Best Banking Reads of 2014

What a year it’s been for the banking industry! From threats from outside the industry by Apple and Wal-Mart, to questions on whether Colorado and Washington banks should work with legal marijuana businesses, to regulatory shenanigans at the New York Fed, 2014 has been memorable. As the holidays approach and I think back on the year that was, I thought I’d take a few minutes to share some of the banking-related stories I enjoyed in 2014.

Regulations

  • Banks given the go-ahead on working with marijuana businesses: Marijuana may be legal in some states, but that doesn’t mean banks are ready to work with marijuana businesses.
  • How to Punish a Bank: This is from National Public Radio’s Planet Money, so it’s more of a listen than a read, but delves into the problems of effectively punishing the big banks.
  • Bank of America Adds a Mortgage Settlement to Its Collection: Bloomberg’s Matt Levine (also cited in the NPR segment) provides the data on (at the time) Bank of America’s $68 billion in mortgage settlements, and asks how effective these penalties and fines are when they become business-as-usual.
  • Inside the Emerald City: Jack Milligan, editor of Bank Director, delved into the culture of the NY Fed following concerns that regulators got just a bit too cozy with the big banks they oversee.

NonBank Competition

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Big Auto vs. The Innovator

Yesterday Michigan Governor Rick Snyder passed Michigan House Bill 5606 (a tip of the hat to a longtime friend and fellow “car brat” who brought the story to my attention), which prevents electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors Inc. from selling vehicles in the state. Snyder, in a signing letter to the Michigan House of Representatives, says that this isn’t really news–the bill just clarifies that rather than using its own franchised network of dealerships, car manufacturers can sell through any franchise. Tesla sells directly to consumers, so sales of Tesla were always illegal in Michigan. Tesla had some damning words to say about the bill:

Not content with enshrining their ability to charge consumers dubious fees, on the last day of the legislative session, the dealers managed to make a last-minute change to the bill in an attempt to cement their broader retail monopoly. Using a procedure that prevented legislators and the public at large from knowing what was happening or allowing debate, Senator Joe Hune added new language in an attempt to lock Tesla out of the state,” Tesla said. “The dealers seek to force Tesla, a company that has never had a franchise dealership, into a body of law solely intended to govern the relationship between a manufacturer and its associated dealers. In so doing, they create an effective prohibition against Tesla opening a store in Michigan.

Either way, General Motors Co. has gone on record as a supporter of the bill, which, in the company’s view, levels the playing field by either forcing Tesla to sell through dealers or bow out of Michigan. Tesla seems committed to its direct-to-consumer strategy, so it looks like Tesla won’t be selling in the Great Lakes State any time soon.

I can’t help but draw parallels between this incident and another time that Big Auto has gone toe-to-toe against an innovator:

TuckerMoviePosterTucker: The Man and His Dream, the 1988 biographical movie, is based on the story of Preston Tucker’s attempt to change the auto industry in the 1940s. His “car of tomorrow”, the Tucker 48, featured several safety innovations, such as a shatterproof glass windshield, roll bar and seatbelts (The Tucker 48 was the first production car to include a seatbelt). In Francis Ford Coppola’s version of the story, the Big Three (Ford, GM and Chrysler) feared competition from the upstart Tucker as well as innovations like seatbelts that implied, in Detroit’s mind, that cars aren’t safe. Tucker’s dream was squashed when he and several other Tucker Corp. executives were indicted for mail fraud, conspiracy to defraud and SEC violations. They were eventually found not guilty, but Tucker Corp. fell apart and Tucker’s dream was dead.

Thinking about U.S./Big Auto vs. Tucker/Tesla brought my thoughts to all the nonbank competition out there today–and whether those nonbank competitors will remain immune from financial regulation for much longer. Of course, the picture in the bank space is significantly more complicated than in the auto industry, with big banks, community banks, credit unions, Big Tech like Google and Apple and small fintech startups all jostling for position.

And as they dig themselves further into the banking space, I think Big Tech and and the smaller fintech firms will come closer and closer to being under the thumb of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency that enjoys freer reign than other regulators and relishes its role as the consumers’ protector. At least one law professor believes that Apple Pay already crossed the line. The more financial products and services that ‘Big Tech’ offers, the more they’ll come under the eye of Cordray. If that happens, will the CFPB mark the end of fintech innovation in the U.S.?

4Q14-Cover*If you’re interested in reading about the threat that technology companies pose to traditional banks, check out the latest issue of Bank Director magazine, featuring Jack Milligan’s cover story, “Sizing Up the Nonbank Threat”.

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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Decline in Branch Banking, or an Evolution?

treesroadunsplashSeveral news outlets have picked up on recent data from Bankrate.com revealing that 30 percent of Americans haven’t visited a branch in at least six months, among them Time.com, which called it the one stat big bank CEOs are freaking out about.

Half of Americans visited a branch at least within the last month, 64 percent within the last six months and 73 percent in the last year. A request to Bankrate.com for past data on branch visits was not answered.

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about|that|ratio

Good things come in threes — like insightful/inspiring meetings in New York, Nashville and D.C. this week.  By extension, keep an eye out for a Sunday, Monday and Tuesday post on About That Ratio .  Yes, I’m heading to Chicago for Bank Director’s annual Chairman/CEO Peer Exchange at the Four Seasons (#chair14) and plan to share my thoughts and observations on issues like strategic planning, risk management and leveraging emerging technologies each day.  Finally, I hope the three points I share today (e.g. a look at what the future holds for branches to a rise in public offerings) prove my original sentiment correct.

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I’ve been surprised… by the # of conversations I’ve had about branch banking.

With many of the mega and super-regional banks focused on expense control, I find myself talking fairly regularly about how these institutions are taking a “fresh look” at reducing their branch networks.  Typically, these conversations trend towards well-positioned regional and community banks — and how many now look to branch acquisitions…

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Partnering for Better Innovation

Instead of viewing fintech companies as disruptive competitors, should the banking industry embrace these innovators as potential partners?dachschundunsplash

While writing my latest for BankDirector.com, “Three Things Bank Boards Can Do to Improve the Use of Technology”, I had the chance to speak with Ryan Gilbert, a board member at Sacramento-based River City Bank. In his day job, he’s the CEO of Better Finance Inc., a financial technology company that provides leasing and credit solutions to consumers and small businesses. As both a director of a traditional community bank as well as the head of a fintech company, he has a unique perspective on the intersection of banking and innovation. So I was curious what he thought about the impact of non-bank competitors, like Square (where Gilbert serves as an advisory board member), on the industry.

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