Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” And that old quote couldn’t be more applicable to bank board succession planning, especially nowadays when the industry is undergoing so many significant changes.
Boards today need to be planning for even more technology reliance, new fee-based income generators, tougher regulations, and fewer professionals interested in banking as a career. The days when a bank could rely solely on investors and well-connected business people to guide its direction are almost gone. Instead, tomorrow’s banks will need leadership with expertise in the crucial areas that aren’t directly adding to the bottom line, such as technology, risk, compliance and audits.
There are a lot of moving parts in a bank board succession plan. That’s why we’ve highlighted seven areas to consider that have surfaced from our experiences working with banks and their board succession plans.
Optimize Your Composition: Boards need to find the right people to reflect the strategic priorities of the shareholders. Banks today have moved to finding niche lending areas in addition to traditional banking services to meet growth objectives. It is imperative to build a board that aligns with and is complementary to the bank’s strategic plan. For example, if a bank is transitioning from a branch-focused model to a branchless model, it’s important to incorporate expertise on the board who can guide that transition. Perhaps reducing the number of directors will increase the productivity of the board.
Anticipate What’s Coming: It’s important to understand the changing bank market, including technology and regulatory shifts that are expected in the next three to five years. Understanding this gives banks an opportunity to move out of reactionary situations and become proactive. Having board members with the right experience and forward-thinking approach can help define new potential business lines while adhering to shifting compliance and regulatory demands.
Identify Necessary Skills: Once you have identified coming shifts in the business, it’s important to determine the skills needed to meet those challenges. Beyond driving business, boards should include members who bring a skill set that advances the bank toward its strategic priorities, whether technology, cyber-security, audit, risk and/or compliance. As a bank grows, it should consider bringing on directors who understand more complex banking models. If a bank wants to move into a niche, bringing a board member in with specific experience can help guide the bank in that area.
Consider Investor Expectations: It’s important to keep in mind the fiduciary role the board plays. Investors want to see a committed board qualified to serve, while remaining devoted to the short and long-term success of the bank. Investors today are actively monitoring the governance of banks.
Get a Technology Expert on the Board: It’s time to consider adjusting the board’s composition to complement the capabilities of the next generation of leadership. One big switch between today’s leaders and tomorrow’s will likely be reliance on technology. Technology has been a missing piece on a lot of boards, and as the next generation of leadership takes the helm to steer banks toward more technology-driven services, it will be essential to have a technology expert on the board. This person should not only understand technology, but also understand how to leverage it to connect with customers.
Self-Assess: Directors are increasingly using self-assessments to look for gaps in expertise and skills, some of which could be addressed with training or further development. Assessments can help drive consistent refreshment of the business over time by adding needed skills as the complexity of banking continues.
When it comes to who will lead succession planning for the board, it is typically the governance committee’s responsibility but in privately held banks, the chairman often runs the show on succession planning. As regulators are increasingly asking about director succession, the ownership of the plan will increasingly shift to the independent directors of the governance committee. Knowing when and how often to develop and refresh a succession plan depends on where a bank is in its development. A newer bank will likely review the succession plan for the board more frequently than a more established bank.