Opportunities For Transformative Growth

The bank space has fundamentally changed, and that has financial institutions working with more and more third-party providers to generate efficiencies and craft a better digital experience — all while seeking new sources of revenue. In this conversation, Microsoft Corp.’s Roman Chwyl describes the rapid changes occurring today and how software-as-a-service solutions help banks quickly respond to these shifts. He also provides advice for banks seeking to better engage their technology providers.

Topics addressed include:

  • Focusing Technology Strategies
  • Partnership Considerations
  • Leveraging Digital for Growth
  • Planning for 2022 and Beyond

The Next Wave of Digital Transformation

There is no question that digital transformation has been a long-term trend in banking.

However, innovation is not instantaneous. When faced with the obstacles the recent pandemic presented, bankers initially accelerated innovation and digital transformation on the consumer side, thanks to a broad scope of impact and the technology available at the time to streamline human-to-human interactions.

Now, as easy-to-use technology that automates complex interactions between human and machine and machine-to-machine (M2M) interactions becomes more readily available, the banking industry should consider how it can transform their own business and the banking experience for their business clients.

The First Wave
Why were consumers first served in the early days of the pandemic? Because there are often a lot of consumers to serve, with similar use cases and needs. When many account holders share the same finite problems, it can be easier for banks to commit personnel and financial resources to software that addresses those needs. The result is the capability to solve a few big problems while allowing the bank to effectively serve a large base of consumers with a mutual need, generating a quick and viable return on investment.

The first wave of digital transformation in banking concentrated on consumers by focusing on digitizing human-to-human interactions. They created an efficient process for both the bank employee along with the customer end-user, and then quickly moved to enable human-to-machine interactions with the same outcome. This transformation can be seen in previous interactions between consumers and bankers, like account opening, check deposits, personal financial management, credit and debit card disputes and initiating payments — all of which can now be done by a consumer interacting directly through a digital interface. This is also known as human-to-machine interactions.

In contrast, business interactions with banks tend to be more nuanced due to regulations, organizational needs and differences based on varying industries. For instance, banks that manage commercial escrow accounts for property managers and landlords, municipalities, government agencies, law firms or other companies with sub-accounting needs frequently navigate various security protocols and regional and local compliance. Unfortunately, these complexities can slow innovation, like business online account opening that is only now coming to market decades after consumer online account opening.

The Next Wave
Automating these business interactions was once thought to be too large of an undertaking for many banks — as well as software companies. But now, more are looking to digitally transform these interactions; software development is easier, further advanced and less costly, making tackling complex problems achievable for banks.

This will mark the next wave of digital transformation in banking, as the potential benefits have a greater effect for businesses than consumers. Because profits for each business client are much higher than consumer accounts, banks can expect strong returns on investment by investing in value-add services that strengthen the banking experience for business clients. And with so many niche business verticals, there is opportunity for institutions to build a strong commercial portfolio with technology that addresses vertical-specific needs.

While the ongoing, first wave of digital transformation is marked by moving human-to-human interactions to human-to-machine, the next wave will lead to more machine-to-machine interactions. This is not a new concept: Most bankers have connected two separate software systems, and have heard of M2M interactions through discussions about application programming interfaces, or APIs. But what may not be clear to executives is how these M2M interactions can be extremely helpful when solving for frustrating business banking processes.

For example, a law firm may regularly open trust and escrow accounts on behalf of their clients. Through human-to-human interaction, their processes are twofold: recording client information in an internal software system and then providing the necessary documentation to their bank, via branch visit or phone, to open the account. They need to engage in additional communication to learn the balance, move money or close the account.

Transforming this to a human-to-machine interaction could look like the bank providing a portal through which the firm could open, move funds and close the account on their own. While this is an excellent improvement for the law firm and bank, it still requires double data entry into internal software and banking software.

Here, banks can introduce machine-to-machine automation to improve efficiency and accuracy, while avoiding extraneous back and forth. If the bank creates a direct integration with the internal software, the law firm would only need to input the information once into their software to automatically manage their bank accounts.

The digital transformation of business banking has arrived; in the coming years, machine-to-machine automation will become the gold standard in the financial services industry. These changes provide a unique opportunity for banks to help attract and satisfy existing and prospective business clients through distinctive offerings.

Three Steps to Building a Commercial Card Business In-House

As the economy recovers from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, community banks will need to evaluate how to best serve their small and medium business (SMB) customers.

These companies will be seeking to ramp up hiring, restart operations or return to pre-pandemic levels of service. Many SMBs will turn to credit cards to help fund necessary changes — but too many community banks may miss out on this spending because they do not have a strong in-house commercial card business.

According to call reports from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., community banks make up half of all term loans to small businesses, yet four out of five have no credit card loans. At the same time, Accenture reports that commercial payments made via credit card are expected to grow 12% each year from 2019 to 2024. This is a significant strategic opportunity for community bankers to capitalize on the increased growth of cards and payments. Community bankers can use commercial cards to quickly capitalize on this growth and strengthen the relationships with existing SMB customers while boosting their local communities. Commercial credit cards can also be a sticky product banks can use to retain new Paycheck Protection Program loan customers.

Comparing Credit Card Program
Many community banks offer a branded business credit card program through the increasingly-outdated agent bank model. The agent bank model divorces the bank from their customer relationship, as well as any ability to provide local decisioning and servicing to their customers. Additionally, the community banks carry the risk of the credit lines they have guaranteed. In comparison, banks can launch an in-house credit card program within 90 days with modern technology and a partnership with the right provider. These programs require little to no upfront investment and don’t need additional human resources on the bank’s payroll.

Community banks can leverage new technology platforms that are substantially cheaper than previous programs, enabling issuers to launch products faster. The technology allows bank leaders to effortlessly update and modify products that cater to their customer’s changing needs. Technology can also lower customer acquisition and service costs through digital channels, especially when it comes to onboarding and self-service resources.

More importantly in agent bank models, the community bank does not underwrite, fund or keep the credit card balances on its books. It has little or no say in the issuing bank’s decisions to cancel a card; if it guarantees the loan, it takes all the risk but receives no incremental reward or revenue. The bank earns a small referral fee, but that is a fraction of the total return on assets it can earn by owning the loans and capturing the lucrative issuer interchange.

Bringing credit card business in-house allows for an enhanced user experience and improved customer retention. Community banks can use their unique insight to their SMB customers to craft personalized and tailored products, such as fleet cards, physical cards, ghost cards for preferred vendors or virtual cards for AP invoices. An in-house corporate credit card program gives banks complete access to customer data and total control over the user experience. They can also set their own update and product development timelines to better serve the changing needs of their customers.

Three Steps to Start an In-House Program
The first step to starting an in-house credit card program to build out the program’s strategy, including goals and parameters for credit underwriting. The underwriting strategy will establish score cutoffs, debt-to-income ratios, relationship values and other criteria so automated decisions reflect the policies and priorities of the bank. It is important to consider the relationship value of a customer, as it provides an edge in decision making for improved risk, better engagement and higher return. If a bank selects a seasoned technology partner, that partner may be able to provide a champion strategy and best practices from their experience.

Next, community banks should establish a long-term financial plan designed to meet its strategic objectives while addressing risk management criteria, including credit, collection and fraud exposures. It is important that bank leaders evaluate potential partners to ensure proper fraud protections and security. Some card platform providers will even share in the responsibility for fraud-related financial losses to help mitigate the risk for the bank.

The third step is to understand and establish support needs. These days, a strong account issuer program limits the bank’s need for dedicated personnel to operate or manage the portfolio. Many providers also offer resources to handle accounting and settlement, risk management, technology infrastructure, product development, compliance and customer service functions. The bank can work with partners to build the right mix of in-house and provided support, and align its compensation systems to provide the best balance of profitability and support.

Building an in-house corporate credit card program is an important strategic priority for every community bank, increasing its franchise value and ensuring its business is ready for the future.

Evaluating Your Technology Relationship

 

It’s tough to find a technology provider that puts your bank’s needs first. Yet given the pace of change, it’s becoming crucial that banks consider external solutions to meet their strategic goals — from improving the digital experience to building internal efficiencies. In this video, six technology experts share their views on what makes for a strong partnership.

Hear from these finalists from the 2021 Best of FinXTech Awards:

  • Dan O’Malley, Numerated
  • Nicky Senyard, Fintel Connect
  • Zack Nagelberg, Derivative Path
  • Doug Brown, NCR Corp.
  • Joe Ehrhardt, Teslar Software
  • Jessica Caballero, DefenseStorm

To learn more about the methodology behind the Best of FinXTech Awards, click here.

If you’re a bank executive or director who wants to learn more about the FinXTech Connect platform, click here. If you represent a technology company that is currently working with financial institutions, click here to submit your company for consideration.

The Three Pillars for Success in Peer Mergers

Recent trends indicate that many bankers are considering adding significant scale by targeting peer institutions for outright acquisition.

These transactions, which we call “peer mergers,” are comparable to so-called “merger of equals,” except that the management team, operational structure and culture of the acquiring institution will mostly remain the same for the combined institution. This avoids the most obvious difficulty with successfully executing a merger of equals: combining two institutions without one side of the equation feeling “less equal” than the other. Peer mergers still carry plenty of their own risks, but keeping the management team and operational structure mostly intact is appealing and can greatly reduce the need to cut redundancies post-merger by eliminating them at the outset. Here are three key concepts to keep in mind when considering such a merger.

Choose a Good Strategic Fit

Why are we doing this deal? Will we be solving challenges or creating new ones? Is the combined institution greater than the sum of its parts?
Choosing to do a peer merger may be as straightforward as needing to add scale. However, banks desiring scale to fortify their balance sheet and gain operational and regulatory efficiencies may find that the wrong partner creates more headaches than it solves. Long-term solutions may be more difficult to manage at a larger combined institution, especially if there is a significant clash in cultures. In most cases, identifying a target needs to be about more than just scale. Does the merger gain entry into high-growth markets, meaningfully diversify credit risk, add complementary products and teams, or create significant synergies and efficiencies? Does your bank need to merge in order to accomplish those goals, or are there simpler, cleaner alternatives?

Get Ahead of Challenges

What are the challenges posed by the merger? How can those challenges be addressed? How quickly can those challenges be overcome?
We always recommend to our clients to be as proactive as possible about identifying and solving issues as early as they can in the acquisition negotiation process. This is even more true in a peer merger, where the consequences of a miscalculation are amplified by the transaction’s scale. The merger agreement doesn’t need to be signed to start this process. In fact, addressing issues prior to execution may very well reveal even deeper problems than due diligence would have otherwise shown, and allow for solutions or protections to be negotiated into the merger agreement. Especially try to hammer out the compensation of the potentially retained management personnel as early as possible; you don’t want to find out post-signing that key personnel aren’t as keen on staying with the combined institution as you’d thought — especially if that would trigger change in control payments.

Look Down the Road

What are our long-term strategic goals, and how does the merger get us closer to them? What will the combined institution look like 3 to 5 years from now? How does this benefit our shareholders?
Forecasting what the combined institution will look like in the long term involves much more than looking at pro formas and financial projections. Will your operational structure be able to handle the combined institution’s business volume at closing? Will it be able to five years down the road without a difficult and expensive overhaul? Will you be operating in your target markets, or will further geographic growth be needed and how will you achieve it? Will you cross asset size thresholds that trigger more onerous regulatory oversight in the near future?

Another important consideration is the impact on your shareholders — both the old and the new. Consider how you will give your shareholders the ability to cash out their investments. Will you conduct stock buybacks? Is a public listing on the table? Do you give target shareholders the opportunity to cash out at closing?

Both the potential benefits and risks of a typical merger are magnified in a peer merger, due to the scale of the transaction. With extensive strategic and operational foresight and careful navigation of the potential pitfalls, peer mergers offer a way to quickly add scale and supercharge your bank.

Finding Opportunities in 2021

Will deal volume pick up pace in 2021? Despite credit concerns and negotiation hurdles, Stinson LLP Partner Adam Maier predicts a stronger appetite for deals — but adds that potential acquirers will have to be aggressive in pursuing targets that align with their strategic goals.

  • Predictions for 2021
  • Capital Considerations
  • Regulatory Hurdles to Growth

Use Compensation Plans to Tackle a Talent Shortage


Can you believe it’s been 10 years since the global financial crisis? As you’ll no doubt recall, what was originally a localized mortgage crisis spiraled into a full-blown liquidity crisis and economic recession. As a result, Congress passed unprecedented regulatory reform, largely in the form of the Dodd-Frank Act, the impact of which is still being felt today.

Significant executive compensation and corporate governance regulatory requirements now require the full attention of senior management and directors. At the same time, shareholders continue to apply pressure on management to deliver strong financial performance. These challenges often seem overwhelming, while the industry also faces a shortage of the talent needed to deliver higher performance. As members of the Baby Boomer generation retire over the coming years, banks are challenged to fill key positions.

Today, many banks are just trading people, particularly among lenders with sizable portfolios. Many would argue the war for talent is more intense than ever. According to Bank Director’s 2017 Compensation Survey, retaining key talent is a top concern.

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To address this challenge, many banks have expanded their compensation program to include nonqualified benefit plans as well as link a significant portion of total compensation to the achievement of the bank’s strategic goals. Boards are focusing more on strategy, and providing incentives to satisfy both the bank’s year-to-year budget and its long-term strategic plan.

For example, if the strategic plan indicates an expectation that the bank will significantly increase its market share over a three-year period, compared to competition, then executive compensation should be based in part upon achieving that goal.

Achieving Strategic Goals
There are other compensation programs available to help a bank retain talented employees.

According to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. call report data and internal company research, nonqualified plans, such as supplemental executive retirement plans (SERPs) and deferred compensation plans, are widely used and are particularly important in community banks, where equity or equity-related plans such as stock options, restricted stock, phantom stock and stock appreciation plans are typically not used. These plans can enhance retirement benefits, and can be powerful tools to attract and retain key employees. “Forfeiture” provisions (also called “golden handcuffs”) encourage employees to stay with their present bank instead of leaving to work for a competitor.

SERPs
SERPs can restore benefits lost under qualified plans because of Internal Revenue Code limits. Regulatory rules restrict the amount that can be contributed to tax-deferred plans, like a 401(k). A common rule of thumb is that retirees will need 70 to 80 percent of their final pre-retirement income to maintain their standard of living during retirement. Highly compensated employees may only be able to replace 30 to 50 percent of their salary with qualified plans, creating a retirement income gap.

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To offset this gap, banks often pay annual benefits for 10 to 20 years after the individual retires, with 15 years being the most common. SERPs can have lengthy vesting schedules, particularly where the bank wishes to reinforce retention of executive talent.

Deferred Compensation Plans
We have also seen an increasing number of banks implement performance-based deferred compensation plans in lieu of stock plans. Defined as either a specific dollar amount or percentage of salary, bank contributions may be based on the achievement of measurable results such as loan growth, increased profitability and reduced problem assets. Typically, the annual contributions vest over 3 to 5 years, but could be longer.

While deferred compensation plans have historically been linked to retirement benefits, we see younger officers are often finding more value in cash distributions that occur before retirement age.

To attract and retain millennials in particular, more employers are expanding their benefit programs by offering a resource to help employees pay off their student loans. According to a survey commissioned by the communications firm Padilla, more than 63 percent of millennials have $10,000 or more in student debt. Deferred compensation plans can also be extended to millennials to help pay for a child’s college tuition or purchase a home. Because these shorter-term deferred compensation plans do not pay out if the officer leaves the bank, it provides a strong incentive for the officer to stay longer term.

Banks must compete with all types of organizations for talent, and future success depends on their ability to attract and retain key executives. The use of nonqualified plans, when properly chosen and correctly designed, can make a major impact on enhancing long-term shareholder value.

Insurance services provided by Equias Alliance, LLC, a subsidiary of NFP Corp. (NFP). Services offered through Kestra Investment Services, LLC (Kestra IS), member of FINRA/SIPC. Kestra IS is not affiliated with Equias Alliance, LLC or NFP.

How a Board Can Become a Strategic Asset



Issues like cybersecurity, digital transformation and future business models now require the attention of not just management teams, but also bank boards. As directors engage more deeply in these issues, Bill Fisher of Diligent explains how they can enhance the effectiveness of the board to be a true strategic asset to the bank.

  • The Board’s Role as a Strategic Asset
  • Enhancing Board Effectiveness
  • Addressing Board Skills

Talent Strategies for Family-Owned Banks



How strong and transparent is the bank’s succession plan? Are employees being developed to achieve strategic goals? Joshua Juergensen, principal at CliftonLarsonAllen, shares how community bank boards and management teams should strategically approach talent development.

  • Tackling Succession Concerns
  • Outlining a Career Path
  • Developing a Strategic Vision

Merger of Equals: Does 1 + 1 = 3?


merger-9-12-16.pngGiven today’s burdensome regulatory environment and complex business climate, many banks are evaluating different strategic alternatives as a means to grow. Mergers of equals (MOEs) are not always at the forefront of discussions when bank executives consider strategic alternatives, due to the social and cultural issues that can present roadblocks throughout the negotiation process.

It is vital to the success of a MOE that both parties come to terms on these issues early in the process to minimize the execution risk. When both parties of a MOE develop and align the structure of the transaction as well as the vision of the combined entity, MOEs can be executed successfully.

Historically, these issues have hindered MOE activity. Since 1990, MOEs have made up only 2.43 percent of total M&A transactions, reaching their peak (by number of deals) in 1998 before dropping off with the entire M&A market during the 2008 financial crisis. We are now seeing a resurgence in MOEs. As of Aug. 30, 2016, there have been seven MOEs this year making up 4.41 percent of total M&A activity in the community banking space. The banking industry has become increasingly more competitive in recent years, underscored by net interest margin compression as well as increased regulatory and compliance expenses. MOEs serve as an excellent alternative to cut costs, increase earnings, and gain size and scale.

In our eyes, successful MOEs cannot be forced; they are a marriage that must develop naturally between two institutions and their executives that have an amicable past with one another. They are most successful when the two banks’ philosophies and strategic visions align. While not every bank may be a fit for a MOE partner, we recommend that executives give consideration to merger opportunities, as a well-executed MOE can significantly enhance shareholder value.

MOEs present a significant opportunity to gain immediate size and scale that otherwise may not be achievable through small bank acquisitions. Achieving this size and scale will have a direct impact on the bottom line as the increasing regulatory burden can be spread across the firm while generating cost savings through the reduction of repetitive back office staff, overlapping branches, data processing contracts, and marketing expenses. Moreover, this will further enhance shareholder value through the pooling of talent and increased earnings stream generated by the bank, ultimately providing an opportunity for a higher takeout multiple in the event of a sale of the combined enterprise.

The market performance of MOE parties has reflected the positive impact that MOEs can have. When comparing the stock performance since January 2010 of both the accounting acquirer and accounting target (a merger of equals always has, for accounting purposes, an acquirer and a target), on average they have both outperformed their peers, beating the SNL US Bank & Thrift index three months after the announcement by 1.9 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively. Moreover, the pro forma bank has outperformed the SNL US Bank & Thrift index at both one- and two-year time frames after the mergers have closed; the average stock price change of the pro forma bank one-year post closing is 15.9 percent compared to 8.9 percent for the SNL US Bank & Thrift index and over two years is 22.0 percent compared to 13.3 percent.

Additionally, the combined enterprise has also performed well financially. The average pro forma bank has increased both return on average assets (ROAA) and return on average equity (ROAE) one and two years after the transaction closing.

Average Pro Forma Bank Before and After a Merger of Equals

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Source: S&P 500 Market Intelligence
Note: ROAA and ROAE for acquirer and target are as of the quarter prior to transaction announcement. Includes select MOE transactions from 1/1/2010 to 8/28/2016 in which the accounting buyer is publicly traded; includes 12 transactions. Transactions in which ROAA and/or ROAE are not available for specific time periods are excluded from average ROAA and/or ROAE calculations.

When a MOE is well executed it can bolster earnings, gain scale, increase efficiency and improve products and practices, ultimately creating a stronger combined institution. In these cases, the whole is greater than the sum-of-the-parts and 1 + 1 = 3.