Saturday, March 18, 2017

Bankers Bank: The Next Generation

Correspondent or bankers' bank is one of those monikers that the meaning is in the eye of the beholder. Like private banking. Or superior customer service. Whenever someone says it, I look at them with an inquisitive head tilt. Like a dog when a person talks as if the dog understands them.

I think correspondent bankers are finding their way and morphing into services that banks need. Their original purpose, as I understand it, was to use up operating, liquidity, and credit capacity in larger financial institutions to benefit nearby community banks. Need access to cash? Call the correspondent bank. Cash letter for nightly settlement, same deal. An underlying, yet important plot in It's a Wonderful Life was that Mr. Potter's bank served as a correspondent bank to the Bailey Building and Loan. He caused a liquidity crunch by not advancing Bailey credit, and offered to assume the deposits at "fifty cents on the dollar"!

Today, with the Federal Reserve, Federal Home Loan Bank, and technology that has all but eliminated paper "items", the traditional role of the correspondent bank is diminished. Not that the concept of developing scale to provide banking-related services at a lower cost than a community bank can achieve on its own is not lost. In fact, I would say it is needed now more than ever.

But they are provided by other service providers. Take my firm, that builds profit reporting models for community financial institutions based on how they are individually managed, and the products that they offer. We do this for dozens of banks. It would not be cost effective for us to do it for one bank, or even a few banks. Our investment in software and management reporting expertise would be underutilized, or the service would be too costly to deliver. The same with ALCO reporting firms. We use our scale to serve the many.

But couldn't banks use a scale-driven servicer, i.e. a correspondent bank, to provide needed services at a lower cost so community financial institutions don't see a sale as their only way to cost-effectively serve customers in a changing industry?

I think so. Let's call our little hypothetical correspondent bank Schmidlap Bankers' Bank. Here are the services I would foresee under Schmidlap's umbrella.

Many of the services identified above are already provided by firms, such as mine and ALCO firms in the form of Management Reporting. I know that bankers' banks currently specialize in Loan Participations, as bankers would prefer to share a credit with a service provider than a competitor, as many do now when they do bank-to-bank participations.

Loan servicing is another vendor driven service used by banks. In fact, there is a specialty bank in New Jersey, called Cenlar, that specializes in subservicing mortgages for financial institutions. When customers call with loan inquiries, they answer the phone with the originating banks' name, and live up to service standards agreed upon between the bank and the subservicer.

So many of these services exist under several vendor umbrellas, and financial institutions have demonstrated a willingness to outsource certain non-differentiating services. So why not have these performed by Schmidlap, a new-age correspondent bank?

This idea began germinating in my head when I spoke at the Kansas Bankers' Association CEO Summit a couple of years ago. At dinner that evening, I sat with the management team from a small, family-run bank. Very common in Kansas and across the Midwest. In fact, the average asset size of a Kansas-based financial institution was $99 million. The bankers described the difficulties in running a small bank in rural markets.

I suggested banding together, not in the form of a merger, but to form a service corporation to buy services, like identified in the diagram above, to reduce the cost of doing these things on their own. They were intrigued. I haven't seen one sprout up yet. But isn't it time?

Imagine the negotiating leverage with FIS, Fiserv, or Jack Henry if the contract for six or seven banks was struck by one entity? Sure, all of the banks would be on the same platform. But isn't that the way it is now? Except you all negotiate separately. That doesn't mean you can't set up your own product set, or your bank wouldn't be segregated with its own database at the data center.

And what of things like Marketing and Human Resources? Each bank should have their own professionals. But it is difficult for banks to have the level of sophistication in terms of systems, such as CRMs or HRIS, or the resources (or geography) to hire the very best professionals. Many view Marketing and HR as collateral duties of one executive or another. Both of these functions, in order for community financial institutions to thrive, must elevate their game.

For HR, provide the best talent, employee development, and compensation systems. For Marketing, financial institutions must implement more sophisticated approaches to attracting new customers, and better serve existing ones. It's no longer good enough to run an ad, order a tchotchke, or staff a booth at the trade show. Marketers must identify the most profitable customers for gold-tier service, and implement a plan for the next tier customers to turn them into gold-tier.

Those executives and systems might be more than a community financial institution can afford. But as part of Schmidlap, that level of sophistication can be yours! There could be a geographic limitation so Marketing and HR within Schmidlap could not serve two banks with, say, greater than 20% market overlap.

I've said enough! You get the point. Incoming ICBA chairman, Scott Heitkamp of ValueBank in Texas, said at the trade association's annual convention that he is concerned about the 30% decline in banks with less than $10 billion in assets since the financial crisis. He is hearing that community banks either can't afford or don't want to deal with the regulatory burden.

Can a re-invented bankers' bank inject newfound confidence into community banks, and up their game to compete over larger geographies with more sophisticated support functions?

~ Jeff

Friday, March 10, 2017

Which Bank Will Blink on Rate?

It happened. I received an e-mail this week for a 13-month CD special. The ad insisted it would make me happy. Instead, sadness. Sad that this bank thought I wouldn't notice they were front-running a likely Fed rate hike. Sad that the bank fell back on old tricks, getting customers to bite on an odd-lot CD term that will reprice at a lower rate when it matures. Sad that they got my e-mail address.

Staring down the barrel of a rate hike, and the specter of future and faster hikes, how does your institution feel about how fast you will have to reprice deposits? Because we are coming off of unprecedented times folks. Times that had the average balance of a money market account go from $47 thousand at the end of 2005, to $129 thousand today (data taken from my firm's profitability peer database). 

Why do you think that happened? And what will customers do with that money when deposit rates become more enticing?

I know your ALCO models predict what might happen. But if we dig deep, we know we don't know. That doesn't mean we can't look around us to predict pricing pressures applied by our competitors, like the bank that solicited me for the 13-month CD.

So I took a look at metrics, publicly available in Call Reports, that were indicative of a competitor's need for funding, and therefore will drive their pricing decisions.

I focused on the St. Louis MSA. Why St. Louis? I have friends that are getting married there in the next few months, and they work for one of the banks on the below list. Together. Same bank. I will defer to them on the wisdom of this. St. Louis also has a good baseball team. And they are not likely to win as many World Series as the Yankees in my lifetime.

I looked at the top 10 deposit market share banks that were not SIFIs. True, SIFIs had a 52% market share at June 30, 2016. But the below top 10 own 29%. Not an insignificant amount. And SIFIs' need for funding is much more complicated as they have greater access to the capital markets, and don't necessarily rely on drawing funds from St. Louis.

Here is the list, their St. Louis MSA market rank, in-market deposits and deposit market share at June 30, 2016.

Once I identified the community banks, my next task was to identify the financial metrics that highlighted their need for funding as rates rise, and therefore the likelihood that they would be early movers in the pricing game. Here are the metrics I used:

-  Deposit Growth minus Loan Growth (year over year)
-  Loans / Deposits
-  Securities / Assets
-  Pledged Securities / Securities
-  Time Deposits / Deposits
-  Borrowings / Assets
-  Cost of Funds

I ranked each of the above banks based on each metric, assigning the bank a "10" if they had the top rank, and a "1" if their ratios were lower. So, if UMB Bank NA had the lowest Loan / Deposit ratio, as they did, they received a "1" for that metric. If Central Bank of St. Louis had the highest Loan / Deposit ratio, as they did, they received a "10". That means that each metric received equal weight in my analysis.

I tallied all of the scores to determine which bank needed the funding the most, and were therefore most likely to be first mover in elevating rates and putting competitive pressures on other market participants. The results are below.

I predict that Midland States Bank will be the first to offer a compelling rate to raise deposits in a rising rate environment. They have a relatively small securities portfolio, high Loan / Deposit ratio, and their loans have been growing faster than their deposits, among other indicators.

Call this method the Jeff For Banks method to predict rate warriors. I can be a narcissist.

There are some tight scores immediately below Midland States, and upon looking through the data I believe Central Bank of St. Louis would be next, in spite of it having a slightly lower score than the three above it tied for second. Their Loan / Deposit ratio was 98% and their securities portfolio was similar to Midland States, at only 10% of assets. Reliance and Midwest, conversely, have securities portfolios of around 22% of assets to fund their growing loan portfolio. So the scoring system is not absolute, especially when there is clumping such as in the second through fifth ranks.

My friends' bank looks like it can sit on the sidelines during a rate war, a good position to be in. Unless they succumb to competitive pressures, and that parked money in money market accounts starts following rate around St. Louis. 

Who will blink in your markets?

~ Jeff