Friday, December 23, 2016

Three Wishes for Bankers

If I had a genie in a bottle that granted me three wishes, I would shoot for grander goals such as world peace, end poverty, and ban Mariah Carey Christmas songs. But this is a bankers' blog, and I want to remain topical.

Most readers are accustomed to me being analytical. Searching for trends and truths in a sea of numbers. And it is true, that numbers weave a tale that should be told. But in this post, I would like to rub the bottle, unleash the genie, and go for three grand wishes for banking.

Wish 1: Banks and Credit Unions - Can We All Get Along?

I believe in compassionate capitalism. In an evolved capitalist society, in my opinion, those "do-ers" would maximize their abilities and their legal/ethical earning power, and give their excess to worthy societal goals. Altruism? Sure. There will be those capitalists that buy gold toilet seats or hold lavish spousal birthday parties on Sardinia to prove they are in love. But let's focus on the good, shall we?

According to a 2015 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, seven percent of US households were unbanked, meaning they had no account at an insured financial institution, and 19% were underbanked, meaning they used non-traditional financial providers like pre-paid cards and/or payday lenders. This is a significant percentage of the populace, and ripe pickings for credit unions, that tend to have better success profitably banking these customers than do banks. 

For example, in my firm's profitability measurement service for community financial institutions, credit unions make 80-90 basis points pre-tax profit on consumer loans, while banks make an anemic 5-10 basis points. And banks' have an average consumer loan account balance of over $40,000, whereas credit unions are around $14,000. 

Credit unions tend to deliver profits on smaller balance accounts. Accounts, dare I say, that bankers are happy to yield to them because they are not well suited to serve those customers.

But the tax thing. Bankers' can't get over it. And with NCUA loosening their definition of who can join credit unions, you can see the point.

So here's my idea: Collaboration in a market between a bank and credit union to cure some social challenge.  For example, what if Schmidlap National Bank and Pipefitters Local CU teamed up to end poverty in their local market? Schmidlap could commit 10% of their pre-tax profit to contribute to local charities whose specific mission is to end poverty. The CU could commit 20% of pre-tax profit to do the same, creating greater parity on the expense side of the ledger, and uniting the one-time foes to make their communities better.

I know one Midwest bank CEO that will disagree. How about you?

Wish 2: Simplify

In every executive meeting, every operations manager meeting, every sales meeting, I wish bankers would ask "how can we simplify?". Simplify their processes, their systems, and for their customers.

We have enough complexity in the world. I spent half a day trying to get my Mom's iPad to interface with Alexa. I was so successful that Alexa gave us the time and the weather, and nothing else. My Mom had to enlist the support of the Geek Squad.

There is enough complexity in everyone's lives. Internally, we have been over-reacting to interpretations of regulation, hyper-complying to avoid an audit finding or, shudder, a matter requiring attention (MRA) on our exam. Externally we have been doing the same to customers. 

Finances, either personal or business, are more complex today than at any time in my life. And quite possibly, in anyone's life. Technologies that have been making finances easier are growing at a rapid rate. I believe customers want to interact with humans about their finances. But we can't heap all this complexity on them and expect them to reject easy to use tech solutions.

Financial institutions that come out on top will be the ones that figure out how to simplify their processes, their infrastructure, and their customers' financial lives.

Goal 3: Automate and Elevate

I did a back of the envelope estimate that a $1 billion in asset financial institution might have 240-250 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees. I also estimate that less than half of them would be customer facing.

The investment financial institutions make in support center functions that scream for automation is not sustainable into the future. In a prior post, I made one slam dunk prediction that robotics was coming. Repetitive tasks will be increasingly performed by an application or a robot. Reconciling the suspense account now done by an accounting clerk? An app. Five point checks on personal check capture images now done by a clerk in Deposit Ops? A robot. 

This will make available significant resources to invest in employees to perform higher level tasks either in support or the front line. How often do I hear executives hope their branch employees would elevate from efficient transaction processing to customer service and advice? Often. How often do senior lenders exhort their lenders to be relationship focused and not solely deal guys/gals? Regularly. And how often do I hear frontline staff wish that support staff would find creative ways to get things done instead of erect road blocks? Every performance improvement engagement team I have ever been on.

So, for financial institutions, always look for ways to reduce paper, automate repetitive processes, and invest greater resources into delivering the financial institution your customers deserve.

Those are my three wishes for bankers. What are yours?

Happy Holidays everyone!

~ Jeff

Monday, December 12, 2016

Banking's Total Return Top 5: 2016 Edition

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

Not so over the five 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 that result from recent 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 2015:

#1.  Independent Bank Corporation (Nasdaq: IBCP)
#2.  Fentura Financial, Inc. (OTCQX: FETM)
#4.  Carolina Bank Holdings, Inc. (Nasdaq: CLBH)
#5.  Coastal Banking Company, Inc. (OTCQX: CBCO)

Here is this year's list:

Independent Bank Corporation celebrates its second straight Top 5 recognition, and BNCCORP celebrates its third straight year on this august list. Congratulations to them. A summary of the banks, their stories, and links to their website are below. 

#1. Independent Bank Corporation (Nasdaq: IBCP)

Independent Bank dates back to 1864 as the First National Bank of Iona. Its size today, at $2.5 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 3.6%. Exclude performing restructured loans, and that number plummets to 0.62%. The result: those investors that jumped onboard at the end of 2011 were well rewarded. Their total return was greater than 1,500%. You read it right.

#2. Waterstone Financial, Inc. (Nasdaq: WSBF)

Waterstone is a single-bank holding company headquartered in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. It has $1.8 billion of assets and operates eleven branches in the metropolitan Milwaukee market, a loan production office (LPO) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and 45 mortgage banking offices in 21 states. The mortgage bank has more than 3x the employees of the bank. Year-to-date, the company has generated more fee income, at $95.2 million, than it has in operating expense, at $95.0 million. I don't know any other bank that accomplished this. I'm sure there are some. But I haven't heard the tale. This tale is true. That means their year-to-date $31.8 million net interest income after provision... is gravy. And that is a key reason why their five-year total return exceeded 1,000%!

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

Summit Financial Group, Inc. is a $1.7 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 2011, the company had net income of $4.1 million on assets of $1.5 billion. Today, the company has annualized net income of $16.8 million. A reversal of fortune from a 0.28% ROA to a 1.09%. How did they do it, from my perspective? 1: Margin expansion, and 2: Expense discipline. Annual operating expenses were $36.6 million in 2011, and are $33.2 million today. And that includes some of the expenses associated with an acquisition that is set to close shortly. So they grew. And spent less to do it. A bank that viewed its operating expenditures as investments. Amazing!

#4. MBT Financial Corp. (Nasdaq: MBTF)

In 1858, while Lincoln and Douglas debated for a US Senate seat, Benjamin Dansard started Dansard State Bank to operate from the back of Dansard General Store. Ultimately renamed Monroe Bank and Trust, this bank pre-dates the Civil War! Similar to IBCP above, MBT is a turnaround story. In 2011, non-performing assets/assets was at 7.7%. Today they are at 1.8%, and below 1% if you exclude restructured yet performing loans. The asset quality issues led to a $3.8 million loss in 2011. Since that time, nothing but black ink, leading to a year-to-date ROA of 1.10%, and ROE of 10.13%. How did they get there? A dramatic improvement in asset quality, a process and efficiency initiative that led to reduced costs and improved processes, and motivation. Insiders own over 22% of the company. That's motivation! Well done!  


BNCCORP, Inc., through its subsidiary BNC National Bank, offers community banking and wealth management services in Arizona, Minnesota, and North Dakota from 16 locations. It also conducts mortgage banking from 12 offices in Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, Arizona, and North Dakota. BNC suffered significant credit woes during 2008-09 which led to material losses in '09-10, and the decline in their tangible book value to $5.09/share at the end of 2010. Growth, supported by the oil boom in North Dakota's Bakken formation, and a robust mortgage banking business, is challenged due to  the decrease in oil and ag commodity prices. But earnings continue to increase in spite of the challenges. This has resulted in a tangible book value per share at September 30th of $22.51... a significant recovery and turnaround story that landed BNC in our top 5 for the third straight year. Your investment five years ago would have resulted in over an 800% total return!

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

There you have it! The JFB all stars in top 5, five-year total return. The largest of the lot is $2.5 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.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

IMO: American Banker's Community Bankers of the Year

On November 30th, American Banker named three Community Bankers of the Year. When I read about their selections, and reviewed their financial performance, I e-mailed Bonnie McGeer, Executive Editor at American Banker Magazine, to say that, in my opinion, they nailed it!

Not that they need my endorsement. But they did notice when I sniped at one of their past Bankers of the Year awards. Banker of the Year typically goes to larger financial institutions. But I digress.

When I read about Banker of the Year and other such recognition, I will typically look at the financial performance of the bank to see if the award holds water. There are few things more regressive to me than for a banker to receive recognition without accomplishment. It cheapens the award, and diminishes our view of the truly accomplished.

But this year was a bumper crop, I tell ya!

Mark became CEO of GABC in January 1999. So he's been at it a long time. When he got the job, the bank was $637 million in total assets, had an Efficiency Ratio of 62.5%, an ROA of 0.96%, and an ROE of 9.1%. Today the bank has $3.0 billion in total assets, an Efficiency Ratio of 61.2%, and an ROA/ROE of 1.20%/10.7%, respectively. So the bank performed well in 1999, and Mark has improved on it. The bank is a consistent, German-engineered performer. 

As good as those numbers are, Mark's real home run was his total return to shareholders (see chart). From the day Mark assumed the reigns at GABC until today, the SNL Bank Index had a total return of 90%. GABC's was 424%.

Let that sink in a bit.

Credit: I got that "German engineered" quip from GABC's financial advisor.

Kevin's story isn't punctuated by his bank's total return since he became CEO in March 2013, although it did mirror the index. An investor would have enjoyed a 74% total return in HOPE stock during Kevin's tenure, versus 77% for the SNL Bank Index (see chart). 

No, Kevin had an impact from the moment he joined the Board in 2009, first advocating for raising more capital, and negotiating the merger between Hope's predecessor, Center Bancorp and Nara Bancorp, another Korean-American focused bank. The deal closed in 2011, and BBCN was formed. After closing another deal for Wilshire Bancorp, a $4B bank, in the third quarter, Hope became what it is today.

Financial performance is similar to when Kim assumed the reigns in March 2013. Then, the bank had an Efficiency Ratio/ROA/ROE of 45.5%/1.28%/9.13% respectively. Using this year's second quarter to avoid the Wilshire special charges, those numbers were 46.8%/1.20%/9.67%, respectively. 

What impressed me most was the bank's turnaround since Kevin joined the board, the transactions he has negotiated to significantly grow the bank, and the 32% earnings per share increase since he took over. That's right, 32%.

When Tony took the reigns at Sussex Bank in February 2010, non-current loans/loans was 5.48%. Today they are 0.75%.  I should end this section right there. But I'll continue.

The bank had $452 million in total assets. Today it is nearly twice that size. Net income was approximately $1.2 million annualized. Today it's $5.6 million. Efficiency Ratio/ROA/ROE? Was 61%/0.21%/2.80%, respectively. Now: 68%/0.70%/7.79%. And the bank continues in a significant growth mode. 

And due to the bank's historically rural markets, he's #GeoJumping! See my firm's most recent podcast, minute 17:40, for a discussion on geo-jumping. I'm claiming the trademark.

An investor earned a 288% total return since Tony took the reigns, versus 115% for the SNL Bank Index (see chart). I'm one happy investor. Disclosure: I'm personally invested in SBBX.

And there are my reasons why I think American Banker NAILED IT!

What other great banks are out there that didn't win the hardware?

~ 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.