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Who Will be the Next Community Bank Acquirer of Choice in Georgia?

On September 13, 2019, the FDIC released the latest results of its annual summary of deposits survey data. The deposit market share data always presents an interesting view of the banking market, particularly when viewed over time.

As of June 30, 2019, roughly $256 billion in deposits were held in Georgia, up from $250 billion in 2017 and $197 billion in 2014. While total deposits are up, the number of banks and branches have each continued to decline. Five years ago, there were 259 banks with branches in Georgia; today (assuming completion of announced mergers), there are 208 banks with branches in Georgia. While the number of branches have also declined, the rate of decline is not as significant: 2,526 branches in 2014 to 2,254 branches today.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Deposits per branch have been steadily on the rise for years. In 2005, Georgia averaged $57 million per branch. By 2014, that number has risen to $78 million per branch, and today the figure is $114 million per branch.

Adjusting for announced mergers, the “big three” in Georgia (Truist, Bank of America and Wells Fargo) now hold roughly 55% of the deposits in Georgia. This is up from 53% two years ago and 51% five years ago, but down slightly if one were to include BB&T in the historical totals.

As of June 30, 2019, fourteen institutions have at least 1% of the Georgia deposit market share, one more than five years ago. Six additional banks in Georgia now have at least $1 billion in Georgia deposits, from 18 in 2014 to 24 in 2019 (and that’s excluding BB&T in 2019 based on its pending merger with SunTrust).

But as suggested by the headline to this post, I think the really interesting data is in the relative sizes of the banks with at least 10% of their respective total deposit bases in Georgia (i.e. banks in which Georgia represents a significant portion of their deposit base, whether they call Georgia home or not). We have not only seen a material decline in the number of these institutions, but the asset size distribution has radically changed over just the last two years.

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Board Cohesiveness During Merger Consideration Process

Bank merger activity is reducing the number of U.S. banks at a rate of about 5% per year. It’s unclear how long this pace of industry consolidation will continue. Investment bankers, who have an interest in the level of activity continuing, are often quick to counsel bank boards of directors that the merger market may never be better than it is right now. Each year, the boards of hundreds of banks decide to heed the advice of those suggesting it’s time to sell.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A decision to sell a bank is one of the two most important decisions a board addresses (the other being selection of the CEO in a succession process). The strength of a board lies in the manner in which it approaches such a decision. Some boards will have gone through a lengthy process of reaching consensus before exploring potential merger opportunities. Others will find themselves considering unexpected merger offers without first having reached consensus. Vigorous debate can be healthy and productive in the process of a board reaching the best decision for the bank and its shareholders. Regardless of the circumstances in which a potential sale or merger of a bank is being considered, it is critical that all board members have access to the same level of information and be able to provide input throughout the process.

When board members believe they have been kept out of the loop on information flow, or they haven’t been adequately involved in considering a course of action, the strength of a board is undercut. Decision making is often adversely impacted as a result. This is particularly true in connection with consideration of the sale of a bank. Throughout the process of a board investigating options and considering strategic alternatives, the board members should have confidence that they are privy to all communications of importance with both professional advisers and potential merger partners.

We have seen far too many instances in which a director, on his or her own initiative and without authorization from the board as a whole, embarks on private outreach to potential merger partners. These directors usually feel justified in such action as a result of frustration with the pace at which the full board is moving or a sense that the CEO is resistant to the idea of selling the bank. Whatever the driving force, such independent action by a director can result in a breakdown in trust among the board and rarely results in a successful merger transaction.

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On the BB&T/SunTrust Merger…

On the BB&T/SunTrust Merger…

February 7, 2019

Authored by: Jonathan Hightower

Many of us who are native Southerners sat with mouths agape as we read the announcement of the $66 billion (!) all-stock merger of equals between super regional banks BB&T and SunTrust. Few of us who grew up in Georgia have not been personally impacted by these banks in some way or another. For me, my aunt worked at Trust Company Bank when I was a kid, and BB&T bought a local thrift (Carrollton Federal), making its way into our home market where it remains today. After college, law school barely beat out an offer to work in SunTrust’s commercial lending training program, and BB&T currently holds the mortgage on my home. With all of those ties, I feel somewhat nostalgic when reading that the bank will be rebranded as a part of the merger.

With that said, the real time business implications for all of us are even larger. The day before the merger, my friend Jeff Davis wrote a smart piece ($) detailing the virtues of merger of equals transactions in today’s world. BB&T recently discussed on its earnings call that it was accelerating cost savings initiatives in order to invest more in its digital offerings. With the announced merger, one can assume that the lab for digital innovation of the combined bank (to be based in Charlotte, a bit of a disappointment to the Atlanta community) will make a massive effort to transform the banking experience of the bank’s customers, a truly meaningful segment of the market. We have recently commented that the transformation of the Atlanta banking market is now a reality, and this combination promises to further evolve how many banking customers think of and interact with their banks.

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2018 Bank M&A Statistics

2018 Bank M&A Statistics

January 7, 2019

Authored by: Robert Klingler

2018 was only the fourth most active year over the last five years in terms of the number of insured institutions that agreed to sell. However, perspective is also important, as 2018 was also the fourth most active year over the last ten years, and the most active if measured as a percentage of institutions available to sell. 2018’s 262 bank and thrift deals ended up slightly lower than 2017’s 267 transactions. Based on the 6,670 insured banks and thrifts outstanding as the beginning of the year, 4.6% exited through a business combination.

Until and unless we see significantly more de novo activities, it seems unlikely that we will return to 300 transactions in any given year, as we last saw in 2014.  However, on an annualized basis, the second quarter of 201 saw 336 transactions!  Similarly, looking at a four quarter rolling total, we had more than 280 deals announced both between Q3 ’17 and Q2 ’18 and between Q4 ’17 and Q3 ’18. Each institution’s decision to sell remains subject to a number of unique considerations, but, all else equal, we would expect 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.

2018 reflected, consistent with recent trends – although perhaps not yet reflecting the year-end stock declines – 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 and 2018 has risen to 1.6x book, with 2018 slightly higher than 2017.  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). 

2018 marks the seventh straight year with over 240 transactions announced during the year, and the fifth straight year in which more than 4% of the institutions at the beginning of the year sold. Based on these trends, and without attempting to identify how the financial sector’s market decline will impact M&A activity, this would point to between 217 and 250 deals to be announced in 2018.

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The Football Fan’s Guide to M&A Transactions

With both college and professional (not to mention fantasy) football in full swing, we find many conversations with clients drifting to topics from the
gridiron at this time of year.  Given that many of us are devoting a significant amount of our personal time to following our favorite teams, many times business points are best illustrated at this time of year by using football analogies.

Certain sports agents have posited that the highest achieving football coaches could easily run Fortune 500 companies but instead chose to coach football for a living.  While that point is debatable, we can certainly draw from the talking points of today’s best coaches in setting a framework for approaching a merger transaction.  While we can’t deliver Nick Saban, Bill Belichick, or Kirby Smart to your boardroom, use these sound bites to your advantage in setting the tone for how your board addresses an M&A transaction.

    1. Trust the process. “The Process” has become a hallmark of the University of Alabama’s championship dynasty.  Coach Saban focuses on the individual elements that yield the best results by the end of the season.  Similarly, a well-planned process can be trusted to yield the best long-term results.  This simple point is among the easiest for boards to miss.  We are often concerned when clients engage in “opportunistic” M&A activity.  Instead, we prefer to see a carefully planned process that includes the following fundamental elements:
      * Parameters around the profile that potential partners should have, including market presence, lines of business, and size;
      * Clearly defined financial goals and walkaway points; i.e., those metrics beyond which no deal can be justified;
      * For sellers, the forms of consideration that will be acceptable (i.e., publicly-traded stock, privately-held stock, or cash); and
      * Selection of qualified advisors.
    2. Self-scout. Great football teams have an honest self-awareness of their strengths and weaknesses and grasp them on a deeper level than their opponents.  Buyers and sellers should also have a frank assessment of their shortcomings.  In planning for the M&A process, those weaknesses should be addressed in advance to the extent possible.  To the extent they cannot be fixed in advance of embarking on an M&A process, parties should provide a transparent assessment of their weaknesses to potential partners.  Doing so enhances credibility and builds trust in the other facets of due diligence.
    3. Know the tendencies of your opponent. On the other side of self-scouting is a great team’s ability to understand and address the weaknesses of its opponents.  While we never advise clients to think of M&A partners as adversaries, advance due diligence of a potential partner to identify their needs can certainly help lead to a successful transaction.  At its core, a good M&A transaction is about giving a potential partner something it does not have and cannot build for itself.  To the extent that parties can identify the needs of potential partners in advance of their initial conversations, they can speak directly to those needs at the outset, thus positioning themselves as an optimal partner in a crowded M&A field.
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2017 Bank M&A Statistics

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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Acquire or Be Acquired 2018 M&A Simulation

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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Dealing with an Unsolicited Offer

On the latest episode of The Bank Account, in preparation #SharkWeek, Jonathan and I discuss unsolicited offers and some of the approaches for bank boards to deal with them.  Topics covered include:

  • Senator Warren’s declaration that OCC Acting Comptroller Keith Noreika is a “swamp thing;”
  • unsolicited versus hostile approaches;
  • approaches to sell a bank, including full auctions, limited auctions, and negotiated transactions;
  • the need to have a current strategic plan and an understanding of the financial impact of such plan;
  • the-bank-accountthe value of having a Policy for Corporate Change to ensure discussions about offers to acquire the bank find their way to the boardroom for discussion by the full board;
  • dealing with an unsolicited offer in the middle of a negotiated transaction; and
  • the value of having experienced advisors, like Bryan Cave LLP, at your side as you address these issues.

You can also always follow us on Twitter.

Jonathan is @HightowerBanks and I’m @RobertKlingler.  Our producer, Sam Katz, is @SamathaJill1.

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FRB Lifts Threshold for Financial Stability Review

In its March 2017 approval of People United Financial, Inc.’s merger with Suffolk Bancorp (the “Peoples United Order”), the Federal Reserve Board eased the approval criteria for certain smaller bank merger transactions by expanding its presumption regarding proposals that do not raise material financial stability concerns and providing for approval under delegated authority for such proposals.  The Dodd-Frank Act amended Section 3 of the Bank Holding Company Act to require the Federal Reserve to consider the “extent to which a proposed acquisition, merger, or consolidation would result in greater or more concentrated risks to the stability of the United States banking or financial system.”

In a 2012 approval order, the Federal Reserve established a presumption that a proposal that involves an acquisition of less than $2 billion in assets, that results in a firm with less than $25 billion in total assets, or that represents a corporate reorganization, may be presumed not to raise material financial stability concerns absent evidence that the transaction would result in a significant increase in interconnectedness, complexity, cross-border activities, or other risks factors.  In the Peoples United Order, the Federal Reserve indicated that since establishing this presumption in 2012, its experience has been that proposals involving an acquisition of less than $10 billion in assets, or that results in a firm with less than $100 billion in total assets, generally do not create institutions that pose systemic risks and typically have not involved, or resulted in, firms with activities, structures and operations that are complex or opaque.

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Pinnacle Financial’s Acquisition of BNC Bancorp

Our new podcast recording studio features fake palm trees and an oaken barrel (off camera), neither of which likely materially impacts Episode 9 of The Bank Account.  Nonetheless, Jonathan and I enjoyed the change in scenery as we discussed the just announced $1.9 billion merger of Pinnacle Financial Partners, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, and BNC Bancorp, headquartered in High Point, North Carolina.

In addition, we recorded the episode with a new microphone.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure the new microphone makes us sound any smarter, but it definitely improves the sound quality!

In anticipation of our presentation of a bank merger simulation at Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference this coming weekend, Jonathan and I spend this episode walking through the details of the transaction and looking at what signals it may send to future transaction activity in the Southeast generally, and North Carolina specifically.

the-bank-accountPlease click to subscribe to the feed on iTunes, Android, Email or MyCast. It is also now available in the iTunes and Google Play searchable podcast directories.

You can also follow-us on Twitter for updates between podcast episodes @RobertKlingler and @hightowerbanks.

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