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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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.

LOFTy Expectations

I’m a big fan of LOFT, the lower-cost little sister to the slightly more upscale Ann Taylor, but their most recent sale probably lost me as an online customer.

LOFT ran a big sale Sunday that offered a 70 percent discount off sale items. Who doesn’t love a good deal? The sale expired at midnight, so I started to browse late Sunday evening on my iPhone. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past browsing–the website constantly crashed. This isn’t the first time that LOFT’s website couldn’t handle extra traffic during a big sale.

LOFT Response LOFT’s response to my concerns voiced on social media Sunday night came on Monday morning–hours after the end of the sale–and instead of addressing the issue through that medium, they directed me to call an associate. Around the same time, I received a tone-deaf email advertising a 60% off flash sale email.

LOFT Flash Sale 07142014

I should note that the social media team at LOFT seems to be responsive to customers on its Facebook page. It’s true that I was disappointed that, instead of addressing the problem through social media, LOFT directed me to contact them by phone–an extra step that I didn’t want to take–but their team is just doing their job.

The real problem lies in the fact that marketing, product delivery and customer service aren’t strategically aligned.

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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.

Financial Research: Is a Focus on Growth Yielding Higher Board Pay?

GrapesUnsplashBank Director just released the results of its 2014 Compensation Survey, sponsored by Meyer-Chatfield Compensation Advisors, and the results may reveal some good news for the banking industry, as evidenced by two key trends:

Lending is fueling more executive hires than compliance or risk, with boards focusing more time on loans. Loan officers are in strong demand at banks of all sizes, with more banks citing growth than regulations as the driving force behind change at the executive level. 

Bank boards are earning more. After getting their regulatory ducks in a row, a renewed focus on profitability may have translated into increased pay and benefits for bank directors. With median fees set at $750 per board meeting and median annual retainers at $20,000, bank directors are seeing a modest income for their service. However, the view isn’t as rosy for small banks: Almost half of boards at banks with less than $500 million in assets haven’t increased pay since at least 2010, and director pay is significantly lower at these institutions.

You’ll find the complete results to the survey, including median pay data for CEOs and boards, HERE.

Infograph06162014_Comp2014

Financial Research: Building for Growth (Means Getting Risk Right)

MountainTramUnsplash

A bank’s approach to risk management may be impacted by its plans to grow. The Dodd-Frank Act requires publicly traded banks with more than $10 billion in assets to establish a separate risk committee of the board, but Bank Director‘s 2014 Risk Practices Survey, sponsored by FIS, found that more than half of banks with between $1 billion and $5 billion in assets have proactively established a risk committee, despite not being required to do so.

Comparing this to the results of the 2014 Bank M&A Survey may indicate that stepping up the bank’s approach to risk management may be directly tied to strategic growth plans. This survey found that 68 percent of banks with between $1 billion and $5 billion in assets plan to buy a bank this year. These banks also made more acquisitions in 2013, including healthy bank deals, FDIC-assisted transactions and branch purchases.

Getting the ducks in a row on risk management is a crucial step to ensure future regulatory approval for any acquisition that may take the bank north of $10 billion. When I spoke with him last October, Midland States Bank CFO Jeff Ludwig indicated that the bank’s good relationship with its regulators typically resulted in relatively quick and easy approval for deals. This good relationship was founded not only on transparency, but also meeting regulatory expectations.

Midland States has made a significant investment in risk management ‘so the regulators can see that we’re building the infrastructure ahead of our growth.’

The 2014 Risk Practices Survey strongly indicates that a focus on risk management results in better financial performance.  Respondents from banks with a separate board-level risk committee report a higher median return on assets (ROA) and higher median return on equity (ROE) compared to banks that govern risk within a combined audit/risk committee or within the audit committee.

The survey also reveals several best practices for bank boards and management.

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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