How Black Lives Matter Became Black Banks Matter

community-banks-8-12-16.pngWhat happens when a small community bank becomes the focus of a grassroots movement? How does the bank sustain and develop the welcome—but unexpected—growth?

In an early July radio interview, Michael Render—better known as Killer Mike, a hip-hop artist who has spoken frequently in support of moving dollars to local black banks—was asked how communities could respond amid frustration that charges were dropped against officers in the Baltimore Police Department. They had been accused in the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray. “You can go to your bank tomorrow and you can say ‘Until you as a corporation start to speak on our behalf, I want all my money. And I’m taking all my money to Citizens Trust,'” said Render. Based in Atlanta, $404 million asset Citizens Trust Bank gained 8,000 new accounts in a five-day period following Render’s plea.

“The community reached a point of frustration,” says Michael Grant, president at the National Bankers Association, a trade association for minority and women-owned banks in Washington, D.C. “It’s time for the African American community to pull together, to look inward and say ‘wait a second. What can we do to strengthen ourselves economically? What can we do to lift ourselves up?’”

The Bank Black movement dates back decades, with roots in the civil rights movement, but recent support is tied to concerns raised by Black Lives Matter. It encourages African Americans to move money into black-owned banks, which in turn support urban communities. There are 24 black-owned depository institutions, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Moving money to black-owned banks, and supporting black businesses, is seen as a positive way to empower local communities. “If we can support these institutions en masse, then these institutions will have a greater capital base, and these institutions will then be able to provide more financing to businesses, to people who need mortgages, to help build wealth,” says Blondel Pinnock, chief lending officer at Carver Federal Savings Bank, a $743 million asset black-managed, publicly traded bank which gained $3.9 million in deposits in July.

OneUnited Bank, which has five branches in low and moderate-income communities in Boston, Miami and Los Angeles, has stepped up its promotional efforts in response to the recent attention to the Bank Black movement. Online visitors are encouraged to take the #BankBlack Challenge by opening a $100 savings account and challenging friends to do the same. The bank has also hosted events in Miami and Los Angeles. OneUnited drives both its online and in-person efforts through the bank’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels.

A lot of banks are, to some degree, questioning the value of [social media], but it actually can drive traffic into your branch, as well as online traffic, so we’re seeing that it’s worth the investment,” says Teri Williams, president of the Boston-headquartered bank, which has $622 million assets.

In early August, OneUnited reported via social media that the bank had gained $10 million in deposits in July. This windfall in accounts taxed bank staff. “We’re opening up 1,000 accounts a day. We used to open 10 or 20 accounts a day,” says Williams. Tablets within the branch allowed customers to sign up for an account online, with staff available for assistance. But despite increasing staff, customers still experienced long lines in branches.

Williams says OneUnited will continue to use social media and hold events to sustain growth driven by the Bank Black movement. The bank is also adding a call center in Miami, in addition to a current call center in Los Angeles, to handle the increased volume.

Can banks like OneUnited continue this level of growth? There’s always the risk that customers won’t like the technology that small banks provide, especially if they are coming from a large bank. “The proof is in what you do next, and how you sustain it,” says Chris Lorence, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA). A well-planned marketing campaign is critical to gaining and retaining customers in the long run, even when tied to a social movement. Banks will also want to create a deeper, stickier relationship with new customers through other products and services. “Were you prepared organizationally to take the next step?”

Who Are the Top Growth Banks?

bank-growth-5-20-16.pngTo every rule there is an exception—or in this case, 10 of them.

Conventional wisdom says that revenue growth at commercial banks and thrifts in the current environment is challenged by continued downward pressure on net interest margins as the competition for loans remains fierce. But there is a group of banks that are thriving in today’s banking market despite the competitive pressures facing the industry. Working with Atlanta-based Bank Intelligence Solutions, a Fiserv subsidiary that collects and analyzes performance data on depository institutions, Bank Director identified 10 banks and thrifts that exhibited strong top line growth over a five quarter period ending March 31. Bank Intelligence Solutions CEO Kevin Tweddle admits that the industry’s growth performance over that period of time has not exactly been stellar. “These aren’t numbers that jump off the page,” says Tweddle. “It’s a really tough environment.” Still, these companies have been able to rise above the environment and post strong performances—which are all the more impressive given the economic headwinds that most banks have to deal with. The ranking includes public and private institutions over $1 billion in assets.

The issue of growth will be addressed at Bank Director’s Growing the Bank conference, which is scheduled for May 23-24 in Dallas. Included on the agenda are sessions on how to grow your business through smart branching decisions, collaboration, partnerships and acquisitions.

The conference attendees could also learn a thing or two from the 10 banks on our ranking, where the order was determined by their compound average growth rate in revenues over the five linked quarters. The top ranked bank—Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based MetaBank—led the pack with a growth rate of 19.3 percent over that period. The $3 billion asset bank is well diversified across multiple business lines, although lending still accounts for a significant part of its growth and profitability. MetaBank operates from 10 branches in Iowa and South Dakota, and reported 22 percent loan growth in its most recent fiscal year, which concluded September 30, 2015.The bank also saw 10 percent loan growth in the first two quarters of its 2016 fiscal year, which ran through March 31. Loan growth was particularly strong in commercial and agricultural sectors, although MetaBank also benefited from its December 2014 acquisition of AFS/IBEX, then the seventh largest U.S. insurance premium finance company. This unit makes loans to commercial businesses to fund their property/casualty insurance premiums, and it grew at an annualized rate of 52 percent between the date of acquisition and Meta’s fiscal year end in September of last year. MetaBank’s is also one of the country’s largest prepaid card issuers in the country, and in fiscal year 2015, that business grew its deposits by 25 percent and fees by 16 percent.

MetaBank also has a significant tax related business following its September 2015 purchase of Refund Advantage, which provides tax refund transfer software to electronic return originators (EROs) and their customers. An ERO is a tax preparer who has been authorized by Internal Revenue Service to submit tax returns to the IRS in an electronic format, and MetaBank earned significant software usage fees during its second quarter which ended March 31. Although the prepaid card and tax related operations are run as separate businesses from the retail bank, they are included in MetaBank’s overall results for reporting purposes.

The third ranked bank on our growth list, San Diego-based BofI Federal Bank, is a digital bank that operates nationwide through online and mobile platforms. The bank’s compound average growth rate through the five-quarter period was 11.93 percent. Of late, BofI has been seeing considerable growth in jumbo single family loans, small balance commercial real estate and commercial and industrial loans. It has also benefited from its August 2015 acquisition of H&R Block Bank, which provided BofI with 257,000 new deposit accounts and the opportunity to cross-sell its products to that bank’s customers.

Growing revenues in the current economic environment is a challenge even for most of the banks on this list, although their performance shows that strong growth can be achieved. One thing that MetaBank and BofI have in common is a degree of specialization—agricultural loans and prepaid debit cards for MetaBank, jumbo mortgage loans for BofI. And if there’s one secret to cracking the revenue growth code, it might be having a niche that differentiates your bank from the rest of the pack.

The Top 10 Banks for Growth
Rank Bank Headquarters Assets (millions) Growth Percentage*
1 MetaBank SD 3,071 19.3
2 Academy Bank, N.A. CO 1,034 18.13
3 BofI Federal Bank CA 7,696 11.93
4 HarborOne Bank MA 2,246 11.49
5 Sterling Bank and Trust FSB CA 1,766 11.21
6 Beverly Bank & Trust, N.A. IL 1,012 10.62
7 WashingtonFirst Bank VA 1,755 9.74
8 First Foundation Bank CA 2685 9.7
9 Franklin Synergy Bank TN 2,298 9.7
10 TD Bank USA N.A. NJ 19,675 8.6

Source: Bank Intelligence Solutions and bank call reports
* CAGR based on revenue for bank for five trailing quarters through March 31, 2016
** MetaBank’s results include significant fee income from card and tax service related activities that are reported as part of its results.

Buyer Beware: How Banks Can Avoid a Transaction Disaster

acquisition-10-26-15.pngMergers and acquisitions are exciting: they make the news, they show a position of strength to competitors, and most deals promise benefits for customers, employees and shareholders. Transactions have the same kind of excitement one might experience when buying a car. And like buying the car, that new car smell, or in this case, the allure of growth and synergies, can wear off quickly once you realize all of the work required to successfully integrate two institutions. Worse still is the feeling you have bought a lemon. There are, however, strategies that banks can employ before an integration to make sure they are getting a good deal.

Ensure You Have the Right, Experienced Resources
There is a reason that most professional services firms have an M&A practice: mergers and acquisitions are hard. In the middle market, it is even more important to look at current staff or partners that can support integration and bring the much needed experience to the table. No other industry is as complex as banking in terms of converting systems and processes. Banks require a unique set of skills to navigate the complexities of core systems, online banking, debit/credit cards, treasury management and lending.

Conduct an Operational and Technical Assessment of Your Target
Looking at the operational and technical complexities before a deal is made will improve the chances of a successful integration. Assess the scalability and interoperability of your technology and process landscape (as well as the target’s landscape) so that you can identify risks to the integration early and put together a mitigation plan quickly. All too often, middle market transactions focus only on diligence conducted by bankers, lawyers and accountants. Operational and technology diligence are de-prioritized.

Knowing how much car you can afford before even thinking about a deal puts you ahead of other bidders in terms of understanding how a target will fit into your garage. An operational and technical assessment provides the opportunity to understand and potentially implement systems, processes and products that will create a scalable and flexible operating model.

Evaluate Third Party Relationships
Understanding how your service providers can flex (or not) is critical to understanding the level of effort and cost of integration, along with the risks that need to be mitigated. Do your vendors have dedicated conversion teams? Are you the largest client of your core provider? Is there information available from your peers on the pros and cons of particular solutions in terms of integration? What are the service areas that could be improved through an acquisition?

Know Your Customer
Don’t forget the customer. Most transactions are driven by the desire to grow an institution’s customer base. But, in the frenzy of bringing two institutions together, customers often take a backseat to other integration priorities. Reacting to problems once customers start to leave is too late—the damage is already done. You will continue to hemorrhage customers while you course correct. Consider how well you know your customers before a deal is on the table. Do you have a way to make sure the customer’s voice is heard? Mapping the customer impact during diligence will prepare you to monitor (and hopefully improve) customer experience through the integration.

During integration, avoid focusing solely on cost synergies at the expense of customer experiences that could undermine revenue objectives. Whatever the changes, make sure communications to customers are clear, regular and transparent. You can never over communicate change to customers. Lastly, don’t assume that postponing changes is always best for customers. In many cases, making changes early and communicating them effectively will offer the most seamless customer experience across all channels (branches, digital, etc.).

Never Underestimate the Importance of Culture
It’s easy to sweep culture under the rug and consider it too soft and fuzzy for due diligence and integration. Many find it hard to put concrete metrics and plans around culture. Generational changes continue to change the way companies recruit, retain and operate—and that’s forcing companies to rethink their priorities in order to avoid costly turnover.

Having tools in place to implement change management is a best practice. This starts with knowing what your own cultural identity and management style is and what that means in terms of potential deals. If you’re into sports cars, don’t look at SUVs. By having your own cultural assessment up front, you can start analyzing cultural differences earlier in the process.

Assess Your M&A Readiness Before You Buy
If you want to successfully retain customers and key employees while achieving financial synergies, take the time to kick your own tires before looking at a new deal. An internal M&A readiness assessment is not only valuable if you are a buyer, but as a potential seller as well. An assessment will identify both deficiencies and differentiators in your operating model that a potential buyer will notice during due diligence. This knowledge gives you better negotiating power and can put you in the driver’s seat.

2015 Growth Strategy Survey: Are Banks Missing Out on Millennials?

bank-growth-8-31-15.pngTraditional banks, which are typically run by baby boomers and older Gen X’ers, are still trying to figure out the next big generation of consumers.

Sixty percent of bank CEOs and directors responding to Bank Director’s 2015 Growth Strategy Survey, which was sponsored by the Vernon Hills, Illinois-based technology firm CDW, indicate that their bank may not be ready to serve millennials, which this year surpassed baby boomers as the largest segment of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  As digital use increases among an increasingly younger customer base, truly understanding and planning for the digital needs and wants of consumers seems to continue to elude bank boards: Seventy percent of bank directors admit that they don’t even use their own bank’s mobile channel.

Bank Director contacted chief executive officers, chairmen, independent directors and senior executives of U.S. banks with more than $250 million in assets, to examine industry trends regarding growth, profitability and technology. Responses were collected online and through the mail in May, June and July, from 168 bankers and board members.

Instead of millennials, banks have been finding most of their growth in loans to businesses and commercial real estate, which is their primary focus today. Loan volume was the primary driver of profitability over the past 12 months for the institutions of 88 percent of respondents, and the majority, at 82 percent, expect organic loan originations to drive future growth at their institutions over the next year. Eighty-five percent see opportunities for growth in commercial real estate lending, and 56 percent in commercial & industrial (C&I) lending. Total loans and leases for the nation’s banks grew 5.4 percent year over year, to $8.4 trillion in the first quarter 2015, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. 

Despite the rise of nonbank competitors like Lending Club and Prosper in the consumer lending space, just 35 percent of respondents express concern that these startup companies will syphon loans from traditional banks. Just 6 percent see an opportunity to partner with these firms, and even fewer, 1 percent, currently partner with P2P lenders to expand their bank’s portfolio. Few respondents—13 percent—see consumer lending as a leading avenue for loan growth.

Other key findings:

  • Forty percent of respondents worry about potential competition from Apple. Just 18 percent indicate their bank offers Apple Pay, with 63 percent adding that they “don’t think our bank is ready” to offer the feature to their customers.
  • More boards are putting technology on their agendas. Forty-five percent indicate their board discusses technology at every board meeting, up 50 percent since last year’s survey. Almost half of respondents say their board has at least one member with a technology background or expertise.
  • More than three-quarters indicate plans to invest more in technology within their bank’s branch network.
  • More than 80 percent of respondents indicate that their bank’s mobile offering includes bill pay, remote deposit capture and account history. Less common are features such as peer-to-peer payments, 28 percent, or merchant discounts and deals, 9 percent, which are increasingly offered by nonbank competitors.
  • For 76 percent of respondents, regulatory compliance causes the greatest concern relative to the growth and profitability of their institutions, and 64 percent say the high cost of regulatory compliance had a negative impact on their bank’s profitability over the past 12 months. Low interest rates, for 70 percent, were also a key impediment to profitability.

Download the summary results in PDF format.

Will Nonbanks Impact Bank M&A?

Bank-manda-6-16-15.pngBank boards should be particularly mindful of shadow banking’s strong growth. Earlier this month, FT Partners, an investment bank, presented its “CEO Monthly Securities and Capital Markets Technology Market Analysis.” Focused exclusively on the financial technology (FinTech) sector, the company lays out investor interest and pricing expectations for FinTech companies. When it comes to values assigned financial technology companies, there is quite a juxtaposition when compared to traditional banks, brokerage firms and trust service banks.

FT Partners also lists recent funding announcements with details on each FinTech company.

With lots of money—and potential customers—at stake, I believe more banks should consider aggressively growing one’s franchise through M&A than in previous years. Competition comes in so many shapes and forms that sitting idle while others take market share does not bode well. This is especially true for the 5,705 banks under $1 billion in assets as challengers offer tools and products designed for small businesses and borrowers—two key sources of revenue for community banks.

Among the most well known stealing market share from banks are Lending Club and Prosper, online lending marketplaces that offer loans to consumers and small business alike, funded by private investors and institutional money. On a side note, Goldman Sachs just entered the fray, announcing plans to offer an online lending platform to compete with the online lenders.

Although the biggest banks are not—and can’t be—pursuing an acquisition, this does not mean they are not aggressively trying to grow. Many continue to explore opportunities by making deals for smaller product/technology/capability-based companies, investing in analytics and expanding digital offerings.

With competition coming from both the top of the market and from non-traditional players, it is imperative for community banks to focus on improving efficiencies and enhancing organic growth prospects. The corollary to this is as big banks invest in customer acquisition, and non-traditional players continue to eat away at earnings potential, bank CEOs and boards need to think about what a successful deal looks like—and when such a deal can be executed.

Yes, I realize small banks are becoming more willing to consider a sale as the future operating environment, regulatory standards and valuations remain uncertain. However, being open to the idea and aggressively pursuing opportunities are two different business philosophies. Building an institution with the ability to generate earning assets at relatively high yields will become increasingly valuable. Positioning a bank with diverse revenue streams not just builds value but provides a buffer from nonbanks looking to steal customers.

Many small banks in the country simply don’t have the currency to do acquisitions, and they’re unwilling to sell. I believe many of those banks are in trouble.

At a time when retail banks are facing increasing pressure from non-traditional entrants that offer retail banking services, now is the time to think bigger, not just because of the economics of a deal, but because of the competition lining up.

Really, What Is Franchise Value?

The concept of building franchise value was core to our Bank Board Growth & Innovation Conference in April. In this session, Fred Cannon, director of research for Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, breaks down franchise value.

Banks with dedicated customer bases enjoy significant advantages over any potential competitors. So how should a bank’s CEO and board think about franchise value—both in current terms and with an eye to the future?

Highlights from this video:

  • Franchise value is measurable
  • The new era is about credit availability
  • Deposits are generating less value
  • Franchise value creates economic value

Presentation slides

Video length: 29 minutes

About the speaker:

Fred Cannon—is director of research at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Inc. He joined KBW in 2003. In his dual role as director of research and chief equity strategist, Cannon guides the research efforts at KBW, which provides industry leading research on the financial sector and research coverage on more than 540 financial services firms.