Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bankers: What's Your "Well Capitalized"?

Prediction: The Federal Reserve's Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR) and its complementary Dodd-Frank Act Stress Testing (DFAST) will meet its intended purpose, to better ensure financial institutions have sufficient capital during times of economic duress.

But not why you think.

If you look at Citigroup's or BofA's leverage ratio today versus 2006 or 2007, it is clear that they carry far more capital than before the financial crisis. And that, my readers, was the intended purpose. 

But it is not because CCAR or DFAST are properly assessing risk. The models are too complex and theoretical. An investment banker from a very large financial institution told me his bank submitted an 11,000 page CCAR to the Fed and they turned it down. Another prediction: nobody read an 11,000 page document. Nobody. And nobody understood it. That doesn't mean somebody didn't understand page 5,387, but the entire document? C'mon.

As long as the answer was, carry more capital, complex banks will be better prepared to weather economic storms. Perhaps regulators would save banks time, resources, and money if they took the age-old parent response to why banks should carry more capital... Because I said so!

As feared, DFAST schemes are being pushed down to smaller organizations. Regulators are asking for capital plans, and an assessment of risk in the bank's strategy to determine capital needs. In other words, what's your well capitalized? My firm wrote a newsletter on the issue. But I want to break it down to an even simpler form. 

Call it the Marsico Method. Because I'm a narcissist and want something named after me.

The below table shows the Marsico Method in its simplest form.

Currently, a bank is required to have a Leverage Ratio of 5% to be considered "well capitalized" by US regulators. So the Marsico Method begins with 5% applied to each asset category. No application of the 5% to liabilities, since capital ratios are calculated off of assets. That doesn't mean that liabilities don't carry risk, as you will see with the Risk Buffer.

The Risk Buffer column is similar to the buffer concept applied by Basel III, except that scheme applies a straight up 2.5% buffer to a common equity tier 1 (CET1) minimum of 4.5%, for a total CET1 ratio of 7%, to be fully phased in by 2018.

But in the Marsico Method, the Risk Buffer is an assessment of the potential loss estimate of each balance sheet item, based on a rational analysis by the financial institution. The table above is a high level balance sheet. Hypothetical? Not really. It is Cape Cod Five Cent Savings Bank's balance sheet. And according to the analysis, their well capitalized is 7.90%. Meaning that if they experienced stress and began taking losses, the 2.9% buffer above the 5% should be sufficient to staunch the bleeding.

There would be more detail provided by specific loan, deposit, and other balance sheet categories to come up with the overall Risk Buffer per category. For example, upon analysis of the performance of the home equity line of credit portfolio during past downturns and rapid interest rate changes, the bank determines that the loss potential is 1.85%... hence the Risk Buffer for that particular balance sheet category.

Banks should not limit themselves to on balance sheet items. There is risk in pass through residential mortgage lending, loan commitments, and fee-based businesses to account for. And there is risk on the liability side of the balance sheet such as interest rate and liquidity risk, fraud, etc. That is why there is a Risk Buffer applied to those categories as well, although the risk is typically less than the asset side.

Using the Marsico Method, banks can then project the impact to the balance sheet and therefore Required Equity based on their strategy. This would flow nicely into their Capital Plan that identifies actions to augment capital should the bank experience a stress scenario. 

It also provides a nice answer to your regulators, Board of Directors, and other constituencies when they ask, what's your "well capitalized"?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this approach!

~ Jeff

Monday, January 12, 2015

Guest Post: Year End Economic Commentary by Dorothy Jaworski

2014’s Biggest Surprise
It never fails.  The markets provide us with completely unexpected surprises and leave us scrambling to update our projections for rates and economic growth.  And so it was in the latter part of 2014.  Oil prices began a massive plunge, down 46% for the year to $53 per barrel.  And who expected this?  Well- no one.  Now we all have to adjust to this new reality.  What are the implications of the crash in oil prices?  And why did they plunge?

We all have been reading for years how the United States was dramatically increasing energy production, especially from a method of extracting oil and natural gas in shale regions of the country known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”  Suddenly the US was the world leader in oil production.  Suddenly the world realized that there was a supply glut.  OPEC members and Russia stand to suffer the most from lower oil prices, but have continually sworn to keep production at current levels, perhaps using low prices to stall US investment and production.  While the US economy is growing slowly and steadily, this is not the case in China, Europe, and Japan, who are experiencing low growth, no growth, and outright recession, respectively.  This is a recipe for weak demand which, when combined with a supply glut, means lower prices.  Also, the US dollar has been strengthening, with a 12% increase in 2014, further pushing oil prices lower as oil is typically traded as a dollar denominated commodity.

Think back, too, as to when oil prices were close to $100 per barrel earlier in 2014.  Geopolitical tensions were running rampant as fighting was ongoing in Israel-Gaza, Russia-Ukraine-Crimea, and Syria with ISIS stepping up as a huge threat.  Supply disruptions were the typical fear but the tensions have since subsided.  These tensions could reappear if unrest rises in Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and other countries that are highly dependent on oil for revenues.  Now US consumers can be the biggest beneficiary of falling gasoline prices, which recently peaked at $3.69 per gallon in April, 2014 and ended the year at $2.23.  Consumers rejoice!  And don’t forget that heating oil prices have plunged, too, just in time for another polar vortex.  I have always believed that cheaper oil and gas prices are like a tax cut that helps consumers save money on their “taxes” and spend it on other discretionary goods and services.  I was gratified to hear Janet Yellen reiterate this same point.  Consumer can and will rejoice and spend.  Economists revised their projections to include new assumptions that consumers will save between $70 billion and $100 billion annually on gas and will spend most of the savings, perhaps increasing real GDP by at least a net +.5%.  Yeah, finally!  A 3% GDP number! Happy 2015!

The Economy in 2015
Most economists were projecting +2.5% in real GDP growth in 2015, prior to the windfall from plunging oil prices.  As mentioned, they have increased projections to +3.0%.  Over the past five years, GDP has averaged +2.2%, which is quite disappointing compared to the average growth of +4.6% for the past ten recoveries.  If we make it to +3.0% in 2015, it will be the first time in six years of recovery that we have touched +3.0%.  Perhaps that is why former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan just proclaimed that “we still have a sluggish economy,” which will not fully recover until there is more investment in long lived, productive assets and the housing market recovers.  Despite all the euphoria over a lower unemployment rate of 5.8% (down in 2014 from 7.0%), the fact that many of the jobs created have been part-time, lower wage ones and many experienced workers are dropping out of the labor force.  I do see millions of jobs being created in 2015, but still many are part-time, thanks mainly to Obamacare and other regulations.

Who projected that interest rates would fall in 2014?  Well- no one- except maybe Dr. Lacy Hunt of Hoisington Management, who has been on top of trends most of us do not see.  I read his quarterly newsletters with great interest and you should, too.  The ten year Treasury yield topped 3% at the end of 2013 and fell to 2.20% by the end of 2014.  Why?  Falling inflation and falling inflationary expectations will do the trick.  Falling inflation confounds the Philips Curvers, who read their textbooks and expected higher inflation from the falling unemployment rate.  I’ll bet John Taylor is a little upset, too, with trying to use inflation in his Taylor Rule formula.  Weakness in most world economies other than the US is keeping inflation under control with weak demand- especially as seen with commodity prices.  US rates continue to be substantially higher than rates in Europe and Japan with less risk.  That upsets me, because it is not normal.  Yet, the Federal Reserve stubbornly continues to proclaim that they will raise interest rates by mid-2015.  I say, go ahead.  The Fed will just end up lowering them shortly thereafter when they realize they have tightened prematurely.  New York Fed President William Dudley recently warned of just this risk, when he spoke of the historical classic case of premature tightening in 1937 by the Fed, when recession and deflation followed.   

Risks to Growth
I’m an optimist at heart, but I feel obligated to point out the risks to economic growth.  Measuring and managing risk has been my specialty in a banking career that is now 40 years old, of which 29 years have been spent dealing with risk.  The aforementioned risk of a Fed policy error of premature tightening tops the list.  Economies around the world are struggling and their policy makers are still easing monetary policy, making the spread between US rates and those economies’ rates unnaturally wide.  The ever rising US dollar could contribute to weaker and weaker currencies around the world, leaving countries to struggle and have to raise rates.  We have geopolitical (the word made famous by Greenspan in the early 2000s) risks of war, terrorism, epidemics such as ebola and influenza, and cyber attacks.

And there are two more risks that are not getting a lot of press- deflation- which can lead to deferred demand, declining wages, and slowing GDP- and liquidity risk- where restrictions and regulations have nearly strangled the life out of financial institution market makers, who seem increasingly unwilling or unable to take bonds into inventory and hedge them, instead opting to act like brokers, taking too much time to execute trades and too wide a bid-ask spread.  Market makers are not alone in this regulatory nightmare; 79,000 proposal and final rule pages were published in the Federal Register in 2014 affecting all industries, with a cumulative total of 468,500 since the recovery began in 2009.  Once again, I digress.  But, that’s what I am here for.  Stay tuned!  

Thanks for reading!  01/05/15

Dorothy Jaworski has worked at large and small banks for over 30 years; much of that time has been spent in investment portfolio management, risk management, and financial analysis. Dorothy has been with First Federal of Bucks County since November, 2004. She is the author of Just Another Good Soldier, which details the 11th Infantry Regiment's WWII crossing of the Moselle River where her uncle, Pfc. Stephen W. Jaworski, gave his last full measure.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Leadership: In My Own Words

With all of the scholarship on leadership, what could I add to the conversation? I have my ideas. And if we reflect on the decline of our industry, an honest in-the-mirror assessment of bank leadership merits discussion.

In 2004 I wrote an article for a banking industry association entitled Lead Like Lincoln. The article identified three traits that were critical to Lincoln's success: Vision, Communication, and Commitment. Ten years later, I stand by those traits.

At this stage of the post, I could cite studies, books, and management luminaries on what makes great leaders. Instead, I will give you my slightly varnished view, straight from the gut. Slightly varnished because I grew up in Scranton, where directness has greater value than tact. Not always an admirable trait for a consultant, or a leader.

A great leader has a vision for the future. This is particularly important and challenging in rapidly changing industries like technology and media. It was not particularly important in slow moving industries like banking. 

But that has changed. The greatest banking leaders can see their bank several years into the future, and organize resources around making that vision a reality.

A great leader is humble. As with any general statement on leadership traits, there are exceptions. Say what you will about Steve Jobs. Humble he was not. But hard charging, egotistical leaders can only move an organization so far, and to a certain size, before the ego starts to become a liability. Recall that Jobs got fired from the company he founded. Not an easy task to accomplish. 

The humble leader, on the other hand, takes counsel from his/her people and understands that no human being is all knowing, or even close to it. A great leader does not judge his/her importance by an org chart or the size of paycheck, but by the happiness of their people (sum total of all of their people, not just keeping an individual happy) and the purpose of their work

A great leader does not fear failure. Failure is the lesson plan for success. Avoid failure, and the leader understands that their company is destined for the ash heap of irrelevance. In banking, failure is clearly a dirty word when relating to the overall bank. But the most innovative and sustainable business models in our industry are moving farther away from business as usual into less tried and true paths. If there was ever a need for great leaders in banking, now is the time.

A great leader has great followers. When the Navy trained me on leadership, an early lesson was that before becoming a great leader, a sailor must be a great follower. So before assuming leadership, a future leader supports their current leader, working with purpose for the betterment of the company, with no interest in highlighting shortcomings of their leader or those around them in order to move them up the organizational ladder.

Surrounding yourself with great followers implies hiring those that can step into your shoes, or that have such potential and you are dedicated to ensuring their development. Great followers are smart, motivated, humble, forward looking, and care about their colleagues and the company. 

Great followers give the leader informed information and opinions, and if the leader, after careful reflection, decides to go against the follower's recommendation, the great follower charges forward lock-step with the leader.

Poor leaders don't want great followers for fear that they can easily slip into the leader's shoes. Great leaders cheer their followers and prepare them to slip into the leader's shoes.

Great leaders are committed. If a vision is worth pursuing, should it be abandoned when obstacles rear their inevitable head? Weak leaders cut their losses. Great leaders forge forward.

Great leaders are likable. By this I don't mean liked by everyone at all times. They can make the difficult decisions, counsel employees, and be firm when necessary. But if a leader must motivate employees to challenge their boundaries and create great companies, employees must believe in the man or woman. 

Can a person with wavering honor or integrity, or is generally a jerk get the entire company to move as one in a direction that has great risk yet may lead to great reward for a sustainable period of time? 

I think not. 

What are your thoughts on leadership in financial services?

~ Jeff

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Year End Message to Community Financial Institutions

Thank you, my readers, for taking the time to read Jeff For Banks. I appreciate all of you.

If you were curious why I enjoy working with community financial institutions, below is my weak attempt at explaining myself. Hey, I recorded while on vacation, so there's that!

But the over-riding message is: Let's go get the big boys in 2015!

Happy New Year everyone!

In case you can't watch directly from my blog, here is the YouTube link:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Banking's Total Return Top 5: 2014 Edition

For the past three years I searched for the Top 5 financial institutions in five-year total return to shareholders because I grew weary of the "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 three 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... 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.

For comparison purposes, here are last year's top five, as measured as of December, 2013:

#1.  BofI Holdings, Inc.
#2.  Marlin Business Services Corp.
#3.  Fidelity Southern Corp.
#4.  Eagle Bancorp, Inc.
#5.  Bancorp, Inc.

This year's list is in the table below:

BofI Holdings celebrates its third straight year on this august list. Congratulations to them. A summary of the banks, their strategies, and links to their website are below. 

#1. Open Bank (OTCQB: OPBK)

Open Bank commenced operations in 2005 as First Standard Bank in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles. They are built as a relationship bank serving the Korean community in LA and surrounding areas. It is a significant SBA 7(a) lender, ranking in the top 100 (#54) in the country in that category, ahead of much larger financial institutions like Bank of America. Year to date through September 30th, Open Bank had $4.5 million gain on sale of loans, representing 24% of its total revenue for that period. The lion's share of their growth, profitability, and capital have come since their re-branding to Open Bank in 2010. In June, the bank raised an additional $30 million of common equity, positioning it to continue its strong growth.

#2. BofI Holding, Inc. (Nasdaq: BOFI)

BofI Holdings Inc. and its subsidiary BofI Federal Bank aspire to be the most innovative branchless bank in the United States providing products and services superior to their competitors, branch-based or otherwise. In its latest investor presentation, BofI claims that its business model is more profitable because its costs are lower. It supports the claim by highlighting its efficiency ratio is in the top 2% of UBPR peers, and its operating expenses as a percent of average assets are in the top 12% of peer banks. So, as a branchless bank, BofI has leveraged its significantly lower operating expenses into profit. That profit led to the top spot in five year total return to shareholders, three years running. Well done!


BNCCORP, Inc., through its subsidiary BNC National Bank, offers community banking and wealth management services in Arizona, Minnesota, and North Dakota from 14 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 refinance business resulted in a tangible book value per share at September 30th of $17.18... a significant recovery and turnaround story that landed BNC in our top 5 for the first time.

Western Alliance, through its subsidiary Western Alliance Bank, provides comprehensive business banking and related financial services, operating full service banking divisions in local markets as Alliance Bank of Arizona, Bank of Nevada, First Independent Bank, and Torrey Pines Bank. It also has a national platform of specialized finance units in homeowners' associations, public finance, resort finance, and warehouse lending. Its diversified and primarily commercial loan portfolio and a loan/deposit ratio of 91% resulted in a year to date net interest margin of 4.41%. This margin plus a 2.07% operating expense ratio resulted in a YTD efficiency ratio of 47%. That type of financial performance plus picking yourself up from credit problems leads to top 5 total returns for your shareholders. Well done!

#5. Mercantile Bank Corporation (Nasdaq: MBWM)

In June, Mercantile Bank and Firstbank Corporation closed on a merger of equals to form the fourth largest Michigan-based bank by deposit market share. Firstbank traced its roots back to the 1800's, while Mercantile was founded in 1997. As part of the transaction, Mercantile shareholders received a $2/share special dividend prior to closing, shaving off of tangible book value. But the total return story is similar to others on the list. Mercantile suffered through its share of credit snafus, losing a collective $70 million 2008-10, only to recover and negotiate a franchise changing merger of equals. Best of luck on the integration and congratulations for landing on the JFB top 5 total return to shareholders list! 

There you have it! The JFB all stars in top 5, five-year total return. The largest of the lot is $10 billion in total assets. No SIFI banks on the list. What about that economies of scale crowd? Hmm.

The flavor of this year's winners is recovery, with the exception of our consistent top performer, BofI. 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.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Why Does Kim Kardashian Kick Your Bank's A**?

I have never heard Kim Kardashian speak. I never watched her show. I don't know the family story. I can't name family members beyond Bruce Jenner. Until today, I never searched on her name.

But I know who she is. I know she's pretty. I have heard her claim to fame is an online sex video. I have seen her butt. But not in person. I saw it on a prime time news program. That's right, her derier was featured on a prime time news story.

How has this person turned nothing into significant brand recognition and revenue stream?

By typing Kim Kardashian, and adding her as a label, I just significantly increased this blog post's SEO, or search engine optimization. According to Yahoo, she was the  sixth most popular search during the year. There were no banks in the top 10. If I add her picture, which I am contemplating doing, I would increase my traffic. This is known as "click bait". Put a pretty girl next to any post... be it about fishing or the Victoria's Secret fashion show, and you'll get more clicks, so they tell me.

In fact, when I searched (via Bing) "Washington Trust Bank", a $4.7 billion in asset community bank based in Spokane and founded in 1902, I had 74,900 hits. I did the same for "Wells Fargo" and got 3.4 million hits. Kim Kardashian: 4.3 million hits.

Strategy teams perform a Situation Analysis prior to developing bank strategy, surveying reams of facts to get an accurate assessment of their operating environment. One particular part of a US bank's environment, sadly, is that we are celebrity obsessed. You want to follow Will and Kate, our crack news coverage has you covered. Wonder how far along Iran is in their nuclear program? Good luck.

This became apparent to me when I was speaking to a Washington state banker about his most famous customer, Sig Hansen, the captain of the F/V Northwestern, a crab fishing vessel. Yes, I hot linked to a crab fishing vessel. They have a website, and a pretty nifty one too. How could this be? Because Sig and the Northwestern are front and center on Discovery Channel's Dangerous Catch. Click over to their website and you can buy the coffee Sig drinks. Clearly, Sig's celebrity has aided the cash flow ups and downs typical of a fishing vessel.

How can banks respond to our celebrity obsessed culture? I don't think it is by hiring a celebrity to pitch your bank. Society has grown accustomed to this, and I'm not convinced it moves the needle much. Honda recognized this by enlisting Stretch Armstrong as spokesman for its line of cars this holiday season.

But perhaps we can make a celebrity or two out of our senior executives. For example, I live in Central Pennsylvania, where a credit union uses its CEO in all of its advertisements, billboards, etc. Forget the fact that he wears tights and a cape in most ads. No, seriously, I'm trying to forget that fact. But you get my point. This credit union has made a celebrity out of their CEO, and he is widely recognized in the community.

If done properly, this strategy could leave you exposed to the new celebrity departing the bank, or demanding higher compensation due to their new found status. There are ways to mitigate this risk. Progressive Insurance did so with Flo.

Do you think turning key employees into celebrities would help execute your strategy?

~ Jeff

P.S. I went with Sig Hansen's photo. Not as pretty as Kim.

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

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