Are bankers dishonest?

Honest Abe is not impressed.

A team of Swiss economists claim that the business of banking makes industry employees more dishonest.

“Our results suggest that the social norms in the banking sector tend to be more lenient towards dishonest behavior and thus contribute to the reputational loss in the industry,” says Michel Maréchal, Professor for Experimental Economic Research at the University of Zurich.

I take the conclusions of this study with a heaping dose of salt: Much of the results center on the employees of ONE BANK, and I have strong reservations about a study that is so influenced by the culture of one company. Frank Eliason, global director of the client experience team at Citigroup, expresses similar concerns–and makes an excellent point about the very real reputation damage the industry has witnessed due to some very bad eggs.

And that’s very true. According to Edelman, the financial services industry remains the least trusted industry globally. American sentiments trend with those worldwide–almost half say that there’s not enough regulation of financial services–but here’s a silver lining: Trust of financial institutions has grown in the past year.

One of the Swiss study’s authors, Alain Cohn, thinks some type of Hippocratic oath for bankers would address the issue.

If an oath like this were supported with a corresponding training program in ethics and appropriate financial incentives, this could lead bank employees to focus more strongly on the long-term, social effects of their behavior instead of concentrating on their own, short-term gains.

I’ve met bankers from all across the U.S., and I have a hard time buying that they’re inherently more dishonest than those in any other industry. But both Eliason, in his post, and the Swiss study’s authors (in a roundabout way), allude to the importance of culture. In Bank Director‘s own research, we’re seeing this more and more as a common theme, with the 2014 Compensation Survey underscoring the importance of culture in attracting talent and the 2015 Bank M&A Survey revealing the challenges bank boards and management face in integrating the purchased bank into the surviving institution–and this includes the bank’s culture. Bank Director Editor Jack Milligan wrote recently about the importance First Financial Bankshares CEO Scott Dueser places on culture, concluding:

And you can’t provide great customer service if your employees hate their jobs, which is why First Financial places so much emphasis on training, career management, empowerment, recognition and, yes, compensation.

It’s probably an axiom that only happy employees can provide great customer service, just like the best milk comes from contended cows. So if customer service is one of your core business strategies, make sure your bank is providing an environment where people enjoy coming to work every day and love what they do.

Eliason, I think, makes a similar point:

…it has to do with experiences we, as an industry, have created for Customers. Change must happen, and it must happen now! Stop worrying about studies, or even these headlines, but instead focus on your Customer, and they will return the favor. The fact is Customers are people and our business has always been about relationships. It is time we concentrate on those relationships.

Banking isn’t evil, and many bankers aren’t dishonest. But negative public perception of the industry is very real. Positive customer experiences–the result of an ethical, client-friendly and employee-friendly culture– will go a long way in restoring trust in the banking system.

Growth Driving Hires, But Many Banks Still Don’t Tie Pay to Performance

What’s going to be the primary driver for executive hires at the nation’s banks in 2015? Growth and strategy, say a whopping 80 percent of the 175 bank CEOs, human resources officers, chairmen and board members participating in an audience survey at Bank Director’s 2014 Bank Executive & Board Compensation Conference yesterday at Chicago’s Swissôtel. Meyer-Chatfield Compensation Advisors sponsored the survey. Just 4 percent expect regulations to drive hires.

This lines up with what we saw in the 2014 Bank Compensation Survey earlier this year. And it looks like competition for lenders will remain tough in 2015–62 percent expect to see the strongest demand for lending executives next year, an increase of 41 percent from lending hires in 2013 (also according to the 2014 Bank Compensation Survey). And despite the banking industry’s struggles to keep up with innovation, just 14 percent expect technology executives to be in high demand.

One-quarter of respondents expect at least one key executive departure in 2015. Departing talent may prove difficult to replace, as 41 percent say a lack of talented candidates in their market is the most challenging aspect in attracting executive hires.

Almost half of the respondents cite corporate culture as the primary factor that makes their bank attractive to potential hires, while just 4 percent cite the bank’s compensation program. That said, tying compensation to performance, at 59 percent, remains the top compensation challenge facing bank boards, and 40 percent say that the development of competitive compensation packages is the most challenging aspect when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. There’s no doubt that aligning pay with long-term strategy continues to challenge bank boards: In an audience survey later in the day, 68 percent revealed that tying pay to performance is a bigger challenge for compensation committees than dealing with regulation.

Despite these challenges, almost 40% don’t believe that CEO pay should always be directly tied to the bank’s performance, as revealed in an audience survey later in the day.  Previously, the 2014 Bank Compensation Survey found that less than half of respondents tied CEO pay to the bank’s strategic plan, and more than one-quarter said that CEO compensation was not linked to their bank’s performance.

Interested in more highlights from the 2014 Bank Executive & Board Compensation Conference? Al Dominick, Bank Director’s president, provides his perspective on About That Ratio, and highlights why banks must reward creativity and innovation HERE. Editor Jack Milligan explains the importance of corporate culture HERE.

Access for All?

The 2013 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households was released yesterday, and the number of unbanked and underbanked households in the U.S. hasn’t budged much in the last two years (the total percentage has declined slightly, to just under 28 percent, since 2011). Just under eight percent are unbanked–almost 1 million households. Of these:

  • Almost half (46 percent) have had a bank account in the past.
  • Seventeen percent currently don’t have a bank account due in part to their credit history.

Not surprisingly, the unbanked are highly reliant on alternative financial products:

  • 27 percent of the unbanked used prepaid cards, compared to 12 percent of households overall. Two-thirds of those that used prepaid cards in the last 30 days are unbanked or underbanked.
  • More than half used money orders in the last 30 days, versus less than 10 percent of all households.
  • Thirty-nine percent used checking cashing services, compared to just three percent of all households.

The FDIC and and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have been pretty vocal about the fact that they want to decrease consumer use of alternative financial services. Will these regulators make a move to ensure that more Americans have access to a bank account? Last summer, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman convinced Capital One Financial Corp. to amend its use of ChexSystems, a database used by many banks to screen applicants for fraud and credit risk. A 2009 report from the FDIC found that almost 90 percent of banks use a credit-screening database like ChexSystems, and one-quarter reject an account application due to a negative result. Earlier this month, Richard Cordray addressed the CFPB’s areas of concern on the matter, which boil down the three areas:

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Financial Research: Grappling with Technology

Bank leaders want to know more about how to leverage technology to make their institutions more profitable, but don’t know where to start, reveals the 2014 Growth Strategy Survey. Bank Director and CDW surveyed 145 independent directors and executives in June and July to uncover technology’s role in growth strategy.

Growth-Survey-Group-1Bank leaders know that technology can make their banks more efficient, and know that customer demands are only growing. But less than one-third talk about technology at every board meeting, and one-quarter of banks lack the IT staff to grow the bank.

Growth-Survey-Group-4When asked about the top technology concerns for their banks, keeping up with the evolution of mobile banking is a concern for more than half. Data analytics is also top of mind, and the survey finds that big banks are better users of data. Forty percent of respondents overall use business intelligence tools and analytics within their organization, but more than three-quarters of banks over $5 billion in assets currently use data to support growth goals.

Growth-Survey-Group-2One-third are concerned that the bank’s core processor impedes the bank’s ability to innovate. Community banks in particular depend on vendors for their technological expertise, yet half say that their core processor is slow to respond to innovations.

Growth-Survey-Group-3It’s important to note that many of these concerns about innovation and the use of data tie into growing concerns about competition from outside the industry. Eighty-four percent of respondents say that today’s highly competitive environment is their greatest challenge when it comes to growing the bank, and 83 percent worry about nonbank competitors. Banks above $5 billion in assets reveal a heightened concern about PayPal and Amazon.

Full survey results are available online at BankDirector.com.

The Growth of the…Branch?

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The American Bankers Association just released survey results that say that the number of Americans that prefer to bank within a branch actually grew within the last year. Americans opting for internet banking fell by 8 percentage points, while the number who prefer to meet their banking needs through ATM or mobile each grew slightly.  The ABA theorizes that recent technological advancements made within bank branches have made the channel more efficient and therefore, more attractive to customers.

Reflecting the view across the pond, Accenture released a study last month, focusing on the UK financial services industry, with similar findings–online banking remains steady, while the use of branch and mobile channels grow.

There are certainly branch success stories for community banks in the U.S., and most of these involve a transition to self-service, whether through the use of image-enabled ATMs or video tellers. Kennebec Savings Bank uses image-enabled ATMs to handle one-third of the bank’s deposits, and the machines allow the bank to expand in its market through self-service branches more cheaply  than through a traditional branch. And Conestoga Bank opens two-to-three times more accounts each quarter through video tellers. (For more on how these banks are using technology in the branch, please read my contribution to Bank Director magazine’s innovation section, “Will Video Kill the Teller Line?“.)

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The Power of ‘No’

The Wall Street Journal has a great piece on the growing prominence of chief risk officers: “After Crisis, Risk Officers Gain More Clout at Banks”. According to the piece, risk officers now have more say and are earning more for it, as much as 40 percent more than just a few years ago. Our recent research supports this:

Perhaps due to the increased prominence of the CRO, many bank boards feel that they can breathe a little easier when it comes to matters of compliance and risk management. In the 2014 Compensation Survey, we asked about the top compensation-related challenges that face bank boards today. Just over the course of the last year, the percentage that indicate that understanding and complying with regulations poses a challenge fell dramatically, from 41 percent in 2013 to 22 percent this year, a drop of almost 50 percent.

It should be noted that the decline in bank boards concerned about compliance was not as pronounced among banks with more than $5 billion in assets (though there was still a significant drop, of 16 percent). But perhaps this isn’t surprising, as the regulatory focus falls more on these banks as they approach the $10 billion threshold laid down in the Dodd-Frank Act – so the focus on risk will always be more heightened at these organizations.

Risk culture, and the board’s role in it, still has a ways to go. Less than half of bank boards regularly meet with their chief risk officer, so not every CRO has a seat at the table. But for many financial institutions, risk officers are gaining more prominence and playing a greater role in the strategic direction of the bank.

TopCompChallengesSources:

  1. 2014 Compensation Survey
  2. 2014 Risk Practices Survey
  3. “Handling Risk in the Modern Age”, Bank Director, 2nd quarter 2014

Big Disparities in Bank CEO Pay

As discussed in my prior blog post, the 2014 Compensation Survey finds that bank boards are earning more and lending is a big focus for executive hires. But the survey also delves more into CEO pay this year, and while the disparities in pay for the largest and smallest banks should be expected, it’s still jarring to see.

CEOpayBySize

For the industry overall, the median compensation amounts for bank CEOs total:

Salary: $241,600
Cash incentive: $44,600
Potential cash incentive: $57,600
Equity grants: $50,000
Benefits & perks: $21,231

Ninety-nine percent report that the CEO receives a salary, while 41 percent report that the CEO receives equity grants. Half report a cash incentive, and more than two-thirds say that the CEO receives some benefits & perks.

You’ll find more details on bank executive pay within the 2014 Compensation Survey.