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FDIC Atlanta Region Personnel Changes

FDIC Atlanta Regional Director Tom Dujenski announced this week that he will retire from the FDIC effective May 3, 2014. Tom has held the Atlanta post since 2010 and wraps up a 30-year career with the FDIC. We wish Tom all the best.

FDIC Atlanta Deputy Regional Director Michael Dean has been announced as acting Regional Director, and is the leading candidate to be named as the permanent Regional Director.  Mike has served most recently as the Deputy Regional Director for Compliance & CRA Examinations and Enforcement, where we have gotten to know him well.  Through out interactions, we have found him to be a solid, experienced banking regulator.  He is approachable and candid, and open to listen to problems and even help in fixing those problems in some cases.  With his previous service in DC, he is also well positioned to assist the Atlanta region work with the national FDIC office.  We look forward to continuing to work with Mike in his new role.

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Strategic Planning for Bank Boards: Proactive Governance in the New Regulatory Environment

October 31, 2012

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Sweeping new regulations and unprecedented scrutiny of the banking industry have combined to place a greater emphasis on the role of boards of directors in the leadership of banks. Although the board’s primary responsibilities have not changed – to maximize shareholder value and to hire, compensate and supervise qualified management – there is now a greater need to address these responsibilities within the context of a well-considered strategic plan. Many bank boards primarily employ a month-to-month approach to the oversight of their institutions, which can result in heavy reliance on bank management to chart the strategic course of the bank. It is valuable for a board occasionally to set time aside to take stock of the bank’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, and then proactively engage in a process of determining the strategic goals and direction for the bank. This gives the board a frame of reference within which to measure the performance of the bank going forward, and it will give management a clearer sense of the goals to be pursued and how aggressively to pursue them.

In our experience, directors can be skeptical of the benefits of strategic planning sessions – their enthusiasm dampened by visions of a day spent listening to consultants equipped with PowerPoint decks and sharing the latest buzz words. Too often, such sessions focus on tactical, not true strategic, issues. We recommend that board members be included in preparation for the planning session, in an effort to make the session more relevant to them and to foster a sense of ownership of the process. One approach is to seek input from the directors through short questionnaires in which they can describe their vision for the bank’s future, share their thoughts and analysis regarding the bank’s performance and its strengths and weaknesses, and indicate their preference of strategy for maximizing value to the bank’s shareholders. Such questionnaires are valuable in sharpening the focus of the strategic planning session.

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A Director’s Guide to Corporate Governance 101

March 8, 2012

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The day when the board’s focus was limited to approving loans and marketing the bank in the community is long past. Today’s boards face a wide array of complex tasks, and, accordingly, the composition, structure and organization of the board must all be geared to facilitate the board’s performing its duties and functioning properly. This process today is lumped under the heading of “corporate governance.”

(For a printer-friendly version of this post, including a sample Director Self Assessment form, please click here.)

The concept of functioning properly, of course, is in the mind of the beholder, but it clearly includes the board’s performing its primary duties of enhancing shareholder value, selecting, compensating and overseeing management and implementing risk management policies.

Boards of publicly traded banks are now fairly well acclimated to the issues comprising corporate governance, and bank regulators are now bringing many of these issues into the community bank board rooms. The regulatory exam almost always includes as its foundation an assessment of the strength of the board, whose oversight is considered critical to the proper functioning of a healthy bank. As a result, it is important for community bank directors to understand corporate governance principles, which fall under three broad categories.

  • Board Assessment—Is the board properly structured to provide optimal oversight to the bank?
  • Director Independence—Is the board able to effectively review management recommendations and make its own independent decisions regarding the bank’s strategy?
  • Management Review and Compensation—Does the bank have the right management team, and are those individuals compensated in a way that incentivizes them to implement the bank’s strategy?

Board Assessment

A review of hundreds of regulatory memorandums of understanding (MOUs) and consent orders has produced a clear starting point: Virtually every formal action begins with the requirement that the board increase its involvement and conduct an assessment of the performance and composition of management. The board’s assessment function, however, begins with the directors themselves. This self-assessment by the board is a logical starting point to ensure top board performance.

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The Path to Full Profitability by 2013

February 16, 2011

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A Letter to our Clients and Friends in the Financial Institutions Industry

Walt Moeling and Jim McAlpin spoke at the recent Acquire or Be Acquired Conference sponsored by Bank Director Magazine. Their topic was “The Path to Full Profitability by 2013.” In advance of their talk at the conference, Walt and Jim sought input from a group of industry observers on what they foresee as likely developments over the next few years. (A printer-friendly version of the Letter to Clients is also available.)

We thought you would be interested in what we heard in response to these questions, and the following is an excerpt from Walt and Jim’s presentation at the AOBA Conference:

Background

  • There are more than 6500 commercial banks in the U.S. Only 500 of these banks have assets of more than $1 billion, and only 110 have assets of more than $10 billion. In other words, over 90% of U.S. banks have assets of less than $1 billion. Also of significance to this discussion, one third of U.S. banks have less than $100 million in assets.
  • In connection with this presentation we sent a survey to a number of our contacts at investment banking firms and also to a group of bank consultants. We asked them to look forward over the next few years and project what the landscape will look like in community banking. We received responses from over 30 industry observers from across the country, and our respondents have allowed us to share their comments either with attribution or anonymously.

“What will the ideal community bank look like by year end 2013?”

  • Adam Aspes of Sterne Agee provided an answer that sums up most of what we heard in response to this question: “The ideal community bank will either: (i) have a dominant market share in a rural slow growth market, or (ii) if located in an urban market, have enough scale and product offering to compete for deposits with the larger banks.”
  • Jennifer Demba of SunTrust Robinson Humphrey responded: “Investors will value concentrated market share community banks, not fragmented networks.”
  • One community bank consultant wrote in response “$1 billion in asset size will not be a large bank by 2013.” We consistently heard in response to this question that, in all but rural markets, a minimum necessary asset size will be $500 million.
  • Chris Marinac of FIG Partners wrote: “While not universally applicable, in general we think the regulatory costs of operating a bank have increased such that it is difficult to produce adequate long-term returns for a bank below $500 million in assets. There are exceptions, and some private bank investors find a single-digit Return on Equity to be acceptable. However, we think the demands for 11% to 14% ROEs create a $ billion+ size threshold for surviving banks.
  • Another investment banker told us that his firm has modeled the impact of increased compliance costs on smaller community banks: “If you assume an increase of [direct and indirect] compliance costs of $100,000, and then factor in growth of only 5% to 8% per year, it is hard for a smaller bank to get to 1% ROA, much less double digit ROE.”
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Commentary: The End of Community Banking?

June 29, 2010

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On June 29, 2010, Sarah Wallace,  chair of the board of directors of First Federal Savings and Loan Association in Newark, Ohio, authored a passionate opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal titled “The End of Community Banking.”  While I agree with many of Ms. Wallace’s points, I do NOT see the end of community banking in the foreseeable future.

I do think that we are going to see tighter regulations and tighter credit than we saw in the five years before the financial meltdown – 2002 through 2007.  Those five years were the culmination of a world wide expansion of credit and leverage that began in the US around 1980, so we really had a great run.  Nonetheless, by 2002, a good number of observers would argue that credit availability was running somewhat out of control.

As Mrs. Wallace suggests, we will have tighter rules, but they will by nowhere near as tight as those that prevailed until the late 1980’s or early 1990’s.  During my career beginning in the late 1960’s, we have done away with limits on interest paid on deposits, most commercial usury limits, limits on branching and cross state expansion, certain caps on real estate lending, and we have expanded the lending limit in many cases from 10% of capital to 25%.  Most of these changes will not be reversed, and credit will continue to be available for borrowers who can demonstrate an ability to repay the loan.  However, I do not see banks going to the credit excesses of the 2002-2007 period, and there will be  people who might have gotten loans then who will not be able to get loans in 2011… and that is probably not all bad.

Wallace is chair of the board of directors of First Federal Savings and Loan Association in Newark, Ohio.Wallace is chair of the board of directors of First Federal Savings and Loan Association in Newark, Ohio.
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Boards and Strategic Planning in a Challenging Environment

September 10, 2009

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Short-Term Planning for Recovery and Survival

(This post was authored by Walt Moeling and Dustin Hall.  A version of this post originally appeared in the August 2009 issue of the ABA’s Community Banker magazine.)

The grim economic prognoses we continue to hear about have an immediate impact in the bank board room. Boards must think about short-term planning for recovery and survival because virtually no bank is wholly immune from the current recession.  Although the problems may have started with residential real estate in the Sunbelt, they have gone much beyond that now, impacting banks throughout the country.

As a director you must plan for both long-term and short-term.  Long-term planning is tremendously important, and we hope to make it to the “long-term,” but short-term planning is critical today.

Short-term planning in this context deals with the reality of today’s marketplace.  The focus is not on earnings or even stock value, two traditional focal points for planning.  Instead, the focus is on capital management, liquidity, and asset quality.

Capital Management

Your short-term capital planning in the face of mounting losses cannot focus on today or yesterday; it must focus on tomorrow.  You must ask: Where are we going?  What will happen if housing prices drop for another two and a half years, as predicted by some?  Can our borrowers sustain a more prolonged recession?  If not, where will our capital be three, six, and nine months from now?  In essence, you must stress test your bank to see how far it can go.

A real problem for directors is assuming that capital today is as readily available as it has been for the past 15 years, or that they can sell the bank if there is a real problem.  Unfortunately, there is no public market, and virtually no private equity, for bank stock.  Those sources are presently closed, shall we say, for repair.  Instead, short-term capital is likely to be found only within the boardroom and from family and friends.

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Commentary: Demonstrating a Bank is Using TARP Capital to Lend

January 15, 2009

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One issue that seems to be gaining traction is the need for banks to show how they are using TARP Capital, with a strong preference for the banks to be using TARP Capital to make loans.  While the fungibility of bank capital makes it virtually impossible to directly tie any particular dollar of capital with any particular dollar lent, that fungibility also gives great leeway to community banks to demonstrate the lending impact of TARP Capital.  Despite the political hot potato, we expect very few, if any, community banks to be criticized for their use of TARP Capital funds.

We do not believe that TARP Capital should fundamentally change the way in which bankers run their banks.  Solely because they have TARP Capital, banks should not approve loans that they otherwise would turn down.  However, any bank with additional capital, which TARP Capital provides, is in a better position to make or renew loans than that same bank would have been without TARP Capital.

A bank should be able to show that TARP Capital is “working” so long as its total loans are higher than they would have been without the TARP Capital infusion.  In recognition of the current economic environment and capital restraints, we believe many banks would be actively attempting to shrink the size of the bank were they not to receive TARP Capital infusions.  As a result, merely maintaining the current levels of loans could, in reality, be the result of TARP Capital increasing bank lending activity.  Even Barney Frank’s proposed reform legislation acknowledges that TARP Capital may simply minimize the decline in lending that normally accompanies economic recessions.  While this metric may be difficult for the Congressional Oversight Committee to accept, anytime the question is asked whether a new program is working, you have to make assumptions about what the situation would look like without the program.

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Commentary: Big Picture Thoughts on Applying for TARP Capital

November 23, 2008

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Whether to apply for or accept TARP Capital is a decision that each bank needs to make individually depending on its own markets and circumstances.  However, as explained below, we believe each bank needs to prepare a realistic, worst-case scenario for the next three years.  Unless your bank’s capital will remain strong, we think you should apply for TARP Capital.

In three years, your bank will likely be in position to redeem the TARP Capital.  If that’s true, then the TARP Capital will have served as an inexpensive insurance policy that went unused, and you won’t be subject to any further government restrictions.

On the other hand, it is possible that, in three years, the financial condition of your bank makes you unable to redeem the TARP Capital.  In that event, it is very clear that you needed the TARP Capital.

With only these two scenarios, we believe almost every bank is better off applying for TARP Capital.

Where is the Economy Headed?

As the residential real estate market declined, all the contractors and subcontractors associated with that market began to suffer.  These contractors and subcontractors include our drywall installers, plumbers, painters, flooring specialists, lighting specialists, landscapers, pavers, pool installers, and numerous others – a vast group of construction and service-industry workers.  With new residential starts drying up, and with in-progress projects shutting down, many of the employees in those contracting and subcontracting fields began to lose their jobs.

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Commentary: Reputation Risk from Participation

October 30, 2008

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The ABA has noted that some banks are concerned with the reputational risk of participating in a bail-out.   While some customers may have this concern, it does not change our belief that all eligible banks should strongly consider participating.   Having said that, we also think banks should be prepared to deal with this issue and should be proactive with their customers.   The emphasis should be on supporting the Government’s program to strengthen the entire banking system in order to enable banks to continue supporting their local community through this economic downturn.  The program is designed to earn a return for the Government (and thus the taxpayer), and is thus not a “bail-out” at all.   The program is for healthy banks, not to save problem banks.  Customers should be comforted by the facts.

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