Friday, November 28, 2014

Bankers: You spend like drunken sailors.

As a former sailor, I take offense to the post title. As if I spent my family's food money on alcohol while on shore leave. I only spent my food money.

But the phrase is synonymous with spending money without direction or regard to consequence. And sometimes, we bankers fall into the trap of not considering our operating expenses as strategic investments.

On December 8th I am speaking at the Northwest Bank Executives conference in Seattle. My topic: Ten Things Banks Should Do, But Generally Don't. One of the ten is "not considering operating expenses as strategic investments".

As an example, let's take an average $1 billion in assets financial institution. The below table was drawn from a peer group analysis my firm performed for a client. Dollar amounts are annual averages for each expense category of 13 financial institutions with an average asset size of $1.0 billion. 

At a time when so many banks are challenged to grow revenues, marketing expenditures represent 2.1% of all operating expenses. And that includes professional services, such as consultants that have little to do with winning the next customer.

Strategically, this hypothetical bank spends $30.4 million per year. Now let's assume you had this thirty mil to execute a strategy to build your bank for a sustainable future. Whatever that strategy may entail, could you not find the resources to fund it?

But we are often bound by legacy. We have seven people in Deposit Ops, and need a new piece of technology or another person and therefore must increase our budget by 7%. Three percent increase in Loan Servicing, and another 5% in IT, etc. etc. etc.

What if you blew up your budget and started constructing an infrastructure, footprint, and employee base hyper-focused on executing your strategy? Instead of 20 branches staffed with six transaction processing pro's each, you need only 16 branches, strategically located, with four higher paid relationship building go-getters per branch. 

This hypothetical bank spends $1.2 million/year, or 4% of total operating expenses, on data processing (not including personnel). Can we allocate that sizable chunk into core and ancillary systems specifically designed to serve our core customers, as per our strategy, in a superior fashion to the financial institutions that spend wide and far to satisfy every constituency? Perhaps we should recognize the importance of the digital distribution system and appoint the appropriate executive to be its champion. 

As McKinsey director Somesh Khanna states in an interview titled "The Bank of the Future" on who should drive the digital strategy in a bank...

"I actually think that it’s less dependent on the role. It’s much more dependent on the person. If the person is someone that is able to visualize a future, get the organization rallying around a bunch of different objectives, and inspire people to actually pursue that path, it’s their real leadership capabilities that’ll come to bear to pull off digital agendas."

So you build your digital strategy around such a person, allocating an appropriate slice of the budget pie to develop your bank of the future for the benefit of your constituencies. Or is our digital strategy champion hyper-focused on installing ATMs that are ADA compliant?

I am not proposing an academic exercise. I am proposing considering every dollar you spend as an investment. And you should invest in your strategy, not your legacy. 

Can we shake our budget mentality, and view our operating expenses as investments into the bank we want to become? I hope so.

~ Jeff

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Why are start up businesses not creating jobs?

I posed this question to a Fed economist today. Her answer: lack of capital.

The above chart is from a Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Economic Letter: Slow Business Start-ups and the Job Recovery published in July.

But in strategic planning retreats that I moderate, community financial institutions insist that they lend to small businesses. In fact, when I recently spoke to a group of New York bankers, I opined that community FIs would lend to small businesses only if they have three years of operating profit and a building as collateral. Some took offense.

The chart above, taken from a Harvard Business School Working Paper: The State of Small Business Lending written by a former SBA Administrator and also published in July, shows that only 34% of small businesses use a regional or community bank as their primary financial institution. The second chart shows the primary sources of capital. Yes, a loan is the most often cited. But trade credit and credit cards also weigh in heavily.

The above chart, taken from the same HBS working paper, shows the use of proceeds of small business credit. Given a community FIs lending proclivities, one would assume that small businesses borrow to finance a building. But no, the primary use of proceeds is for cash flow. Real estate structuring is pretty low on the list.

I discuss this disparity between how bankers perceive they contribute to small business capital formation, and why businesses need capital. In March 2010, I wrote about the decline in business lending among community financial institutions in a blog post titled: Have we checked out of business banking?

So we limit small business lending to those businesses with three years of operating profit and have real estate as collateral. Not exactly lending into the industries that are projected to grow, such as service firms and professional/technical practices. These businesses are commonly located in an office building that they do not own. 

Another challenge is the number of businesses that do not borrow. According to the HBS working paper, only 40% of small businesses apply for credit. Out of the forty percent, 43% did not receive the credit they requested (see chart). 

So let's extrapolate... eleven percent of small businesses borrow for real estate structuring and another 13% for debt restructuring. But only 40% of small businesses borrow. So 40% of 23% is 9.2%. But only 43% get approved for the amount of loan they requested. So about 4% borrow for real estate or debt restructuring and get the credit they requested. But only 34% of small businesses bank with regional and community banks. 

So for 1.35% of small businesses, community FIs stand ready to lend!

Of course, I exaggerate, because many small business loans used for cash flow, inventory, etc. are collateralized by a commercial or residential building and financed by community FIs. But I think our participation in small business funding is far smaller than we claim.

So if we want our communities to thrive now and into the future, small business formation and growth will be critical. Lack of capital is always a top of the list constraint to small business success.

Are we participating in this critical segment of our economy?

~ Jeff

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Ever test the theory that acquiring banks is good? I did.

Every strategic planning retreat has its own flavor. This one particular retreat included a parade of investment bankers conveying the virtues of deal making while the audience of senior bank executives and board members nodded their heads in unison and solidarity.

One question that was unasked was whether it is better to seek acquisitions or go it alone. The conventional wisdom being that doing deals is better than not doing deals. I didn't know the answer, and figured asking an investment banker the question would be like asking a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon if it was better to do a little nip-and-tuck or let nature have its way. (Disclosure: I am also an investment banker, but don't like to admit it at cocktail parties. I am not a plastic surgeon.)

So I went to the spreadsheets. It always comes down to the spreadsheets. The operative question was does doing deals result in better financial performance and total return than not doing deals?

First I had to create some criteria to control for some variables that impact total return and financial performance greatly, such as bank size and asset quality. So I chose publicly traded financial institutions between $1 billion and $20 billion in total assets, with non-performing assets to assets of less than 2%.

I then divided the group into two, deal makers and non deal makers. Deal makers did two or more merger deals for whole institutions since 2010. Non deal makers did one or no deals. There were 46 deal makers and 173 non deal makers. A decent sample, in my opinion.

Their Return on Average Assets and Average Equity performance, at the average, were as follows from 2011 to present.

Deal makers had a better ROA year-to-date: 0.96% versus 0.90% for the non deal makers. But non deal makers had a better ROE: 8.57% versus 8.47% for the deal makers. This may be why you hear so many deal makers talk about return on tangible equity (ROTE) in their earnings conference calls. Better to ignore that goodwill they keep building on their balance sheets as a result of paying premiums for selling financial institutions. Because for ROE, it looks like non deal makers take the brass ring.

And what about three-year total return? Deal makers delivered 73.97% to their shareholders. Non deal makers did better... 75.56% on average.

Does your FI pursue acquisitions? If so, have you tested the conventional wisdom that doing deals is better than going it alone?

~ Jeff