Saturday, January 13, 2018

For Banks, What Is Top Quartile Performance?

What is top quartile financial performance? I am often asked this question, and top quartile performance appears as stretch goals in many strategic plans. And I say bravo! Nobody wants to be average.

Usually top quartile performance is compared to a bank's or thrift's pre-selected peer group. Executive compensation is often tied to it.

I won't belabor the point. A key benefit of being a blogger is that I can use research I perform for my own knowledge to benefit my readers. 

The below statistics are from all FDIC insured financial institutions either for the year-to-date ended or period ended September 30, 2017. This period end was largely driven by the significant number of financial institutions taking deferred tax asset write downs in the fourth quarter, which would have skewed ROAA/ROAE for the year ended 2017. I used Call Report data, so the calendar year is the fiscal year.

I also excluded extraneous performers by category, as noted in the footnotes of each table. For profitability numbers (ROAA, ROAE), I excluded Subchapter S financial institutions. Quite a large cohort at over 1,900. Sub S bankers can gross up those numbers to come up with their equivalents.

See where your financial institution ranks!












Saturday, January 06, 2018

BS: Focus On Execution First

Over 10 years ago Larry Bossidy, former CEO of Honeywell, and Ram Charan, an academic and consultant, wrote the book Execution, The Discipline of Getting Things Done. As a student of strategy, I read it quickly.

One thing kept gnawing at me, though, that still gnaws at me today. Get what done?

In November, Rosabeth Moss Kantor, a professor at Harvard Business School wrote an article in Harvard Business Review titled Smart Leaders Focus on Execution First and Strategy Second. The corollary being that stupid leaders focus on strategy first.

She ends the article with this bromide: "In short, encourage innovation, begin with execution, and name the strategy later." 

To which I say: bullshit!

In fact, if HBR bothered to search their own site, they would read a well thought out article called The Execution Trap. Perhaps the author, Roger Martin, a former University of Toronto professor and Dr. Kantor could battle it out in an educator's cage match. 

Let me tell you a true story of a recent soccer injury to my daughter. She was diagnosed by the team doctor with one condition, and the team trainers put together a program to reduce her pain during and after games. Their treatment did not work.

After the season, she went to our family practitioner. More tests. The result was a different diagnosis. She had been misdiagnosed by the team physician. No matter how well my daughter and the trainers executed on the treatment plan, they were treating the wrong ailment. 

Reminds me of Bain & Co.'s Michael Mankins quote:

"If you have a bad strategy, no amount of good execution will help."


When you get in your car in the morning to travel to a place where you do not know how to get there, what do you do? Punch in the address on your GPS, and build your route to that destination from your garage. Not so if you don't think the destination matters. So long as you execute turns, navigate traffic, and follow signs extremely well. No matter where you end up, it matters only if you drove there well. C'mon.

In more practical terms, if a bank's head of branches is building development plans for branch managers, they make choices. For example, should branch managers have small business banking in their curriculum, or retail wealth management? One would think that they would turn to their strategy to make the decision. If the bank's strategy is to be the top business bank in the markets where they have branches, the answer is clear. But without strategy, either can be correct, so long as the branch manager does well. 

There are areas of Dr. Kantor's article in which I agree with her. For example, "we found the perfect strategy" is a statement that has the credibility of "and they lived happily ever after". Chasing the perfect strategy is a fools game.

Chasing no strategy is the same, in my opinion. However, once a strategic direction is struck, the bank should build flexible processes to allow for alterations of course based on customer preferences, markets, and team capabilities. 

In fact, I agree with Dr. Kantor's four implementation imperatives:

1.  Question everything
2.  Inform everyone, then empower champions
3.  Keep relationships tight, and rules loose
4.  Modify quickly

All are execution imperatives. But without strategic direction, the zigging and zagging would waste resources to the point of ineffectiveness. 

Yes, Dr. Kantor, strategy matters.


~ Jeff


P.S. All this talk about execution reminds me of John McCay, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach. I couldn't find the YouTube video of his quote, but here is Rick Carlisle, former Dallas Mavericks head coach delivering it brilliantly.



Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Bankers: Ask What Customers Want. Then Do That.

Steve Jobs showed customers what he thought they would want, and convinced them that they wanted it. An unlikely scenario for bank products, wouldn’t you agree?

So what do your customers want?

This presumes you know who your target customers are. Bankers used to try and be everything banking to everyone in the towns where they had branches. This approach left the legacy of the General Bank. Where the answer to the question on what your bank is known for was “nothing in particular”. Or the most common bromide, “superior service”. We’re still either stuck on this legacy or are shedding it at tortoise pace.

Identifying your target customers does not mean you will not serve others. But who do you want your front line people focused on? What processes do you want to streamline first in your support functions to provide superior service? What technologies do you want implemented right away?

The answer to the above should be based on your strategy. And your strategy should be based on target customers. And target customers should provide sufficient quantity, growth, and margins to serve and meet your desired profitability. 

Next question… what do these customers want? 

Take SoFi as an example. Their desired customers are millennials with college degrees that typically result in higher paying jobs. Pretty specific. They started their company refinancing student loans, because their target audience was graduating college, and many of them with high impact degrees such as lawyers or accountants had mountains of student loans.

As their target audience ages, they are moving on to other financial needs, such as car loans and mortgages. In fact, SoFi applied for an industrial loan bank charter to offer banking services to their target customers. They later withdrew because their CEO left. But still, here is a company focused on their target customers and were building the lineup of products they demanded.

How about you? If your audience is small businesses, do you offer the lineup of products they want? Bankers frequently impose limits on their product set based on what they want to put on their balance sheet. Must this be so?

I marvel at the ROE of the New York City loan broker. Many if not most loans (other than the very large ones) in NYC are handled by loan brokers. They match borrowers and lenders. For a fee. Like 1.25% of the loan balance. So a $3 million loan deal, chump change in NYC, yields a $37,500 fee for a guy/gal that has a storefront in Astoria, Queens. 

Back to the small business. What if they want early stage funding and that type of lending doesn’t fit your bank’s risk appetite? Why can’t you broker it and match them with a partner that does? There are partnerships you can forge with non-competitors to meet this customer demand. It’s not like you haven’t done this before. How about SBA lending, or merchant services? You likely partner with someone to provide these services.

Why not identify all of the financial products and services your target customer segment demands. And figure out how to offer it.

Or, you could send them somewhere else.


How do you meet the financial needs of your target customers?


~ Jeff


Note: This is my last post of 2017. I want to let all of my readers know that I appreciate your readership and comments. Thank you! And have a safe New Year celebration and a blessed 2018!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Banking's Top 5 in Total Return to Shareholders: 2017 Edition

For the past six years I searched for the Top 5 financial institutions in five-year total return to shareholders because I am weary of the persistent "get big or get out" mentality of many bankers and industry pundits. If their platitudes about scale are correct, then the largest FIs should logically demonstrate better shareholder returns. Right?

Not so over the six years I have been keeping track.

My method was to search for the best banks based on total return to shareholders over the past five years. I chose five years because banks that focus on year over year returns tend to cut strategic investments come budget time, which hurts their market position, earnings power, and future relevance than those that make those investments.

Total return includes two components: capital appreciation and dividends. However, to exclude trading inefficiencies associated with illiquidity, I filtered for those FIs that trade over 1,000 shares per day. This, naturally, eliminated many of the smaller, illiquid FIs. I also filtered for anomalies such as recent merger announcements, mutual-to-stock conversions, and penny stocks. 

Before we begin and for comparison purposes, here are last year's top five, as measured in December 2016:

#1.  Independent Bank Corporation (Nasdaq: IBCP)
#2.  Waterstone Financial, Inc. (Nasdaq: WSBF)
#3.  Summit Financial Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: SMMF)
#4.  MBT Financial Corp. (Nasdaq: MBTF)
#5.  BNCCORP, Inc. (OTCQX: BNCC)


Here is this year's list:


#1. Old Second Bancorp, Inc. (Nasdaq: OSBC)

Old Second is a single-bank holding company headquartered in Aurora, Illinois. It has $2.4 billion of assets and operates twenty five branches in the western suburbs of Chicago.  The Bank, Old Second National Bank, lost a whopping $156 million in 2009 and 2010. Whopping because it went into those years with $247 million in tangible equity. How did they lose it? Bad loans. Their non-performing loans (NPL)/total loans ratio peaked at 12.54% in 2010, and between 2009-12, the Bank charged off over 11% of its loan portfolio. That got regulator's attention in the form of a May 2011 Consent Order
(CO). But they didn't bury their head in the proverbial sand. They hit their challenges hard, and had the CO lifted a little over two years later. Quite an accomplishment given the gravity of their problems. Today, NPL/total loans is a manageable 0.94%, and the Bank ROA/ROE year-to-date is 1.22% and 11.61% respectively. These comeback kids have delivered a 958% total return to shareholders over the past five years. Welcome to the list!



#2. Independent Bank Corporation (Nasdaq: IBCP)

Independent Bank dates back to 1864 as the First National Bank of Iona. Its size today, at $2.8 billion in assets, is smaller than it was a decade ago. It is a turnaround story because the bank was hammered with credit problems between 2008-11, when it lost over $200 million. In 2011, at the height of its problems, non-performing assets/assets was nine percent. Today that number is 2.6%. Exclude
performing restructured loans, and that number plummets to 0.38%. Net charge offs are negligible. In
fact, year to date they have a net recovery. Interestingly, IBCP recently announced an acquisition in northwest Michigan, five years after they sold 15 branches in the northeast part of the state. Times change. And IBCP has delivered a five-year total return to their shareholders of 620%. This is their third straight Top 5 recognition!



#3. Summit Financial Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: SMMF)

Summit Financial Group, Inc. is a $2.1 billion in asset company headquartered in West Virginia, providing community banking services primarily in the Eastern Panhandle and South Central regions of the state, and the Northern and Shenandoah Valley regions of Virginia. Summit also operates an insurance subsidiary. In 2012, the company had net income of $7.0 million on assets of $1.4 billion.
Today, the company has annualized net income of $13.2 million. Actually, the Bank had a one-time after tax litigation settlement (from a 2002-04 event) of $6.2 million. So their normalized net income is $19.4 million. A 50% growth in assets, and a 177% growth in net income. Positive operating leverage! And Summit has a couple of new acquisitions under their belt. One in 2016 and one this year. This marks Summit's second consecutive year in the Top 5! Well done!






#4. HMN Financial, Inc. (Nasdaq: HMNF)

Similar to Old Second, HMN is a turnaround story. It is the holding company for Home Federal Savings Bank, a $715 million in asset thrift headquartered in Rochester, Minnesota with retail banking and loan production offices in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. In 2007, the Bank had $1.1 billion of assets, $11 million in net income, and a 1.01% ROA. Then, kaboom! Over the next four years the Bank lost $58 million. A princely some to a Bank with $107 million of capital at the time. In 2008, the Bank had $216 million of Construction & Land Development (CLD) loans, 12% of them were either past due or on non-accrual. As the saying goes, in CLD, when the music stops, you don't want to be the one without the chair. And HMN found itself without a chair. So they took TARP, and
aggressively dealt with their asset quality problems, and shrank their balance sheet quickly to bolster capital ratios. By 2014, they cut the balance sheet in half. And since that time have grown loans over $200 million and deposits over $130 million. Today, they earned an 0.89% ROA, although that number has been bolstered by negative loan loss provisions. Their NPL/Loans shrank to 0.56%. Quite a recovery indeed and their shareholders that jumped in during the bleak days were rewarded!




#5. Parke Bancorp, Inc. (Nasdaq: PKBK)

Parke Bancorp, Inc. is the holding company for Parke Bank, a $1.1 billion in assets commercially focused community bank based in southern New Jersey, serving Philadelphia and its suburbs. Unlike the three of the banks above, this is not a turnaround story. Their ROA has been greater than 1% the past five years. In fact, I can't explain exactly how they do it. I'm going to have to ask Vito Pantilione, their CEO. One strategy is limited branching. They have only seven, averaging $120 million in
deposits per branch, which is nearly twice The Kafafian Group (my firm) peer average for branch deposit size. Their cost of funds is slightly above average, at 86 basis points. But their non-interest expense/average assets was 1.40%. You read that right. Apparently, Vito is cheap. Their NPAs/Assets has always, to my recollection, been above their peers. But their charge offs are not. And they have a 5.02% yield on their loan portfolio. Pretty good. That's why they returned 580% to their shareholders the past five years!




Here's how total return looks for you chart geeks, with the lower green, and flat line being the S&P 500 Bank and Thrift Index.





There you have it! The JFB all stars in top 5, five-year total return. The largest of the lot is $2.8 billion in total assets. No SIFI banks on the list. Ask your investment banker why this is so.

Congratulations to all of the above that developed a specific strategy and is clearly executing well. Your shareholders have been rewarded!

Are you noticing themes that led to these banks' performance?


~ 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.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Checking Analysis: The Betamax of Bank Products

Don't think about how it is. Think about how it should be.

Now apply this philosophy to business checking. If we did, would we continue to offer Analysis Checking or some variation of it? 

Yet we do. Even though the Dodd-Frank Act eliminated Reg Q, that pesky reg that did not allow banks to pay interest on business demand deposits. Because of Reg Q, in place for over 80 years, banks created Business Analysis Checking, where a business earns credits to offset fees based on their balances. See a Union Bank of Richmond, VA description of a typical Business Analysis Checking account. 

But it doesn't stop at the checking account. Businesses want to earn interest on their excess funds. So they determine how much to leave in their non-interest bearing, analysis checking, and then sweep the excess to some interest bearing vehicle, such as a money market account, or, gasp, a repo because prior to the financial crisis deposit insurance only extended to the first $100,000 of a business's deposits. Repo's are generally collateralized. So there is all sorts of complications going on to run a checking account and to pay business interest on guaranteed funds.

Does it have to be?

I say no. And because highlighting a problem without proposing a solution is whining, I propose the JFB Alternative to Business Checking Analysis. Or the JFB Business Banking Cash Maximizer. 

My firm measures product profitability on an outsourced basis for dozens of community financial institutions. As a result of this line of business, we are able to see product spreads, fees, and costs. And by costs, we measure the average organizational resources to originate and maintain a business checking account. The average for all of the banks in our profitability universe was $590.50 in operating expense per year.

We also calculate the spread using coterminous funds transfer pricing (FTP), and the actual fees assessed to those accounts. That combination of spread and fees was 2.14% of balances during the second quarter 2017.

Knowing the operating cost per account, and revenue generated as a percent of balances, you can calculate the average balance needed to be maintained to cover the account's costs. Said another way, it's breakeven balance. See the table.


Based on the average operating cost per account, and revenue as a percent of balances, the average account holder would need to maintain an average balance of $27,593.46 to cover the bank's costs.

Hold on though. Nobody is average, right? Our universe of business checking customers vary on their account utilization. Some are high cash businesses, that frequently make a night drop of deposits requiring our tellers to validate and make the deposits. Others are no cash, and use our RDC machines to deposit a relatively small amount of checks.

You see that I divided account types into quintiles to make this distinction. What this requires is a way that your core system can put a code to determine which quintile each account belongs. I believe this can be accomplished by the oft-cited with few practical installations... Artificial Intelligence, or AI.

Your core tracks transaction types per account. Each transaction type uses a certain amount of bank resources. You don't have to come up with a dollar amount, highly contrived by the way, of each transaction. Such as an ACH costs the bank $18.65. But what you can do is say that in terms of resource utilization, an ACH takes 2x the resources used by an RDC deposit. So, for example, an ACH might have an 8 on a scale of 1-10 for resource utilization, and an RDC might be a 4.

By scoring transactions by resources used, you can then divide your business checking customers into the above quintiles, and assign a cost per account accordingly. The aggregate dollars it takes your bank to originate and maintain business checking accounts remains the same, at $2.975 million. But the cost per account is broken up by resource utilization.

So the one-person law firm that RDC deposits 20 checks per month might be designated a Low Activity quintile, and be assessed a $354.30 operating cost. While the cash-driven marijuana shop that drops off loads of cash over the teller line each day, would be rightly assessed $826.70.

Now you have the means to determine the minimum average balance to cover costs. Anything over that amount, is paid interest. No sweep. No analysis, at least not in the past use of the word. No multiple statements. And no human intervention.

Just an easy account to explain to your client. And an easy one for your client to manage.

Let's send Business Checking Analysis to the Betamax pile of history.

Are any of my readers doing this?


~ Jeff



Saturday, November 18, 2017

Bank Dividends: Go Ahead and Drink The Kool Aid

Dividends are no longer sexy. So says Rob Isbitts, a Forbes contributor in a recent article that he penned. Not sure they ever were sexy, but he has a point. Read the article, make your own judgement.

Or read on. Today I had another debate with my colleagues about discount rates. You know, those rates you learned in Finance class, CAP-M, or Ibbotson Build-up? Yeah, text book stuff. Don't hear much about either on CNBC these days.

I view things simplistically. If you are going to project out into the future, say in strategic plan projections, then you should discount back to present day to determine if your strategy is adding or eroding value. A key component to the calculation is the discount rate.

So here is my simple definition of what your discount rate should be: The annual capital appreciation rate expected by your investors. That differs based on business model, in my opinion. If you are executing a fast-growth strategy in a slow-growth market, you may be taking larger risks. Therefore, your investors should expect greater capital appreciation, and therefore a greater discount rate.

If you grow more slowly, and closer to your market growth, you would likely be executing a less risky strategy, and you should consider a smaller discount rate. But your investors would still expect equity-like returns. Common stock remains the lowest rung on the capital hierarchy, regardless of strategy employed. 

Absent a change in your market multiples, your stock's capital appreciation should move in tandem with your earnings growth, or possibly your book value growth, or some combination of the two. That is typically how banks are valued. So what if in executing your strategy, you're projecting 6% earnings compound annual growth? I doubt your investors would be happy with 6% annual returns. How do you deliver the returns they are expecting?

How about the dividend?

Let's look at Territorial Bancorp in Honolulu, the holding company for Territorial Savings Bank. Why Territorial? Aside from my affinity for Hawaii because I lived, worked, and went to college there, they are a highly capitalized thrift that converted from mutual to stock form in 2009. Their capital ratios are not an issue.

Territorial had an inconvenient truth in their 2016 10k, or annual report for those that don't speak in SEC forms. See the below chart.


They have under-performed bank stocks and the wider market over the past five years. They are not a poor performer though, having a year-to-date ROA of 0.89% and Efficiency Ratio of 56.5%. The challenge may be their balance sheet growth, only 4.1% per year, on average, since 2011 (see table). The Hawaii population is projected to grow 3.46% over the next five years.



One way Territorial is trying to improve shareholder returns is through dividends. Their dividend has grown at a CAGR of 22% since 2011, even though their EPS has grown at a CAGR of 8.5% over the same period. In 2016, that resulted in a dividend payout ratio of 52.3%, up from 29.1% in 2011. Quite a commitment to the dividend. An 8.5% annual EPS growth, combined with a 2.8% dividend yield, should result in a total annual return of 11.3%. That assumes no change in Territorial's price/earnings multiple. Not too shabby. 

So why don't others deliver higher dividends to stoke shareholder returns, especially if their balance sheet is growing slowly, and their EPS growth is not enough to meet shareholder expectations? Why maximize profitability only to accumulate capital?

Territorial is working their capital position down from a very lofty perch post-conversion. Clearly dividends are one part of their strategy, as well as share buybacks. The buybacks are typical for a converted thrift. Although don't get me started on the logic of issuing shares at $10 only to immediately start buying them back at a higher price.

What if, as Territorial "normalizes" their capital position as per their capital plan, they have to cut the dividend? This is a common objection I hear from bankers for not increasing their dividend and payout ratio. They don't want to cut it. And suffer the consequences. Like GE recently did.

The Board and executive management of Territorial have this covered, in my opinion, in the form of a special dividend. In 2016, their regular quarterly dividend was $0.18/share. In December, they declared a special dividend of $0.20/share, in addition to their regular dividend. They recently declared a special dividend this year of $0.30/share, payable in December. Once their capital levels return to "normal", if the special dividend reduces capital ratios, they can reduce it or eliminate it altogether, without impacting the regular dividend.

But no, bankers object because their shareholders will grow to "expect" the special dividend. As if active shareholder relations programs can't mitigate this risk. 

As a result, many keep banging the growth drum to stoke EPS and therefore shareholder returns. As if growing faster than the bank's markets can continue ad infinitum. If it doesn't pan out, we turn first to cost cutting (largely within our control). Then to buy-side M&A (less within our control). And if we fail to deliver shareholder returns by these methods... then sell-side M&A (within our control). 

And, alas, we have fewer than 6,000 banks.


Are you drinking my dividend Kool Aid?


~ Jeff


Saturday, November 04, 2017

Schmidlap Bank, A Division of Community Bank

"We want to keep our charter because the OCC is a more distinguished regulator." Seriously, that is what a bank chairman told me when arguing to keep his bank's charter during merger negotiations.

But I try not to judge. Perhaps, if I thought the argument weak, which I did, there was something else behind it. Something like "we've spent 100 years building the reputation of this bank and 'poof', it's gone at the stroke of a pen." Or, "my grandparents, parents, and now me served on the board of this bank and I owe it to their legacy..."

Why not just say that? Perhaps there is little evidence of the benefit of your 100-year brand, so it's a difficult argument to make. But more difficult than claiming the OCC is a better regulator? 

In more recent merger discussions, however, I have heard more refreshing arguments that it is not necessary to re-brand every nook and cranny of your bank into one. Because one key argument to combine brands is the efficiency of advertising into one or more media markets. Does this make sense today?

I think not. Take the accompanying picture, all from my Twitter, Facebook, and LindedIn streams. Three different "promoted" posts. All specific to me. Based on all the intel gathered on me. My neighbor, or even my wife, see different ads. So combining names so you can realize synergies in your billboard strategy doesn't make sense like it did 20 years ago.

More success stories of the divisional approach are cropping up in our industry. One of my favorites is the affinity brand Red Neck Bank, a division of All America Bank. All America Bank is a traditional community bank located near Oklahoma City, and has been around since the 1960's. And yes, they recently switched names from Bank of the Witchitas. But did they have to? For the traditional bank, I'm not so sure.

Aside from the traditional bank, they thought out of the box, and established a digital-only division to appeal to a specific niche. And it has done well. Marvelously well. Even though it has not reached the "critical mass" that your investment bankers insists that you need. See the accompanying table.


On a more traditional front, I point to UNSY Bank in upstate New York. This bank, unlike All America Bank, is relatively new, having been formed in 2007. It's strategy, however, is to build brands that resonate closer to the communities where they operate. For example, the $349 million bank has only four branch locations, each USNY Bank. But they operate as Bank of the Finger Lakes, or Bank of Cooperstown, divisions of USNY. Their financial performance doesn't seem to be hampered by bifurcated branding.

The divisional approach is becoming more important as relatively small financial institutions worry about keeping up with customer preference, technology, and regulatory changes. Although I mock the investment banker that always seems to think your institution needs to be twice the size you are now, regardless of the size you are now, there is merit to achieving a certain size.

Merits that include: increased stock trading multiples, greater employee development opportunities, the ability to absorb regulatory costs, and greater resources to invest in technologies to afford you a long-term future.

But you need not give up your name to get a merger of like-sized institutions done. Nor dump your local brand for a homogeneous one that spans geographies.


~ Jeff