A Challenging Deal Environment In 2023

The year ahead is likely to present a challenging environment for M&A. According to Dory Wiley, president and CEO of Commerce Street Holdings, the rising interest rate environment, possible deposit runoff and economic uncertainty are likely to tamp down deal activity in 2023. Nonbank deals could be more attractive to some buyers, in part because they draw less regulatory scrutiny. And banks focused primarily on organic growth need to shore up capital at the holding company level to make sure they have options, too.

Topics include:

  • Interest Rates’ Impact on Valuations
  • Appeal of Nonbank M&A
  • Emphasis on Capital

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.

Risk, Performance and Banking: What Really Matters

The goal of banks is to create financial stability and profit while building strong relationships with customers, employees and the community. What’s standing between your bank and that goal? Asking that question is the first step to finding out.

Banks measure performance in financial terms: they compare loan rates, customer growth and other key performance indicators (KPIs). But looking at performance in this way only shows how things are going, not why they are going that way or how performance could change in the coming weeks, months or years.

Understanding the “why” requires deeper analysis — an analysis that comes from enterprise risk management, or ERM. ERM is a system for managing risk holistically throughout a financial institution to create value. It’s about identifying, assessing, measuring, monitoring, mitigating and communicating risk — and using that information to build a stronger, more resilient institution.

Why should bank boards care about ERM?

1. Compliance Management. Compliance management is a huge concern for any bank. From federal and state consumer protection and privacy regulations to Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) regulation, the number of regulations and the speed of regulatory change can be overwhelming.

Not only can non-compliance hurt individual consumers, it can damage a bank’s ability to offer the best-possible pricing, products and services. Failing to comply can result in costly enforcement actions, fines and lawsuits. It can also lead to limitations on growth.

Banks need to have a strong compliance management system, or CMS. This allows them to identify, measure, monitor and mitigate compliance risk. A CMS can also help banks respond more efficiently to regulatory changes by ensuring they implement changes while minimizing the cost of compliance.

2. Vendor Management. Third-party partners like including vendors, fintech partners and consultants can easily increase the potential risk to a bank or its customers. Data breaches can expose customer data. Outages can prevent customers from accessing the products and services they need. Mistakes can result in compliance violations and consumer harm. Automatic contract renewals can cause the bank to sign long-term contracts with unfavorable pricing.

Managing third-party risk requires a good vendor management program. It’s not just a regulatory requirement; it’s also a best practice. Not only can vendor management help a bank secure lower pricing, this required due diligence and monitoring helps banks identify vendor partners that could help the bank grow and thrive.

3. Findings Management. A bank needs to correct identified problems quickly. But it can be easy to lose track of these problems — whether they are self-identified, examiner or audit findings — with the demands of day-to-day responsibilities.

Every bank should have a findings management program that logs every finding, assigns it to someone responsible for remediation and tracks its remediation. This creates accountability that ensures that no finding is overlooked, whether it’s a consumer complaint, a weakness in a control, a vendor issue or a compliance violation.

Risk Performance Management for High-Performing Banks
Each of these three areas of ERM have the potential to hurt or enhance a bank’s performance. Done well, they can better control costs, strengthen the banks’ resilience and more quickly achieve the board’s strategic goals. One of the most effective ways for a bank to gauge its risk and performance is by leveraging expert solutions that provide the frameworks, tools and knowledge that executives and the board need to maximize the efficiency of the process. These solutions can also serve as an educational primer, showing banks what needs to be done and the best ways to do it efficiently, so the bank can follow a clear, well-informed path forward.

These solutions also make it easy to understand where the threats and opportunities are for an institution. This is especially important as banks try to keep pace with evolving technology and consumer expectations. Having the right risk management tools in place directs the executives and employees to quickly ask the right questions when evaluating new technologies, partners and strategies, and understand what those answers mean.

Whether it’s knowing how regulations impact a new product or service, or assessing the maturity of a vendor’s cybersecurity controls, good risk management means having more information sooner to make better decisions — and that leads to better performance.

Current Compliance Priorities in Bank Regulatory Exams

Updated examination practices, published guidance and public statements from federal banking agencies can provide insights for banks into where regulators are likely to focus their efforts in coming months. Of particular focus are safety and soundness concerns and consumer protection compliance priorities.

Safety and Soundness Concerns
Although they are familiar topics to most bank leaders, several safety and soundness matters merit particular attention.

  • Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) laws. After the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council updated its BSA/AML examination manual in 2021, recent subsequent enforcement actions issued by regulators clearly indicate that BSA/AML compliance remains a high supervisory priority. Banks should expect continued pressure to modernize their compliance programs to counteract increasingly sophisticated financial crime and money laundering schemes.
  • In November 2021, banking agencies issued new rules requiring prompt reporting of cyberattacks; compliance was required by May 2022. Regulators also continue to press for multifactor authentication for online account access, increased vigilance against ransomware payments and greater attention to risk management in cloud environments.
  • Third-party risk management. The industry recently completed its first cycle of exams after regulators issued new interagency guidance last fall on how banks should conduct due diligence for fintech relationships. This remains a high supervisory priority, given the widespread use of fintechs as technology providers. Final interagency guidance on third-party risk, expected before the end of 2022, likely will ramp up regulatory activities in this area even further.
  • Commercial real estate loan concentrations. In summer 2022, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. observed in its “Supervisory Insights” that CRE asset quality remains high, but it cautioned that shifts in demand and the end of pandemic-related assistance could affect the segment’s performance. Executives should anticipate a continued focus on CRE concentrations in coming exams.

In addition to those perennial concerns, several other current priorities are attracting regulatory scrutiny.

  • Crypto and digital assets. The Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the FDIC have each issued requirements that banks notify their primary regulator prior to engaging in any crypto and digital asset-related activities. The agencies have also indicated they plan to issue further coordinated guidance on the rapidly emerging crypto and digital asset sector.
  • Climate-related risk. After the Financial Stability Oversight Council identified climate change as an emerging threat to financial stability in October 2021, banking agencies began developing climate-related risk management standards. The OCC and FDIC have issued draft principles for public comment that would initially apply to banks over $100 billion in assets. All agencies have indicated climate financial risk will remain a supervisory priority.
  • Merger review. In response to congressional pressure and a July 2021 presidential executive order, banking agencies are expected to begin reviewing the regulatory framework governing bank mergers soon.

Consumer Protection Compliance Priorities
Banks can expect the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to sharpen its focus in several high-profile consumer protection areas.

  • Fair lending and unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts and practices (UDAAP). In March 2022, the CFPB updated its UDAAP exam manual and announced supervisory changes that focus on banks’ decision-making in advertising, pricing, and other activities. Expect further scrutiny — and possible complications if fintech partners resist sharing information that might reveal proprietary underwriting and pricing models.
  • Overdraft fees. Recent public statements suggest the CFPB is intensifying its scrutiny of overdraft and other fees, with an eye toward evaluating whether they might be unlawful. Banks should be prepared for additional CFPB statements, initiatives and monitoring in this area.
  • Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) reform. In May 2022, the Fed, FDIC, and OCC announced a proposed update of CRA regulations, with the goal of expanding access to banking services in underserved communities while updating the 1970s-era rules to reflect today’s mobile and online banking models. For its part, the CFPB has proposed new Section 1071 data collection rules for lenders, with the intention of tracking and improving small businesses’ access to credit.
  • Regulation E issues. A recurring issue in recent examinations involves noncompliance with notification and provisional credit requirements when customers dispute credit or debit card transactions. The Electronic Fund Transfer Act and Regulation E rules are detailed and explicit, so banks would be wise to review their disputed transaction practices carefully to avoid inadvertently falling short.

As regulator priorities continue to evolve, boards and executive teams should monitor developments closely in order to stay informed and respond effectively as new issues arise.

Growth Milestone Comes With Crucial FDICIA Requirements

Mergers or strong internal growth can quickly send a small financial institution’s assets soaring past the $1 billion mark. But that milestone comes with additional requirements from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that, if not tackled early, can become arduous and time-consuming.

When a bank reaches that benchmark, as measured at the start of its fiscal year, the FDIC requires an annual report that must include:

  • Audited comparative annual financial statements.
  • The independent public accountant’s report on the audited financial statements.
  • A management report that contains:
    • A statement of certain management responsibilities.
    • An assessment of the institution’s compliance with laws pertaining to insider loans and dividend restrictions during the year.
    • An assessment on the effectiveness of the institution’s internal control structure over financial reporting, as of the end of the fiscal year.
    • The independent public accountant’s attestation report concerning the effectiveness of the institution’s internal control structure over financial reporting.

Management Assessment of Internal Controls
Complying with Internal Controls over Financial Reporting (ICFR) requirements can be exhaustive, but a few early steps can help:

  • Identify key business processes around financial reporting/systems in scope.
  • Conduct business process walk-throughs of the key business processes.
  • For each in-scope business process/system, identify related IT general control (ITGC) elements.
  • Create a risk control matrix (RCM) with the key controls and identity gaps in controls.

To assess internal controls and procedures for financial reporting, start with control criteria as a baseline. The Committee of Sponsoring Organizations (COSO) of the Treadway Commission provides criteria with a fairly broad outline of internal control components that banks should evaluate at the entity level and activity or process level.

Implementation Phases, Schedule and Events
A FDICIA implementation approach generally includes a four-phase program designed with the understanding that a bank’s external auditors will be required to attest to and report on management’s internal control assessment.

Phase One: Business Risk Assessment and COSO Evaluation
Perform a high-level business risk assessment COSO evaluation of the bank. This evaluation is a top-down approach that allows the bank to effectively identify and address the five major components of COSO. This review includes describing policies and procedures in place, as well as identifying areas of weakness and actions needed to ensure that the bank’s policies and procedures are operating with effective controls.

Phase One action steps are:

  • Educate senior management and audit committee/board of directors on reporting requirements.
  • Establish a task force internally, evaluate resources and communicate.
  • Identify and delegate action steps, including timeline.
  • Identify criteria to be used (COSO).
  • Determine which processes and controls are significant.
  • Determine which locations or business units should be included.
  • Coordinate with external auditor when applicable.
  • Consider adoption of a technology tool to provide data collection, analysis and graphical reporting.

Phase Two: Documenting the Bank’s Control Environment
Once management approves the COSO evaluation and has identified the high-risk business lines and support functions of the bank, it should document the internal control environment and perform a detailed process review of high-risk areas. The primary goals of this phase are intended to identify and document which controls are significant, evaluate their design effectiveness and determine what enhancements, if any, they must make.

Phase Three: Testing and Reporting of the Control Environment
The bank’s internal auditor validates the key internal controls by performing an assessment of the operating effectiveness to determine if they are functioning as designed, intended and expected.  The internal auditor should help management determine which control deficiencies, if any, constitute a significant deficiency or material control weakness. Management and the internal auditor should consult with the external auditor to determine if they have performed any of the tests and if their testing can be leveraged for FDICIA reporting purposes.

Phase Four: Ongoing Monitoring
A primary component of an effective system of internal control is an ongoing monitoring process. The ongoing evaluation process of the system of internal controls will occasionally require modification as the business adjusts. Certain systems may require control enhancements to respond to new products or emerging risks. In other areas, the evaluation may point out redundant controls or other procedures that are no longer necessary. It’s useful to discuss the evaluation process and ongoing monitoring when making such improvement determinations.

How to Attract Consumers in the Face of a Recession

Fears of a recession in the United States have been growing.

For the first time since 2020, gross domestic product shrank in the first quarter according to the advance estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Ongoing supply chain issues have caused shortages of retail goods and basic necessities. According to a recent CNBC survey, 81% of Americans believe a recession is coming this year, with 76% worrying that continuous price hikes will force them to “rethink their financial choices.”

With a potential recession looming over the country’s shoulders, a shift in consumer psychology may be in play. U.S. consumer confidence edged lower in April, which could signal a dip in purchasing intention.

Bank leaders should proactively work with their marketing teams now to address and minimize the effect a recession could have on customers. Even in times of economic uncertainty, it’s possible to retain and build consumer confidence. Below are three questions that bank leaders should be asking themselves.

1. Do our current customers rate us highly?
Customers may be less optimistic about their financial situations during a recession. Whether and how much a bank can help them during this time may parlay into the institution’s Net Promoter Score (NPS).

NPS surveys help banks understand the sentiment behind their most meaningful customer experiences, such as opening new accounts or resolving problems with customer service. Marketing teams can use NPS to inform future customer retention strategies.

NPS surveys can also help banks identify potential brand advocates. Customers that rate banks highly may be more likely to refer family and friends, acting as a potential acquisition channel.

To get ahead of an economic slowdown, banks should act in response to results of NPS surveys. They can minimize attrition by having customer service teams reach out to those that rated 0 to 6. Respondents that scored higher (9 to 10) may be more suited for a customer referral program that rewards them when family and friends sign up.

2. Are we building brand equity from our customer satisfaction?
Banks must protect the brand equity they’ve built over the years. A two-pronged brand advocacy strategy can build customer confidence by rewarding customers with high-rated NPS response when they refer individual family and friends, as well as influencers who refer followers at a massive scale.

Satisfied customers and influencer partners can be mobilized through:

Customer reviews: Because nearly 50% of people trust reviews as much as recommendations from family, these can serve as a tipping point that turns window-shoppers into customers.

Trackable customer referrals: Banks can leverage unique affiliate tracking codes to track new applications by source, which helps identify their most effective brand advocates.

3. What problems could our customers face in a recession?
Banks vying to attract new customers during a recession must ensure their offerings address unique customer needs. Economic downturn affects customers in a variety of ways; banks that anticipate those problems can proactively address them before they turn into financial difficulties.

Insights from brand advocates can be especially helpful. For instance, a mommy blogger’s high referral rate may suggest that marketing should focus on millennials with kids. If affiliate links from the short video platform TikTok are a leading source of new customers, marketing teams should ramp up campaigns to reach Gen Z. Below are examples of how banks can act on insights about their unique customer cohorts.

Address Gen Z’s fear of making incorrect financial decisions: According to a Deloitte study, Gen Z fears committing to purchases and losing out on more competitive options. Bank marketers can encourage their influencer partners to create objective product comparison video content about their products.

Offer realistic home-buying advice to millennials: Millennials that were previously held back by student debt may be at the point in their lives where their greatest barrier to home ownership is easing. Banks can address their prospects for being approved for a mortgage, and how the federal interest rate hikes intersect with loan eligibility as well.

Engage Gen X and baby boomer customers about nest eggs:
Talks of recession may reignite fears from the financial crisis of 2007, where many saw their primary nest eggs – their homes — collapse in value. Banks can run campaigns to address these concerns and provide financial advice that protects these customers.

Banks executives watching for signs of a recession must not forget how the economic downturn impacts customer confidence. To minimize attrition, they should proactively focus on building up their brand integrity and leveraging advocacy from satisfied customers to grow customer confidence in their offerings.

The Future of Banking in the Metaverse

From Nike’s acquisition of RTFKT to Meta Platform’s Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg playing virtual pingpong, the metaverse has evolved from a buzzword into a way of doing business.

The metaverse could become a “river of entertainment in which the content and commerce flow freely,” according to Microsoft Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Satya Nadella in “The Coming Battle Over Banking in the Metaverse.” Created by integrating virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency, and other technologies, the metaverse is a 3D virtual space with different worlds for its users to enhance their personal and professional experiences, from gaming and socializing to business and financial growth.

That means banking may ultimately come to play a significant role in the metaverse. Whether exchanging currencies between different worlds, converting virtual or real-world assets or creating compliant “meta-lending” options, financial institutions will have no shortage of new and traditional ways to expand their operations within this young virtual space. Companies like JPMorgan Chase & Co. and South Korea’s KB Kookmin Bank already have a foot in the metaverse. JPMorgan has the Onyx Lounge; Kookmin offers one-on-one consultations. However, banks will find they cannot operate in their traditional ways in this virtual space.

One aspect that might experience a drastic change is the branches themselves. The industry should expect an adjustment period to best facilitate the needs of their metaverse banking customers. These virtual bank branches will need to be flexible in accepting cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens, blockchains and alternative forms of virtual currency if they are to survive in the metaverse.

However, not everyone agrees that bank branches will be that relevant in the metaverse. The idea is that online banking already accomplishes the tasks that a branch located in the metaverse might fulfill. Another issue is that there is little current need for bank branches because the migration to the metaverse is nascent. Only time will tell how banking companies adapt to this new virtual world and the problems that come with it.

Early signs point to a combination of traditional and new banking styles. One of the first products from the metaverse is already shining a light on potential challenges: The purchase and sale of virtual space has significantly changed over the past year. In Ron Shevlin’s article, “JPMorgan Opens A Bank Branch In The Metaverse (But It’s Not What You Think It’s For),” he writes, “the average investment in land was about $5,300, but prices have grown considerably from an average of $100 per land in January to $15,000 in December of 2021, with rapid growth in the fourth quarter when the Sandbox Alpha was released.”

The increasing number of virtual real estate transactions also means the introduction of lending and other financial assistance options. This can already be seen with TerraZero Technologies providing what could be described as the first mortgage. This is just the beginning as we see opportunities for the development of banking services more clearly as the metaverse, its different worlds and its functions and services mature.

Even though the metaverse is still young and there are many challenges ahead, it is clear to see the potential it could have on not only banking, but the way we live as we know it.

Understanding the Cannabis Banking Opportunity

The legal cannabis industry is growing exponentially each year, creating extraordinary opportunities for financial institutions to offer services to this largely underbanked, niche market.

Revenue from direct marijuana businesses alone is expected to exceed $48 billion by 2025, part of a larger $125 billion cannabis opportunity that includes hemp, CBD and other support businesses, according to information from Arcview and BDS Analytics.

In the last few years, the number of banks providing services to cannabis businesses has increased, along with an expansion of the products they are offering. Financial institutions are moving far beyond being “a place to park cash’ which defined the pioneer era of cannabis banking. Today, our bank clients are approaching the industry as a new market to deploy all of their existing products and services, including online cash management, ACH origination, wire transfers, lending, insurance, payments and wealth management. Additionally, a contingent of banks are trailblazing bespoke solutions.

For banks wanting to better understand what the current cannabis banking opportunity looks like, we recommend starting by:

Exploring the Entire Cannabis Ecosystem
A common pitfall for banks considering a cannabis line of business is failing to grasp the true market opportunity. It’s important that bankers explore the entire supply chain: growers, cultivators, manufacturers, distributors and delivery operations and public-facing retail and medical dispensaries that make up the direct cannabis ecosystem.

Beyond that, there is a supporting cast of businesses that service the industry: armored couriers, security firms, consultants, accountants, lighting companies, packaging companies, doctors who prescribe medical cannabis, and many more. These are not plant-touching businesses, but they require additional scrutiny and often struggle with non-cannabis-friendly institutions. All this is in addition to the significant hemp market, which represents an additional $40 billion opportunity by 2025.

Thinking Beyond Fees
Aside from low-cost deposits, many financial institutions initially entered this niche line of business for additional fee income. While the industry still provides strong fee opportunities, including account opening fees, monthly account fees per license, deposit fees and fees for services such as ACH and cash pickup, these can vary greatly from market to market and will decrease as more financial institutions build programs.

Instead of limiting their focus to fees and deposits, banks should understand the full breadth of the services and solutions they can offer these underserved businesses. Most services that a bank provides their average business customer can be offered to legal cannabis businesses — and there is a significant opportunity to create additional services. We believe there are products this industry needs that haven’t been created by banks yet.

Banks thinking about where to start and what products to add should consider common challenges that legal cannabis businesses face: electronic payment products, cash logistics, fair lending and the numerous difficulties around providing opportunities to new business owners and social equity entrepreneurs. Bankers should become familiar with the industry; find out what it’s most similar to — namely agriculture, food processing and manufacturing — as well as how it is unique. That’s where the real opportunity lies.

Building a Scalable Program
To safely service this industry and meet examiner expectations, banks need to demonstrate they understand the risks and institutional impact of banking cannabis and have the capabilities to accomplish the following, at a minimum:

  • Consistent, transparent and thorough monitoring of their cannabis business clients and their activity, to demonstrate that only state legal activity and the associated funds are entering the financial system.
  • Timely and thorough filing of currency transaction reports (CTRs) and suspicious activity reports (SARs).
  • Ability to gracefully exit the line of business, should the bank’s strategy or the industry’s legality change.
  • An understanding of the beneficial ownership structures, particularly when working with multi-state operators.

Performing these tasks manually is time consuming, prone to error and not suitable for scale. Technology allows banks to automate the most tedious and complicated aspects of cannabis banking compliance and effectively grow their programs. Look for technology that offers advanced due diligence during onboarding, detailed transaction monitoring, automated SAR/CTR reporting and account monitoring to ensure full transparency and portfolio management in your program.

Finding a Trusted Partner
When it comes to partners, banks must consider whether their partner can quickly adapt to changes in rules and regulations. Do their tools support visibility into transaction level sales data, peer comparisons and historical performance? Have they worked with your examiners? What do they offer to help banks service both direct and indirect businesses? Can they help their institutions offer new and innovative products to this line of business?

Banks weighing which partners they should take on this journey need to consider their viability for the long run.

The Race to Perform

Last October, I journeyed to Austin, Texas, to watch my first Formula One race. Like many, Netflix’s wildly popular Formula 1: Drive to Survive drew me in. That docuseries dramatically increased the popularity of the sport in the United States, with plenty of drama on track and off. 

Inevitably, the show takes viewers inside a showdown between two cars jostling for points, separated by mere milliseconds. While being out front has its advantages, so too does drafting your competition, waiting for the chance to pull ahead. Indeed, the “push-to-pass” mechanism on a race car provides a temporary jolt of speed, allowing the hunter to quickly become the hunted. Speed, competition and risk-taking is on my mind as we prepare to host Bank Director’s Experience FinXTech event May 5 and 6 in the same city as the Circuit of The Americas.

Much like Formula One brings some of the most ambitious and creative teams together for a race, Experience FinXTech attracts some of the most inspiring minds from the deeply competitive financial services space.

Now in its seventh year, the event connects a hugely influential audience of U.S. bank leaders with technology partners at the forefront of growth and innovation. Today, as banks continue to transition towards virtual or digital strategies, fintechs become partners rather than just competitors in the race to succeed. 

We’ll look not only at fintechs offering efficiencies for banks, but at fintechs offering growth and improved performance as well. As fintech guru Chris Skinner recently noted, “If you only look at technology as a cost reduction process, you never get the market opportunities. If you look at technology as a market opportunity, you get the cost savings naturally as a by-product.”

We’ll consider investor appetites, debate the pros and cons of decentralized finance and share experiences in peer exchanges. 

Throughout, we’ll help participants gauge technology companies at a time when new competitors continue to target financial services.   

Most Formula One races are won on the margins, with dedicated teams working tirelessly to improve performance. So too are the banks that excel — many of them with dedicated teams working with exceptional partners.