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.

Whipsawed by Interest Rates

One of the things that bankers hate most is uncertainty and abrupt changes in the underlying economics of their business, and the emerging global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is confronting them with the perfect storm.

You can blame it all on the Federal Reserve.

Indeed, the higher rates that the Fed gave in 2018, it is now taken away — and that is creating a big challenge for banks as they scramble to adapt to a very different interest rate scenario from what they were dealing with just 15 months ago.

On March 3, as the economic impact of the coronavirus both globally and in the United States was becoming more apparent and fears about a possible recession were mounting, the Fed made an emergency 50 basis-point cut in interest rates, to a range of 1% to 1.25%. The Fed’s action was dramatic not only because of the size of the reduction, but also because this action was taken “off cycle” — which is to say two weeks prior to the next scheduled meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, which is the Fed’s rate-setting body.

And as this article was being posted, many market observers were expecting that the Fed would follow with another rate cut at its March 17-18 meeting, which would drive down rates to their lowest levels since the financial crisis 12 years ago. Needless to say, banks have been whipsawed by these abrupt shifts in monetary policy. The Fed increased rates four times in 2018, to a range of 2.25% to 2.50%, then lowered rates three times in 2019 when the U.S. economy seemed to be softening, to a range of 1.50% to 1.75%.    

Now, it appears that interest rates might go even lower.

What should bank management teams do to deal with this unexpected shift in interest rates? To gain some insight into that question, I reached out to Matt Pieniazek, president of the Darling Consulting Group in Newburyport, Massachusetts. I’ve known Pieniazek for several years and interviewed him on numerous occasions, and consider him to be one of the industry’s leading experts on asset/liability management. Pieniazek says he has been swamped by community banks looking for advice about how to navigate this new rate environment.

One of Pieniazek’s first comments was to lament that many banks didn’t act sooner when the Fed cut rates last year. “It’s just disappointing that too many banks let their own biases get in the way, rather than listen to their balance sheets,” he says. “There are a lot of things that could’ve been done. Now everyone’s in a panic, and they’re willing to talk about doing things today when the dynamics of it are not very encouraging. Risk return or the cost benefit are just nowhere near the same as what they were just six months ago, let alone a year, year and a half ago.”

So, what’s to be done?

Pieniazek’s first suggestion is to dramatically lower funding costs. “No matter how low their funding costs are, very few banks are going to be able to outrun this on the asset side,” he says. “They’ve got to be able to [be] diligent and disciplined and formalized in their approach to driving down deposit costs.”

“In doing so, they have to acknowledge that there could be some risk of loss of balances,” Pieniazek continues. “As a result, they need to really revisit their contingency liquidity planning. They have to also revisit with management and the board the extent to which they truly are willing to utilize wholesale funding. The more you’re willing to do that, the more you would be willing to test the water on lowering deposits. I think there is a correlation to comfort level and challenging yourself to lower deposits and well thought out contingency planning that incorporates the willingness and ability to prudently use the wholesale market. Aggressively attacking deposit costs has to be accompanied by a real hard, fresh look at contingency liquidity planning and the bank’s philosophy toward wholesale markets.”

This strategy of driving down funding costs might be a hard sell in a market where competitors are still paying relatively high rates on deposits. “Well, you know what?” Pieniazek says. “You’ve got two choices. You either let village idiots drive your business, or you do what makes sense for your organization.”

Most banks will also feel pressure on the asset side of their balance sheets as rates decline. Banks that have a large percentage of floating rate loans may not have enough funding to offset them. As those loans reprice in a falling rate environment, banks will feel pressure to correspondingly lower their funding costs to protect their net interest margins as much as possible. And while community banks typically don’t have a lot of floating rate loans, they do have high percentages of commercial real estate loans, which Pieniazek estimates have an average life span of two and a half years. The only alternative to lowering deposit costs to protect the margin would be to dramatically grow the loan portfolio during a time of great economic uncertainty. But as Pieniazek puts it, “There’s not enough growth out there at [attractive] yield levels to allow people to head off that margin compression.”

Pieniazek’s second suggestion is to review your loan documents. “While I’m not suggesting [interest] rates are going to go negative, most banks do not have loan docs which prevent rates from going negative,” he says. “They need to revisit their loan docs and make sure that there’s lifetime floors on all of their loans that will not enable the actual note rate to go zero. They could always negotiate lower if they want. They can’t negotiate up.”

His final suggestion is that community banks need to strongly consider the use of derivatives to hedge their interest rate exposure. “If you think in an environment like this that your customers are going to allow you to dictate the structure of your balance sheet, you better think again,” he says. “Everyone’s going to want to shorten up … What you’re going to find is retail customers are going to keep their money short. In times of uncertainty, what do people want to do? They want to keep their cash close to them, don’t they?”

Of course, while depositors are going to keep their money on a short leash, borrowers “are going to want to know what the 100-year loan rate is,” Pieniazek says. And this scenario creates the potential for disaster that has been seen time and again in banking — funding long-term assets with short-term deposits.

The only thing you can do is augment customer behavior through the use of derivatives,” Pieniazek says. “Interest rate caps are hugely invaluable here for banks to hedge against rising rates while allowing their funding costs to remain or cycle lower if rates go lower. In a world of pressure for long-term fixed rate assets, being able to do derivatives … allows banks to convert fixed-rate loans in their portfolio to floating for whatever time period they want, starting whenever they want.”

During times of uncertainty and volatility, Pieniazek says it’s crucial that bank management teams make sound judgments based on a clear understanding of their ramifications. “Don’t let panic and fear result in you changing your operating strategy,” he says. “The worst thing to do is make material changes because of fear and panic. Let common sense and a clear understanding of your balance sheet, your risk profile, drive your thought process. And don’t be afraid to take calculated risks.”

A Fresh Look At Derivatives Under New Hedging Rules

A new accounting standard could make hedging with derivatives a more-viable risk management strategy for banks that had previously avoided them.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board sought to remove some barriers that previously discouraged many banks from using derivatives to hedge exposure to fluctuating interest rates. Now is an appropriate time for board members at banks of all sizes to ask their executive teams about their risk management strategies, and whether derivatives should play a larger role.

The standard — Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2017-12, “Derivatives and Hedging (Topic 815): Targeted Improvements to Accounting for Hedging Activities” — went into effect for publicly traded institutions in the fiscal year beginning after Dec. 15, 2018. It takes effect for privately held banks in the fiscal year beginning after Dec. 15, 2020, though early adoption is permitted.

In theory, using derivatives such as interest-rate swaps should be an effective way for banks to fine-tune portfolios and offset risks that come with having a mix of fixed rate and floating rate assets and liabilities. In practice, however, many banks chose not to hedge with derivatives because of complicated accounting and financial reporting practices required by generally accepted accounting principles.

Old hedging rules required banks to separately measure and report hedge ineffectiveness, or any amounts by which a derivative did not perfectly mirror the instrument being hedged —even if the hedge was effective overall. Separately reporting ineffectiveness was confusing for investors and often conveyed a misleading impression of a bank’s derivatives-based hedging practices.

The new standard eliminates that requirement, resulting in hedge accounting that more accurately reflects a bank’s risk management activities and provides financial statement users more worthwhile information about the effect of hedging activities.

When initially establishing a hedge, banks must document how they will evaluate its effectiveness in offsetting the changes in the fair value or cash flow of the hedged instrument. This evaluation must be performed quarterly.

In the past, when a bank chose the “shortcut” method for evaluating hedge effectiveness, it was bound to that method throughout the life of the hedge. If management later determined that the more complicated “long-haul” method would be more appropriate, they could not simply start using that method prospectively. Rather, they would also have to evaluate for a possible restatement of previous financial statements, as if hedge accounting had never been applied.

The new standard changes that. Banks now may specify a long-haul method in their documentation to be used as a fallback method if they later determine that the shortcut method is no longer appropriate.

Things also have gotten simpler for banks that choose the long-haul method at inception. Previously, banks using the long-haul method were required to perform a quantitative assessment (such as a regression analysis) every quarter for the life of a hedge. The new standard still requires a quantitative assessment at inception, but now in certain circumstances banks can perform subsequent quarterly assessments using only qualitative methods, validating that the terms and conditions of the hedged transaction and hedging derivative have not changed.

The new guidance also revises how a bank may measure the change in a hedged item’s fair value due to changes in its benchmark interest rate. Instead of calculating fair value based on all the cash flows of the instrument’s coupon, banks now can calculate the change in fair value based solely on the benchmark interest rate component, which is a more targeted and appropriate measure.

Under old hedging rules, hedging the change in fair value of an instrument (such as a fixed-rate loan) generally required the life of the hedged instrument and the life of the hedging derivative (such as an interest-rate swap) to match. The new standard removes that burden and allows for partial-term fair value hedges. For example, a bank can hedge a 10-year fixed rate loan for only two years, using a two-year interest-rate swap.

Another new opportunity known as the “last-of-layer” technique lets banks hedge the change in fair value of a pool of long-term fixed rate assets such as loans or securities — a hedge that generally was not possible in the past. Upon adoption of the standard, banks are permitted to transfer eligible held-to-maturity securities to available for sale, even if the bank eventually chooses not to hedge the securities at all.

Bank directors should familiarize themselves with the ways the new standard simplifies hedge accounting and enables new hedging techniques before engaging management to decide if it’s time to introduce or expand derivatives as risk management tools.

Window of Opportunity for Sub Debt

Bankers who have not done so recently may want to revisit their subordinated debt playbooks so they can successfully navigate an emerging window of opportunity.

Market activity is up significantly due to interest rate trends, regulatory developments and other factors. Bank management teams who are prepared to act quickly can capitalize on the opportunity.

Sub debt is a long-term debt obligation with a maturity typically ranging from 10 to 15 years, a fixed (or fixed-to-floating) interest rate and the ability for the issuer to redeem the notes under certain circumstances. It has become a staple of bank capital planning, because it can qualify as Tier 2 capital if properly structured. Most banks can even use it to generate Tier 1 capital at the bank level, a strategy even more banks can employ following the 2018 changes to the Federal Reserve’s Small Bank Holding Company Policy Statement.

However, executives must be mindful of certain limitations of sub debt. In particular, its treatment as Tier 2 capital is phased out by 20% per year, beginning five years before maturity. Additionally, the interest rate typically flips from a fixed rate to a floating rate during the last five years, which is often higher than the fixed rate. Accordingly, banks that issued sub debt in 2014 and 2015 — when they were preparing for Basel III capital rules and, in some cases, repaying comparatively expensive Troubled Asset Relief Program funding — may now have the opportunity to refinance that sub debt.

New Issuances
Banks considering a new sub debt offering need to consider several matters in planning the transaction. These include many familiar decision points, such as selecting a placement agent or underwriter, deciding whether to seek a credit rating, consulting with regulators and determining the proposed offering terms, including offering size, maturity, interest rate structure, use of proceeds and other matters. In addition, banks will need to be mindful of federal securities laws that govern the offering.

There are also new issues for management teams to consider, like selecting a benchmark rate for the floating rate component. Historically, sub debt floating rates have been calculated based on the London Interbank Offered Rate, or LIBOR. Given LIBOR’s likely disappearance after 2021, issuers will need to evaluate whether to preserve the flexibility to select an alternate benchmark rate at the beginning of the floating rate period or to preemptively commit to an alternate benchmark.

Directors will want to make sure they have a clear understanding of how the offering complies with the company’s long-term capital plan and review the pro forma effects of the offering on capital ratios. From a fiduciary perspective, they also need to understand how the sub debt fits into the capital structure and how the organization will use the proceeds.

Given the significant planning needed ahead of a sub debt issuance, banks should begin the process at least two to three months before they need the capital.

Redeeming Existing Sub Debt
The mechanics of redeeming existing sub debt are relatively straightforward, and are governed by the terms of the notes and any applicable indenture. The terms can limit the dates on which a redemption can be completed, require some notice period to holders and dictate that partial redemptions be allocated pro rata among noteholders.

But before taking any steps, it is critical that issuers consult with their regulators and be mindful of related issues, including compliance with the Federal Reserve’s SR letter 09-4, which prescribes certain actions and considerations in connection with return of capital transactions. Depending on an institution’s size and other characteristics, it may need to obtain prior regulatory approval. Directors will need to understand the effects of the redemption on the organization’s capital structure and pro forma capital ratios.

Public Company Considerations
Banks with publicly listed holding companies will also want to evaluate whether to conduct a public offering through their shelf registration statement. This generally requires an indenture, clearinghouse eligibility, prospectus supplements, a free writing prospectus, limitations on credit rating disclosure and other actions. However, it can improve execution by making it easier for purchasers to resell their notes. Public companies also need to comply with their Exchange Act reporting obligations.

While there are several other issues to be considered in connection with any sub debt issuance or redemption transaction, management teams and boards of directors who have a basic understanding of the considerations outlined above will be well positioned to develop and maintain a strong capital foundation to execute their strategic growth initiatives.

“The Biggest Threat to the Deposit Insurance Fund I’ve Ever Seen”


rates-6-28-19.pngA little-known rule called the national rate cap is putting community banks in a bind.

The cap tries to set a high-water mark for rates by calculating a weekly average of advertised interest rates for specific deposit products at branches, plus 75 basis points. This wasn’t a problem when interest rates were dropping or staying steady, but the higher rate environment has now inadvertently handicapped community banks as they compete for deposits.

Bankers say the rate cap, calculated and enforced by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., is unrealistically low compared to corresponding market rates. The difference could also make some banks appear riskier if examiners bring up deposit rates in exams.

Peoples Bank in Magnolia, Arkansas, uses wholesale funding to make loans for its low- to middle-income customers who lack deposits, says CEO Mary Fowler. The bank, which is well capitalized and has $200 million in assets, offers attractive rates to bring in and retain many of those funds.

The only problem? More than 90 percent of certificates of deposit (CDs) at Peoples Bank pay a rate that is higher than the rate cap.

“I call [these] traditional deposits, because they’re core as long as you’re paying the best rate in town. But we have to pay market rates for it,” she says.

Other banks are in a similar position, as higher rates have caused the national rate cap to lag the yield on Treasury securities of similar durations. This puts bankers like Fowler in a tough spot. They need to offer rates above the cap to attract or maintain deposits, but doing so invites skepticism from regulators. The FDIC declined to comment.

“Why would a customer get a CD from me when I can only hypothetically pay the national rate cap?” says Joseph Kiley III, president and CEO of Renton, Washington-based First Financial Northwest, a well-capitalized bank with $1.3 billion in assets. He points out that, at times, Treasuries paid more than 100 basis points above the rate cap.

National Rate Cap.png

Bankers say the cap also creates tension with examiners, who see it as a proxy for “potentially volatile” deposits. That’s because the rule, which should only apply to a small subset of thinly capitalized institutions, has become standard across the industry.

Examiners ask executives at healthy banks what they would do with these higher-rate deposits if the bank lost capital and was forced to abide by the cap, says John Popeo, a principal at the consultancy Gallatin Group. Popeo is a former FDIC regulator who helped resolve failed banks after the financial crisis, and represents institutions across the country that are well capitalized and do not have any immediate regulatory issues.

He says examiners are not threatening a regulatory downgrade but want to see how the bank would fund itself in the event it is no longer well capitalized. For some banks, the answer isn’t pretty.

The cap could lead to systemic problems if too many banks dip below well-capitalized levels during an economic downturn, as the FDIC prohibits less-than-well-capitalized banks from offering rates above the cap.

“When they pull your funding, you’re done,” Kiley says. “[Your bank is] just going to bleed to death.”

The FDIC has begun the process of changing the rate cap calculation, but Fowler worries that an economic downturn that threatens bank capital levels could come faster than regulators’ correction. She has been in banking for decades and says the rate cap is “the biggest threat to the deposit insurance fund I’ve ever seen.”

Executives from Peoples Bank wrote five comment letters on the request for proposal. Fowler points out that the FDIC calculated the cap using only Treasury yields prior to 2009, at which point it changed its approach.

In calculating the rate cap now, the FDIC uses an average of prevailing deposit rates at bank branches, but excludes credit unions, negotiated rates and special offers from the calculation. Using branches means that big banks are overrepresented, and online banks paying market-leading rates are underrepresented. Fowler says the FDIC should change this. She thinks it should compare the current approach to the old Treasury approach, and select the rate that’s higher.

Kiley questions whether a rate cap is an antiquated notion but hopes any change will account for how customers interact with banks and rate-shop in the digital age. If the rate cap continues to exist, he would prefer that the FDIC use wholesale funding rates from institutions like the Federal Home Loan Bank.

“We are living in a world where we pretend folks walk into branches and say ‘Hi’ to the teller … and wave to their money in the vault,” he says. “Everyone banks like they buy from Amazon.com. I don’t think there should be a rate cap.”

Grow Core Deposits Using Custom Rewards, Not Toasters


deposit-12-20-19.pngOver the past three years, the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates nine times and created an environment where banks can earn more on their lending portfolios, but also a heated battle to win deposits.

Compounding the issue is technology, which has made it easier than ever for customers to shop around for competitive rates and switch banks.

To grow and retain deposits, financial institutions need to be proactive in providing the rates and benefits customers want. But it can be a challenge to offer those benefits in a way that increases the quality and quantity of all-important core deposits.

Many banks have structured rewards programs so they reward a new product purchase or behavior, but they don’t incentivize long-term changes in customer interactions with the bank.

Institutions have long offered incentives such as hundreds of dollars of cash back for new account openings, or extravagant gifts for scheduling a recurring transfer of funds. However, these arrangements can often backfire. Once the customer receives their cash back, the newly opened account can languish unused and transaction-less indefinitely.

The expensive gadget the bank gave away doesn’t make financial sense against the $10 monthly transfer the customer automated from their checking account to their savings account.

Institutions like Leader Bank, a $1.4 billion asset bank based in Arlington, Massachusetts, and Opportunity Bank of Montana, a $700 million asset bank based in Helena, have solved this issue by incentivizing behaviors that build the habits of an ideal core customer. As for the rewards, they provide benefits that can be easily administered because they tie into the bank’s existing business model.

The types of behaviors that create habits for bank customers—and profitability for the bank—should be focused on the continuous utilization of bank products.

Here are some examples:

  • Use the bank’s debit card for 10 or more transactions a month. This moves the bank’s debit card to top-of-wallet and increases interchange fee income. 
  • Sign up for a sizeable monthly direct deposit. Banks can require a direct deposit of $800 or $1,500—whatever amount makes sense in their local market. This behavior ensures that the account earning rewards becomes the customer’s primary account. 
  • Sign up for e-statements. Even a simple behavior like opting into e-statements will save the bank money.

When all of the activities above are bundled together, these requirements for qualifying for rewards could transform a customer into a valuable core depositor.

In return for the customer meeting the bank’s qualifications, banks should go far to provide return value. One-time gifts and prizes are often not enough to drive consistent, ongoing customer behavior; the rewards must be ongoing as well.

Practical, local, ongoing benefits will help a community bank stand out and compete against mega-banks.

Consider these options:

  • Reimburse ATM fees. One of the primary benefits that a mega-bank has over the typical community bank is its national footprint. Banks of any size can offer ATM fee reimbursement as a reward. Not only does this expand the bank’s footprint by giving customers access to their cash from anywhere, it also reinforces the customer’s new habit to use their debit card more frequently. 
  • Offer cash back on debit card transactions. Cash back signals to customers that your bank is grateful to have their business and mirrors offers by major credit card companies. Whether your bank can offer 1 percent or 3 percent, your institution can likely find a sweet spot for this attractive incentive that makes financial sense.
  • Provide discounts with local merchants. Leader Bank partners with more than 20 local merchants who provide discounts to the bank’s rewards customers when they shop at their businesses. This type of reward can help the bank integrate deeper into the local community. 
  • Offer higher yielding rates on companion savings accounts for core customers, but only if and when they meet the criteria.

Given that rising interest rates are a major driver in the battle for deposits, rates on savings accounts may be a key component to driving customer acquisition. But your bank may not have to pay that higher rate out every month.

With a technology solution, banks can manage their rewards in such a way that, unless a customer meets all of the criteria for rewards in a given month, they don’t earn rewards that month either. This feature optimizes savings for the bank and ensures that customers continue to engage with the bank like a core customer.

By playing to their strengths and rewarding the right behaviors, banks can create custom rewards programs that both make sense with their business model and provide the kind of marquee benefits today’s consumers are seeking.

It’s ‘Game On’ in the Battle for Bank Deposits


deposits-2-13-19.pngAs both interest rates and loan demand rise, the battle for deposits among community financial institutions is only getting tougher.

Following the financial crisis, consumers generally parked their money in banks across the U.S. Despite the little or no interest these institutions offered, deposits grew steadily—to historic levels, in fact.

After multiple interest rate hikes and a burgeoning economy, depositors now more often shop for higher yields. According to third quarter 2018 Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data, noninterest-bearing deposits declined by $72.9 billion (2.3 percent), the largest quarterly dollar decline since the first quarter of 2013.

This shift is concerning for community banks because deposits help fund loans and serve as a key factor in determining overall profitability. As a result, community bank management teams must develop strong deposit strategies that ensure future growth and institutional stability.

Loan Funding and Deposits
Community institutions must seek more expensive funding—which shrinks profitability—or even decrease lending. The latter strategy is not what most banks want to do, especially since loan demand has generally been improving.

Fifty-five percent of bankers reported an increase in loan demand over the past 12 months, up two percentage points from the previous quarter, according to Promontory Interfinancial Network’s Bank Executive Business Survey, published in the third quarter of 2018. A recent survey conducted by JPMorgan Chase & Co. found about 91 percent of small and midsize companies expect to maintain or increase capital expenditures in 2019.

This scenario brings new attention and importance to loan-to-deposit ratio (LDR), a ratio of total outstanding loans to its total deposit balance. Traditionally, banks try to maintain an LDR around 80–90 percent, to maintain adequate liquidity.

Beating the Competition
Promontory’s study states that 90 percent of 389 bank CEOs, presidents and CFOs that were surveyed across all asset sizes and regions expect to see an increase in deposit competition over the next 12 months.

Growing deposits is especially important for regional and community banks that lack the branch networks, digital footprints and marketing budgets of the nation’s largest institutions, which have experienced above-average deposit growth.

Promontory also asked what strategies they are using to increase deposits. The majority said offering higher interest rates is the best strategy.

While many institutions hold off on interest rate increases as long as possible, it may be time to consider this strategy. But with so many banks also raising rates, other efforts to create differentiation in the marketplace is essential, including:

Target growth in specific deposit products, including commercial deposits, treasury management activities and retail time deposits.

  • Consider employing time deposit sales strategies, including training frontline staff to negotiate tailored CD rates and terms.

Employ client-focused approaches not dependent on rate, like enhanced customer service and establishing stronger relationships with depositors.

  • Capitalize on the bank’s data to personalize the consumer journey across all channels and touchpoints, including account onboarding. McKinsey estimates personalization can deliver 5 to 8 times the return on investment in marketing expenditures, and can lift sales by 10 percent or more. 
  • Emulate the service standards set by Amazon and Google, which personalize, predict and suggest a next purchase.
  • Provide tailored financial education based on individual goals and cross-sell based on current product penetration. 

Invest in a digital referral program. Your current customers are your best source for profitable checking account growth. Using digital word-of-mouth referral programs on phones, tablets, computers and social media is key to brand awareness and recommendations.

  • According to the EY’s Global Consumer Banking Survey, 71 percent of global consumers consult friends, families and colleagues first about banking products and relationships.

Improve marketing and advertising efforts

  • Banks can use automated marketing platforms, local search engine optimization (SEO), geo-targeting, social media, mobile technology, etc. 

Capitalize on reciprocal deposits, which are no longer considered brokered deposits thanks to the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, signed into law in May 2018. In a nutshell, the new law can make it possible for qualifying banks to more readily tap stable, mostly local funds while reducing the risk for customers to deposit more than $250,000.

Invest in cost-effective digital and cloud-computing technology that delivers faster, more transparent and smoother access to services.

  • These technologies include digital lending for consumers and small businesses, online account opening and onboarding, user-friendly apps, mobile payments, biometrics, contactless ATMs, etc.

Today’s bank customers want to maximize return on their deposits and banking relationship. For community banks, collecting and keeping these deposits is a strategic objective that may not be achieved with a lone “silver bullet” tactic. Absent a merger/acquisition proposition, these institutions are wise to adopt a proactive, multi-pronged approach.

Fuel for More M&A in 2019



How will economic factors like today’s strong stock market and rising interest rates, along with the banking industry’s demand for core deposits, impact profitability and growth in 2019? Dory Wiley of Commerce Street Capital predicts we’ll see more deals. Find out why in this video.

  • M&A Drivers in 2019
  • What to Know About Valuations
  • Powering Future Growth
  • Headwinds Facing the Industry

The Biggest Changes in Banking Since 1993


acquire-1-25-19.pngWhen Bank Director hosted its first Acquire or Be Acquired Conference 25 years ago, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” held the top spot on Billboard’s Top 40 chart.

Boston Celtics legend, Larry Bird, was about to retire.

Readers flocked to bookstores for the latest New York Times best seller: “The Bridges of Madison County.”

Bill Clinton had just been sworn in as president of the United States.

And the internet wasn’t yet on the public radar, nor was Sarbanes Oxley, the financial crisis, the Dodd-Frank Act, Occupy Wall Street or the #MeToo movement.

It was 1993, and buzzwords like “digital transformation” were more intriguing to science-fiction fans than to officers and directors at financial institutions.

My, how times have changed.

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When we introduced Acquire or Be Acquired to bank CEOs and leadership teams a quarter century ago, there were nearly 11,000 banks in the country. Federal laws prohibited interstate banking at the time, leaving it up to the states to decide if a bank holding company in one state would be allowed to acquire a bank in another state. And commercial and investment banks were still largely kept separate.

Today, there are fewer than half as many commercial banks—of the 10 banks with the largest markets caps in 1993, only five still exist as independent entities.

It’s not only the number of banks that has changed, either; the competitive dynamics of our industry have changed, too.

Three banks are so big that they’re prohibited from buying other banks. These behemoths—JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co. and Bank of America Corp.—each control more than 10 percent of total domestic deposits.

Some people see this as an evolutionary process, where the biggest and strongest players consume the weakest, painting a pessimistic, Darwinian picture of the industry.

Yet, this past year was the most profitable for banks in history.

Net income in the industry reached a record level in 2018, thanks to rising interest rates and the corporate tax cut.

Profitability benchmarks in place since the 1950s had to be raised. Return on assets jumped from 1 percent to 1.2 percent, return on equity climbed from 10 percent to 12 percent.

Nonetheless, ominous threats remain on the horizon, some drawing ever nearer.

  • Interest rates are rising, which could spark a recession and influence the allocation of deposits between big and little banks.
  • Digital banking is here. Three quarters of Bank of America’s deposits are completed digitally, with roughly the same percentage of mortgage applications at U.S. Bancorp completed on mobile devices.
  • Innovation will only accelerate, as banks continue investing in technology initiatives.
  • Credit quality is pristine now, but the cycle will turn. We are, after all, 40 quarters into what is now the second-longest economic expansion in U.S. history.
  • Consolidation will continue, though no one knows at what rate.

But it shouldn’t be lost that certain things haven’t changed. Chief among these is the fact that bankers and the institutions they run remain at the center of our communities, fueling this great country’s growth.

That’s why it’s been such an honor for us to host this prestigious event each year for the past quarter century.

For those joining us at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge outside Phoenix, Arizona, you’re in for a three-day treat. Can’t make it? Don’t despair: We intend to share updates from the conference via BankDirector.com and over social media platforms, including Twitter and LinkedIn, where we’ll be using the hashtag #AOBA19.