One crucial component of the merger and acquisitions process is due diligence, which needs to be performed efficiently within a limited amount of time as opportunities arise. Senior management is primarily responsible for this task, but may need assistance from key areas such as compliance, and often uses third-party support. If your bank is considering an acquisition, consider these three risks and document them as part of your due diligence.
1. Credit Risk
Potential acquirers must perform rigorous due diligence on the target bank’s credit portfolio — it’s imperative to the success of any merger. Executives at the acquiring bank need to understand the loan portfolio, including the types of credits offered, underwriting practices and problem loan management. This includes reviewing sample credits, including the top borrowers, adversely classified loans, watch list loans, loans to insiders and a sample of loans of each collateral type, if possible.
While there is no required portfolio coverage for due diligence, executives should have a flavor for the lending practices at the target bank.
2. Financial Risk
As part of due diligence, executives need to gain an understanding of the balance sheet and income statement at the target bank. Consider:
As 2022 unfolds, the Federal Reserve indicated it will continue increasing rates in an attempt to reduce inflation, which has created significant unrealized losses in many bond portfolios. This is after many banks invested the flux of cash generated by pandemic-era programs into their bond portfolios in an effort to achieve some return throughout 2021.
Consider the impact this could have on bond portfolios in acquisitions, including the value in a sale of the full portfolio, the long-term market rate forecast or even hedging strategies.
Review significant on- and off-balance sheet liabilities, including major contracts such as the core system contract, employment contracts, equity plans or stock options. These contracts could result in additional liabilities for the acquiring bank.
Acquirers will need an independent valuation of the target bank, including an estimate of the goodwill, core deposit intangibles, fair value adjustments to loans and other fair value adjustments that will be considered as part of the transaction. This valuation should be fluid, starting with the preliminary stages of the merger discussions, and evolving and refining as the merger proceeds.
Executives should prepare pro forma and projected financial statements to depict what the combined organization will look like at the merger date and going forward. In addition, those financial statements should determine the rate of return on the acquisition and the earn-back period.
3. Reputational Risk
Many banks are heavily involved and invested in their local communities, including deep and long-standing relationships with many bank customers. The art of combining two institutions and selling the “new” institution to the existing customers takes planning and care.
In addition, the employees and branches of the target bank are part of that same community. If the transaction includes retaining all employees and branches, communicate that as part of the press releases. If necessary, consider stay bonuses to retain the talent of the target bank. The new combined entity will want to uphold a positive and strong reputation throughout the community.
Bonus: Cyber Risk
Here’s a bonus tip to consider during your due diligence process: Cyber risk continues to be top of mind for advisors and regulators alike. As part of the transaction, assess the target bank’s information technology environment. That includes reviewing any external reports or assessments, and understanding any findings and the related remediation. In addition, identify material gaps or issues in due diligence so the bank is not surprised by additional costs at merger consummation.
If mergers and acquisitions are part of your bank’s strategic plan, having a proper plan in place to direct due diligence can help you execute the transaction seamlessly and with success. Put together an internal team that can help you review those risks or explore external options to assist.
The information contained herein is general in nature and is not intended, and should not be construed, as legal, accounting, investment, or tax advice or opinion provided by CliftonLarsonAllen LLP (CliftonLarsonAllen) to the reader.
Third-party vendors enable community banks to deliver essential products and services to consumers, but they can also be a weak link in their cybersecurity strategy.
The events of 2020 have made it imperative for banks to focus on protecting their employees, consumers and valuable assets — making cybersecurity a persistent priority for executive management. Ransomware has escalated at an alarming rate, leading community banks to engage even more with managed security service providers to strengthen their cybersecurity strategies. Given the critical nature of omnipresent cybersecurity and the continuous dependency on third-party providers, here are some practical tips for managing third-party risk in your cybersecurity strategy.
1. Collaborate Across Your Institution
It’s common to have a dedicated vendor management team or department at community banks, but it’s important to avoid a silo mentality when dealing with risk. Know your bank’s risk appetite and make sure everyone involved in risk management knows it as well.
Evaluate third parties against that appetite. Vendor assessments are critical to ensure your business will reap the benefits of the services you expect to receive.
Document third-party products and services in your environment. Update operational, IT and cybersecurity policies, as well as business continuity plans to include your vendors, outlining their roles and responsibilities — especially in the event of an outage, incident, or disaster.
2. Due Diligence is Key
Ensure your bank has a detailed process for evaluating third parties prior to signing contracts. One good way to prevent a third-party cyber incident is to ensure third parties have strong cybersecurity programs. The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council states, “Financial institutions must understand the complex nature of arrangements with outside parties and ensure adequate due diligence for the engagement of the relationships and ongoing monitoring.”
Establish how your bank’s data is handled to protect the privacy of your employees and customers. Who owns the data and who has access to it? How long will data be retained? What happens to data if you terminate your contract? Make sure the bank documents data ownership and management in its third-party contracts. A data breach caused by a third party can endanger customer privacy and violate data privacy laws, including the General Data Protection Regulation and California Consumer Privacy Act.
3. Trust but Verify
It’s important to ensure that services continue to perform as expected after determining the need for third-party services and conducting due diligence to ensure the best fit. The phrase “trust but verify,” while originally used in a political context, is often used to describe this practice in vendor management.
Periodically review the bank’s vendors to ensure they’re meeting the obligations set in the Service Level Agreements (SLAs), which can help address issues before an incident can occur. If appropriate, the board should consider engaging an independent provider to audit, monitor or alert of any issues that could impact the vendor’s ability to meet their SLA.
Banks should consider supporting their vendor management strategy with technology solutions that can:
- Track vendors, subsidiaries, relationship owners, documentation and contacts.
- Perform vendor due diligence and analyze criticality, usage and spend.
- Deliver surveys and risk assessments to external third-party contacts.
- Manage contract review and renewals.
- Coordinate with legal, procurement, compliance and other functions.
- Monitor key vendor metrics via personalized dashboards and dynamic reports.
Third-party risk is an important component of any bank’s cybersecurity strategy and should align with its enterprise risk management and information security programs. Using a common risk framework that includes vendor management will promote collaboration, integration and visibility across the bank. Ultimately, the result is a reliable and consistent process that can help you protect and service your customers.
The challenges of 2020 included a landslide of changes in financial services, and the sheer effort by banking professionals to keep operations running was nothing short of historic.
Although there will be some reversion to prior habits, consumers in 2021 have new expectations of their banks that will require more heavy lifting. This comes at a time when many banks in the U.S. are engaging in highly complex projects to redesign their branches, operations and organizational charts. Fortunately, there are some quick win tactics that can support these efforts. Consider the following three “pillar” strategies that offer short-term cost savings and guidelines to set a foundation for operational excellence.
Portfolio rationalization need not involve product introductions or retirements. But, given the changing consumer landscape, executives should consider taking a fresh look at their bank’s product portfolios. Due to the many changes in accountholder behavior, certain cost/benefit dynamics have changed since the pandemic began. This fact alone makes re-evaluating and recalibrating existing portfolio strategies a matter of proper due diligence. Rationalizing the portfolio should include revising priorities, adding new features and reassessing risk profiles and existing project scopes.
Banking executives have been under tremendous pressure recently to quickly implement non-standard procedures, all in the name of uninterrupted service during socially distanced times.
Though many working models will see permanent change, it is critical to optimize these processes early for long-term efficiency, security and customer experience. As the digital curve steepens, banks will need to map out the customer journey across all digital channels to remain competitive. Some process re-engineering methods include eliminating workarounds, streamlining processes and updating legacy policies that are no longer relevant.
Banks are increasingly leveraging technologies classified under the umbrella of intelligent automation. These include machine learning, robotic process automation and artificial intelligence — all of which have become especially relevant to deal with multiple types of high-volume, low-value transactions. Automated workflows remove the clerical aspects of the process from the experts’ plates, allowing them to focus time and energy on more high-value activities. When executed well, intelligent automation works alongside humans, supplementing their expertise rather than replacing it. For example, areas like fraud and underwriting are becoming increasingly automated in repetitive and known scenarios, while more complicated cases are escalated to personnel for further analysis.
Auditing invoices for errors and evaluating vendor contracts might be the last place a banker would look to establish a quick win. However, our benchmarks suggest they can be a critical stepping-stone to bottom-line opportunities. Existing vendor contracts often include inconsistent clauses and undetected errors (such as applications of new pricing tiers missed, etc.). Eventually, minor errors can creep into the run rate that adds up over the years to significant dollar discrepancies. With extensive due diligence or someone in the know, it’s possible to find a six to seven figure lift, simply by collecting intelligence on the prevailing market rates, the available range of functionality and reasonable expectations for performance levels.
While the financial services industry has been keeping operations running uninterrupted, there is no time like the present to optimize operating processes. Accomplishing a few results early on can free up resources and support long-term gains. Executives should take the time now to optimize operating model structures in order to brace for what comes next. Looking into the increasingly digital future, consumers will continue to expect banks to reinvent and build up their operating models to greater heights.
Bank mergers and acquisitions are not easy: balancing the standard process of due diligence to verify financial and credit information, adapting processing methods and measuring fair value assets and liabilities. The ongoing pandemic coinciding with the implementation of the current expected credit loss model, or CECL, by larger financial institutions has made bank mergers even more complex. As your financial institution weighs the benefits of a merger or acquisition, here are two important accounting impacts to consider.
Fair Value Accounting During a Pandemic
When two banks merge, the acquiring bank will categorize the loans as performing or purchase credit impaired/deteriorated and mark the assets and liabilities of the target bank to fair value.
This categorization of loans is difficult — the performance of these loans is currently masked due to the large number of loan modifications made in the second quarter. With many customers requesting loan modifications to defer payments for several months until the economy improves, it is difficult for the acquiring bank to accurately evaluate the current financial position of the target bank’s customers. Many of these customers could be struggling in the current environment; without additional information, it may be very difficult to determine how to classify them on the day of the merger.
One of the more complex areas to assess for fair value is the loan portfolio, due to limited availability of market data for seasoned loans. As a result, banks are forced to calculate the fair value of assets while relying on subjective inputs, such as assumptions about credit quality. Pandemic-response government programs and significant bank-sponsored modification programs make it difficult to fully estimate the true impact of Covid-19 on the loan portfolio. Modifications have obscured the credit performance data that management teams will base their assumptions, complicating the process even further.
U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) allows for true-up adjustments to Day 1 valuations for facts that were not available at the time of the valuation to correct the fair value accounting. These adjustments are typically for a few isolated items. However, the lagging indicators of Covid-19 have added more complexity to this process. There may be more-pervasive adjustments in the coming year related to current acquisitions as facts and circumstances become available. It is critical for management teams to differentiate between the facts that existed the day the merger closed versus events that occurred subsequent to the merger, which should generally be accounted for in current operations.
For large banks that implemented CECL in the first quarter of 2020, a significant change in the accounting for acquired loans can create a new hurdle. Under the incurred loss model, no allowance is recorded on acquired loans, as it is incorporated in the fair value of the loans. Under the new CECL accounting standard, the acquirer is required to record an allowance on the day of acquisition — in addition to the fair value accounting adjustments. While this allowance for purchase deteriorated credits is a grossing-up of the balance sheet, the performing loan portfolio allowance is recorded through the provision for loan losses in the income statement.
This so-called “double-dip” of accounting for credit risk on acquired performing loans is significant. It may also be an unexpected change for many users of the financial statements. Although CECL guidance has been available for years, this particular accounting treatment for acquired performing loans was often overlooked and may surprise investors and board members. The immediate impact on earnings can be significant, and the time period for recapturing merger costs may lengthen. As a result, bank management teams are spending more time on investor calls and expanding financial statement disclosures to educate users on the new accounting standards and its impact on their transactions.
The two-fold accounting challenges of implementing CECL during a global pandemic can feel insurmountable. While the CECL standard was announced prior to Covid-19, management teams should take a fresh look at their financial statements as they prepare for earnings announcements. Similarly, if your bank is preparing to close an acquisition, plan on additional time and effort to determine the fair value accounting. By maintaining strong and effective communication, financial institutions will emerge stronger and prepared for future growth opportunities.
A contract for banking software should be the start of a working relationship.
When your bank purchases a new banking system, you should get more than a piece of software. From training to ongoing support, there’s a tremendous difference between a vendor who sells a system and a true partner who will work to enhance your banking operations.
But how do you know which is which? Here are some questions that could help you determine if a vendor is just a vendor — or if they could become a more-meaningful resource for your bank.
Do they have real banking expertise?
A software vendor that lacks real-world banking experience will never have the institutional knowledge necessary to serve as a true partner. The company may have been founded by a banker and their salespeople may have some cursory knowledge of how their solution works in a banking environment. However, that is not enough. You need a vendor that can offer expert insights based on experience. Ask salespeople or other contacts about their banking background and what they can do to help improve your bank.
Do they want to understand your issues?
A vendor won’t be able to help solve your problems if they aren’t interested in learning what they are. You should be able to get a sense of this early in the process, especially if you go through a software demonstration. Does the salesperson spend more time talking about features and system capabilities, or do they ask you about your needs first and foremost? A vendor looking to make a sale will focus on their program, while a true partner will take time to find out what your challenges are and what you really want to know. Look for a vendor who puts your needs above their own and you’ll likely find one who is truly invested in your success.
How quickly do they respond?
Vendors will show you how much they care by their turnaround speed when you have a question or need to troubleshoot a problem with your banking system. Any delay could prove costly, and a good partner acts on that immediate need and moves quickly because they care about your business. It can take some companies weeks to fully resolve customer issues, while others respond and actively work to solve the problem in only a few hours. Go with the software provider who is there for you when you need them most.
Do they go above and beyond?
Sometimes the only way to address an issue is to go beyond the immediate problem to the underlying causes. For example, you might think you have a process problem when onboarding treasury management customers, but it could actually be an issue that requires system automation to fully resolve.
A vendor that can identify those issues and give you insights on how to fix them, instead of bandaging the problem with a quick workaround, is one worth keeping around. This may mean your vendor proposes a solution that isn’t the easiest or the cheapest one, but this is a good thing. A vendor that is willing to tell you something you may not want to hear is one that truly wants what’s best for your organization.
Do they continue to be there for you?
Some software companies consider the engagement over once they’ve made the sale. Their helpline will be open if you have a problem, but your contact person there will have moved on to new targets as you struggle with implementation and the best way to utilize the software.
Find a vendor that plans to stick with your institution long after agreements have been signed. They should not only provide training to help facilitate a smooth transition to the new system, but they should remain accessible down the road. When a new software update becomes available or they release a new version of the system, they should proactively reach out and educate you on the new features — not try to sell you the latest development. Although you won’t know how those interactions will go until after you’ve made your purchase, it pays to evaluate the service you’re getting from your vendors at every stage of your engagement.
Finding a software vendor that you trust enough to consider a partner isn’t always easy. But by looking for some of the characteristics discussed above, you can identify the most trustworthy vendors. From there, you can start building a relationship that will pay dividends now and into the future.
Fintech companies have a unique vantage point from which to view the COVID-19 crisis.
Technology leaders are working long hours to help banks go remote, fill in customer service gaps and meet unprecedented loan demand. They’re providing millions of dollars in free services, and rapidly releasing new products. They’re talking to bankers all day, every day, and many of them are former bankers themselves.
Bank Director crowdsourced insights about banks’ pandemic-fueled tech initiatives from 30 fintech companies and distilled their viewpoints into five observations that can help banks sort through the digital demands they face today.
“Nice to Have” Technology Is Now “Must Have”
Online account opening, digital banking, financial wellness and customer service are garnering fresh attention as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
Before the pandemic, these areas were thought of as “nice to have,” but they weren’t at the top of any bank’s tech expenditure list. COVID changed that.
Account opening and digital banking are essential when branch lobbies are closed, and customers are looking to their banks for advice in ways they never have before in times of widespread uncertainty.
These new demands have created a unique opportunity to push technology initiatives forward. Ben Morales, who had a 24-year tenure in banking before founding personal loan fintech QCash, observed that bank leaders shouldn’t “waste an emergency. Now is the time to push bank boards to invest.”
Bank boards are already talking about COVID as a potential inflection point for tech adoption, says Jon Rigsby, a former banker who co-founded and now is the CEO of Hawthorn River Lending. He notes that this moment is different from past crises. “In my 27-year banking career, I’ve never seen bankers change so fast. It was quite phenomenal.”
Customer Service, Financial Wellness Are Taking Center Stage
Consumers are increasingly seeking guidance from their banks, inundating call centers. As a result, communication and financial wellness tools are getting their moment in the sun.
Boston-based fintech Micronotes has witnessed exponential growth in demand for their product that helps banks initiate conversations with their customers digitally. Micronotes introduced a new program that’s purpose built for pandemic in mid-March. The Goodwill Program helps banks proactively communicate with their customers around issues like relief assistance and the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Inbound interest in the firm from banks was nearly eight-times higher two weeks after the program launched, compared to the two weeks prior to launch, Micronotes reports.
Banks already equipped with digital communication tools are seeing an uptick in usage. Kasisto, a New York-based fintech, reported that several clients have seen a 20% to 30% increase in the use of KAI, a virtual assistant that can converse with customers and lessen the burden on call centers.
Financial wellness initiatives are also seeing liftoff. Happy Money, a personal loan fintech that uses financial and psychometric data to predict a borrower’s willingness to repay a loan, launched a free financial stress relief product for its bank partners’ customers. And SavvyMoney, a fintech that provides credit information to borrowers alongside pre-qualified loan offers, is seeing an influx of inquiries from banks that “understand the need to provide their customers with tools so they can better manage their money during uncertain financial times,” says CEO JB Orecchia.
Due Diligence Can Move Faster, When It Has To
Several fintechs have noted that banks are speeding up their vendor due diligence processes immensely — but not by relaxing standards.
Vendor onboarding programs can sometimes stretch to fill an entire year, according to Rishi Khosla, CEO of London-based digital bank OakNorth, but they don’t have to. OakNorth developed its own credit underwriting and monitoring solution, and recently spun out a technology company by the same name to provide the tools to banks outside of the U.K.
Khosla has a unique perspective given his dual roles as both a banker and technologist. He says some banks have created “unbelievable processes” that, when cut down, actually only amount to 10 to 20 hours of work. In this environment, he says, a commercial bank partner can get 20 hours of work done within days. They’re in “war mode,” so they can take a dramatically different approach, but with no less rigor.
“It’s not like they’re taking shortcuts. They’re going through all the right processes,” he says. “It’s just they’re doing it in a very efficient, streamlined manner without the bureaucracy.”
Approach Existing Partners First
Banks now wanting to adopt new technology may find themselves at the end of a long waitlist as fintechs are inundated with new demand. Fintech providers are prioritizing implementations for existing customers first — just as most banks prioritize existing borrowers for PPP loans.
To get the technology they need fast, some banks are getting creative in rejiggering the tech they do have to meet immediate needs.
Matt Johnner, a bank board member and the president of construction lending fintech BankLabs, got a call from a bank client a few days after the rollout of PPP loans. The bank wanted to customize the BankLabs construction loan automation tool to process PPP loans. Johnner says the bank “called because they know our software is customizable … and that we go live in 1 hour.”
Because of the exponential rise in digital demand, a bank’s success with technology during the pandemic has been based largely on what they had in place before the outbreak, according to many fintechs.
“Some banks are innovating through this and are thinking near and long term, especially those that have made good investments in digital banking and have a solid foundation to build out from,” explains Derik Sutton, VP of product and experience for small business solution Autobooks. “The most common response we get [from banks] is ‘We wish we had done this sooner.’”
Resist the Urge to Slash-and-Burn
There are typically three ways that banks respond in crisis, according to Joe Zeibert, who started his banking career as an intern at Bank of America Corp. in summer 2008. He recently joined pricing and analytics platform Nomis as managing director of global lending solutions after an 11-year career in banking, and believes history can be a useful indicator here.
“Similar to the financial crisis, we see some banks rushing to innovate who will be ahead of the curve when they get out of the downturn. Others are playing wait and see, and then others are slashing tech and innovation budgets to cut costs wherever they can,” says Zeibert. According to him, the more innovative banks came out of the last crisis better off than their peers that cut tech spending. “They came out of the downturn with a 5-year innovation lead over their competitors — a gap that is almost impossible to close,” he says. Banks now should resist the urge to slash and burn and, instead, focus on investing in technology that will help them emerge from the crisis stronger.
Most technology companies are reporting an influx of inbound interest from banks, and strong momentum on current projects. Fintechs appear to be rising to the occasion, and one sentiment they all seem to share is that it’s their time to give back; to help banks and, as a result, the nation, weather this crisis together.
*All of the companies mentioned in this article are offering new products, expedited implementations or free services to banks during COVID-19. To learn more about them, you can access their profiles in Bank Director’s FinXTech Connect platform.
As banks across the country grapple with market and economic dynamics heavily influenced by COVID-19, or the new coronavirus, separating data from speculation will become difficult.
The duration and ultimate impact of this market is unknowable at this point. The uncertain fallout of the pandemic is impacting previously announced deals and represents one of the biggest threats to future bank M&A activity. It will force dealmakers to rethink risk management in acquisitions and alter the way deals are structured and negotiated.
As we have seen in other times of financial crisis, buyers will become more disciplined and focused on shifting risk to sellers. Both buyers and sellers should preemptively address the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on their business and customers early in the socialization phase of a deal.
We’ve compiled a non-exhaustive list of potential issues that banks should consider when doing deals in this unprecedented time:
- Due Diligence. Due diligence will be more challenging as buyers seek to understand, evaluate and quantify the ways in which the coronavirus will impact the business, earnings and financial condition of the target. Expect the due diligence process to become more robust and protracted than we have seen in recent years.
- Acquisition Funding. Market disruption caused by the virus could compromise the availability and pricing of acquisition financing, including both equity and debt financing alternatives, complicating a buyers’ ability to obtain funding.
- Price Protections. For deals involving publicly traded buyer stock, the seller will likely be more focused on price floors and could place more negotiating emphasis around caps, floors and collars for equity-based consideration. However, we expect those to be difficult to negotiate amid current volatility. Similarly, termination provisions based upon changes in value should also be carefully negotiated.
In a typical transaction, a “double trigger” termination provision may be used, which provides that both a material decline in buyer stock price on an absolute basis (typically between 15% and 20%) and a material decline relative to an appropriate index will give the seller a termination right. Sellers should consider if that protection is adequate, and buyers should push for the ability to increase the purchase price (or number of shares issued in a stock deal) in order to keep the deal together and avoid triggering termination provisions.
- Representations and Warranties. As we have seen in other economic downturns, expect buyers to “tighten up” representations and warranties to ensure all material issues have been disclosed. Likewise, buyers will want to consider including additional representations related to the target business’ continuity processes and other areas that may be impacted by the current pandemic situation. Pre-closing due diligence by buyers will also be more extensive.
- Escrows, Holdbacks and Indemnities. Buyers may require escrows or holdbacks of the merger consideration to indemnify them for unquantifiable/inchoate risk and for breaches of representations and warranties discovered after closing.
- Interim operating covenants. Interim operating covenants that require the seller to operate in the ordinary course of business to protect the value of their franchises are standard provisions in bank M&A agreements. In this environment we see many banks deferring interest and principal payments to borrowers and significantly cutting rates on deposits. Sellers will need some flexibility to make needed changes in order to adapt to rapidly changing market conditions; buyers will want to ensure such changes do not fundamentally change the balance sheet and earnings outlook for the seller. Parties to the agreement will need focus on the current realities and develop reasonable compromises on interim operating covenants.
- Investment Portfolios and AOCI. The impact of the rate cuts has created significant unrealized gains in most bank’s investment portfolio. The impact of large gains and fluctuations in value in investment securities portfolios will also come into focus in deal structure consideration. Many deals have minimum equity delivery requirements; market volatility in the investment portfolio could result in significant swings in shareholders’ equity calculations and impact pricing.
- MAC Clauses. Material Adverse Change (MAC) definitions should be carefully negotiated to capture or exclude impacts of the coronavirus as appropriate. Buyers may insist that MAC clauses capture COVID-19 and other pandemic risks in order to provide them an opportunity to terminate and walk away if the target’s business is disproportionally affected by this pandemic.
- Fiduciary Duty Outs. Fiduciary duty out provisions should also be carefully negotiated. While there are many variations of fiduciary duty outs, expect to see more focus on these provisions, particularly around the ability of the target’s board to change its recommendation and terminate because of an “intervening event” rather than exclusively because of a superior proposal. Likewise, buyers will likely become more focused on break-up fees and expense reimbursements when these provisions are triggered.
- Regulatory approvals. The regulatory approval process could also become more challenging and take longer than normal as banking regulators become more concerned about credit quality deterioration and pro forma capitalization of the merged banks in an unprecedented and deteriorating economic environment. Buyer should also consider including a robust termination right for regulatory approvals with “burdensome conditions” that would adversely affect the combined organization.
While bank M&A may be challenging in the current environment, we believe that ample strategic opportunities will ultimately arise, particularly for cash buyers that can demonstrate patience. Credit marks will be complex if the current uncertainty continues, but valuable franchises may be available at attractive prices in the near future.
What might the second half of 2019 bring for bank mergers and acquisitions (M&A)?
The favorable drivers in the first half of 2019 — the regulatory landscape, enhanced earnings as a result of tax reform, desire for scale and efficiency, and the search for digital capabilities — will likely continue to be the catalysts for bank M&A activity in the second half of 2019. While the market has not seen a spike in the bank M&A deal volume, overall deal values continue to rise because of a few large transactions, including mergers with price tags of a $28 billion and a $3.6 billion. The following trends and drivers are expected to continue to have an impact on banking M&A activity in the second half of 2019 and beyond.
Intensifying Battle for Secured Customer Deposit Bases
U.S. banks’ deposit costs rose far more quickly than loan yields in the first quarter of 2019; further increases in deposit costs may prevent net interest margins from expanding in 2019. As the competition for deposits intensifies, buyers are increasingly looking for banks with a secured deposit base, especially those with a significant percentage. Moreover, as deposit betas accelerate — even as the Federal Open Market Committee slows rate hikes — it becomes more difficult for banks to grow deposits.
With the largest banks attempting to grow their deposit market share via organic customer growth, the regional and super regional banks are trying to develop similar presences through acquisitions. Banks that can navigate this rate environment ably should emerge as better-positioned acquirers via their stock currency, or sellers through the attractiveness of their funding base.
Favorable Regulatory Environment
Dodd-Frank regulations have eased over the past 12 months, increasing the threshold for added oversight and scrutiny from $50 billion in assets to $250 billion. Easing bank regulations and tax reforms that create surplus capital could continue driving regional and super regional consolidation. Moreover, banks with $250 billion to $700 billion in assets may continue to benefit in the second half of 2019 from a more-favorable regulatory landscape.
MOE’s Potential Change on the Competitive Landscape
There were a couple of mergers of equals (MOE) in the first half of 2019 that were welcomed by investors — an indication that the industry could be likely to see a rise in the volume of larger transactions in 2019. Regional banks that miss the MOE wave in the near term may soon find themselves without a “partner” after the initial wave of acquisitions occurs.
As the banks pressure-test their MOE strategy, the key may be to find a partner with strategic overlap to drive the synergies and justify the purchase price premium yet also provide an opportunity for growth and geographic footprint. Furthermore, unlike smaller tuck-ins, MOE requires additional strategic diligence and capabilities. This includes the ability to successfully integrate and scale capabilities, the ability to cross-sell to newly acquired segments, the ability to consolidate branches in overlapping markets and integrating divergent management processes and culture.
The Hunt for Digital Capabilities
Evolving consumer wants and the table stake needed to provide an integrated digital ecosystem are compelling many bank executives to differentiate themselves via technology and digital channels growth. Investors typically place a premium on digital-forward banks, driving up multiples for banks with efficient ecosystems of digital capabilities. The hunt for digital capabilities may provide an opportunity to not only add scale, but also transform legacy banks into agile, digital-first banks of the future.
Bank boards and executives should remain cognizant of above trends as they progress through their strategic M&A planning. Their resulting decisions — to be buyer, seller or an observer on the sidelines — may shape bank M&A activity in the second half of 2019 and into 2020.
Moreover, while the banks continue to assess the potential impact of the current expected credit loss (CECL) standard, the general market consensus is CECL may require a capital charge. As such, M&A credit due diligence should be treated as an investment in reducing future losses, even though the loan quality is currently viewed as benign. Successfully driving value from acquisitions while mitigating risks requires a focused lens on M&A strategy with the right set of tools, teams and processes to perform due diligence, execute and integrate as needed.
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By this point in 2019, most consumers and companies are somewhat familiar with the concept of artificial intelligence. Executives and consultants have discussed its application in financial services for years; lately, the conversations have been brisk and some organizations are doing more than just talking. Many tangible AI use cases have emerged at financial institutions of all sizes over the last 12 months, and intelligent technology is beginning to make an impact on banks’ productivity and bottom lines.
Still, AI remains a largely abstract concept for many institutions. Some of the biggest challenges these banks face in preparing and executing an AI strategy starts with having a too-narrow definition of these technologies.
Technically, AI is the ability of machines to use complex algorithms to learn to do tasks that are traditionally performed by humans. It is often misrepresented or misunderstood in broader explanations as a wider range of automation technologies — technologies that would be more appropriately characterized as robotics or voice recognition, for example.
Banks interested in using intelligent automation, which includes AI, robotic process automation, and other smart technologies, should target areas that could benefit the most through operational efficiencies or speed up their digital transformation.
Banks are more likely to achieve their automation goals if executives shift their mindsets toward thinking about ways they can apply smart technologies throughout the institution. Intelligent automation leverages multiple technologies to achieve efficiency. Some examples include:
- Using imaging technology to extract data from electronic images. For example, banks can use optical character recognition, or OCR, technology to extract information from invoices or loan applications, shortening the completion time and minimizing errors.
- Robotic process automation, or RPA, to handle high-volume, repeatable manual tasks. Many institutions, including community banks with $180 million in assets up to the largest institutions in the world have leveraged RPA to reduce merger costs, bundle loans for sale and close inactive credit and debit cards.
- Machine learning or AI to simulate human cognition and expedite problem solving. These applications can be used in areas ranging from customer service interactions to sophisticated back-office processes. Some industry reports estimate that financial institutions can save $1 trillion within the next few years through AI optimization. Several large banks have debuted their own virtual assistants or chatbots; other financial institutions are following suit by making it easier and more convenient for customers to transact on the go.
What are next steps for banks interested in using AI? Banks first need to identify the right use cases for their organization, evaluating and prioritizing them by feasibility and business need. It’s more effective to start with small projects and learn from them. Conduct due diligence to fully assess each project’s complexity, and plan to build interactively. Start moving away from thinking about robots replacing employees, and start considering how banking smarter – not harder – can play out in phases.