2019 Bank M&A Survey: What’s Driving Growth


acquisition-12-3-18.pngOver the past year, Congress has passed both tax reform and regulatory relief—signed into law by President Donald Trump in December 2017 and May 2018, respectively. And the Trump administration has appointed regulators who appear to be more favorable to the industry, including former bankers Joseph Otting, to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and Jelena McWilliams, to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

As a result, the 184 bank executives and directors participating in the 2019 Bank M&A Survey, sponsored by Crowe LLP, voice a resoundingly positive view of Washington, particularly for Trump and Mick Mulvaney. Eighty-seven percent say the Trump administration has had a positive impact on the banking industry. The same percentage give glowing marks to Mulvaney, the interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who has turned the agency into less of a regulatory cop and more into a regulator with an even-handed approach toward the financial industry.

The survey examines industry attitudes about issues impacting M&A and growth, along with expected acquisition plans and expectations for the U.S. economy through 2019. It was conducted in September and October 2018.

Tax reform had a big impact on the industry, with many making investments to grow their business. Thirty-seven percent say their bank invested in new growth initiatives as a result of tax reform, and 36 percent in new technology. One-quarter indicate the bank raised employee salaries, and 19 percent paid a one-time bonus to employees. Some shareholders saw gains as well: 25 percent of respondents say their bank paid a dividend, and 10 percent bought back stock.

When asked where the bank designated the largest percentage of its tax windfall, 32 percent point to new growth initiatives, and 26 percent to shareholders.

Additional Findings

  • More than half believe the current environment is more favorable for deals, and 50 percent say they’re likely to acquire another bank by the end of 2019.
  • Thirty percent believe their bank is more likely to acquire as a result of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, which rolled back some regulations for the banking industry. Two-thirds indicate regulatory reform will have no impact on their M&A plans.
  • Acquiring deposits is very attractive to today’s potential dealmakers: 71 percent say the potential target’s deposit base is a highly important factor in making the decision to acquire. 
  • To better compete for deposits, 29 percent say their bank will acquire deposits via acquisition.
  • Fifty-three percent say branch locations in attractive or growing markets are highly important, and 49 percent place high value on lending teams or talented lenders at the target.
  • Despite more sympathetic regulators and the passage of regulatory relief, 72 percent say their bank’s examiners have grown no less stringent over the past two years.

To view the full results to the survey, click here.

Zelle Costs Bankers Money, Venmo Can Make Bankers Money


payments-11-29-18.pngZelle, the personal payments platform developed by a consortium of large banks, is poised to become the most used P2P app by the end of the year—outpacing PayPal’s Venmo service, according to the market research company eMarketer.

But does that make Zelle a must-offer capability for the banking industry? Not necessarily.

eMarketer projects the personal payments market to grow nearly 30 percent in 2018, to 82.5 million people—or about 40 percent of all smartphone users in the U.S.

Zelle was developed by the likes of JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. to compete with Venmo, Square Cash, also known more simply as just “the Cash app,” and other up-and-coming third-party P2P services.

You can think of Zelle as the banking industry’s containment strategy—just like France’s vaunted Maginot Line in World War II that was supposed to keep out the German army.

The network of banks offering Zelle has grown to 161, but is a closed system where consumers at participating banks can send personal payments—for free, and in real time—to anyone at another Zelle bank.

One factor that probably accounts for Zelle’s fast growth was the decision to include it in each participating bank’s mobile app. So, if a customer’s bank belongs to the Zelle network, they are automatically a potential user.

While Zelle is a weapon that banks can use to beat back Venmo and Square Cash, the third-most frequently used P2P app, it does have its drawbacks. While Zelle is both free to the user and instantaneous, it costs the participating bank between $0.50 to $0.75 per transaction. So as Zelle’s transaction volume increases, so will each bank’s costs.

Charging users a transaction fee to offset that cost probably isn’t realistic since Venmo and Square Cash are free, although Venmo does charge $0.25 for instant transfers. A good analogy is online bill pay. It costs banks something to offer that service, but most banks don’t charge for it. They offer it for free because all their competitors do, and because it’s a hassle for customers to disentangle their finances from one bank’s online bill pay service and connect with another bank’s service, which can be a disincentive to switching.

Free online bill payment has become table stakes in retail banking, and P2P may go that way as well. But P2P transaction volume has yet to build to such levels that there’s a sense of urgency for all banks to offer Zelle today, lest they find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

“Urgency means I immediately need to get Zelle. I don’t necessarily think that’s the case,” says Tony DeSanctis, a senior director at Cornerstone Advisors. “Why am I better off offering a product where I’m going to pay 50 to 75 cents a transaction to move money … and also pay the fixed costs to [integrate] it?”

There is, in fact, an argument to offering Zelle and Venmo, or maybe just Venmo. If a bank allows its consumers to include the Venmo app in their digital wallet and prefund the account, Venmo will pay them an interchange fee on every transaction. So while Zelle costs its participating banks money, Venmo offers them a small revenue opportunity to offset their costs.

Zelle is also a private network (which means other people can’t see your transactions) that is marketed to all demographic groups. Venmo, on the other hand, is a social payment network popular with younger generations who are among its biggest users. Richard Crone, CEO of Crone Consulting LLC, says banks are missing out on an important opportunity in social payments.

“A social network is not about [being] social,” says Crone. “It’s a marketing platform and it’s the most effective marketing out there because it’s word-of-mouth. It’s a referral. It’s peer pressure. And that’s how Venmo grows virally.”

Embracing Zelle and other non-bank payments options like Venmo, Square Cash, Apple Pay Cash and Google Pay could be described as a ubiquity strategy. Both DeSanctis and Crone argue that banks should accommodate a variety of payment options within their mobile apps that are linked to their debit and credit cards, just to stay relevant in the evolving payments space.

The problem is that when it comes to payments, most banks really don’t have a strategy. And hiding behind a virtual Maginot Line probably isn’t going to work.

Indeed, history is instructive. The invading German army easily flanked the Maginot Line, which now serves as a metaphor for a false sense of security.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that transfers sent over the Zelle app do not occur in real time. This is incorrect. We regret the error.

Three Lessons for Bankers From Warren Buffett


strategy-11-16-18.pngIt’s reasonable to argue that the greatest banker in the United States today isn’t a banker at all—he’s an insurance guy.

You might have heard of him.

Warren Buffett.

As the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, an insurance-focused conglomerate based in Omaha, Nebraska, Buffett oversees one of the largest portfolios of bank investments in the country.

Berkshire owns major stakes in a Who’s Who list of historically high-performing banks:

  • 9.9 percent of Wells Fargo & Co. 
  • 6.8 percent of Bank of America Corp.
  • 6.3 percent of U.S. Bancorp
  • 5.3 percent of The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation
  • 3.7 percent of M&T Bank Corp.

That Buffett made such substantial investments in banks isn’t a coincidence.

If there are two things he appreciates at a visceral level, owing to his experience in insurance, it’s leverage and cycles—the same two qualities that make banking so unique.

This is why it’s worth listening to Buffett when he opines on banking, as he often does in his annual letters and media interviews.

This is from his 1991 shareholder letter:

“When assets are 20 times equity—a common ratio in [the bank] industry—mistakes that involve only a small portion of assets can destroy a major portion of equity. And mistakes have been the rule rather than the exception at many major banks. Most have resulted from a managerial failing that we described last year when discussing the ‘institutional imperative:’ the tendency of executives to mindlessly imitate the behavior of their peers, no matter how foolish it may be to do so.”

Buffett is referring to the havoc wreaked on banks during a pronounced downturn in commercial real estate in the early 1990s, when Berkshire bought 10 percent of Wells Fargo.

His point is that it’s critical for bankers to maintain discipline, especially when all of those around you are not.

Another thing Buffett talks about a lot is competitive advantage.

Here he is in a 2009 interview with Fortune:

“If you’re the low-cost producer in any business—and money is your raw material in banking—you’ve got a hell of an edge. If you have a half-point edge . . . half a point on $1 trillion is $5 billion a year.”

And here‘s a selection from his 1987 shareholder letter flushing out the idea more fully, though in the context of the insurance industry, which faces nearly identical competitive dynamics to banking:

“The insurance industry is cursed with a set of dismal economic characteristics that make for a poor long-term outlook: hundreds of competitors, ease of entry, and a product that cannot be differentiated in any meaningful way. In such a commodity-like business, only a very low-cost operator or someone operating in a protected, and usually small, niche can sustain high profitability levels.”

One nuance about efficiency in banking is it doesn’t just boost profitability directly by freeing up more revenue to fall to the bottom line; equally important is its indirect effect.

This is a point U.S. Bancorp’s chairman and CEO Andy Cecere made in a recent, albeit unrelated, interview about the bank with Bank Director.

Efficient banks needn’t stretch on credit quality to generate satisfactory returns, which reduces loan losses at the bottom of the credit cycle, Cecere says. And as a corollary, efficient banks can compete more aggressively for the most creditworthy customers, further limiting credit losses in tough times.

It isn’t a coincidence, in turn, that U.S. Bancorp has consistently been one of the industry’s most efficient banks and disciplined underwriters since its transformative merger nearly two decades ago.

And while neither Buffett nor his philosophy came up during the interview with Cecere, Berkshire Hathaway is one of U.S. Bancorp’s biggest shareholders.

A final lesson about banking that can be gleaned from Buffett involves his approach to mergers and acquisitions.

Buffett has said repeatedly in the past that he’d rather pay a fair price for a wonderful company than a wonderful price for a fair company. Also, all things being equal, Buffett has always preferred for existing management to stay and continue on their path of success.

“Because leverage of 20:1 magnifies the effects of managerial strengths and weaknesses, we have no interest in purchasing shares of a poorly-managed bank at a ‘cheap’ price. Instead, our only interest is in buying into well-managed banks at fair prices.”

It’s a style reminiscent of the uncommon partnership approach to mergers and acquisitions used by John B. McCoy, who dined annually with Buffett, to transform the former Bank One from the third largest bank in Columbus, Ohio, into the sixth largest bank in the country, before later merging into JPMorgan Chase & Co.

In short, although it’s true that most people don’t think of Buffett as a banker, that doesn’t mean bankers can’t learn a lot from his observations on the industry.

How To Manage Talent in a Parfait Organization


talent-11-7-18.pngThe banking industry sits at an interesting crossroads from a talent management perspective. Demographically, many banks are layered like a parfait, with as many as four distinct generations working in the organization, each with its own set of personality traits, likes and dislikes.

The oldest generation—the baby boomer generation, now running the bank for several years—is beginning to retire in increasing numbers. The Generation X cohort, which follows the boomers, is moving into senior management, the best and brightest among them soon to rise to the CEO and CFO level, if they haven’t already.

Generation Y, otherwise known as millennials, are now far enough along in their careers to have gained some meaningful experience, and the really talented ones are identifiable to the bank. Most members of the final and largest cohort, Generation Z, are still in high school and college, although the oldest ones are entering the workforce. At 26 percent of the population, Gen Z will be a force for the next several decades.

This dramatic generational shift is forcing banks to become more proactive in how they manage their talent, particularly millennials, who will comprise a significant part of the industry’s workforce in the near future. The importance of creating opportunities for those individuals was a significant theme in day two of Bank Director’s 2018 Bank Compensation and Talent Conference, held at the Four Seasons Resort and Club at Las Colinas in Dallas, Texas.

In a session on talent management, Beth Bauman, an executive vice president and head of human resources at the Bank of Butterfield, a NYSE-listed $11 billion asset bank domiciled in Bermuda, described the situation at the bank when she joined it in 2015. Butterfield had frozen salaries and done relatively little hiring for several years as it struggled to recover from the financial crisis. So Bauman, along with senior management, has worked to bring in new talent so the bank can continue to grow.

A key element of that hiring effort has been to create a talent management program so Butterfield’s younger employees can have their careers guided, with the most talented groomed for higher positions within the bank.

Bauman sees this as a key to successfully managing the generational change occurring now throughout the industry. “Regardless of the size of your bank, you can have an effective talent management program,” she says.

Talent management has been very much on the minds of the conference attendees. In an audience survey that polled the 300-plus people who were there, 45 percent said it has become both more difficult and costly to attract and retain talented staff—a result not surprising in an economy where the unemployment rate is just 3.7 percent. Banking also has the disadvantage of not being perceived as an exciting employment opportunity for many job seekers, particularly millennials.

Sixty-one percent of the survey respondents said their bank is actively and intentionally recruiting younger employees like millennials and Gen Z’ers.

Similarly, more than 70 percent said in the last two years their bank has expanded its internal training programs to develop younger leaders within the organization.

As increasing numbers of baby boomers approach retirement (the youngest boomers are in their mid-50’s), and Gen X’ers take their place in the management hierarchy, it will create an opportunity for millennials to move up as well. Gen X’ers are the smallest of the four demographic groups at just 20 percent of the population, so the banking industry will be forced to rely disproportionately on millennials as this generational shift occurs.

This is why training programs that focus on talented younger employees in the organization are so important.

We’ve all heard the jibes about millennials’ self-absorption, or their refusal to return voicemail messages, but the fact is the oldest among them are already buying homes and raising families, and when the day comes to run the bank, they’ll need to be ready.

You’ll Never Guess Where BB&T Gets Its Big Ideas


strategy-10-19-18.pngIt is well worth any banker’s time to read the vision, mission and purpose statements of BB&T, the eighth biggest commercial bank in the United States.

They will sound at first like similar statements from any other bank, but what makes BB&T’s unique is the inspiration behind them.

They weren’t drawn up with the help of consultants or survey data; they are grounded instead in the writings of philosophers—classical thinkers as well as modern proponents of capitalism.

“The philosophers that influenced me the most are Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, and Ayn Rand,” writes John Allison, the chairman and CEO of BB&T from 1989 to 2008, in his 2014 book, The Leadership Crisis and the Free Market Cure.

BB&T has published an entire pamphlet outlining its culture, encapsulated in its vision, mission and purpose statements, which reduce to one key objective: “Our ultimate purpose is to create superior long-term economic rewards for our shareholders.”

The $223-billion bank based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, doesn’t just talk the talk; it walks the walk. It ranks in the 98th percentile among publicly traded banks in terms of the total amount of shareholder value it has created during its time as a public entity.

Yet, there’s a nuance to BB&T’s philosophy on creating value that’s easy to overlook. It doesn’t talk about “maximizing” long-term economic rewards for shareholders; it talks instead about “optimizing” those rewards.

Why the difference?

As Allison writes in his book:

When free market economists and finance theorists refer to maximizing shareholders’ returns, they imply a long-term context. In the real world, maximizing tends to be a short-term concept. BB&T’s mission also focuses on ‘creating a safe and sound investment,’ The goal with this wording is to communicate to potential purchasers of the company’s stock that we are in the game for the long-term and will not take inordinate risk even if that risk could maximize short-term returns.

In no industry is a long-term view more important than banking. Banks, as a group, use more leverage than companies in any other industry, typically borrowing $10 for every $1 worth of capital.

This is by design, of course, as a principal purpose of banking is to leverage society’s capital to fuel economic growth—a point Bank of America’s chairman and CEO, Brian Moynihan, made in a recent interview with Bank Director:

[B]anks came up to help people borrow money, which helps economies grow faster. If you’re constrained to only your equity, you only have so much money to spend. But if you borrow against it, now you can spend more. That’s the magic of leverage in terms of accelerating progress.

But there is a downside to all that leverage—it makes banks vulnerable to economic cycles, explaining why more than 17,000 banks have failed since the Civil War.

Bankers are prone to the same impulses that, at the top of a cycle, cause real estate developers to break ground on skyscrapers, retailers to over-invest in inventory and technology entrepreneurs to believe that traditional rules of economics no longer apply.

The difference is that, thanks to leverage, there’s less margin for error in banking than there is in other industries. A mere 10 percent decline in the value of a typical bank’s assets will render it insolvent.

This is one reason BB&T chose the words of its mission statement so carefully in terms of “optimizing” as opposed to “maximizing” shareholder value.

Another reason is that shareholders aren’t a bank’s only constituency—there are also clients, employees and communities. A bank that doesn’t tend to all four is like a table with only three legs.

It’s by optimizing returns among multiple constituencies, in other words, that a bank can maximize the returns to anyone of them. And if a bank does that through multiple cycles, the outcome is even better.

The net result at BB&T, writes Allison, is that “we operate our business in a long-term context by adding value to our clients, employees, and communities and in that context create superior rewards for shareholders.”

In short, while Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, John Locke and Ayn Rand may seem like an unlikely source for inspiration in banking, if BB&T’s success is any indication, it’s safe to say they were onto something.

Why Investors Are Still Hungry for New Bank Equity


capital-10-12-18.pngThe U.S. economy is riding high. Bank stocks, while their valuations are down somewhat from their highs at the beginning of the year, are still enjoying a nice run. For most banks that want to raise new equity capital, the window is still open.

The banking industry is already well capitalized and bank profitability remains strong. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the industry earned $60.2 billion in the second quarter of this year, a 25 percent gain over the same period last year, thanks in no small part to the Trump tax cut, which has also helped prop up bank stock valuations. The truth is, in the current environment, banks don’t need to raise new equity just to increase their capital base—they can do that through retained earnings. The industry is awash with capital and most banks don’t necessarily need even more of it.

“The industry overall is enjoying capital accretion,” says Bill Hickey, a principal and co-head of investment banking at Sandler O’Neill + Partners. “Capital ratios industry-wide have continued to increase as banks have earned money and obviously enjoyed the benefits of tax reform. … I think the need for equity capital has lessened slightly as a result of capital ratios continuing to increase.”

Over the last few years, banks have clearly taken advantage of the opportunity to repair their balance sheets, which were ravaged during the financial crisis. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, there were 123 bank equity offerings in 2016, which raised nearly $6 billion in capital at a median offering price that was 125 percent of tangible book value (TBV) and 52.8 percent of the most recent quarter’s earnings per share (MRQ EPS). There were 146 equity offerings in 2017 that raised nearly $7.5 billion, with offering price medians of 66.3 percent of TBV and 16.6 percent of MRQ EPS. (The industry was much less profitable in 2016 than in 2017, which explains the wide disparity between the median values for the two years.) And through Sept. 26, 2018, there were just in 66 offerings—but they have raised $7.6 billion in equity capital, with a median offering price that was 175 percent of TBV and 13.3 percent of MRQ EPS.

As the median offering prices as a percentage of TBV have gone up over the last two and a half years, while also declining as a percentage of the most recent quarter’s earnings per share—which means that institutional investors are in effect paying more and getting less from a valuation perspective—you might think investor appetite for bank equity would begin to wane. But according to Hickey, you would be wrong.

“There is a lot of money out there looking to be deployed in financial services and banks,” he says. “So there are folks who need to deploy capital—pension funds, funds specifically focused on investing in financial institutions. They have cash positions they need to deploy into investments. So there is a great demand for equity, particularly bank equity at the current time.”

Hickey says most of this new equity was raised to fuel growth, either organic growth or acquisitions. But any bank considering doing so needs to provide investors with a detailed plan for how they intend to use it. “You have to be able to articulate a strategy for the use of the capital you intend to raise,” says Hickey. “That seems obvious, but it needs to be explained quite well to the investment community so they understand how the capital is going to be deployed and have a sense of what their return possibilities are.”

And if you’re going to tap the equity market to support your strategic growth plan, make sure you raise enough the first time around. “Arguably, a company [should] raise enough money that will allow it to fund their growth for at least 18 to 24 months,” Hickey explains. “Investors don’t like it when they’re investing today and then 12 months later the same company comes back looking for more capital. Investors would [prefer] to minimize the number of offerings so they’re not diluted in the out years.”

How One Top-Performing Bank Explains Its Remarkable Success


strategy-10-5-18.pngThe closer you look at U.S. Bancorp’s performance over the past decade, the more you’re left wondering how the nation’s fifth biggest commercial bank by assets has achieved its remarkable success.

Here are some highlights:

  • It was the most profitable bank on the KBW Bank Index for seven consecutive years after the financial crisis.
  • It emerged from the crisis with the highest debt rating among major banks.
  • Its employee engagement scores are consistently at the top of the industry.
  • It has been named one of the most ethical companies in the world for four consecutive years by the Ethisphere Institute.

How has the $461 billion bank based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, accomplished all this?

If you ask Kate Quinn, the bank’s vice chairman and chief administrative officer, the answer lies in its culture.

“There’s a reason that sayings like ‘culture eats strategy for lunch’ are stitched into pillows,” says Quinn.

Quinn doesn’t talk about U.S. Bancorp’s culture from a distance; since joining the bank in 2013 to oversee its rebranding campaign, she has led the charge on articulating and capturing the bank’s culture in a series of value and purpose statements.

“When I was starting to do the work of building the brand, I looked into the history of the company, its genealogy, to figure out our core attributes—the attributes our customers and employees associate with us,” says Quinn. “What I found was this unique thing about us. Any company can say ‘we bring our minds to our customers,’ but there aren’t many companies that can credibly say ‘we bring our hearts to our customers,’ and we can say that. It is real.”

Given that executives at all companies will tell you the same thing, the challenge is to differentiate between companies that pay lip service to these ideals and those that genuinely embrace them.

“The real insight you get about a banker is how they bank,” Warren Buffett has said in the past. “Their speeches don’t make any difference. It’s what they do and what they don’t do [that defines their greatness].”

One way to gauge what a bank does and doesn’t do is to look at its financial performance over an extended period of time. It’s an imperfect proxy, admittedly, but a revealing one nonetheless, as businesses built on unethical or immoral foundations simply aren’t sustainable. At one point or another, the chickens always come home to roost—just ask Wells Fargo & Co.

This is why U.S. Bancorp’s performance, since its current leadership took control of Cincinnati-based Star Banc in 1993, is so significant. It didn’t commit mishaps that caused it to fall prey to a larger competitor in the consolidation cycle of the 1990s. A decade later, it sidestepped the accounting scandals surrounding Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and others that tarnished the images of so many bigger banks. And it steered clear of the worst excesses in the mortgage and securities markets in the lead-up to the financial crisis.

Anyone who knows U.S. Bancorp’s former chairman and CEO Richard Davis will tell you that he embodied principled leadership, adopting an approach that wasn’t only ethical and rational, but also one that embraced balance. He never sent emails to his employees at night, for instance, because he didn’t want to interfere with their home lives. He was also known to call his employees’ parents on their birthdays.

When it came to bottling U.S. Bancorp’s culture, then, one of Quinn’s objectives was to capture Davis’ approach.

“As I was getting my head around what do we do and what are we trying to do, I realized that it isn’t about the products and services,” says Quinn. “When you think about what a bank does—and this came from Richard—it’s really about powering human potential. I told him that I wanted to build his DNA into the company—the culture, the purpose, the core values. That is the part of Richard that has become the fabric of this company.”

But Davis’ influence is just one element of U.S. Bancorp’s broader culture. Other elements come from Davis’ predecessor and successor.

His predecessor, Jerry Grundhofer, was a tactical operator with few equals. He was the dean of efficiency, one of the valedictorians of banking throughout the 1990s.

“Jerry brought a set of values and capabilities to the company that was needed—scrappiness, cut to the chase, financial discipline,” says Quinn. “When Richard came in, he didn’t change that piece of it, he built on top of what Jerry did by adding the human dimension. Jerry had always put the shareholders first. Richard came in and put the employees at the top.”

The same is true of Davis’ successor, the bank’s current chairman and CEO, Andy Cecere, who adds another element into the mix. Cecere’s reputation is that of a practical innovator who’s pushing the bank to focus on change, innovation and technology. His favorite presentation slides, for example, compare the Old Western TV series Bonanza to the Jetsons.

Again, things like this are easy to dismiss as vacuous corporate-speak. But one lesson you learn after spending enough time with top-performing bank CEOs is that just because something sounds trite doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Quinn understands that. It’s why she’s writing these cultural attributes into U.S. Bancorp’s DNA with revamped value and purpose statements. Facile notions of efficiency and operating leverage may excite analysts on quarterly conference calls, but the true source of U.S. Bancorp’s competitive advantage lies in its commitment to doing what’s right.

Fueling Future Growth


2017-Compensation-White-Paper.pngOver the past year and a half, there’s been a lot of good news for the banking industry. New regulators have been appointed who are more industry-friendly. Congress managed to not only pass tax reform, but also long-awaited regulatory relief for the nation’s banks. And the economy appears to remain on track, exceeding 4 percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the second quarter of 2018, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Bank Director’s 2018 Compensation Survey, sponsored by Compensation Advisors, a member of Meyer-Chatfield Group, finds that the challenges faced by the nation’s banks may have diminished, but they haven’t disappeared, either.

Small business owners are more optimistic than they’ve been in a decade, according to the second quarter 2018 Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index survey. This should fuel loan demand as business owners seek to invest in and grow their enterprises. In turn, this creates even more competition for commercial lenders—already a hot commodity given their unique skill set, knowledge base and connections in the community. Technological innovation means that bank staff—and boards—need new skills to face the digital era. These innovations bring risk, in the form of cybercrime, that keep bankers—and bank regulators—up at night.

For key positions in areas like commercial lending and technology, “banks have to spend more,” says Flynt Gallagher, president of Compensation Advisors. “You have to pay top dollar.”

But a solid economy with a low unemployment rate—dropping to 3.8 percent in May, the lowest rate the U.S. has seen in more than 18 years—means that banks are facing a more competitive environment for the talent they need to sustain future strategic growth.

And regulatory relief doesn’t mean regulatory-free: With the legacy of the financial crisis, along with the challenges of facing economic, strategic and competitive threats, all of which are keeping boards busy, there’s more resting on the collective shoulders of bank directors than ever before, and boards will need new skill sets and perspectives to shepherd their organizations forward.

For more on these considerations, read the white paper.

To view the full results to the survey, click here.

One Thing That Will Make You a Better Bank CEO


leaders-9-11-18.pngThere’s a reason great leaders also tend to be better than the average Joe and Jane at forecasting the future. As multiple conversations with participants on the first day of the 2018 Bank Board Training Forum in Chicago reveal, effective leadership and accurate predictions seem to derive from the same underlying trait.

For a long time it was believed that forecasting was about as accurate as throwing darts at a dartboard with a blindfold on. It’s common knowledge and running joke, after all, that economists have predicted nine out of the past five recessions.

But a growing body of research, spearheaded by Philip Tetlock, the Annenberg professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, has found not only that some people are better at forecasting than others, but also that certain traits make some better at predicting the future than others.

What’s that important trait?
Tetlock refers to it as perpetual beta—“the degree to which one is committed to belief updating and self-improvement.” In other words, if you’re dedicated to constantly learning and accumulating knowledge, chances are you’ll be better at predicting the future than an ordinary person.

Perpetual beta isn’t just slightly more important than other traits; it’s vastly more important. “It is roughly three times as powerful a predictor as its closest rival, intelligence,” Tetlock wrote in his book Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction.

This is interesting in and of itself, but what makes it more interesting is this idea of constant improvement and knowledge accumulation also happens to be one of the most robust commonalities of great bankers.

Bank Director CEO Al Dominick noted this in his opening remarks at this year’s training forum, when he talked about the three traits of top bank boards. No. 2 was cultivating curiosity—embracing a learner’s mindset.

It was also a theme that coursed through the keynote conversation with Katherine Quinn, vice chairman and chief administrative officer of U.S. Bancorp, the fifth-largest commercial bank in the country and long one of the best-performing companies in the industry.

Quinn took it one step further, connecting the dots between diversity, knowledge and decision-making. The more diverse your employee base is, she explained, the wider the spectrum of ideas your organization will be exposed to, making it more likely you’ll arrive at the optimal solution to whatever issues you need to address.

The connection between constant learning and effective leadership was also a point that Tom Brown, the founder and CEO of Second Curve Capital, a hedge fund that invests in publicly traded financial services companies, made in a conversation on the sidelines of this year’s training forum.

Brown would know. Walk into the corner office of most superregional or major money center banks and the chances are good that, at one time or another, he has been there.

So, how do you pursue knowledge and get others in your organization to follow suit? You have to read—a lot. It sounds simple, but it’s incredibly powerful.

Asked once for advice on how to become a successful investor, Warren Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, pointed to a stack of papers: “Read 500 pages like this every day. 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.”

You’ll hear the same thing from other extraordinary bankers.

Michael “Mick” Blodnick, the former CEO of Glacier Bancorp, the second best-performing bank of all time based on total shareholder return, spent years staying up late reading about banking. And anyone who worked with Robert Wilmers, the late chairman and CEO of M&T Bank, the top-performing bank of all time, will tell you he was a voracious reader.

And it’s not just about reading either, a point Bank of America chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan made in a recent interview with Bank Director magazine, which will appear in the fourth quarter.

“Reading is a bit of a short-hand for a broader type of curiosity,” said Moynihan. “The reason I attend conferences is to listen to other people, to pick up what they’re talking and thinking about. It’s about being willing to listen to people, think about what they say. It’s about being curious and trying to learn. The minute you quit being educated formally your brain power starts to shrink unless you educate yourself informally.”

Ideas like this can sound trite—a point great CEOs will readily acknowledge—but after hearing it enough times from enough of them and you can’t help but conclude that what’s trite also often tends to be true.

Traits That All Strong Bank Boards Share


governance-9-7-18.pngFor years, I’ve shared one of my favorite proverbs when talking about the value of high-performing teams: to go fast, go alone; to go far, go together. Now, as we prepare to welcome nearly 200 people to the Four Seasons Chicago for our annual Bank Board Training Forum, this mindset once again comes front and center.

In many ways, banks may appear to be on solid footing. Unfortunately, evolving cyber risks, the battle for deposits and pressures to effectively leverage technology make clear that banking leaders have challenges aplenty. Given the industry’s rapid pace of change, one would be forgiven to think the best course of action would be to go fast at certain challenges. However, at the board level, navigating an industry marked by both consolidation and emerging threats demands coordinated, strategic planning.

Our efforts in the days ahead aim to provide finely tailored insight to help a bank’s board go further, together.

This annual forum caters to an exclusive audience of bank CEOs, chairmen and members of the board. It is a delight to have Katherine Quinn, vice chairman and chief administrative officer, from U.S. Bancorp, as our keynote speaker. U.S. Bancorp has the highest debt rating among all banks and consistently leads its peer group in terms of profitability, efficiency and innovation. Bank Director Executive Editor John Maxfield will have a one-on-one conversation with Quinn and cover everything from the qualities of good leadership to diversity to the Super Bowl.

Following her remarks, we explore strategic issues like building franchise value, creating a vibrant culture and preparing for the unexpected. Against the backdrop of this year’s agenda, there are five elements that characterize the boards at many high-performing banks today. Some are specific to the individual director; others, to the team as a whole.

#1: The Board Sees Tomorrow’s Challenges as Today’s Opportunities
Despite offering similar products and services, a small number of banks consistently outperform others in the industry. One reason: their boards realize we’re in a period of significant change, where the basic premise of “what is a bank” is under considerable scrutiny. Rather than cower, they’ve set a clear vision for what they want to be and hold their team accountable to concepts such as efficiency, discipline and the smart allocation of capital.

#2: Each Board Member Embraces a Learner’s Mindset
Great leaders aren’t afraid to get up from their desks and explore the unknown. Brian Moynihan, the chairman and CEO of Bank of America, recently told Maxfield that “reading is a bit of a shorthand for a broader type of curiosity. The reason I attend conferences is to listen to other people, to pick up what they’re talking and thinking about… it’s about being willing to listen to people, think about what they say. It’s about being curious and trying to learn… The minute you quit being educated formally your brain power starts to shrink unless you educate yourself informally.”

You can read more from Bank Director’s exclusive conversation with Moynihan in the upcoming 4th quarter issue of Bank Director magazine.

#3: The Board Prizes Efficiency
In simplest terms, an efficiently run bank earns more money. This allows it to write better loans, to suffer less during downturns in a credit cycle, to position it to buy less-prudent peers at a discount all while gaining economies of scale.

#4: Each Board Member Stays Disciplined
While discipline applies to many issues, those with a laser focus on building franchise value truly understand what their bank is worth now — and might be in the future. Each independent director prizes a culture of prudence, one that applies to everything from underwriting loans to third-party relationships.

#5: The Board Adheres to a People-Products-Performance Approach
Smart boards don’t pay lip service to this mindset. Collectively, they understand their institution needs to (a) have the right people, (b) strategically set expectations around core concepts of how the bank makes money, approaches credit, structures loans, attracts deposits and prices its products in order to (c) perform on an appropriate and repeatable level.

Looking ahead, a sixth pillar could emerge for leading institutions; namely, diversity of talent. Now, I’m not talking diversity for the sake of diversity. I’m looking at getting the best people with different backgrounds, experiences and talents into the bank’s leadership ranks. Unfortunately, while many talk the talk on diversity, far fewer walk the walk. For instance, a recent New York Times piece that revealed female executives generally still lack the same opportunities to move up the ranks and there are still simply fewer women in the upper management pipeline at most companies.

At Bank Director, we believe ambitious bank boards see the call for greater diversity as a true opportunity to create a competitive advantage. This aligns with Bank Director’s 2018 Compensation Survey, where 87 percent of bank CEOs, executives and directors surveyed believe a diverse board has a positive impact on the performance of the bank. Yet, just 5 percent of CEOs above $1 billion in assets are female, 77 percent don’t have a single diverse member on their board and only 20 percent have a woman on the board.

So as we prepare to explore the strong board, strong bank concept in Chicago, keep in mind one last adage from Henry Ford: if all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you’ve ever got.