Banks Are Letting Deposits Run Off, but for How Long?

In September, the CEO of Fifth Third Bancorp, Tim Spence, said something at the Barclays investor conference that might have seemed astonishing at another time. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based bank was letting $10 billion simply roll off its balance sheet in the first half of the year, an amount the CEO described as “surge” deposits.

In an age when banks are awash in liquidity, many of them are happily waving goodbye to some amount of their deposits, which appear as a liability on the balance sheet, not an asset.
Like Fifth Third, banks overall have been slow to raise interest rates on deposits, feeling no urgency to keep up with the Federal Reserve’s substantial interest rate hikes this year.

Evidence suggests that deposits have begun to leave the banking system. That may not be such a bad thing. But bank management teams should carefully assess their deposit strategies as interest rates rise, ensuring they don’t become complacent after years of near zero interest rates. “Many bankers lack meaningful, what I would call meaningful, game plans,” says Matt Pieniazek, president and CEO of Darling Consulting Group, which advises banks on balance sheet management.

In recent years, that critique hasn’t been an issue — but that could change. As of the week of Oct. 5, deposits in the banking system dipped to $17.77 trillion, down from $18.07 trillion in August, according to the Federal Reserve. Through the first half of the year, mid-sized banks with $10 billion to $60 billion in assets lost 2% to 3% of their deposits, according to Fitch Ratings Associate Director Brian Thies.

This doesn’t worry Fitch Ratings’ Managing Director for the North American banking team, Christopher Wolfe. Banks added about $9.2 trillion in deposits during the last decade, according to FDIC data. Wolfe characterizes these liquidity levels as “historic.”

“So far, we haven’t seen drastic changes in liquidity,” he says.

In other words, there’s still a lot of wiggle room for most banks. Banks can use deposits to fund loan growth, but so far, deposits far exceed loans. Loan-to-deposit ratios have been falling, reaching a historic low in recent years. The 20-year average loan-to-deposit ratio was 81%, according to Fitch Ratings. In the second quarter of 2022, it was 59.26%, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

In September, the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors enacted its third consecutive 75 basis point hike to fight raging inflation — bringing the fed funds target rate range to 3% to 3.25%. Banks showed no signs of matching the aggressive rate hikes. The median deposit betas, a figure that shows how sensitive banks are to rising rates, came in at 2% through June of this year, according to Thies. That’s a good thing: The longer banks can hold off on raising deposit rates while variable rate loans rise, the more profitable they become.

But competitors to traditional brick-and-mortar banks, such as online banks and broker-dealers, have been raising rates to attract deposits, Pieniazek says. Many depositors also have figured out they can get a short-term Treasury bill with a yield of about 4%. “You’re starting to see broker-dealers and money management firms … promot[e] insured CDs with 4% [rates],” he says. “The delta between what banks are paying on deposits and what’s available in the market is the widest in modern banking history.”

The question for management teams is how long will this trend last? The industry has enjoyed a steady increase in noninterest-bearing deposits over the years, which has allowed them to lower their overall funding costs. In the fourth quarter of 2019, just 13.7% of deposits were noninterest bearing; that rose to 25.8% in the second quarter of 2021, according to Fitch. There’s a certain amount of money sitting in bank coffers that hasn’t left to chase higher-yielding investments because few alternatives existed. How much of that money could leave the bank’s coffers, and when?

Pieniazek encourages bank boards and management teams to discuss how much in deposits the bank is willing to lose. And if the bank starts to see more loss than that, what’s Plan B? These aren’t easy questions to answer. “Why would you want to fly blind and see what happens?” Pieniazek asks.

What sort of deposits is the bank willing to lose? What’s the strategy for keeping core deposits, the industry term for “sticky” money that likely won’t leave the bank chasing rates? Pieniazek suggests analyzing past data to see what happened when interest rates rose and making some predictions based on that. How long will the excess liquidity stick around? Will it be a few months? A few years? He also suggests keeping track of important, large deposit relationships and deciding in what circumstances the bank will raise rates to keep those funds. And what should tellers and other bank employees say when customers start demanding higher rates?

For its part, Fifth Third has been working hard in recent years to ensure it has a solid base of core deposits and a disciplined pricing strategy that will keep rising rates from leading to drastically higher funding costs. It’s been a long time since banking has been in this predicament. It’s anyone’s guess what happens next.

Capitalism with a Conscience

In this edition of The Slant Podcast, Julieann Thurlow, CEO of the $691 million Reading Cooperative Bank in Massachusetts and vice chair of the American Bankers Association, discusses the bank’s new retail banking apprenticeship. Like many of its peers in the cooperative banking movement, Reading Cooperative is owned by its customers and was founded in 1886 primarily to help working families buy homes. And there are some interesting parallels between that mission and the work it’s doing today in the city of Lawrence. The bank has been on a years-long journey to establish a branch in Lawrence, where it will offer check cashing services as part of a broader appeal to the city’s unbanked.

This episode, and all past episodes of The Slant Podcast, are available on Bank Director, Spotify and Apple Music.

Modernizing Your Retail Banking Business

The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the decline of traffic in most banks’ retail branches, leading many organizations to reexamine the cost of their branch services and the ultimate viability of their branch-based services. Bank boards and executive teams must address the changing operating risks in today’s retail banking environment and assess the potential strategic risks of both action and inaction.

Speculation about the impending death of branch banking is nothing new: industry observers have debated the topic for years. As customers have become more comfortable with online banking, banks experienced a sizeable drop in in-person transactions. Regulatory changes, social trends and the growth of fintech alternatives exacerbated this development, leading many banks to cut back or centralize various branch-based activities. Between June 2010 and year-end 2020, branch offices have decreased by more than 16,000, or 16.7%, according to a Crowe analysis of report from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The pandemic also introduced important new challenges. Many banks had already shifted the focus in their branches, but greater consumer acceptance of remote and self-service options clouded the role of the branch even further. At the same time, pandemic relief programs produced a wave of liquidity, which hid or delayed the recognition of fundamental challenges many bankers expect to face: finding new ways to continue growing their core deposits at an acceptable cost.

So far, banks’ responses to these challenges have varied. Some banks — both large and small — have accelerated their branch closure plans. Others have notified regulators that they do not plan to reopen branches shuttered during lockdowns. But some banks actually are adding new offices as they reconfigure their retail banking strategies. What is the underlying strategic thinking when it comes to brick and mortar locations?

Developing and Executing an Effective Strategy

There is no one-size-fits-all approach, of course. Closing a majority of branches and becoming a digital-only organization is simply not appropriate for most banks. Nevertheless, many aspects of the physical model require innovation. Directors and executive teams can take several steps to successfully modernize their retail banking strategies.

  • Rethink branch cost and performance metrics. Banks use a variety of tools to attract deposits, sell products and build relationships, which means conventional performance metrics such as accounts or transactions per employee, cost per transaction or teller transaction times often are inadequate measurements.

A branch’s contribution also includes the visibility it provides as a billboard for the bank, access to and support for the specialized products and services it can deliver and the role it plays in establishing a community presence. Management teams need to develop tools to determine and measure the value of such contributions to the bank and its product lines, as well as their associated costs. Branches are long-term investments that require longer-term planning strategies and tactics.

  • Identify customer expectations. One factor contributing to the decline in foot traffic is what customers experience when they visit a branch. Although branch greeters can establish a welcoming atmosphere, such encounters often succeed only in a nice greeting — not necessarily in service.

Because customers can perform most banking business online, banks must ascertain why customers are visiting the branch — and then focus on meeting those needs. Ultimately, customers must leave the branch feeling fulfilled, having accomplished a transaction or task that would have been more difficult outside the branch.

  • Execute a coordinated digital strategy. Having a digital strategy means more than updating the bank’s website, streamlining its mobile banking interface or even partnering with a fintech to offer new digital products. Such catch-up activities might be necessary, but they no longer set a bank apart in today’s digital landscape or improve profitability and growth.

Beyond technology, banks should consider how their digital strategy and brand identity align and how that identity ties back to customers’ expectations. Traditionally, banks’ brand identities were linked to a specific geographic location or niche audiences, but brand identity also can reflect other communities or affinity groups or a particular service or product at which the bank is especially adept. This identity should be projected consistently throughout the customer experience, both digitally and in person.

Although most banks should not abandon their branches altogether, many will need to reevaluate their market approaches, compare opportunities for improved earnings performance and consider reimagining their value proposition for in-person services. Strategies will vary from one organization to the next, but those that succeed will share certain critical attributes — including a willingness to question conventional thinking and redeploy resources without hesitation.

Customer Experience: The Freedom to Experiment

NYMBUS.pngSurety Bank faces the same geographic limits to growth that other small community banks do. The $137 million bank operates four branches in Daytona Beach, Pierson, Lake Mary and DeLand, Florida, its headquarters. These are, at most, no more than 45 miles from one another.

But CEO Ryan James believes the bank can fuel deposit growth nationwide through the launch of a digital brand, booyah!, which targets college students and young graduates with fee-free deposit accounts. The bank’s relationship with its core is enabling him to make this bet.

Surety converted from a legacy core provider to the Nymbus SmartCore in 2018. It launched booyah! a year later using Nymbus SmartLaunch, a bank-in-a-box product designed to help banks quickly and inexpensively stand up a digital branch under an existing charter.

Nymbus SmartLaunch received the award for the Best Solution for Customer Experience at Bank Director’s 2020 Best of FinXTech Awards in May. Backbase, a digital banking provider, and Pinkaloo, a white-labeled charitable giving platform, were also finalists in the category. (Read more about how Pinkaloo worked with a Massachusetts community bank here.)

Bigger banks have reported mixed results from their efforts to establish digital brands. Wyomissing, Pennsylvania-based Customers Bancorp was one of the first to do so when it established its BankMobile division in 2015, targeting millennials. The $12 billion bank partnered with T-Mobile US three years later to offer accounts to the cell phone carrier’s 86 million customers. Meanwhile, JPMorgan Chase & Co. closed its digital bank, Finn, last year.

Growth costs money. Opening a freestanding branch can cost anywhere from $500,000 to $4.5 million, according to a 2019 Bancography survey. And unlike bigger banks, small institutions face significant obstacles in opening a separate digital brand to differentiate themselves nationwide — they don’t have capital to spend on experiments.

But if a small bank can establish a new digital brand at a reasonable cost, the experiment becomes more feasible.

“Why can’t you start a digital bank cheap?” says James. Surety’s legacy customers and booyah!’s new customers share the same user experience — SmartLaunch offers online applications for deposit and loan accounts, along with remote deposit capture, payment options, bill pay and debit card management. Bank customers can also set custom alerts and take advantage of personal financial management tools. Creating booyah! was really just a matter of adding a new logo and color scheme.

“It’s the same thing [we] already have,” he says. “Why does it have to be hundreds of millions of dollars in investments?”

That was the story from his old core provider, he says. But Nymbus didn’t leverage hefty fees to make booyah! a reality. What’s more, Surety isn’t locked into its experiment.

“What I love about them is you test, you pivot, and you do what makes sense” for your bank, James says. “You don’t have to give away years of your profits to try something new.”

Whether or not booyah! is a success, Nymbus provides Surety with the flexibility to quickly and easily spin up other brands that focus on specific customer segments, or shutter anything that doesn’t work, like Chase did with Finn.

If its digital brand works, Surety has a lot to gain. With the industry squeezed for profits in a prolonged low-rate environment, cheaply expanding its footprint to draw more deposits could help the bank maintain its high level of profitability in an increasingly challenging environment. The bank maintains a high return on equity (15.11% as of Dec. 31, 2019), return on assets (1.68%) and net interest margin (4.05%), according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

In a world populated with countless First National Banks, Farmers Banks and the like, booyah! certainly doesn’t sound like a typical bank. So, why booyah? Curious, I asked James. “Why not?” he replies. 

The name, frankly, isn’t the point.

Ultimately, Chase didn’t need Finn; it was already a nationwide bank with an established, well-recognized brand and millions of customers using its mobile app. But for Surety Bank, booyah! represents the potential to gain deposits outside its Florida footprint — without putting the bank’s bottom line at risk.

The 10 Most Successful Financial Advertisers Right Now


advertising-11-23-18.pngFinancial institutions have long struggled to stand out in the marketplace and build their brand.

This is because they offer very similar products and services to consumers. But a clear strategy and well-defined corporate culture—and a story told with an effective advertising campaign—can help prospective clients understand what makes a bank special.

We’ve put together a list of banks that do that well.

To identify successful advertisers in the banking space, Bank Director focused on two key metrics: number of impressions—how many times a company’s ads were viewed on TV—and the average estimated cost per impression for each brand. This second metric is weighted to account for peak vs. non-peak advertising times. Together, the two metrics reward a balance between brand reach and an effective use of ad dollars.

Each metric was ranked, and the final score represents an average of the two ranks. In cases where the average of the two was a tie, the bank with the most impressions earned the higher score.

Credit unions and lenders that compete directly with banks are included, along with retail and commercial banks.

Bellevue, Washington-based iSpot.tv, an analytics firm that uses smart televisions to track ad activity, provided the data. The measurement was based on national ad activity from Jan. 1 through Sept. 10, 2018.

The ranking doesn’t account for the creativity of each bank’s advertising, but a compelling, creative ad with clear messaging can be effective in achieving the bank’s strategic goals.

Fifth Third Bancorp was savvy with its ad dollars, at $0.12 per 1,000 impressions, and placed second in the ranking. Its ad campaigns during the time period generated 442 million impressions.

The most buzz for the regional bank came from is its “Fee Sharks” ad, part of the “Banking a Fifth Third Better” branding campaign.

“The overall goal of [the Fifth Third Better] campaign is to build the Fifth Third Bank brand,” says Matt Jauchius, the bank’s chief marketing officer. “We believe that a stronger brand leads to growth and profitability for the bank overall.”

The campaign has been effective, resulting in a 21-percent increase in brand consideration over a roughly one-year period. Brand consideration is a metric Fifth Third and other companies use to measure the likelihood customers would consider the brand the next time they’re looking for a particular product or service. In banking, that tends to be whether a customer would consider the institution for their primary banking relationship—usually a checking account.

“Effective advertising needs to be rooted in a truth about the brand itself,” says Robert Lambrechts, the chief creative officer at Pereira & O’Dell. The San Francisco-based advertising agency worked with Fifth Third on the brand campaign.

“Find the thing that is true about your brand,” he advises. “[Be] honest with yourselves about who you are [and] what you want to do.”

The Fifth Third team found ties between its core value to go above and beyond and the bank’s unique name: Fifth Third employees give more than 100 percent—166.7 percent, to be precise—to help their customers.

Ads like the fee shark are quirky, memorable ways to highlight products, services and features—like fee-free ATMs. All the ads in the branding campaign feature a plucky young woman clad in a blue suit, with a Fifth Third pin and distinctive glasses, who serves as a brand ambassador and a proxy for the bank’s employees. She communicates the brand promise: that the bank works hard to meet the customer’s needs.

Fifth Third uses internal and third-party data to better understand what prospective customers want, how to motivate them, and when and where to place the ad effort—whether that’s on TV or radio, in print, on a billboard or on social media.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. topped the ranking, generating more than 5 billion impressions and spending a little more than an estimated $7 per 1,000 impressions—the fifth most cost-effective of the financial institutions examined in the ranking. The bank has run a number of TV spots in 2018. The ad with the most impressions—“Michaela’s Way,” featuring ballerina Michaela DePrince—promotes Chase QuickPay, which includes the real-time payments solution Zelle.

Donna Veira, chief marketing officer for Chase’s consumer banking and wealth management divisions, told AdAge: “We looked at all of the day-to-day, practical ways in which our customers are using QuickPay and brought those to life.”

Other spots show how easily tennis star Serena Williams uses the bank’s cash-free ATMs, or promote the bank’s business solutions and investment advice.

Most Successful Financial Advertisers

      # of Impressions Estimated cost per 1,000 impressions
  1 JPMorgan Chase & Co. 5,371,208,561 $7.36
  2 Fifth Third Bancorp 441,698,444 $0.12
  3 Citigroup 3,862,125,267 $13.44
  4 PNC Financial Services Group 1,400,939,671 $12.64
  5 Capital One Financial Corp. 545,702,921 $12.56
  6 Regions Financial Corp. 210,530,040 $12.29
  7 PenFed Federal Credit Union 144,093,408 $1.77
  8 Purepoint Financial
(division of MUFG Union Bank, N.A.)
46,254,915 $1.11
  9 SoFi 1,477,462,492 $15.60
  10 Ally Bank 1,495,976,740 $16.20

Data source: iSpot.tv