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Senate-passed Regulatory Reform Offers Real Benefits to Depository Institutions under $10 Billion in Assets

March 15, 2018

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On March 14, 2018, the Senate passed, 67-31, the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, or S. 2155.  While it may lack a catchy name, its substance is of potentially great importance to community banks.

The following summary focuses on the impact of the bill for depository institutions with less than $10 billion in consolidated assets.  The bill would also have some significant impacts on larger institutions, which could, in turn, affect smaller banks… either as a result of competition or, perhaps more likely, through a re-ignition of larger bank merger and acquisition activity.  However, we thought it was useful to focus on the over 5,000 banks in the United States that have less than $10 billion in assets.

Community Bank Leverage Ratio

Section 201 of the bill requires the federal banking regulators to promulgate new regulations which would provide a “community bank leverage ratio” for depository institutions with consolidated assets of less than $10 billion.

The bill calls for the regulators to adopt a threshold for the community bank leverage ratio of between 8% and 10%.  Institutions under $10 billion in assets that meet such community bank leverage ratio will automatically be deemed to be well-capitalized.  However, the bill does provide that the regulators will retain the flexibility to determine that a depository institution (or class of depository institutions) may not qualify for the “community bank leverage ratio” test based on the institution’s risk profile.

The bill provides that the community bank leverage ratio will be calculated based on the ratio of the institution’s tangible equity capital divided by the average total consolidated assets.  For institutions meeting this community bank leverage ratio, risk-weighting analysis and compliance would become irrelevant from a capital compliance perspective.

Volcker Rule Relief

Section 203 of the bill provides an exemption from the Volcker Rule for institutions that are less than $10 billion and whose total trading assets and liabilities are not more than 5% of total consolidated assets.  The exemption provides complete relief from the Volcker Rule by exempting such depository institutions from the definition of “banking entity” for purposes of the Volcker Rule.

Accordingly, depository institutions with less than $10 billion in assets (unless they have significant trading assets and liabilities) will not be subject to either the proprietary trading or covered fund prohibitions of the Volcker Rule.

While few such institutions historically undertook proprietary trading, the relief from the compliance burdens is still a welcome one.  It will also re-open the ability depository institutions (and their holding companies) to invest in private equity funds, including fintech funds.  While such investments would still need to be confirmed to be permissible investments under the chartering authority of the institution (or done at a holding company level), these types of investments can be financially and strategically attractive.

Expansion of Small Bank Holding Company Policy Statement

Section 207 of the bill calls upon the federal banking regulators to, within 180 days of passage, raise the asset threshold under the Small Bank Holding Company Policy Statement from $1 billion to $3 billion.

Institutions qualifying for treatment under the Policy Statement are not subject to consolidated capital requirements at the holding company level; instead, regulatory capital ratios only apply at the subsidiary bank level. This rule allows small bank holding companies to use non-equity funding, such as holding company loans or subordinated debt, to finance growth.

Small bank holding companies can also consider the use of leverage to fund share repurchases and otherwise provide liquidity to shareholders to satisfy shareholder needs and remain independent. One of the biggest drivers of sales of our clients is a lack of liquidity to offer shareholders who may want to make a different investment choice. Through an increased ability to add leverage, affected companies can consider passing this increased liquidity to shareholders through share repurchases or increased dividends.

Of course, each board should consider its practical ability to deploy the additional funding generated from taking on leverage, as interest costs can drain profitability if the proceeds from the debt are not deployed in a profitable manner. However, the ability to generate the same income at the bank level with a lower capital base at the holding company level should prove favorable even without additional growth.  This expansion of the small bank holding company policy statement would significantly increase the ability of community banks to obtain significant efficiencies of scale while still providing enhanced returns to its equity holders.

Institutions engaged in significant nonbanking activities, that conduct significant off-balance sheet activities, or have a material amount of debt or equity securities outstanding that are registered with the SEC would remain ineligible for treatment under the Policy Statement, and the regulators would be able to exclude any institution for supervisory purposes.

HVCRE Modifications

Section 214 of the bill would specify that federal banking regulators may not impose higher capital standards on High Volatility Commercial Real Estate (HVCRE) exposures unless they are for acquisition, development or construction (ADC), and it clarifies what constitutes ADC status. The HVCRE ADC treatment would not apply to one-to-four-family residences, agricultural land, community development investments or existing income-producing real estate secured by a mortgage, or to any loans made prior to Jan. 1, 2015.

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Getting to Yes: A Conversation About Deal Certainty

March 2, 2018

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the-bank-accountJonathan and I discuss deal protections and considerations – from the initial emotions of deciding to sell through deal signing in this latest episode of The Bank Account.

This episode has, in my opinion, some great information for banks looking to undertake M&A activity, from either the buyer or seller’s perspective.  But, I’m most impressed with our smooth transition from friendly banter about our upcoming Ragnar race to our substantive discussion.  (Of course the face that I’m impressed only emphasises that I shouldn’t quit my day job.)

As noted on the podcast and previously, we are sponsoring two teams, one of lawyers and one of bankers, for the Atlanta Ragnar Trail Run on April 13th and 14th.  Sixteen of us will be taking turns running five mile legs at the Georgia International Horse Park over a 24-hour (or so) period.  Today we settled on team names: Team BSA and AML.  Team BSA (or Bankers Speed Ahead) will generally consist of our friendly bankers, while Team AML (or Awkwardly Moving Lawyers) will consist of our compatriots from the firm.  We’re pretty comfortable that the names will accurately reflect the results.

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Reinvestment Opportunities Created by Tax Reform

February 16, 2018

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the-bank-accountJonathan and I are back in our studio, and took this opportunity to talk a little about what we’re seeing from our clients, particularly as it comes to reinvesting their tax savings into future opportunities.  Before digging into substance, we first take a little time on the therapist’s couch to address Jonathan’s experience at the College Football National Championship Game. Only 190 days until college football is back!

With regard to tax reform savings, the go to resource for identifying the breadth of ways that banks are addressing is the American Bankers Association’s page at aba.com/EnergizingTheEconomy.  As you can see from that list, the responses really run the gamut of possibilities, including salary increases, increasing employee benefits, greater charitable contributions, new positions and products, fintech investments and addressing margin compression.

As noted on the podcast, we are sponsoring two teams, one of lawyers and one of bankers, for the Atlanta Ragnar Trail Run on April 13th and 14th.  Sixteen of us will be taking turns running five mile legs at the Georgia International Horse Park over a 24-hour (or so) period.  More details to follow, but we’re certainly expanding away from traditional marketing efforts.

We also hope you’ll consider joining us in Macon, Georgia, on April 4, 2018, for the Georgia Bankers Association’s Current Expected Credit Loss (CECL) Workshop.  We’ll be joining our friends from Mauldin & Jenkins to discuss upcoming regulatory changes and the impact of tax reform from a strategic perspective.

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Partnering with Mercer Capital to Discuss Partnering with FinTechs

February 8, 2018

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In our fourth and final podcast recorded onsite at Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired (AOBA) Conference, we were honored to be joined by Jay Wilson with Mercer Capital.  Jay discusses, from start to finish, how banks should explore partnering with fintech companies.  Jay is the author of Creating Strategic Value through Financial Technology that looks how traditional financial institutions and FinTech companies can boost innovation and enhance valuation in a complex regulatory environment.

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We hope you enjoy this episode of The Bank Account.  This is the fourth and final podcast episode we recorded in Phoenix.  As you can see (and hear), we stepped outside on the grounds of the beautiful Arizona Biltmore hotel and enjoyed beautiful February weather.  Unfortunately, while the surrounding area seemed completely quiet before we started recording, once we hit record, every moving van, dump truck and other sound-making person, plant, animal and equipment seemed to invade our lovely spot.  But we think the quality of the conversation with Jay (and the lovely weather and environment) more than makes up for any audio issues.  We hope you enjoy the conversation with Jay as much as we did. 

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2018 Banking Trends with Raymond James

February 5, 2018

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In our third podcast recorded onsite at Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired (AOBA) Conference, we were honored to be joined by Bill Wagner and Matt Paramore with Raymond James.  Bill and Matt shared their outlook for 2018, including the potential of North Carolina serving as a potential preview for community banking across the country and the potential renewed entry of de novo participants.

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Another topic discussed with Bill and Matt is the impact of private equity monetizing some of their investments in financial institutions over the last several years, with the ability to monetize those investments with either M&A or by secondary security sales.  The ability for private equity to exit as reasonable pricing opens significant potential for management teams that believe that continued organic growth and returns can deliver long-term results for all shareholders.  We hope you enjoy this episode of The Bank Account.

This is the third of several podcast episodes we recorded in Phoenix.  Sound quality isn’t quite as good as you may have come to expect as we’re back on an older microphone and, as you can see from the pictures, our recording “studio” was rather large.  But we think the quality of the conversation with Bill and Matt more than makes up for any audio issues.  We hope you enjoy the conversation with Bill and Matt as much as we did. 

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A Recap of the AOBA M&A Simulation with FIG Partners

February 1, 2018

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On the second day of Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired (AOBA) Conference, we were honored to co-host with FIG Partners for the second year, the M&A Simulation.  The M&A Simulation is an exclusive, bankers-only, session at AOBA that attempts to walk through the initial stages of a bank merger.  Like last year, we divided the attending bankers into three groups, representing the boards of directors of three distinct participants: Bank A, a $700 million bank looking to sell, and Banks B & C, two larger potential acquirers.

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Immediately after the simulation, we sat down with Matt Veneri and Dan Flaherty with FIG Partners for a quick recap of the AOBA18 M&A Simulation on The Bank Account.

This is the second of several podcast episodes we recorded in Phoenix.  Sound quality isn’t quite as good as you may have come to expect as we’re back on an older microphone, but we jumped at the opportunity to be able to share our conversations with so many interesting colleagues at Acquire or Be Acquired.  We hope you enjoy the conversation with Matt and Dan as much as we did. We’re already planning a few new tricks for the M&A Simulation at the 2019 Acquire or Be Acquired Conference, and hope you’ll look to join us then.

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A Conversation with Rory McKinney of D.A. Davidson; Day 1 at AOBA

January 29, 2018

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the-bank-accountFor the next several The Bank Account episodes, we’re on the road at Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired (AOBA) Conference.  In our first installment from AOBA, we highlight our respective take-aways from the first day of AOBA and then sit down with Rory McKinney, Managing Director and Head of Investment Banking for D.A. Davison & Co. to discuss Rory’s outlook for bank M&A activity in 2018.

This is the first of several podcast episodes we recorded in Phoenix.  Sound quality isn’t quite as good as you may have come to expect as we’re back on an older microphone, but we jumped at the opportunity to be able to share our conversations with so many interesting colleagues at Acquire or Be Acquired.  We hope you enjoy the conversation with Rory McKinney as much as we did.

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2017 Bank M&A Statistics

January 3, 2018

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2017 Bank M&A Statistics

January 3, 2018

Authored by: Robert Klingler

It looks like we’ll end 2017 with a total of 263 bank and thrift transactions, representing a slight increase in the number of deals over 2016 (250), but well below 2014 and 2015 levels (307 and 294, respectively).  However, in light of the decline in total number of banks (and the dearth of de novo activity), 2017 basically equaled 2014 and 2015 transaction activity, with approximately 4.5% of institutions at the beginning of the year exiting through a business combination.  (2016’s 250 transactions represented approximately 4.0% of the outstanding banks at the beginning of 2016.)

Until and unless we see more de novo activities, it seems unlikely that we will return to 300 transactions in any given year.  However, on an annualized basis, the fourth quarter of 2017 saw 296 transactions!  Were 2018 to keep up that pace, over 5% of the remaining banks in the country would need to sell.  Each institution’s decision to sell remains subject to a number of unique considerations, but, if anything, it would seem the percentage of institutions selling in any given year would likely decline rather than increase going forward.

We are strong proponents of the proposition that “banks are sold, not bought.”  The fact that there remain a number of institutions looking to grow by completing acquisitions is thus unlikely to fundamentally change the number of transactions in any particular year.  Conversely, the age and stage of banks in the industry (and that of their management teams) remains a critical component of many sale determinations.  As we continue to see a shrinking universe of financial institutions, it stands to reason that we will also continue to see a decline in the number of institutions that decide a sale is the right strategic decision in any particular year.

2017 reflected, consistent with recent trends, a continued increase in the average price-to-book multiple paid in bank transactions.  While the average price-to-book multiple in 2014, 2015 and 2016 were each approximately 1.3 times book, average pricing in 2017 rose to almost 1.6x book.  This level of pricing likely continues to serve as a negative deterrent to de novo formation, as it’s much easier to build a broadly attractive investment model if it includes a sale for 3x book in 5 years (or less).  Looking at a more granular, quarterly, level, it would appear that the 2017 increase is likely tied to the “Trump bump” in bank stock prices.  The average price-to-book multiple rose to 1.4x in the fourth quarter of 2016 (which included pre-and post- Trump bump prices), and then jumped up 1.5x to 1.6x for each quarter in 2017.

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Tax Reform for Sub S Banks and a 2017 Year-end M&A Review

December 29, 2017

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the-bank-accountOn the latest episode of The Bank Account, Jonathan and I analyzed the Rose Bowl, pitting Jonathan’s Georgia Bulldogs against Jonathan’s In-Laws’ Oklahoma Sooners.  With critical generational analysis, Jonathan won me over to support Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs; I simply have to support Generation X over a Millennial. We then turned our focus to on-topic banking issues: the impact of tax reform on Subchapter S banks and a look in review at the 2017 banking m&a market.

For Subchapter S institutions, tax reform offers/requires a re-evaluation of the tax consequences of a Subchapter S tax election.  While institutions regularly assess the overall tax difference involved in a Subchapter S tax election at the time of making the election, that analysis is often then put in the closet, and only rarely re-addressed upon future strategic decisions.  However, with the decline in the corporate tax rate to 21%, it now behooves Subchapter S institutions, particularly those that retain a significant amount of their earnings to support future growth, to update that analysis. Jonathan and I discuss some of the factors affecting that analysis, as well as the timing implications to make effective for 2018.

Looking at the final M&A statistics for 2017, it looks like we’ll end the year with a slight uptick in the number of deals (259, up from 250 in 2016), but remain significantly below 2014 and 2015 levels.   In addition, the average size of the selling banks in 2017 has declined significantly (almost 25% smaller, based on averages).  Jonathan and I discuss these trends, and make a few predictions on M&A going forward.

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Acquire or Be Acquired 2018 M&A Simulation

December 19, 2017

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We are looking forward to running the M&A Simulation at Bank Director’s 2018 Acquire or Be Acquired Conference with our friends at FIG Partners.  This is the second year we’ve teamed up with FIG Partners to present a simulation of the community bank merger and acquisition sale process.  We’ve identified the basics of this year’s fictional banks, and are looking forward to another exciting simulation.

The simulation is an exclusive session at Acquire or Be Acquired, is open to 45 bank attendees only and fills up quickly.  If you’re planning to attend AOBA and want to ensure your spot in the simulation, please contact us.  If you’re interested in attending and haven’t already registered the conference, please contact us to receive our sponsorship code for a $400 discount.

The 2017 simulation involved competing bidders for a billion dollar community bank, identified as Bank A.  Bank B, a $1.3 billion institution, offered a merger of equals opportunity, hoping that one plus one could equal three, while Bank C, a $6 billion institution with strong organic growth, was able to win the hearts and minds of Bank A with a strong all stock offer.  The simulation ultimately mirrored what we often see, small buyers must be very creative or seek opportunities that are not coveted by larger, more highly valued public buyers. See our write-up of the 2017 M&A Simulation for additional information.

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