Three Ways to Break the Mold of Digital Banking


digital-9-9-19.pngCommunity banks should look for ways to make their digital banking experience stand out for consumers in the face of increasingly commoditized offerings.

Most community banks in the United States are focusing on enhancing the digital experience for their customers, making sure they offer most, if not all, of the features that the top five banks offer. However, most community banks are doing the exact same thing, creating digital banking experiences that look and feel eerily similar.

These banks are using the same technology, the same channels and the same process workflows. Outside of the bank’s branding, it can be difficult to tell what differentiates one digital bank from another.

While these similarities help ensure that customers don’t switch banks for one down the street, it’s not preparing institutions to hold their own against new competitors. Challenger banks like N26 and Chime are creating a new, different experience for users — and quickly taking over the market.

Creating a differentiated experience for users takes more than new features or an updated interface. It comes down to banks being able to build for the future with a platform that can be scaled and easily integrated — a platform built on APIs.

APIs, or application programming interfaces, provide the flexibility and customization that is often lacking in banking. APIs allow banks to work with a wider pool of partners to build a more-personalized experience at a fraction of the development cost. APIs have enabled three trends and transformations that allow for differentiated community banking: real-time payments, true any-channel offerings and personalized user experiences.

Real time transactions
JPMorgan Chase & Co. recently launched real-time payments, which allows customers to instantly execute provider payments. This move creates urgency for other large institutions to implement similar offerings. But delivering this real time experience could require some midsize banks to undergo a complete digital transformation and create a technical infrastructure that can support real-time interactions: one built with an API-first architecture.

Any-channel
Any-channel, or omni-channel, means delivering the same services across multiple channels. But true, any-channel technology should focus on a platform that allows institutions to adopt any-channel — regardless of what that looks like in the future — while maintaining a single experience.

With an API-first architecture, multiple channels don’t translate to redundant development work. Instead, banks can focus on iterating on the overarching experience and translating that to each separate channel. Any-channel becomes less of a never-ending goal and more of a strategic vision.

The Ideal User Experience
Consumers not only want the same experience across channels — they want a seamless experience. Banks using an API approach can build workflows and processes that update automatically, so that users who start an application online can finish that process in the branch, on their mobile app or over the phone. APIs allow banks to build an experience around the user, not the channel.

When banks focus on the user experience instead of the channel or feature, the options are endless. Any number of micro-services can be integrated into a custom experience that is specific to the bank’s audience.

Just Holding On, or Thriving?
Most banks do a great job at maintaining their online experiences in their current states: their clients won’t leave because their competitors offer the same digital experience. But when it comes to acquiring new customers, it’s a different story.

New, digital-only banks are quickly taking wallet-share from consumers with sleek and personalized user experiences. Only those banks using APIs will have the ability and agility to keep up with the competition.

Leveraging Fintechs to Do More with Less

Fintech is often viewed as a disrupter to the banking industry, but it greatest influence may be as a collaborator.

Financial technology companies, often called fintechs, can provide benefits both banks and themselves, especially when it comes to lending. But banks need to be prepared for the potential challenges that can arise when forming and executing these partnerships.

Partnerships between community banks and fintechs makes sense. For community banks, the cost of building or buying their own online loan origination platform can be prohibitive. A partnership with a fintech can help banks achieve more with less risk.

Banks can partner with fintechs to improve services at a significantly lower capital expenditure, reducing the cost of doing business and reaching market segments that would otherwise not meet their credit criteria. Collectively, these relationships advance not only the business of community banks, but also their mission.

Partnering with banks offers fintech firms brand exposure, allows them to more quickly scale their business and increases their access to capital and liquidity, which can translate to better company returns.

Community banks and fintech firms should be natural allies, given the market dynamics and growth in online lending, the underfunding of small businesses and the increased competition facing smaller institutions.

Community banks are also ideal first movers in the bank-fintech partnership space, given the personal nature of the business, low cost of capital and ability to move quicker than regional banks. Community banks are the preferred source of funding for small- and medium-sized enterprises, and consistently receive high marks from clients for customer service and overall experience.

However, there can be challenges. Bank respondents cited their firms’ overall preparedness as a point of concern when considering a fintech collaboration, according to a recent paper on bank-fintech partnerships from law and professional services firm Manatt. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau mandate that banks must implement appropriate oversight and risk management processes for third-party relationships and service providers.

Other issues that could arise for community banks when pursuing a fintech partnership include data security, staff training and technology integration with legacy systems. It’s imperative that community banks are clear about the responsibilities, requirements and protections that will contribute toward a successful partnership in conversations with a fintech firm.

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Despite their desire to fund local businesses, community banks sometimes encounter significant pressures that prevent them from doing so. These issues are amplified by various market forces and longstanding structural inefficiencies such as consolidation, slower economic expansion, increased regulation and more-stringent credit requirements. Consumer expectations around new channels and banking services compound the situation. Community banks need to adapt to this new dynamic and complex ecosystem. Without a strategy that includes technological vision, banks risk becoming irrelevant to the communities they serve.

Fintech firms — reputed as industry disruptors — can be powerful collaborators and allies in this land grab. They can help banks expand their borrower market by reaching customers with alternative credit profiles and providing technology-driven improvements that enhance the customer experience. The inherent advantages held by community banks make them well positioned to not only capitalize on these opportunities, but to lead the next wave of fintech innovation.

Five Derivatives Safety Tips: Accessing Power While Maintaining Peace of Mind


derivatives-8-20-19.pngWe don’t buy products; we “hire” products to get a job done. For banks, interest rate swaps are often just the thing they need to accomplish their most important work.

As Harvard Business School Professor Theodore Leavitt famously said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” For banks needing to balance the blend of fixed- and floating-rate loans and deposits on their books, no product gets the job done more effectively than an interest rate swap.

Yet, because swaps carry the label of derivative, many community banks are hesitant to engage them — similar to a first-time homeowner on a DIY project avoiding power tools due to fear of injury or lack of knowledge. To maintain peace of mind while accessing the power of interest rate derivatives, community banks should keep these five safety tips in mind:

1. Finding the Derivative
The most-compelling benefit of an interest rate swap is that everyone gets what they want: the borrower enjoys a 10-year fixed rate, the bank maintains a floating yield. If a program offers this benefit in a “derivative-free” package, there is likely an interest rate swap hiding beneath the surface.

Transparency is essential in creating a safe work environment. Maybe my bank is not a party to a derivative, but what about my Main Street borrower? Safety begins with understanding the mechanics and the parties to any rate swap that might be present.

2. Understanding Derivative Pricing
Because the parties that assist community banks with swaps are typically compensated by building extra basis points into the final swap rate, it is important to have a basic understanding of derivative pricing to remain injury-free. When it comes to swap rates, not all basis points are created equal.

Just like the price/yield relationship with a fixed-income security, the “price value” of each basis point in an interest rate swap is a function of both notional amount and maturity term. So, while an extra five basis points would amount to $2,250 on a $1 million swap for a 5 year/25-year commercial mortgage, the value of fees would grow to $40,000 if the five extra basis points were embedded into a $10 million loan with a 10 year/25-year structure. Community banks should understand the amount of compensation built into each transaction in order to remain out of harm’s way.

3. Documenting with ISDA
The International Swaps and Derivatives Association has been standardizing over-the-counter derivatives market practices for the past 40 years, since the infancy of swaps. One of its first projects was designing the document framework known today as the ISDA Master Agreement, or “The ISDA” for short. Sometimes maligned for its length and complexity, the ISDA is often overlooked as a valuable safety shield for community banks who value simplicity.

Although originally built “by Wall Street for Wall Street,” the ISDA is carefully designed to protect both parties in a derivative relationship, defines key terms and sets forth remedies for a non-defaulting party should the other party fail to perform. Since it is recognized across the globe as the industry-standard, engaging in swaps without the protection of the ISDA can be hazardous.

4. Determining Collateral for Counterparty Risk
Counterparty risk, or the risk that an interest rate swap provider will fail to honor its obligations in the contract, can be mitigated by holding cash or securities as collateral. Before 2008, large banks and dealers required community banks to post collateral to secure their risk but were unwilling to reciprocate. The resulting damage caused by the failure of Lehman Brothers Holdings led to a self-imposed shift in market practices, whereby collateral terms in most swap relationships today are bilateral. Community banks considering using derivatives should seize this opportunity to hold collateral as a precautionary measure for the unexpected.

5. Utilizing Hedge Accounting
Embracing the recently updated hedge accounting standard is the final key to reducing the risk and volatility associated with these tools. With recent changes, the Financial Accounting Standards Board has succeeded in delivering what it promises on the cover of its now-mandatory update to ASC 815: “Targeted Improvements to Accounting for Hedging Activities.” One key improvement that helps protect community banks is the added ability to hedge portfolios of fixed-rate assets. That, when paired with more flexibility in application, has transformed hedge accounting from foe to friend for banks.

By taking heed of these five safety tips, community banks and their boards of directors can confidently consider adding interest rate derivatives to their risk management tool kits.

FASB Sheds Light On CECL Delay Decision


CECL-8-15-19.pngSmall community banks are poised to receive a delay in the new loan loss standard from the accounting board.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board is changing how it sets the effective dates for major accounting standards, including the current expected credit loss model or CECL. They hope the delay, which gives some banks an extra one or two years, provides them with more time to access scarce external resources and learn from the implementation lessons of larger banks.

Bank Director spoke with FASB member Susan Cosper ahead of the July 27 meeting discussing the change. She shed some light on the motivations behind the change and how the board wants to help community banks implement CECL, especially with its new Q&A.

BD: Why is FASB considering a delay in some banks’ CECL effective date? Where did the issue driving the delay come from?
SC: The big issue is the effective date philosophy. Generally speaking, we’ve split [the effective dates] between [Securities and Exchange Commission] filers or public business entities, and private companies and not-for-profits. Generally, the not-for-profits and private companies have gotten an extra year, just given their resource constraints and educational cycle, among other things.

We started a dialogue after the effective date of the revenue recognition standard with our small business advisory committee and private company council about whether one year was enough. They expressed a concern that one [extra] year is difficult, because they don’t necessarily have enough time to learn from what public companies have done, they have resource constraints and they have other standards that they’re dealing with.

We started to think about whether we needed to give private companies and not-for-profits extra time. And at the same time, did we need to [expand that] to small public companies as well?

BD: What does this mean for CECL? What would change?
SC: For the credit loss standard, we had a three-tiered effective date, which is a little unusual. Changing how we set effective dates would essentially collapse that into two tiers. We will still have the SEC filers, minus the small reporting companies, with an effective date of Jan. 1, 2020.

We would take the small reporting companies and group it with the “all-other” category, and push that out until Jan. 1, 2023. It essentially gives the non-public business entities an extra year, and the small reporting companies an extra two years.

BD: How long has FASB considered changing its philosophy for effective dates? It seems sudden, but I’m sure the board was receiving an increasing amount of feedback, and identified this as a way to address much of that feedback.
SC: We’ve been thinking about this for a while. We’ve asked our advisory committees and counsels a lot of questions: “How did it go? Did you have enough time? What did you learn?” Different stakeholder groups have expressed concern about different standards, but it was really trying to get an understanding of why they needed the extra time and concerns from a resource perspective.

When you think about resources, it’s not just the internal resources. Let’s look at a community bank or credit union: Sometimes they’re using external resources as well. There are a lot of larger companies that may be using those external resources. [Smaller organizations] may not have the leverage that some of the larger organizations have to get access to those resources.

BD: For small reporting companies, their CECL effective date will move from January 2020 to January 2023. How fast do you think auditors or anyone advising these SRCs can adopt these changes for them?
SC: What we’ve learned is that the smaller companies wait longer to actually start the adoption process. There are many community banks that haven’t even begun the process of thinking about what they need to do to apply the credit loss standard.

It also affords [FASB] an opportunity to develop staff Q&As and get that information out there, and help smaller community banks and credit unions understand what they need to do and how they can leverage their existing processes.

When we’ve met with community banks and credit unions, sometimes they think they have to do something much more comprehensive than what they actually need to do. We’re planning to travel around the country and hold meetings with smaller practitioners — auditors, community banks, credit unions — to educate them on how they can leverage their existing processes to apply the standard.

BD: What kind of clarity does FASB hope to provide through its reasonable and supportable forecast Q&A that’s being missed right now? [Editor’s note: According to FASB, CECL requires banks to “consider available and relevant information, including historical experience, current conditions, and reasonable and supportable forecasts,” when calculating future lifetime losses. Banks revert to their historical loss performance when the loan duration extends beyond the forecast period.]
SC: There are so many different aspects of developing the reasonable and supportable forecast in this particular Q&A. We have heard time and time again that there are community banks that believe they need to think about econometrics that affect banks in California, when they only operate in Virginia. So, we tried to clarify: “No, you need to think about the types of qualitative factors that would impact where you are actually located.”

The Q&A tries to provide an additional layer of clarity about what the board’s intent was, to help narrow what a bank actually has to do. It also provides some information on other types of metrics that banks could use, outside of metrics like unemployment. It talks about how to do the reversion to historical information, and tries to clarify some of the misinformation that we have heard as we’ve met with banks.

BD: People have a sense about what the words “reasonable” and “supportable” mean, but maybe banks feel that they should buy a national forecast because that seems like a safe choice for a lot of community banks.
SC: Hindsight is always 20-20, but I think people get really nervous with the word “forecast.” What we try to clarify in the Q&A is that it’s really just an estimate, and what that estimate should include.

BD: Is the board concerned about the procrastination of banks? Or that at January 2022, banks might expect another delay?
SC: What we’re really hoping to accomplish is a smooth transition to the standard, and that the smaller community banks and the credit unions have the opportunity to learn from the implementation of the larger financial institutions. In our conversations with community banks, they’re thinking about it and want to understand how they can leverage their existing processes.

BD: What is FASB’s overall sense of banks’ implementation of CECL?
SC: What we have heard in meetings with the larger financial institutions is that they’re ready. We’re seeing them make public disclosure in their SEC filings about the impact of the standard. We’ve talked to them extensively about some of how they’ve accomplished implementation. After the effective date comes, we will also have conversations with them about what went well, what didn’t go well and what needs clarification, in an effort to help the smaller financial institutions with their effective date.

How Innovative Banks Grow Deposits


deposits-8-14-19.pngCommunity banks are under enormous pressure to grow deposits.

Post-crisis liquidity concerns have challenged firms to find low-cost funds, while mega-banks continue to gobble up market share and customers demand digital offerings. In this intense environment, some banks are looking for ways to shake up their approach to gathering deposits. But some of the most compelling opportunities — digital-only banks and banking-as-a-service — require executives to rethink their banks’ strengths, their brands and their future roles in the financial ecosystem.

Digital Bank Brands
When JPMorgan & Co. shut down its digital-only brand called Finn after just one year, some saw it as a sign that community banks shouldn’t bother trying. But Dub Sutherland, shareholder and director of San Antonio, Texas-based TransPecos Banks, argues that there are too many unknowns to make extrapolations from Chase’s decision to ditch Finn.

Sutherland’s bank, which has $224 million in assets, successfully launched a digital-only brand that caters to medical professionals: BankMD. TransPecos is using NYMBUS’ SmartLaunch solution to focus on building products that meet the particular needs of medical professionals. BankMD has its own deposit and loan tracking system, so it doesn’t affect TransPecos’ existing operations. Sutherland says most BankMD customers don’t know and don’t seem to care about the bank on the back end.

Bankers who’ve spent decades crafting their institution’s brand might bristle at the thought of divorcing a digital brand from their brick-and-mortar signage.

I think there’s a fear for those who don’t understand branding and marketing, and don’t understand the new customer. The fact that being “First National Bank of Wherever” doesn’t really carry anything in this day and age,” explains Sutherland. “I do think there are a lot of bankers who fear that they’re going to somehow dilute their brand if they go and launch a digital one.”

That should never be the case, if executed properly. Sutherland explains the digital brand should be “targeting entirely different customers that [the bank] didn’t get before. It should absolutely be accretive.”

Community banks may be able to use a digital-only offering to develop expertise that serves different, niche segments and to experiment with new technologies — without putting core deposits at risk.

Banking-as-a-service
A cohort of banks gather deposits by providing deposit accounts, debit cards and payment services to financial technology companies that, in turn, provide those offerings to customers. In this “banking-as-a-service” (BaaS) model, banks provide the plumbing, settlement and regulatory oversight that enables fintechs to offer financial products; the fintechs bring relatively lower-cost deposits from their digitally native customers.

Essentially, BaaS helps these banks get a piece of the digital deposit pie without transforming the institutions.

“These are low-cost deposits. [Banks’] don’t have to do any servicing on them, there’s no recurring costs, no KYC calls,” says Sankaet Pathak, CEO of San Francisco-based Synapse. Synapse provides banks with the application programming interfaces (APIs) they need to automate a BaaS offering. He says banks “have almost no cost” with deposit-taking in a BaaS model that uses a Synapse platform.

Similar to a digital brand, providing BaaS for fintechs means the bank’s brand takes a back seat. That was a big consideration for Reinbeck, Iowa-based Lincoln Savings Bank when it explored the BaaS model, says Mike McCrary, EVP of e-commerce and emerging technology. Lincoln Savings, which has $1.3 billion in assets, has been running its LSBX BaaS program for about five years, using technology from Q2 Open.

McCrary began his career at the bank in the marketing department, so the model was something his team seriously weighed. In the end, though, McCrary says he’s proud to be enabling fintech partners to do great things.

“It doesn’t diminish our brand, because our brand is really for us, within the places that we touch,” he says. “We definitely continue to try to maximize that and increase the value of the brand within our marketplace, but we’re able to then offer our services outside of that immediate marketplace, with these other really great [fintech] brands.”

Bankers need to grapple with whether they are comfortable putting their firms’ brand on the backburner in order to launch a digital bank or BaaS program. But regardless of how banks choose to grow deposits, the time for considering these new business models is now.

“The cost of deposits, in particular, is a challenge that creates a ‘We need to do something about this’ statement inside a board room or an ALCO committee,” says Q2 Open COO Scott McCormack. “My advice would be to consider alternative strategies sooner than later[.] The opportunity to grow deposits by building a direct bank, partnering with or enabling a fintech … is a strategy that is more compelling than it has ever been.”

Potential Technology Partners

NYMBUS SmartLaunch

SmartLaunch leverages Nymbus’ SmartCore to offer a “digital bank-in-a-box” that runs deposits, loans and payments parallel to the bank’s existing infrastructure.

Q2 Open

Its CorePro system of record helps developers easily build mobile financial services. With a single set of API calls, CorePro can also be used to develop a BaaS offering.

Synapse

BaaS APIs serve as middleware, allowing banks to offer products and services to fintechs and automate the internal Know Your Customer, Anti-Money Laundering and settlement processes for the bank.

Treasury Prime

Their APIs enabled Boston-based Radius Bank to provide BaaS support powering a new checking account called Stackin’ Cash.

Learn more about each of the technology providers in this piece by accessing their profiles in Bank Director’s FinXTech Connect platform.

Why Some Banks Purposefully Shun the Spotlight


strategy-8-9-19.pngFor as many banks that would love to be acquired, even more prefer to remain independent. Some within the second group have even taken steps to reduce their allure as acquisition targets.

I was reminded of this recently when I met with an executive at a mid-sized privately held community bank. We talked for a couple hours and then had lunch.

Ordinarily, I would go home after a conversation like that and write about the bank. In fact, that’s the expectation of most bank executives: If they’re going to give someone like me so much of their time, they expect something in return.

Most bank executives would welcome this type of attention as free advertising. It’s also a way to showcase a bank’s accomplishments to peers throughout the industry.

In this particular case, there was a lot to highlight. This is a well-run bank with talented executives, a unique culture, a growing balance sheet and a history of sound risk management.

But the executive specifically asked me not to write anything that could be used to identify the bank. The CEO and board believe that media attention — even if it’s laudatory — would serve as an invitation for unwanted offers to acquire the bank.

This bank in particular has a loan-to-deposit ratio that’s well below the average for its peer group. An acquiring bank could see that as a gold mine of liquidity that could be more profitably employed.

Because the board of this bank has no interest in selling, it also has no interest in fielding sufficiently lucrative offers that would make it hard for them to say “no.” This is why they avoid any unnecessary media exposure — thus the vague description.

This has come up for me on more than one occasion in the past few months. In each case, the bank executives aren’t worried about negative attention; it’s positive attention that worries them most.

The concern seems to stem from deeper, philosophical thoughts on banking.

In the case of the bank I recently visited, its executives and directors prioritize the bank’s customers over the other constituencies it serves. After that comes the bank’s communities, employees and regulators. Its shareholders, the biggest of which sit on the board, come last.

This is reflected in the bank’s loan-to-deposit ratio. If the bank focused on maximizing profits, it would lend out a larger share of deposits. But it wants to have liquidity when its customers and communities need it most – in times when credit is scarce.

Reading between the lines reveals an interesting way to gauge how a bank prioritizes between its customers and shareholders. One prioritization isn’t necessarily better than the other, as both constituencies must be appeased, but it’s indicative of an executive team’s philosophical approach to banking.

There are, of course, other ways to fend off unwanted acquisition attempts.

One is to run a highly efficient operation. That’s what Washington Federal does, as I wrote about in the latest issue of Bank Director magazine. In the two decades leading up to the financial crisis, it spent less than 20% of its revenue on expenses.

This may seem like it would make Washington Federal an attractive partner, given that efficiency tends to translate into profitability. From the perspective of a savvy acquirer, however, it means there are fewer cost saves that can be taken out to earn back any dilution.

Another way is to simply maintain a high concentration of ownership within the hands of a few shareholders. If a bank is closely held, the only way for it to sell is if its leading shareholders agree to do so. Widely dispersed ownership, on the other hand, can invite activists and proxy battles, bringing pressure to bear on the bank’s board of directors.

Other strategies are contractual in nature. “Poison pills” were in vogue during the hostile takeover frenzy of the 1980s. Change-of-control agreements for executives are another common approach. But neither of these are particularly savory ways to defend against unwanted acquisition offers. They’re a last line of defense; a shortcut in the face of a fait accompli.

Consequently, keeping a low media profile is one way that some top-performing banks choose to fend unwanted acquisition offers off at the proverbial pass.

While being acquired is certainly an attractive exit strategy for many banks, it isn’t for everyone. And for those banks that have earned their independence, there are things they can do to help sustain it.

Six Reasons to Have a Fintech Strategy


fintech-7-23-19.pngFinancial technology, or fintech, is rapidly and dramatically changing the financial services landscape, forcing banks to respond.

Banks are taking different approaches to capitalize on the opportunities presented by fintech, mitigating the risks and remaining competitive. Some of these approaches include partnering with fintech companies, investing in them, investing in internal innovation and development or creating or participating in fintech incubators and labs. Some banks focus on a single strategy, while some mix and match. But many have no plan at all.

The board of directors oversees the bank’s strategic direction and provides senior management with risk parameters to exercise their business discretion. Fintech must be part of that strategic direction. A thoughtful and deliberate fintech strategy is not only a best practice, it is a necessity. Here are six reasons why.

1. Fintech is Here to Stay. Bankers who have seen many trends come and go could be forgiven for initially writing off fintech as a fad. However, fintech is wholly reshaping the financial services industry through digital transformation, big data, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. Fintech now goes far beyond core systems, enhancing capabilities throughout the bank.

2. Customers Expect It. Demographics are changing. Customers under 40 expect their banking services to be delivered by the same channels and at the same speed as their other retail and consumer services like online shopping and ride-hailing applications. Banks that cannot meet those expectations will force their younger customers to look elsewhere.

3. Competition and Differentiation. Community banks may not be able to compete with the largest banks on their technology spend, but they should be competitive with their peers. Developing and executing a thoughtful fintech strategy will enhance a bank’s identity and give them a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

4. Core Systems Management. Banks must have a strategy for their core banking systems. Replacing a legacy system can take years and requires extensive planning. Banks must weigh the maintenance expense, security vulnerability and reduced commercial flexibility of legacy systems against the cost, potential opportunities and long-term efficiencies of the next generation platforms.

5. Fiduciary Duty Demands It. A board’s fiduciary duty includes having a fintech strategy. The board is accountable to the bank’s shareholders and must create sustainable, long-term value. Director are bound by the fiduciary duty of care to act in the best interest of the bank. Given fintech’s rapid expansion, heightened customer expectations and the need to remain competitive, it is prudent and in the long-term best interest of the bank to have a fintech strategy.

6. Regulatory expectations. Boards are also accountable to bank regulators. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued a bulletin in 2017 to address the need for directors to understand the impact of new fintech activities because of the rapid pace of development. The OCC is not the only regulator emphasizing that insufficient strategic planning in product and service innovation can lead to inadequate board oversight and control. A deliberate fintech strategy from the board can direct a bank’s fintech activities and develop a risk management process that meets regulatory expectations.

The best fintech strategy for a bank is one that considers an institution’s assets, capabilities, and overall business strategy and allows it to stay competitive and relevant. Not having a fintech strategy is not an option.

CECL Delayed for Small Banks


CECL-7-18-19.pngSmall banks hoping for a delay in the new loan loss accounting standard could get their wish, following a change in how the accounting board sets the effective dates for new standards.

On July 17, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) proposed pushing back the effective date of major accounting changes like revenue recognition, leases and — key to financial institutions — the current expected credit loss model (CECL). The board hopes the additional time will offer relief to smaller companies with fewer resources and provide more space to learn from the implementation efforts of larger peers. Under the proposal, community banks and credit unions now have a new effective date of Jan. 1, 2023, to implement CECL.

The board’s proposal also provided relief for a new category they call “small reporting companies,” and thus simplified the three-tiered effective dates into two groups. The proposal retains the 2020 effective date for companies that file with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that are not otherwise classified as a small reporting companies.

CECL will force banks to set aside lifetime loss reserves at loan origination, rather than when a loss becomes probable. The standard has been hotly contested in the industry since its 2016 passage, and banking groups and members of Congress had unsuccessfully sought a delay in the intervening years.

But on Wednesday, some finally got what they were looking for. The proposed CECL delay for many banks comes as FASB grapples with how it sets the effective dates for different standards, said board member Susan Cosper in an interview conducted prior to the July 17 meeting.

In the past, FASB would pass a new accounting standard and set an effective date for SEC filers and public business entities in one year, then give private companies and nonprofit organizations an extra year to comply. The gap in dates recognizes the resource constraints those firms may face as well as the demand for outside services, and provide time for smaller companies to learn from the implementation lessons of large companies. However, the board’s advisory councils said this may not be enough time.

“What we’ve learned … is that the smaller companies wait longer to actually start the adoption process,” Cosper says. “There are many community banks that haven’t even begun the process of thinking about what they need to do to apply the credit loss standard.”

The extra time should allow these companies the ability to digest and implement the credit loss overhaul using existing resources. During the meeting, FASB member R. Harold Schroeder said that bankers tell him they could quickly apply the CECL standard in a “compliance approach” as a “box-checking exercise” for their banks. But, they tell him, they need more time if they want to implement CECL in a way that allows them to use it to make business decisions.

“The companies I talked to are taking these standards seriously as an opportunity to improve; ‘We want the data to flow through our systems, but it takes more time,’” he said.

The board also adopted an SEC filer category, called “small reporting companies” or SRCs. The SEC defines a small reporting company as a firm with a public float of less than $250 million, or has annual revenues of less than $100 million and no annual float or a public float of less than $700 million. For CECL, SRCs have the same implementation deadline as their private and not-for-profit peers. Companies with a 2023 effective date have the option of adopting the standard early.

The proposal to extend the CECL effective dates for small companies received unanimous support from the board. The proposal now goes out for public comment.

“The process of gathering, cleaning and validating [loan loss] data has taken longer than we expected,” says Mike Lundberg, national director of financial institutions services at accounting firm RSM US. “Having a little more time[for banks] to run parallel paths or fine-tune their models is really, really helpful.”

Lundberg points out that small banks will now have nearly six years to implement the standard, which passed in 2016. He also warns against bankers’ complacency.

“[The implementation] will take a long time and is a big project,” he says. “It’s definitely a ‘Don’t take the foot off the gas’ situation. This is the time to get it right.”

FASB also offered additional assistance to financial institutions with a newly published Q&A document around the “reasonable and supportable” forecast, and announced a multi-city roadshow to meet with small practitioners and bankers. Cosper says the Q&A looks to narrow the work banks need to do in order to create a forecast and includes additional forward-looking metrics banks can consider.

“I think that people really get nervous with the word ‘forecast,’” she says. “What we tried to clarify in the Q&A is that it’s really just an estimate, and it goes on to describe what that estimate should include.”

The Evolving Buyer Landscape in Bank M&A


buyer-7-16-19.pngThe recent acquisition of LegacyTexas Financial Group by Prosperity Bancshares serves as a microcosm for the changing bank M&A landscape.

The deal, valued at $2.1 billion in cash and stock, combines two publicly traded banks into one large regional institution with over $30 billion in assets. Including this deal, the combined companies have completed or announced 10 acquisitions since mid-2011. Before this transaction, potential sellers had two active publicly traded buyers that were interested in community banks in Texas; now, they have one buyer that is likely going to be more interested in larger acquisitions.

The landscape of bank M&A has evolved over the years, but is rapidly changing for prospective sellers. Starting in the mid-1990s to the beginning of the Great Recession in late 2007, some of the most active acquirers were large publicly traded banks. Wells Fargo & Co. and its predecessors bought over 30 banks between 1998 and 2007, several of which had less than $100 million in assets.

Since the Great Recession, the largest banks like Wells and Bank of America Corp. slowed or stopped buying banks. Now, the continued consolidation of former buyers like LegacyTexas is reducing the overall buyer list and increasing the size threshold for the combined company’s next deal.

From 1999 to 2006, banks that traded on the Nasdaq, New York Stock Exchange or a major foreign exchange were a buyer in roughly 48 percent of all transactions. That has declined to 39 percent of the transactions from 2012 to the middle of 2019. Deals conducted by smaller banks with over-the-counter stock has increased as a total percentage of all deals: from only 4 percent between 1999 and 2006, to over 8 percent from 2012 to 2019.

Part of this stems from the declining number of Nasdaq and NYSE-traded banks, which has fallen from approximately 850 at the end of 1999 to roughly 400 today. At the same time, the median asset size has grown from $500 million to over $3 billion over that same period of time. By comparison, the number of OTC-traded banks was relatively flat, with 530 banks at the end of 1999 decreasing slightly to 500 banks in 2019.

This means that small community banks are facing a much different buyer landscape today than they were a decade or two ago. Many of the publicly traded banks that were the most active after the Great Recession are now above the all-important $10 billion in assets threshold, and are shifting their focus to pursuing larger acquisitions with publicly traded targets. On the bright side, there are also other banks emerging as active buyers for community banks.

Privately traded banks
Privately traded banks have historically represented a large portion of the bank buyer landscape, and we believe that their role will only continue to grow. We have seen this group move from being an all-cash buyer to now seeing some of the transactions where they are issuing stock as part or all of the total consideration. In the past, it may have been challenging for private acquirers to compete head-to-head with larger publicly traded banks that could issue liquid stock at a premium in an acquisition. Today, privately traded banks are more often competing with each other for community bank targets.

OTC-traded banks
OTC-traded banks are also stepping in as an acquirer of choice for targets that view acquisitions as a reinvestment opportunity. Even though OTC-traded banks are at a relative disadvantage against the higher-valued publicly traded acquirers when it comes to valuation and liquidity, acquired banks see a compelling, strategic opportunity to partner with company with some trading volume and potential future upside. The introduction of OTCQX marketplace has improved the overall perception of the OTC markets and trading volumes for listed banks. This has helped OTC-traded banks compete with the public acquirers and gain an edge against other all-cash buyers. Some of these OTC-traded banks will eventually choose to go public, so it could be attractive to reinvest into an OTC-traded bank prior to its initial public offering.

Credit Unions
In the past, credit unions usually only entered the buyer mix by bidding on small banks or distressed assets. This group has not been historically active in community bank M&A because they are limited to cash-only transactions and subject to membership restrictions. That has changed in the last few years.

In 2015 there were only three transactions where a credit union purchased a bank, with the average target bank having $110 million in assets. In 2018 and 2019, there have been 17 such transactions with a bank, with the average target size exceeding $200 million in assets.

The bank buyer landscape has changed significantly over the past few years; we believe it will continue to evolve over the coming years. The reasons behind continued consolidation will not change, but the groups driving that consolidation will. It remains important as ever for sellers to monitor the buyer landscape when evaluating strategic alternatives that enhance and protect shareholder value.

Information contained herein is from sources we consider reliable, but is not guaranteed, and we are not soliciting any action based upon it. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, based on interpretation of data available at the time of original publication of this article. These opinions are subject to change at any time without notice.

How Community Banks Can Compete Using Fintechs, Not Against Them


fintech-7-15-19.pngSmaller institutions should think of financial technology firms as friends, not foes, as they compete with the biggest banks.

These companies, often called fintechs, pose real challenges to the biggest banks because they offer smaller firms a way to tailor and grow their offerings. Dozens of the biggest players are set to reach a $1 billion valuation this year—and it’s not hard to see why. They’ve found a niche serving groups that large banks have inadvertently missed. In this way, they’re not unlike community banks and credit unions, whose people-first philosophy is akin to these emerging tech giants.

Ironically, savvy fintechs are now smartly capitalizing on their popularity to become more like big banks. These companies have users that are already highly engaged; they could continue to see a huge chunk of assets move from traditional institutions in the coming year. After all, what user wouldn’t want to consolidate to a platform they actually like using?

The growth and popularity of fintechs is an opportunity for community banks and credit unions. As customers indicate increasing openness to alternative financial solutions, these institutions have an opportunity to grab a piece of the pie if they consider focusing on two major areas: global trading and digital capabilities.

Since their creation, community banks and member-owned organizations have offered many of the same services as their competitors. However, unlike fintechs, these financial institutions have already proved their resilience in weathering the financial crisis. Community banks can smartly position themselves as behind-the-scenes partners for burgeoning fintechs.

It may seem like the typical credit union or community banking customer would have little to do with international transactions. But across the world, foreign payments are incredibly common—and growing. Global trading is an inescapable part of everyday consumer life, with cross-border shopping, travel and investments conducted daily with ease. Small businesses are just as likely to sell to a neighbor as they are to a stranger halfway around the globe. Even staunchly conservative portfolios may incorporate some foreign holdings.

Enabling global trades on a seamless digital scale is one of the best avenues for both community banks and credit unions to expand their value and ensure their continued relevance. But the long list of requirements needed to facilitate international transactions has limited these transactions to the biggest banks. Tackling complex regulatory environments and infrastructure can be not only intimidating, but downright impossible for firms without an endless supply of capital earmarked for these such investments.

That means that while customers prefer community banks and credit unions for their personalization and customer service, they flock to big banks for their digital capabilities. This makes it all the more urgent for smaller operations to expand while they have a small edge.

Even as big banks pour billions of dollars into digital upgrades, an easy path forward for smaller organizations can be to partner with an established service that offers competitive global banking functions. Not only does this approach help them save money, but it also allows them to launch new services faster and recapture customers who may be performing these transactions elsewhere.

As fintechs continue to expand their influence and offerings, innovation is not just a path to success—it’s a survival mechanism.