Do Banks Pay Women and Minorities Less?

“The time is always right to do right,” Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Among the many attributes of community banks is that they tend to focus on creating great places to work. They contribute to local organizations and encourage staff to stay active in their communities. They often offer regular work hours. But, when it comes to pay equity, they have work to do, according to Christie Summervill, the CEO of BalancedComp.

Summervill, who has 21 years of experience consulting with community banks on how much to pay their staffs, has compiled data recently from 300 banks and credit unions to see what disparities existed between women and men, and between ethnic and racial minorities and non-minorities.

What she found surprised her. With some exceptions, banks tend to pay female employees who are salaried, which means they are classified as exempt employees, less than male salaried employees, and salaried minorities less than non-minorities. When they were paid less, it ranged from about 2.8 to 4.4 percentage points depending on the asset class; it was 2.4 to 4.5 percentage points for minorities.

Summervill presented BalancedComp’s findings at a Bank Director Compensation & Talent Conference in November in Dallas, but did not divulge sample sizes for each asset class.

Banks Tend to Pay Salaried Women Less Than Men

Asset size Average Male Compa Ratio Average Female Compa Ratio
$100M to $200M 86.2% 85.9%
$200M to $400M 100.6% 99.2%
$400M to $600M 101.2% 97.2%
$600M to $1B 100.7% 96.3%
$1B to $2B 103.5% 99.5%
$2B to $4B 99.61% 98.3%
$4B to $8B 99% 96.2%
$8B to $12B 103.1% 99.8%

 

Banks Tend to Pay Salaried Minorities Less Than Non-Minorities

Asset size Average Minority Compa Ratio Average Non-Minority Compa Ratio
$100M to $200M N/A N/A
$200M to $400M N/A 99.5%
$400M to $600M 98.1% 100.7%
$600M to $1B 97.4% 101.9%
$1B to $2B 103.4% 103.5%
$2B to $4B 94.7% 99.3%
$8B to $12B 97% 99.4%

Source: BalancedComp. Includes data on nearly 300 BalancedComp clients across 50 states. Data pulled in August 2021. The Compa ratio is the percentage of the market rate. The system is bridged to client payroll systems without compromising individual privacy.

It was a different story for hourly staff, classified as non-exempt employees, where few pay disparities exist. Summervill thinks banks struggle to find hourly staff these days, and so they may pay more attention to competitive pay levels for hourly workers.

She thinks pay inequities exist among salaried workers because of a lack of discipline in salary management. For instance, community banks may set salaries based on what people said they expected, rather than dissecting the data. “It doesn’t come from an ugly heart,’’ she says. “Community banks are so employee-centric overall. It’s a lack of discipline.”

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires that employers pay men and women equal pay for equal work, and some 42 states have expanded the act with various laws of their own, raising potential liability issues for banks, according to the compensation firm Aon. States with the strictest laws include California, Colorado, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

Gayle Appelbaum, a partner and compensation consultant for Aon, says banks tend to be more interested in analyzing pay equity when they have operations in states that mandate pay equity. She has performed pay equity studies for bank clients and has found there has been progress in gender pay gap disparity in recent years. On average, she says the gender pay differential falls in the range of 5% to 8% across the banking industry, when using advanced methodologies to sort, analyze and compare employee census data.

Because of the liability in such studies, many banks involve their general counsel or outside attorneys before delving into such reports in order to ensure attorney-client privilege for their findings. “There are still some disparities, but the data shows that a lot of improvements have been made [in closing the gender pay gap],” says Appelbaum.

Banks striving to diversify their employee base should pay careful attention to pay equity, she says. When disparities exist, they should be examined to make sure they are within a reasonable range and based on established workplace criteria, such as education levels, performance or tenure, and not based on bias or unfair pay practices.

Summervill says she’s seen banks come up with strange reasons for paying women less, though. For example, one bank asked a female employee to avoid certification for a certain position within the bank so she could perform tasks that a certified employee was prohibited from doing. She complied but was paid $36,000 less annually than a certified male employee who did the job at the same bank — all for doing the bank a favor.

Summervill suggests bank boards ask human resources to conduct pay equity studies because human resource departments may be reluctant to initiate such studies on their own, since the results can be contentious.

BalancedComp’s data on CEOs and executive pay was mixed. Banks tend not to have many female or minority CEOs. For the few community banks that had female CEOs, they tended to make more than male CEOs in their asset classes, possibly because there are so few of them and competition for female CEOs is high. In five of the eight bank asset groups, female executives were also paid equal or more than male executives. Only two groups out of BalancedComp’s eight asset ranges had a minority CEO, and four out of the seven asset groups had no minority executives.

Summervill says banks should correct any inequities right away. After all, it’s the law. “The conclusion is that pay disparity exists,” Summervill says. “It’s not intentional but it’s absolutely there.”

Building a ‘Truly Great Place to Work and Bank’

FS Bancorp’s cultural revolution kicked off about a decade ago. It’s a journey that’s still ongoing for the holding company of 1st Security Bank of Washington, according to CEO Joseph Adams.

The predecessor of Mountlake Terrace, Washington-based FS Bancorp was a credit union from its founding in 1936 until 2004, when it converted to a mutual state savings bank. In 2012, upon converting from a mutual to stock ownership structure, Adams and his team began to reconsider the bank’s business lines and culture.

“We had to figure out what we wanted to be when we grew up,” says Adams. “We had difficulty attracting top talent in our market.” The bank posted a 0.5% return on assets as of December 2011, according to S&P’s Capital IQ database.

But that has changed. “If you look at the financials of this organization, for the last 10 years, you will see a hockey stick,” says Adams. “You will just see it growing and growing.” FS Bancorp reported a return on assets of 2.1% at the end of 2020. Overall performance drove FS Bancorp to place No. 1 among the Best Community Banks in the 2022 RankingBanking study, based on a variety of metrics including profitability, growth and total shareholder return, which totaled 125% over five years (2015 to 2020). Executive leadership, board oversight, innovation and growth were also examined, with FS Bancorp topping the Best Leadership Teams subcategory.

The $2.2 billion bank focuses on five areas: deposits, home lending, indirect consumer lending, commercial & industrial (C&I) and commercial real estate. But its business lines aren’t the sole driver of the bank’s success. Adams points to a cultural shift that started around a decade ago, when Adams promoted Vickie Jarman — previously part of the consumer lending group — to lead a team focused on transforming the bank. They proposed a new set of core values, along with a mission and vision for the company. It’s pretty simple: FS Bancorp wanted to create a “truly great place to work and bank,” says Adams. “We believe if you build a great place to work, it will be a great place to bank. We intentionally put those words in that order.”

What’s developed is a culture that values collaboration and humility, according to three FS Bancorp executives I spoke with in October: Adams, Chief Financial Officer Matt Mullet and Jarman, the bank’s chief human resources officer. Self promoters often don’t feel at home there, explains Mullet.

FS Bancorp wants “smart, driven, nice” people, says Adams. “Jerks” need not apply. “We all have to work someplace. Why not work someplace where we have each other’s back, where you wake up every morning excited to go see the people you get to work with?” he says. Getting all three qualities isn’t easy, so the bank makes prospective hires go through hoops to join the organization — the more senior, the more hoops. “Our head of retail, she joined us about four years ago, and she had 16 interviews,” says Adams. “But she kept coming. And she’s here, she does a great job.”

By all appearances, the lengthy hiring process isn’t keeping FS Bancorp from adding the talent it needs to drive growth. The company had 78 employees when its transformation began, says Jarman; now it employs more than 500.

Building a strong culture requires constant work and attention. FS Bancorp has worked with a corporate coach for more than a decade; Adams is also an avid reader of books on leadership and organizational development, including Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” and Simon Sinek’s “Leaders Eat Last.” Combined, the books shine a light on leaders that put their organizations ahead of their egos. Adams wants to adapt those concepts to FS Bancorp, and he’s working with their corporate coach to do it. That will include building a training process to help FS further develop its leaders so they get the culture, too. “It’ll probably take us a year or two, as we move into the future, to get it to a point where we believe we’ve really nailed it,” says Adams.

And they’re putting practices in place that take care of employees, including raising the starting wage to $20 an hour in July — in line with rates paid by big banks such as Bank of America Corp. and First Republic Bank. It was Mullet’s idea, says Adams. “He was concerned — with how expensive things are in the Seattle area — that we have a livable wage,” says Adams.

Adams was an attorney before becoming a banker but says he’s truly passionate about organizational development — getting the right people in the right positions to excel. “We work really hard to get people in roles that play to their strengths, not their weaknesses,” he says. “If you get somebody in a role that plays to their strengths, they do wake up every morning excited to do that role.”

That passion for people comes through in how Adams leads the organization, according to Jarman. “Joe isn’t someone who comes in and says, ‘OK, what do you have on your plate today?’ … He says, ‘Hey, how can I help you? What are you working on?’ It’s from a different angle. It’s not at you. It’s with you, and it’s supportive.”

Playing to different strengths, and creating a collaborative environment where people are encouraged to think differently, builds a stronger bank,” Jarman continues. “We’ve created a space where people do feel safe saying, ‘I don’t agree with you’ or, ‘Can we try it this way?’” she says. Providing employees with the culture to foster those types of questions builds future leaders, and it comes from the top. “That’s what Joe does,” says Jarman. “He gives us the opportunity to grow.”

FS Bancorp CEO Joseph Adams will be part of a panel discussion at Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired event in Phoenix, Jan. 30 – Feb. 1, 2022. Click here to access the agenda or learn more about the conference.

Rethinking the Conversation About Diversity and Inclusion

While financial institutions adjust to the new and challenging operating environment, they are also grappling with potentially fraught social issues, including how to increase and incorporate diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts.

To learn how one of the industry’s most diverse leadership teams thinks about D&I ahead of Bank Director’s 2021 Bank Compensation & Talent Conference in Dallas, Texas, I spoke with Greg Cunningham, senior vice president and chief diversity officer at U.S. Bancorp. Cunningham shared how the bank, which has $567.5 billion in assets, practices authentic D&I inside the bank and how other banks can think about their own efforts in the context of broader social trends. The transcript that follows has been edited for brevity, clarity and flow.

BD: How does U.S. Bancorp practice diversity and inclusion?
GC: We’re headquartered in Minneapolis. George Floyd was murdered less than three miles from where our offices are. In February [2021], we decided to change the systems inside our organization. It was important for us to come to terms with how complicit the financial services industry has been in creating many of the disparities that we’re all concerned about and trying to solve for. Step one for us was acknowledging the role our industry played. Step two was saying, “What’s our role individually and how can we incorporate our core competencies?”

Our focus is squarely on “How do we stand up, across the entire bank, to help close the racial wealth gap?” White households have eight times the wealth that Black households have in this country. That’s not a Black problem, that’s an American problem. It’s a drag on the entire U.S. economy and it impacts every single American household in terms of household income.

[Another area of focus] is on our employees. We have the Rooney Rule in our organization: For every open position in our company, we have at least one woman and/or personal color candidate interview. We have scorecards for our managing committee members that we share with the board on a quarterly basis. We tie performance conversations to their diversity, equity and inclusion performance, just as we can do with financial performance. Accountability is everything. Without accountability, you won’t move the organization at all.

BD: Have these efforts been successful? And what does the bank have left to do?
GC: I think every organization struggles with what we call the broken rung: As you move up in an organization, the representation of women and people of color falls off. The broken rung at the executive level, moving into senior executive level, has been our focus.

We have to continue to do better. But the important point here is: This work is not about fixing women and people of color. They’re not broken. Too many times, diversity efforts focus on training women and people of color. No. We have to train managers to be more and better inclusive leaders. Leading inclusively is on everybody’s performance review. It’s part of the leadership expectation; if you don’t do this well, then you won’t continue to rise in the organization, because it’s on your performance review.

BD: How does US Bancorp keep its D&I efforts authentic and try to avoid tokenisms for your employees with diverse identities?
GC: I think the conversation in the future will be less about inclusion; the real aspiration is belonging. Belonging is ensuring that everybody has a place in the environment and that the culture supports everybody’s opportunity to be successful. Belonging is the notion that we co-create the environment together, that our voices are equal and that we’re creating the condition where everybody feels a sense of psychological safety, where they can speak up and can challenge the status quo.

BD: Banks may struggle to envision how they can increase diversity and inclusion if they haven’t started, or if they have started but don’t have someone in a role like yours. What advice would you share to others as they start or continue to evolve?
GC: My advice would be number one, understand your “why.” What is your real commitment to it? If you’re only doing it to check a box, to meet some sort of compliance standard, then I think you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. You have to understand your why before you go down this path, because once you define your why, it will also help you understand this work.

You have to understand this takes long term commitment. The headlines come and go; you still have to do this work. You’ve got to have some stamina and real commitment and be willing to take an honest reflection of where you are in order to improve.

Wait Wait, Don’t Quit

The Covid-19 infection rate across much of the country is in decline, but banks and other employers trying to bring workers back to the office are dealing with another problem: an acute labor shortage.

Last month acquired the nickname #striketober, as the U.S. reached a record high percentage of people quitting their jobs. The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 4.7 million people, or 2.9% of all employees, quit their jobs in August. Nonfarm employment as of October was 4.2 million shy of what it was pre-pandemic. Wages are climbing, and banks feel the pressure from companies like Bank of America Corp., which announced that it will pay workers at least $25 an hour by 2025.

The ability to work-from-home in such an environment has suddenly become a retention tool — no longer simply a response to the pandemic. As I head to Bank Director’s Bank Compensation & Talent Conference at the Four Seasons Resort and Club in Dallas Nov. 8 to 10, where close to 200 people will discuss those and other issues, it’s clear that flexibility is becoming the new 401(k).

At $1.6 billion State Bank of Cross Plains, in a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin, allowing non-branch staff to work from home a few days per week has become an important benefit, said Chief Financial Officer Sue Loken at a recent Bank Director conference in Chicago.

In Buffalo, New York, at $152 billion M&T Bank Corp., employees will come back to the office three days a week starting in January 2022. Some already were coming into the office voluntarily or if their work required it.

Hybrid work looks like a better alternative to most banks than remote work. An unscientific audience poll at Bank Director’s recent Bank Audit and Risk Committees Conference in Chicago found that fewer than 5% of 57 respondents thought that more than half their employees would work remotely in the future. The most popular answer was that fewer than a quarter will work remotely, in line with Bank Director’s 2021 Risk Survey conducted at the beginning of the year.

That fits with what Paul Ward, chief risk officer at $15 billion Community Bank System in DeWitt, New York, had to say at the conference. Most employees are back at the office full-time, though a few still are working remotely.

Community Bank’s senior executives believe those in-person conversations are critical to building culture at the bank. Executives at M&T Bank also felt that culture is best cultivated in person, not via video conferencing. Michele Trolli, M&T’s head of corporate operations and enterprise initiatives, told The Buffalo News last October that M&T was “living off an annuity” acquired pre-pandemic by being together and knowing each other. “And that annuity, at some point, that runs out,” she said.

Banking’s Vaccine Dilemma

David Findlay has witnessed several crises over his 37-year banking career, but he says the Covid-19 pandemic has been the most challenging — one that continues to redefine what it means to be a good employer.

“We took a very protective stance of our entire workforce,” says Findlay, the CEO of $6 billion Lakeland Financial Corp., based in Warsaw, Indiana. Lakeland’s subsidiary, Lake City Bank, has followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health department guidance to sanitize branches, and closed lobbies as needed. Around one-third of employees worked remotely.

These early decisions were easy, Findlay adds. Encouraging employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19 has resulted in a new dilemma, due to “divisions between those [who] believe in the efficacy of the vaccine,” he says, “and those [who] don’t.”

Righting the economic ship has long hinged on successfully defeating the coronavirus through the development and broad adoption of one or — as came to pass — multiple vaccines. “Ultimately, the economic recovery depends on success in getting the pandemic under control, and vaccinations are critical to our ability to accomplish that,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told the Senate Banking Committee in March.

Like all businesses, vaccinations allow banks to safely reopen branches and repatriate staff into offices. All three of the Covid-19 vaccines available in the U.S. are currently authorized for emergency use by the Federal Drug Administration; some Americans say they won’t get vaccinated until they receive full approval by the FDA.

In early May, Lakeland rolled out an organization-wide vaccination program, updating employees about Covid-19 cases, quarantines and vaccination efforts for the organization. Employees have had access to an on-site vaccination clinic, and the bank pays a $100 bonus to each vaccinated employee, with another $100 to the nonprofit of their choice.

The program was retroactive, so the roughly 40% of employees who were already fully vaccinated were rewarded, too. As of June 10, half of the bank’s employees reported that they had been vaccinated, which compares favorably to Indiana’s population, at 39%, and 30% for Lakeland’s home base in Kosciusko County.

We have made it clear that this is a personal choice and that we must all respect each other, regardless of [our] position on the vaccine,” says Findlay. “It has been a challenging 17 months, and we must all stick together so our culture can survive the pandemic.”

Carrots, not sticks, also drive the vaccination program at Pinnacle Financial Partners. “This is a personal decision, it’s a medical decision, so we don’t want to cross that line,” says Sarae Janes Lewis, director of associate and client experience at the $35 billion bank.

Pinnacle started communicating the benefits of the vaccine in December 2020 — around the time that the FDA first approved emergency use for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. It started its incentive program in March, after the vaccine became more broadly available. Employees get time off to get vaccinated — a half day per shot — and receive a $250 gift card to spend as they like. “We wanted to make the amount enough to incentivize people,” says Lewis, “but we didn’t want it to be so much that it felt like someone who had not made that decision yet would feel overly pressured.” Pinnacle includes a thank-you note with each gift card.

And they’re promoting the upsides of getting vaccinated. Vaccinated employees aren’t required to wear a mask, for example; those who haven’t yet gotten the vaccine are asked to mask up. Pinnacle isn’t policing its employees’ mask use.

When Lewis and I spoke, 64% of Pinnacle’s associates reported to the bank that they were fully vaccinated against Covid-19. That’s well ahead of the bank’s hometown of Nashville, at 44%, and home state of Tennessee, where roughly one-third of eligible individuals are fully vaccinated. An employee survey revealed that many of Pinnacle’s employees who are hesitant may reconsider once one or more of the vaccines receive full FDA approval. When that happens, Lewis says that the bank may ramp up communications again, and incentives will remain in place.

This high vaccination rate — and understanding the vaccination status of its employees — has helped Pinnacle reopen locations and get a little closer to normal operations. “If there does happen to be an exposure, we’re not having to close offices anymore,” Lewis says. “It’s been pretty amazing to have that stability.”

Lake City and Pinnacle both boast above-average vaccination rates compared to their communities, but they’re still below President Joe Biden’s goal for 70% of American adults to be partially or fully vaccinated by the Fourth of July. So, should banks help close this gap by requiring that employees get vaccinated?

Companies can do that, according to guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that was updated in late May.

Adam Maier, a partner at the law firm Stinson LLP, believes banks like Pinnacle and Lake City, that focus on education and modest incentives, have the right approach. The EEOC guidance is “fraught with uncertainties,” he adds. “It’s such a tightrope to be walking to mandate vaccines and also make sure you’re not doing it on a discriminatory basis, or with a discriminatory outcome.” Companies still must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, pregnancy or national origin. Incentives also can’t be coercive.

Both Lake City and Pinnacle emphasize their respect for employee choice, and that appears to be a consistent theme for the industry. Bank of America Corp. CEO Brian Moynihan was asked in the company’s April shareholder call if the board would “commit to not coercing our employees into getting the COVID vaccine.” Moynihan responded that the bank emphasized communication and education — and the right for each employee to come to their own decision.

The megabank asks employees to update their vaccination status through an online portal. Requesting an employee’s vaccine status — confidentially — is clearly permitted by the guidance, Maier confirms.

“Whatever your approach is, just try to be respectful,” advises Maier. “Be reasonable and rational, and don’t get caught up in any individual employee’s decision.”

Five Assessments that Every Acquirer Should Make

Acquiring another bank will be one of the most important decisions that a board of directors ever makes. A well-played acquisition can be a transformational event for a bank, strengthening its market presence or expanding it into new markets, and enhancing its profitability.

But an acquisition is not without risk, and a poorly conceived or poorly executed transaction could also result in a significant setback for your bank. Failing to deliver on promises that have been made to the bank’s shareholders and other stakeholders could preclude you from making additional acquisitions in the future. Banking is a consolidating industry, and acquisitive banks earn the opportunity to participate one deal at a time.

When a board is considering a potential acquisition, there are five critical assessments of the target institution that it should make.

Talent
When you are acquiring a bank, you’re getting more than just a balance sheet and branches; you’re also acquiring talent, and it is critical that you assess the quality of that asset. If your bank has a more expansive product set than the target, or has a more aggressive sales culture, how willing and able will the target’s people be to adapt to these changes in strategy and operations? Who are the really talented people in the target’s organization you want to keep? It’s important to identify these individuals in advance and have a plan for retaining them after the deal closes. Does the target have executives at certain positions who are stronger than members of your team? Let’s say your bank’s chief financial officer is nearing retirement age and you haven’t identified a clear successor. Could the target bank’s CFO eventually take his or her place?

Technology
Making a thorough technology assessment is crucial, and it begins with the target’s core processing arrangement. If the target uses a different third-party processor, how much would it cost to get out of that contract, and how would that affect the purchase price from your perspective? Can the target’s systems easily accommodate your products if some of them are more advanced, or will significant investments have to be made to offer their customers your products?

Culture
It can be difficult to assess another bank’s culture because you’re often dealing with things that are less tangible, like attitudes and values. But cultural incompatibility between two merger partners can prevent a deal from reaching its full potential. Cultural differences can be expressed in many different ways. For example, how do the target’s compensation philosophy and practices align with yours? Does one organization place more emphasis on incentive compensation that the other? Board culture is also important if you’re planning on inviting members of the target’s board to join yours as part of the deal. How do the target’s directors see the roles of management and the board compared to yours? Unless the transaction has been structured as a merger of equals, the acquirer often assumes that its culture will have primacy going forward, but there might be aspects of the target’s culture that are superior, and the acquirer would do well to consider how to inculcate those values or practices in the new organization.

Return on Investment
A bank board may have various motivations for doing an acquisition, but usually there is only one thing most investors care about – how long before the acquisition is accretive to earnings per share? Generally, most investors expect an acquisition to begin making a positive contribution to earnings within one or two years. There are a number of factors that help determine this, beginning with the purchase price. If the acquirer is paying a significant premium, it may take longer for the transaction to become accretive. Other factors that will influence this include duplicative overhead (two CFOs, two corporate secretaries) and overlapping operations (two data centers, branches on opposite corners of the same intersection) that can be eliminated to save costs, as well as revenue enhancements (selling a new product into the target’s customer base) that can help drive earnings.

Capabilities of Your M&A Team
A well-conceived acquisition can still stumble if the integration is handled poorly. If this is your bank’s first acquisition, take the time to identify which executives in your organization will be in charge of combining the two banks into a single, smoothly functioning organization, and honestly assess whether they are equal to the task. Many successful banks find they don’t possess the necessary internal talent and need to engage third parties to ensure a successful integration. In any case, the acquiring bank’s CEO should not be in charge of the integration project. While the CEO may feel it’s imperative that they take control of the process to ensure its success, the greater danger is that it distracts them from running the wider organization to its detriment.

Any acquisition comes with a certain amount of risk. However, proactive consideration toward talent, technology, culture, ROI and a thoughtful selection of the integration team will help enable the board to evaluate the opportunity and positions the acquiring institution for a smooth and successful transition.

Overcoming Cultural Challenges In M&A

Culture is fundamental to the success of the deal, so it’s top of mind for bank leadership teams working with Richard Hall, managing director for banking and financial services at BKM Marketing. In this video, he explains why transparent, candid communication is key to retaining customers and employees, and shares his advice for post-pandemic strategic planning.

  • Ensuring a Successful Integration
  • Retaining Customers and Employees
  • Formulating a Strategy for 2021

Digital Transformation Defined

Many banks know they need to undergo a digital transformation to set their institution up for future success. But what do most bankers mean when they talk about digital transformation?

“If you look at the technical definition of digital, it means using a computer. Congratulations, we can all go home because we all use computers to do everything in banking today,” jokes Nathan Snell, chief innovation officer at nCino during a presentation at Bank Director’s BankBEYOND 2020 experience.

Of course, a digital transformation requires technology, Snell says, but he argues that the integration or adoption of this technology should change how a bank operates and delivers value. Going beyond that, it should be accompanied by a cultural shift to continually challenge the status quo — otherwise this attempt at change may fall short of innovation and transformation.

You can access Snell’s complete presentation and all of the BankBEYOND 2020 sessions by registering here.

Strategic Insights From Leading Bankers: First Financial Bankshares

Few banks have built value for their shareholders like Abilene, Texas-based First Financial Bankshares.

Over the 20-year period ending June 30, 2020 — the cut-off date for institutions featured in Bank Director’s 2021 RankingBanking study, sponsored by Crowe LLP — the $10.6 billion bank generated a 2,074% total shareholder return. That figure is second only to Bank OZK in Little Rock, Arkansas, for the entire banking industry. First Financial placed sixth overall in the study and earned top honors in the Best Bank for Creating Value category. It also rated highly for its retail strategy.

“They’re one of the best banks out there,” says Brett Rabatin, head of equity research at Hovde Group. First Financial’s culture, M&A track record and competitive strategy — delivering a high level of service in small-town markets — set it apart. “A lot of banks like to say, ‘we’re relationship lenders,’ [but] this is one of the few banks where it shows up. It shows up in their loan yield, it shows up in the profitability.”

To delve further into First Financial’s performance for the RankingBanking study, Bank Director Vice President of Research Emily McCormick interviewed First Financial Chairman and CEO Scott Dueser about the bank’s customer-centric philosophy, prospective M&A opportunities and how he leverages his Texas connections. The interview was conducted on Oct. 14, 2020, and has been edited for brevity, clarity and flow.

BD: Based on my earlier reporting on First Financial and its culture, I know you have placed a strong cultural emphasis on building excellence and serving the customer. How does that differentiate First Financial from other institutions in its markets?

SD: I like to think of us as the Ritz-Carlton of banks because of what [Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. co-founder] Horst Schulze has done for us. Horst has been outstanding, not only [in] training us [on] customer service, but also as a mentor on business and dealing with people. Horst doesn’t call it hiring people; you select people and that changes your whole attitude about it. We have a very strong team of people that work together extremely well.

I’m disappointed if somebody leaves our bank and is not extremely happy. That’s what we want to accomplish every time somebody walks in.

Our philosophy of how we do business is very important to us, and adds to the bottom line and the value of our stock. That’s the fact that we’re not in the big city, we’re in the small towns around the big city, where we can be the big fish in the little pond and be the No. 1 bank. We’re not in the big cities fighting the big boys; that takes a lot of money and a lot of time, and it’s a battle that frankly, I don’t think we can win. Why not stay in the areas [where] we do well and focus on that? That’s been our focus, along with credit quality and going after the better customers in our markets. 

BD: Covid-19 has impacted how banks serve the customer. Has anything really shifted for your bank in that regard, or do you feel like the situation is proving your strategy out in a way?

SD: It’s proven the strategy out. I will tell you the best thing that we did was we never closed our doors. We stayed open, and we came to work every day, and we learned how to work through Covid and how to serve the customer [in that environment]. We got a lot of business from it, because when customers went to their bank and found it locked, they didn’t like it. Those banks that locked their doors lost a lot of business, because 33% of the [Paycheck Protection Program] loans that we made were somebody else’s customers. To do that, we asked [those customers] for all their business, and they moved all their business. We grew about a billion dollars through the pandemic.

We made the decision not to cut hours and not to lock our doors, but to be here. We split big departments [where] half the people went home, half the people stayed here, but everybody that was customer facing had to come to work. Our goal was to make the workplace the safest place our people could be. Frankly, today we still feel like the safest place to be is here at work. We’ve kind of managed Covid, not that we haven’t gotten it. We manage it by masking and social distancing, and don’t come to work if you feel bad. We don’t want you to work [then]. That’s kind of the main rules.

I have been on the governor’s task force to reopen Texas. That has helped me tremendously, because I knew the inside scoop of how the state was fighting Covid.

BD: You also had a hand in the Texas Tech Excellence in Banking program that opened in 2020. I assume you see some indirect benefits to keeping those types of networks and communication lines open.

SD: No question. The Excellence of Banking Program was something that I took to Tech and said, “We really need to do this. It will be great for Tech. It’ll be great for the banking industry.” We were able to raise $12 million to endow that program; that’s from foundations and banks. There were about 50 banks involved in that program that gave $1,000 and above.

What’s neat about this program is it is focused [on] bringing minorities and women into banking. That’s something that we really need. We had interns from that program here this summer, and I’m very impressed with the high level of students that we have. I think all the banks that have participated are impressed with the interns that they got out of it. We are hiring people out of that program as we speak. It’s a direct benefit to the bank, but also a direct benefit to my alma mater.

BD: Looking at your past few M&A deals, First Financial does an excellent job of keeping costs down. With pricing coming down, do you see some opportunities on the horizon?

SD: I think there’ll be lots of opportunities next year. I do think Covid has made a lot of people think about whether they want to stay in the industry or not, and whether they want to keep their bank. If they don’t have people lined up to run their bank, they probably need to put it on the market. I think we’ll see a lot of banks go on the market, especially from the fact that a lot of banks missed their heyday when they could have gotten a premier price a year ago. That’s not going to happen today. Pricing is down. They’re going to say, “Hey, I’d rather take today’s price and see what happens next.”

With our price and our premium on the price, even in today’s market, we can go buy some banks that other people probably can’t, because they can’t make the deal work. With our stock price, we can make the deal work.

RankingBanking will be examined further as part of Bank Director’s Inspired By Acquire or Be Acquired virtual platform. Click here to access the agenda.

nCino IPO

nCino, a cloud-based technology and lending platform for banks, navigated the challenges of going public while working remotely. The firm’s success story speaks to the critical importance of digital transformations to the survival of any company, especially as the pandemic has changed consumer mindsets about delivery and the way banks approach their business.

nCino CEO Pierre Naudé virtually sat down with Bank Director CEO Al Dominick to share the lessons he took from the IPO experience and maintains the company culture now that it’s public. Banks can also hear about how nCino strengthened its board, and managed communications in the remote environment.