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.

How Netflix and JPMorgan Can Help Your Bank Win Right Now


strategy-11-2-18.pngAs one of the best-performing stocks on Wall Street, you can bank on Netflix spending billions of dollars on even more original programming, even without a profit. Likewise, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s consumer and community banking unit attracted a record amount of net new money in the third quarter.

How do I know this, and what’s the same about these two things?

Read their most recent earnings reports. Netflix doesn’t hide its formula for success, and JPMorgan boasts about its 24 percent earnings growth, fueled by the consumer and community banking unit, which beat analyst projections.

While we all have access to information like this, taking the time to dig into and learn about another’s business, even when not in direct competition or correlation to your own, is simply smart business, which is why I share these two points in advance of Bank Director’s annual Bank Compensation & Talent Conference.

Anecdotes like these prove critical to the development of programs like the one we host at the Four Seasons outside of Dallas, Nov. 5-7.

Allow me to explain.

Executives and board members at community banks wrestle with fast-shifting consumer trends — influenced by companies like Netflix — and increasing financial performance pressures influenced by JPMorgan’s deposit gathering strategies.

Many officers and directors recognize that investors in financial institutions prize efficiency, prudence and smart capital allocation. Others sense their small and mid-size business customers expect an experience their bank may not currently offer.

With this in mind, we aim to share current examples of how stand-out business leaders are investing in their organization’s future in order to surface the most timely and relevant information for attendees to ponder.

For instance, you’ll hear me talk about Pinnacle Financial Partners, a $22 billion bank based in Nashville. Terry Turner, the bank’s CEO, shared this in their most recent earnings report:

“Our model of hiring experienced bankers to produce outsized loan and deposit growth continues to work extremely well. Last week, we announced that we had hired 23 high-profile revenue producers across all of our markets during the third quarter, a strong predictor of our continued future growth. This compares to 39 hires in the second quarter and 22 in the first quarter. We believe our recruiting strategies are hitting on all cylinders and have resulted in accelerated hiring in our markets, which is our principal investment in future growth.”

This philosophy personally resonates, as I believe financial institutions need to (a) have the right people, (b) strategically set expectations around core concepts of how the bank makes money, approaches credit, structures loans, attracts deposits and prices its products in order to (c) perform on an appropriate and repeatable level.

Pinnacle’s recruitment efforts also align with many pieces of this year’s conference. We will talk strategically about talent and compensation strategies and structuring teams for the future, and we will also explore emerging initiatives to enhance recruiting efforts.

We will also explore big-picture concepts like:

Making Incredible Hires
While you’re courting top talent, let’s start the conversation about joining the business as well as painting the picture about how all of this works.

Embracing Moments of Transformation
With advances in technology, we will help you devise a clear vision for where your people are heading.

Creating Inclusive Environments
With culture becoming a key differentiator, we will explore what makes for a high-performing team culture in the financial sector.

As we prepare to welcome nearly 300 men and women to Dallas to talk about building teams and developing talent, pay attention to the former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan. He recently told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that the United States has the “the tightest market, labor market, I’ve ever seen… concurrently, we have a very slow productivity increase.”

What does this mean for banks in the next one to three years? Hint: we’ll talk about it at #BDComp18.

Future Banking Leadership Formula: Talent, Technology and Training


talent-11-1-18.pngIt’s an old phrase but still rings true today: An organization thrives when you get the right people in the right jobs.

That’s easy to say, but not always easy to do. Future leadership in banking is of great concern to boards today. And while there are myriad methods of finding good people, three key considerations in finding the right people include talent, or a transitioning generation in leadership; technology, or a heightened need for new and better ways to get the job done; and training, or existing employees looking for that golden career opportunity.

Talent: Transitioning Generations
Understanding generational differences is critical if a bank is seeking to attract young talent. Failure to understand these differences will only result in frustration. For example, boomers and millennials may not see eye to eye on a number of things. Older workers talk about “going to work” each day. Younger workers view work as “something you do,” anywhere, any time. If you’re looking for younger talent, whether on your board or within your bank leadership group, take the time to understand these generational classes. The more you know about their needs, expectations, and abilities, the easier it will be to attract them to your organization, resulting in growth that thrives on their new talent.

For younger talent, the hiring process needs to be short and to the point, with quick decision making. Otherwise, they’re quickly scooped up by competitors. Another key area is a greater focus on company culture. Millennials, for example, are sensitive to the delicate balance between work and life. Some may easily turn down a decent paying job for one that provides more control over his or her schedule and life.

Take the time to read, learn, understand, and seek out that younger talent you believe will move your organization to the next level.

Technology: An Opportunity to Rethink What People Do
In the time it takes to write, publish and read this article, the technology target for banks has moved exponentially. Keeping up requires a great deal of focus, investment and thinking outside the box. And because of the pace of change in technology, a chief technology officer (CTO) is a critical part of today’s banking leadership team.

The qualities needed in an effective CTO include the ability to challenge conventional wisdom, move decisively toward objectives and flexibility. Since long-term growth and expense management quite often are dependent upon the right technology, the CTO plays a major role in management’s long-term strategic planning for the bank. Even now, technology is performing the work entire departments used to do just a few years ago.

An effective CTO will help ensure the bank is ready to move into new growth phases of the business, including internet banking, enhanced mobile banking, cybersecurity, biometrics, and even artificial intelligence.

Training: The Value of Existing Employees
While utilizing online recruiting systems can help you find good people, there could be gems right down the hall. Growing talent from within is too often overlooked. Traditionally, boards have felt this is a job for the CEO or human resources. But some have argued that a lack of leadership development poses the same kind of threat that accounting blunders or missed earnings do. This lack of leadership development has two unfortunate results: 1) individual employees seeking to make a greater contribution never get the opportunity to shine and 2) the bank loses a potential shining star to the competitor down the street.

Lack of an effective development program is shortsighted and diminishes the value of great employees. Today’s boards must take specific steps in becoming more involved in leadership development. First, encourage your executive team to be more active in developing the leadership skills of direct reports. Second, expand the board’s view of leadership development. Take an active role in identifying rising stars and let them make some of the board presentations. In this way, the board can assess for itself the efficacy of the company’s leadership pipeline. And meanwhile, the rising stars gain direct access to the board, gleaning new perspectives and wisdom as a result.

As boards consider their duties and responsibilities, identifying future leadership should be at or near the top of the list. Organizational growth depends on it and the bank will be better able to embrace an ever-changing generational, technological and business environment.

Two Traditional Strategies to Supercharge a Bank’s Growth


strategy-10-26-18.pngBankers would be excused for thinking right now that everything has changed in the industry and nothing is the same—that all of the old rules of banking should be thrown out, replaced by digital strategies catering to the next generation of customers.

There is some truth to this, of course, given how quickly customers have taken to depositing money and checking their account balances on their smartphones. Yet, banks should nevertheless think twice before throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

This is especially true when it comes to growth strategies.

Make no mistake about it, digital banking channels are thriving. At PNC Financial Services Group, two-thirds of customers are primarily digital, up from roughly a third of customers five years ago. And a quarter of sales at Bank of America Corp., the nation’s second biggest bank by assets, now come by way of its digital channels.

Yet, just because digital banking is transforming the way customers access financial products doesn’t logically mean that the old rules of banking no longer apply.

In a recent conversation with Bank Director, Tim Spence, the head of consumer banking at Fifth Third Bancorp, observed that digital channels are still not as effective as traditional mergers and acquisitions when it comes to moving into a new geographic market.

If a bank wants to grow at an accelerated rate, in other words, it shouldn’t cast aside the traditional method of doing so. This is why it’s valuable to continue learning from those who have safely and rapidly built banks over the past 30 years—as the barriers to interstate banking came down.

One approach is to wait for a downturn in the credit cycle to make acquisitions.

This strategy has been used repeatedly by $117 billion asset M&T Bank Corp., based in Buffalo, New York. In the most recent cycle, it acquired the largest independent bank in New Jersey, Hudson City Bancorp, as well as one of the nation’s preeminent trust businesses, Wilmington Trust—both at meaningful discounts to their book values.

Great Southern Bancorp, a $4.6 billion asset bank based in Springfield, Missouri, followed a similar strategy in the wake of the financial crisis. Through four FDIC-assisted transactions between 2009 and 2012, Great Southern transformed from a community bank based in southwestern Missouri into a regional bank operating in multiple states along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

A second approach that has proven to be effective is to buy healthy banks in good times and then accelerate their growth.

Bank One did this to grow from the third largest bank in Columbus, Ohio, into the sixth largest bank in the country, at which point it was acquired by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Its former chief executive officer, John B. McCoy, pioneered what he called the uncommon partnership: a non-confrontational, Warren Buffett-type approach to buying banks, where the acquired bank’s managers remain on board.

Another bank that has applied this acquisition philosophy is Glacier Bancorp, an $11.8 billion asset bank headquartered in Kalispell, Montana. Starting in 1987 under former CEO Michael “Mick” Blodnick, Glacier bought more than two dozen banks throughout the Rocky Mountain region.

Importantly, however, it wasn’t the assets acquired in the deals that helped Glacier grow from $700 million to $9.5 billion in assets in the 18 years Blodnick ran the bank. Rather, it was the subsequent growth of those banks post-acquisition that accounted for the majority of this ascent.

Glacier’s success in this regard boiled down to its model.

Today, it operates more than a dozen banks in cities and towns throughout the West as divisions of the holding company. These banks have retained their original names—First Security Bank, Big Sky Western Bank and Mountain West Bank, among others—as well as a significant amount of autonomy to make decisions locally.

Approaching acquisitions in this way has reduced the customer attrition that tends to follow a traditional acquisition and rebranding. At the same time, because these banks are now within a much larger organization, they have larger lending limits and access to new, often more profitable deposit products, allowing them to expand both sides of their balance sheets.

In short, while it’s true that the financial services industry is changing as a result of the proliferation of digital distribution channels, it isn’t true that these changes render the traditional growth strategies that have worked so well over the years obsolete.