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Walt Moeling Selected as Lifetime Achiever

March 30, 2016

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Atlanta Senior Counsel Walter Moeling has been selected as a Lifetime Achievement Award recipient by The Fulton County Daily Report. Moeling received the honor for his considerable contributions to the legal profession in Georgia.

For nearly 50 years, Moeling has been with Bryan Cave and its predecessor firm in Atlanta, Powell Goldstein. Moeling has counseled financial institutions on corporate governance matters, operational and regulatory issues, capital and acquisition strategies, board disputes and dissident shareholders, as well as other strategic decisions.

He has been recognized by Who’s Who in America. He has been ranked since 1998 in Best Lawyers, including as Best Lawyers’ 2015 Atlanta Financial Services Regulation Law “Lawyer of the Year” and as one of the top 10 lawyers in the state. He also has been featured annually in Chambers USA since 2003.

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Crossroads: Banking and Fintech Conference in Atlanta 4/20-4/21

We are pleased to announce that we are co-hosting a conference with Banks Street Partners and TTV Capital that will take a new look at the opportunities that exist for the banking community within the evolving Fintech landscape.

The agenda features prominent industry speakers regularly quoted in the media as foremost experts in the banking and fintech arenas. The morning keynote will be given by Chris Nichols, Chief Strategy Officer for CenterState Bank. Chris Nichols is an active bank investor, entrepreneur and lover of quantified banking. He currently serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Banking Exchange and is co-founder of Wall&Main, Inc. a leading platform for crowdfunding. Prior to joining CenterState, Chris was CEO of the capital markets arm of Pacific Coast Bankers’ Bank and is the former author of the Banc Investment Daily.

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Supervisory “Concerns” with Shareholder Protection Arrangements

In December 2015 (following years of sporadic and seemingly random criticism) of shareholder protection arrangements, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System issued guidance that the Federal Reserve “may” object to a shareholder protection agreement based on the facts and circumstances and the features of the particular arrangement.  Federal Reserve Supervisory Letter SR 15-15 does not require submission of such arrangements to the Federal Reserve for comment prior to implementation, but rather directs institutions considering the implementation or modification of such arrangements to “review this guidance to help ensure that supervisory concerns are addressed.”

Supervisory Letter SR 15-15 casts a long shadow, with little clarity as to the line between acceptable and unacceptable arrangements. SR 15-15 cites a wide array of potentially objectionable shareholder protection arrangements, but then indicates that supervisory staff has “in some instances” found that these arrangements would “have negative implications on a holding company’s capital or financial position, limit a holding company’s financial flexibility and capital-raising capacity, or otherwise impair a holding company’s ability to raise additional capital.”  Presumably speaking only of these particular arrangements (although not clearly so stating), SR 15-15 states “[t]hese arrangements impede the ability of a holding company to serve as a source of strength to its insured depository subsidiaries and were considered unsafe and unsound.”

SR 15-15 provides a number of examples of categories of shareholder protection arrangements that have (sometimes) raised supervisory issues.  Some of these examples are entirely consistent with past Federal Reserve precedent and are generally impermissible in bank-related investments, including price protections in offering arrangements whereby a holding company agrees to a cash payment or additional shares to the investor in the event that additional shares are issued in subsequent transactions at lower prices.  These “down-round” provisions have always been viewed by the Federal Reserve as acting as an impermissible disincentive (and potential disabling mechanism) for a holding company to raise additional capital going forward.  (In a surprising move of clarity, the Federal Reserve guidance does, by footnote, specifically indicate that preemptive rights, or the right to participate in subsequent offerings to prevent dilution of ownership, does not, in general, raise any supervisory concerns.)

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Loan Sale and Loan Participation Lessons Learned From the Recession, Part 2

(Note: Part 1 is available here.)

One of the problem areas that came up during the recession was the accounting treatment for loan participations and loan sales. The difficulty arose from the fact that FASB changed the guidance for how to recognize a “true sale” several times over the last decade and not all banks realized that their form documents needed to be changed to reflect those changes. The current guidance is now found in Accounting Standards Codification Topic 860 “Transfer and Servicing” (formerly FAS 166 “Accounting for Transfers of Financial Assets”) which itself was an update of FAS 140 “Accounting Transfers and Servicing of Financial Assets and Extinguishments of Liabilities.

If we go back ten years ago, there were several different variations on how loan participations divided distributions from loan payments among the parties. Pro rata is perhaps the most common but it was also typical to see both LIFO (last in first out) and FIFO (first in first out) arrangements. The older accounting treatment allowed an institution using any these different distribution models to be treat the transaction as a true sale, thus removing the asset from its books. The accounting treatment today is dramatically different. Under ASC 860, neither LIFO nor FIFO participations transferred on or after the beginning of a bank’s first annual reporting period that began after November 15, 2009 qualify for sale accounting and must instead be reported as secured borrowings.

Many banks actually used preprinted loan participation forms where one simply checks the block showing whether distributions were shared pro rata, LIFO, or FIFO and continued to use such forms after the FAS change. This resulted in interesting situations where pieces of the same loans can receive differing accounting treatments. For example, assume that Bank A originated a $1 million loan on June 1, 2009 and sold 50% of it on a LIFO basis to Bank B on the same date. Assuming that it meets all of the tests necessary to move an asset off of its books then Bank A can treat that as a true sale. If Bank A later sells another 10% of the loan to Bank C on March 1, 2010, also on a LIFO basis, that transfer will not be treated as a true sale and must be accounted as a secured loan by Bank C to Bank A.

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How to Get the Most out of Annual Board Reviews

There has never been a more challenging time to be a bank director. The combination of today’s hugely competitive banking market, increased regulatory burden and rapid technological developments have raised the bar for director oversight and performance. In response, an increasing number of community banks have begun to assess the performance of directors on an annual basis.

Evaluation of board performance is done in many ways, and ranges from an assessment by the board of its performance as a whole to peer-to-peer evaluation of individual directors. Public company boards are increasingly being encouraged by institutional investors and proxy advisory firms to conduct meaningful assessments of individual director performance. The pace of turnover and change on most bank boards is slow, and more often the result of mandatory retirement age limits than focus by the board on individual director performance. This may be untenable, however, as the pace of external change affecting financial institutions often greatly exceeds the pace of changes on the bank’s board.

While some institutions prefer a more ad hoc approach to assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the board and its directors, we suggest that a more formal approach, perhaps in advance of your board’s annual strategic planning sessions, can be a powerful tool. These assessments can improve communication between management and the board, identify new skills that may not be possessed by the current directors, and encourage engagement by all directors. If used correctly, these assessments often provide valuable information that can focus the board’s strategic plan and help shape future conversations on board and management succession.

So what are the key considerations in designing an effective board evaluation process? Let’s look at some points of emphasis:

  • Think big picture. Ask the board as a whole to consider the skill sets needed for the board to be effective in today’s environment. For example, does the board have a director with a solid understanding of technology and its impact on the financial services industry? Are there any board members with compliance experience in a regulated industry? Does the board have depth in any areas such as financial literacy, in order to provide successors to committee chairs when needed? Do you have any directors who graduated from high school after 1985?
  • Develop a matrix. Determine the gaps in your board’s needs by first writing down all of the skill sets required for an effective board, and then chart which of those needs are filled by current directors. Then discuss which of the missing attributes are most important to fill first. In particular, consider whether demographic changes in your market will make recruiting a diverse and/or female candidate a priority.
  • Determine the best approach to assessment. Engaging in an exercise of skills assessment will often focus a board on which gaps must be filled. It can also focus a board on the need to assess individual board member performance. Many boards are not prepared to launch into a full peer evaluation process, and a self-assessment approach can be a good initial step. Prepare a self-assessment form that touches upon the aspects of being an effective director, such as engagement, preparedness, level of contribution and knowledge of the bank’s business and industry. Then, have each director complete the self-assessment, with a follow-up meeting scheduled with the chair of the governance committee and lead independent director for a conversation about board performance. These conversations are often the most impactful part of the assessment process.
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Loan Sale and Loan Participation Lessons Learned From the Recession, Part 1

Watching loan participation activity over the last decade has been like watching the progression of a car on a roller coaster. The early to mid-2000’s showed the car heading ever upward and then in 2008-09 it hurtled downwards at breakneck speed. The last several years have shown a resurgence as the car begins climbing slowly back up the track. Not surprisingly, the FDIC has taken notice of that trend and issued a Financial Institution Letter on Effective Risk Management Practices for Purchased Loans and Purchased Loan Participations in November of 2015.

The reasons why lenders want to sell either loan participations or whole loans and others want to purchase them remain the same today as they were a decade ago. Sellers may have loan to one borrower issues that a loan participation may cure, they may be seeking to reduce overall exposure to a particular borrower or industry or they may find that providing loan product for other institutions is a profitable venture as it may generate gains on sale as well as servicing income depending on how the sale is structured. Buyers are looking to broaden their geographic and industry diversity in order to better manage the overall credit risk inherent in their portfolio and it may be more cost-effective to source loans from another lender than trying to originate them yourself. Another, more recent development, has been the purchase of loans from peer-to-peer non-bank lenders who operate on a national basis.

When the US economy hit the skids in the 2007-2010 time frame with its corresponding bank failures, it became clear that in many situations loan participations had not generated the expected benefits. There were several reasons for this, the most significant being that simply obtaining geographic diversity of ADC loans still left a lender susceptible to outsized losses when that segment of the economy ground to a halt. Too many community banks failed to realize that true diversity in a loan portfolio means that ADC can only be a portion of the entire portfolio, not the entire portfolio, even if you have geographic diversity. The perceived reduction in risk was therefore illusory.

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Rinearson Identifies How US is Behind in FinTech Innovation

London and New York Partner Judith Rinearson authored a “Bankthink” opinion piece posted on the front page of American Banker  on Dec. 28 regarding differences in how the payments industry is perceived and supported in the U.S. and Europe.

“My biggest surprise after moving to London in September is how far the U.S. has to catch up to the United Kingdom and other European Union countries in the fintech and payments innovation race. Compared with their U.S. counterparts, U.K. and EU regulators are really trying to encourage payment innovation through licensing regimes. One thoughtful and pragmatic step taken by the U.K.’s payments regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, was to ask industry for its input on appropriate policy. But the U.K. and EU’s bigger advantage is how their ‘e-money’ and payment service licensing processes work compared with U.S. state money transmitter laws.”

Click here to read her full article.

Rinearson is leader of Bryan Cave’s global Prepaid & Emerging Payments Team and has recently been named co-chair of the firm’s new Fintech Team.

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CFPB Denied

CFPB Denied

November 11, 2015

Authored by: Robert Klingler

Invoking memories of Apple’s famed 1984 Superbowl commercial, a group called the American Action Network aired an anti-CFPB spot during last night’s Republican presidential debate. If nothing else, the spot should encourage further discussion of the role and impact of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The spot certainly portrays the CFPB in an evil light that is sure to please many in the banking industry, but its broader impact is less certain. A well-written piece by the American Banker offers several reasons why the ad could backfire, not the least of which is the hyperbolic nature of (and shortcuts taken by) the spot.

And former FDIC Chair Sheila Bair seems to agree.

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The State of Banking in Atlanta: 2015 vs. 2005

Last week we looked at the state of banking in Georgia based on the FDIC’s latest summary of deposits information, and now we turn our focus to Atlanta.  The overall number of banks in the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area (the 9th largest MSA in the country), fell from 138 to 97, a 30% decline.  As in broader Georgia, this number overstates the decline of independent banking organizations, as the number of holding companies operating multiple bank charters in the Atlanta area fell from 4 to 1, with the number of unaffiliated financial institutions falling from 126 to 96 (a 24% decline).

The total amount of deposits assigned to branches in the Atlanta MSA rose from $95 billion to $146 billion, a 54% increase (as compared to a 43% increase for the entire state, and an increase of only 23% in the state but outside the Atlanta MSA).  The total number of branches in the MSA fell from 1,342 to 1,294, a 4% decline. These effects combined to increase the average amount of deposits per branch in Atlanta from $71 million to $113 million, a 60% increase.

Like Georgia more broadly, between increasing total deposits and industry consolidation, Atlanta saw an increase in the number of larger institutions operating within the MSA.  The number of institutions with more than $2 billion in deposits increased from 6 institutions to 12, while the number of institutions with between $500 million and $2 billion declined slightly from 10 to nine.  The number of institutions with between $250 million and $500 million in deposits fell from 23 to 14, a 39% decline, the number of institutions with between $100 million and $250 million in deposits fell from 41 to 27, a 34% decline, and the number of institutions with less than $100 million in deposits fell from 42 to 30, a 29% decline.  Consistent with these trends by asset size, but potentially inconsistent with a broader message of unending industry consolidation, the number of banks in the Atlanta MSA with more than 1% of the total deposits in the MSA increased from 9 to 14 banks (and the number of Georgia-based institutions with more than 1% of total deposits increased from 5 to 8).

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Employee Stock Ownership Plans: Another Tool for Family-Owned Banks

Today’s economy presents numerous challenges to community bank profitability—compressed net interest margins, increased regulation, and management teams fatigued by the crisis. In response to these obstacles, many boards of directors are exploring new ways to reduce expenses, retain qualified management teams, and offer opportunities for liquidity to current shareholders short of a sale or merger of the institution.

For many family-owned banks, their deep roots in the community and a desire to see their banks thrive under continued family ownership into future generations can cause these challenges to be felt even more acutely. In particular, recruiting and retaining the “next generation” of management can be difficult. Cash compensation is often not competitive with the compensatory packages offered by publicly-traded institutions, and equity awards for management officials are unattractive given the limited liquidity of the underlying stock. All the while, these institutions should ensure that their owners have reasonable assurances of liquidity as needs arise or as investment preferences change. In combination, these challenges can often overwhelm a family-owned bank’s desire to remain independent.

Depending on the condition of the institution, implementing an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, may help a board address many of these challenges. While the ESOP is first a means of extending stock ownership to the institution’s employees, an ESOP can have other applications for family-owned banks.

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