As a result, the 184 bank executives and directors participating in the 2019 Bank M&A Survey, sponsored by Crowe LLP, voice a resoundingly positive view of Washington, particularly for Trump and Mick Mulvaney. Eighty-seven percent say the Trump administration has had a positive impact on the banking industry. The same percentage give glowing marks to Mulvaney, the interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who has turned the agency into less of a regulatory cop and more into a regulator with an even-handed approach toward the financial industry.

The survey examines industry attitudes about issues impacting M&A and growth, along with expected acquisition plans and expectations for the U.S. economy through 2019. It was conducted in September and October 2018.

Tax reform had a big impact on the industry, with many making investments to grow their business. Thirty-seven percent say their bank invested in new growth initiatives as a result of tax reform, and 36 percent in new technology. One-quarter indicate the bank raised employee salaries, and 19 percent paid a one-time bonus to employees. Some shareholders saw gains as well: 25 percent of respondents say their bank paid a dividend, and 10 percent bought back stock.

When asked where the bank designated the largest percentage of its tax windfall, 32 percent point to new growth initiatives, and 26 percent to shareholders.

Additional Findings

  • More than half believe the current environment is more favorable for deals, and 50 percent say they’re likely to acquire another bank by the end of 2019.
  • Thirty percent believe their bank is more likely to acquire as a result of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, which rolled back some regulations for the banking industry. Two-thirds indicate regulatory reform will have no impact on their M&A plans.
  • Acquiring deposits is very attractive to today’s potential dealmakers: 71 percent say the potential target’s deposit base is a highly important factor in making the decision to acquire. 
  • To better compete for deposits, 29 percent say their bank will acquire deposits via acquisition.
  • Fifty-three percent say branch locations in attractive or growing markets are highly important, and 49 percent place high value on lending teams or talented lenders at the target.
  • Despite more sympathetic regulators and the passage of regulatory relief, 72 percent say their bank’s examiners have grown no less stringent over the past two years.

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

Smart Growth: Expanding Your Branch Network


growth-11-15-18.pngBranches play an important—but changing—role in the typical bank’s retail strategy. Increasing digital adoption may make consumers more apt to deposit a check using a smartphone camera than through a teller, but they still want to visit a branch for advice: A Celent survey published in May 2018 found more than three-quarters of customers want to meet a banker face-to-face to discuss a topic in-depth. Very few—just 12 percent of millennials—say branches are unnecessary, and prefer all-digital interactions.

And that has many banks evaluating whether to expand their branch network, even in today’s digital age. In Bank Director’s 2018 Technology Survey, 54 percent of responding executives and directors said their bank plans to add branches.

Before you move forward with building or acquiring your next branch, here’s what you should keep in mind.

Establish goals.

Understand how the role of the branch fits within the institution’s overall delivery channel strategy, advises Jim Burson, a managing director at Cornerstone Advisors. “Start with, what are your growth objectives as an organization, and then second, how do you envision the role of the various channels supporting that growth objective.”

These goals will differ by bank. Burson says one of his clients prizes a branch’s “billboard value”—it lets customers know the bank is physically located in their market. That CEO values a big sign and a tiny lobby. “That’s a very clear objective for a branch. So, when they [build] new branches, if they can’t get the signing ordinance they want from a community or they can’t get the visibility they want when people are driving down the street, it’s off the table—that location is gone,” says Burson.

Before purchasing property and breaking ground on a new branch, a feasibility study should be conducted, advises John Smith, chief executive officer of retail banking consultant DBSI. Understand the deposit and loan opportunities within a desired market, and if there is room to gain market share for your bank.

“Every market we go into, we look at it strategically,” says William Stuard Jr., the CEO of $1.1 billion asset F&M Financial Corp. The branch should be within an hour or two of the bank’s headquarters in Clarksville, Tennessee, so the footprint is easy to manage.

Geographic expansion starts with a lending team. “We don’t go in and just get a building and try to start from scratch,” says Stuard. The bank’s Hendersonville, Tennessee branch started as a mortgage office, then a loan production office before the bank built a full-service branch in the town’s growing commercial area in 2017.

Taking an incremental approach to branch expansion appears to be a common method for testing the viability of a market.

William Chase Jr., the CEO of Memphis, Tennessee-based Triumph Bank, with $784 million in assets, says starting out with a loan production office helps the bank get into a market faster. “It’s a lot easier to go through the process of finding some nice office space and get an LPO approved,” he says. “Time is money.” And a full-service branch takes time to build.

He also credits commercial real estate expertise on the board with making smart financial choices on property.

Bassett, Nebraska-based Sandhills State Bank, with $242 million in assets, seeks to fill in the gaps in its sparsely populated area in Nebraska. When big banks pull back from the market, “it offers a great opportunity for community banks to fill that vacuum and pick up more deposits,” says CEO David Gale.

The bank’s current investors bought what was then a $28 million asset bank in 2010. The bank’s initial expansion occurred by sending lenders into new markets. These lenders’ first offices were, in fact, a pickup truck. “Our first three branches in 2010 out of the gate were built around lending talent and started out as loan production offices out of their pickups,” says Gale. Once lenders hit $5 million in loans, the bank would add an office in the market. At $10 million, they would open a branch and hire more staff.

Recent expansion has occurred through acquisition: Bank of Keystone in 2016, and in early 2019, the bank will purchase three western Nebraska branches from Western States Bank. At that point, Sandhills State Bank will reach $310 million in assets.

The pending branch acquisition (which is awaiting regulatory approval) will help the bank diversify its agricultural loan portfolio and acquire more deposits to fuel its loan growth. Like many in the industry, the impetus on deposit growth makes a branch acquisition more attractive than starting out organically with a lender in the market—though Gale does express a preference for organic growth.

Bank leaders hungry to acquire branches need to pay attention to opportunities in their markets. Gale has worked to build relationships with other bank CEOs, and this directly led to the the bank’s upcoming branch acquisition. In today’s competitive M&A market, bank CEOs need to be proactive to position their bank to pick up branches.

Improve the branch experience.

More consumers would switch banking providers over a poor branch experience (47 percent) than a poor digital experience (36 percent), according to the Celent survey.

When asked about specific branch experiences that would prompt them to switch, 68 percent cited ill-equipped banking associates, 55 percent long wait times and 49 percent impersonal service, meaning the bank doesn’t know the customer or understand what they need. Wealthier customers are even more sensitive to these oversights.

Some banks are solving this problem by adopting a universal associate or universal banker model.

“[Create] a relevant environment where you’re viewed as a place to get advice from,” says Smith of DBSI. “Today’s financial institutions are primarily still transactional.”

Because universal associates are capable of doing more for the customer—from service to advice—the customer has a better experience, and the bank can reduce its headcount in the branch. The universal banker model can also present a better career path for the employee, which should result in lower employee turnover.

But to make it work, universal associates should be properly trained, and the branch should be designed to make the most of the new model.

At Triumph Bank, universal bankers are “empowered to do almost anything that a customer would need,” from cashing a check to opening an account to financial planning options, says the bank’s human resources officer, Catherine Duncan. “We’ve got people that want to stick around and want to grow with the company. You empower them to make decisions … it keeps them engaged, it keeps them feeling valued.”

In addition to training these employees, the bank created an manual that serves as a go-to guide for any questions the associate might have, so they don’t have to run to a supervisor or another employee, and instead can help the customer confidently and immediately.

Triumph’s newer branches are designed without teller rows, and universal associates greet customers at the door.

At Sandhills, a lightly-staffed model works better in its sparsely populated market. The bank leverages technology to reach its rural customers—mobile adoption exceeds 50 percent, says Gale, which is on par with JPMorgan Chase & Co.—and you won’t find a drive-thru lane. “We want to talk to our customers,” he says.

Branch transformation initiatives should align with the bank’s overall objectives for its branch network, says Burson. And banks should evaluate their branches—old and new—to determine they’re meeting these goals. Too frequently, a branch is built, and the business case for that expansion isn’t revisited. “They don’t manage to the objectives,” he says. And that’s a big mistake.

How Bananas and Tech Firms Can Help Tackle the Talent Challenge


management-11-8-18.pngAll bank executives and directors say that recruiting, retaining and properly incentivizing top talent is a priority, but it’s the banks that truly excel at this that are able to separate themselves on the competitive playing field.

How to tackle the talent challenge was the theme of Bank Director’s 2018 Bank Compensation and Talent Conference, hosted this week at the Four Seasons Resort and Club at Las Colinas in Dallas, Texas.

The first day of the conference laid the groundwork by introducing the conventional techniques used today by human resources professionals throughout the bank industry.

On Monday morning, before the formal beginning of the conference, attendees participated in a half-day workshop, presided over by a panel of experts from Compensation Advisory Partners and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP. The topics covered a broad range of issues, from common executive compensation challenges, to strategies for promoting diversity and inclusion, to tools that can be used to properly align pay and performance.

The second day of the conference built on this, in part through a pair of audience surveys.

In one survey, nearly a third (31 percent) of attendees said managing rising compensation and benefit costs is their top compensation challenge for 2019, more than half (56 percent) said they’ve raised wages to better compete for talent and in response to last year’s tax cut, and nearly three-quarters (70 percent) said they’ve expanded their internal training programs to develop young leaders.

These statistics were borne out with anecdotes. Beth Bauman, the head of human resources at Bank of Butterfield, an $11 billion bank based in Bermuda, talked about implementing a talent management program to help guide and groom the bank’s younger employees. And human resources officers from Cadence Bancorporation and Union Bankshares discussed the challenges of merging compensation cultures after an acquisition.

The final day of the conference delved into less conventional approaches to talent management.

The day started with an anecdote from Bank Director’s CEO, Al Dominick, about an Asian grocery store chain that figured out a new way to sell bananas. Instead of selling them in traditional, equally ripe bunches, the chain sold bananas in packages of five, with each banana at a different stage of ripeness. As a result, the bananas ripen in stages over a period of a week, not all at the same time.

The anecdote illustrates how approaching an issue in a creative way can result in an unconventional yet effective solution.

The first presenter on stage on Wednesday, Jason Mars, came not from a bank, but rather from a fintech company. Mars is the founder and CEO of Clinc, a company focused on bridging the gap between research on conversational artificial intelligence and its application for enterprises.

My No. 1 criterion for hiring is intellectual curiosity, because that’s what drives people to do really hard stuff,” said Mars. This is more important to Mars than other, more orthodox measures, like a prospective employee’s college grade point average or even their performance in the interview process.

“Passion is another priority, and flexibility,” said Mars. “It’s about figuring out whether they will be motivated to do hard stuff because they’re passionate, curious and interested.”

And finishing out the conference was a panel of three bank CEOs from across the country, all of whom shared their respective talent and compensation strategies.

One of the more innovative philosophies came from John Holt, CEO NexBank, a rapidly growing bank based in Dallas.
A group of investors acquired control of the bank in 2004, when it had only $55 million in assets. Seven years later, a new management team was brought in to hasten its growth. One way it did so was to promise its employees a bonus equal to 100 percent of their base pay when the bank passed the $8-billion threshold, which it recently eclipsed. The strategy should serve as a retention policy as well, explained Holt, because the bonus pays out over 24 months.

NexBank also buys lunch for its employees every day, offering them a menu of multiple restaurants to order from. It pays 100 percent of their health insurance premiums. And it has added a millennial to its board of directors—the bank’s 37-year-old chief operating officer, now the CEO heir apparent.

The net result, said Holt, was the bank has fewer, better people than many of its competitors, and it faces little employee turnover, sidestepping a perennial problem in any industry.

The point is while there is no magic bullet that will solve all of a bank’s talent and compensation challenges, understanding the tried-and-true approaches to doing so, as well as the less conventional strategies used in the market today, will help banks better compete for the next generation of employees.