The Most Important Aspect of Third-Party Risk Management

Third-party risk management, or TPRM, is a perpetual hot topic in banking and financial services.

Banks are outsourcing and using third parties for a range of products, services and activities as the financial services landscape becomes more digital and distributed. A common refrain among regulators is that “you can outsource the activity, but you can’t outsource the responsibility.” Banks can engage third parties to do what they can’t or don’t want to do, but are still on the hook as if they were providing the product or service directly. This continues to be a common area of focus for examiners and has been identified as an area for potential enforcement actions in the future.

Given the continuing intense focus on third party activities and oversight, one word comes to mind as the most critical component of TPRM compliance: structure. Structure is critical in the development of a TPRM program, including each of its component parts.

Why is it so critical? Structure promotes consistency. Consistency supports compliance. Compliance mitigates risk and liability.

Banks with a consistent approach to TPRM conduct risk assessments more easily, plan for third party engagements, complete comprehensive due diligence, adequately document the relationship in a written agreement and monitor the relationship on an ongoing basis. Consistency, through structure, ultimately promotes compliance.

Structure will become increasingly important in TPRM compliance, given that the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued proposed interagency guidance on TPRM last summer. While the guidance has not been finalized as of this publication, the concepts and substantive components have been in play for some time; indeed, they are based largely on the OCC’s 2013 guidance and FAQs on the topic.

Generally, the proposed guidance contemplates a “framework based on sound risk management principles for banking organizations to consider in developing risk management practices for all stages in the life cycle of third-party relationships.” Like other areas of risk management, this framework should be tailored based on the risks involved and the size and complexity of the banking organization. Fortunately, interagency guidance will enhance the consistency of the regulatory examination of TPRM compliance across banks of all sizes and charter-types.

The proposed guidance outlines the general TPRM “life cycle” and identifies a number of principles for each of the following stages: planning, due diligence and third-party selection, contract negotiation, ongoing monitoring and termination. The first three stages of this TPRM life cycle benefit the most from a structured approach. These three stages have more stated principles and expectations outlined by the banking agencies, which can be broken down effectively through a properly structured TPRM program.

So, when looking at improvements to any TPRM program, I suggest bank executives and boards start with structure. Going forward, they should consider the structure of the overall program, the structure of each of the stages of the life cycle outlined by the banking agencies and the structure of compliance function as it relates to TPRM. An effective strategy includes implementing a tailored structure at each stage. If executives can accomplished that, they can streamline compliance and make it more consistent throughout the program. Structure provides certainty as to internal roles and responsibilities, and promotes a consistent approach to working with third parties.

5 Key Factors for Fintech Partnerships

As banks explore ways to expand their products and services, many are choosing to partner with fintech companies to enhance their offerings. These partnerships are valuable opportunities for a bank that otherwise would not have the resources to develop the technology or expertise in-house to meet customer demand.

However, banks need to be cautious when partnering with fintech companies — they are subcontracting critical services and functions to a third-party provider. They should “dig in” when assessing their fintech partners to reduce the regulatory, operational and reputational risk exposure to the bank. There are a few things banks should consider to ensure they are partnering with third party that is safe and reputable to provide downstream services to their customers.

1. Look for fintech companies that have strong expertise and experience in complying with applicable banking regulations.

  • Consider the banking regulations that apply to support the product the fintech offers, and ask the provider how they meet these compliance standards.
  • Ask about the fintech’s policies, procedures, training and internal control that satisfy any legal and regulatory requirements.
  • Ensure contract terms clearly define legal and compliance duties, particularly for reporting, data privacy, customer complaints and recordkeeping requirements.

2. Data and cybersecurity should be a top priority.

  • Assess your provider’s information security controls to ensure they meet the bank’s standards.
  • Review the fintech’s policies and procedures to evaluate their incident management and response practices, compliance with applicable privacy laws and regulations and training requirements for staff.

3. Engage with fintechs that have customer focus in mind — even when the bank maintains the direct interaction with its customers.

  • Look for systems and providers that make recommendations for required agreements and disclosures for application use.
  • Select firms that can provide white-labeled services, allowing bank customer to use the product directly.
  • Work with fintechs that are open to tailoring and enhancing the end-user customer experience to further the continuity of the bank/customer relationship.

4. Look for a fintech that employs strong technology professionals who can provide a smooth integration process that allows information to easily flow into the bank’s systems and processes.

  • Using a company that employs talented technology staff can save time and money when solving technology issues or developing operational efficiencies.

5. Make sure your fintech has reliable operations with minimal risk of disruption.

  • Review your provider’s business continuity and disaster recovery plans to make sure there are appropriate incident response measures.
  • Make sure the provider’s service level agreements meet the needs of your banking operations; if you are providing a 24-hour service, make sure your fintech also supports those same hours.
  • Require insurance coverage from your provider, so the bank is covered if a serious incident occurs.

Establishing a relationship with a fintech can provide a bank with a faster go-to-market strategy for new product offerings while delivering a customer experience that would be challenging for a bank to recreate. However, the responsibility of choosing a reputable tech firm should not be taken lightly. By taking some of these factors into consideration, banks can continue to follow sound banking practices while providing a great customer experience and demonstrating a commitment to innovation.

Creating a Better Business Banking Experience

Banks should be positioning themselves to be trusted partners for entrepreneurs, helping their businesses run smoothy, from account onboarding and beyond.

Too often however, what many business owners experience are complex, inefficient processes that require a litany of repetitive details and data points that can take days — or even weeks — to complete. In many cases, small and medium business owners have been forced to look to other institutions as a result of slow, manual process at their existing bank. The industry has seen how those institutions that invested in automation and better business banking experiences actually grew in terms of customers during the pandemic. But the growing number of banks that recognize the need to offer better experiences through enhanced user interfaces and automation must overcome the main hurdle of how best to implement it.

Today’s business owners expect the same quick and simple banking experiences they receive from their personal accounts from their business accounts. Banks that recognize this need often still fail to close the gaps. A major issue is that most of the process is still driven by paper forms. By automating some of these more manual and tedious steps, banks can speed up and streamline the process. Allowing the customer to directly fill out the necessary information online, all at once, rather than have them complete PDFs that need to be rekeyed by a bank employee later can save vast amounts of time.

Even once the account is live, business banking can still often be a clunky and complicated experience, especially on the back-end where each function lives on a different platform or service hosted by different vendors. Electing these options may take the user out of the bank’s system, with an environment that may look and function very differently than the initial account interface. Banks want systems that are attractive, transparent and user-friendly on the front-end, but still have all the functionality and capabilities users need.

The truth is that there is no single platform currently available that can check every box and solve every issue. However, banks should focus on the full end-to-end experience and look for solutions that can support their most current, important needs and offer the flexibility to adapt as the bank grows. Banks need to build architecture that reflects a more modern, app store that keeps the user in its cultivated experience without an obvious and often jarring transition between functions or screens, creating an overall better experience for the business banking user. Solutions and platforms that are flexible and scalable mean that banks can adjust these looks and functions as both the technologies and user needs shift, changing and controlling the experience to match it.

While some banks would prefer to develop their solutions in house, they may lack the dedicated talent and resources to do so, but “off-the-shelf” solutions may not have the necessary flexibility and scalability. For many community banks, this has increased interested in partnering with fintechs. Banks considering this option must ensure the fintech can meet all their functionality needs, as well as their risk and regulatory requirements — no small feat. A good place to start is by evaluating how a fintech’s level of compatibility with the bank’s existing core system.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of “core agnostic” fintechs that can work effectively with a variety of technology platforms and organizations, offering malleable products that can match the individual rules and procedures of each bank. Banks can then control the user experience and tailor it to their specific client demographic. From a cost-effectiveness standpoint, recent “low-code” or “no-code” solutions from an innovative fintechs give banks the ability to handle these changes in-house, without an extensive IT team. These solutions can bring greater efficiencies for banks that are now able to manage and shape their technology systems to solve complications that once required advanced technology experts.

Building and strengthening the relationships with business account holders is becoming a bigger priority for all banks. Banks that prioritize their needs and expectations by focusing on the end-to-end user experience and offering their business customers a better, faster and seamless experience will be positioned to meet their demands, possibly changing the road map of its technology future.

How Bankers Can Use Relativity to Power Tech Decisioning

“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” – Gen. George Patton Jr.

Banking has been around for thousands of years, but digitization of the industry is new and moving fast. The changes have left some bankers feeling stuck, overwhelmed with the sheer number of technology choices, and envious of competitors rocketing into the future.

Back in the boardroom, directors are insisting the team design its own rocket, built for speed and safety, and get it to the launch pad ASAP. The gravity of this charge, plus the myriad other strategic initiatives, means that the bank is assessing its tech choices and outlook with the same exhaustive analytical vigor as other issues the bank is facing, and at the same speed. This is a subtle, but significant, error.

Based on experience leading both financial institutions and fintechs, I’ve seen how a few firms escaped this trap and outperformed their competitors. The secret is that they approach tech decisions on a different timescale, operationalizing a core principle of Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity known as time dilation: that, put very simply, time slows down as velocity increases.

How can executives apply relativity to banking?
Our industry exercises its colossal analytical muscles every day, but this strength becomes a weakness when we overanalyze. Early in my career, I reported to a credit officer who routinely agonized over every small business loan. Each one seemed unique and worthy of lengthy discussion. He would only issue a decline after investing many hours of the team’s time analyzing together; the team lost money on loans the bank never made.

The same mistake can occur when banks assess their fintech options. Afraid of missing a risk factor and anxious to please the board, executives fall into the trap of overanalyzing. There’s good reason to justify this approach; major projects like a core conversion are truly worthy of great care and deliberation.

But most tech decisions are not as risky and irreversible as a new core. Just as we can download apps to a phone and later remove them, the industry has embraced the concept popularized by Amazon’s former CEO Jeff Bezos of a “two-way door” to deliver turnkey solutions that are fully configured and ready to use in a matter of hours. Developers are writing new code and deploying to the cloud continuously, with no downtime. A few companies, including Cirrus, even offer money-back guarantees, to eliminate a bank’s perceived risk from the decision.

Tech moves fast. What can happen when a bank accepts this challenge and invests in rapid tech decisioning? There are three important aspects of time dilation to consider:

1. Even at only a slightly higher velocity, it has been empirically proven that time marginally slows down. The rate of change in time increases parabolically as velocity increases.
This means that increasing the speed with which your bank makes decisions, even a tiny bit, pays off immediately, and the learning curve will magnify payoffs as the bank improves its decision-making process. There’s a significant compounding effect to this discipline.

2. When traveling at faster speeds, time appears to be passing no differently; to an outside observer, your clock is ticking slower.
Once the team is accustomed to making good tech decisions rapidly, its normative behaviors may seem odd to outsiders. Your colleagues in other internal departments who have become jaded by previous approval cycles may not be able to believe how rapidly your bank is now able to stand up new solutions. Your firm will accomplish much more than before.

3. The faster your velocity, the more mass you accrue.
Making decisions quickly frees up time for more decisions. Decision-making is a force multiplier. It’s not just your clients who will appreciate the upgrade — your vendors will be energized as well, and far more likely to treat you as a valued partner than a counterparty.

Intrinsically, banking exists to solve problems, but to solve problems, we must make decisions. Decision-making is a core competency of good banking. The bankers who are winning — and, candidly, having a lot more fun these days — approach their tech decision process with the same care and weight as their credit decision process. They no longer make tech decisions on a banking timetable; instead, they are creating time by moving faster.

Is Your Digital Banking Sign Always On?

You’ve already heard the promises: The digital revolution is here, and it’s ushering in a new era of profitability, velocity and efficiency.

Or is it?

While you’ve likely seen your bank’s technology budget grow over the last few years, it may be harder to see how that spending translated into gains in business share, customer satisfaction or the bank’s bottom line. You may be hearing from frontline employees that operations feel more fractured than ever before. What’s wrong with this picture?

Your digital experience may be suffering from a chronic case of squeaky-wheel choices as competing objectives elbow for access to finite budget dollars and project resources. Improving online and mobile offerings may come at the cost of enhancing digital lending capabilities. Operational efficiencies — a grab bag that can include any number of disparate automation tools intended to reduce cost and improve productivity — may take dollars away from compliance and risk management. You’re not building your digital business from scratch; you’re methodically replacing and upgrading components across your technology stack. But as long as you still have static data siloes and bifurcated systems in your operational mix, your digital service will collide with stopping points that interfere with a smooth user experience.

Bank transaction supply chains are likely the result of decades-old decisions and solutions so entrenched within the operation that it feels inevitable. Reimagining the end-to-end solution requires a fresh look at some previous assumptions and a fresh look at the ecosystem of fintech partners. Executives need to determine if their providers and partners are willing to collaborate to identify and address digital stopping points.

One of the most revealing questions banks can ask their providers is about their own investment strategy. How much are they putting back into the development of their own solutions? Small, ongoing investments mean that your partners are spending money on things that don’t sustainably deliver benefits to your bank. It also means they aren’t looking ahead to solve the next round of technology challenges. If their CEOs aren’t actively positioning their solutions for future viability, then you may have found the weak links in your own supply chain.

The customers your bank is trying to reach want speed, ease of use and mobile enablement in everything they do, whether it’s one-touch shopping on Zappos or depositing a check into their savings account. While these requirements have defined consumer preferences in retail segments for years, they arguably define consumer preferences in every segment following the quick adaptations the industry made in digital banking in response to Covid-19.

The dream of 24/7/365 banking requires a precise definition of digital: always on. Not “mostly on” until your bank needs a compliance update. Not “pretty much on” until you need to manually advance the loan in the loan origination software or collect physical signature cards. Interconnected services are critical to the always-on digital experience.

Your digital offer should take its inspiration from innovative disrupters outside of the financial industry, like Uber Technologies and Netflix that rewrote the delivery and service aspects of their products with interconnected, cloud-based systems. Your bank needs to be able to deliver to customers, regardless of whether someone is sitting at your service desk. Static and bifurcated systems are, by definition, unconnected, and need human intervention for updates to keep you in business.

As your bank continues to invest in technologies to deliver digital banking, make sure you focus on the end game for your customers. Digital must be as reliable as turning on a light switch. Interconnected, cloud-based systems from partners who are looking forward with you will help you get there more quickly — and with fewer headaches.

FinXTech’s Need to Know: Direct Deposits

For many banks, direct deposit information is the key that turns a new account into a long-term successful primary relationship.

Direct deposit is a conduit to a customer’s life — and their information. Customers tend to use the account that receives their income; accounts without these recurring deposits risk sitting idly.

However, most customers don’t actively think about their direct deposit account. It’s not table stakes after they open the account; it doesn’t make or break their banking experience. But for banks, it’s crucial they get customers to switch. Research from Harland Clarke and Javelin Strategy & Research in 2017 found that 81% of bank customers who received a paycheck used direct deposit; of those customers, 91% used only one financial institution for it.

Banks with technology that makes it easier for customers to switch their direct deposit over when opening a new account have an edge in the fight for primacy.

Some of the financial technology companies that offer this type of solution — Atomic FI, Argyle, Pinwheel and ClickSWITCH, among others — can embed it directly into a bank’s digital banking interface. Customers have a self-servicing option, and bankers can use the tool on the back end. And, when opening a new bank account, it can automatically prompt customers to switch over their direct deposit as part of the account setup.

There is room for banks to improve in this area. Harland Clarke and Javelin also noted that out of those that opened a checking account between 2016 and 2017, only 70% recalled being asked to switch over their direct deposit enrollment.

Application programming interfaces (APIs) facilitate the actual switching of accounts. The APIs, which function as passageways between software systems that enable data exchanges, can also be used to verify income and employment data, which can help the bank identify other products the customer might qualify for.

In addition, some fintechs also offer a service called “paycheck linked lending,” which allows bank customers to pay their loans directly from their paycheck before it’s deposited into their account.

Newer digital startup banks — or neobanks — may have these types of tools built into their infrastructure. But for many smaller or community banks, the act of switching direct deposits is still a highly manual task that falls primarily on the customers, which could deter them from making the switch.

Here are five benefits a bank could experience by implementing a direct deposit switching tool:

  1. Capture more customer data. As customers switch their direct deposit, banks have an opportunity to collect more income and employment data to use in marketing campaigns and fraud detection.
  2. Automate manual tasks for both the customer and bank. APIs handle the account switch once the customer gives them permission to do so.
  3. Cater to customers in the gig economy workforce. Customers can switch one or multiple direct deposits to your bank, or split their paychecks to go to multiple accounts.
  4. Cut the time it takes to switch direct deposit accounts. APIs can conduct changes and verify data in real time — no paper forms involved. Atomic FI claims that its switches can take effect within a customer’s current or next pay cycle.
  5. Create stickier relationships with new and existing customers. Capturing direct deposits jumpstarts account activity and longevity with customers. If a customer considers your bank their primary financial institution, they may be more likely to turn to the bank for other services.

Q2 Software, the digital banking provider that acquired ClickSWITCH in April 2021, has an online ROI calculator to demonstrate the potential growth banks could see in adding a direct deposit switching tool.

It’s never been easier to open a new bank account. But newly opened accounts don’t promise a source of activity and recurring deposits. If your bank has never incorporated direct deposit as a key step in the customer acquisition process, now may be the time to reconsider.

Argyle and ClickSWITCH are included in FinXTech Connect, a curated directory of technology companies who strategically partner with financial institutions of all sizes. For more information about how to gain access to the directory, please email finxtech@bankdirector.com.

The Next 5 Years in Banking Is Plumbing

Of the 1,400-plus people wandering the halls of the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa in Phoenix last week during Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference, more than half wore ties and suit jackets. Roughly a quarter sported sneakers and hoodies.

Bankers mingled with fintech entrepreneurs in sessions on bank mergers and growth, followed by workshops and discussions with titles such as “Curating the Right Digital Experience for Your Customers.” It’s an embodiment of the current environment: Banks are looking to an increasing array of financial technology companies to help them meet strategic goals like efficiency and improved customer experience online and on a mobile device.

Investors are pouring money into the fintech sector right now, a spigot that is fueling competition for banks as well as producing better technology that banks can buy. Last year, venture capitalists invested $8.7 billion on digital banking, credit card, personal finance and lending applications, more than double the amount the prior year, according to Crunchbase.

At the conference, venture fund managers filtered through the crowd looking for bankers willing to plunk down money for funds devoted to start-up fintech companies. Many of them have found willing investors, even among community banks. In Bank Director’s 2021 Technology Survey, 12% of respondents said they had invested directly in technology companies and 9% said they had invested in venture funds in the sector. Nearly half said they had partnered with a technology company to come up with a specific solution for their bank.

It turned out that an M&A conference goes hand in glove with technology. More than half of all banks looking to acquire in Bank Director’s 2022 Bank M&A Survey said they were doing so to gain scale so they would have the money to put into technology and other investments.

“The light bulb has gone off,” said Jerry Plush, vice chairman and CEO of $7.6 billion Amerant Bancorp in Coral Gables, Florida, speaking at the conference for fintech companies one floor above, called FinXTech Transactions. Directors and officers know they need to be involved in technology partnerships, he said.

Even longtime bank investors acknowledge the shifting outlook for banks: John Eggemeyer, founder and managing principal of Castle Creek Capital, told the crowd that the next five years in banking is going to be about “plumbing.”

However, cobbling together ancient pipes with new cloud-based storage systems and application programming interfaces has proven to be a challenge. Banks are struggling to find the skilled employees who can ensure that the new fintech software they’ve just bought lives up to the sales promises.

Steve Williams, founder and CEO of Cornerstone Advisors, said in an interview that many banks lack the talent to ensure a return on investment for new bank-fintech partnerships. The employee inside a bank who can execute on a successful partnership isn’t usually the head of information technology, who is tasked with keeping the bank’s systems running and handling a core conversion after an acquisition. Engaging in a relationship with a new fintech company is similar to hiring a personal trainer. “They’re not going to just deliver you a new body,” Williams said. “You have to do the work.”

He cited banks such as Fairmont, West Virginia-based MVB Financial Corp. and Everett, Washington-based Coastal Financial Corp. for hiring the staff needed to make fintech partnerships work.

Eric Corrigan, senior managing director at Commerce Street Capital, said banks should consider whether their chief technology officer sits on the executive team, or hooks up the computers. “Rethink the people who you’re hiring,” he said.

Jo Jagadish, an executive vice president at TD Bank who spoke at the conference, has a few years of experience with bank/fintech partnerships. Prior to joining TD Bank USA in April 2020, she was head of new product development and fintech partnerships with JPMorgan Chase & Co. “You can’t do your job and a fintech partnership on the side,” she said in an interview. “Be focused and targeted.”

Jagadish thought banks will focus the next five years on plumbing but also improving the customer experience. Banks shouldn’t wait for the plumbing to be upgraded before tackling the user experience, she said.

Cornerstone’s Williams, however, thought the work of redoing a bank’s infrastructure is going to take longer than five years. “It’s going to be a slog,” he said. “The rest of your careers depends on your competency in plumbing.”

Plumbing may not sound like exciting work, but many of the bankers and board members at the conference were happy to talk about it. Charles Potts, executive vice president and chief innovation officer for the Independent Community Bankers of America, said that fintech companies and their software can put community banks on par with the biggest banks and competitor fintechs on the planet. Nowadays, community banks can leverage their advantage in terms of personal relationships and compete on the technology. All they have to do is try.

The Tremendous Opportunity Hiding in Plain Sight

There is a tremendous opportunity for community and regional banks to enhance the international payments, receipts and foreign exchange services they provide their commercial customers.

In 2021, the total amount of U.S. imports and exports totaled $6.5 trillion. In fact, 27.9% of U.S. gross domestic product was imports and exports. What other “new” product line has such an addressable market? According to the census, 76% of U.S.-based companies that import or export have less than 20 employees; 97% have less than 500 employees. These are businesses that community and regional banks are already servicing. But these institutions are hindered by the belief that they lack the size, sophistication and resources to confidently capture the opportunity.

The good news for banks is that there are technology solutions that can enhance their offering to customers that require international payments, receipts and foreign exchange services. These solutions provide more opportunities for sales and service on the bank end and help their business customers mitigate risks more effectively.

Quantifying this opportunity will vary for each institution, and location and asset size alone are not accurate predictors. Cross-border activity occurs across the U.S., not just in the most obvious international trade areas. Financial institutions should start by looking at their existing volumes to determine the opportunity. Within outbound and inbound payments, banks need to examine the number of transactions that took place, the total notional volume, the U.S. dollar and foreign currency split, what origination and destination countries are included and whether these are commercial or consumer payments. This initial analysis leaves out the potential for future growth through enhanced capabilities.

Many financial institutions are surprised to see that this is an opportunity hidden in plain sight. Frankly, it doesn’t take much activity — as little as $1 million a month of international payments going in foreign currency — to make this an interesting capability for executives to consider. That’s because banks can leverage technology to capture it more effectively.

Enhancing international payments capabilities doesn’t mean banks have to give up cultivating the experience that their customers expect. Controlling the customer experience here starts with offering the capability via multiple channels while retaining flexibility and control on pricing. This can lead to capturing more of the customer wallet, which provides additional insight into customer activity and, ultimately, a stronger and deeper relationship.

Community and regional banks that enhance their international capabilities can sell with more confidence, better retain existing business customers and potentially attract new ones in the face of others competing for the same business customers. They can even extend the product offering by offering risk management solutions.

Once a bank decides to take more control over the customer experience in international payments, the defining characteristic of success is how quickly it can produce revenue from these enhanced capabilities. It starts at the planning stages. The foundation of any transition is a detailed implementation checklist and, as importantly, a timeline that maps out the process.

All bank areas need to be in full support and aligned on the changes. You need both an executive sponsor and a product champion as part of this. Once implemented, institutions that properly incentivize their bankers should generate significant improvements versus the rest of the industry landscape. But it is critical for banks to engage an experienced and trusted partner to accompany them during this journey and guide implementation.

The opportunity for community and regional banks to enhance their international payments, receipts, and foreign exchange services they provide their commercial customers remains one hidden in plain sight. Leveraging technology to capture the value associated with both existing and prospective activity provides benefits to the bottom line and the customer experience. Don’t be surprised by the size of the opportunity, the activity with business customers, and the relative ease with which it can be captured and enhanced.

Disney’s Lesson for Banks

When Robert Iger became The Walt Disney Co. CEO in 2005, the company’s storied history of animation had floundered for a decade.

So Iger turned to a competitor whose animation outpaced Disney’s own and proposed a deal.

The relationship between Pixar Animation Studios and Disney had been strained, and Iger was nervous when he called Pixar’s CEO at the time, Steve Jobs. The two sat down in front of a white board at Pixar’s headquarters and began listing the pros and cons of the deal. The pros had three items. The cons had 20, as the now-retired Iger tells it in his Masterclass online.

“I said ‘This probably isn’t going to happen,’’’ Iger remembers. “He said, ‘Why do you say that?’”

Jobs could see that the pros had greater weight to them, despite the long list of the cons. Ultimately, Disney did buy Pixar for more than $7 billion in 2006, improving its standing, animation and financial success. In the end, Iger says he “didn’t think it was anything but a risk worth taking.”

I read Iger’s memoir, “The Ride of a Lifetime,’’ in 2021, just as I began planning the agenda for our annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference in Phoenix, which is widely regarded as the premier M&A conference for financial industry CEOs, boards and leadership teams.

His story resonated, and not just because of the Disney/Pixar transaction.

I thought about risks worth taking, and was reminded of the leadership traits Iger prizesspecifically, optimism, courage and curiosity. Moreover, many of this year’s registered attendees wrestle with the same issues Iger confronted at Disney: They represent important brands in their markets that must respond to the monumental changes in customer expectations. They must attract and retain talent and to grow in the face of challenges.

While some look to 2022 with a sense of apprehension — thanks to Covid variant uncertainty, inflation, supply chain bottlenecks and potential regulatory changes — I feel quite the pep in my step this January. I celebrate the opportunity with our team to return, in-person, to the JW Marriott Desert Ridge. With over 1,350 registered to join us Jan. 30 through Feb. 1, I know I am not alone in my excitement to be again with people in real life.

So what’s in store for those joining us? We will have conversations about:

  • Examining capital allocation.
  • Balancing short-term profitability versus long term value creation.
  • Managing excess liquidity and shrinking margins.
  • Re-thinking hiring models and succession planning.
  • Becoming more competitive and efficient.

Naturally, we discuss the various growth opportunities available to participants. We talk about recent merger transactions, market reactions and integration hurdles. We hear about the importance of marrying bank strategy with technology investment. We explore what’s going on in Washington with respect to regulation and we acknowledge the pressure to grow earnings and the need to diversify the business.

As the convergence of traditional banking and fintech continues to accelerate, we again offer FinXTech sessions dedicated to delivering growth. We unpack concepts like banking as a service, stablecoins, Web3, embedded finance and open banking.

Acquire or Be Acquired has long been a meeting ground for those that take the creation of franchise value very seriously — a topic even more nuanced in today’s increasingly digital world. The risk takers will be there.

“There’s no way you can achieve great gains without taking great chances,’’ Iger says. “Success is boundless.”