Preparing for Bank M&A in a Sluggish Environment

While bank merger and acquisitions activity in the U.S. is at historic lows — the slowest pace since 2009 — there are deals getting done. Additionally, banks are positioning themselves for when the market improves.

Until then, the deals that are getting done are in “slow motion” from conception to conclusion. Parties are taking longer to come to pricing terms and buyers are digging deeper into diligence. In some cases, the regulatory approval timeline has increased, particularly if a seller has any “hair” on it or the buyer is “nontraditional,” such as an investor group, fintech or credit union, which can invite increased regulatory scrutiny.

If your institution is looking to participate in today’s M&A market, you should be aware of the increased importance to protect yourself and the transaction during a possibly lengthy process.

Employee Retention
When a deal is announced, the seller’s employees become understandably nervous about their uncertain job future. Longer deal times create greater risk that key employees will leave, damaging the seller’s franchise value. Sellers and buyers should work together to implement strategies like retention bonuses to keep essential talent on board through closing or data conversion. Engaged and motivated employees will contribute to a smooth post-merger integration, better ensuring customer retention at closing.

Termination Fees
Termination fees in bank M&A transactions are payable in rare instances where the seller accepts a superior offer after a deal is announced. A definitive agreement may also provide that liquated damages be paid if a party willfully breaches the definitive agreement. Due to the increased regulatory risk when attempting to partner with nontraditional buyers, sellers should also consider negotiating a break-up fee if a transaction does not receive regulatory approval or if there are burdensome conditions attached to the approval. While generally not a standard item in bank-to-bank transactions, we have seen sellers successfully negotiate material termination fees with nontraditional buyers.

Transaction Expenses/Data Deconversion Fees
In many transactions, each party is responsible for its own expenses related to the transaction, such as legal, accounting and financial advisor fees. Another common expense is data conversion or deconversion fees, which are charges incurred when switching from the seller’s core processing system to the buyer’s platform. While closing conditions pertaining to closing equity may have an effect of putting these onto the buyer, if transaction never closes, the seller is typically stuck with these costs. To the extent a seller is responsible to pay these items prior to closing, they should consider negotiating a reimbursement of these expenses if the transaction is terminated.

Deposit Levels/Run-Off
With the tightening of deposits in the banking sector, financial institutions are increasingly fighting to keep and gain deposits. Unsurprisingly, deposits are a key factor in today’s M&A environment.

We are seeing more buyers requiring the seller to maintain a minimum deposit level as a condition to closing, as a way to ensure the buyer is “getting what it’s paying for.” If the deposit level fall below the minimum, the buyer has a right to terminate and walk away from the deal. Longer closing windows create greater risk for deposit run-off between signing and closing, especially in today’s hyper-competitive environment. Run-off can occur for many reasons outside of the seller’s control, such as the customer’s concerns about changes in the buyer’s policies and fees, loyalty to local institutions, market competition or a general unfamiliarity with the new institution or buyer. Sellers should keep these factors in mind when negotiating the level of any required deposit minimums; buyers should be aware that this will likely be a sensitive point for sellers.

Transition Matters
While a buyer is prohibited by the regulators from exerting control over the seller before the transaction closes, practically speaking, the parties will begin preparing ahead of time for a smooth operational transition. For example, buyers often will want to speak to employees to assess post-closing employment, install equipment at the seller’s branches, train seller’s employees on the buyer’s systems or enter into data sharing arrangements.

Some sellers have voiced concerns that longer closing time frames give more opportunities for buyers to “lean in” to the selling bank, leading to frustrations. Buyers and sellers should understand that the engagement period may be longer than expected and should be thoughtful on how to approach transition matters, while not causing undue disruption at the seller’s operations.

Even in today’s environment, deals can get done, but parties must understand the elevated risks and plan accordingly.

3 Steps to Unlock a People-First Work Culture

We all know how hard it is to attract and retain top talent in the competitive community bank market. The challenge is even more acute today, considering how macroeconomic conditions have changed during the past several months.

Investing in your bank’s culture can help it achieve growth and attract top talent. As a chief human resources officer, I have seen the value of creating and maintaining an agile, people-first work culture. Its daily contribution to operational effectiveness is enormous and serves as a stabilizing and steady force even in the face of external obstacles.

The High Cost of Employee Dissatisfaction
The cost of overlooking employee engagement and turnover can be significant. Gallup found that the cost of replacing a disengaged individual employee can range from half to two times the employee’s annual salary. Meanwhile, research has found that companies with the most engaged employees were 22% more profitable than those with the least.

Signs of disengagement can include slow working tempo, lack of interest in work, being easily distracted and minimal output. Additionally, disengaged employees often possess negative attitudes about their work and organization, which can hurt the productivity and morale of your other employees — not to mention your bottom line.

Three Stages of Culture Development
To avoid the cost and hassle of recruiting new talent, while maintaining an excellent relationship with your current employees, consider these three key points to create an agile, people-first company culture: Know Your Purpose, Know Your People, and Build Your Culture.

Know Your Purpose
Define your bank’s culture so that it becomes your North Star. Start by establishing new core values or refreshing existing ones. Conduct a thorough analysis to identify what values you want your employees to demonstrate, within the context of what is most important to your bank and to your community. This approach can provide your team with a specific direction to anchor expectations and an actionable road map for employee behaviors.

It is also important to recognize and acknowledge appropriate behaviors. These actions help reinforce and speed up the adoption of the culture you hope to build. Establishing a system of core values also helps serve as a guideline for the type of individual you want to hire and who you want to promote.

Know Your People
The needs of employees constantly evolve, especially during major macroeconomic events such as a recession or the recent pandemic. There are easy ways to regularly gauge your employees’ moods and attitudes. For example, a comprehensive semiannual employee survey can provide feedback about what is working, what is not and what can be done better. This information allows executives to see whether the culture is being embraced and internalized, and allows you to quickly address any unfavorable emerging trends.

Taking the time to build relationships with your employees and getting to know them on a personal level can also yield beneficial cultural impacts. Authentic connections between individual contributors and their senior leaders can forge a powerful “in it together” perspective that can increase employee satisfaction and spirit. Employees who feel respected, heard and seen can become personal ambassadors of your bank’s culture within your institution and community.

Build Your Culture
Offering programs, perks and experiences that matter to your employees is an essential component of successful engagement. There is no shortage of options, even if your budget and resources are limited. All it takes is a bit of research, a little creativity and some thoughtful planning.

To help spark your own imagination, here are several recent programs and initiatives that BHG Financial has introduced to enhance its work culture — many of which came from our employees’ feedback in surveys and other engagements. Recent BHG Financial programs include:

  • Transitioned to a permanent hybrid workforce with employees across the country.
  • Launched BHG Pulse, a program focused on the physical, emotional, social, financial and occupational well-being of our employees.
  • Introduced Wellness Weekends, which gives all employees get one Friday off each month to refresh and recharge. It has quickly become our team’s favorite benefit, while maintaining and enhancing productivity.
  • Created “Women in Tech,” our first employee resource group that provides training, connections and support to women within the tech industry.
  • Introduced BHG Together, a diversity, equity and inclusion program that provides monthly support, celebration and training.
  • Offered BHG LEAD, which provides employees with actionable steps they can take to become better leaders and grow their BHG careers.

Building your institution’s culture takes time. There may be highs and lows, but if you prioritize listening to and engaging within your team, you will persevere. We call this principle “winning together” — all oars rowing the same boat in the same direction.

5 Ways to Keep and Attract Commercial Clients

It’s no longer enough for banks to provide clients with standard products and services. Clients are constantly looking for differentiators when deciding which financial institution to trust with their business. Whether your clients are baby boomers preparing for retirement or millennials interested in purchasing their first home, everyone wants their bank to make them feel special.

When implementing any initiative, strategic marketing is key. Your clients need to be aware of, and excited by, your incentives — one benefit can set your institution apart from competitors. Below are five benefits for banks to consider.

1. Partner With Other Companies
Partnering with other companies like gas stations, grocery stores and retail brands gives you a way to offer rewards to clients when they purchase their essentials. Plus, your bank will enjoy free marketing and awareness as part of the collaboration. Banks can also increase their trust, credibility and relevance when they partner with businesses that clients already know and use. For example, Bank of America Corp. offers a customizable cash back credit card that offers 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs.

2. Connect Clients to Capital
Often, clients are unaware of programs that can net them working capital, like the Employee Retention Credit (ERC). ERC providers are highly qualified professionals that help clients navigate the ERC process and can work with banks to help their commercial clients collect an average of $400,000. This is another example of an alliance that’s mutually beneficial: Clients gain back money they’re owed, while the bank receives referral commissions from its agreement with a trusted ERC provider. Banks can also benefit from the goodwill built between the institution and the client.

3. Offer a Loyalty Program
A loyalty program can provide clients with compelling, ongoing reasons to continue banking with your institution. Going a step further, your institution can add different tiers of rewards that incentivize clients to take advantage of each initiative. One great aspect of a loyalty program is that banks can customize it according to clients’ unique needs, creating a personalized offering that resonates with them. As an example, Kasasa Cash and Kasasa Cash Back function as a checking account, plus include monthly rewards like exclusive savings at different stores and restaurants.

4. Provide Enrollment Incentives
To encourage potential clients to sign up with your bank, consider offering exclusive rewards only available for new clients. From exclusive discounts to no sign-up fees, there are many ways banks can provide value up front to people deciding between institutions. For example, Citigroup’s Citibank is giving new clients up to $2,000 when they open a checking account by Jan. 9, 2023.

5. Implement Digital Banking
For banks with ample resources, a digital banking app is a great way to further improve your clients’ experience. Providing a more streamlined way for clients to manage their finances allows your bank to create greater value that other institutions may not be able to offer. Digital banking allows clients to interact with your bank wherever they are, at any time. Some features your bank may want to include are:

● Disposable virtual card.
● Credit card transaction disputes.
● Recurring bills.
● Chatbot support.
● Digital account opening.

A Better Model for Leadership Transformation, Succession Planning

Boards at banks that are looking to position themselves for long-term success should consider leveraging a more robust executive assessment process for their senior leadership. This process can provide directors with a well-rounded picture of where their institution is now, along with specific insights to develop leaders, drive results and set up the bank for future succession for key roles.

There are three reasons that banks should consider an assessment tool and coaching with your management team. Many organizations use basic assessment tools when hiring leaders; rarely do organizations implement a more holistic executive development process that leverages the insights an assessment tool provides. But now, more organizations are experiencing the value of pairing an assessment with a leadership development plan that includes third-party coaching. Employing best practices gives top-performing organizations a dynamic executive development model to drive the following outcomes:

1. Succession planning: A strong succession plan identifies key competencies for the banks and the necessary skills for business continuity. The plan allows for focused development that meets the bank’s future business needs. A starting assessment makes development easier. Good assessments will consider an individual’s skills, personality, influence, communication and leadership abilities, plus a development plan that often includes coaching.

2. Retention: Assessments can increase engagement by creating a vision for advancement if they’re used correctly. Leaders who stagnate in a job tend to be more likely to leave. A well-rounded assessment tool can help a board uncover growth opportunities for the team and reveal untapped skills that are useful to the organization.

3. Dynamic leadership: Being your best every day is hard when you do it alone. Performers at every level can use a coach to bring out their best. An initial assessment that provides insight into the individual and team dynamics can fast forward an organization’s financial performance and set up the bank to outperform in the industry.

Assessments at all levels of the bank lead to higher engagement and retention. They can highlight tensions early, so executives and the board can proactively solve them rather than use reactive temporary fixes. But the power of assessment comes from choosing the right tool.

Top Two Mistakes
1. Assessment to check the box: Too many banks use an assessment to produce a label or outline a gap. They present these results to the team without a development plan to close the gaps, and many are left feeling underappreciated and frustrated. In these cases, assessments damage the culture. Good assessments produce data that allows boards to create a plan and take action. A great assessment does this — and then increases the readiness of participants to engage in next steps.

2. Off the shelf tool with no qualitative research component: Have you ever taken an assessment and felt constricted or limited by the way the question was asked? “Are you most like this or less like that”? You want to answer “Yes,” but that isn’t a choice. No employee likes an assessment that is difficult to complete. But at the same time, bank management teams need the quantitative data that is easy to build the big picture. The best assessment tools will combine this quantitative data with qualitative research.

When looking for an assessment tool, consider these components:
Online assessment: A user-friendly online tool can quickly capture personality insights, team dynamics and leadership strengths. Boards should look for a tool that produces insights into both individual strengths and gaps, as well as team communication.

Qualitative research: When using an assessment vendor, be sure to get a sense of their industry knowledge and experience with interviews for assessment.

• Your tools: Rounding out a powerful assessment is the incorporation of tools your bank has already used — anything from performance reviews to grit studies. The final assessment presentation can include data that the bank has previously gathered.

What To Know About BOLI Today

Bank-owned life insurance is a common tool that helps financial institutions offset the costs of employee benefits, and boards should review the BOLI program every year. Steve Marlow and Kelly Earls of Bank Compensation Consulting explain what boards should know about BOLI, including the impact of tax reform.

  • Why Banks Purchase BOLI
  • Evaluating Existing Programs
  • Impact of Bank Size on BOLI Options
  • How Tax Reform Will Affect BOLI

The Resurging Interest in Bank Supplemental Executive Retirement Plans

SERP-4-6-17.pngThe roller coaster ride in banking over the last eight to 10 years took another unexpected turn in November with the election results. The financial sector gained new life, bank stocks soared and community banks began to see the prospect of regulatory relief becoming a reality. Interest in de novo banks has been picking up, and the likelihood of interest rate increases and decent loan demand appear to bode well for banks.

With that as a backdrop, the need to retain key members of a bank’s management team has re-emerged. Loan demand is good, profits are rising, optimism regarding regulatory relief is growing and the need to stabilize the management team of the bank is on the front burner as the talent grab has begun to heat up. Comprehensive compensation plans that serve to retain, reward and appropriately retire management teams are back in the spotlight.

During the financial crisis, many banks maintained salaries, as well as short and long-term incentive plans. Qualified benefit plans were continued, though often temporarily curtailed. But one key element of retention and reward, non-qualified plans, were either terminated, frozen or not introduced at all. Supplemental Executive Retirement Plans, or SERPs, are some of the most common non-qualified plans. Since the financial crisis, SERPs have lately seen a resurgence due to their multi-faceted benefit to both the bank and executive.

Objectives of a SERP

  1. Retirement: Since inception, SERPs were designed to allow the company to provide supplemental benefits to executives whose contributions to traditional qualified plans such as 401ks and profit sharing plans were limited by the Internal Revenue Service or ERISA (The Employment Retirement Income Security Act). For example, the general employee base may be able to retire with 75 to 80 percent of final salary based on income from Social Security and qualified plans while the executive team was retiring at 35 to 45 percent from the same sources. In essence, those executives were discriminated against due to the ERISA and IRS caps. SERPs bridged the gap and allowed for the bank to provide commensurate benefits to key executives.
  2. Retention: SERPs are non-qualified plans. They do not have the restrictions of qualified plans regarding vesting terms. As a result, the bank can structure the terms in the SERP however they desire from a vesting perspective. For example, assume an executive is to receive $60,000 per year for 15 years in a SERP. If in year five, the executive gets an offer from another bank, depending on the plan vesting, the executive may be walking away from all, or a large portion, of their SERP benefit. That’s $900,000 in post-retirement income at risk. This deterrent becomes a “golden handcuff.”
  3. Reward: Banks can use SERPs whose value are determined based on performance measures. There may be a return on equity or return on assets threshold needed to get a minimum percentage of final salary from the SERP. That percentage would grow based on performance measures established in the plan.
  4. Recruiting: SERPs provide the bank a plan that attracts talent. If the target executive is working at an institution that does not provide SERPs, the plan becomes an added attraction to joining your organization.

Other Items of Consideration

Unfunded, unsecured promise to pay: It is important to note that non-qualified plans such as SERPs are balance sheet obligations of the company and must be accrued for under generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). The plan is an unfunded promise to pay by the bank. As a result, if the bank were to fail, the executive would lose his or her benefit. The SERP benefit is often matched up with bank-owned life insurance (BOLI) to provide income to offset the SERP accrual. This is not a formal funding of the plan, but a cost offset.

Top-hat guidelines: Executives participating in a non-qualified plan must qualify under top-hat guidelines as provided under the Department of Labor. These guidelines are murky, and consider position in the organization, compensation, negotiating ability (with the bank) and number of participants as a percentage of full-time equivalents. If there is any concern about who can participate, it is best to have legal counsel review prior to implementation.

In summary, SERPs are back in favor. The practical need for equitable retirement benefits, as well as the ability to retain, reward and recruit all have been catalysts in the resurgence of SERPs in the banking marketplace.

Equias Alliance offers securities through ProEquities, Inc. member FINRA & SIPC. Equias Alliance is independent of ProEquities, Inc.

Say Goodbye to ‘All Work, No Play’

Many banks today struggle with two concerns related to loyalty, both among customers and employees. Attracting and retaining talented employees, particularly among the younger and tech savvy set, remains difficult for many banks. Commanding customer loyalty is another key issue. What’s known as “gamification,” properly used, can help financial companies address these problems.

In practice, gamification uses techniques learned from video games to reward specific behaviors. Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox console has long rewarded players for their achievements, whether it’s completing a level in the popular Halo series or constructing a sword on Minecraft. A 2007 study by Electronic Entertainment Design and Research, a video game research firm, found that game titles with a greater number of possible achievements sold more copies. It’s a tactic that can work for the banking industry, particularly those desperate to attract millennial employees and customers.

“‘Gamification’ is ultimately a very powerful methodology for increasing customer engagement and ‘stickiness’ to that institution,” says Michael Yeo, a Singapore-based senior market analyst with IDC Financial Insights.

USAA.pngSan Antonio, Texas-based USAA is one financial services company that seems to have gone all-in. The bank’s Savings Coach app rewards members, who earn points and medals for completing challenges, like skipping trips to Starbucks, and transfers the money that would have been spent into a USAA savings account. The standalone app uses voice command technology, and features an animated eagle named Ace, which ties to the company’s logo and military membership. Ace provides bits of financial advice to users. “He’s sort of a stern-sounding dude who scans your transactions” to identify ways to save money, says Neff Hudson, vice president, emerging channels at USAA. Members have saved $400,000 so far through the app, which was introduced in July. In the near future, Hudson says members could earn rewards by using other USAA services, such as financial planning, that establish a more sound financial future for the customer.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that other examples from the world of video games abound in the fintech sector. New York City-based online investing platform Kapitall makes investing a game, where users can earn points by completing educational quests, participating in tournaments or playing investment-related games. These points can be redeemed for items in Kapitall’s online store. LendUp, an online lender based in San Francisco, rewards the good behavior of lessees that make payments on time or take education courses. Points earned by climbing “The LendUp Ladder” translate into a better rate for the borrower.

PaySwag.pngSimilar to LendUp, mobile payment app PaySwag rewards good behavior among a consumer base that may lack good credit and has a greater need for financial education. PaySwag was developed by Reno, Nevada-based Customer Engagement Technologies. “What we’re trying to do is completely change the concept of collections, and build that around a combination of rewards, ‘gamification’ and…education, to help really minimize defaults and get rid of the negativity around collections,” says Max Haynes, the company’s CEO. Intended for high-risk borrowers who may struggle to make payments on time, the white label app partners with lenders and other entities involved in collecting debt.  Users can earn points by watching educational videos or making payments on time. Those points translate into small rewards, like a $5 Amazon gift card. The program also allows some flexibility for the borrower to make changes to their payment plan. By using PaySwag, these organizations aim to establish good financial habits that help users avoid delinquencies—meaning PaySwag’s partners are paid on time. One auto lender saw serious delinquencies of more than 30 days drop by 50 percent over a one-year period, says Haynes.

USAA works with Badgeville, a Redwood City, California-based “gamification” solution provider. In addition to adding savings games for customers, USAA is in the early stages of using similar methods to better engage and motivate employees.

According to Karen Hsu, Badgeville’s vice president of marketing, the purpose is “to change behavior and motivate, really motivate people, and it’s to motivate to perform better year after year.” She says video game techniques can help speed up the onboarding process for new employees, and continue training and education efforts. Employees can provide each other with positive encouragement and real-time feedback, and earn points for answering a coworker’s question or sharing educational materials, like an article. “It’s hard to physically give everybody the time they need, and being able to give that instant feedback is really important,” says Hsu. Employees can also be encouraged to develop skills and expertise in certain areas, or to meet specific criteria that help the institution’s efforts to cross-sell products and services.

USAA has five projects in the works using video game methods, and more on the drawing board. “I really think we need to look at this as a set of tactics that can make the products that we offer our members and consumers better,” says Hudson. As expectations change to meet the demands of younger generations, “gamification” could provide a strategic advantage to banks creative enough to use it.

Are Your Executive Compensation Programs Providing Effective Retention Hooks?

8-18-14-meridian.pngWhen it comes to executive compensation in banking, the importance of retaining great employees often gets short shrift to discussions of pay-for-performance and what the regulators want. However, retaining top performing executives can be critical to a bank’s success. Following are four important questions all compensation committees should be discussing.

Why is retention important?
Developing a strong, high-performing executive team takes time. High-performing executives drive the development of the bank’s strategy and its execution. The unexpected departure of a key executive can create disruption and potentially lead to the departure of customers and other employees. Replacing those executives can often be a time-consuming and expensive proposition.

Compensation committees should also focus on succession planning, and retaining high-performers plays an important role. The next generation of leadership can be a target of competitors looking to strengthen executive talent. It is important for banks to identify top performers with the potential for greater leadership roles in the future, and ensure their compensation is structured to encourage them to remain and develop their skills within the bank.

How do you assess the level of retention in your programs?
An assessment of the retention hooks within your executive compensation program should include the following:

Pay Opportunity: Do your high performing executives have market-competitive compensation opportunities and incentive programs that are viewed as challenging but reasonable? High performers want to be rewarded with an effective performance-based structure.

Value of Unvested Compensation: Do high performing executives have meaningful value in unvested compensation that would be forfeited if they left and difficult for another bank to replace? This can often be assessed by analyzing the following:

  • Value of unvested compensation (e.g. deferred cash incentives, equity awards): Committees should regularly evaluate the value of outstanding awards at the current stock price to see if it is meaningful enough to retain key executives. While there are no specific guidelines, executives often have outstanding awards greater than their annual salary, with top executives generally significantly higher.
  • Retirement benefits: While the use of enhanced retirement benefits such as SERPs (Supplemental Executive Retirement Plans) for executives has been declining, it remains important to understand the value provided through your retirement programs, vesting milestones and integration with other retention instruments (e.g. stock).

Development Opportunities: Do high-performers know they are viewed as critical to the organization’s future and are they given opportunities that allow them to further develop? Retention is about more than just compensation.

How can we enhance the retention value of our programs?
There are several design features that can enhance retention:

Choice of Long-Term Incentive Vehicle: While there has been a significant shift towards the use of performance-based vesting, an over-emphasis on this vehicle can potentially create retention concerns–particularly if there is uncertainty in the potential payout (e.g. goals are set too high, and payouts are not seen as being likely). An overemphasis on stock options can create similar concerns since executives have less direct influence on stock price. Time-based restricted stock, when used in moderation, can be useful in ensuring some value will remain outstanding for executives while continuing to have the amount vary based on shareholder value.

Vesting of Equity: Irregular vesting schedules can result in uneven retention value from year-to-year, while annual grants with overlapping vesting schedules help ensure that executives always have meaningful value outstanding. Cliff vesting of large retention awards can also create concerns if the value of outstanding awards declines significantly after they vest.

Retirement Provisions: It is also important to understand the retirement provisions of your awards, as full vesting at an early retirement age will diminish the retention value of your program once executives meet retirement eligibility.

Retention is most effective when incorporated into the overall program, rather than as special one-time “make up” grants, which banks may need to give to executives when the existing program fails to provide adequate retention value.

How does retention fit into the rest of our program’s objectives?
Balance is critical in executive compensation programs. Retention is just one of several important objectives of an effective total compensation program. In addition to ensuring that your programs encourage retention of high-performing executives, compensation committees also need to ensure compensation programs are aligned with the bank’s strategy, link pay outcomes with performance, align executives with shareholders and avoid encouraging excessive risk.

Banks Pay Higher Salaries, But There is More Turnover

9-27-13-Crowe.pngEvery year Crowe conducts a compensation and benefits survey of financial institutions. The results of the 2013 Financial Institutions Compensation Survey are now in, and our analysis of the trends indicates some interesting patterns.

Pay is rising. Inflation expectations and market conditions appear to be strengthening as indicated by banks making larger upward adjustments to their salary structures.

2013 was not a banner year for CEO compensation growth. Slow compensation growth for CEOs in 2013 appears to indicate that bank financial performance has improved only modestly.

Hiring and retaining the right employees continue to be the highest-priority human resource concerns. While banks have several important priorities related to human resources, their most highly rated concerns appear to be finding and retaining the right employees.

Annual salary increases continue to average 2.70 percent. The market has settled into a stable range of annual salary increases.

Employee turnover is increasing. Employees appear to be more comfortable with their job prospects as turnover has returned to pre-recession levels.

Compensation growth varies widely by job position. Some job positions have experienced significant growth in compensation over the past four years while others have lagged. For example, compensation for chief credit officers is up 23 percent over the past four years, while branch manager II compensation is up only 9 percent.

Benefit costs continue to grow. Benefit costs as a percentage of salary continue to increase, with health benefits being the primary source of increased costs.

Benefit cost-containment efforts are a major focus. More than half of the banks surveyed are trying to contain costs by using a variety of techniques to shift a portion of benefit costs to employees.

This year, our analysis identified some differences between small banks (those with less than $1 billion in assets) and their larger brethren.

An above-market compensation strategy is more common at larger banks. A higher proportion of larger banks than smaller banks indicated they are consciously paying above-market compensation.

Smaller banks are doing a better job of differentiating pay for above-average performers. Smaller banks had a higher differential of pay increases between above-average performers and average performers.

Larger banks pay a higher proportion of incentives. Incentives as a percentage of salary are typically higher at larger banks, although the difference and amount vary from year to year.

Banks with more than $1 billion in assets are expecting more growth. A higher proportion of larger banks expect their number of employees to grow compared with their smaller counterparts.

View a full summary of the results of the survey for more detailed findings.