Fifth Third’s Transformation

A few years ago, walls of black granite lined the entrance to Fifth Third Bancorp’s headquarters in downtown Cincinnati. Today, the entrance is an open atrium lined with artwork, a café and a small stage for the public to enjoy performances. Pithy reminders for employees dot the walls and elevator: “Be the bank people most value & trust,” and “Strengthen communities.”

As if to imply that the dark days at Fifth Third are behind it, a wall of windows lets light stream in. Fifth Third not only went through a physical renovation, but a financial one as well. The $205 billion bank’s performance was in the bottom half of peers eight and nine years ago. It’s now in the top quartile. It’s rebuilt its balance sheet and its reputation after the financial crisis, when its stock plummeted to about $1 per share and its ability to survive as an independent entity was in question.

Today’s Fifth Third has accomplished a vast financial comeback as well as a digital transformation executed in part by former CEO Greg Carmichael and Tim Spence, who in July became the youngest CEO among the 20 largest commercial banks in the country.

“That was the major task of the last five, six years: Return the bank to a place where it had the right to flex its muscle a little bit and go achieve great outcomes,” says Fifth Third’s Chief Strategy Officer Ben Hoffman. “Now the question for Tim is, ‘What do you do with that?’”

As if to emphasize the changes, Spence decided our interview would not take place in a conference room. He moved us to the open-office innovation studio that shares the same floor as the executive suite inside Fifth Third’s headquarters tower on Fountain Square. “Those of us who are here today get to operate on a platform that’s going to allow us to think about growth,” Spence says in hushed tones, so as not to disturb the employees working on computers around us. “How do we grow the business organically?”

To understand what happened at Fifth Third, you have to go back in time. Although the bank traces its roots back to The Bank of the Ohio Valley in 1858, it really began growing considerably in the 1980s. Its formidable former CEO, George Schaefer Jr., a West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran, ran the bank starting in the 1990s until 2007. He created a hard-driving sales culture and had a reputation for frugality.

One reporter described his office furniture as not so much antique as shopworn. He was religious about making sure every employee wore the iconic 5/3 pin on their lapels. One former employee told me the bank was so conservative that women weren’t allowed to wear pantsuits. But it was also one of the top performing banks in the country.

Boosted by a high stock price multiple, Schaefer went on a buying spree that enlarged the bank’s footprint. In the 1990s alone, Fifth Third bought 21 other banks. By 1999, the bank had 384 banking centers in Florida, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, according to the company.

“Back in the 1990s, Cincinnati had two of the most highly regarded banks in the country,” says R. Scott Siefers, managing director and equity analyst at Piper Sandler & Co. “It was Fifth Third and Star Bank, which is now part of U.S. Bancorp in Minneapolis … they both had high multiples. Fifth Third might trade at 20 or 25 times earnings and would buy these companies at say, 10 or 12 times earnings. The math just worked fabulously because of the disparity. These deals were so accretive to earnings.”

But some of the deals didn’t work out so well, and investors became more cautious on the company, Siefers says. The financial crisis of 2007-08 came along, and Fifth Third was hit hard. Although the bank didn’t get into subprime lending, management was caught off guard by the sheer loss of value in the real estate industry and the collapse of the mortgage market.

Also, what regulators and the public demanded of banks changed dramatically, remembers Kevin Kabat, who was CEO from 2007 to 2015. Becoming CEO in 2007 was less than ideal. Kabat recalls that he had one good quarter before the crisis hit.

“It was stressful, to say the least,” he says. “We were probably the second most picked-on company after [National City Corp.], which went out of business.”

Congress passed the largest financial law in decades, the Dodd-Frank Act, in 2010.

“[The crisis] broadened in a much bigger way the definition of success,” Kabat says. “In [earlier] days, there was only one thing that mattered; it was earnings per share, period. There was not a lot of conversation about much else … I think what really changed from that perspective was the definition of success. The regulators had a stronger opinion about success. Your customers had a strong opinion of success. Your politicians and community leaders had a much different perspective of what success meant. It created a three-dimensional viewpoint of success, where we were pretty one-dimensional before that.”

Kabat recapitalized the business, with then-Chief Operating Officer Carmichael, and focused on changing the culture and de-risking the balance sheet. “When I joined the company, it was clear that the sales orientation, the sales focus was the No. 1 focus,” Kabat says. “We changed it from a sales focus to a customer focus. It’s not just what the next product is; it’s how the customer feels. How do they judge us? What’s their loyalty? And we began to measure all those things.”

There’s at least one entity that doesn’t believe Fifth Third totally changed: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As of press time, the bureau continues to litigate its 2020 lawsuit against Fifth Third that accuses the bank of imposing sales goals on employees that resulted in unauthorized account openings for several years following the financial crisis, similar to practices at Wells Fargo & Co. that gained attention in 2016. The CFPB accuses Fifth Third of failing to take adequate steps to detect and stop the practices, or remediate harmed consumers.

Fifth Third countered in public statements that those accounts involved less than $30,000 in improper charges that were waived or reimbursed years ago. The company currently does not have sales quotas or product-specific targets for retail employees, nor does it reward them for opening unauthorized accounts. “Starting in 2011 and 2012 and 2013, the measures we took since that point in time ensured we had a culture that put the customer at the center,” Spence says, adding that the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

It wasn’t just Fifth Third’s sales culture that was under the microscope. When Greg Carmichael arrived in 2015, the bank was in better shape, but it was trading at book value. Profitability was stoked by ownership of a payments business called Vantiv, but lots of investors discounted that value. Carmichael asked investors what they liked about Fifth Third and what they thought its issues or challenges were. Then, he and his management team studied banks that performed well through economic cycles, looking for their similarities. “Listen, it wasn’t rocket science,” says the matter-of-fact Carmichael, who is now executive chairman of the board. “You need a balance sheet that’s going to perform well when the credit cycle turns. You need a balance sheet that’s going to throw off strong returns, so you need to make sure you’re banking the right clients, and you have the full relationship. You need your fee businesses to be a larger portion of your business to offset low-rate environments.”

The management team committed to becoming a bank that would perform well through various interest rate environments and through the inevitable downturns. Carmichael and his team began to build larger fee income businesses, such as mortgages, capital markets and private banking. He committed the bank to quantifiable financial goals, such as return on tangible common equity and return on assets. “We communicated that strategy with financial targets, and we told our investors to hold us accountable, told our board to hold us accountable. And we also asked our employees to hold us accountable, hold themselves accountable for executing to this strategy. That was critical,” he says.

Still, investors weren’t always pleased. After Fifth Third announced the acquisition in 2018 of one of the larger banks in Chicago, MB Financial, for 2.8 times tangible book value, the stock price fell and didn’t recover fully until the end of 2019. “What they didn’t like is we paid a lot for it,” Carmichael says, “We proved them wrong … I would do that deal in a heartbeat at the same price again, and I wouldn’t bat an eye.”

The other thing Carmichael did was start building the bank’s portfolio of high-quality commercial and industrial loans in Texas and California, even in regions that didn’t have Fifth Third retail branches, says Christopher Marinac, director of research for Janney Montgomery Scott, who follows the company. The management team has been focused particularly on expanding the bank and its branches into growth markets in the Southeast.

The focus has paid off so far. Fifth Third placed No. 5 among the 33 commercial banks above $50 billion in assets in Bank Director’s RankingBanking study last year, based on return on average assets, return on average equity, capital adequacy, asset quality and one-year total shareholder return in 2021. For calendar year 2020, it was building reserves for the pandemic and ranked No. 21 on a similar Bank Director ranking called the Bank Performance Scorecard. For calendar year 2019, it ranked sixth.

After Carmichael transformed the bank, he handed the reins to Spence last summer. But before that, he had executed a two-year succession plan that involved rotating Spence through different roles to see if he could lead major businesses for the bank, bringing him to investor meetings and signifying to the world that Spence was his likely successor. “So, when I actually made the announcement [that] I was stepping down in a handful of months, there was no surprise who the person was, there was no issue with confidence that Tim couldn’t step right in, because he’s been part of [the] strategy,” Carmichael says. The choice was unusual. Instead of picking someone as a potential successor who had 20 or 30 years of service in banking, Carmichael picked someone he had hired from the consulting firm Oliver Wyman as his chief strategy officer in 2015, when Spence was still in his 30s. “He was much younger than I thought he was,” Carmichael says. “But he is well beyond his years in both maturity and leadership, and knowledge base of the banking sector. So, I never thought of Tim as a young man. I always thought of him as a seasoned leader.”

Spence was an unusual pick for another reason. He had a background in the tech sector. Spence learned how to code at the same time he learned how to write, in the first grade, although he never worked as a programmer.

The son of a financial advisor and a flight attendant who divorced, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He grew up in Portland, Oregon, and got a bachelor’s degree in economics and English literature from Colgate University, a private school in New York. While in school, he asked his dad to send him a copy of an Oregon business journal and wrote letters to the paper’s list of the 50 fastest growing tech companies, offering to work for free if there was a possibility of long-term employment. He started out at a small startup as a finance intern, working his way up in corporate development and management before moving to a bigger tech company. But after years at tech firms, he reached a point where he would “sit and listen to our customers, and hear them describe big opportunities and challenges. We were this little component solution. I wanted to have the opportunity to help work on the big things, not just the pieces.”

He got a job at Oliver Wyman and worked there for about a decade, becoming a senior partner of its financial services practice and doing work for its client Fifth Third before Carmichael offered him a job. Given the costs of hiring a consulting firm, Carmichael joked at the time that the hire was a money-saving measure. “He’s very thoughtful in his approach,” Carmichael says. “He [is] very detail oriented when he gets into a subject matter, and he can go very deep, which I was really, really impressed with. And then his listening skills, he listens and that’s also not a trait many consultants have.”

Carmichael says that when he decided to develop Spence as the potential next CEO, he was looking for someone who really understood technology’s impact on financial services. “He really had appreciation for the technology space and a passion for leveraging technology for the success of our business,” Carmichael says. “And I just thought that was also an extremely important attribute and skill set to have, when you think about the future of a bank CEO.”

Spence has a round, boyish face, but he’s tall enough to be a basketball player. Moving through the open offices, employees stopped what they were doing to watch him walk past. “Tim’s mind is all over the place, and I don’t mean in a sloppy, disorganized way,” says Steve D’Amico, who worked for Spence as chief innovation officer for a year and a half, starting in 2016. “He’s a very diverse thinker, bringing lots of unusual ideas to bear.”

Ben Hoffman, Fifth Third’s chief strategy officer, says that Spence has the ability to identify what matters and what doesn’t. “My belief is that Tim’s superpower is focus,” Hoffman says. He’s not a micromanager, but he’s deeply interested in the details. “There have been multiple times where he’s asked me a question about footnote seven on page 87, in the appendix of a presentation.”

One of the details Spence is intensely interested in is the particulars of digital transformation. Spence wants to learn from the best examples of technology and customer service across all industries, not necessarily in banking. “If we need engineers, what does the best employer for an engineer look like?” Hoffman says. “We spend a lot more time thinking about JPMorgan [Chase & Co.] and Goldman Sachs [Group] and LendingClub [Corp.], and the credit funds, candidly, then we do about the traditional regional bank peers.” A few years ago, the bank designed a new consumer deposit account. The walls were filled with sticky notes as staffers wrote down the best brands for customer experiences, among them, Delta Air Lines, Hertz, Domino’s Pizza and Zappos.com.

Then, they came up with ideas about what the app should do, Hoffman says.

Chief Digital Officer Melissa Stevens was deeply involved in launching the bank’s Momentum Banking consumer deposit account product in 2021, all of it built in-house. Notably, it’s not called a checking account. It has an automatic savings tool and free access to wages up to two days in advance with direct deposit, even for gig workers. The account also gives customers additional time to make a deposit to avoid overdrafts and the ability to get an advance of funds against future pay. It has no minimum deposit opening amount, and it costs $0 per month.

Although none of those features are hugely unique in the world of fintechs, what is unique is Fifth Third’s approach to fintech partnerships. Fifth Third is a superregional bank with a tech budget of more than $700 million last year, growing at a compound annual rate of 10%. “They’re not going to have the technology budget of a Chase or a Bank of America [Corp.],” says Alex Johnson, creator of the Fintech Takes newsletter. “And they can’t keep up with those banks if they insist on building everything themselves. But if they can focus their own development resources just on the things that they can’t get by partnering or buying, they can have a much more efficient technology budget where they get more per dollar out of their tech budget because it’s more focused on the highest priorities.” That’s not easy to do, because it’s hard to tell a chief technology officer not to build what that person wants to build, Johnson adds. “I think Fifth Third, for the most part, has managed to sidestep that problem from of an internal politics perspective and just be really aligned from the top down on what their strategy is,” he says.

Fifth Third works with fintech partners for years before it decides, in some cases, to buy them. Hoffman’s team is responsible for venture capital funding and partnerships with fintechs. The bank was an early investor in 2018, for example, in Provide, a digital lending platform for medical practices, according to a 2022 article by Bonnie McGeer for Bank Director’s FinXTech.com division. The bank announced a deal to buy Provide in 2021 and purchased another fintech that finances solar panels in 2022. “I think the other competency you have to have if you’re going to do this well is you have to be really good at partnering and acquiring technology,” Johnson says. “Some of the best technology out there is coming from fintech companies, and most banks have no idea how to work with fintech companies.”

Spence’s job is to get the company’s managers and employees to think differently, and he sees working with fintechs as part of that strategy. “The single best way to do that,’’ he says, was to partner with and invest in fintechs who could help the bank’s employees grow. “One of the big mental model changes that has to still trickle into our industry is this idea of product life cycle management … [Instead of] build it and launch it and leave it, we have to move much more into a software-oriented mindset, where you develop a product and then every six to 12 months, you make it better.”

Spence acknowledges that he’s in an enviable position compared to his predecessors. He was handed a banking franchise in good shape and now needs to sustain it. “What Greg did was remarkable,” Spence says. “We need to continue the focus on profitability and operational excellence and resilience through cycles. We need to maintain those disciplines. We need to grow organically and take advantage of opportunities, particularly in terms of technology that allows us to inhabit a different position in people’s lives.”

Despite the focus on innovation, analysts such as Siefers get the impression that Spence is equally focused on careful, strategic thinking when it comes to the bank’s balance sheet. He doesn’t get the impression that Fifth Third is interested in big gambles, and the bank seems well positioned even heading into a potential downturn.

“Kevin [Kabat] and then Greg Carmichael, they’ve been in reputation rebuild mode for the better part of the last decade,” Siefers says. “And they’ve done so quite successfully, particularly during Greg’s tenure. And ideally, that continuity will continue with Tim.”

Marinac also thinks the bank is well positioned given rising rates. “I think their ability to reset loan yields is better than other banks,” he says. “The industry is craving new ideas, new approaches, whether it’s taking out costs or building these new lending channels, or kind of rethinking the business. That’s where Tim comes in … 85% of banks follow and 15% lead. I think Fifth Third is demonstrating that they’re a leader.”

This article has been updated to reflect that Tim Spence was a senior partner in the financial services practice at Oliver Wyman.

The following feature appeared in the first quarter 2023 edition of Bank Director magazine. It and other stories are available to magazine subscribers and members of Bank Director’s Bank Services Membership Program. Learn more about subscribing here.

How Bank Compliance Teams Can Champion Micro-Innovation

Despite the compliance group’s reputation as a dream-crushing, idea-stomping wielder of power, they actually do want to help the rest of the bank succeed in delighting customers and clients.

It’s time to approach digital transformation as the new normal for banks. The best way to do that is to get compliance teams on board early — and the best way to accomplish that is by practicing micro-innovation. Micro-innovations are incremental changes that run parallel to proven processes, allowing nimble, modern organizations to try new approaches or strategies without sapping time and attention from what’s known to work.

Jeffery Kendall, the CEO of Nymbus and my colleague, says it best: “Modern organizations know that incremental innovation at a quick pace usually wins, compared to spending years developing a single product.”

The key for banks is to start talking with compliance when the bright idea is forming — not when the work is done. When teams are on the same page from the start, compliance can be an invaluable partner that can help balance risk throughout your micro-innovation strategy.

Align Teams From the Start
Start by including front-line staff and, yes, even compliance, when it’s time to set micro-innovations in motion. Long-tenured employees can be change generators. A recent study showed that the average American customer stays with the institution connected to their primary checking account for 14 years. Chances are, some of them have a relationship with tellers and lobby staff who understand their frustrations better than anyone and can bring these insights to the planning table.

Involving compliance from the outset can uncover what’s possible, rather than just reinforcing what can’t be done. By including compliance early, you can enliven achievable possibilities through micro-innovations. Start with monthly level-setting conversations and a deep dive into what projects and initiatives are on the horizon. Include teams in product development, sales, marketing and compliance so the bank is aligned on opportunities and goals from the start.

Find the Compliance Sweet Spot
Banks face a challenging operating environment; for compliance and risk, it’s also an opportunity to innovate. To support innovation in this landscape, compliance officers can ask themselves “How can we get where we want to go?” and “Where are the boundaries?”

In reality, most of a bank’s biggest processes, procedures and inefficiencies route through the risk compliance organizations at some point. This makes compliance staff natural advocates for change. Because they own the processes, empowered compliance officers are well positioned to understand nuance and identify opportunities for improvement and change.

Siya Vansia, chief brand and innovation officer at ConnectOne Bancorp in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, notes that when she stepped into her role, she “stopped hiring for innovation” and “started building internal advocates.” By working with compliance and others throughout the organization, Vansia creates a culture of innovation that looks for opportunities instead of tallying roadblocks.

With 70% of banks saying the Great Resignation has challenged their ability to carry out compliance requirements, some are considering unconventional hiring to fill jobs. As your institution prepares for 2023, prioritize retention and employee satisfaction to retain the talent you have on hand.

Digitize Progress, Not Inefficiencies
It can be tempting for banks to build an app and migrate longstanding inefficiencies onto a new digital platform. That’s a missed opportunity for positive change and customer loyalty.

“The future is about making banking better and connected, not simply having a cool app with a lot of features,” says Corey LeBlanc, cofounder and chief operating and chief technology officer of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Locality Bank.

As your institution identifies targets for micro-innovations, examine existing processes to ensure they still fit what your customers need and want. Look for opportunities to remove inefficient and cumbersome practices and simplify the customer experience. Even one or two steps in a process can add up over a customer journey; incremental improvements can have a significant impact on satisfaction. Compliance here can be a tool to identify inefficient processes. Leverage these same techniques to assess your people, resources and strategies. Start now with small changes that can have an innovative impact right away.

Your bank’s compliance office doesn’t have to be a “no” factory. Compliance teams can help banks build delightful experiences that matter to their customers — especially when they’re aligned on solving the problem from the start.

It can be daunting to assemble a 2023 strategic plan that hits the key performance indicators, solves the issues and makes digital a reality — all at once. So don’t. Instead, divide and conquer with micro-innovations that allow your institution to take small and mighty steps toward growth and change without delay.

What Crypto’s Falling Dominoes Could Mean for Banks

On Nov. 11, the cryptocurrency exchange FTX declared bankruptcy. It’s a saga that’s played out through November, but here’s the bare bones of it: After a Nov. 2 CoinDesk article raised questions about FTX and a sister research firm, a rival exchange, Binance, announced on Nov. 6 its sale of $529 million of FTX’s cryptocurrency. In a panic, customers then sought to withdraw $6 billion and by Nov. 10, FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried was trying to raise $8 billion to keep the exchange alive.

This isn’t just a modern version of the old-fashioned bank run. FTX’s new CEO, John J. Ray III — who led the restructuring of Enron Corp. in 2001 — stated in a filing that he’s never seen such a “complete failure of corporate controls” in his 40 years of experience. “From compromised systems integrity and faulty regulatory oversight abroad, to the concentration of control in the hands of a very small group of inexperienced, unsophisticated and potentially compromised individuals, this situation is unprecedented,” he said.

The fallout promises serious ramifications for the digital assets space — and may impact some banks. BlockFi, another cryptocurrency exchange that was bailed out by FTX last summer, filed for bankruptcy protection on Nov. 28. Those two bankruptcies have impacted Memphis, Tennessee-based, $1.3 billion Evolve Bank & Trust, which operates a banking as a service platform for fintechs including FTX.

The bank stated its exposure to FTX was in deposit accounts for a limited number of FTX customers, whose funds would be released once Evolve gets approval from the bankruptcy court handling the FTX case. Evolve also issued credit cards for BlockFi customers through a relationship with Deserve; those accounts were suspended. “Evolve has no financial exposure to BlockFi or to the credit card program they marketed,’’ Evolve said in a statement Thursday.

“To be clear, Evolve did not lend to FTX or their affiliates; we do not have corporate or deposit accounts with FTX or their affiliates; we do not lend against crypto; we do not offer crypto custodial services; and, we do not trade crypto,” Evolve said in an earlier statement to customers. Evolve also said the bank has never invested or transacted in crypto.

A larger bank also appears to be impacted. La Jolla, California-based Silvergate Capital Corp., with $15.5 billion in assets, said in a statement that its FTX exposure was less than 10% of its $11.9 billion in digital assets deposits; it later said that BlockFi deposits comprised less than $20 million. However, funds from digital assets clients make up 86% of Silvergate’s deposit base, according to its most recent earnings presentation. The rest are brokered, explains Michael Perito, a managing director at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. And now, he says, “their targeted core customer base is under a lot of stress.” As a result, Kroll Bond Ratings Agency placed Silvergate’s ratings on watch downgrade on Nov. 21.

“As the digital asset industry continues to transform, I want to reiterate that Silvergate’s platform was purpose-built to manage stress and volatility,” said Alan Lane, CEO of Silvergate, in a press release. The bank declined comment for this article.

FTX may be the worst but it’s not the only crypto-related incident this year; it’s not even the first bankruptcy. The volatility has resulted in what has been dubbed a crypto winter, marked by a steep decline in prices for digital assets. The price for bitcoin peaked on Nov. 8, 2021, at $67,567. As of Nov. 29, 2022, that value hovered just above $16,000, with a market cap of $316 billion.

Even if banks don’t hold cryptocurrency on their balance sheets, there are many ways that a chartered institution could be directly or indirectly connected. Erin Fonté, who co-chairs the financial institutions corporate and regulatory practice at Hunton Andrews Kurth, advises all banks to understand their potential exposure.

She also believes that crypto could be at an inflection point. “Some of the non-sexy elements of financial services are the ones that keep you safe and stable and able to operate,” says Fonté. “It’s the compliance function, it’s the legal function, it’s proper accounting and auditing, internal and external. It’s all those things that banks do day in and day out.”

That could result in more regulation around crypto, and more opportunities for banks. “A lot of people are getting hurt, and have gotten hurt this year,” says Lee Wetherington, senior director of corporate strategy at Jack Henry & Associates. “That gets legislative attention and that certainly gets regulatory attention.”

What Could Change
Legislation could target crypto exchanges directly, but legislators are also looking at the banking sector. In a Nov. 21 letter, the Senate Banking Committee urged bank regulators to continue monitoring banks engaged in digital assets. They specifically called out SoFi Technologies, which acquired a chartered bank in February 2022 and subsequently launched a no-fee cryptocurrency purchase option tied to direct deposits. “SoFi’s digital asset activities pose significant risks to both individual investors and safety and soundness,” wrote the legislators. “As we saw with the crypto meltdown this summer … contagion in the banking system was limited because of regulatory guardrails.”

In a statement on SoFi’s Twitter account, the company maintained that it has been “fully compliant” with banking laws. “Cryptocurrency remains a non-material component of our business,” SoFi continued. “We have no direct exposure to FTX, FTT token, Alameda Research, or [the digital asset brokerage] Genesis.”

Currently, the Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. require notification from banks engaged in crypto-related activities; the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency takes that a step further, requiring banks to receive a notice of non-objection from the agency. More regulation is likely, says Fonté, and could include investor and consumer protections along with clarity from the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission. “There’s a lot that’s going to come out there that is going to reshape the market in general, and that may further define or even open up additional avenues for banks to be involved if they want to be,” she adds.

Opportunities in crypto and a related technology called blockchain could include retail investment products, international payments capabilities or trade settlement, or payments solutions for corporate clients that leverage blockchain technology — such as those offered by Signature Bank, Customers Bancorp and Silvergate.

The risks — and opportunities — will vary by use case. “We’re being presented with entirely new risks that haven’t existed in the past,” says John Epperson, a principal at Crowe LLP.

Banks could be seen as a source of safety and trust for investors who remain interested in cryptocurrency. Larry Pruss, managing director of digital assets advisory services at Strategic Resource Management, believes banks could win back business from the crypto exchanges. “You don’t have to compete on functionality. You don’t have to compete on bells and whistles. [You] can compete on trust.”

James Wester, director, cryptocurrency at Javelin Strategy & Research, believes that with the right technology partners, banks can approach cryptocurrency from a position of strength. “We understand this stuff better,” he explains. “We understand how to present a financial product to our consumers in a safer, better, more transparent way.”

Wetherington recommends that banks consider cryptocurrency as part of a broader wealth offering. He’s visited bank boardrooms that have looked at how PayPal Holdings and other payments providers offer users a way to buy, sell or hold digital assets, and whether they should mimic that. And they’ve ultimately chosen not to mirror these services due to the reputational risk. “You can’t offer buy, hold and sell of a single asset class that is materially riskier than any number of more traditional asset classes,” he says. “If you’re going to offer the ability to buy, hold and sell a cryptographic monetary asset, you should also be making available the opportunity to buy, hold and sell any other type of asset.”

But all banks could consider how to educate their customers, many of whom are likely trading cryptocurrencies even if it’s not happening in the bank. “Help those customers with things like tax implications … or understanding how crypto may or may not fit into things that their retail customers are interested in. That’s one of the things that financial institutions could do right now that would be good for their customers,” says Wester. “There’s a real need for education on the part of consumers about [this] financial services product.”

How Banks Can Speed Up Month-End Close

In accounting, time is of the essence.

Faster financial reporting means executives have more immediate insight into their business, allowing them to act quicker. Unfortunately for many businesses, an understaffed or overburdened back-office accounting team means the month-end close can drag on for days or weeks. Here are four effective strategies that help banks save time on month-end activities.

1. Staying Organized is the First Step to Making Sure Your Close Stays on Track
Think of your files as a library does. While you don’t necessarily need to have a Dewey Decimal System in place, try to keep some semblance of order. Group documentation and reconciliations in a way that makes sense for your team. It’s important every person who touches the close knows where to find any information they might need and puts it back in its place when they’re done.

Having a system of organization is also helpful for auditors. Digitizing your files can help enormously with staying organized: It’s much easier to search a cloud than physical documents, with the added benefit of needing less storage space.

2. Standardization is a Surefire Way to Close Faster
Some accounting teams don’t follow a close checklist every month; these situations make it more likely to accidentally miss a step. It’s much easier to finance and accounting teams to complete a close when they have a checklist with clearly defined steps, duties and the order in which they must be done.

Balance sheet reconciliations and any additional analysis also benefits from standardization. Allowing each member of the team to compile these files using their own specific processes can yield too much variety, leading to potential confusion down the line and the need to redo work. Implementing standard forms eliminates any guesswork in how your team should approach reconciliations and places accountability where it should be.

3. Keep Communication Clear and Timely
Timely and clear communication is essential when it comes to the smooth running of any process; the month-end close is no exception. With the back-and-forth nature between the reviewer and preparer, it’s paramount that teams can keep track of the status of each task. Notes can get lost if you’re still using binders and spreadsheets. Digitizing can alleviate some of this. It’s crucial that teams understand management’s expectations, and management needs to be aware of the team’s bandwidth. Open communication about any holdups allows the team to accomplish a more seamless month-end close.

4. Automate Areas That Can be Automated
The No. 1 way banks can save time during month-end by automating the areas that can be automated. Repetitive tasks should be done by a computer so high-value work, like analysis, can be done by employees. While the cost of such automation can be an initial barrier, research shows automation software pays for itself in a matter of months. Businesses that invest in technology to increase the efficiency of the month-end close create the conditions for a happier team that enjoys more challenging and fulfilling work.

Though month-end close with a lack of resources can be a daunting process, there are ways banks can to improve efficiency in the activities and keep everything on a shorter timeline. Think of this list of tips as a jumping off point for streamlining your institution’s close. Each business has unique needs; the best way to improve your close is by evaluating any weaknesses and creating a road map to fix them. Next time the close comes around, take note of any speed bumps. There are many different solutions out there: all it takes is a bit of research and a willingness to try something new.

Growth Milestone Comes With Crucial FDICIA Requirements

Mergers or strong internal growth can quickly send a small financial institution’s assets soaring past the $1 billion mark. But that milestone comes with additional requirements from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that, if not tackled early, can become arduous and time-consuming.

When a bank reaches that benchmark, as measured at the start of its fiscal year, the FDIC requires an annual report that must include:

  • Audited comparative annual financial statements.
  • The independent public accountant’s report on the audited financial statements.
  • A management report that contains:
    • A statement of certain management responsibilities.
    • An assessment of the institution’s compliance with laws pertaining to insider loans and dividend restrictions during the year.
    • An assessment on the effectiveness of the institution’s internal control structure over financial reporting, as of the end of the fiscal year.
    • The independent public accountant’s attestation report concerning the effectiveness of the institution’s internal control structure over financial reporting.

Management Assessment of Internal Controls
Complying with Internal Controls over Financial Reporting (ICFR) requirements can be exhaustive, but a few early steps can help:

  • Identify key business processes around financial reporting/systems in scope.
  • Conduct business process walk-throughs of the key business processes.
  • For each in-scope business process/system, identify related IT general control (ITGC) elements.
  • Create a risk control matrix (RCM) with the key controls and identity gaps in controls.

To assess internal controls and procedures for financial reporting, start with control criteria as a baseline. The Committee of Sponsoring Organizations (COSO) of the Treadway Commission provides criteria with a fairly broad outline of internal control components that banks should evaluate at the entity level and activity or process level.

Implementation Phases, Schedule and Events
A FDICIA implementation approach generally includes a four-phase program designed with the understanding that a bank’s external auditors will be required to attest to and report on management’s internal control assessment.

Phase One: Business Risk Assessment and COSO Evaluation
Perform a high-level business risk assessment COSO evaluation of the bank. This evaluation is a top-down approach that allows the bank to effectively identify and address the five major components of COSO. This review includes describing policies and procedures in place, as well as identifying areas of weakness and actions needed to ensure that the bank’s policies and procedures are operating with effective controls.

Phase One action steps are:

  • Educate senior management and audit committee/board of directors on reporting requirements.
  • Establish a task force internally, evaluate resources and communicate.
  • Identify and delegate action steps, including timeline.
  • Identify criteria to be used (COSO).
  • Determine which processes and controls are significant.
  • Determine which locations or business units should be included.
  • Coordinate with external auditor when applicable.
  • Consider adoption of a technology tool to provide data collection, analysis and graphical reporting.

Phase Two: Documenting the Bank’s Control Environment
Once management approves the COSO evaluation and has identified the high-risk business lines and support functions of the bank, it should document the internal control environment and perform a detailed process review of high-risk areas. The primary goals of this phase are intended to identify and document which controls are significant, evaluate their design effectiveness and determine what enhancements, if any, they must make.

Phase Three: Testing and Reporting of the Control Environment
The bank’s internal auditor validates the key internal controls by performing an assessment of the operating effectiveness to determine if they are functioning as designed, intended and expected.  The internal auditor should help management determine which control deficiencies, if any, constitute a significant deficiency or material control weakness. Management and the internal auditor should consult with the external auditor to determine if they have performed any of the tests and if their testing can be leveraged for FDICIA reporting purposes.

Phase Four: Ongoing Monitoring
A primary component of an effective system of internal control is an ongoing monitoring process. The ongoing evaluation process of the system of internal controls will occasionally require modification as the business adjusts. Certain systems may require control enhancements to respond to new products or emerging risks. In other areas, the evaluation may point out redundant controls or other procedures that are no longer necessary. It’s useful to discuss the evaluation process and ongoing monitoring when making such improvement determinations.

Overdraft Fees Are Getting a Much-Needed Overhaul

Overdraft fees have been a significant source of noninterest income for the banking industry since they were first introduced in the 1990s. But these “deterrent” fees are on the chopping block at major financial institutions across the country, putting pressure on smaller banks to follow suit. 

Overdraft and non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees brought in an estimated $11 billion in revenue in 2021, according to the Financial Health Network, significantly down from $15.5 billion in fee revenue in 2019. As the industry responds to ongoing regulatory pressure on top of increased competition from neobanks and disruptive fintechs, that downward trend is expected to continue. 

For larger banks, those with more than $10 billion in assets, overdraft fee income has trended downward since 2015. Christopher Marinac, director of research at Janney Montgomery Scott, reported on this back in December 2021 after noting overdraft fees had declined for 23 quarters and expects this trend to continue into 2022. Despite the decline, regulators continue to focus on them, citing their role in the growth of wealth inequality. 

“[R]egulators have clearly sent a signal that they want those fees to either go away or be less emphasized,” Marinac says. “Like a lot of things in the regulatory world, this has been an area of focus and banks are going to find a way to make money elsewhere.”

For an industry that has evolved so rapidly over the last 10 years, overdraft fees represent a legacy banking service that has not adapted to today’s digital banking customer or the realistic cost to service this feature, says Darryl Knopp, senior director of portfolio marketing at the credit rating agency FICO. Knopp believes that an activities-based cost analysis would show just how mispriced these services actually are. It’s one reason why neobanks such as Chime have attracted customers boasting of lower fees. If banks were to think about overdrafts as access to short-term credit, that would change the pricing conversation to one of risk management. 

“Banks are way more efficient than they were 30 years ago, and they need to understand what the actual costs of these services are,’’ Knopp says. “The pricing has not changed since I got into banking, and that’s why [banks] are getting lapped by the fintechs.” 

Overdrafts aren’t going to disappear overnight, but some banks are getting ahead of the trend and taking action. Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., and JPMorgan Chase & Co., which together brought in an estimated $2.8 billion in overdraft and NSF fee revenue in the first three quarters of 2021, recently announced reduced fees and implemented new grace periods, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Capital One Financial Corp. announced the elimination of both overdraft and NSF fees back in December and Citigroup’s Citibank recently announced plans to eliminate overdraft fees, returned item fees, and overdraft protection fees. 

In April, $4.2 billion First Internet Bancorp of Fishers, Indiana, announced the removal of overdraft fees on personal and small business deposit accounts, but it continues to charge NSF fees when applicable. Nicole Lorch, president and chief operating officer at First Internet Bank, talked to Bank Director’s Vice President of Research Emily McCormick about the decision to make this change. She says overdrafts were not a key source of income for the bank and the executives wanted to emphasize their customer-centric approach to service. First Internet Bank’s internal data also found that overdraft fees tended toward accidental oversight by the customers, whereas NSF fees were more often the result of egregious behavior. 

“In the case of overdrafts,” says Lorch, “it felt like consumers could get themselves into the situation unintentionally, and we are not in this work to create hurdles for our customers.”

For banks that are grappling with the increased pressure to tackle this issue, there are other ways to get creative with overdraft and NSF fees. Last year, PNC Financial Services Group introduced its new “Low Cash Mode” offering, which comes with the Spend account inside of PNC’s Virtual Wallet. Low Cash Mode alerts customers to a low balance in their account. It gives customers the flexibility to choose which debits get processed, and provides a grace period of 24 hours or more to address an overdraft before charging a fee.

Banks that want to keep pace with the industry and are willing to take a proactive approach need to find ways to offer more personalized solutions. 

“The problem is not the overdraft fee,” says Ron Shevlin, chief research officer at Cornerstone Advisors. “It’s a liquidity management problem and it’s bigger than just overdrawing one’s account. Banks should see this as an opportunity to help customers with their specific liquidity management needs.” 

He says it’s time for the industry to move away from viewing overdrafts as a product and start thinking of it as a solutions-based service that can be personalized to a customer’s unique needs.

  • Bank Director Vice President of Research Emily McCormick contributed to this report.

Using Modern Compliance to Serve Niche Audiences

Financial institutions are increasingly looking beyond their zip code to target niche populations who are demanding better financial services. These forward-thinking institutions recognize the importance of providing the right products and tools to meet the needs of underrepresented and underbanked segments.

By definition, niche banking is intended to serve a unique population of individuals brought together by a commonality that extends beyond location. A big opportunity exists for these banks to create new relationships, resulting in higher returns on investment and increased customer loyalty. But some worry that target marketing and segmentation could bring about new regulatory headaches and increase compliance burdens overall.

“The traditional community bank mindset is to think about the opportunity within a defined geography,” explains Nymbus CEO Jeffery Kendall. “However, the definition of what makes a community has evolved from a geographic term to an identity or affinity to a common cause, brand or goal.”

Distinguishing the defining commonality and building a unique banking experience requires a bank to have in-depth knowledge of the end user, including hobbies, habits, likes, dislikes and a true understanding of what makes them who they are.

Niche concepts are designed to fill a gap. Some examples of niche concepts geared toward specific communities or market segments include:

  • Banking services for immigrant employees and international students who may lack a Social Security number.
  • Banking services geared toward new couples managing their funds together for the first time, like Hitched.
  • Payment and money-management services for long-haul truck drivers or gig economy workers, like Gig Money or Convoy.
  • Banking platforms that provide capital, access and resources to Black-owned businesses.

Targeting prospective niche communities in the digital age is an increasingly complex and risk-driven proposition — not just as a result of financial advertising regulations but also because of new ad requirements from Facebook parent Meta Platforms and Alphabet’s Google. Niche offerings pose a unique opportunity for banks to serve individuals and businesses based on what matters most to them, rather than solely based on where they live. This could impact a bank’s compliance with the Community Reinvestment Act and Home Mortgage Disclosure Acts. The lack of geography challenges compliance teams to ensure that marketing and services catering to specific concepts or customers do not inadvertently fall afoul of CRA, HMDA or other unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices.

Niche banking enables financial institutions to innovate beyond the boundaries of traditional banking with minimal risk. Banks can unlock new revenue streams and obtain new growth by acquiring new customers segments and providing the right services at the right time. When developing or evaluating a niche banking concept, compliance officers should consider:

  • Performing a product and services risk assessment to understand how the niche banking concept deviates from existing banking operations.
  • Identifying process, procedure or system enhancements that can be implemented to mitigate any additional compliance risk incurred by offering new solutions to customers.
  • Presenting its overarching risk analysis to cross-functional leads within the organization to obtain alignment and a path forward.

Now is the time for financial institutions to start asking “Did I serve my consumers?” and stop asking, “Did I break any rules?” When I led a risk and compliance team for a small financial institution, these were questions we asked ourselves every day. I now challenge financial institutions to reassess their current models and have open conversations with regulators and compliance leaders about meeting in the middle when it comes to niche banking. With the appropriate safeguards, banks can capitalize on the opportunity to deliver innovative, stable and affordable financial services.

Banks Face a New Regulatory Environment: From Overdrafts to Fair Lending

Regulatory risk for banks is evolving as they emerge from the darkest days of the pandemic and the economy normalizes.

Banks must stay on top of regulatory updates and potential risks, even as they contend with a challenging operating environment of low loan growth and high liquidity. President Joseph Biden continues to make progress in filling in regulatory and agency heads, and financial regulators have begun unveiling their priorities and thoughts in releases and speeches.

Presenters during the first day of Bank Director’s Audit & Risk Committees Conference, held on Oct. 25 to 27 in Chicago, provided insights on crucial regulatory priorities that bank directors and executives must keep in mind. Below are three of the most pressing and controversial issues they discussed at the event.

IRS Reporting Requirement
While politicos in Washington are watching the negotiations around Biden’s proposed budget, bank trade groups have been sounding the alarm around one way to pay for some of it.

The proposal would require financial institutions to report how much money was deposited and withdrawn from a customer’s bank account over the course of the year to the IRS in order to help the agency identify individuals evading taxes or underreporting their income. Initially, the budget proposal would require reporting on total inflows and outflows greater than $600; in subsequent iterations, it was later pushed to $10,000 and would exclude wage income and payments to federal program beneficiaries. It has the support of the U.S. Department of the Treasury but has yet to make its way into any bills.

Like all aspects of the spending bill, the budget proposal is in flux and up for negotiation, said Charles Yi, a partner at the law firm Arnold & Porter, who spoke via video. Already, trade groups have mounted a defense against the proposal, urging Biden to drop it from considerations. And a critical senator needed for passage of a bill, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), came out against the proposal; his lack of support may mean Congressional Democrats would be more apt to drop it.

But if adopted, the informational reporting requirement would impact all banks. Banks would have to report a much greater volume of data and contend with potential data security concerns.

“Essentially, you’re turning on a data feed from your bank to the government for these funds and flows,” said Arnold & Porter Partner Michael Mancusi, who also spoke via video.

Overdrafts Under Pressure
Consumer advocates have long criticized overdraft fees, and regulators have brought enforcement actions against banks connected to the marketing or charging of these fees. Most recently, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau settled with TD Bank, the domestic unit of Canada-based Toronto-Dominion Bank, for $122 million over illegal overdrafts in 2020. And in May, Bank of America’s bank unit settled a class lawsuit brought by customers that had accused it of charging multiple insufficient fund fees on a single transaction for $75 million.

Pressure to lower or eliminate these fees and other account fees is coming not just from regulators but from big banks, as well as fintech and neobank competitors, said David Konrad, managing director and an equity analyst at the investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. Banks have rolled out features like early direct deposit that can help consumers avoid overdrafts or have started overdraft-free accounts. These institutions have been able to move away from overdraft fees because of technology investments in the retail channel and mobile apps that give consumers greater control.

But insufficient funds fees may be a significant contributor of noninterest income at community banks without diverse business lines, and they may be reticent to give it up. Those banks may still want to consider ways they can make it easier for consumers to avoid the fee — or choose when to incur it — through modifications of their app.

Fair Lending Scrutiny Continues
Many regulatory priorities reflect the administration in the White House and their agency picks. But Rob Azarow, head of the financial services transactions practice at Arnold & Porter, said that regulators have heightened interest in fair lending laws — and some have committed to using powerful tools to impact banks.

Regulators and government agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, have stated that they will restore disparate impact analysis in their considerations when bringing potential enforcement actions. Disparate impact analysis is a legal approach by which institutions engaged in lending can be held liable for practices that have an adverse impact on members of a particular racial, religious or other statutorily protected class, regardless of intent.

Azarow says this approach to ascertain whether a company’s actions are discriminatory wasn’t established in regulation, but instead crafted and adopted by regulators. The result for banks is “regulation by enforcement action,” he said.

Directors should be responsive to this shift in enforcement and encourage their banks to conduct their own analysis before an examiner does. Azarow recommends directors ask their management teams to analyze their deposit and lending footprints, especially in zip codes where ethnic or racial minorities make up a majority of residents. These questions include:

  • What assessments of our banking activities are we doing?
  • How do we evaluate ourselves?
  • How are we reaching out and serving minority and low-to-moderate income communities?
  • What are our peers doing?
  • What is the impact of our branch strategy on these communities?

New Rule Settles a Vexing Problem for Bank Exams

One of the most contentious aspects of post-financial crisis bank examinations under the administration of President Barack Obama just got resolved.

A new set of rules implemented this year confirm a rather simple and straightforward idea: Supervisory guidance and bank regulations are different. It attempts to address concerns from banking trade groups that the regulators sometimes used supervisory guidance in place of a formal rule in examination feedback — in short, that supervisory guidance effectively substituted as a rule — and has implications for how supervisory guidance should be used going forward.

“I think there was a growing concern that [regulators] were using the soft guidance as a means of enforcing hard requirements,” says Charles Horn, a regulatory and transaction attorney at Morgan Lewis. He cites the supervisory guidance around leveraged lending as one example of guidance that created concern and confusion for the banking industry.

The Rule
The rules, which build on a 2018 interagency statement, were passed by the individual bank regulatory agencies — the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Reserve — at different times but feature similar language. They specify that supervisory guidance does not establish rules that have the force and effect of law, in contrast to rules that undergo the rulemaking process that includes notice and comment periods, according to notice from the law firm Covington. A regulator’s examination staff cannot use supervisory guidance as the basis for issuing the dreaded report known as a “Matter Requiring Attention” or for any other enforcement action or report of noncompliance.

Both the Fed’s and OCC’s rules state that its examiners will not base supervisory criticisms or enforcement actions on a “violation” of or “non-compliance with” supervisory guidance, and will limit the use of thresholds or other “bright-lines” included in supervisory guidance expectations.

Unlike a law or regulation, supervisory guidance does not have the force and effect of law,” stated the OCC in January 2021 and the Federal Reserve in March of the same year. “Rather, guidance outlines expectations and priorities, or articulates views regarding appropriate practices for a specific subject.”

There are several reasons why regulators issue supervisory guidance. Guidance can educate and inform the agency’s examiners, and could be shared with banks so that both groups are on the same page. Regulators may also issue guidance on issues that are too timely or trivial to merit rulemaking. Sometimes, banks ask regulators to provide guidance or insights on an issue. It can come in many shapes and forms: bank bulletins, frequently asked questions and circulars, among others. Most pieces of supervisory guidance are not issued with a notice and comment period.

“It’s remarkable how much guidance the agencies have issued over the years,” says Greg Baer, president and CEO of the Bank Policy Institute, a research organization whose membership includes some of the biggest banks in the country. The BPI was one of the groups that formally petitioned the agencies to turn the 2018 interagency statement into a rule.

Unlike rules, supervisory guidance wasn’t supposed to be binding. But if a bank examiner treated it as binding, it could pressure bank executives to adopt the same approach. Bank trade groups became concerned that examiners could cite situations where the bank was not following supervisory guidance as the reason for issuing an MRA. MRAs fall below the seriousness of enforcement actions like consent orders, but examiners still expect banks to respond to and address them. Failure to address an MRA can generate subsequent MRAs or contribute to more formal administrative actions.

Of course, a rule on the paper could be different than a rule that is applied and enforced during an exam. It may be too soon to know if the rule has made an impact on exams. The impetus for the new rules began under the administration of President Donald Trump, although many of the rules were finalized at the start of President Joe Biden’s administration. The change in administrations and continued regulatory adjustments made in response to the coronavirus pandemic means that the agencies could still be in an adjustment period. It may take some time for the edict to trickle down from the agency heads to the front-line examiners. Bank executives and boards may also need time to learn about the rule and how it might apply to feedback they’ve received from examiners.

Bank examinations are famously secret. And while bankers and directors may have more leeway to ask for clarification on examination feedbacks or even appeal the findings of the report, especially if feedback cites supervisory guidance, they may not feel comfortable doing so to maintain good relationships with their regulators and examiners. Horn, for his part, expects banks to be cautious about challenging examination actions even with this new rule.

“Banks do value good relationships with the regulators, and there are a number of banks that don’t want to take the risk of pushing back against regulatory criticism unless they think it’s important,” he says. “Personally I think [the rule] can be helpful, but we don’t know how helpful it will be until we can see how this plays out over the coming months and, frankly, the coming years.”

Four Things to Do if Your Bank Is Eyeing Digital Assets

Digital banking is evolving in the wake of guidance from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency as it concerns digital assets and their underpinning technology.

The regulator issued an interpretative letter last July authorizing OCC-regulated national banks to hold digital assets and another one in early 2021 allowing such banks to use blockchain and stablecoin infrastructures. Consumers and commercial entities continue to demand offerings and services for digital assets, and the pandemic has accelerated this push.

This rise of digital assets will have far-reaching implications for the entire banking sector for years to come. It’s crucial for executive teams at traditional banks to understand how best to capitalize on these changes, where the risks lie and how to prepare for the future of banking. For banks weighing how and when to start offering digital asset services, here are four key things leadership teams should do:

  1. Prepare to stake a claim. The evolution of money toward digital assets is affecting bank and fintech organizations globally. Companies should proactively think through adjustments now that will enable them to keep up with this rapid pace of change. At the start of this century, when mobile banking apps first began appearing and banks started offering remote deposit captures for checks, organizations that were slow to adopt these technologies wound up being left behind. The OCC guidance explicitly authorizing the use of digital assets should alleviate any doubts around whether such currencies will be a major disruption.
  2. Assess technology investments. A crucial determinant in how successful a bank will be in deploying digital asset-related services is how well-equipped and properly aligned its technology platforms, vendors, policies and procedures are. One of the primary concerns for traditional banks will be assessing their existing core banking platform; many leading vendors do not have blockchain and digital asset capabilities available at this time. This type of readiness is key if bank management hopes to avoid significant technology debt into the next decade. Additionally, banks will need to assess whether it makes sense to partner, buy or build the necessary technology components to transact, custody, settle and potentially issue digital assets.
  3. Prepare for growing demand. As digital assets become more mainstream, there will be significant growth in institutional adoption and growth in consumer demand, especially from millennials and Generation Z customers. The OCC’s recent interpretative letters and the rapid growth of digital assets even just in the last year only emphasize that the adoption of such assets will be the next phase of evolution for banks. That also involves added responsibilities and regulatory compliance that executives need to start understanding now.
  4. Mind the regulator. The era of digital assets is new, and as such, there is heightened scrutiny around related services and offerings. Executives will need to assess existing “know your customer” compliance obligations and update accordingly. Banks also need to understand necessary capital expenditures related to deploying digital asset services. Regulators will be especially interested in not just what’s under the hood, but how banks are managing these new parts and pieces.

What’s next?
Banks that are contemplating or already in the process of deploying digital asset services will need to understand the regulatory requirements in this space and make upgrades to their core banking platforms to make sure those systems can interface with blockchain and other distributed web (sometimes called Web 3.0) technologies. To learn more about how your executive team can prepare, register now for BankDirector’s May 11 webcast — sponsored by RSM — on the future of bitcoin and digital assets.