Monday, June 22, 2015

Bankers Need to Encourage, Even Compel Employees to Use Tech Tools

Chris Cox, the head of Regions Bank eBusiness unit, was quoted in Bank Technology News on how personal financial management (PFM) tools will soon be part of a customer's everyday interaction with their bank once they login. I believe him.

But will they do it through your financial institution? In a separate article, Jim Marous of The Financial Brand, opined that Mint, a PFM tool that "screen scrapes" financial information from various financial institutions and aggregates it into their tool, is a serious threat to banks, thrifts and credit unions. I believe him, too.

PFM tools have been dogged by low adoption rates. Woe to the retail banker or IT manager in convincing the CEO that PFM is a must-have . If it was so critical, why are so few people using it? I doubt this will surprise you, but I have my opinions.

First, the likely adopters of bank technology tools are probably younger customers. I'm 49 years old and I have not demanded that my bank have a PFM tool because I don't think I would invest the time to learn and use it. In fact, I don't know if my bank has a PFM tool. My daughter is more likely to want and use such a tool. And guess what? She doesn't have any money... yet. 

Bank profits are driven from balances, and expenses are driven by number of accounts and gizmos attached to those accounts. So effectively implementing a technology gizmo that is targeted to younger customers that currently generate little revenues does not make for a solid business case.

Secondly, I believe that PFM and other customer-facing technology tools have low adoption rates by your employees. Don't believe me? Why don't you poll them. Let me know how it turns out.

People sell what they know. When I was a branch banker, I sold the heck out of home equity loans and retail checking accounts. Why? I knew them much better than business checking or a commercial line of credit. So my branch had a lot of retail deposits and loans. It was what I knew and was most comfortable.

I read an industry article, and I apologize that I can't recall where I read it or I would link to it (although I suspect it was a Jim Marous piece again), that a bank required their employees to open accounts using the same online account opening tool that customers would use if they did it themselves in their pajamas. The employees didn't have to wear pajamas, but you get my point.

It forced the employees to know the tool that was available to customers. And why wouldn't you do it this way? You invest the money in developing or purchasing an intuitive online account opening tool and then saddle your employees with opening accounts using a clunky core processor user interface (UI) or tool? Why do we need both? 

And if choosing, you should choose the one available to customers so your employees are subject matter experts on it. Imagine a customer calling the nearby branch for help using an online tool and the branch employee guides them through it, instead of transferring them to your call center or eBanking unit.  

Don't stop at account opening. Transfer the logic to other customer tools, such as PFM. First, get your employees on it and using it via their own personal accounts. Only by repetition will they achieve the subject matter expertise to enroll their clients into it, train them on how to use it, and answer "how-to" questions about it. 

And don't stop at retail banking tools. Many if not most community banks are focused on the business segment, and there are plenty of available tools to help harried business owners make their financial lives simpler. Since employees are typically not business owners, this will take a little more diligence in giving them the needed training and repetition to be fluent in the available tools. Perhaps you can set up a "test account" at a "test bank" and require employees to use the tool a certain number of times prior to crowning them "cash flow management" qualified.

Mint, Yodlee, Moven, and other technology platforms are working hard to win the loyalty of your customers via their "cool" platforms. Many, such as Geezeo, focus on helping community financial institutions offer cool tech solutions and yet retain customer loyalty through the FIs own brand. To win the loyalty of those that demand such technologies now, and when they have the wealth to drive profits, financial institutions must develop front line staff to be fluent in what is available. Only then will they enthusiastically demonstrate the technology (go into an Apple store and have a "genius" demonstrate the Apple Watch and you'll know what I mean), describe features and benefits and their own experience with the tool, get customer adoption rates higher, and build greater loyalty to your brand.

Or you could let Mint do it.

~ Jeff

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Five Ideas to Build an Accountability Culture at Your Bank

I recently spoke at the ABA CFO Exchange in Nashville on building an accountability culture. Talking banker accountability to a room full of CFOs is like a politician telling senior citizens that Social Security benefits should remain untouched. It was a friendly audience.

I tried to be provocative. For example, it has been my experience that when discussing accountability, CFOs sometimes fall into the trap of talking about other departments. What about the Finance Department? How does it stack up to benchmarks, and are they realizing economies of scale, using less resources as the bank grows? They didn't flog me.

So how do you go about building a strong accountability culture at your bank? Accountability suffers a bad wrap. Most think of out-of-reach goals, difficult meetings with the boss, and recriminations for under-achievement. Does this sound like an enviable corporate culture?

Part of my coaching school curriculum for being a US Lacrosse certified coach was the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA). This portion of the certification was not lacrosse specific. Rather, it taught how to be a coach. And by the title of the course, it was not the coach that I knew. It has adherents like Joe Ehrmann and Phil Jackson. 

The PCA discussion on "filling the emotional tank" for players has direct applicability to creating a positive culture that leads to better adjusted and happier employees, and results. If this culture interests you, I have five ideas on how you can build an accountability culture without cracking the whip and taking names.

1. Make accountabilities measurable and transparent. When I was a branch manager in the mid 90's, our sales incentive system was called RAISE (Realizing Achievement in Sales Excellence). I could calculate my quarterly bonus to the penny. I ran a spreadsheet before spreadsheets were cool. Me and another branch manager used to bet a beer each quarter on the size of our bonus. It worked. The best performers got the highest bonus.

2. Link to your strategy. Precious few banks state as their strategy to do large commercial real estate loans at very tight pricing to get deals done. Yet they continue to measure lender success by dollar production and portfolio size, incenting them to do just that. Instead, look to your strategy when building incentive systems.

3. Have a little friendly competition. As previously mentioned, my branch manager friend and me created our own internal competition that ended in a beer at the end of every quarter. It was fun, and motivated us to excel. I didn't want to show up for that meeting getting my butt kicked by my friend. Who would? Why not create ranking reports that include multiple measures, such as lender ROE, branch profitability (both ratio and dollars), or best trends in support center productivity.

4. Include support centers. Everyone thinks if only those branches would shape up, all would be well. So we prune the branch network, and branch staffing, etc. But how about all of those people in Compliance or Audit? How are they performing? It is understandably more difficult to do because we are not measuring their P&L, but we can use trends and benchmarks to highlight highly productive support centers and reward them appropriately.

5. Have an awards ceremony. When in Nashville, my wife and I bumped into a bunch of country music celebrities because it was the week of the CMA Awards. Entertainers tend to award themselves a lot. So why can't bankers? Imagine having a ceremony that celebrates your "Most Improved Branch", or "Top ROE Lender", or "Most Productive Support Unit". Imagine your own awards ceremony that creates the positive environment that promotes friendly internal competition and peer recognition for a job well done.

How do you create a positive accountability culture?

~ Jeff

Monday, June 01, 2015

Bank Board Compensation: An Amateur's View

Lately I have been asked to opine on bank Board compensation. Although not a compensation expert by any means, I suspect I am being asked for an outside-the-box opinion. This reminds me of one of my colleagues favorite quotes; "those that live outside the box have never been in it." But with most areas that are outside of my technical expertise but within my industry expertise, I tend to revert to common sense.

What are we trying to accomplish with Board compensation?

The FDIC Pocket Guide for Directors identifies the Board's responsibilities as:

- Select and retain competent management.

- Establish, with management, the institution's long and short-term business objectives in a legal and sound manner.

- Monitor operations to ensure that they are controlled adequately and are in compliance with law and policies.

- Oversee the institution's business performance.

- Ensure the institution helps to meet its community's credit needs.

How do we establish a compensation plan that is consistent with the above?

I have opined in the past that financial institutions' fixed to variable expense equation tilts too much towards fixed. So why exasperate the situation by creating more fixed expense with Board compensation? 

But there are certain moral hazards to incentive compensation at the Board level. Basing it on short term financial performance encourages greater risk taking. And the Board is responsible for the safety and soundness of the institution. To overcome this moral hazard, I suggest two things: 1) make the incentive compensation based on three-year average performance, and 2) include safety and soundness metrics to the equation.

This is similar to an unnamed bank that was suggested to me by an industry compensation consultant. I looked it up in their proxy, and their plan, which was for both executive management and the Board, looked similar to the below table.

The unnamed bank did not name the performance metrics, calling them "Category 1", "Category 2", etc. because the actual metrics need not be disclosed. Shareholders that deem themselves compensation experts are a dime a dozen so why give them ammunition! 

So I decided to insert what I thought would be performance metrics consistent with Board responsibilities. 

The metrics are relative to a pre-selected peer group, which is very common in executive compensation. But rather than limiting performance metrics to short-term, the unnamed bank used three-year averages. Meaning that there would be no payout for the first three years. All calculations thereafter would be based on three-year averages.

This did two things: 1) encouraged longer-term thinking so strategic investments can be made so long as it improved longer term performance, and 2) discouraged short-term risk taking that might result in future losses. It is not perfect, but what plan is?

The above table goes beyond the traditional performance metrics, and includes risk ratios such as leverage ratio growth, non-performing assets to total assets, net charge-offs to loans, and the one-year repricing GAP to assets. These are all risk metrics. But they should also be consistent with the Bank's strategic plan. If the plan calls for better than market growth, perhaps the leverage ratio will decline in relation to peers, etc. In such a case, perhaps exceeding long-term projected leverage ratios would be the metric.

The final addition, which was not in the unnamed bank's comp plan, was achievement of strategic objectives. I have expressed my concern over banks short-term, budget-centric focus on business results that discourage long-term strategic thinking that builds sustainable institutions. Why would I encourage it in a Director Comp Plan? 

So achieving strategic objectives is a litmus test to making the incentive comp available for payment. Note that not all strategic objectives need to be achieved because incenting for 100% success encourages sand-bagging, which is another industry obstacle to long-term excellence.

If adopted, Director's that received $30,000 in annual compensation could be eligible for incentives that increase total compensation by one third. Not an immaterial sum. Such comp could be paid in cash or stock, and expensed as incurred.

I recently mentioned to an industry colleague and bank Board member that you don't want to create unfunded liabilities for Board compensation that will ultimately get deducted from a buyer's offer to your shareholders, should one come your way. The savvy shareholders will catch on, and could make your life a little uncomfortable. 

What are your thoughts on incentive comp for Board members?

~ Jeff