What’s Trending at Acquire or Be Acquired 2019

Smart Leadership – Today’s challenges and opportunities point to one important solution: strong boards and executive teams.
Predicting The Future – Interest is growing around mergers of equals, commercial deposits and shifting team dynamics.
Board-Level Concerns – Three characteristics define the issues facing bank directors.
Spotlight on Diversity – Diverse backgrounds fuel stronger performance.
Digging into Strategic Issues – The end of the government shutdown could yield more IPOs.

A Top-Performing Bank Explains Why It Sponsors Three NFL Teams


Best-Performing Stadium Sponsorships

Sponsoring a local sports team is an effective way to resonate with a community.

It’s something M&T Bank Corp. takes so seriously that it sponsors three NFL teams: the Buffalo Bills, in the bank’s hometown of Buffalo, New York; the New York Jets, who play out of Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and the Baltimore Ravens.

Since 2003, the $121.6 billion asset bank has held naming rights for the Ravens’ home field, M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. It’s a relationship the bank extended in 2014, for a cool $60 million, keeping M&T’s logo on the stadium until 2027.

“We are embedded in the communities where we live and work, [and] we understand that those teams are important to their communities, including our employees, customers and prospects,” says Betsey Locke, senior vice president of brand, advertising and sponsorships at M&T.

Back in 2003, M&T was relatively unknown in the Baltimore market, she says. Holding the naming rights for the Ravens’ stadium “gave us immediate credibility. We’re now perceived as a hometown bank.”

Placing a bank’s logo on a local stadium and aligning the brand with a well-loved team can make an impact; that’s what drives even efficiency-conscious companies like M&T to spend millions on these sponsorships. It’s a unique relationship that Bank Director sought to understand by looking at the recent records of major sports teams.

In addition to win/loss records, the ranking accounts for the popularity of the sport, based on survey data from Gallup.

“Football remains the biggest and most popular sport,” says Locke. “The NFL draws the largest, strongest partnership ROI and the greatest fan affinity.”

Sponsoring sports teams is a tactic embraced by banks nationwide. There are more than 250 minor league baseball teams in the U.S., for example, and naming-rights sponsorships with these teams include big regional banks like Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp (the $168.8 billion asset company sponsors the Toledo Mud Hens) as well as smaller banks like $9.6 billion asset NBT Bancorp, in Norwich, New York, which sponsors the Syracuse Mets.

College teams offer another popular option. Through its Centennial Bank brand, Home Bancshares, based in Conway, Arkansas, has naming rights on the stadium that’s home to Arkansas State University’s Red Wolves football team – John Allison, the chairman of the $15.3 billion asset company, is an alumnus of the school.

M&T gets hundreds of sponsorship requests from sports teams to arts and cultural activities, says Locke. Her team uses a scorecard to conduct an initial review and determine whether a request meets the minimum requirements for M&T to seriously consider it. They look at things like alignment with the bank’s target audience, whether the opportunity will effectively promote M&T’s brand and differentiate the company in the marketplace, and if the bank will be able to promote its products and services to new audiences. Requests that pass this initial review are then handed off to a committee that meets quarterly to decide which requests to ultimately pursue.

Sponsoring the Ravens is a good fit, says Locke, because M&T doesn’t just cut a check. “We do community efforts together,” she says. For example, 150 employees from both organizations worked together to rehab a Boys & Girls Club of America in Baltimore earlier this year. Showing that both organizations are “deeply embedded in the community” is an important piece of the partnership, says Locke.

For the Ravens and other partners, M&T tracks the return on its investment through a number of key metrics, including impressions and engagement on traditional and social media. The bank also offers branded checking accounts for fans of the Ravens, Jets and Bills. These affinity accounts are promoted alongside the sponsorship, and M&T tracks their growth as part of the checking portfolio.

Fans’ love of the game goes beyond the numbers. A team’s record doesn’t account for its history, and teams that perform well one year can break fans’ hearts the next.

Locke says M&T is with fans through the good times and the bad. “Fans are deeply engaged and support [their] teams year-round,” she says. And football promotes values that M&T wants to align itself with. “[It’s] about teamwork, love for the sport, love for the community,” she says.

Best-Performing Stadium Sponsorships

Rank Sponsoring Bank Team League Win/Loss Record Score*
#1 M&T Bank Corp. Baltimore Ravens NFL 62.5% 1.2
#2 Wells Fargo & Co. Philadelphia 76ers NBA 62.2% 1.8
#3 TD Bank Boston Celtics NBA 59.8% 2.8
#4 U.S. Bancorp Minnesota Vikings NFL 53.1% 5.0
#5 Barclays New York Islanders NHL 58.5% 5.6
#5 Capital One Financial Corp. Washington Capitals NHL 58.5% 5.6
#7 PNC Financial Services Group Carolina Hurricanes NHL 56.1% 6.4
#8 SunTrust Banks Atlanta Braves MLB 55.6% 7.2
#9 Citizens Financial Group Philadelphia Phillies MLB 49.4% 7.8
#10 Bank of America Corp. Carolina Panthers NFL 43.8% 8.6

Source: Source: Gallup, NFL, MLB, NHL, MLS
*The score is based on the popularity of the sport as well as the win/loss records for each team. Where the bank sponsors an arena that hosts two sports teams, the best-performing team appears in the ranking.

An Easy Way to Lose Sight of Critical Risks


audit-6-7-19.pngLet me ask you a question…

How does the executive team at your biggest competitor think about their future? Are they fixated on asset growth or loan quality? Gathering low-cost deposits? Improving their technology to accelerate the digital delivery of new products? Finding and training new talent?

The answers don’t need to be immediate or precise. But we tend to fixate on the issues in front of us and ignore what’s happening right outside our door, even if the latter issues are just as important.

Yet, any leader worth their weight in stock certificates will say that taking the time to dig into and learn about other businesses, even those in unrelated industries, is time well spent.

Regular readers of Bank Director know that executives and experienced outside directors prize efficiency, prudence and smart capital allocation in their bank’s dealings.

But here’s the thing: Your biggest—and most formidable—competitors strive for the same objectives.

So when we talk about trending topics at this year’s Bank Audit and Risk Committees Conference, hosted by Bank Director in Chicago from June 10-12, we do so with an eye not just to the internal challenges faced by your institution but on the external pressures as well.

As we prepare to host 317 women and men from banks across the country, let me state the obvious: Risk is no stranger to a bank’s officers or directors. Indeed, the core business of banking revolves around risk management—interest rate risk, credit risk, operational risk.

Given this, few would dispute the importance of the audit committee to appraise a bank’s business practices, or of the risk committee to identify potential hazards that could imperil an institution.

Banks must stay vigilant, even as they struggle to respond to the demands of the digital revolution and heightened customer expectations. I can’t overstate the importance of audit and risk committees keeping pace with the disruptive technological transformation of the industry.

That transformation is creating an emergent banking model, according to Frank Rotman, a founding partner of venture capital firm QED Investors. This new model focuses banks on increasing engagement, collecting data and offering precisely targeted solutions to their customers.

If that’s the case—given the current state of innovation, digital transformation and the re-imagination of business processes—is it any wonder that boards are struggling to focus on risk management and the bank’s internal control environment?

When was the last time the audit committee at your bank revisited the list of items that appeared on the meeting agenda or evaluated how the committee spends its time? From my vantage point, now might be an ideal time for audit committees to sharpen the focus of their institutions on the cultures they prize, the ethics they value and the processes they need to ensure compliance.

And for risk committee members, national economic uncertainty—given the political rhetoric from Washington and trade tensions with U.S. global economic partners, especially China—has to be on your radar. Many economists expect an economic recession by June 2020. Is your bank prepared for that?

Bank leadership teams must monitor technological advances, cybersecurity concerns and an ever-evolving set of customer and investor expectations. But other issues can’t be ignored either.

At our upcoming event in Chicago, the Bank Audit and Risk Committees Conference, I encourage everyone to remember that minds are like parachutes. In the immortal words of musician Frank Zappa: “It doesn’t work if it is not open.”

An Easy Way to Learn More About Banking


governance-5-24-18.pngEvery year when Richard Davis was the chief executive officer of U.S. Bancorp, he would travel to see Warren Buffett in Omaha, Nebraska.

“The meetings were always on the same day and always lasted exactly an hour and 15 minutes,” Davis once told me. “That wasn’t the plan. It just happened that way.”

Even though the meetings went over an hour, however, there were never people in the waiting room annoyed that the conversation went long. The tranquility was refreshing to Davis, who was accustomed to days packed with back-to-back meetings.

Buffett guards his time. He spends 80 percent of his day reading and thinking, he has said.

A student at Columbia University once asked Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, how to become a great investor. “Read 500 pages like this every day,” Buffett said, holding up a stack of papers. “That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

The same is true of banking, I believe.

But where should one start? What are the most important things to read if one wants to learn more about banking?

As someone who has been immersed in banking literature for nearly a decade, I recommend starting with the annual shareholder letters written by a trio of top-performing bankers.

The best known is Jamie Dimon’s annual letter written to the shareholders of JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“Jamie Dimon writes the best annual letter in corporate America,” Buffett said on CNBC in early 2012. “He thinks well. He writes extremely well. And he works a lot on the report—he’s told me that.”

In his letter this year, Dimon talks about JPMorgan’s banking philosophy. He talks about leadership. He talks about the things JPMorgan doesn’t worry about: “While we worry extensively about all of the risks we bear, we essentially do not worry about things like fluctuating markets and short-term economic reports. We simply manage through them.”

And Dimon comments extensively on an array of critical issues facing not just the banking industry, but the broader economy and society: “[I]t is clear that partisan politics is stopping collaborative policy from being implemented, particularly at the federal level. This is not some special economic malaise we are in. This is about our society. We are unwilling to compromise. We are unwilling or unable to create good policy based on deep analytics. And our government is unable to reorganize and keep pace in the new world.”

A second CEO who writes an especially insightful letter is William Demchak at Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group.

In his latest letter, Demchak delves into PNC’s retail growth strategy, outlining the bank’s expansion into new markets using a combination of physical locations, aggressive marketing and digital delivery channels.

Demchak also discusses the changes underway in banking: “It’s an amazing time in the industry—exciting, if you’ve been preparing for it, and probably terrifying if you haven’t. . . . [I]n some ways, it feels like we’re running through the woods with 5,400 other players and one big bear: retail customers and deposit consolidation. Some will be lost in the chaos; others will fall victim to bad decisions and the realization that they waited too long to start moving toward the future.”

Last but not least is the letter written by Rene Jones at M&T Bank Corp, a regional lender with $120 billion in assets based in Buffalo, New York. Of all the annual messages written by bank CEOs this year, Jones’ does the most to advance the industry’s narrative.

It’s crafted around two arguments, the first of which concerns the growing share of retail deposits held by the nation’s biggest banks. This trend isn’t simply a function of scale and technology, Jones argues. It’s also driven by demographic patterns.

“Historically, deposit growth itself is highly correlated to increased employment, income and population,” Jones writes. “The banks with the most scale have benefited from their outsized presence in the largest U.S. markets, which unlike past recoveries, have experienced a disproportionate share of the nation’s economic growth.”

Jones’ second argument concerns the need to refine the existing regulatory framework: “Regulation, like monetary policy, is a tool whose purpose is simultaneously to promote the economy while protecting those who operate within it. It is a difficult balance—especially so after significant events such as the financial crisis. The practice of implementing and adjusting regulation is both necessary and healthy, because its impacts are felt by communities large and small.”

Jones’ message will resonate with bankers, as M&T has long been an unofficial spokesman for the industry on regulatory matters, giving voice to their frustration with the sharp swing in the regulatory pendulum over the past decade.

In short, all these letters are worth the modest amount of time they take to read. They are three of the leading voices in banking today. There’s a reason someone like Warren Buffett reads what they write.

Are These the Best of Times for Bank Directors?


strategy-5-13-19.pngFor someone who has covered the banking industry as long as I have (hint: I wrote my first banking story in 1986), these are among the best days to be a banker—or director of a bank—that I can remember. Profitability is high, as is capitalization, and the industry is gliding on the updraft of a strong economy and lower taxes.

The current health of the industry was apparent from what we did not talk about at Bank Director’s Bank Board Training Forum, which took place on May 9-10 in Nashville. There were no sessions about deteriorating loan quality, or the best way to structure a loan workout program, or the need to raise capital. Indeed, our managing editor, Kiah Lau Haslett, wrote a story that published Friday on this website warning against the perils of complacency.

When your biggest challenge is guarding against complacency, you’ve definitely found yourself in tall cotton.

It’s worth drilling down a little bit into the industry’s strong fundamentals. In addition to the continuation of a strong U.S. economy, which will be a record expansion if it continues much longer, banks have also benefited—more than any other industry—from last year’s steep cut in corporate tax rates, as well as a modest rollback of regulations in the Dodd-Frank Act.

Joseph Fenech, managing principal and head of research at the investment banking firm Hovde Group, explained during a presentation that thanks to the tax cut, both return on average assets and return on average tangible common equity jumped to levels last seen prior to the Great Recession. And not only has deregulation had a measurably positive impact on the industry’s profitability, according to Fenech, it has also brought new investors into the sector.

“It’s really driving change in how investors think about banks,” he says.

The only bad news Fenech offered was his assessment that bank M&A pricing has peaked. From 2008 to 2016, stocks of the most active acquirers traded at a premium to book value while many distressed targets traded at a discount, which translated to favorable “deal math” for buyers, according to Fenech. Deal pricing began to edge up from 2016 to 2018 as more acquirers came into the market. Many transactions had to be priced at a premium to book value, which began to make the deal math less favorable for the buyer.

Generally, the higher the deal premium, the longer it takes for it to be accretive. Since the beginning of this year, says Fenech, many investors have become wary of deals with high premiums unless they are clearly accretive to earnings in a reasonable period of time. Undisciplined acquirers that overpay for deals will see their stocks shunned by many investors.

This new dynamic in bank M&A also impacts sellers, who now may receive a lower premium for their franchise.

“I think the peak pricing in bank M&A was last year,” says Fenech.

An important theme during the entire conference was the increased attention that board diversity is getting throughout the industry. Bank Director President Mika Moser moderated a general session panel discussion on board diversity, but the topic popped up in various breakout sessions as well. This is not always a comfortable discussion for bank boards since—let’s face it—most bank boards are comprised overwhelming of older white males.

For many proponents, the push for greater board diversity is not simply to accomplish a progressive social policy. Diverse groups usually offer a diversity of thought—and that makes good business sense. Academic research shows that diverse groups or teams make better business decisions than more homogenious groups, where the members are more inclined to affirm each other’s biases and perspectives than challenge them. Larry Fink, the chairman and CEO of Blackrock—the world’s largest asset manager—believes that diverse boards are less likely to succumb to groupthink or miss emerging threats to a company’s business model, and are better able to identify opportunities that promote long-term growth.

The banking industry still has a lot of work to do in terms of embracing diversity in the boardroom and among the senior management team, but I get the sense that directors are more sensitive—and more open to making substantive changes—than just a few years ago.

The Bank Board Training Forum is, at its core, a corporate governance conference. While we cover a variety of issues, it’s always through the perspective of the outside director. James McAlpin, Jr., a partner and leader of the financial services client services group at the law firm Bryan Cave, gave an insightful presentation on corporate governance. But sometimes the simplest truth can be the most galvanizing.

“The responsibilities of directors can be boiled down to one simple goal—the creation of sustainable long-term value for shareholders,” he says. There are many decisions that bank boards must make over the course of a year, but all of them must be made through that prism.

Here’s How to Address CECL’s Biggest Question


CECL-4-26-19.pngA debate is raging right now as to whether the new loan loss accounting standard, soon to go into effect, will aggravate or alleviate the notoriously abrupt cycles of the banking industry.

Regulators and modelers say the Current Expected Credit Loss model, or CECL, will alleviate cyclicality, while at least two regional banks and an industry group argue otherwise. Who’s right? The answer, it seems, will come down to the choices bankers make when implementing CECL and their view of the future.

CECL requires banks to record losses on assets at origination, rather than waiting until losses become probable. The hope is that, by doing so, banks will be able to prepare more proactively for a downturn.

This debate comes as banks are busy implementing CECL, which goes into effect for some institutions as early as 2020.

Last year, internal analyses conducted by BB&T Corp. and Zions Bancorp. indicated that CECL will make cycles worse compared to the existing framework, which requires banks to record losses only once they become probable.

Both banks found that CECL will force a bank with an adequate allowance to unnecessarily increase it during a downturn. Their concern is that this could make lending at the bottom of a cycle less attractive.

The increase in provisions would “directly and adversely impact retained earnings,” wrote Zions Chief Financial Officer Paul Burdiss in an August 2018 letter, without changing the institution’s ability to absorb losses. BB&T said that adjusting its existing reserves early in a recession, as called for under CECL, would deplete capital “more severely” than the current practice.

BB&T declined to comment, while Zions did not return requests for comment.

The Bank Policy Institute, an industry group representing the nation’s leading banks, said in a July 2018 study that the standard “will make the next recession worse.” CECL’s lifetime approach forces a bank to add reserves every time it makes a loan, which will increase existing reserves during a recession, the group argued.

“The impact on loan allowances due to a change in the macroeconomic forecasts is much higher under CECL,” the study says.

And in Congressional testimony on April 10, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon said CECL could impact community banks’ ability to lend in a recession.

“I do think it’s going to put smaller banks in a position where, when a crisis hits, they’ll virtually have to stop lending because putting up those reserves would be too much at precisely the wrong time,” he said.

Those results are at odds with research conducted by the Federal Reserve and firms like Moody’s Analytics and Prescient Models. Some of the differences can be chalked up to modeling approach and choices; other disagreements center on the very definition of ‘procyclicality.’

Moody’s Analytics believes that CECL will result in “easier underwriting and more lending in recessions, and tighter underwriting and less lending in boom times,” according to a December 2018 paper. The Federal Reserve similarly found that CECL should generally reduce procyclical lending and reserving compared to the current method, according to a March 2018 study.

Yet, both the Fed and Moody’s Analytics concluded that CECL’s ability to temper the credit cycle will vary based on the forecasts and assumptions employed by banks under the framework.

“The most important conclusion is that CECL’s cyclicality is going to depend heavily on how it’s implemented,” says Moody’s Analytics’ deputy chief economist Cristian deRitis. “You can … make choices in your implementation that either make it more or less procyclical.”

DeRitis says the “most important” variable in a model’s cyclicality is the collection of future economic forecasts, and that running multiple scenarios could provide banks a baseline loss scenario as well as an upside and downside loss range if the environment changes.

The model and methodology that banks select during CECL implementation could also play a major role in how proactively a bank will be able to build reserves, says Prescient Models’ CEO Joseph Breeden, who looked at how different loan loss methods impact an economic cycle in an August 2018 paper.

A well-designed model, he says, should allow bankers to reserve for losses years in advance of a downturn.

“With a good model, you should pay attention to the trends. If you do CECL right, you will be able to see increasing demands for loss reserves,” he says. “Don’t worry about predicting the peak, just pay attention to the trends—up or down—because that’s how you’re going to manage your business.”

In the final analysis, then, the answer to the question of whether CECL will alleviate or aggravate the cyclical nature of banking will seemingly come down to the sum total of bankers’ choices during implementation and execution.

Why Checking Products Matter More Than Ever


checking-4-17-19.pngThe battle is on among all banks to acquire new customers and their low-cost deposits. The key to winning the battle for low-cost deposits is owning the primary banking relationship and, in particular, the consumer checking account relationship.

The checking account is the central way consumers identify “their bank.” It is the only banking product that consumers use daily to navigate the intersection of their life and their money.

If this navigation is smooth, your bank is in the best position to collect even more deposits, loans and fee income.

Banks that understand this best have been successful at capturing primary banking relationships, which in recent years have been the four biggest U.S. banks. They are the ones investing the most to continue this trend and defend their success.

If you’re a community bank or even a regional one, a recent AT Kearney survey detailed the ways you are being attacked.

  • The four biggest banks (Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup and Wells Fargo & Co.) have 40 percent of the U.S. consumers’ primary banking relationships. Superregional banks have 19 percent. The remaining 41 percent is split between other institution types, with credit unions at 14 percent, community banks at 12 percent, regional banks at 8 percent and relatively new direct banks like Marcus and Ally already at 5 percent.
  • The four biggest banks are collectively budgeting more than $30 billion in technology investments, about one-third of which is on digital banking around the checking account.
  • Digital channels drive 35 percent of primary banking relationship moves, while branches only drive 26 percent. The Big Four banks are capturing 41 percent of consumers that do switch their primary relationship. Superregional banks are capturing 28 percent. This leaves 31 percent for everyone else, and the new digital-only banks have 11 percent of that remainder.

Big Banks Rule
The reality is the biggest banks have the upper hand. The resources they are investing in digital platforms to maintain and increase market share can’t be replicated by community or regional banks.

But let’s not confuse the upper hand with the winning hand. Community and regional banks can fight back, because there is a chink in the armor of big banks.

While the digital experience provided by the four biggest banks may be superior, a review of the actual product benefits their consumer checking accounts provide isn’t that impressive. They are as ordinary as the checking accounts at most other banks.

Their checking lineups, terms and conditions are complicated with significant product overlap. They mask this weakness with an allure in the marketing and digital delivery of these ordinary benefits.

When smaller banks discuss growing consumer retail accounts, they talk more about acquisition pricing and marketing strategy, and not enough about first improving and simplifying products and lineups. Many banks start by spending on the promotion of unappealing, undifferentiated checking products at the lowest price in a confusing lineup. This isn’t a winning battle plan.

Smaller banks should first make their lineup simple for consumers to understand. The best practice here is a good, better, best methodology, which we have previously discussed in my article, Use Good/Better/Best for Checking Success.

While doing this, why not offer checking products as good, modern and different as you can afford?

Nontraditional Benefits Work
Recent research by Cornerstone Advisors, titled “Reinventing Checking Accounts,” shows how positively consumers respond to switching to checking accounts that include nontraditional benefits like cell phone insurance, roadside assistance and pharmacy/vision discounts alongside traditional benefits.

These nontraditional benefits are central to consumers’ lives away from the bank but can be captured in their checking account.

There’s no debating the importance of acquiring new checking relationships in gathering low-cost deposits. While the biggest banks dominate currently, are investing heavily in technology and paying handsome incentives to attract even more new customers, smaller banks can attack where these big banks are vulnerable.

Don’t fight them toe-to-toe with a complex lineup of look-a-like checking products. That’s a losing battle. Instead, focus on the appeal of a simple lineup and products that competing banks don’t offer. That’s a battle worth fighting, and one that can be won.

Why Great RMs Matter So Much


manager-4-17-19.pngImagine you have given two commercial relationship managers (RMs) at your bank the same potential deal to work on.

Same credit worthiness. Same opportunity for cross-sell. The market is the same, the internal approval process is the same. So is the pricing technology they’re using.

Would the two RMs produce the same result?

Probably not. Even with all conditions being equal, the RMs working on it are not.

Some RMs are just better than others.

But how much better? Earlier this year, PrecisionLender looked for that answer. Our findings were published online in our report: “Measuring RM Performance: Proving Impact and Dispelling Myths.”

We delved into our database, which includes commercial relationships (loans, deposits and other fee-based business) from over 200 banks in the United States, from small community banks to the top 10 institutions. In addition to size, these banks are also geographically diverse, with headquarters in 35 states and borrowers in all 50.

We found three things.

  • The best RMs matter much more than we hypothesized.
  • They win on all fronts, without costly trade-offs.
  • They share common traits and tactics.

Right now it’s assumed that to gain in volume, an RM must give on price. By that logic, RMs with the thinnest margins should have the largest portfolios. Yet we found the RMs with the biggest portfolios aren’t compromising on price.

When normalizing for loan mix and looking at RMs in one line of business pursuing similar borrowers, we found the RMs winning the most volume were also earning the highest risk-adjusted spreads.

We found a similar lack of compromise when it came to risk. Some of the top RMs we studied managed to negotiate higher spreads on a higher-quality portfolio than their peers achieved on weaker-rated books.

Winning On Fees and Price
Most banks we looked at displayed a tremendous dispersion in fee incidence across their RMs. While market aggregate fees showed variance by product type, deal size and term, perhaps the most significant factor in fee performance was the RM.

That performance matters, because RMs who included fees achieved consistently higher risk-adjusted return on equity than those who did not.

To get those fees, top RMs didn’t have to give on price. In most sample banks, there was a positive correlation between spread and fees, largely due to RM talent. Those ranked at the top for fee penetration had above-average spreads. Those ranked near the bottom for fees were also the low performers on spreads.

With today’s thin credit margins, banks often lead with credit to win more ancillary business. RMs routinely justify below-target credit pricing by including an anticipated cross-sell.

Putting aside whether those cross-sell promises are fulfilled, it would be easy to assume relationships with non-credit revenue carry lower spreads. We found the opposite.

Our data suggests relationships with above-average cross-sell revenue tended to carry higher credit pricing than those with below-average cross-sell revenue. RMs often cited the strength of the relationship—thanks to a track record of delivering value—as the biggest reason.

How Do Great RMs Do It?
The evidence we’ve collected points to a set of best practices that top RMs have in common.

  • They act like trusted advisors instead of order takers.
  • They deliver tailored solutions.
  • They know what matters to the customer and the relative priorities.
  • They provide alternatives.
  • They maintain meaningful, ongoing communication.
  • They explain their pricing.
  • They leverage internal resources.
  • They implement performance-based pricing.
  • They are proactive in managing renewals.
  • They negotiate well.

Some RMs manage to achieve volume, add fees, cross-sell and minimize risk, without conceding on rate. Look closer, and you’ll find a common set of tactics and strategies.

Banks that understand what makes their top performers great can turn a best practice into a common practice.

The Flawed Argument Against Community Banks


deposit-4-5-19.pngA few weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal published a story that struck a nerve with community bankers.

The story traced the travails of National Bank of Delaware County, or NBDC, a $375 million asset bank based in Walton, New York, that ran into problems after buying six branches from Bank of America Corp. in 2014.

It’s not that things were going great for NBDC prior to that, because they weren’t. Like many banks in small towns, it had to contend with stiff economic and demographic headwinds.

“As in other small towns that were once vibrant, decades of economic change altered the fabric of Walton,” Rachel Louise Ensign and Coulter Jones wrote in the Journal. “The number of area farms dwindled and manufacturing jobs disappeared.”

“Being located in, and serving, an economically struggling community could bring any bank down,” wrote Ron Shevlin, director of research at Cornerstone Advisors, in a follow-up story a week later.

NBDC hoped the branches acquired from Bank of America, for a combined $1 million, would revive its fortunes. But the deal only made things worse.

The branches saddled NBDC with higher costs and $12 million in added debt. Even worse, half the acquired deposits quickly went elsewhere, provoked by a poorly executed integration as well as, ostensibly, NBDC’s antiquated technology.

“Technology is causing strains throughout the banking industry, especially among smaller rural banks that are struggling to fund the ballooning tab,” Ensign and Jones wrote. “Consumers expect digital services including depositing checks and sending money to friends, which means they don’t necessarily need a local branch nearby. This increasingly means people are choosing a big bank over a small one.”

This echoes a common refrain in banking: that smaller regional and community banks can’t compete against the multibillion-dollar technology budgets of big banks—especially JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America and Wells Fargo & Co.

Community bankers took issue with the article, Shevlin noted, because it seemed to portray the story of NBDC, which was acquired in 2016 by Norwood Financial Corp., as representative of community banks more broadly.

“This is so misleading,” tweeted Andy Schornack, president of Security Bank & Trust in Glencoe, Minnesota. “Pick on one under-performing bank to represent the whole.”

“Community banks are profitable and thriving,” tweeted Tanya Duncan, senior vice president of the Massachusetts Bankers Association. “Most offer technology that makes transactions seamless.”

Schornack and Duncan are right. One doesn’t have to look far to find community banks that are thriving, with many outperforming the industry.

A textbook example is Germantown Trust and Savings Bank, a $376 million asset bank based in Breese, Illinois.

Germantown has generated a higher return on assets than the industry average in 11 of the past 12 years. The only exception was in 2013, when it generated a 1.52 percent pre-tax ROA, compared to 1.55 for the overall industry.

 Germantown-Bank-chart.png

Germantown’s performance through the financial crisis was especially impressive. While most banks reported lower earnings in 2009, with the typical bank recording a loss, Germantown experienced a surge in profitability.

Germantown has gained local market share, too. Over the past eight years, its share of deposits throughout its four-branch footprint in Clinton County, Illinois, has grown from 27.8 percent up to 29.7 percent.

This is just one example among many community banks with a similar experience. For every community bank that’s ailing, in other words, you could point to one that’s thriving.

Yet, there’s another, more fundamental issue with the prevailing narrative in banking today. Namely, the data doesn’t support the claim that the biggest and most technologically-savvy banks are gobbling up share of the national deposit marketTwitter_Logo_Blue.png

In fact, just the opposite has been true over the past five years.

Let’s start with the big three retail banks—JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo—which are spending tens of billions of dollars a year on technology.

These three banks saw their combined share of domestic deposits swell in the wake of the financial crisis, climbing from 21.7 percent in 2007 up to 33.2 percent six years later. Since 2013, however, this trend has gone in the opposite direction, falling in four of the past five years. As of 2018, the three biggest banks in the country controlled 31.8 percent of total domestic deposits, a decline of 1.4 percentage points from their peak.

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The same is true if you broaden this out to include the nine biggest commercial banks. Their combined share of domestic deposits has dropped from a high of 47.6 percent in 2013 down to 45.6 percent last year.

Given the number of branches many of these banks have shed over the past decade, it’s surprising they haven’t lost a larger share of domestic deposits. Nevertheless, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that, despite the gloomy sentiment toward community banks that’s often parroted in the press, their current and future fortunes are far from bleak.

Bank M&A in 2019: Is It a New World?


Much like the countless dystopian novels and movies released over the years, the environment today in banking begs the question of whether we’ve entered a so-called new world in the industry’s M&A domain.

Deal volume in 2018 was roughly equal to 2017 levels, though many regions in the country saw a decline. And while it’s still early in 2019, the first two months of the year have been marked by a pair of large, transformative deals: Chemical Financial Corp.’s merger with TCF Financial Corp., and BB&T Corp.’s merger with SunTrust Banks. These deals have raised hopes that more large deals will soon follow, creating a new tier of banking entities that live just below the money-center banks.

Aside from these two large deals, however, M&A volume throughout the rest of the industry is down over the first two months of the year. As you can see in the chart below, this continues a slide in deal volume that began at the tail end of 2018.

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Bank Director’s 2019 Bank M&A Survey highlights a number of the factors that might impact deal volume in 2019 and beyond.

Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents indicated that organic growth is their current priority, for instance, though respondents were open to M&A opportunities. This suggests that banks are more willing to focus on market opportunities for growth, likely because bank management can more easily influence market growth than M&A. The strength of the economy, enhanced earnings as a result of tax reform, easing regulatory oversight and industry optimism in general also are likely contributing to the focus on market growth.

The traditional chasm between banks that would like to be acquirers and banks that are willing to be sellers seems to be another factor influencing banks’ preference for organic market growth. In all the surveys Crowe has performed of bank directors, there always are more buyers than sellers.

The relationship between consolidation and new bank formation also weighs on the pace of acquisitions. If the pool of potential and active acquirers remains relatively stable, the determiner is the available pool of sellers. Each year since 2008, the number of acquisitions has exceeded the number of new bank formations. The result is an overall decrease in the number of deals. It stands to reason, in turn, that this will lead to fewer deals each year as consolidation continues.

Current prices for bank stocks also have an impact on deal volume. You can see this in the following chart, which illustrates the “tailwind” impact on deal volume for publicly traded banks. Tailwind is the percentage by which a buyer’s stock valuation exceeds the deal metrics. When the percentage is high, trading price/tangible book value (TBV) exceeds the deal price/TBV and deal volume is positively affected. The positive impact sometimes is felt in the same quarter, but there can be a three-month lag.

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In the beginning of 2019, bank stock prices recovered some of the declines they experienced in the latter half of last year, but they still are at a negative level overall. If bank stock prices continue to lag behind the broader market, as they have over the past year (see the chart below), deal volume likely will be affected for the remainder of the year.

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It’s still too early to predict how 2019 will evolve for bank M&A. Undoubtedly there will be surprises, but it’s probably fair to assume a slightly lower level of deals for 2019 compared to 2018.