Friday, August 22, 2014

Four Ideas on Bank Retail Investment Sales

Bank Investment Consultant magazine recently published the results of a bank/credit union investment sales benchmarking report from Kehrer Bielan Research and Consulting. The report, as cited in the article, (via @CUInsight) stated credit union investment revenues equated to $360 per million in share deposits, and that number was 21% greater than in banks, implying bank reps achieve $298 per million in deposits.

So if an investment rep covered $500 million in a credit union, he/she achieved $180,000 in gross production. A bank investment rep would achieve $148,750 for the same coverage. However, the article also stated that credit union reps produce less in gross production than bank reps, implying that bank reps cover more deposits. 

Bank investment sales is treated as an inconsequential line of business in most financial institutions, in my experience. My firm measures line of business and product profitability for dozens of community financial institutions, and hardly any of them make real money in retail investment sales, if they make any money at all. The most profitable program that we measure, on a pre-tax profit as percent of revenue basis, is one that is totally outsourced. The rep is a full-fledged employee of the third party broker-dealer, and the bank incurs little expense from it. It also receives little revenue. But it's profitable! Little is the operative word here.

Why does this line of business languish in our financial institutions? I think the answer comes back to attitude and execution. Because it can't be because our customers don't demand it. At the end of 2013, US registered investment companies managed $17.1 trillion in assets, while bank assets in all FDIC insured financial institutions was $14.7 trillion for the same period.

Here are a few ideas on how to turn this significant opportunity into a meaningful profit contributor to your financial institution:

Grow your own reps. So often we associate success with this LOB by plucking a higher producing rep from a brokerage firm because we want his/her book and to get profitable quickly. Why would a high producing rep join a bank that has limited products and lower payouts? Most won't although bank leads may be enticing. But, let's face it, as a brand for investment sales, most banks don't or can't achieve the panache of having Merrill Lynch on your business card. So grow your own reps. Pluck them from your ranks of junior professionals such as branch managers, credit analysts, marketing analysts, and perhaps, directly out of college.

Build a real program. A rep should be assigned a specific cluster of branches in an area that makes geographic sense. Each branch employee should be treated as a Center of Influence (COI) for that rep to source business. Each rep should develop a regimented calling program that includes internal bank customers, COI's, community outreach, and new relationship development. The Marketing Department should be tasked with assisting the rep along the way by mining data, developing mailing lists, coordinating educational events, etc. As the rep gets more experienced, he/she should expand internal COI's to include commercial lenders, who would tend to have leads to bigger fish with more sophisticated financial needs. As one senior lender once told me, "we're not going to refer our customers to some 25 year old that doesn't know squat and won't be here next year."

Customers are bank customers. Disintermediation was the dirty word that relegated bank investment sales to the bench. Better to let Charles Schwab take our customer money than to let an internal bank employee, right? Because that is what happened. And by the way, Charles Schwab has a $100 billion in assets bank. That's right, you read billion.

Another reason banks are reticent to move this LOB forward is because the business has traditionally been closely tied to the rep. If the rep leaves, then so go the customers. So build a program where multiple employees serve the customer and are part of a well-oiled system that exposes the customer to numerous employees.

Part of such a program should include Personal Financial Management (PFM) tools. I remain confounded why, in such a digital age, I must build my family's balance sheet annually in Excel. There are tools, and many banks have them, that essentially allow customers to view their entire financial picture on one platform... PFM. A successful retail investment sales program would set customers up, and train them, on using a PFM tool that allows them to view their entire financial picture. The more your customers use your PFM tool, the stickier they become to your institution.

Also, create an environment that is collegial and collaborative, making for an overall more pleasant experience for the rep as opposed to the "eat or be eaten" world of brokerage. Why would the right rep want to go to Acme Brokerage to cold call, do their own work, pay for their office, source their own leads, and have a sales manager shout expletives at him/her because he/she didn't meet their monthly production goal? But if they do choose that path, you have built the environment to make it very difficult for customers to want to leave your bank.

Build better reps. The days of graduating college and do no further learning are done. To be a licensed investment representative, you must minimally acquire your continuing education (CE) credits. That will not distinguish your reps from peers, because all must do it. There are professional certifications, such as Certified Financial Planner (CFP), that can distinguish your rep from others.

Sure, a rep can achieve the CFP certification and then bolt to a competitor. But you can protect yourself when making a large investment such as CFP by paying for it in the form of a forgivable loan. If the rep leaves before the forgivable period, then the amount expended immediately becomes a loan to that person.

And don't limit your rep development plan to financial matters. Money is very personal to people, and human skills are essential. Sometimes, the highest producing reps are so focused on driving revenue, they transform into a boiler-room broker. Remember, they are bankers. With that title comes trust, security, and integrity. Don't turn them into Gordon Gekko.

Getting back to profitability... it is reasonable to expect a retail investment sales program to generate $360,000 in revenue for every $1 billion in deposits. Further, based on our experience measuring profitability and the profitability of public retail brokerage firms, that this line of business could achieve pre-tax profit margins of 30%, dropping $108,000 in profits to your FI's bottom line. That is profit that requires little equity, and no balance sheet assets. Calculate that ROA or ROE!

What do you think is lacking in bank / credit union retail investment sales programs?

~ Jeff

Saturday, August 16, 2014

vBlog: Bankers... What's Your Criteria for Your CEO Search?

Bankers and Credit Union executives and Board members, be careful when limiting your choices for your next leaders. Because you might get what you asked for.

What traits and experience do you think equates to success?

~ Jeff

YouTube link in case you can't view on your device...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Law of Large Numbers for Banks and Credit Unions

While a colleague and I sat patiently waiting for our flight, we were discussing an upcoming strategic planning session with a client. He asked what I thought were their chances of success. I thought their future was bright, but pointed to a couple of headwinds working against them. One of them was the law of large numbers.

The law of large numbers in banking requires ever more asset generation as the bank becomes larger to sustain growth. If a bank is publicly held and management tells their investors they shoot for 10% growth, the number gets harder to achieve as the bank grows larger.

This was true of our client, where I estimated they needed between $1.5 billion and $2.0 billion of new loan production to grow their balance sheet 10%. We have many clients that haven’t achieved that total loan size in their 100 year history.

Some banks have done it. One such bank that consistently stunned competitors and analysts with hefty growth was the former Commerce Bank of Cherry Hill, NJ. They did it through rapid branching, buying business in new markets particularly from municipalities, and their reputation (self-proclaimed) as America’s Most Convenient Bank. Their CEO was not as much concerned with top tier financial performance, quarter over quarter, so long as the bank was investing in the growth engine.

Many of us do not have that luxury. So how do we get 10% growth, or deliver double-digit total return to shareholders, as we get larger? Some do it through acquisition. Acquisition criteria gets looser as the bank gets larger and the need to “feed the beast” grows.

But could there be another way? It may be difficult because while the bank was growing, the CEO was touting the growth strategy to constituencies. So changing strategic course calls for strategic leadership.

As it gets more difficult to grow, and as potential acquisition targets decline, could it be time to turn this growth engine into a cash cow? It’s the natural evolution of business. If you’re management team is ideal for your current size and not much larger, and your markets are not yielding sufficient growth, why not maximize profits and reward shareholders, not in the form of robust capital appreciation, but in dividends? Mutuals and credit unions could reward depositors in the form of a special dividend. What a great benefit to bank with you!

The accompanying table shows banks that are growing slowly, yet have superior financial performance and a strong total return to shareholders, delivered in great part by a greater than 4% dividend yield.

Perhaps the bottom two are restrained more by their markets than the law of large numbers. I particularly wanted to throw in the sub $200 million in asset bank to show bankers that it can and is being done at this size. But I ask you, what is wrong with this strategy? If the answer relates to taxes, I’m not sure you’re getting my point.

And my point is this: staking your success to a growth strategy that your management team cannot deliver and your markets cannot support requires you to make acquisitions to deliver the total return demanded by your shareholders. Following this strategy will result in poorer acquisitions, diminished ability to manage a sprawling franchise, and ultimate erosion of franchise value.

Think Sovereign Bank. Do you want to join them?

What’s your number?

~ Jeff

Note: I make no investment recommendations in my blog. Please do not claim to invest in any security based on what you read here. You should make your own decisions in that regard. FINRA makes people take a test to ensure they know what they are doing before recommending securities. I'm sure that strategy works well.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Dear Mr./Ms. Bank Regulator

My firm will occasionally provide feedback on correspondence to our clients' regulators. Today we did just that. Our advice: don't come off as combative. Since hitting send on that e-mail, I reflected on how a half Italian, half Irish firebrand like myself became so melancholy. 

Truth is, I haven't. I thought about what we should have said to the regulator, versus the sweet words I was encouraging our client to use. I mentioned to him that we should keep two versions of the letter: one that we will send crafted to get our intended result, and one that says what we mean. Below is a sample letter to your regulator, saying it like you mean it.

August 2, 2014

Mr. John Whatshisname
Examiner In Charge
Bank Regulatory Body
1 Bureaucrat Way, NW
Washington, DC 20429

Mr. Whatshisname,

Below is our response to the Matters Requiring Attention ("MRA") that were included in your most recent examination report on Schmidlap National Bank ("Schmidlap"). 

Although our Tier 1 leverage ratio is greater than 10%, you criticized us for our stress scenarios contained in our capital plan. You opined they lacked analytic rigor. Aside from the clear lack of analytic rigor you exercised to come to this conclusion, it is important to remind you that estimating future negative events that impact our capital is guesswork. We like our guesses better than yours, and our spreadsheets are bigger than yours. So, no, we are not re-doing our capital plan.

Our level of investor commercial real estate is trending closer to your guidance levels. We get that. What you suggest we do is create greater diversity in our loan portfolio. We have a lot of small restaurants in our markets that can pledge pizza ovens as collateral. We are now training our lenders on pizza oven market valuations and setting a pizza oven loan to value limit in our loan policy. We will be dispatching lenders to pizza shops up and down our valley in the coming months. Mangia!

In the management section, you had two items for us: our succession plan and strategic risk. If I win the lottery, Frank will take my slot. If Frank gets hit by a beer truck, Jane is up to the task. If Mary goes buh-bye, Alex will step in. There's our succession plan. The Board is a little more difficult, because getting local luminaries to get paid twenty five grand a year to put up with your bullsh*t is difficult. We're working on it.

In terms of strategic risk by the recent new products and delivery channels we have added, we will need further definition from you on "strategic risk". When sending your clarifying statement, also send your resume containing the qualifications you possess to dictate product and delivery channel strategies. Also, please clarify the definitions contained within CAMELS, because we didn't think the S meant strategic. If our memory serves correctly, and the S does not stand for strategic, then we don't give a rats a** what you think about our products and delivery channels.

We recognize that there are so many laws and regulations that apply to banks that you can couch any criticism you have for us under some law, such as the Truth in Lending Act. It reminds me of high school geometry, when the teacher asked me to solve for a triangle, I would say "CPCT", knowing it could be so. So you can say, "I don't like this checking account... BSA/AML", and I would have to enlist regulatory attorneys to investigate the matter only to come to the conclusion that "you can't fight Uncle Sam".

That, Mr. Whatshisname, is the definition of tyranny. And Schmidlap is not gonna take it.

Warm Regards,
Schmidlap National Bank