How High Inflation, High Rates Will Impact Banking

In the latest episode of The Slant Podcast, former Comptroller of the Currency Gene Ludwig believes the combination of high inflation and rising interest rates present unique risks to the banking industry. Ludwig expects that higher interest rates will lead to more expensive borrowing for many businesses while also increasing their operating costs. This could ultimately result in “real credit risk problems that we haven’t seen for some time.”

While the banking industry is well capitalized and asset quality levels are still high, Ludwig says the combination of high inflation and rising interest rates will be a challenge for younger bankers who have never experienced an environment like this before.

Ludwig knows a lot about banking, but his journey after leaving the Comptroller of the Currency’s office has been an interesting one. After completing his five-year term as comptroller in 1998, Ludwig could have returned to his old law firm of Covington & Burling LLP and resumed his legal practice. Looking back on it, he says he was motivated by two things. One was to put “food on the table” for his family because he left the comptroller’s office “with negative net worth – [and] it was negative by a lot.”

His other motivation was to find ways of fixing people’s problems from a broader perspective than the law sometimes allows. “I love the practice of law,’’ he says. “It’s intellectually satisfying.” But from his perspective, the law is just one way to solve a problem. Ludwig says he was looking for a way to “solve problems more broadly and bring in lawyers when they’re needed.” This led to a prolonged burst of entrepreneurial activity in which Ludwig established several firms in the financial services space. His best known venture is probably the Promontory Financial Group, a regulatory consulting firm that he eventually sold to IBM.

Ludwig’s most recent initiative is the Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity, which he started in 2019. Ludwig believes the American dream has vanished for many median- and low-income families, and the institute has developed a new metric which makes a more accurate assessment of how inflation is hurting those families than traditional measurements such as the Consumer Price Index — which he says drastically understates the impact.

Ludwig hopes the Institute’s work gives policymakers in Washington, D.C., a clearer sense of how desperate the situation is for millions of American families and leads to positive action.

This episode, and all past episodes of The Slant Podcast, are available on Bank DirectorSpotify and Apple Music.

Student Loans Come Due

Just as the Federal Reserve raises rates and inflation hits a 40-year high, Americans with federal student loan debt will start making payments on the debt after a two-year pause. On Aug. 31, the Department of Education will require 41 million people with student loans to begin paying again. 

According to the Federal Reserve, about one in five Americans have federal student loan debt and they saved $5 billion per month from the forbearance. It’s safe to say that a lot of people are going to struggle to restart those payments again and some of them work for banks.

The good news is that there are new employee programs that can help. One CARES Act provision allowed companies to pay up to $5,250 toward an employee’s student loans without a negative tax hit for the employee. Ally Financial, Fidelity Investments, SoFi Technologies, and First Republic Bank are a few of the many financial companies offering this benefit to employees. First Republic launched its program in 2016, after its purchase of the fintech Gradifi, which helps employers repay their employees’ loans. These programs typically pay between $100 and $200 a month on an employee’s loans, and usually have a cap.

The 2020 Bank Director Compensation Survey shows that 29% of financial institutions offered student loan repayment assistance to some or all employees. Many of those programs discontinued when the student forgiveness program started. In the anticipation of government forbearance coming to a close, now is a good time to think about restarting your program or even developing one. 

Americans now hold $1.59 trillion in student loan debt, according to the Federal Reserve. How did we get here? College got more expensive— much more expensive. 

Earlier this summer, the Federal Reserve and Aspen Institute had a joint summit to discuss household debt and its chilling effect on wealth building. The average cost of college tuition and fees at public 4-year institutions has risen 179.2% over the last 20 years for an average annual increase of 9.0%, according to EducationData.org.

At the same time, wages have not shown much inflation-adjusted growth. ProPublica found in 2018 that the real average wage of workers, after accounting for inflation, has about the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago. And inflation in 2022 has far outpaced wage increases. Some economists speculate that any pandemic-era wage increases are effectively nullified by this rapid inflation.

Not all borrowers are equally impacted. Sixteen percent of graduates will have a debt-to-income ratio of over 20% from their student loans alone, according to the website lendedu.com, while another 28% will have a DTI of over 15%. The 44% of graduates with that level of debt exiting school will face a steep climb to meaningful wealth building. The students that didn’t graduate will have an even harder climb.

Those graduates who struggle with their student loans will be less likely to buy a home or more likely to delay home ownership. They will be less likely to take on business debt or save for retirement. Housing prices have risen in tandem with education prices. The “starter home” of generations past has become unattainable to many millennial and Gen Z debt holders.

More than half of borrowers owe $20,000 or less. Seven percent of people with federal debt owe more than $100,000, according to The Washington Post. Economists at the Federal Reserve say borrowers with the least amount of debt often have difficulty repaying their loans, especially if they didn’t finish their degree. Conversely, people with the highest loan balances are often current on their payments. It’s likely that people with higher loan debt generally have higher education levels and incomes.

The Aspen Institute published a book known as “The Future of Building Wealth: Brief Essays on the Best Ideas to Build Wealth — for Everyone,” in conjunction with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. It illuminates long-term solutions for financial planning, focusing on policies and programs that could be applied at a national scale. 

In the absence of these national solutions, some employers are taking the matter into their own hands with company policies designed to help employees with student debt. Those banks are making a difference for their own employees and are part of the solution. 

Getting the Most out of the Profitability Process

The banking industry is increasingly using profitability measurements and analysis tools, including branch, product, officer and customer levels of profitability analysis.

But a profitability initiative can be a considerable undertaking for an organization from both process and cultural perspectives. One way that institutions can define, design, implement and manage all aspects of a profitability initiative is with a profitability steering committee and charter — yet less than 20% of financial institutions choose to leverage a profitability steering committee, according to the 2020 Profitability Survey from the Financial Managers Society. Over the past 30 years, we have found that implementing a profitability process inherently presents several challenges for institutions, including:

  • Organizational shock, due to a change in focus, culture and potentially compensation.
  • Profitability measurement that can be as much art as it is science.
  • A lack of the right tools, rules and data needed.
  • A lack of knowledge to best measure profitability.
  • A lack of understanding regarding the interpretation and use of results.
  • An overall lack of buy-in from people across the organization.

The best approach for banks to address and overcoming these challenges is to start with the end in mind. The graphic below depicts what this looks like from a profitability initiative perspective. Executives should start from the top left and let each step influence the decisions and needs of the subsequent step. Unfortunately, many organizations start at the bottom right and work their way up to the left. This is analogous to driving without a destination in mind, or directions for where you want to go.

The best way for banks to work through the above process, and all the related nuances and decisions, to ensure the successful implementation of a profitability initiative is by creating and leveraging a profitability steering committee and related charter. There are three primary components of a profitability steering committee and charter. The first task for the committee is to define the overall purpose and scope of the profitability initiative. This includes:

  • Defining the goals of the steering committee.
  • Outlining the governance of the initiative.
  • Defining how the profitability results will be used.

The committee’s next step is to define the structure of the profitability process, including:

  • The employees or roles that will receive profitability results, based on the decisions to be made, the results they will identify, any needed metrics and reports and any examples of reports.
  • The tool selection process, including determining whether an existing tool exists or if the bank needs a new tool, documenting system/tool requirements, creating the procurement process details and ownership of the tool.
  • Deciding and documenting governance concerns that relate to profitability rules, including identifying the primary owner of the rules, the types of rules needed (net interest margin, costs, fees, provision or capital), the process for proposing and approving rules, any participants in the process and any education, if needed.
  • Identifying the data needs and related processes for the initiative, such as the types of data needed, the sources and process for providing that data, ownership of the data process and the priority and timelines for each data type.

The committee’s final step focuses on the communication and training needs for the profitability initiative, including defining:

  • A training plan for stakeholders.
  • A communication plan that includes how executive will support for the initiative, a summary of the goals, decisions that need to be made, and any expectations and timelines, as well as details of the process, as needed.
  • An escalation process for handling questions, issues or disputes, and the role that committee members are expected to play in the escalation process.
  • The help and support, such as personnel and documents. that will be available.

Additional Best Practices
When creating a profitability steering committee and related charter, we have found it helpful to consider the following items as appropriate:

  • If profitability results will be included as part of individual or team incentive compensation, be sure to work through the necessary details, such as process flows, additional reporting, required integration points and data flows, dispute management, additional education and training, among others.
  • Consider aligning any metrics, approaches and reporting structures if the budgeting and planning process forecasts profitability.
  • Document plans for assessing the profitability initiative over time.
  • Finally, keep it suitably simple. Expect to be asked to explain the initiative’s approaches, details and results; the bank can always increase the precision and/or complexity over time.

Inflation, Interest Rates and ‘Inevitable’ Recession Complicate Risks

What is the bigger risk to banks: inflation, or the steps the Federal Reserve is taking to bring it to heel?

Community banks are buffeted by an increasingly complicated operating environment, said speakers at Bank Director’s 2022 Bank Audit and Risk Committees Conference in Chicago, held June 13 to 15. In rather fortuitous timing, the conference occurred in advance of the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee’s June meeting, where expectations were high for another potential increase in the federal funds rate. 

On one hand, inflation remains high. On the other hand, rapidly increasing interest rates aimed at interrupting inflation are also increasing risk for banks — and could eventually put the economy into a tailspin. Accordingly, interest rates and the potential for a recession were the biggest issues that could impact banks over the next 12 to 18 months, according to a pop up poll of some 250 people attending the event.  

Brandon Koeser, a financial services senior analyst at audit and consulting firm RSM US, said that inflation is the “premier risk” to the economic outlook right now. He called the consumer price index trend line “astonishing” — and its upward path may still have some momentum, given persistently high energy prices. Just days prior, on June 10, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the CPI increased 1% in May, to 8.6% over the last 12 months. 

Koeser also pointed out that inflation is morphing, broadening from goods into services. That “rotation” creates a stickiness in the market that will be harder for the Federal Reserve to fight, increasing the odds that inflation persists.

It is “paramount” that the economy regain some semblance of price stability, Koeser said. In response, central bankers are increasing the pace, and potential size, of federal fund rate increases. But jacking up rates to lower prices without causing a recession is a blunt approach akin to “trying to thread a needle wearing boxing gloves,” he said.

While higher interest rates are generally good for banks, an inflationary environment could dampen loan growth while intensifying interest rate and credit risk, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s 2022 Risk Review. Inflation could lead consumers to cut back on spending, leading to lower business sales, and it could make it harder for borrowers to afford their payments.

At the same time, banks awash in pandemic liquidity added longer-term assets in 2021 in an attempt to capture some yield. Assets with maturities that were longer than three years made up 39% of assets at banks in 2021, compared with 36% in 2019, according to the FDIC. Community banks were even more vulnerable. Longer-term assets made up 52% of total assets at community banks at the end of 2021.

Managing this interest rate risk could be a challenge for banks that lack institutional knowledge of this unique environment. Kyle Manny, a partner at audit and consulting firm Plante Moran, pointed out that many banks are staffed with individuals who weren’t working in the industry in the 1980s or prior. He shared an anecdote of a seasoned banker who admitted he was “caught flat footed” by taking too much risk on the yield curve in the securities portfolio, and was now paying the price after the fair value of those assets fell. 

And high enough rates may ultimately send the economy into a recession. In Koeser’s poll of the audience, about 34% of audience members believe a recession will occur within the next six months; another 36% saw one as likely occurring in the next six to 12 months. Koeser said he doesn’t think it’s “impossible” for the central bank to avert a recession with a soft landing — but the margin for error is getting so small that a downturn may be “inevitable.”

Banks have limited options in the face of such macroeconomic trends, but they can still manage their own credit risk. David Ruffin, principal at credit risk analytics firm IntelliCredit, a division of Qwickrate, said that credit metrics today are the most “pristine” he had seen in his nearly 50 years in the industry. Still, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and inflation could hide emerging credit risk on community bank portfolios. Kamal Mustafa, chairman of the strategic advisory firm Invictus Group, advised bankers to dig into their loan categories, industry by industry, to analyze how different borrowers will be impacted by these countervailing forces. Not all businesses in a specific industry will be impacted equally, he said.

So while banks can’t control the environment, they can at least understand their own loan books. 

The Opposite of Blissfully Unaware

There’s been an increasingly common refrain from bank executives as the United States moves into the second half of 2022: Risk and uncertainty are increasing.

For now, things are good: Credit quality is strong, consumer spending is robust and loan pipelines are healthy. But all that could change.

The president and chief operating officer of The Goldman Sachs Group, John Waldron, called it “among — if not the most —complex, dynamic environments” he’s seen in his career. And Jamie Dimon, chair and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., changed his economic forecast from “big storm clouds” on the horizon to “a hurricane” in remarks he gave on June 1. While he doesn’t know if the impact will be a “minor one or Superstorm Sandy,” the bank is “bracing” itself and planning to be “very conservative” with its balance sheet.

Bankers are also pulling forward their expectations of when the next recession will come, according to a sentiment survey conducted at the end of May by the investment bank Hovde Group. In the first survey, conducted at the end of March, about 9% of executives expected a recession by the end of 2022 and 26.6% expected a recession by the end of June 2023. Sixty days later, nearly 23% of expect a recession by the end of 2022 and almost 51% expect one by the end of June 2023.

“More than 75% of the [regional and community bank management teams] we surveyed [believe] we will be in a recession in the next 12 months,” wrote lead analyst Brett Rabatin.

“[B]anks face downside risks from inflation or slower-than-expected economic growth,” the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. wrote in its 2022 Risk Review. Higher inflation could squeeze borrowers and compromise credit quality; it could also increase interest rate risk in bank security portfolios.

Risk is everywhere, and it is rising. This only adds to the urgency surrounding the topics that we’ll discuss at Bank Director’s Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference, taking place June 13 through 15 at the Marriott Magnificent Mile in Chicago. We’ll explore issues such as the top risks facing banks over the next 18 months, how institutions can take advantage of opportunities while leveraging an environmental, social and governance framework, and how executives can balance loan growth and credit quality. We’ll also look at strategic and operational risk and opportunities for boards.

In that way, the uncertainty we are experiencing now is really a gift of foresight. Already, there are signs that executives are responding to the darkening outlook. Despite improved credit quality across the industry, provision expenses in the first quarter of 2022 swung more than $19.7 billion year over year, from a negative $14.5 billion during last year’s first quarter to a positive $5.2 billion this quarter, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s quarterly banking profile. It is impossible to know if, and when, the economy will tip into a recession, but it is possible to prepare for a bad outcome by increasing provisions and allowances.

“It’s the opposite of ‘blissfully unaware,’” writes Morgan Housel, a partner at the investment firm The Collaborative Fund, in a May 25 essay. “Uncertainty hasn’t gone up this year; complacency has come down. People are more aware that the future could go [in any direction], that what’s prosperous today can evaporate tomorrow, and that predictions that seemed assured a few months ago can look crazy today. That’s always been the case. But now we’re keenly aware of it.”

Are Fixed-Rate Loans the Quick Fix?

Commercial fixed-rate loans can be an alluring quick fix for the net interest margin pressure that many banks face today, but could expose banks to several risks while providing tepid returns.

Future earnings are largely out of the bank’s control. While the current yield of a fixed-rate loan can look attractive relative to the historic lows of short-term funding costs, its long-term return is highly dependent on the future path of short-term interest rates. When interest rates increase, the spread between the yield earned on a fixed-rate loan and the ongoing funding cost for a bank decreases — and could even go negative.

While banks have some control over funding costs, the largest factors that influence short-term funding rates are external: central bank monetary policy, inflation expectations and the overall business cycle. None of these factors are controlled by any individual bank, which means the ongoing net yield of a fixed-rate loan depends on factors outside your bank’s control.

Prepayment penalties often do not protect banks. Bank executives should temper expectations that prepayment penalties protect bank income or influence borrower behavior for fixed-rate loans. Many borrowers negotiate limited prepayment provisions in advance, or ask that prepayment penalties be fully or partially waived when refinancing. Additionally, fixed-rate borrowers are most likely to prepay when refinancing lowers their borrowing cost. These realities mean borrower prepayments often result in the loss of higher-yielding loans with little or no compensation to banks.

Interest rates and prepayments have a unique relationship that can reduce returns. Higher interest rates generally mean higher funding costs and lower prepayments, while lower interest rates result in lower funding costs and higher loan prepayments. In other words, a fixed-rate loan is most likely to remain on-balance sheet when interest rates are high and a bank would prefer it go away, but pay off quickly when interest rates are low and a bank would prefer it stay. This inverse relationship between interest rates and prepayments can significantly reduce the lifetime earnings of a fixed-rate loan.

There are tools to help. Below are some strategies that banks can use to reduce the risks of fixed-rate loans:

  • Consider a customer swap program. Banks can offer borrowers a pay-fixed interest rate swap paired with a floating-rate loan instead of originating a traditional fixed-rate loan. The borrower ends up with a fixed rate; the bank books a floating rate asset that is less sensitive to future interest rate movements. These programs can also be a significant source of non-interest fee income. Modern capital markets technology and advisory companies enable banks of all sizes to offer loan-level hedging programs to qualifying commercial clients.
  • Hedge large deals on a one-off basis. Banks can use an interest rate swap to transform the return of an individual loan from fixed to floating. The borrower maintains a conventional fixed-rate borrowing structure. Separately, the bank executes a pay-fixed swap that effectively converts the loan interest to a variable rate that aligns more closely with its funding costs. While this strategy can be used on any fixed-rate loan, it can be particularly prudent for larger and longer-term transactions.
  • Use longer-duration funding. Banks can borrow for longer terms to match fixed-rate loan maturities, or “match fund,” to reduce interest rate risk. Banks can either issue new longer-term funding vehicles or use interest rate swaps to synthetically convert the maturity of existing short-term funding instruments to longer-duration liabilities. While match funding does not address fixed-rate loan prepayment risks, it does help mitigate some of the earnings risk associated with fixed-rate loans.

How does your bank evaluate fixed-rate loans? Fixed-rate loans are not inherently bad. A well-diversified balance sheet will include a mix of fixed- and floating-rate loans. But originating an outsized portfolio of commercial fixed-rate loans comes with risks that banks should properly evaluate. How is your bank managing the risks associated with fixed-rate loans? Are you booking deals as a quick fix to get through this quarter, or building a safe balance sheet with steady earnings for the future?

With Sector Primed to Consolidate Further, Large Mergers Magnify Opportunity, Risk

The highly competitive and regulated US banking industry has grown increasingly concentrated over the past few decades, and continued ultralow interest rates will spur increased consolidation over at least the next two years, particularly among small and midsized banks that rely heavily on net interest income. Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) offer these banks opportunity to achieve greater scale, efficiency and profitability, a credit positive, but also introduce execution and integration risks that can erode these benefits.

Low interest rates are not the sole driver of consolidation but they increase the likelihood of a jump in M&A activity. The pace of sector consolidation slowed in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic subdued business activity. But small and mid-sized banks retain a particular motivation to pursue M&A because their earnings potential rests more heavily on net interest income, which is hobbled in the current low interest rate environment. Other motivations for M&A include opportunities to cut expenses and the need to obtain and invest in emerging technologies.

In-market transactions present the greatest cost-saving opportunities. Acquisition targets that present the opportunity for efficiency gains have greater relative value. They are also easier for management teams to assess and evaluate, particularly because loan growth and business activity remain hard to forecast in the present economic environment. Branch reductions are a primary means of reducing expenses.

Banks have warmed up to larger deals and so-called ‘mergers of equals.’ The attractiveness of these transactions has grown in the past couple of years, partly because of favorable equity market response. However, execution risk grows with the size of a transaction because issues such as cultural fit become more prominent, with the potential to erode the credit benefits of the combination.

Click here to explore these trends further as part of Moody’s research.

A Banker’s Perspective on LIBOR Transition to SOFR

The scandal associated with manipulation of the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) during the 2008 financial crisis caused a great deal of concern among banking and accounting regulators. In 2014, the Financial Stability Oversight Council recommended that U.S. regulators identify an alternative benchmark rate to LIBOR.  This recommendation was given an effective timeline in 2017 when the UK Financial Conduct Authority, as the regulator of LIBOR, announced the intent to discontinue the rate by year-end 2021. The Federal Reserve and the Alternative Reference Rates Committee (AARC) have since recommended the Secured Overnight Funding Rate (SOFR) as the recommended replacement rate for LIBOR.  Additionally, the AARC recommends that all LIBOR loan agreements cease using any LIBOR index rates by Sept. 30, 2021.

The transition to SOFR presents two distinct challenges for U.S. banks: term structure and fallback language.

Term structure: SOFR is an overnight rate, and not directly appropriate for term lending with monthly or quarterly resets. As such, several possibilities for using SOFR for term lending have emerged, with the main recommendation being Daily Simple SOFR plus a spread adjustment.  This spread adjustment is currently 12 basis points for 1-month LIBOR and 26 basis points for 3-month LIBOR, reflecting the difference between SOFR as a secured rate and LIBOR as an unsecured rate.  More importantly, Daily Simple SOFR is an arrears calculation, which is not particularly client-friendly for a standard commercial bank loan. Nevertheless, the AARC recommends that Daily Simple SOFR be used to replace LIBOR until a true term SOFR rate emerges.

SOFR vs 1-month LIBOR

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Banks are continuing to discuss options that would be easier for clients to understand on smaller bilateral loans, including prime or a historical average SOFR set at the beginning of an interest period (Figure 1). While not necessarily in-line with the cost-of-funds approximation of Daily Simple SOFR in arrears, the ability to set a rate at the beginning of an accrual period may be more appealing for client-friendly relationship banking.  Overall, the market still needs to settle on the best SOFR rate solutions for bilateral bank loans, and banks need to have a plan for using overnight SOFR until a true term SOFR rate is available.

Figure 1: Calculation Options for monthly payment

Fallback language: Most existing loan documentation is not expected to support SOFR without amendment. The AARC recommends adding “fallback language” to existing loan documents, with a very specific “hardwired” approach to using SOFR. This language defines a “waterfall” of options, depending upon what SOFR rates are available. However, many banks have also been working through a more general fallback language, to allow greater flexibility for different types of SOFR calculations as well as the use of other replacement rates. Whatever language is used, however, commercial banks are likely to have hundreds of thousands of floating-rate LIBOR loans that will need to be amended with new fallback language within the next 10 months.

In light of these issues, banks need to examine three key areas that will be affected by LIBOR replacement: documentation, systems and analytics.

Documentation: All existing LIBOR-based loans will need to be reviewed and potentially amended with appropriate fallback language before September 2021.  Amendments will require consent and signature from clients, opening the opportunity for negotiation of existing terms. Banks should have appropriate legal and banker teams working the review and amendment negotiation process with clients. And plenty of time should be allocated for these amendments to be executed and booked ahead of the fourth-quarter 2021 discontinuation of LIBOR.

Systems: All loan and trading systems that index to LIBOR will need to be re-coded to support SOFR. Most major loan system vendors have already created updates to support multiple SOFR calculations, which banks will need to install and test before re-booking amended LIBOR loans. Interfaces and downstream systems may also be impacted. Overall, a full enterprise examination of systems is required as loan systems are re-coded for the SOFR rate.

Analytics: All models — including those used for funds transfer pricing, risk adjusted return on capital and asset-liability management — will need to be rebuilt and pushed into production to support a new SOFR base rate.  Aligning the new floating rate index of SOFR with the models used internally to price funds and risk is essential to ensure that lending is evaluated appropriately.

The move from LIBOR to SOFR is now less than a year away. Bankers have generally embraced an approach to using SOFR; however, there is a great deal of work to be done on documentation, systems and models to be ready for the conversion in 2021.

The Illusive Hunt for Revenue

Fintel.pngThe operating environment for banks is becoming increasingly inhospitable. Rising credit costs and falling interest rates threaten to squeeze profitability in a vice grip unless banks find new revenue sources.

This is why Bank Director’s second annual Experience FinXTech event and awards, hosted virtually at the beginning of May, highlighted fintech companies that are helping banks grow their top lines.

The event brought together bankers and technologists for demonstrations and conversations about the present and future of banking.

As a part of the event, Bank Director crowned fintech winners in seven categories, including Best Solution for Customer Experience, Best Solution for Loan Growth and Best Solution for Revenue Growth.

Fintel Connect won the final category: Best Solution for Revenue Growth.

The Canada-based company amplifies a bank’s marketing campaigns by leveraging an affiliate network of publishers and social influencers, as we explain on our FinXTech Connect platform, which profiles hundreds of tried-and-true technology companies serving the banking industry.

A selling point is that, instead of paying for clicks or impressions, customers of Fintel Connect only pay once a lead converts into an actual customer.

Canada’s EQ Bank has been working with Fintel Connect for years, using it to manage media affiliates — bloggers, interest rate aggregators, etc. EQ attributes the service with boosting customer acquisition “fairly substantially,” with between 5% and 10% of EQ’s new customers now coming through it.

Nest Egg was a runner-up in the category of Best Solution for Revenue Growth. The Philadelphia-based company enables banks to offer high-quality, fully digital investment services in order to increase customer affinity.

OceanFirst Financial Corp., a $10.5 billion bank based in Red Bank, New Jersey, liked Nest Egg so much that it invested in the company.

OceanFirst has recommended Nest Egg’s semi-automated money management tool to retail clients for about a year, with assets under management growing from $0 to $43 million over that time. The service is already cash flow positive for OceanFirst.

The last finalist for this category was Flybits, a fintech company based in Toronto.

Mastercard has been working with Flybits for a year now. They’re still in the early stages of implementing its product, which helps provide contextualized offers to end users of their cards for the purpose of driving usage.

The trajectory has been a positive one for Mastercard, leaving the company optimistic that working with Flybits will help their clients — mainly banks — increase card usage and associated fee income.

One reason Mastercard chose to work with Flybits is because of the way it deals with data. All data is tokenized, with Flybits only selectively accessing the data it needs. There are any number of ways for banks to grow revenue. These are three of the best, according to experienced panel of judges convened to choose the winners at Bank Director’s 2020 Experience FinXTech.

2020 Risk Survey Results: “Don’t Panic. Just Fly the Airplane.”

It wasn’t uncommon in the latter half of 2019 for bank executives to note the margin pressure faced by the industry, brought on by an inhospitable interest rate environment. And rates dropped even lower in early 2020, with the Federal Reserve cutting rates to zero.

“In spite of the Fed’s yo-yo interest rate, we have a responsibility to manage our assets in a manner that is in the best interest[s] of our shareholders and communities we serve. The key is not to panic, but [to] hold the course,” said John Allison, CEO of Conway, Arkansas-based Home Bancshares, in the $15 billion bank’s second quarter 2019 earnings call. “At the end of the day, your management’s trying to operate profitably in the middle of this chaos. They say when you’re piloting an airplane and there’s a major problem, like an engine going out: ‘Don’t panic. Just fly the airplane.’”

Allison’s advice to “just fly the airplane” seems an appropriate way to frame the risks facing the banking industry, which Bank Director explored again in its 2020 Risk Survey, sponsored by Moss Adams. Conducted in January, it includes the views of more than 200 independent directors, CEOs, risk officers and other senior executives of U.S. banks below $50 billion in assets.

A majority of these industry leaders say they’re more worried about interest rate risk amid a competitive environment for deposit growth — 25% report their bank lost deposit share in 2019, and 34% report gains in this area. Looking ahead to 2020, most (73%) say their bank will leverage personal relationships to attract deposits from other institutions. Less than half will leverage digital channels, a strategy that skews toward — but is not exclusive to — larger banks.

In the survey, almost 60% cite increased concerns around credit risk, consistent with the Federal Reserve’s Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey from January, which reports dampened demand for commercial loans and expectations that credit quality will moderately deteriorate.

Interestingly, Bank Director’s 2020 Risk Survey finds respondents almost unanimously reporting that their bank’s loan standards have remained consistent over the past year. However, the majority (67%) also believe that competing banks and credit unions have eased their underwriting standards over the same time period.

 

Key Findings

  • Scaling Back on Stress Tests. The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, passed in May 2018, freed banks between $10 billion and $50 billion in assets from the Dodd-Frank Act (DFAST) stress test requirements. While last year’s survey found that 60% of respondents at these banks planned to keep their stress test practices in place, participants this year reveal they have scaled back (7%) or modified (67%) these procedures.
  • Ready for CECL. More than half of survey respondents say their bank is prepared to comply with the current expected credit loss (CECL) standards; 43% indicate they will be prepared when the standards take effect for their institution.
  • Cyber Anxiety Rising. Eighty-seven percent of respondents say their concerns about cybersecurity threats have risen over the past year. This is the top risk facing the banking industry, according to executives and directors. Further, 77% say their bank has significantly increased its oversight of cybersecurity and data privacy.
  • Board Oversight. Most boards review cybersecurity regularly — either quarterly (46%) or at every board meeting (24%). How the board handles cybersecurity governance varies: 28% handle it within a technology committee, 26% within the risk committee and 19% as a full board. Just one-third have a director with cybersecurity expertise.
  • Climate Change Overlooked. Despite rising attention from regulators, proxy advisors and shareholders, just 11% say their bank’s board discusses climate change at least annually as part of its analysis and understanding of the risks facing the organization. Just 9% say an executive reports to the board annually about the risks and opportunities presented by climate change. More than 20% of respondents say their bank has been impacted by a natural disaster in the past two years.

To view the full results of the survey, click here.