Six Timeless Tenets of Extraordinary Banks

flywheel-image-v4.pngIf you want to understand innovation and success, a good person to ask is Jeff Bezos, the chairman and CEO of Amazon.com.

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question,” Bezos said in 2012. “I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two, because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.”

In few industries is this truer than banking.

Much of the conversation in banking in recent years has focused on the ever-evolving technological, regulatory and operational landscapes. The vast majority of deposit transactions at large banks nowadays are made over digital channels, we’re told, as are a growing share of loan originations. As a result, banks that don’t change could soon go the way of the dinosaurs.

This argument has merit. But it also needs to be kept in perspective. Technology is not an end in itself for banks, it’s a means to an end — the end being to help people better manage their financial lives. Doing this in a sustainable way calls for a marriage of technology with the timeless tenets of banking.

It’s with this in mind that Bank Director and nCino, a provider of cloud-based services to banks, collaborated on a new report, The Flywheel of Banking: Six Timeless Tenets of Extraordinary Banks.

The report is based on interviews of more than a dozen CEOs from top-performing financial institutions, including Brian Moynihan at Bank of America Corp., Rene Jones at M&T Bank Corp. and Greg Carmichael at Fifth Third Bancorp. It offers unique and invaluable insights on leadership, growth, risk management, culture, stakeholder prioritization and capital allocation.

The future of banking is hard to predict. There is no roadmap to reveal the way. But a mastery of these tenets will help banks charge ahead with confidence and, in Bezos’ words, build business strategies around things that are stable in time.

 

The Six Tenets of Extraordinary Banks

Jonathan Rowe of nCino describes the traits that set exceptional banks — and their leaders — apart from the industry.

To download the free report, simply click here now.

How Umpqua Bank Is Navigating the Digital Transformation

Writers look for interesting paradoxes to explore. That’s what creates tension in a story, which engages readers.

These qualities can be hard to find in banking, a homogenous industry where individuality is often viewed skeptically by regulators.

But there are exceptions. One of them is Umpqua Holdings Co., the biggest bank based in the Pacific Northwest.

What’s unique about Umpqua is the ubiquity of its reputation. Ask just about anyone who has been around banking for a while and they’re likely to have heard of the $29 billion bank based in Portland, Oregon.

This isn’t because of Umpqua’s size or historic performance. It’s a product, instead, of its branch and marketing strategies under former CEO Ray Davis, who grew it over 23 years from a small community bank into a leading regional institution.

Umpqua’s branches were particularly unique. The company viewed them not exclusively as places to conduct banking business, but instead as places for people to congregate more generally.

That strategy may seem naïve nowadays, given the popularity of digital banking. But it’s worth observing that other banks continue to follow its lead.

Here’s how Capital One Financial Corp. describes its cafes: “Our Cafés are inviting places where you can bank, plan your financial journey, engage with your community, and enjoy Peet’s Coffee. You don’t have to be a customer.”

Nevertheless, as digital banking replaces branch visits, Umpqua has had to shift its strategy — you could even say its identity — under Davis’ successor, Cort O’Haver.

The biggest asset at O’Haver’s disposal is Umpqua’s culture, which it has long prioritized. And the key to its culture is the way it balances stakeholders.

For decades, corporations adhered to the doctrine of shareholder primacy — the idea that corporations exist principally to serve shareholders. The doctrine was even formally endorsed in 1997 as a principle of corporate governance by the Business Roundtable, an organization made up of CEOs of major U.S. companies.

Umpqua, on the other hand, has focused over the years on optimizing rewards to all its stakeholders — employees, customers, community and shareholders — as opposed to maximizing the rewards to just one group of them.

“We’re not the most profitable or highest total shareholder return bank in the country,” O’Haver says. “We have to give some of that up because of the things we do. If we’re going to innovate, if we’re going to have programs that give back to our employees and our communities, it costs money to do that. But we think that’s the right thing to do. It attracts customers and great quality associates who bring passion to what they do.”

The downside to this approach, as O’Haver points out, are lower shareholder returns. But the upside, particularly now, is that this philosophy seeded a collaborative culture that can be leveraged to help navigate the digital transformation.

Offering digital distribution channels isn’t hard. Any bank can pay third-party partners to build a mobile application. What’s hard is seamlessly blending these channels into a legacy ecosystem once dominated by branches and in-person service.

“How are you going to get your people to actually embrace new technology and use it? How are they going to sell it if they don’t feel like it’s valuable for them?” O’Haver says. “Yeah, it’s valuable for your shareholders because it’s cheaper. But if you’re not counterbalancing that, how are you going to get your associates to embrace it and sell it to customers? That’s more important than the product itself, even in financial terms. If they don’t embrace it, you will fail.”

This, again, may seem like a trite way to approach business. Yet, Umpqua’s more balanced philosophy towards stakeholders has proven to be prescient.

Last year, the Business Roundtable redefined the purpose of a corporation. No longer is it merely to maximize shareholder value; its purpose now is to fulfill a fundamental commitment to all its stakeholders.

Leading institutional investors are following suit. The CEOs of BlackRock and State Street Global Capital Advisors, the two biggest institutional investors in the country, are mandating that companies jettison shareholder primacy in favor of so-called stakeholder capitalism.

In short, while Umpqua’s decades-long emphasis on branches may seem like a liability in the modern age of banking, the culture underlying that emphasis may prove to be its greatest asset if leveraged, as opposed to lost, in the process of bridging the digital divide.

How to Get Private Equity Out of the Dark Ages

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Alternative investments are on a tear, and no asset class has seen more growth than private equity. According to a recent study by eVestment, assets under administration grew 44 percent from 2015 to 2016. This influx of capital has caused major ripple effects across the entire private equity landscape, with fund managers competing intensely to attract investor capital.

This competition has reinforced the importance of the overall experience that private equity managers provide to their investors, and as a result managers have increasingly been looking to their fund administrators for solutions.

Technology is widely seen as the solution to many of the challenges facing both private equity managers and fund administrators. Yet despite this consensus, “private equity is in the dark ages when it comes to technology” as Allison Piet, director of alternative investments accounting and reporting with insurer MetLife, puts it.

Private equity fund managers and fund administrators alike are finding themselves at a crossroads on two key issues:

  1. Delivering on investor demands for greater transparency and a more modern digital experience.
  2. Handling the operational burden of labor-intensive and margin-constraining processes that are insufficient to meet growing regulatory requirements.

A study by technology provider FIS, titled “The Promise of Tomorrow: Private Equity and Technology,” brings context to these two important issues:

Delivering on investor demands for a more transparent and modern digital experience.

One of the greatest obstacles to solving this challenge is the proliferation of systems that fund administrators and fund managers use across areas like accounting, reporting and document storage.

This multi-system approach adds a great level of difficulty to the process of collecting and preparing data required to provide investors with transparency. Further, maintaining multiple systems often proves to be arduous and time-consuming.

This demand for a more modern experience has placed tremendous pressure on fund administrators in particular, as their fund manager clients increasingly look to them to meet this need. Fund managers are sending a loud message by walking away from administrators that can’t help. In fact, according to a Preqin study, 28 percent of fund managers fired their fund administrator in the past 12 months.

This helps to explain why, according to the FIS study, 26 percent of respondents felt “threatened” by technology. That said, those that are leveraging the power of technology to improve their offerings are realizing that it can become a competitive advantage, as evidenced by the 74 percent of respondents that affirmed this in the study.

A quote from the FIS study makes this key point: “The private equity industry’s effortsto reinvent its relationship with technology also reflect recognition of the critical importance of technology to winning and retaining customers and to penetrating new markets.”

Handling the operational burden of labor-intensive and margin-constraining processes that are insufficient to meet growing regulatory requirements.

The private equity and the alternative investment industries have also been going through a metamorphosis over the past few years in the area of operations, driven in large part by the imposition of ever-increasing regulatory requirements. Compliance is the great equalizer, affecting all stakeholders in the industry from the fund administrator down to the investor.

These requirements become a business-breaking burden when operational efficiency is dictated primarily by the number of people that a company has available to help tackle them. The alternative investment industry is notorious for how heavily it relies on people to handle manual and repetitive tasks that should be automated. These are things like document preparation and distribution, tracking and receiving needed approvals, sending emails for notifications and more.

These manual tasks are exponentially more troublesome when legal and regulatory requirements come into play as most fund administrators have to add one full-time employee for every three or four new clients that they win.

This results in a vicious cycle for fund administrators as they far too often expand their budgets by adding additional staff instead of investing in technology that could solve their root problems.

Technology provides the clearest path to help private equity get out of the dark ages. This is the one solution that will help all key stakeholders improve the overall offering to investors without compromising their ability to build profitable businesses.

This quote from the FIS study encapsulates it best: “Firms that embrace this world of innovative technologies are likely to be the ones that win out in the marketplace.”