Dangling the Carrot: How Banks Can Approach Incentive Compensation


incentive-5-24-17.pngWith the dearth of talent at many community banks, particularly in the executive suite, it has become increasing important to make sure that key employees stay put and not pack their bags for the competitor down the street. It is one thing to tie up these executives with non-competition and non-solicitation restrictions, but finding that delicate balance between appropriately protecting the bank’s interests and over-reaching, thereby running the risk of unenforceability, can often be tricky. In addition, adopting a carefully drafted incentive compensation plan can have the benefit of not only improving executive loyalty, but also encouraging revenue-enhancing or other desirable behaviors.

Cash or Equity?
Each employee may be motivated by different things, so it is often difficult to gauge what will have the biggest impact from an incentive perspective. There a few things, however, that should be kept in mind in evaluating this decision:

  • Cash has the advantage of immediate gratification. Equity awards are often subject to vesting requirements and can be difficult to monetize due to the virtually non-existent markets for most community banks’ stock.
  • Because of the vesting requirement of equity, such awards have the advantage of providing a longer-term benefit to the bank, in that executives will be loath to leave while they hold unvested equity awards.
  • It can be difficult for both the bank and the executive to value equity awards, given the lack of an efficient market for the shares.
  • Any time stock is issued by a bank holding company, it must be issued pursuant to a registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, or an appropriate exemption must be available. The most common exemption for equity incentive awards is Rule 701, which requires awards to be issued, among other things, pursuant to written compensatory plans.

Appropriate Triggers
There are endlessly creative ways that community banks and their compensation consultants use to determine incentive compensation awards. So much of this is driven by the types of behaviors that the bank desires to encourage. However, there are a few things to keep in mind as you decide how to design your particular plan:

  • Beware of the Wells Fargo effect. While it is not uncommon to tie awards to achieving certain revenue and sales metrics, it is important to have appropriate controls and/or claw back policies in place to recoup pay and discourage overly aggressive sales practices.
  • Avoid tying incentives to confidential supervisory information. Many banks want to tie incentive compensation to achieving certain examination findings or CAMELS ratings. However, regulators have consistently stated this is inappropriate on a number of levels, not the least of which is that they do not appreciate being one of the deciding factors in whether an executive gets a bonus or not.

Other Do’s and Don’ts

  • Revisit plans that have been in place for a while to ensure that they are Section 409A compliant. Section 409A of the Internal Revenue Code sets forth certain rules regarding the timing of deferrals and distributions with which non-qualified deferred compensation must comply. Non-compliance could have significant negative tax consequences on the employee and, potentially, the bank.
  • The worst time to adopt a new incentive compensation plan, particularly one that contains change-in-control provisions, is right before the board decides to put the bank up for sale. Doing so may be perceived by shareholders as a breach of the board’s fiduciary duties.
  • If any of the bank’s mortgage loan originators are included in the pool of executives entitled to participate in the executive compensation plan, additional attention will need to be given to ensure that any awards granted under the plan do not run afoul of the loan original compensation restrictions set forth in Regulation Z.

While it is certainly a good idea to make sure your most valuable assets—your executives—are protected, there are a lot of variables to consider in putting together incentive compensation plans, which should be carefully crafted to achieve the bank’s objectives while avoiding unintended consequences.

How the New FDIC Assessment Proposal Will Impact Your Bank


growth-strategy-8-14-15.pngIn June, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) issued a rulemaking that proposes to revise how it calculates deposit insurance assessments for banks with $10 billion in assets or less. Scheduled to become effective upon the FDIC’s reserve ratio for the deposit insurance fund (DIF) reaching a targeted level of 1.15 percent, these proposed rules provide an interesting perspective on the underwriting practices and risk forecasting of the FDIC.

The new rules broadly reflect the lessons of the recent community bank crisis and, in response, attempt to more finely tune deposit insurance assessments to reflect a bank’s risk of future failure. Unlike the current assessment rules, which reflect only the bank’s CAMELS ratings and certain simple financial ratios, the proposed assessment rates reflect the bank’s net income, non-performing loan ratios, OREO ratios, core deposit ratios, one-year asset growth, and a loan mix index. The new assessment rates are subject to caps for CAMELS 1- and 2-rated institutions and subject to floors for those institutions that are not in solid regulatory standing.

While the proposed assessment rates reflect a number of measures of an institution’s health, provisions relating to annual asset growth and loan mix may influence a bank’s focus on certain categories of loans and the growth strategies employed by many community banks in the future. We’ll discuss each of these new assessment categories in turn.

One Year Asset Growth
Under the proposed assessment rules, year-over-year asset growth is subject to a multiplier that would have, all other things being equal, the effect of creating a marginal assessment rate on a bank’s growth. In the supporting materials for the FDIC’s rulemaking, the FDIC indicates that it found a direct correlation between rapid asset growth and bank failures over the last several years. But while organic asset growth is subject to the new assessment rate, asset growth resulting from merger activity or failed bank acquisitions is expressly excluded from the proposed assessment rate. This approach is somewhat counterintuitive in that most bankers would view merger activity as entailing more risk than organic growth or growing through the hiring of new teams of bankers. While the new assessment rate might not be significant enough to impact community bank growth strategies on a wide scale, it may offset some of the added expense of a growth strategy based upon merger and acquisition activity.

Loan Mix Index Component
This component of the assessment model requires a bank to calculate each of its loan categories as a percentage of assets and then to multiply each category by a historical charge-off rate provided by the FDIC. The higher the 15-year historical charge-off rate, as weighted according to the number of banks that failed in each year, the higher the assessment under the proposed rules. Unsurprisingly, the proposed rules assign the highest historical charge-off rate (4.50 percent) to construction and development loans, with the next highest category being commercial and industrial loans at 1.60 percent. Interestingly, the types of loans with the lowest historical charge rates are farm-related, with agricultural land and agriculture business loans each having a 0.24 percent charge-off rate.

While the new loan mix index component is a clear reflection of the impact of recent bank failures on the current assessment rates, it may also create economic obstacles to construction lending, which continues to be performed safely by many community banks nationwide. Despite these positive stories, there is no doubt as to the regulators’ views of construction lending—in conjunction with the new Basel III risk-weights also applicable to certain construction loans, community banks face some downside in continuing to focus on this category of loan.

However, when considering the asset growth and loan index components together, community banks that have a strong pipeline of construction loans may have added incentive to complete an acquisition, particularly of an institution in a rural market. Not only can the acquiring bank continue to grow its assets while incurring a lower assessment rate, it can also favorably adjust its loan mix, particularly if the seller has a concentration of agricultural loans in its portfolio. In general, acquirers have recently focused their acquisition efforts on metro areas with greater growth prospects, but the assessment rules may provide an incentive to alter that focus in the future. In many ways, the proposed assessment rates provide bankers an interesting look “behind the curtain” of the FDIC, as this proposal clearly reflects the FDIC’s current points of regulatory concern and emphasis. And while none of the components of the proposed deposit insurance assessments may have an immediate impact on community banks, some institutions may be able to reap a substantial benefit if they can effectively reflect the new assessment components in their business plan going forward.