2023 Bank M&A Survey: Complete Results

Bank Director’s 2023 Bank M&A Survey, sponsored by Crowe LLP, surveyed 250 independent directors, chief executives, chief financial officers and other senior executives of U.S. banks below $100 billion in assets to examine current growth strategies, particularly M&A. The survey was conducted in September 2022, and primarily represents banks under $10 billion in assets. Members of the Bank Services program have exclusive access to the full results of the survey, including breakouts by asset category.

Despite a significant decline in announced deals in 2022, the survey finds that acquisitions are still part of the long-term strategy for most institutions. Of these prospective buyers, 39% believe their bank is likely to acquire another financial institution by the end of 2023, down from 48% in last year’s survey who believed they could make a deal by the end of 2022.

Less than half of respondents say their board and management team would be open to selling the bank over the next five years. Many point to being closely held, or think that their shareholders and communities would be better served if the bank continues as an independent entity. “We obviously would exercise our fiduciary responsibilities to our shareholders, but we feel strongly about remaining a locally owned and managed community bank,” writes the CEO of a small private bank below $500 million in assets.

And there’s a significant mismatch on price that prohibits deals from getting done. Forty-three
percent of prospective buyers indicate they’d pay 1.5 times tangible book value for a target meeting their acquisition strategy; 22% would pay more. Of respondents indicating they’d be open to selling their institution, 70% would seek a price above that number.

Losses in bank security portfolios during the second and third quarters have affected that divide, as sellers don’t want to take a lower price for a temporary loss. But the fact remains that buyers paid a median 1.55 times tangible book in 2022, based on S&P data through Oct. 12, and a median 1.53 times book in 2021.

Click here to view the complete results.

Key Findings

Focus On Deposits
Reflecting the rising rate environment, 58% of prospective acquirers point to an attractive deposit base as a top target attribute, up significantly from 36% last year. Acquirers also value a complementary culture (57%), locations in growing markets (51%), efficiency gains (51%), talented lenders and lending teams (46%), and demonstrated loan growth (44%). Suitable targets appear tough to find for prospective acquirers: Just one-third indicate that there are a sufficient number of targets to drive their growth strategy.

Why Sell?
Of respondents open to selling their institution, 42% point to an inability to provide a competitive return to shareholders as a factor that could drive a sale in the next five years. Thirty-eight percent cite CEO and senior management succession.

Retaining Talent
When asked about integrating an acquisition, respondents point to concerns about people. Eighty-one percent worry about effectively integrating two cultures, and 68% express concerns about retaining key staff. Technology integration is also a key concern for prospective buyers. Worries about talent become even more apparent when respondents are asked about acquiring staff as a result of in-market consolidation: 47% say their bank actively recruits talent from merged organizations, and another 39% are open to acquiring dissatisfied employees in the wake of a deal.

Economic Anxiety
Two-thirds believe the U.S. is in a recession, but just 30% believe their local markets are experiencing a downturn. Looking ahead to 2023, bankers overall have a pessimistic outlook for the country’s prospects, with 59% expecting a recessionary environment.

Technology Deals
Interest in investing in or acquiring fintechs remains low compared to past surveys. Just 15% say their bank indirectly invested in these companies through one or more venture capital funds in 2021-22. Fewer (1%) acquired a technology company during that time, while 16% believe they could acquire a technology firm by the end of 2023. Eighty-one percent of those banks investing in tech say they want to gain a better understanding of the space; less than half point to financial returns, specific technology improvements or the addition of new revenue streams. Just one-third of these investors believe their investment has achieved its overall goals; 47% are unsure.

Capital to Fuel Growth
Most prospective buyers (85%) feel confident that their bank has adequate access to capital to drive its growth. However, one-third of potential public acquirers believe the valuation of their stock would not be attractive enough to acquire another institution.

2023 Bank M&A Survey Results: Can Buyers and Sellers Come to Terms?

Year after year, Bank Director’s annual M&A surveys find a wide disparity between the executives and board members who want to acquire a bank and those willing to sell one. That divide appears to have widened in 2022, with the number of announced deals dropping to 130 as of Oct. 12, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. That contrasts sharply with 206 transactions announced in 2021 and an average of roughly 258 annually in the five years before the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

Prospective buyers, it seems, are having a tough time making the M&A math work these days. And prospective sellers express a preference for continued independence if they can’t garner the price they feel their owners deserve in a deal.

Bank Director’s 2023 Bank M&A Survey, sponsored by Crowe LLP, finds that acquisitions are still part of the long-term strategy for most institutions, with responding directors and senior executives continuing to point to scale and geographic expansion as the primary drivers for M&A. Of these prospective buyers, 39% believe their bank is likely to acquire another financial institution by the end of 2023, down from 48% in last year’s survey who believed they could make a deal by the end of 2022.

“Our stock valuation makes us a very competitive buyer; however, you can only buy what is for sale,” writes the independent chair of a publicly-traded, Northeastern bank. “With the current regulatory environment and risks related to rising interest rates and recession, we believe more banks without scale will decide to sell but the old adage still applies: ‘banks are sold, not bought.’”

Less than half of respondents to the survey, which was conducted in September, say their board and management team would be open to selling the bank over the next five years. Many point to being closely held, or think that their shareholders and communities would be better served if the bank continues as an independent entity. “We obviously would exercise our fiduciary responsibilities to our shareholders, but we feel strongly about remaining a locally owned and managed community bank,” writes the CEO of a small private bank below $500 million in assets.

And there’s a significant mismatch on price that prohibits deals from getting done. Forty-three percent of prospective buyers indicate they’d pay 1.5 times tangible book value for a target meeting their acquisition strategy; 22% would pay more. Of respondents indicating they’d be open to selling their institution, 70% would seek a price above that number.

Losses in bank security portfolios during the second and third quarters have affected that divide, as sellers don’t want to take a lower price for a temporary loss. But the fact remains that buyers paid a median 1.55 times tangible book in 2022, based on S&P data through Oct. 12, and a median 1.53 times book in 2021.

Key Findings

Focus On Deposits
Reflecting the rising rate environment, 58% of prospective acquirers point to an attractive deposit base as a top target attribute, up significantly from 36% last year. Acquirers also value a complementary culture (57%), locations in growing markets (51%), efficiency gains (51%), talented lenders and lending teams (46%), and demonstrated loan growth (44%). Suitable targets appear tough to find for prospective acquirers: Just one-third indicate that there are a sufficient number of targets to drive their growth strategy.

Why Sell?
Of respondents open to selling their institution, 42% point to an inability to provide a competitive return to shareholders as a factor that could drive a sale in the next five years. Thirty-eight percent cite CEO and senior management succession.

Retaining Talent
When asked about integrating an acquisition, respondents point to concerns about people. Eighty-one percent worry about effectively integrating two cultures, and 68% express concerns about retaining key staff. Technology integration is also a key concern for prospective buyers. Worries about talent become even more apparent when respondents are asked about acquiring staff as a result of in-market consolidation: 47% say their bank actively recruits talent from merged organizations, and another 39% are open to acquiring dissatisfied employees in the wake of a deal.

Economic Anxiety
Two-thirds believe the U.S. is in a recession, but just 30% believe their local markets are experiencing a downturn. Looking ahead to 2023, bankers overall have a pessimistic outlook for the country’s prospects, with 59% expecting a recessionary environment.

Technology Deals
Interest in investing in or acquiring fintechs remains low compared to past surveys. Just 15% say their bank indirectly invested in these companies through one or more venture capital funds in 2021-22. Fewer (1%) acquired a technology company during that time, while 16% believe they could acquire a technology firm by the end of 2023. Eighty-one percent of those banks investing in tech say they want to gain a better understanding of the space; less than half point to financial returns, specific technology improvements or the addition of new revenue streams. Just one-third of these investors believe their investment has achieved its overall goals; 47% are unsure.

Capital To Fuel Growth
Most prospective buyers (85%) feel confident that their bank has adequate access to capital to drive its growth. However, one-third of potential public acquirers believe the valuation of their stock would not be attractive enough to acquire another institution.

To view the high-level findings, click here.

Bank Services members can access a deeper exploration of the survey results. Members can click here to view the complete results, broken out by asset category and other relevant attributes. If you want to find out how your bank can gain access to this exclusive report, contact bankservices@bankdirector.com.

Top Priorities for Compensation Committees Today

The compensation landscape in banking is constantly evolving, and compensation committees must evolve with it. We want to highlight three priorities for bank compensation committees today: the rising cost of talent, the uncertain economic environment, and the link between environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues and human capital and compensation.

The Rising Cost of Talent
The always-fierce competition for top banking talent has intensified in recent years, especially in certain pockets like digital, payments and commercial banking. Banks are using a variety of approaches to compete in this market and make their compensation and benefits programs more attractive, including special one-time cash bonuses or equity awards, larger annual or off-cycle salary increases, flexible work arrangements and other enhanced benefits.

In evaluating these alternative approaches, compensation committees must weigh the value each offers to employees compared to the cost to the bank and its shareholders. For example, increasing salaries provides near-term value to employees but results in additional fixed costs. Special equity awards that vest over multiple years provide less near-term value to employees but represent a one-time expense and are more retentive.

We expect the “hot” talent market, combined with inflation, to continue applying upward pressure on compensation. However, the recent rate of increase in compensation levels is untenable over the long-term, particularly in the current uncertain economic environment. Banks will need to optimize other benefits, such as work-life balance and professional development opportunities, to attract and retain top talent.

The Uncertain Economic Outlook
In 2021, many banks had strong earnings as the quicker-than-expected economic recovery allowed them to reverse their loan loss provisions from 2020. As a result, many banks could afford to pay significantly higher incentives for 2021’s performance than they did for 2020’s performance. The performance outlook for 2022 is unclear. Inflation, rising interest rates and macroeconomic uncertainty will impact bank performance results in 2022. Results will likely vary significantly from bank to bank, based on the institution’s business mix and balance sheet makeup.

Compensation committees will need to consider how the push and pull of these factors impact financial results and, as a result, incentive payouts. Some compensation committees may need to consider adjusting payouts to recognize the quantifiable financial impact of unanticipated conditions outside of management’s control, like the Federal Reserve’s aggressive interest rate increases. Banks may find it harder to quantify the financial impact of other economic conditions, like inflation. As a result, many compensation committees may find it more effective to use discretion to align incentive compensation with their overall view of performance.
Bank compensation committees considering using discretion to adjust incentive payouts for 2022 should follow three principles:

1. Be consistent: Apply discretion when macroeconomic factors negatively or positively impact financial results.
2. Align final payouts with performance and profitability.
3. Clearly communicate rationale to participants and shareholders.

Compensation committees at public banks should also be aware of potential criticism from shareholders or proxy advisory firms. The challenge for compensation committees will be balancing these principles with the business need to retain key employees in a tight labor market.

ESG and the Compensation Committee
Bank boards are spending more and more time thinking about their bank’s ESG strategies. The role of many compensation committees has expanded to include oversight of ESG issues related to human capital, such as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Employees, regulators and shareholders are increasingly paying attention to DEI practices and policies of banks. In response, many large banks have announced public objectives for increasing diversity and establishing cultures of equity and inclusion.

In an attempt to motivate action and progress, compensation committees are also considering whether ESG metrics have a place in incentive plans. In recent years, the largest banks have disclosed that they are considering progress against DEI objectives in determining incentive compensation for executives. Most of these banks disclose evaluating DEI on a qualitative basis, as part of a holistic discretionary assessment or as part of an individual or strategic component of the annual incentive plan. Banks considering adopting a DEI metric or other ESG metrics should do so because the metric is a critical part of the business strategy, rather than to “check the box.” Human capital is a critical asset in banking; many banks may find that DEI is an important part of their business strategy. For these banks, including a DEI metric can be a powerful way to signal to employees and shareholders that DEI is a focus for the bank.

The Return of the Credit Cycle

It has been like waiting for the second shoe to fall.

The first shoe was the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced the U.S. economy into lockdown mode in March 2020. Many banks prepared for an expected credit apocalypse by setting up big reserves for future loan losses — and those anticipated losses were the second shoe. Sure enough, the economy shrank 31.4% in the second quarter of 2020 as the lockdown took hold, but the expected loan losses never materialized. The economy quickly rebounded the following quarter – growing an astonishing 38% — and the feared economic apocalypse never occurred.

In fact, two and a half years later, that second shoe still hasn’t dropped. To this day, the industry’s credit performance since the beginning of the pandemic has been uncommonly good. According to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence, net charge-offs (which is the difference between gross charge-offs and any subsequent recoveries) for the entire industry were an average of 23 basis points for 2021. Through the first six months of 2022, net charge-offs were just 10 basis points.

Surprisingly, the industry’s credit quality has remained strong even though U.S. economic growth was slightly negative in the first and second quarters of 2022. The Bureau of Economic Analysis, which tracks changes in the country’s gross domestic product, had yet to release a preliminary third quarter number when this article published. However, using its own proprietary model, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta estimated in early October that U.S. GDP in the third quarter would come in at 2.9%.

This would suggest that the industry’s strong credit performance will continue for the foreseeable future. But an increasing number of economists are anticipating that the U.S. economy will enter a recession in 2023 as a series of aggressive rate increases this year by the Federal Reserve to lower inflation will eventually lead to an economic downturn. And this could render a significant change in the industry’s credit outlook, leading to what many analysts refer to as a “normalization of credit.”

So why has bank loan quality remained so good for so long, despite a bumpy economy in 2022? And when it finally comes, what would the normalization of credit look like?

Answering the first question is easy. The federal government responded to the pandemic with two major stimulus programs – the $2.2 trillion CARES Act during President Donald Trump’s administration, which included the Paycheck Protection Program, and the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act during President Joe Biden’s administration — both which pumped a massive amount of liquidity into the U.S. economy.

At the same time, the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee cut the federal funds rate from 1.58% in February 2020 to 0.05% in April, and also launched its quantitative easing policy, which injected even more liquidity into the economy through an enormous bond buying program. Combined, these measures left both households and businesses in excellent shape when the U.S. economy rebounded strongly in the third quarter of 2020.

“You had on one hand, just a spectacularly strong policy response that flooded the economy with money,” says R. Scott Siefers, a managing director and senior research analyst at the investment bank Piper Sandler & Co. “But No. 2, the economy really evolved very quickly on its own, such that businesses and individuals were able to adapt and change to circumstances [with the pandemic] very quickly. When you combine those two factors together, not only did we not see the kind of losses that one might expect when you take the economy offline for some period of time, we actually created these massive cushions of savings and liquidity for both individuals and businesses.”

The second question — what would a normalized credit environment look like? — is harder to answer. Ebrahim Poonawala, who heads up North American bank research at Bank of America Securities, says the bank’s economists are forecasting that the U.S. economy will enter a relatively mild recession in 2023 from the cumulative effects of four rate increases by the Federal Reserve — including three successive hikes of 75 basis points each, bringing the target rate in September to 3.25%. The federal funds rate could hit 4.4% by year-end if inflation remains high, and 4.6% by the end of 2023, based on internal projections by the Federal Reserve.

“There’s obviously a lot of debate around the [likelihood of a] recession today, but generally our view is that we will gradually start seeing [a] normalization and higher credit losses next year, even if it were not for an outright recession,” Poonawala says. While a normalized loss rate would vary from bank to bank depending on the composition of its loan portfolio, Poonawala says a reasonable expectation for the industry’s annualized net charge-off rate would be somewhere between 40 and 50 basis points.

That would be in line with the six-year period from 2014 through 2020, when annual net charge-offs for the industry never rose above 49 basis points. And while loan quality has been exceptional coming out of the pandemic, that six-year stretch was also remarkably good — and remarkably stable. And it’s no coincidence that it coincides with a period when interest rates were at historically low levels. For example, the federal funds rate in January 2014 was just 7 basis points, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’ FRED online database. The rate would eventually peak at 2.4% in July 2019 before dropping back to 1.55% in December of that year when the Federal Reserve began cutting rates to juice a sagging economy. And yet by historical standards, a federal funds rate of even 2.4% is low.

Did this sustained low interest rate environment help keep loan losses low during that six-year run? Siefers believes so. “I don’t think there’s any question that cheap borrowing costs were, and have been, a major factor,” he says.

If interest rates do approach 4.6% in 2023 — which would raise the debt service costs for many commercial borrowers — and if the economy does tip into a mild recession, the industry’s loan losses could well exceed the recent high point of 49 basis points.

“There is a case to be made that a recession could look a bit more like the 2001-02 [downturn] in the aftermath of the dot-com bubble [bursting],” says Poonawala. “You saw losses, but it was an earnings hit for the banks. It wasn’t a capital event.”

That recession lasted just eight months and the decline in GDP from peak to trough was just 0.3%, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. The industry’s net charge-off ratio rose to an average of 107 basis points in 2002 before dropping to 86 basis points in 2003, 59 basis points in 2004 and bottoming out at 39 basis points in 2006.

This same cyclical pattern repeated itself in 2008 — the first year of the financial crisis – when the average net charge-off rate was 1.30%. The rate would peak at 2.67% in 2010 before declining to 68 basis points in 2013 as the economy gradually recovered.

When we talk about the normalization of credit, what we’re really talking about is the return of the normal credit cycle, where loan losses rise and fall with the cyclical contraction and expansion of the economy. Banks have experienced something akin to a credit nirvana since 2014, but it looks like the credit cycle will reappear in 2023 — aided and abetted by higher interest rates and an economic downturn.

How Technology Fosters Economic Opportunity and Success

Is your bank promoting financial literacy and wellness within the communities you serve?

The answer to that question may be the key to your bank’s future. For many community financial institutions, promoting financial wellness among historically underserved populations is directly linked to fostering resilience for individuals, institutions and communities.

Consider this: 7 million households in the United States didn’t have a bank account in 2019, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.; and up to 20 million others are underserved by the current financial system. Inequities persist along racial, geographical and urban lines, indicating an opportunity for local institutions to make an impact.

Many have already stepped up. According to the Banking Impact Report, which was conducted by Wakefield Research and commissioned by MANTL, 55% of consumers said that community financial institutions are more adept at providing access to underrepresented communities than neobanks, regional banks or megabanks. In the same study, nearly all executives at community institutions reported providing a loan to a small business owner who had been denied by a larger bank. And 90% said that their institution either implemented or planned to implement a formal program for financial inclusion of underserved groups.

Technology like online account origination can play a critical role in bringing these initiatives to life. Many forward-thinking institutions are actively creating tools and programs to turn access into opportunity — helping even their most vulnerable customers participate more meaningfully in the local economy.

One institution, 115-year-old Midwest BankCentre based in St. Louis, is all-in when it comes to inclusion. The bank partnered with MANTL to launch online deposit origination and provide customers with convenient access to market-leading financial products at competitive rates.

Midwest BankCentre has also committed $200 million to fostering community and economic development through 2025, with a focus on nonprofits, faith-based institutions, community development projects and small businesses for the benefit ofr historically disinvested communities. The bank offers free online financial education to teach customers about money basics, loans and payments, buying a home and paying for college, among others.

Midwest BankCentre executives estimate that $95 out of every $100 deposited locally stays in the St. Louis region; these dollars circulate six times throughout the regional economy.

In a study conducted in partnership with Washington University in St. Louis, researchers found that Midwest Bank Centre’s financial education classes created an additional $7.1 million in accumulated wealth in local communities while providing critical knowledge for household financial stability.

“When you work with a community banker, you are working with a neighbor, friend, or the person sitting next to you at your place of worship,” says Danielle Bateman Girondo, executive vice president of marketing at Midwest BankCentre. “Our customers often become our friends, and there’s a genuine sense of trust and mutual respect. Put simply, it’s difficult to have that type of relationship, flexibility, or vested interest at a big national bank.”

What about first-time entrepreneurs? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 33% of small businesses fail within 2 years. By year 10, 66.3% have failed.

Helping first-time entrepreneurs benefits everyone. Banks would gather more deposits and make more loans. Communities would flourish as more dollars circulate in the local economy. And individuals with more paths to economic independence would prosper.

For Midwest BankCentre, one part of the solution was to launch a Small Business Academy in March 2021, which provides practical education to help small businesses access capital to grow and scale.

The program was initially launched with 19 small businesses participating in the bank’s partnership with Ameren Corp., the region’s energy utility, with a particular focus on the utility’s diverse suppliers. And 14 small business owners and influencers participated in the bank’s partnership with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro St. Louis. Midwest BankCentre teaches small businesses how to “think like a banker” to gain easier access to capital by understanding their financial statements and the key ratios.

Efforts like these might explain why, according to the Banking Impact Report, 69% of Hispanic small business owners and 77% of non-white small business owners believe it’s important that their bank supports underserved communities. Accordingly, non-white small businesses are significantly more likely to open a new account at a community bank or credit union: 70%, compared to 47% of white small businesses.

This can be a clear differentiator for a community bank: a competitive advantage in a crowded marketplace.

For today’s community banks, economic empowerment isn’t a zero-sum game; it’s a force multiplier. With the right strategies in place, it can be a winning proposition for the communities and markets within your institution’s sphere of influence.

Choosing BOLI as a Long-Term Asset

The keys to a bank’s success include its understanding of risk management, its approach to long-term planning and the lifelong relationships it develops with customers. 

A vital consideration for bank management teams when selecting financial products and services is a like-minded alignment and shared approach to planning for risks that span decades, not quarters. As bankers diligently work with borrowers and customers, these turbulent times reaffirm a bank’s decision to acquire a valuable long-term asset: bank-owned life insurance, or BOLI.


Many bank executives and directors view BOLI as an asset that remains on their balance sheet for decades. It’s a sizable asset for many banks. While the average BOLI contract at MassMutual is around $3 million, we work with many clients with larger policies. 

And because it’s a long-term decision, selecting a competitively priced product from a financially strong carrier helps ensure asset quality. This can provide bank boards with the assurance that their BOLI product is stable and that their carrier has the financial strength necessary to pay a market-competitive crediting rate at a time when banks need it most.

Demonstrated Commitment

Stability in the BOLI business is a strength; banks need their insurance carriers’ commitment to the BOLI market to be unwavering. During volatile economic times, the long-term commitment and stability of your BOLI provider can be a key asset for your bank.

As bank management evaluates which companies to work with, some of the considerations should include:

Longevity: How long has the insurer been continuously active in this space and across market cycles?

Service commitment: What types of servicing protocols are in place for existing clients, and how are advisor relationships supported?

Values: Does the insurer share similar values as the bank, and how does it demonstrate those values through community involvement and investment?

Investment Philosophy Underpins Stability

Boards have an obligation to govern and supervise their BOLI holdings, as well as the insurers with which they do business. Selecting a BOLI carrier is a vote of confidence in that firm’s long-term portfolio management and risk management philosophy.  It is incumbent that boards focus on their BOLI insurer’s approach to underwriting and its underlying long-term investment philosophy.

We believe the mutual company structure naturally gives MassMutual a long-term perspective when it comes to planning and investing, as we focus on economic value and not short-term stock prices.

The uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic provides insight into how an insurer’s investment strategy performs in a volatile market. When it comes to due diligence on BOLI carriers, credit ratings are a great place to start. But directors should also look at the insurer’s capital levels, liquidity and financial cushion. 

To meet long-term commitments, insurers must follow an appropriate asset-liability matching program, while achieving attractive portfolio returns to back customer obligations. An insurer’s general investment account should be well diversified and managed with a long-term view that withstands short-term fluctuations in asset values.  Even in the most volatile market conditions, your bank’s BOLI provider should be positioned to meet the needs of those who rely on them. 

In view of today’s economic uncertainty, we understand BOLI may not be top of mind for directors and banks.  However, it’s important to understand the differences and nuances when it comes to BOLI management and investment. 

Evaluating and aligning with companies that share a similar approach to risk management, long-term commitment and sound investment philosophy have proven to pay dividends over the long term. While post-pandemic planning may be hard to conceptualize, banks operate and run for the long term, and should consider relationships with companies that feel the same.

Insurance products issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001. 

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