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. 

3 Questions to Optimizing Debit Card Profitability in a Deal

As the banking industry shrinks each year, CEOs often ask what they should look out for to improve profitability during and after a merger or acquisition. There is one area that is all too often overlooked: debit card profitability.

As an ever-growing source of demand deposit account revenue, debit card portfolios require detailed profit and performance analyses to optimize return. Done correctly, the efforts can be extremely fruitful. But there are a few things acquiring banks should keep an eye on when evaluating any acquisition target’s debit card profitability, to learn what is working for them and why.

Three items to consider when entering the M&A process:
1. Know thyself. To accurately gauge the impact of acquiring another bank’s cardholders, prospective buyers should first know where their own institution stands. How much is your bank netting per transaction, or per debit card outstanding? Every bank must know how much money is to be made when they issue a debit card to their customer. This concept is simple enough and is considered the basics of nearly all business, but putting it into practice can prove difficult without the proper knowledge base. Know your institution’s performance before the acquisition, as well as where your institution should to be after.

2. Dissect the income. If an analysis of interchange income reveals that your bank, as the acquirer, is making less interchange income per purchase than the acquired institution, find out why. The acquisition target may have better interchange rates because of a better network arrangement or even just better network agreement terms. This evaluation should not only apply to the networks or the foundation of interchange earning. Oftentimes, the acquired institution has done a better job of marketing and getting their cards into customers’ hands for use. Bigger does not necessarily mean better when it comes to debit card profitability. Choose the arrangement and agreement terms from either institution on electronic funds transfer (EFT) processing, PIN network and card brand that is most profitable.

3. On expenses, timing can be everything. While the acquiring bank often has better pricing on processing expenses, they don’t always — especially on EFT. Most bankers know to evaluate the acquired institution’s contracts to determine buyouts, deconversion and termination penalties and get a general glimpse at the pricing. But there is a present need for a pricing deep dive across all contracts in every single deal — especially when considering a merger of equals or an acquisition that really moves the needle.

Further, this evaluation should not stop at traditional data processing contracts, like core and EFT. It must consider card incentive agreements. Executives should study the analytics around buyout timing on both institutions’ card brands, along with the interchange network agreements. Consider the termination penalties, but also the balancing effect of positive impact, to incentive income of the acquirer’s agreements. Although the bank cannot disclose details of the acquisition, they can keep the lines of communication open with card vendors. There will be a sweet spot of timing in the profit optimization formula, and the bank will want an open rapport with their card-critical vendors.

Debit cards as a potential profit center are often overlooked in the merger and acquisition process, which tends to be geared toward share price and the details of the buyout. However, it is valuable for acquirers to review debit cards in context of the combined bank’s long-term success of the bank, not just focusing on the deposits retained and lost when it comes to income consideration.

A Third Option for Banks Considering M&A

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” – Yogi Berra, American baseball legend

Clearly, Yogi Berra didn’t quite see the fork in the road as a binary choice. The industry has seen more than 250 bank acquisitions over the past few years, and experts predict M&A activity could ramp up in 2022 as deals that were put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic finally come to fruition. But rather than exploring paths that could lead banks to either be a buyer or seller in a transaction, what if there was another option? A door number three, like in “Let’s Make a Deal.”

Bankers could embrace Yogi’s wisdom; that is, they could take a pass on buying or selling while opting for continued independence as a high-performing bank. Without being naive nor blind to the imminent wave of M&A activity, there are an abundance of strategic options and partnerships banks can employ to maintain independence and fuel growth.

As anyone who has been on either side of the M&A equation knows, absorbing and combining banks is a messy business full of complexity, unforeseen challenges and risk. Institutions that expect to be involved in a transaction would be well advised to consider alternate service delivery models for some of their existing lines of business to reduce M&A friction.

At the same time, digital transformation continues to be a recurring theme for the industry. What is your bank’s digital strategy? Is your bank curating the right digital experience for your customers? Is your bank exploring strategic partnerships that can streamline the back office while leveraging the customer-facing tech?

Mortgage is an ideal candidate for this due to the level of complexity, compliance risk and volatility it inherently poses. Merging two mortgage operations into a cohesive unit or injecting mortgage operations into an institution where it did not previously exist can be massive undertakings that only add to the difficulty of completing a merger or acquisition.

Regardless of what side of the M&A transaction a bank is on, a mortgage offering helps banks find scale to drive technology or other investments, expand their geography, acquire new customers and grow revenue. Offering this foundational financial product cost-effectively through an outsourced fulfillment partner allows banks to progress on those goals by eliminating what could be a significant source of potential friction.

Outsourcing back-office mortgage operations also provides substantial benefits to both potential acquirers and acquirees. From an acquirer’s perspective, a fulfillment service maximizes their mortgage profitability and portability, enabling them to seamlessly extend their operations into the target bank without the hassle of integrating systems or solving for staffing issues. Acquirers can immediately enhance the franchise value of its acquisition by introducing mortgage services and begin generating an entirely new revenue stream without establishing new operational infrastructure.

On the flip side, partnering with a mortgage fulfillment provider can enhance the attractiveness of banks looking to sell. Outsourcing mortgage fulfillment enables banks to reduce the overhead and expenses required to maintain a full-fledged mortgage operation in-house, which can improve the liabilities side of the balance sheet, making them a more financially attractive acquisition target.

Outsourcing mortgage also enables banks to stabilize their staffing needs, avoiding the industry’s traditional “hire-and-fire cycle” of staffing up during high volume periods to keep up with demand and severely reduce staff when volume inevitably slows. Outsourcing the labor-intensive fulfillment portion of the mortgage process allows prospective sellers to redeploy their internal resources and ensure maximum staff retention post-M&A.

Improving scale, efficiency, profitability and stakeholder value are always the objectives for any bank, whether they engage in M&A or choose to stay independent. Regardless of strategy, outsourcing mortgage fulfillment using innovative technology can be a critical strategy for banks looking to grow their product offerings and revenue in the short term while setting themselves up for sustainable high performance.

It’s tempting to aim for the fences with a grand slam when it comes to digital transformation. But maximizing the profitability of a key product segment like mortgage could be a nice, achievable win.

Should More Community Banks Be B Corporations?

Banks face a highly competitive landscape filled with thousands of other banks, credit unions and financial technology companies. Could proving your values be a powerful way to differentiate your institution in such an environment? A 2021 Edelman survey found that 61% of consumers will advocate for brands they trust, and 86% expect them to “act beyond their product or business,” wrote Richard Edelman, CEO of the global communications firm. “[B]rands will need to operate at the intersection of culture, purpose and society.”

Sunrise Banks, a $1.9 billion community development financial institution (CDFI) based in St. Paul, Minnesota, aspires to be “the most innovative bank empowering financial wellness,” says Bryan Toft, its chief revenue officer. That mission “attracts customers [who] really care about those values,” he says. “Passionate employees are attracted to it as well, who work hard and want to make a difference because of that mission, as opposed to a paycheck.” In addition to its community bank footprint around St. Paul, Sunrise also offers a banking-as-a-service platform, choosing partner fintechs through a “social filter” that considers how those companies align with its mission.

Toft views this as a competitive advantage, not one that detracts from profitability. Sunrise Banks’ quarterly return on assets averaged 1.22% from March 2018 through Sept. 30, 2021. Performance during this period was fueled by commercial loan growth, new fintech relationships and fee income through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Certifying as a B corporation, Toft says, was a natural fit for the bank. These businesses are redefining what it means to run a successful enterprise, according to B Lab, which certifies B corporations. B Lab likens its certification to Fair Trade USA’s standard for coffee, providing a way to assess and verify a company’s social and environmental impact. The nonprofit has certified more than 4,600 companies worldwide and 1,691 B corporations in the U.S., including ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s and clothing retailer Patagonia. Eleven of these B corporations are U.S. banks. Becoming a B corporation doesn’t guarantee higher profits; few reported an ROA on par with Sunrise as of third quarter 2021.

B corporations must score a minimum 80 points on B Lab’s “B Impact Assessment,” a tool the nonprofit developed to “measure, manage, and improve a company’s positive impact performance” in the following areas:

  • Governance, including mission, ethics and transparency.
  • Workers, including health, wellness and safety, and career development.
  • Community, including economic impact, civic engagement and diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • Environment, including the company’s impact on air, water, land and biodiversity.
  • And customers, including products and services as well as data privacy and security.

“We have to look at all aspects of our business,” says Toft. The assessment features 200 questions, he says, and explores questions such as, “What percent of your employees are paid a living wage? How do you support diversity, equity and inclusion? What are some of the things that you measure in terms of environmental impact? … How do you know [that] your products make an impact positively in your customers’ lives?”

The assessment is free and can help a company benchmark its performance in the examined areas.

While the assessment is free to use, certification isn’t. The annual fee charged by B Lab to verify B corporation status ranges from $1,000 to $50,000 or more, based on the company’s revenue. In addition to the initial assessment, B Lab selects a subset of questions for additional documentation, and assessed companies must meet B Lab’s risk standards. And B corporations are legally required to consider all stakeholders; opting to become a public benefit corporation — a legal structure available in most states where a company commits to creating a positive social impact — offers a way to fulfill this requirement.

For $2.5 billion Mascoma Bank, the multi-stakeholder approach aligns with its mutual bank charter. “Our governance does not require us to give primacy to shareholders, because the community is primarily the shareholder,” says Clay Adams, CEO of the Lebanon, New Hampshire-based bank. “We measure ourselves versus peers. How do we maximize profitability but also maximize stakeholder results?”

B Corporation companies must recertify every three years, says Adams, a process he compares to a “kinder, gentler version of a regulatory exam.” Average scores range from 40 to 100 out of 200 possible points, according to B Lab. (The score for each bank appears in the below table.) And companies demonstrate different strengths; both Sunrise and Mascoma scored in the top 5% globally in the governance category in 2021.

Toft and Adams both believe that B corporation values align with community banking values, with customers and employees seeking to do business with banks that do good in their communities.

“Where [customers] put their money matters” to them, says Toft. “A lot of banks do great things in their communities, and this is a way to have a third party verify that. … A lot of banks probably could be certified as B corps, because inherently what they do is all about the mission in their respective community.”

B Corporation Banks

Bank Name/Location Asset Size (000s) Return on Assets (ROA) 9/30/2021 B Corp Start Date B Impact Score
Beneficial State Bank
Oakland, CA
$1,496,354 1.21% 9/17/2012 158.9
Virginia Community Capital (VCC Bank)
Richmond, VA
$235,502 1.14% 5/14/2012 149.3
City First Bank, N.A.
Washington, DC
$1,061,371 -0.20% 4/17/2017 146.8
Sunrise Banks
St. Paul, MN
$1,882,632 1.16% 6/23/2009 144.2
Spring Bank
Bronx, NY
$336,177 1.42% 4/13/2016 136.2
Southern Bancorp Bank
Arkadelphia, AR
$1,967,438 1.00% 9/9/2019 122.3
Amalgamated Bank
New York, NY
$6,866,385 0.77% 1/11/2017 115.1
Mascoma Bank
Lebanon, NH
$2,546,655 0.88% 6/28/2017 114.9
Brattleboro Savings & Loan
Brattleboro, VT
$304,363 0.51% 12/18/2018 96.7
Androscoggin Savings Bank
Lewiston, ME
$1,371,816 0.57% 1/26/2021 91.1
Piscataqua Savings Bank
Portsmouth, NH
$338,598 0.43% 5/16/2019 81.1

Source: B Lab, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The B Impact score reflects the most recent score received by the bank in B Lab’s B Impact Assessment; a company can receive a maximum of 200 points. On average, companies score between 40 and 100 points; a minimum of 80 is required to be certified as a B corporation.

Transforming, Optimizing Bank Finance Functions


Banks can optimize their finance functions to go beyond compliance and drive performance and results. Creating a layer of functionality on top of the general ledger allows executives to apply behavior and risk data with an eye toward improving profitability and forecasting without replacing their core. Will Newcomer, vice president of business development and strategy at Wolters Kluwer, and Bill Collette, managing director of financial services solutions at Wolters Kluwer, share what kind of applications and analytics executives could use to drive measurement, accuracy and accountability. Topics include:

  • Trends in Transformation
  • Uses of Finance Analytics
  • Best Practices for Transformation

Banks can improve measurement, accuracy and accountability by leveraging their existing core and finance functions.

The Road Ahead for Digital Banking

DigitalBanking.pngThe largest bank in the United States, the $3.4 trillion global behemoth known as JPMorgan Chase & Co., hesitated to put a retail bank in the crowded and competitive United Kingdom in the past.

That changed in 2021. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon announced a digital retail bank with headquarters in London and a customer center in Edinburgh. But no branches.

International expansion was cost-prohibitive in the past, Dimon admitted, but the economics of banking have changed. Even the biggest U.S. banks, which haven’t abandoned branches, know that.

“What we always said is we’re not going to do retail overseas … I can open 100 branches in Mumbai or 100 branches in the U.K., and there’s no chance I’d gain enough share to make up for the additional overhead,” he said at a Morgan Stanley conference in June of 2021. “Digital changes that.”

This shifting landscape means digital platforms hold a lot of promise for banks seeking to grow profitably. This report, sponsored by Nymbus Labs, will focus on these business models, return on investment and elements of success of digital-first banks and banking platforms.

Of course, terms such as neobank, challenger bank and digital bank get thrown around a lot these days. Some of the newcomers are chartered and regulated banks. Others are offshoots of a bank. Most are financial technology companies that rely on banks to access payment rails, compliance programs or deposit insurance. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call them digital banks. Whether they are banks or just call themselves a bank, we’ll include them in this report. The goal is to reveal how they are changing the banking marketplace.

To learn more, download our FinXTech Intelligence Report, Digital Banking: Profit and Purpose.

One Bank Reworks a Key Metric for the Pandemic Era

One of the most efficient banks in the country is measuring its performance using a new metric that captures how the pandemic has changed the operating landscape.

Johnny Allison, chairman and CEO of Conway, Arkansas-based Home BancShares, debuted a new metric during bank unit Centennial Bank’s third-quarter 2020 earnings announcement that measures the bank’s performance and earnings power. The metric provides insight into how well a bank is able to convert revenue into profits; it comes at a time when bank provisions and allowances remain elevated, and generally staid earnings results are lumpier and noisier than ever.

“I love the numbers and I love to play with them,” Allison says in an interview, describing how he came up with the approach. He was looking at the third-quarter earnings table for the $16.4 billion bank and saw total revenue and pre-tax, pre-provision net revenue listed near each other.

“When I looked at those, I thought ‘[Wow], look how much we brought down pre-tax pre-provision out of the total revenue of this corporation,” he says. “That got my attention. I thought ‘I wonder what the percentage that is?’”

The non-GAAP metric is derived from two items in the earnings statement: pre-tax net income, excluding provision for credit losses and unfunded commitment expense, or PPNR, divided by total net revenue. Allison calls it “P5NR” or “profit percentage.” An efficient operator, Home BancShares converted 59.28% of its net revenue into profits before taxes and provision expense in the third quarter of 2020. It was 59.19% in the fourth quarter.

The metric has its fans.

“[P5NR] measures how much of a bank’s revenue turns into profits before taxes and provision expense,” wrote Christopher Marinac, director of research at Janney Montgomery Scott, in an October 2020 report. “We favor this new metric since it shows [how] much $1 of revenue is turned into core profits — the higher, the better.”

P5NR is related to another popular metric on the earnings report: the efficiency ratio. The ratio measures how effectively a bank spends money; the lower the ratio, the more efficient a bank is. Banks can achieve a low efficiency ratio either through keeping costs low or increasing revenue, known as positive operating leverage. Home’s third-quarter 2020 efficiency ratio was 39.56%; it was 39.64% in the fourth quarter.

Allison calls P5NR the “reverse” of the efficiency ratio because a higher number is better, but ties the figure to positive operating leverage. He says Donna Townsell, now director of investor relations, did much of the work starting in 2008 that made the bank more efficient. While the efficiency ratio is still useful, PPNR and P5NR show how much revenue a bank converts to profits, especially in an environment with high credit costs.

P5NR also speaks to the industry’s focus on bank PPNR, which the Federal Reserve defines as “net interest income plus noninterest income minus noninterest expense.” In an interview, Marinac says the metric came into focus as part of the annual stress test exercise that big banks must complete — capturing the earnings at a bank before it deducts credit costs. It’s not surprising the metric has been popular with analysts trying to look past the lumpiness of quarterly results to the underlying earnings power of a bank. Building up reserves subtracts from earnings, and releasing them can pump up earnings — both activities that can make it hard to assess the underlying revenue and profits of a bank.

Home included the figure for third and fourth quarter 2020 earnings, along with backdated calculations for previous quarters, but is cautious about leading with it. Like many bank-specific metrics, it is non-GAAP — a profit calculation that doesn’t follow a standard, required calculation for companies to disclose under generally accepted accounting principles. Allison says Home also includes the number in its monthly profit and loss statement and plans to include it in future earnings reports.

Not surprisingly, Home BancShares is touting a metric that makes the bank look good. Marinac’s report pointed out that Home Bancshares had the best P5NR of all banks early reporting during the third quarter of 2020, but says the metric still has application for other banks.

“It’s not hard to do the math. When Johnny said it, it made a ton of sense,” he says. “It makes our job easy, and it’s a simple concept that everyone should follow.”

Using Profitability to Drive Banker Behavior

There used to be a perception that bankers found it tough to innovate because they are largely left-brained, meaning they tend to be more analytical and orderly than creative right brainers. While this may have been true for the founding fathers of this industry, there’s no question that bankers have been forced into creativity to remain competitive.

It could have been happenstance, natural evolution, or the global financial crisis of 2008 — it doesn’t matter. Today’s bankers are both analytical and creative because they have had to find new, more convenient pathways to profitability and use those insights for continuous coaching.

The current economic landscape may require U.S. banks to provision for up to $318 billion in net loan losses from 2020 to 2022, the Deloitte Center for Financial Services estimates. These losses are expected to be booked in several lending categories, mainly driven by the pandemic’s domino effect on small businesses, income inequality and the astounding impact of women leaving the workforce pushing millions into extreme poverty. Additionally, net interest margins are at an all-time low. Deloitte forecasts that U.S. commercial banks won’t see revenues or net income reach pre-pandemic levels until 2022.

In the interim, bankers are still under pressure to perform and increase profitability. Strong performance is possible — economic “doom and gloom” isn’t the whole story. In fact, the second-largest bank in America is projecting loan growth in 2021, of all years, after six years of decline. These industry challenges won’t last forever. so preparation is key. One of the first steps in understanding profitability is establishing if your bank’s business model is transactional, relational or a mix of the two, then answering these questions:

  • How much does a loan pay for the use of funds? How much does a deposit receive for the use of funds?
  • How much does a loan pay for the current period and identified level of credit risk?
  • How much capital does the bank need to assign to the loan or deposit?
  • What are the appropriate fees for accounts and services used by our clients?
  • What expenses are allocated to a product to determine its profitability?

There should never be a question about why loans need to pay for funds. The cash a bank provides for a loan comes from one of three sources: capital investments, debt and borrowing or client deposits.

From there, bankers have shown incredible creativity and innovation in adopting simpler, faster ways to better understand their bank’s profitability, especially through sophisticated technologies that can break down silos by including all clients, products and transactions in a single database. By comparison, legacy databases can leave digital assets languishing in inaccessible and expensive silos. Bankers must view an entire client relationship to most accurately price the relationship.

This requires a mindset shift. Instead of thinking about credit structure — the common approach in the industry – to determine relationship pricing, think instead about the client relationship holistically and leave room to augment as necessary. Pricing models should reflect your bank’s profitability calculations, not adjusted industry average models. And clients will need a primary and secondary owner to break down silos and ensure they receive the best experience.

How does any of this drive optimal banker behavior? A cohesive, structurally sound system that allows bankers to better understand profitability via one source of the truth allows them to review deal performance every six months to improve performance. Further, a centralized database allows C-suite executives to literally see everything, forging connections between their initiatives to banker’s day-to-day actions. It creates an environment where bankers can realize opportunities through execution, accountability and coaching, when necessary.

The Three C’s of Indirect Swaps

Twenty years ago, there were 8,000+ banks; today there are less than 5,000, but competition hasn’t slowed.

Not only are banks competing with other banks for loans, they are also competing for investor dollars. There’s pressure to grow and to do so profitably. It is more important than ever that banks compete for, and win, loans.

Competing for the most profitable relationships requires banks to meet borrower demand for long-term, fixed-rate debt. But that structure and term invites interest rate risk. What can banks do? What are their competitors doing?

Banks commonly use derivatives to meet customer demand for fixed-rate loans, but opt for different approaches. The majority of banks choose a traditional solution of offering swaps directly to borrowers; however, some community banks choose to work with correspondent banks that offer indirect swaps to their borrowers.

With indirect swaps, the correspondent bank enters an interest rate swap with the borrower — sometimes called a rate protection agreement. The borrower is party to a derivative transaction with the correspondent bank; the community bank is not a direct party to the swap.

Indirect swaps are presented as a simple solution for meeting customer demand for long-term fixed-rates, but community bankers should consider the three C’s of indirect swaps before using this type of product: credit, cost and customer.

Credit
A swap is a credit instrument that can be an asset or liability to the borrower, which means the correspondent bank requires security. The correspondent bank accomplishes this by requiring a senior position in the loan credit. In a borrower default, the correspondent bank has the first lien on the loan collateral.

In practice, the community bank makes the correspondent bank whole for the borrower’s swap liability. This means the community bank has an unrecognized contingent liability for each indirect swap.

Additionally, due to the credit nature of swaps, the correspondent bank must agree to the amount of proceeds, or the loan-to-value at which the bank lends. This has real-world implications for banks as they compete for loans.

Cost
While there are no out-of-pocket costs associated with putting the borrower into a swap with a correspondent bank, there are costs embedded in the swap rate that drives up the cost for the borrower and could potentially make the bank uncompetitive. These costs are often opaque — and can be significant.

Customer
A colleague of mine refers to indirect swaps as “swaps on a blind date.” It’s a funny but apt way of putting it. The borrower enters into a derivative with a correspondent bank that they have no relationship. And the borrower is accepting unsecured exposure as well: if the correspondent bank defaults and owes the borrower on the swap, they have no recourse except as an unsecured creditor.

A common theme of the three C’s is control. With indirect swaps, the community bank cedes control of the credit, they cede control of the cost of the swap and they cede control of the relationship with their customer. That’s why the majority of banks choose to offer swaps directly to their customers. Doing so allows them to manage the credit, including loan proceeds, and doesn’t subordinate the bank’s credit to a third party in the case of a workout. It allows the bank to own the pricing decision and control the cost of the swap to the borrower, making the bank’s loan pricing more competitive. It allows the bank to keep all aspects of the customer relationship within the institution.

Offering swaps to borrowers also opens the door for banks to use swaps as a balance sheet risk management tool. In this context, derivatives are an additional tool for the bank to manage interest rate risk holistically.

But what about the complexity of derivatives? How does an executive with little or no experience in derivatives educate the board and equip his/her team? How will swaps be managed? The majority of banks choose to partner with an independent third party to do the heavy lifting of educating, equipping, and managing a customer swaps program. A good partner will serve as an advisor and advocate, ensuring that the bank is fully compliant and utilizing best practices.

Indirect swaps may be simple — but a traditional solution of offering swaps directly to borrowers is a better way to meet customer demand for long-term fixed-rate loans.

Adding Value With Merchant Services

Leading with merchant services can help a bank acquire new customers, according to a recent Accenture study commissioned by Fiserv. On average, these accounts are more profitable: Compared to other business accounts, merchant account holders generate 2.6 times more revenue. In this video, Michael Rogers of Fiserv explains how these accounts help banks grow and offers considerations for how bank leaders can enrich this valuable product.

  • Leading With Payments
  • Building Relationships
  • Strengthening Your Offering

To access Fiserv’s study, “From Revenue to Retention: Growing Your Deposits With Merchant Services,” click HERE.