Opportunities For Transformative Growth

The bank space has fundamentally changed, and that has financial institutions working with more and more third-party providers to generate efficiencies and craft a better digital experience — all while seeking new sources of revenue. In this conversation, Microsoft Corp.’s Roman Chwyl describes the rapid changes occurring today and how software-as-a-service solutions help banks quickly respond to these shifts. He also provides advice for banks seeking to better engage their technology providers.

Topics addressed include:

  • Focusing Technology Strategies
  • Partnership Considerations
  • Leveraging Digital for Growth
  • Planning for 2022 and Beyond

Completing the Credit Score Picture

Traditional credit scores may be a proven component of a bank’s lending operations, but the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus pandemic has their many shortcomings.

Credit scores, it turns out, aren’t very effective at reacting to historically unprecedented events. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York even went so far as to claim that credit scores may have actually gotten “less reliable” during the pandemic.

Evidence of this is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that Americans’ credit scores, for the most part,  improved during the pandemic. This should be good news for bankers looking to grow their lending portfolios. The challenge, however, is that the reasons driving this increases should merit more scrutiny if bankers are accurately evaluate borrowers to make more informed loan decisions in a post-pandemic economy.

For greater context, the consumers experiencing the greatest increases in credit score were those with the lowest credit scores — below 600 — prior to the pandemic. As credit card utilization dropped during the pandemic, so too did credit card debt loads for many consumers, bolstering their credit scores. In some instances, government-backed stimulus measures, including eviction and foreclosure moratoriums to student loan payment deferrals, have also helped boost scores. With many of these programs expiring or set to retire, some of the gains made in score are likely to be lost.

How can a bank loan officer accurately interpret a borrower’s credit score? Is this someone whose credit score benefitted from federal relief programs but may have struggled to pay rent or bills on time prior to the pandemic and may not once these program expire? Compared to a business owner whose income and ability to remain current on their bills was negatively affected during the pandemic, but was a safe credit risk before?

There are also an increasing number of factors and valuable data points that are simply excluded from traditional credit scores: rent rolls, utility bills and mobile phone payment data, which are all excellent indicators of a consumer’s likelihood to pay over time. And as more consumers utilize buy now, pay later (BNPL) programs instead of credit cards, that payment data too often falls outside of the scope of traditional credit scoring, yet can provide quantitative evidence of a borrower’s payment behavior and ability.

So should bankers abandon credit scores? Absolutely not; they are a historically proven, foundational resource for lenders. But increasingly, there is a need for bankers to augment the credit score and expand the scope of borrower data they can use to better evaluate the disjointed, inaccurate credit profiles for many borrowers today. Leveraging borrower-permissioned data — like rent payments, mobile phone payments, paycheck and income verification or bank statements —creates a more accurate, up-to-date picture of a borrower’s credit. Doing so can help banks more safely lend to all borrowers — especially to “near prime” borrowers — without taking undue risk. In many cases, the overlay of these additional data sources can even help move a “near prime” borrower into “prime” status.

While the pandemic’s impact will continue reverberating for some time, bankers looking to acquire new customers, protect existing customer relationships and grow their loan portfolios will need the right and complete information at their disposal in an increasingly complex lending environment. Institutions that expand their thinking beyond traditional credit scoring will be best positioned to effectively grow loans and relationships in a risk-responsible way.

Creating the Next Opportunity for Your Bank

Health, social, political and economic stressors around the world are bumping up business uncertainty for banks everywhere.

Some bankers may find a hunker-down posture fits the times. Others are taking a fresh look at opportunities to achieve their business objectives, albeit in a different-than-planned environment. What is your bank trying to accomplish right now? What are you uniquely positioned to achieve now that creates value for your institution, your shareholders and your customers?

The best opportunities on your bank’s list may be straightforward initiatives that may have been difficult to prioritize in a non-crisis environment. This can be a good time for banks to review their suppliers and vendors, their risk management, cybersecurity and compliance plans and protocols.

We’ve seen bank clients of ours with rock-solid foundations find themselves with the ability to leverage these times to pursue growth, to increase their technology offerings and explore niche markets, such as an all-digital delivery of banking services. These institutions are creating their own opportunities.

From straightforward to downright bold opportunities, BankOnIT and our client banks across the United States have observed that skillful execution requires one constant: a solid technology and systems foundation.

Here are a few examples of various objectives that we see our clients pursuing:

Embrace and Excel at Digital Banking
Digital banking, not to be confused with online banking, is more than a trend. Banks with user-friendly digital experiences are meeting the needs of millennials and Generation Z by offering activities that were once only accessible from the banking center. It removes geographical barriers and limitations of the traditional bank, such as operating hours and long lines.

Technological hurdles are grievances of both digital and traditional banks. The simple solution is unrestricted technology capabilities that improve reliability and increase security, especially when introducing features like artificial intelligence and digital banking.

A Growth Plan with The Ability To Compete
Customers’ expectations are shifting; banks need to be technologically nimble in response. With a high-growth plan in place, one BankOnIT client viewed outsourcing the network infrastructure to a partner with industry knowledge as the key to success. The result: opening four bank offices in seven months.

“We have all of the benefits of a large bank infrastructure, and all of the freedom that comes with that, without being a large bank,” said Kim Palmer, chief information officer at St. Louis Bank.

Partnering with Fintechs To Reach Niche Markets
The trick to accessing new markets will vary from bank to bank, but your strategy should start with the network infrastructure technology. This will be the foundation upon which all other technology in the institution is built upon. Cloud computing, for example, provides digital and traditional banks with resources needed to improve scalability, improve efficiency and achieve better results from all the other applications that rely upon the network foundation.   

Banks should look for partners that help them tailor their banking operations to benefit consumers who are conducting business in the virtual world. Technology at the forefront can keep business running smoothly during the global pandemic. Bloomfield Hills, Michigan-based Mi Bank, for example, is able to accommodate customers during the pandemic, just like before.

“We can leverage technology to allow our customers to function as normal as possible,” said Tom Dorr, chief operating officer and CFO. “BankOnIT gives us the flexibility to function remotely without any disruption to our services. Our structure allows us to compete with the bigger institutions without sacrificing our personal service.”

Is your technology reliable, scalable, and capable of sustaining your goals post-pandemic?

A Solid Foundation
Take the opportunity to review your institution’s goals. How do they line up with the opportunities to act in the midst of this unplanned business environment? This may be your opportunity to build a solid technology, systems and compliance foundation. Or, this may be your time to seize the opportunities that are created from turning technology into a source of strength for your institution.

Tackling M&A as a Board

Success in executing a bank’s growth strategy — from acquiring another institution to even selling the bank — begins with the discussions that should take place in the boardroom. But few — just 31%, according to Bank Director’s 2020 Bank M&A Survey — discuss these issues at least quarterly as a regular part of the board’s agenda.

Boards have a fiduciary duty to act in the best decisions of shareholders, and these discussions are vital to the bank’s overall strategy and future. Even if management drives the process, directors must deliberate these issues, whether it’s the prospective purchase or another entity of selling the bank.

The survey affirms the factors driving M&A activity today: deposits, increased profitability and growth, and the pursuit of scale. There are common barriers, as well; price in particular has long been a sticking point for buyers and sellers.

M&A plays an important role in most banks’ strategies. One-quarter intend to be active acquirers, and 60% prefer to focus on organic growth while remaining open to making an acquisition.

However, roughly 4% of banks are acquired annually — a figure that doesn’t line up with the 44% of survey respondents who believe their bank will acquire another institution this year.

Conversations in the boardroom, and the strategy set by the board, will ultimately lead to success in a competitive deal landscape.

“Having strong, frequent communications with the board is very much part of our M&A process, and I can’t emphasize how important it is,” says Alberto Paracchini, CEO at Chicago-based Byline Bancorp. The $5.4 billion asset bank has closed three deals in the past five years. “With proper communication, good transparency and frequent communication as to where the transaction stands, the board is and can be not only a great advisor but a good check on management.”

The board at Nashville, Tennessee-based FB Financial Corp. discusses M&A as part of its annual strategic planning meeting. Typically, an outside advisor talks to the board at that time about the industry and provides an outlook on M&A. Also, they’ll “talk about our bank and how we fit into that from their perspective,” including potential opportunities the advisor sees for the organization, says Christopher Holmes, CEO of the $6.1 billion asset bank. Progress on the strategy is discussed in every board meeting; that includes M&A.

So, what should directors discuss? Overall, survey respondents say their board focuses on markets where they’d like to grow (69%), deal pricing (60%), the size of deals their bank can afford (57%) and/or specific targets (54%).

“It starts with defining what your acquisition strategy is,” says Rick Childs, a partner at Crowe LLP. Identifying attractive markets and the size of the target the bank is comfortable integrating is a good place to start.

At $6.1 billion asset Midland States Bancorp, strategic discussions around M&A center around defining the attributes the board seeks in a deal. Annually, directors at the Effingham, Illinois-based bank discuss “what do we like in M&A — deposits and wealth management and market share,” says CEO Jeffrey Ludwig. “[We] continue to define what those types of items are, what the marketplace looks like, where’s pricing today.”

Given the more than 400 charters in Illinois, the board sees ample opportunity to acquire, and the board evaluates potential deals regularly. The framework provided by the board ensures management focuses on opportunities that meet the bank’s overall strategy.

The board at $13.7 billion asset Glacier Bancorp, based in Kalispell, Montana, is “very involved in M&A,” says CEO Randall Chesler. Management shares with the board which potential targets they’re having conversations with and how these could fuel the bank’s strategy. “We start to show them financial modeling early on [so] that they can start to understand what a transaction might look like,” he says. “They’re really engaged early on, through the process and afterwards.” Once a transaction goes through, the board keeps tabs on the status of the conversion and integration.

Having M&A experience on the board can aid these discussions. Overall, 78% of respondents say their board includes at least one director with an M&A background.

These directors can help explain M&A to other board members and challenge management when necessary, says Childs. “They can be a really valuable member of the team and add their experience to the overall process to make sure that it isn’t all groupthink; that there’s somebody that can challenge the process, and make sure [they’re] asking the right questions and keeping everybody focused on what the impact is.”

A number of banks don’t plan to acquire via acquisition. How often should these boards discuss M&A? More than half of survey respondents who say their bank is unlikely to acquire reveal that their board discusses M&A infrequently; another 20% only discuss M&A annually.

Jamie Cox, the board chair at $265 million asset Alamosa State Bank, based in Alamosa, Colorado, says her bank strongly prefers organic growth. Still, the board discusses M&A quarterly at a minimum. “We would be remiss if we ignored it completely, because opportunity is always out there, but you’ve got to be looking for it,” she says. “Whether it’s your key strategy or a secondary strategy, it’s always got to be on the table.”

In charter-rich Wisconsin, Mike Daniels believes too many community bank boards aren’t adequately weighing whether now’s the time to sell. “I don’t want to be as bold as to say that they’re not doing their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders, but are they really looking at what their strategic options are?” says Daniels, executive vice president at $3.1 billion asset Nicolet Bancshares and CEO of its subsidiary, Nicolet National Bank.

Green Bay, Wisconsin-based Nicolet has an investment banker on staff who can model the financial results for potential acquisition targets. “We’re having M&A dialogue on a regular basis at the board level because we can do this modeling — here’s who we’re talking to, here’s what we’re talking about, here’s what it would mean,” says Daniels.

The board sets the direction for what the bank should evaluate as a potential target. How success is measured should derive from those initial discussions in the boardroom.

“We’re real disciplined on that tangible book value earnback and making sure there’s enough earnings accretion,” says Ludwig. A deal isn’t worth the effort if earnings per share accretion is less than 2% in his view. Any cost saves or revenue synergies are factored into the bank’s earnback estimate. “We’re fairly conservative on the expense saves and diligent about getting at least what we’ve disclosed we could get, and we don’t put any revenue synergies in our model.”

Bank Director’s 2020 Bank M&A Survey, sponsored by Crowe, surveyed more than 200 independent directors, CEOs and senior executives to examine acquisition and growth trends. The survey was conducted in August and September 2019. Bank Director’s 2020 RankingBanking study, also sponsored by Crowe, examines the best M&A deals completed between Jan. 1, 2017, and Jun. 30, 2018, detailing what made those deals successful. Additional context around some of these top dealmakers can be found in the article “What Top Acquirers Know.” The Online Training Series also includes a unit on M&A Basics.

Keeping Benefits Simple During M&A

Mergers and acquisitions are an attractive growth strategy for many banks, but deals are increasingly and needlessly complicated by existing employee benefit plans.

The United States entered the longest economic expansion in history during the third quarter of 2019, surpassing the 120-month run between March 1991 to March 2001. There have been parallels of economic events and potential perils between then and now: a strong housing market, corporate tax cuts, low interest rates, and a mergers and acquisitions environment that rivals the 1990s, resulting in a loss of more than 4% of the nation’s banks per annum on average. From March 1991 to today, the number of U.S. banks has decreased by over 60%. The industry is not only used to M&A but expects it.

But in recent years, we’ve seen a growing burden and complexity in navigating through bank M&A deals, in part due to existing nonqualified benefit plans and bank-owned life insurance, or BOLI, programs. Burdens include heightened regulations on allowable plan designs, evolving tax laws and stricter compliance and due diligence requirements.

Now more than ever, it has become increasingly likely that BOLI or nonqualified benefit plans will be involved in a transaction, and odds are that the acquired portfolio and plans were part of a previous deal.

About 64% of banks across the country owned BOLI at the end of 2018, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence, including 63% of banks under $2.5 billion in total assets, 82% of banks between $2.5 billion and $35 billion, and 64% of banks over $35 billion.

The BOLI market continues to expand as banks continue to consolidate, and new premium sales have averaged over $3.5 billion annually in the past five years. Additionally, approximately 65% of banks have a nonqualified benefit plan, split-dollar life insurance plan or both, based on records of Newcleus’ 750 clients.

Program sponsorship continues to expand, because BOLI and nonqualified benefits continue to be important programs for institutions. Implementing nonqualified benefit plans can serve as a valuable resource for banks looking to attract and retain key talent. Both selling and acquiring institutions need to understand the mechanics of benefit and BOLI programs in order to avoid inaccurate plan administration and mismanagement following a combination. This includes:

Non-Qualified Benefit Plans

  • Reviewing the plan agreement: Complete a thorough analysis of the established plan agreements. Understand all triggering events for benefits, available options to exit the plan and the agreement’s change-in-control language.
  • Accounting implications: The bank, in partnership with their plan administrator, should properly vet the mechanics and assumptions used in existing plan accounting. For example, change-in-control benefits could specify a discount rate that must be used for benefit payments, which may differ from rates used on existing accounting reports. They should also ensure that all plan benefits deemed de minimis have been accounted for, such as small split-dollar plans.
  • 280G: Complete a 280G analysis to understand the possible implications of excess parachute payments, including limitations (i.e. net best benefit provisions) caused by existing employee agreements and related non-compete provisions.

BOLI Programs

  • Insurance carrier due diligence: Bankers should complete a thorough review to ensure that acquired BOLI meets the holding requirement that is outlined by the bank’s existing BOLI investment policy, if applicable.
  • Active/inactive BOLI population: As the insured and surviving owner relationship becomes more separated, it is paramount that executives maintain detailed census information, including Social Security numbers, for mortality and insurable interest purposes.
  • Policy ownership: Many banks have implemented trusts to act as the owner of certain BOLI policies. While this setup is permissible, changes in control can impact a trust’s revocability. Institutions should review this information prior to closing, given that there may be limited options to directly manage those policies post-deal close.

These programs are not in the executives’ everyday purview, nor should they be. That’s why it’s so important for institutions to establish partnerships that help guide them through the analysis, documentation and due diligence process for BOLI and nonqualified benefit plans.

Banks may want to consider working with external advisors to conduct a thorough review of existing programs and examine all plan details. They may also want to consider administrative systems, like Newcleus MINTS, that streamline reporting and compliance requirements. Taking these steps can help reduce unnecessary headaches, and create a solid foundation for future BOLI purchases and new nonqualified benefit plans.

Getting your Digital Growth Strategy Right from the Start


Digital growth is only as good as the metrics used to measure it.

Growth is one of an executives’ most important responsibilities, whether that comes from the branch, through mergers and acquisitions or digital channels. Digital growth can be a scalable and predictable way for a bank to grow, if executives can effectively and accurately measure and execute their efforts. By using Net Present Value as the lens to evaluate digital marketing, a bank’s leadership team can make informed decisions on the future of the organization.

Banks need a well-thought-out digital growth strategy because of the changing role of the branch and big bank competition. The branch used to spearhead an institution’s growth efforts, but that is changing as branch sales decline. At the same time, the three biggest banks in the country rang up 50% of the new deposit account openings last year (even though they have only 24% of branches) as they lure depositors away from community banks, given regulators’ prohibition on acquisition.

Physical Branch Decline chart.pngImage courtesy of Ron Shevlin of Cornerstone Advisors

Even in the face of these changes, many institutions are nervous about adopting an aggressive digital growth plan or falter in their execution.

A typical bank’s digital marketing efforts frequently rely on analytics that have been designed for another business altogether. They may want to place a series of ads on digital channels or social media sites, but how will they know if those work? They may use data points such as clicks or views to gauge the effectiveness of a campaign, even if those metrics don’t speak to the conversion process. They will also track metrics such as the number of new accounts opened after the start of a campaign or relate the number of clicks placed in new accounts.

But this approach assumes a direct link between the campaign and the new customers. In addition, acquisition and data teams will spend valuable time creating reports from disparate data sources to get the proper measurement, instead of analyzing generated reports to come up with better strategies.

Additionally, a bank’s CFO can’t really measure the effectiveness of an acquisition campaign if they aren’t able to see how the relationships with these new customers flourish and provides value to the institution. The conversion is not over with a click — it’s continuous.

This leads to another obstacle to measuring digital growth efforts: communication. Banks use three internal teams to generate growth: finance to fund the efforts; marketing to execute and measure it; and operations to provide the workflow to fulfill it.

Each team measures and expresses success differently, and each has its inherent shortcomings. Finance would like to know the cost and profitability of the new deposits generated, to assess the efficiency of the spend. Marketing might consider clicks or views. Operations will report on the number of accounts opened, but do not know definitively if existing workflows support the market segmentation that the bank seeks.

There is not a single group of metrics shared by the teams. However, the CEO will be most interested in cost of acquisition, the long-term profitability of the accounts and the return on investment of the total efforts.

But it’s now possible for banks to see the full measurement of their digital campaigns, from the disbursement of funds provided by the finance group to the success of these campaigns, in terms of deposits raised and net present value generated. These ads entice prospects into the account origination funnel, managed by operations, who open accounts and deposit initial funds. Those new customers then go through an onboarding process to switch their direct deposits and bill pay accounts. The new customer’s engagement can be measured six to 12 months later for value, and tied back to the original investment that brought them in the first place.

Bank leadership needs to be able to make decisions for the long-term health of their organizations. CEOs tell us they have a “data problem” when it comes to empowering their decisions. For this to work, the core system, the account origination funnel and the marketing channels all need to be tied together. This is true Integrated Value Measurement.

Community Banks and Derivatives: Debunking the Four Biggest Myths


derivatives-4-8-19.pngThose of us who were in banking when Ronald Reagan entered the White House remember the interest rate rollercoaster ride brought about by the Federal Reserve when it aggressively tightened the money supply to tame inflation. It was during this era of unprecedented volatility that interest rate swaps, caps and floors were introduced to help financial institutions keep their books in balance. But over the years, opaque pricing, unnecessary complexity and misuse by speculators led Richard Syron, former chairman of the American Stock Exchange, to observe, “Derivative. That’s the 11-letter four-letter word.”

As community banks bought into Syron’s “D-word” conclusion and resolved to avoid their use altogether, several providers fed these fears and designed programs that promise a derivative-free balance sheet. But many banks are beginning to question the effectiveness of these solutions.

Today, as commercial borrowers seek long-term, fixed-rate funding for 10 years and longer, risk-averse community banks want to know how to solve this term mismatch problem in a responsible and sustainable manner. The fact that Syron voiced his opinion on derivatives in 1995 suggests that now might be a good time to examine the roots of “derivative-phobia,” by considering what has changed in the past quarter-century and challenging four frequently heard biases against community banks using swaps.

1. None of my community bank peers use interest rate derivatives.
If you are not hedging with swaps, and your total assets are between $500 million and $1 billion, then you are in good company: More than nine out of ten of your peers have also avoided their use.

5m-1b-assets-chart.png

But if your bank is larger, or your growth plans anticipate crossing the $1 billion asset level, more than one in four of your new peers use swaps.

1-2b-assets-chart.png

Once your bank crosses the $2 billion mark, more than half of your peers manage interest rate risk with derivatives, and institutions not using swaps become a shrinking minority.

2-5-b-assets-chart.png

Community banks should consider their growth path and the best practices of their expected peer group before dismissing out-of-hand the use of derivatives.

2. The derivatives market is a big casino, and swaps are always a bet.
While some firms (AIG in 2008, for example) have used complex derivatives to speculate, a vanilla swap designed to neutralize a bank’s natural risks operates as a hedge. Post-crisis, the Dodd-Frank Act brought more transparency to swap pricing, as swap dealers are now required to disclose the wholesale cost of the swap to their customers. In addition, most dealers are now willing to operate on a bilateral secured basis, removing most of the counterparty risk that the trading partners of Lehman Brothers experienced firsthand when that company collapsed. These changes in market practices have made it much more practical for community banks to execute simple hedging transactions at fair prices with manageable credit risk.

3. Derivatives accounting always results in unwanted surprises and volatility.
Derivatives missteps led to FAS 133—regarding the measurement of derivative instruments and hedging activities—being issued in 1998, bringing the fair value of derivatives out of the footnotes and onto the balance sheet for the first time. But the standard (now ASC 815) proved difficult to apply, leading to some notable financial restatements in the early 2000s. Fast forward nearly twenty years, and the Financial Accounting Standards Board has issued an overhaul to hedge accounting (ASU 2017-12) that is a game-changer for community banks. With mandatory adoption in 2019, there are more viable ways to solve the age-old mismatch facing banks. And the addition of fallback provisions, combined with improvements to “the shortcut method,” greatly reduces the risk of unexpected earnings volatility.

4. ISDA documents should always be avoided.
While admittedly lengthy, the Master Agreement published by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association was designed to protect both parties to a derivative contract and is the industry standard for properly documenting an interest rate swap. Many community banks seeking an ISDA-free solution for their customers are actually placing the borrower into a lightly-documented derivative with an unknown third-party. If a borrower is not sophisticated enough to read and sign the ISDA Master Agreement, they have no business executing a swap in the first place. A simpler solution is to make a fixed-rate loan and execute a swap behind the scenes to neutralize the interest rate risk. This keeps the swap and the agreement between two banks, and removes the borrower from the derivative altogether.

For community banks that have been trying to solve their mismatch problem in a manner that is derivative-free, it is worth re-examining the factors that have led to pursuing a derivatives-avoidance strategy, and counting the costs and hidden exposures involved in doing so.

Exclusive: How U.S. Bancorp Views Expansion


bancorp-3-14-19.pngGreat leaders are eager to learn from others, even their competitors. That’s why Bank Director is making available—exclusively to our members—the unabridged transcripts of the in-depth conversations our writers have with the executives of top-performing banks.

Few banks fit this description as well as U.S. Bancorp, the fifth-largest retail bank in the United States. It has generated one of the most consistently superior performances in the banking industry over the past decade. It’s the most profitable and efficient bank among superregional and national banks. It’s the highest-rated bank by Moody’s. It’s also been named one of the world’s most ethical companies for five years in a row by the Ethisphere Institute. And it has emerged as a leader of the digital banking revolution.

Bank Director’s executive editor, John J. Maxfield, interviewed U.S. Bancorp Chairman and CEO Andy Cecere for the first quarter 2019 issue of Bank Director magazine. (You can read that story, “Growth Through Digital Banking, Not M&A,” by clicking here.)

In the interview, Cecere sheds light on U.S. Bancorp’s:

  • Strategy for expanding into new markets
  • Progress on the digital banking front
  • Perspective on the changes underway in banking
  • Experience through the financial crisis

The interview has been edited for brevity, clarity and flow.

download.png Download transcript for the full exclusive interview

The Most Important Question in Banking Right Now


banking-2-15-19.pngTo understand the seismic shifts underway in the banking industry today, it’s helpful to look back at what a different industry went through in the 1980s—the industry for computer memory chips.

The story of Intel Corp. through that period is particularly insightful.

Intel was founded in 1968.

Within four years, it emerged as one of the leading manufacturers of semiconductor memory chips in the world.

Then something changed.

Heightened competition from Japanese chip manufacturers dramatically shrank the profits Intel earned from producing memory chips.

The competition was so intense that Intel effectively abandoned its bread-and-butter memory chip business in favor of the relatively new field of microprocessors.

It’s like McDonald’s switching from hamburgers to tacos.

In the words of Intel’s CEO at the time, Andy Grove, the industry had reached a strategic inflection point.

“[A] strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change,” Grove later wrote his book, “Only the Paranoid Survive.”

“That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights,” Grove continued. “But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end.”

The parallels to the banking industry today are obvious.

Over the past decade, as attention has been focused on the recovery from the financial crisis, there’s been a fundamental shift in the way banks operate.

To make a deposit a decade ago, a customer had to visit an ATM or walk into a branch. Nowadays, three quarters of deposit transactions at Bank of America, one of the biggest retail banks in the country, are completed digitally.

The implications of this are huge.

Convenience and service quality are no longer defined by the number and location of branches. Now, they’re a function of the design and functionality of a bank’s website and mobile app.

This shift is reflected in J.D. Power’s 2019 Retail Banking Advice Study, a survey of customer satisfaction with advice and account-opening processes at regional and national banks.

Overall customer satisfaction with advice provided by banks increased in the survey compared to the prior year. Yet, advice delivered digitally (via website or mobile app) had the largest satisfaction point gain over the prior year, with the most profound improvement among consumers under 40 years old.

It’s this change in customers’ definition of convenience and service quality that has enabled the biggest banks over the past few years to begin growing deposits organically, as opposed to through acquisitions, for the first time since the consolidation cycle began in earnest nearly four decades ago.

And as we discussed in our latest issue of Bank Director magazine, the new definition of convenience has also altered the growth strategy of these same big banks.

If they want to expand into a new geographic market today, they don’t do so by buying a bunch of branches. They do so, instead, by opening up a few de novo locations and then supplementing those branches with aggressive marketing campaigns tied to their digital banking offerings.

It’s a massive shift. But is it a strategic inflection point along the same lines as that faced by Intel in the 1980s?

Put another way, has the debut and adoption of digital banking changed the fundamental competitive dynamics of banking? Or is digital banking just another distribution channel, along the lines of phone banking, drive-through windows or ATMs?

There’s no way to know for sure, says Don MacDonald, the former chief marketing officer of Intel, who currently holds the same position at MX, a fintech company helping banks, credit unions, and developers better leverage their customer data.

In MacDonald’s estimation, true strategic inflection points are caused by changes on multiple fronts.

In the banking industry, for instance, the fronts would include regulation, technology, customer expectations and competition.

Viewed through this lens, it seems reasonable to think that banking has indeed passed such a threshold.

On the regulatory front, for the first time ever, a handful of banks don’t have a choice but to focus on organic deposit growth—once the exclusive province of community and regional banks—as the three largest retail banks each hold more than 10 percent of domestic deposits and are thus prohibited from growing through acquisition.

Furthermore, regulators are making it easier for firms outside the industry—namely, fintechs—to compete directly against banks, with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s fintech charter being the most obvious example.

Technology has changed, too, with customers now using their computers and smartphones to complete deposits and apply for mortgages, negating the need to walk into a branch.

And customer expectations have been radically transformed, as evidenced by the latest J.D. Power survey revealing a preference toward digital banking advice over personal advice.

To be clear, whether a true strategic inflection point is here or not doesn’t absolve banks of their traditional duty to make good loans and provide excellent customer service. But it does mean the rules of the game have changed.