Friday, April 25, 2014

Why Banks Merge: Listen to the Sellers

September 2004, driving from a meeting in New York, on the grossly miss-titled Cross Bronx Expressway, Nathan Stovall, a reporter from SNL Financial gave me a call. The question: What was up with an upstate New York bank? My answer: The CEO was 67 years old and that would obviously be an impetus for a sale. He printed it as I said it. The angry phone call I later received from a bank director was well deserved.

Unfiltered honesty is sometimes a personal blessing, but mostly a curse. Rarely do you see in merger press releases the selling CEO saying, "Hey, I'm tired. I'm out!" But that is often the reason behind the nicely polished words formulated in the Investor Relations Department.

In 2013 there were 246 bank and thrift merger and acquisition deals announced, the highest number since 2007 when there were 318 deals. Year to date through April 22nd, there were 73 announced deals, putting us on track for a similar number of deals to last year. This all comes with fewer banks than there were in 2007.

What is driving deal volume? Investment bankers will tell you the definitive answer, which is of course their opinion. So I thought it would be instructive to take a look at what selling bank CEO's say in the press release when they announce they are turning over the keys to someone else. Yes, these statements are contrived. But within them there is often nuggets of truth. I simply hunt for those nuggets and put my own spin on why the bank was sold. 

These deals were all announced this month.

"Our combined financial institution will offer a wider array of products and services while continuing our long-standing personal commitment to our customers and community."

- Gregory Schreacke, President of First Financial Service Corporation in Elizabethtown, KY on his bank's sale to Community Bank Shares of Indiana, Inc.

Read: We needed greater scale to offer the products and services demanded by customers.

"Our combination... will provide greater capital resources and operational scale that will allow us to grow as part of a larger community bank."

- Loralee Hutchinson, President of Alarion Financial Services, Inc. of Ocala, Florida on the bank's sale to Heritage Financial Group, Inc.

Read: We need to be bigger and have more capital to keep up with regulation and the industry.

"[North Akron Savings Bank customers will gain] access to a broader choice of financial products and services comparable to those offered by the large banks operating in the region."

- Steve Hailer, President and CEO of North Akron Savings Bank on the bank's sale to Peoples Bancorp, Inc.

Read: There's no way we can keep up with the product and distribution channel changes coming down the pike. And what is social media?

"Customers will gain access to many new products and services, including insurance, trust, and investments, plus a full suite of contemporary electronic services.  At the same time, our legal lending limit will be much larger, which will help us to make larger investments in the local communities."

- Dick Baker, Chairman of Ohio Heritage Bancorp of Coshocton on the bank's sale to Peoples Bancorp, Inc.

Read: You have to make lots and lots of little loans when you only have $25 million in capital.

“I am excited about our increased capacity to lend, which will have an impact on the communities we serve."

- Mark Candido, President and Chief Executive Officer of Quinnipiac Bank and Trust Company in Connecticut on his bank's sale to Bankwell Financial Group.

Read: We only have $10 million in capital and can't get more on our own. Oh, and the fact that the CEO is 65 is a mere coincidence.

Am I reading it right?

~ Jeff


  1. Jeff, as usual, this was very insightful.

  2. Thanks Dave. I think the driving force behind recent mergers is... fear.

    ~ Jeff

  3. Jeff, you make a good point. Fear very well maybe a driving force. Back in 2006 - 2007 I knew of a couple of banks who were merging and the driving force was fear of the regulatory environment and the associated costs. If there was fear about it back then, I am sure it is still a driving force now.