They have an opportunity to expand beyond traditional financial services, especially with younger customers that are used to top-notch user experiences from large technology companies. This may mean they need to revisit their strategy and approach to dealing with this customer segment, in response to changing consumer tastes.
Banks need to adjust their strategies in order to stay relevant among new competition: Accenture predicts that new business models could impact 80% of existing bank revenues by 2020. Many firms employ a “push” strategy, offering customers pre-determined bundles and services that align more with the institution’s corporate financial goals.
What’s missing, however, is an extensive “pull” strategy, where they take the time to understand their customers’ needs. By doing this, banks can make informed decisions about what to recommend to customers, based on their major consumer life milestones.
Only four in 10 millennials say that they would bundle services with financial institutions. Customers clearly do not feel that banks are putting them first. To re-attract customers, banks need to look at what they are truly willing to pay for — starting with subscription-based services. U.S consumers age 25 to 34 would be interested in paying subscription fees for the financial services they bundle through their bank such as loans, identity protection, checking accounts and more, according to a report from EY. With banks already providing incentives like lower interest rates or other perks to bundle their services, customers are likely to view a subscription of bundled services with a monthly or annual fee as the best value.
Subscription-based services are a model that’s already found success in the technology and lifestyle sector. This approach could increase revenue while re-engaging younger generations in a way that feels personal to them. Banks that decide to offer subscription-based services may be able to significantly improve relationships with their millennial customers.
But in order to gain a deeper understanding of what services millennials desire, banks will need to look at their current customer data. Banks can leverage this data with digital technology and partnerships with companies in sectors such as automotive, education or real estate, to create service offerings that capitalize on life events and ultimately increasing loyalty.
Student loans are one area where financial institutions could apply this approach. If a bank has customers going through medical school, they can offer a loan that doesn’t need to be repaid until after graduation. To take the relationship even further, banks can connect customers who are established medical professionals to those medical students to network and share advice, creating a more personal experience for everyone.
These structured customer interactions will give banks even more data they can use to improve their pull strategy. Banks gain a more holistic view of customers, can expand their menu of services with relevant products and services and improve the customer experience. Embracing a “pull” strategy allows banks to go above and beyond, offering products that foster loyalty with existing customers and drawing new ones in through expanded services. The banks that choose to evolve now will own the market, and demonstrate their value to customers early on.
It’s a constant surprise to see how much opportunity still exists within a customer base for increasing revenue via timely and effective cross-selling. Growing revenue by meeting a greater share of an existing customer’s needs is almost always more cost-efficient than seeking out new customers.
We also see many questions about how best to attract and relate to younger consumers among the millennials and Generation Z.
Fortunately, a well-executed digital marketing strategy can be beneficial in expanding your service to existing customers and attracting new business from among the millennials and Gen Z.
Content Marketing It all starts with a story. While “content marketing” is a common buzzword, the concept is as old as writing itself: good stories get people’s attention. Content marketing is nothing more than informative and entertaining solutions to your customers’ challenges.
Developing an outstanding content marketing program requires deep understanding of the consumer buying cycle. Referred to as the “buyer journey,” this roadmap of consumer behavior outlines the prominent questions and issues at each stage of the buying cycle.
For example, according to a Harris Poll conducted for the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, 71 percent of millennial workers are saving for retirement and 39 percent of millennials are saving more than 10 percent of their salary. Imagine your bank is selling this group IRA’s and want them to come in for a financial planning session.
It would seem like a perfect fit. But not so fast.
A Charles Schwab study showed that millennials hold 25 percent of their portfolios in cash due to worry about the stock market and investing. Bank marketers have an opportunity to educate potential customers on ways to make those savings grow rather than just promoting the “end point” IRA product.
Savvy marketers prepare a range of content for each stage in the cycle and for each channel of their marketing efforts. Blog posts, social media content, video and podcasts work together to place your bank at the forefront of the consumer’s mind through the process.
Paid Online Advertising Combined With Machine Learning The world of paid online advertising has expanded dramatically in the last two decades. Commonly referred to as “pay-per-click” or “PPC” advertising, there are tools that allow bank marketers to target specific consumer and business populations with uncanny accuracy. This combined with advances in machine learning technology allows banks to deploy efficient campaigns that deliver targeted content and offers when they are most likely to capture attention.
Paid advertising is measurable in ways traditional advertising is not. PPC advertising allows bank marketers to run campaigns on the basis of Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) nearly in real time. Budgets can be increased or decreased if lead costs are favorable. Offers and creative can be tested on the fly using financial results.
User Experience Design Many articles gloss over the significance of user experience design in favor of touting the virtues of “online banking.” Marketers ignore this facet of customer acquisition and retention at their peril.
The user experience, or UX, does not need to be pretty in order to be effective.
For banks, UX is important in reducing the friction of any financial transaction where consumers spend most of their time online. Rather than simply think of “having online banking,” bank marketers need to measure the rate of sign-up abandonment, transaction cancellation, and other indicators that a bank’s online tools are difficult to use.
Banks that lack the brand strength of large national or regional players and rely on high-quality customer service need to be relentless in making their online banking options easy to use. Asking customers to download three different apps and carry multiple logins is a far cry from the face recognition and one-button interface offered by some of the nation’s largest banks.
Tying it All Together The need for financial services is lifelong. Consumers pass through a variety of financial stages throughout their lives. Each of these stages contains its own, unique buyer journey.
Surveys and regular email and social media communication can help current customers find answers to their questions at the right time. Intelligent remarketing that drives paid advertising can help your results appear in their web searches and expand their understanding of the full range of services you offer. Thoughtful UX can enable customers to discover new products that solve problems when they first encounter them.
All of these benefits apply to your prospective clients. Being able to precisely target consumers when they are searching for answers means you can capture their attention earlier in the buying cycle.
Frictionless and “invisible” UX allows you to bring those new customers into your product and service ecosystem with the ease that younger consumers expect.
The banking industry sits at an interesting crossroads from a talent management perspective. Demographically, many banks are layered like a parfait, with as many as four distinct generations working in the organization, each with its own set of personality traits, likes and dislikes.
The oldest generation—the baby boomer generation, now running the bank for several years—is beginning to retire in increasing numbers. The Generation X cohort, which follows the boomers, is moving into senior management, the best and brightest among them soon to rise to the CEO and CFO level, if they haven’t already.
Generation Y, otherwise known as millennials, are now far enough along in their careers to have gained some meaningful experience, and the really talented ones are identifiable to the bank. Most members of the final and largest cohort, Generation Z, are still in high school and college, although the oldest ones are entering the workforce. At 26 percent of the population, Gen Z will be a force for the next several decades.
This dramatic generational shift is forcing banks to become more proactive in how they manage their talent, particularly millennials, who will comprise a significant part of the industry’s workforce in the near future. The importance of creating opportunities for those individuals was a significant theme in day two of Bank Director’s 2018 Bank Compensation and Talent Conference, held at the Four Seasons Resort and Club at Las Colinas in Dallas, Texas.
In a session on talent management, Beth Bauman, an executive vice president and head of human resources at the Bank of Butterfield, a NYSE-listed $11 billion asset bank domiciled in Bermuda, described the situation at the bank when she joined it in 2015. Butterfield had frozen salaries and done relatively little hiring for several years as it struggled to recover from the financial crisis. So Bauman, along with senior management, has worked to bring in new talent so the bank can continue to grow.
A key element of that hiring effort has been to create a talent management program so Butterfield’s younger employees can have their careers guided, with the most talented groomed for higher positions within the bank.
Bauman sees this as a key to successfully managing the generational change occurring now throughout the industry. “Regardless of the size of your bank, you can have an effective talent management program,” she says.
Talent management has been very much on the minds of the conference attendees. In an audience survey that polled the 300-plus people who were there, 45 percent said it has become both more difficult and costly to attract and retain talented staff—a result not surprising in an economy where the unemployment rate is just 3.7 percent. Banking also has the disadvantage of not being perceived as an exciting employment opportunity for many job seekers, particularly millennials.
Sixty-one percent of the survey respondents said their bank is actively and intentionally recruiting younger employees like millennials and Gen Z’ers.
Similarly, more than 70 percent said in the last two years their bank has expanded its internal training programs to develop younger leaders within the organization.
As increasing numbers of baby boomers approach retirement (the youngest boomers are in their mid-50’s), and Gen X’ers take their place in the management hierarchy, it will create an opportunity for millennials to move up as well. Gen X’ers are the smallest of the four demographic groups at just 20 percent of the population, so the banking industry will be forced to rely disproportionately on millennials as this generational shift occurs.
This is why training programs that focus on talented younger employees in the organization are so important.
We’ve all heard the jibes about millennials’ self-absorption, or their refusal to return voicemail messages, but the fact is the oldest among them are already buying homes and raising families, and when the day comes to run the bank, they’ll need to be ready.
Consumers moved $25 billion in the first quarter of this year using Zelle, the peer-to-peer (P2P) real-time mobile payments service introduced late last year. That puts consumers on track to spend an estimated $100 billion through Zelle this year, a 33-percent increase from 2017. While this indicates an impressive level of growth, it is less clear whether consumer acceptance will be widespread enough to fuel mass adoption by the nation’s financial institutions. But bank leaders can’t ignore the important role payments could play in their organizations.
Few financial institutions offer Zelle to their customers. Zelle lists 113 financial partners, a fraction of the more than 10,000 U.S. banks and credit unions. Twenty-nine banks have launched the service so far, including the seven big banks that partnered together to form Early Warning, the company that owns Zelle. (The consortium also owned Zelle’s predecessor, clearXchange, which was deactivated shortly following Zelle’s September 2017 launch; Zelle’s transaction data includes clearXchange.)
The biggest banks hold the lion’s share of deposits—the consortium accounts for more than 40 percent of domestic deposits, according to an analysis of Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data—so many consumers already have access to Zelle.
“P2P really works when all of your friends and family can use it,” says Jimmy Stead, the chief consumer banking officer at $31.5 billion asset Frost Bank. Frost was an early Zelle adopter, signing on with clearXchange in September 2016. He says customers love it, and use of the service has grown by roughly 300 percent over the past year.
Zelle is free for consumers and easily accessible through their bank’s online and mobile banking channels. (Consumers can use the Zelle app if their bank hasn’t launched the service.)
Early Warning’s efforts to generate buzz around the Zelle brand—most notably through a series of TV ads featuring Hamilton actor Daveed Diggs—help partner banks get their customers on board. And Zelle only has to convert existing bank customers to the service, while services like Venmo have to attract individual new users, notes Ron Shevlin, director of research at Cornerstone Advisors.
A lack of interoperability between payments services has dampened mobile P2P adoption by consumers, says Talie Baker, a senior analyst at Aite Group. “[Zelle] will be the only interoperable network for mobile P2P payments once all the banks get on board with it—and it basically is right now because of their partnership” with Visa and Mastercard, she says. Eventually, “a bank that’s not participating in [Zelle] is going to have a hard time being in business.”
Eighty-four of the financial institutions partnering with Zelle have yet to launch the service, and the rest of the industry is waiting in the wings. But implementation isn’t as easy as just flipping a switch.
“This is a very complex system—it’s spread across multiple banking platforms, multiple electronic data providers,” says Frank Sorrentino, CEO of $5.2 billion asset ConnectOne Bancorp in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. The bank plans to launch Zelle in August. A Zelle spokesperson confirms the payments system must be integrated with the bank’s core, which includes integrating messaging, and putting policies and procedures in place around risk management and customer support.
It’s interesting to note that the Zelle TV spots feature a diverse cast of actors, not just millennials. Stead says that adoption leans toward Frost Bank’s younger customers, but older customers are using the service, too. Cross-generational payments—a college kid getting rent money from mom and dad, for example—are common. This sets Zelle apart from the millennial-heavy Venmo, which doesn’t put funds directly into a bank account (users have a Venmo balance) and has a lower average transaction compared to Zelle.
But the payments space isn’t poised to end like Highlander, the 1986 Sean Connery film in which immortal beings fought until only one survived. Connery may have said “there can be only one,” but there doesn’t have to be—and there’s unlikely to be—one winner here. Venmo is also growing with consumers, with its social media-like feed, debit card and new partnership with Uber. “[Venmo is] hardly suffering as a result of the launch of Zelle,” says Shevlin.
In today’s competitive deposit market, payments should be a part of any bank’s core deposits strategy, says Shevlin. Services like Zelle can help keep deposits in the bank, while an institution that offers an outdated solution—or doesn’t offer one at all—may find its deposits lured away by a competitor, whether that’s a Zelle bank or a fintech account like Venmo.
Roughly a decade after the financial crisis, community banks are introducing, developing and enhancing internal training programs to turn today’s young, millennial employees into the leaders the bank will need in the future. Forty-four percent of bank executives and board members responding to Bank Director’s 2018 Compensation Survey indicate that their bank has been dedicating more resources to employee training over the past three years to attract and retain younger talent. The majority, 74 percent, say their bank offers an in-house training program for some employees, and 80 percent say external training or career development is available as an employee perk.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to employee training for the industry, the program developed by Midland States Bancorp, a $5.7 billion asset financial holding company based in Effingham, Illinois, illustrates how one bank is developing talent at several levels throughout the organization.
The bank had been discussing the development of future leaders, with an eye toward succession planning, for several years, says Sharon Schaubert, senior vice president of banking services at Midland States. Oversight of the bank’s human resources function is one of her primary responsibilities. “Then, as we were going through acquisitions and were growing, that need was becoming more and more apparent,” she says. Midland States Bancorp acquired Centrue Financial Corp. in June 2017, and Alpine Bancorp. last March.
The ability to lure away talent from local bank competitors had become increasingly difficult and expensive, and the bank had talented potential leaders in its own ranks that just needed the right training. “Any time that you bring somebody in from outside of your own company, you’re bringing in the culture that they come from [and] how they’ve been developed as leaders, so we felt that we could have more success with developing our own,” says Schaubert.
To develop the curriculum, the bank hired an experienced learning and development director from a California utility company, who expanded Schaubert’s initial vision into a three-tiered employee development program that trains staff at different stages of their careers. The program is in its second year, and each level takes one year to complete.
The first tier is designed for individual employees who don’t currently supervise anyone within the bank but have potential to grow within the organization. Each class is comprised of roughly 15 employees. Along with additional reading and one-on-one time with their own mentor within the bank, participants work on banking and project management simulations.
Applicants must be employed by Midland States for at least one year to be considered for the program. They are interviewed by a panel of managers and must have the endorsement of their immediate supervisor.
Midland States initially had managers identify and recommend employees, but found that employees were better able to participate and displayed a greater level of commitment if they applied themselves. “We learned some really good lessons, because people also have to have an active interest in their own self development and the ability to make the time commitment,” says Schaubert. The bank put an application process in place, effective with the second first-tier class.
The second tier of the program launched recently and is designed for managers and supervisors, with a focus on how to lead and manage a team. The project management and banking simulations are more intensive, and trainees are coached on presentation skills.
Almost all of the employees who participated in the initial first-tier program have received some sort of promotion or additional responsibilities within the bank, but Schaubert says these employees can’t go straight to the second-tier program—at least a year must pass between the two levels. Since the program is new, no employee has participated in multiple tiers, yet.
Participants are each matched with a mentor, with whom they meet quarterly to discuss their progress, in line with their personal development goals. While face-to-face meetings are encouraged, the geographic footprint of the bank sometimes requires that those meetings occur by phone. The mentor provides guidance and ensures the participant is on track to meet their goals. Participants have some say in the selection of a mentor—the bank provides a list of potential mentors with a brief biography about each, and trainees can pick their top three choices. Members of the senior management team tend to be reserved as mentors for the higher levels of the program.
Mentorship programs are rarely used by the banking industry, according to the 2018 Compensation Survey. Just 15 percent of respondents say their bank has one in place.
The third tier of the training program hasn’t been formally launched but is intended for members of senior management or just below. The program will be one-on-one and won’t be classroom-based like the other tiers. External, rather than internal, mentors will work with participants at this level.
The training program isn’t just the responsibility of the human resources team, according to Schaubert. Subject matter experts and senior leaders, including the CEO, are brought in to present to trainees. And an all-day graduation—which includes presentations from training participants—is attended by each trainee’s mentor and immediate supervisor, as well as members of the executive team.
Some of the resources developed so far have been made available to other managers to encourage self-development. A one-day class is also available for new managers biannually.
Schaubert reports to the board twice a year about the bank’s training initiatives, and shares details about the participants and the curriculum. “The board is actively engaged,” says Schaubert. She adds that the full impact of the program won’t be felt for several years. “The big success of this will come a few years down the road, when we’re able to build a strong pool of candidates for significant roles in the future,” she says. “That takes time.”
One of the more immediate challenges banks face in training employees in today’s competitive talent environment is ensuring that those same employees don’t jump ship for a better opportunity. “You can either manage out of fear, or you can manage for growth and opportunities for the future,” says Schaubert. “We would much rather risk losing a good employee than not developing the employees.”
While some attrition is unavoidable, Midland States is actively working to engage and promote its most promising employees. Most trainees have been promoted or received additional responsibilities, though the bank did lose one trainee that it wasn’t able to promote as quickly as that employee may have expected.
But the bank puts considerable focus toward ensuring that its trained employees are engaged within the organization. For example, the CEO hosted a senior management meeting at his home in August of last year and asked senior managers to invite someone on their team. All graduates and current participants of the training program were invited, as well. “We’re challenging ourselves to find opportunities” to engage and grow talented staff, says Schaubert.
As banks are increasingly challenged to attract and retain experienced employees, more banks like Midland States could be apt to enhance their training programs to build the talent they need.
If it weren’t for the occasions when his kids need to borrow some cash, Frank Sorrentino says they’d never set foot in a bank branch.
Sorrentino, the CEO of $4.7 billion asset ConnectOne Bancorp in Union, New Jersey, was one of several senior bank executives who joked about millennials’ tech-savvy lifestyle during a roundtable session, sponsored by Promontory Interfinanical Network (a partner to thousands of banks), at Bank Director’s 2018 Acquire or Be Acquired conference. But the habits of younger consumers and the challenges they present, including how they affect the race for deposits, are among the top concerns of today’s bank leaders.
Technology is a disruptive force that has permeated the banking industry, affecting operations and decisions for directors at all levels. “Today, to me it appears that things are changing right beneath our feet,” Sorrentino says. “The speed of adoption, speed of change, is just something that’s breathtaking.”
An 800-pound gorilla NOT named Amazon The threat posed by big banks that are competing aggressively for consumers is very real for regional and smaller community banks—though some do see bright spots.
The ability of the largest banks to chart their own courses with technology could hurt regional and community banks, especially if that technology were to become proprietary or exclusive.
“They can decide to turn up or turn down product almost at whim, and very quickly put pressure on anyone in this room in…a very negative way,” Sorrentino says. “I’m not so sure the next-generation 800-pound gorilla is going to be thinking the same way.”
Sorrentino pointed to the widespread adoption of Zelle, a peer-to-peer (P2P) payments product that is currently being offered by 58 banks and credit unions, including ConnectOne. That type of product is helpful, he says, and works as long as banks of all sizes have access to it.
But the disrupting factors of the future may be the tech giants like Amazon or could just be the direction technology is leading customers—which is to say, far away from traditional banks.
Convenience in banking has trumped much of the traditional channels, which are largely based on in-person relationships. “That same experience now has to come through those interactions over the [smart] phone,” says Chuck Shaffer, chief financial officer and head of strategy at Seacoast Bank Corp. in Stuart, Florida, which has $6 billion in assets.
“When my own children, who live in New York City, say that they went and opened up an account at Chase because that’s where they can transact their Venmo [a competing P2P service offered by PayPal] without having to pay a fee, it’s very concerning,” says David Provost, president and CEO of Chemical Financial Corp., a $20 billion-asset institution headquartered in Midland, Michigan.
Data-fueled growth strategies Other executives have similar assessments of the competition, though some remain optimistic about the potential for growth through more conventional means and using technology for that purpose, as well.
“I think customers come to you first; [it] doesn’t mean they don’t get better offers. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to maybe match offers that normally you might not, but I think that there is still a degree of loyalty,” says Sally Steele, chairman of the board at Community Bank Systems, a $10 billion-asset bank based in Dewitt, New York. “But on the other hand, as the Zelles of the world roll through the banking industry, we’re all going to be beneficiaries of that.”
Nearly two-thirds of directors and CEOs surveyed for Bank Director’s 2018 M&A Survey say they are planning to grow organically, rather than through acquisitions, using strategies rooted in modern technology.
Shaffer’s 90-year-old bank has been around long enough to be familiar with the days before the internet, but Seacoast has been deliberate in investment and integration of data-backed strategies, both internally and purchased. “We operate in one data platform. We built a SAS database over top of that, then built automated marketing over top of that,” he says.
This data-driven approach has generated customized service and marketing pitches tailored to any demographic group and is now yielding significant revenue. “Three years later, we’re doing over $300 million; this year we’ll do around $400 million largely because we’re making the right offer at the right moment to the right customer,” Shaffer says. “We’ve been explosive in building exponential growth in the organization.”
Amazon Prime, Video, Music, Fresh, Alexa—all loved by many, but would consumers also care for an Amazon checking account? One recent survey says that, yes, a subscription based, value-added checking account is the best thing since free two-day shipping.
“Amazon is thinking of offering a checking account. For a fee of $5-10 a month, the service will include cell phone damage protection, ID theft protection, roadside assistance, travel insurance and product discounts.“
Forty-six percent of “Old Millennials” (ages 31-38) and 37 percent of “Young Millennials” (ages 22-30) say they would open that account. Of those who say they would open the account, almost a quarter say that they would close out their existing checking accounts—most likely with a traditional bank.
When the same responders were asked about a free checking account from Amazon, without the bundled services, interest in opening the account is lower.
“This is music to Amazon’s ears,” says Ron Shevlin, Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors. “Why would they want to offer a free checking account when they can bundle the services of various providers on their platform—merchants and financial services providers—and charge a fee for it. A fee that consumers are willing to pay for.”
When asked about the hypothetical Amazon account stated above, 73 percent of 30-somethings say they would definitely switch or would consider switching accounts if their primary financial institution offered a checking account with those valuable services. Sixty-four percent of 20-somethings said the same.
Which of the age segments has the most fee based accounts—millennials, Gen Xers or boomers? About three in four (77 percent) of all survey respondents have a free checking account. Of the millennial segments, 31 percent have a fee-based account. That number is actually less among Gen Xers and boomers—22 percent of Gen Xers are in a fee-based checking account, and boomers report in at only 12 percent.
As loyal users of subscription services, millennials are accustomed to—and willing to pay for—value in order to get something valuable in return. They recognize that you usually get what you pay for, so what you get for free probably isn’t worth much. Even worse, many associate free accounts with the fine print fees you’ll inevitably end up with anyway. And customer reviews on hidden fees will always be 0 out of 5 stars.
Turns out, among those surveyed with a free checking account, nearly every account holder paid at least one fee in the prior year.
Recommended for You When survey respondents were asked how many friends and family they have referred to their primary FI over the past year, results show that more people with fee-based checking accounts are referring their primary FI than those with free checking accounts. This is true across each generational segment as well as each type of institution (megabank, regional bank, community banks and credit union). Plus, they grew their relationship by adding non-deposit products.
“Among fee-based account holders, 58 percent referred friends/family, and 43 percent added non-deposit products,” says Shevlin. “In contrast, among free checking account holders, 44 percent referred friends/family, and just 27 percent added non-deposit products.”
In short, the results of customers’ relationships with fee-based accounts are positive, for them and the bank:
Nearly half of the millennial age segment say they’d opt for a fee-based account with value added services from Amazon.
Less say they’d open a free account from Amazon.
Almost 75 percent would at least consider switching accounts if their primary FI offered this same Amazon-type checking account.
Millennials beat Gen Xers and boomers in having the most fee-based accounts.
More people in fee-based accounts are referring their bank than those in free accounts.
According to Shevlin, “The prescription for mid-size banks and credit unions is simple: Reinvent the checking account to provide more value to how consumers manage their financial lives.”
For more insights about how to reinvent your checking accounts and thrive in the subscription society, download Shevlin’s free white paper, commissioned by StrategyCorps, at strategycorps.com/research.
Distinguishing between retirement plans for a bank’s older executives and other key high performers and shorter-term incentives for its younger millennials, who are the bank leaders of the future, continues to be an important strategy for boards of directors. Compensation committees are willing to provide some type of mid-term incentive plan as a retention strategy focused on their younger workers. Boards also want to have both short- and long-term, performance-driven plans in place that are aligned with shareholder interests and retaining their key officers.
As with most employees, effective compensation plans and performance management programs can help attract, retain and motivate millennials. Providing a competitive base salary may not be at the top of their priority list, but certainly being rewarded for performance is important.
The next generation of leaders have been impacted by the recession, both from watching their relatives endure job loss and financial stress and from experiencing the post-recession economy directly. They are also the largest group carrying student loan debt. As a result, money is very important to them and while they may not be worrying about retirement, they are focusing on shorter term financial needs.
While millennials have essentially the same financial needs as the generations preceding them, their time horizon to retirement can be 30-plus years or more, which is too far into the future for them to focus on when faced with immediate financial planning decisions, like retiring student debt, purchasing a home and providing for their children’s education.
Nonqualified benefit plans including deferred compensation plans can be an effective tool for attracting and retaining most key bank performers—both those focused on retirement as well as more interim financial needs—because of their design flexibility. According to the American Bankers Association (ABA) 2016 Compensation and Benefits Survey, 64.5 percent of respondents offered some type of nonqualified deferred compensation plan for top management (chief executive officer, C-Level, executive vice president).
For this next generation of leaders, boards should consider a type of plan that allows for in-service distributions timed to coincide with events such as a child entering college. Plan payments made to the participant while still employed can be made at some future point such as three, five or 10 years.
These plans could be used in lieu of stock plans with a similar time duration and are important to younger leaders looking to shorter, more mid-term financial needs in a long-term incentive plan. Plans with provisions linking plan benefits to the long-term success of the bank can help increase bank performance and shareholder value as well as to reward key employees for longer-term performance. Defined as either a specific dollar amount or percentage of salary, bank contributions are discretionary or dependent on meeting budget or other performance goals. Interest can be credited to the account balance with a rate tied to either an external index or an internal index such as bank return on equity.
The plan can also include a provision that the account balance, or a portion thereof, is forfeited if the key employee goes to a competitor. In addition, it is typical to see events such as a change in control or disability accelerate vesting to 100 percent.
Let’s look at two examples, one for a retirement-based plan and the other for an in-service distribution to help pay for college expenses.
Assume that the bank contributes 8 percent of a $125,000 salary for a 37-year-old employee each year until age 65. At age 65, the participant will have $1,370,000 in total benefits, assuming a crediting rate equal to the bank’s return on assets, with an annual payment of $130,000 per year for 15 years. This same participant could also have had part of the benefit paid for out via in-service distributions to accommodate college expenses for two children. Assume there are two children ages three and seven and a desire to have $25,000 per year distributed for four years, for each child. Thus, these annual $25,000 distributions would be paid out when the employee was between the ages of 49 and 56. The remaining portion available for retirement would be an annual benefit of $78,000 for 15 years beginning at age 65.
Regardless of the participant’s distribution timing goals, both types of defined contribution plans can be tied to performance goals. The bank contribution percentage to each participant’s account could be based on some defined performance goal. Again, the ABA’s 2016 Compensation and Benefits Survey results showed that bonus amounts were based on several factors including: 85.6 percent bank; 74.9 percent individual; and 26 percent department/group. Aligning the bank’s strategic plan goals with the participant’s incentive plan provides a better outcome for both shareholder and participant.
In addition, many banks have implemented defined benefit type supplemental retirement plans as a way to retain and reward key executives. These plans can also be structured as performance based plans.
Regardless of a participant’s time horizon, it is important to reward both your older and younger leaders with compensation that is meaningful to them and will help them accomplish their personal financial objectives, while balancing the long-term interests of shareholders.
How should banks determine the best way to proceed over the upcoming quarters? While no one can predict the future, there are several critical developments that anyone can keep an eye on. These are the areas that are most impactful to banks and for which they need to strategize and position themselves.
Rising Rates: Obviously, rates are rising but by how much? Banks should position for moderate hikes and a slower pace of hikes than the Fed predicts. The Fed predictions on rate hikes have been overstated for several years running. The yield curve for the 10-year Treasury is flattening as of late, which also indicates fewer hikes are needed. A reduced duration for assets and reduced call risk makes the most sense; but practice moderation and don’t overdo it. Too many banks had their net interest margin crushed by being too asset sensitive and waiting for rates to increase while we had eight years of low rates. Check your bond portfolio against a well-defined national peer group of banks with similar growth rates, loan deposit rates and liquidity needs. Very few banks perform this comparison. They just use uniform bank performance reports or a local peer group. Every basis point matters, and there is no reason to not be a top quartile performer.
Deposits: Buy and/or gather core deposits now. Branches provide the best value. Most banks overestimate what deposits are core deposits, meaning they won’t leave your bank when rates rise. Like capital, gathering core deposits is best done when it is least needed.
Mergers and Acquisitions: If you are planning on selling in the next three years, sell right now, as optimism and confidence are at 10-year highs. If you are a long-term player, go buy core deposits, as they are historically cheap and you are going to need them. They are worth more now than perhaps ever before.
Get Capital While You Still Can: Solve your capital issues now. Investors are probably overconfident, but banks have done well the last seven years and finally, they aren’t taboo anymore. Investors want to invest in banks. That always happens before something bad in the economy occurs, so get it while you can.
Real Estate Carries Risk: With regulators mindful of capital exposure and real estate deal availability being spotty, it’s best that banks be wary of deals in this area. Commercial real estate linked to retail is more and more being viewed as extremely risky. There is an all-out war being waged on store retailers by online retailers. Since retail is a huge sector of the U.S. economy, investment will follow the online trend. Industrial real estate has become “retail extended” with the least amount of real estate risk.
Beware of Relying on Credit Scores: Banks need to be careful of the credit cycle. Consumers are loaded full of debt. Cars and homes are too expensive relative to wages and affordability. Credit scores probably don’t capture the downside risk to the consumer.
Get Ahead of Your Risks: Cyber-risk is a major and very real risk. Get ahead of the curve. Two other areas bearing risk are 401(k) plans and wealth management areas as they are especially exposed to litigation and are a nightmarish mess to be addressed. 401(k)s are overloaded with too many choices, fiduciary risk, performance issues, excessive fees and conflicts of interest. Get help now or you may be painfully surprised.
Marketing: Your bank had better get creative with digital marketing opportunities for your website as well as mobile devices. Why? Billions are being invested into financial technology companies and it’s easier for fintech to learn about banking than it is for bankers to learn about fintech.
Millennials: Surveys from The Intelligence Group and others show that finding young, motivated workers, and then retaining them, may be a challenge.
Many directors believe it’s important for their institutions to address the shortage of younger financial services talent, yet there’s often a lack of urgency around working on this future problem. Consider this: About 40 percent of the community banking workforce will consist of millennials within the next five years. In order to stay relevant, community banks not only need to ensure they are attracting and retaining millennials as customers, but also as employees. It’s no secret that for millennials, banking isn’t exactly the sexiest industry for employment opportunities. The good news is that as a service industry, banking has ample opportunity to exercise some creativity in its culture. There are five key areas to address now that will help attract and retain millennials to the community banking world.
Embrace cognitive diversity in the workplace. The bottom line is that millennials embrace diversity; not only in the traditional sense, but they also seek cognitive diversity within the workplace. This means that they want to be included and accepted for their thoughts and opinions. This group seeks a collaborative environment where they can impact work, bring value to the organization, and be recognized—through compensation and other means—for their efforts and ideas. Consider ways to bring employees into the decision-making fold at all levels. This approach actually has a secondary benefit: by allowing the broad workforce to feel empowered to create and implement ideas, banks can also begin to address the need for innovation and the need to develop competitive differentiation in order to remain successful.
Focus on social responsibility. It’s well known that millennials focus on a company’s social responsibility when evaluating them as an employer. It is also known that ethics and integrity are important criteria, and that millennials are skeptical of the financial services industry in the wake of the mortgage crisis and the Wells Fargo scandal. Community banks in particular have ample opportunity to take meaningful action in the communities they serve and allow millennials to participate in socially beneficial causes they believe in. Allowing for input and ideas in determining what the organization will focus on and offering non-cash benefits like time off to volunteer can make this generation feel good about the work they’re doing and may help change the perception of banking as a career choice.
Invest in career development. Millennials want to take control and actively lead their career development. Banks can provide a multitude of opportunities to strengthen skills and allow millennials to develop as leaders. Millennials are looking for a coach, rather than a “boss,” which they define as someone who is invested in their success. Establishing mentorships and leadership programs, provide on-the-job training and reinforce the company’s commitment to individual growth.
Increase Transparency. Transparency is vital to establishing trust and loyalty with this generation and it’s a key to longer job tenure. An employer can provide transparency by ensuring millennials understand how their role contributes to the bank’s success and how success is rewarded. It is important to collaborate to establish short- and long-term goals and detail the path to reach these goals, including training and opportunities for development. Millennials thrive on feedback and consistent dialog. Providing an avenue for two-way communication will help ensure success in this area and keep everyone engaged.
Align total rewards and performance management programs. As with most employees, effective compensation plans and performance management programs can help attract, retain and motivate millennials. Providing a competitive base salary may not be at the top of their priority list, but certainly being rewarded for performance is important. In conjunction with regular feedback, recognition and incentive awards should also be a part of the compensation framework. Instead of annual performance reviews, it may be more prudent to provide frequent check-ins and real-time feedback. In addition, millennials welcome the opportunity to receive input on performance from peers and others in the organization.
The bottom line is that banks must create an engaging workplace culture where millennials feel welcomed, valued and rewarded. Many banks have taken the lead on creating advisory boards consisting of millennials (both employees and people from the community) to ensure that they’re doing the right things to attract and retain this generation as customers and as employees. Any bank that can be successful in achieving this will have created a competitive advantage in the marketplace.