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2019 Banking Landscape – Charter Types

Whenever discussing bank charter types, I’m reminded of a comparison made by Walt Moeling. Walt would always say that the bank charter choice is like choosing between a Ford and a Chevy truck. There are strong, die-hard advocates for the superiority of one over the other. But either one is functionally adequate, and will enable you to get from location a to b. Of course, neither is going to be confused for a Lamborghini or a Maserati either.

Looking at the breakdown of charters as of the beginning of 2019, while the majority of all U.S. banks are state, non-member banks (i.e. with primary federal supervision by the FDIC), each charter choice appears to continue to have its advocates.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the primary federal prudential regulator for national banks, has earned a reputation as the regulator of the largest banks, but the underlying data doesn’t necessarily support that viewpoint. While all of the four largest U.S. banks are national banks, in all asset classifications, there remains a variety of bank charter, showing that no one charter type is necessarily better based purely on asset size.

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The So-Called Rise of Credit Union Buyers

The increasing number of banks selling to credit unions has been a hot topic at investor conferences, within the trade press, amongst clients, at trade associations events, and in conversations with investment bankers. To that end, I’ll be on the main stage at BankDirector’s 2020 Acquire or Be Acquired Conference discussing the new players in the bank M&A game.

And the numbers would appear to support that conversation…

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2019 U.S. Bank Landscape

2019 U.S. Bank Landscape

September 23, 2019

Authored by: Robert Klingler

The landscape of the banking industry in the United States continues to be highly concentrated when looking at asset sizes, but with the vast majority of the depository institutions continuing to be smaller institutions. As of June 30, 2019, approximately 84% of the assets held by depository institutions are held by less than 3% of U.S. banks.

85% of the banks in the United States, or 4,511 institutions, have less than $1 billion in total assets. 73% (or 3,855 institutions) have less than $500 million in total assets. 53% (or 2,799 institutions) have less than $250 million in total assets. 23% (or 1,230 institutions) have less than $100 million in total assets.

The concepts reflected above aren’t new. We showed the same thing in our Landscapes as of the end of 2016 and the end of 2017. In both of those reports, we attempted to look at the historical trends of consolidation (and that trend certainly continues). But this year, we’re taking a different tack and trying to dig deeper into the FDIC data. All of the data presented is based on the underlying data in the FDIC’s Statistics on Depository Institutions as of June 30, 2019.

As with all statistical reports, I’m well aware that all statistics can be massaged, with relatively innocuous adjustments, to tell different stories. Certainly, extremes can disrupt averages and otherwise minimize the value of the outcomes (or suggest that median or modal outcomes are more important than mean outcomes). Even if you never took a statistics class or have blocked all statistics concepts from your mind, I encourage you to check out Planet Money’s Modal American episode. The modal U.S. bank would have total assets of between $100 million and $250 million, would be taxed as a C-corporation, have a holding company and be a state-chartered, non-member bank. By comparison, the “average” bank would be $3.4 billion and the media bank would be the $228 million Bank of the Lowcountry, in Walterboro, South Carolina.

I am also reminded that no bank desires to be “average,” nor are investors generally looking for an “average” return. That said, I believe there is value in understanding what average is, and recognizing that expectations should be different for different institutions.

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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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Bank Directors Should Not Personally Approve Loans

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Partners Jim McAlpin and Ken Achenbach joined me in the podcast studio to discuss the common community bank practice of having boards of directors approve particular loans.

While our initial approach was going to be to engage in a debate on the merits of this practice, none of us ultimately wanted to take the side of justifying the practice; for different reasons, many of which are expressed on the podcast, we all believe that it is a bad idea for bank directors to personally approve loans.

This spark that started this podcast was the recent BankDirector piece titled “77 Percent of Bank Boards Approve Loans. Is That a Mistake?” As I’ve written previously on BankBCLP.com, bank directors should not be approving individual loans, and banks should not be asking their directors to approve individual loans.

In addition to the podcast and the blog post, we also have a white paper titled Why Your Board Should Stop Approving Individual Loans.  That white paper analyzes what the board’s role should be in overseeing the bank, and why approving individual loans threatens this oversight. If boards keep approving loans, we’re next going to have to look into how to address our concerns via Instagram, courrier pigeon, or smoke signals.

During the podcast, I also mention our efforts to make the FDIC “podcast” on the financial crisis more accessible.

Please 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.

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77 Percent of Bank Boards Commit this Mistake

Last week, Bank Director published a piece titled “77 Percent of Bank Boards Approve Loans. Is That a Mistake?”

In case you didn’t get it from the title of this blog post, I think the answer is absolutely, 100 percent, yes! Bank Directors should not be approving individual loans, and Banks should not be asking their Directors to approve individual loans.

77 percent of executives and directors say their board or a board-level loan committee plays a role in approving credits, according to Bank Director’s 2019 Risk Survey. And Boards of smaller banks are even more likely to be involved in the loan approval process. According to the survey, almost three quarters of banks over $10 billion in assets do not have their directors approve loans, but over 80% of banks under $10 billion in assets continue to have board-approval of certain loans.

These survey results generally conform to our experience. Two weeks ago, Jim McAlpin and I had the pleasure of leading five peer group exchanges on corporate governance at the 2019 Bank Director Bank Board Training Forum. The issue of board approval of loans came up in multiple peer groups, but the reaction and dialogue were radically different based on the size of the institutions involved. In our peer group exchange involving the chairmen and lead directors of larger public institutions, one of the chairman phrased the topic along the lines of “is anyone still having their directors approve individual loans?” Not one director indicated that they continued to do so, and several agreed that having directors vote on loans was a bad practice.

A few hours later, we were leading a peer group exchange of the chairman and lead directors of smaller private institutions. Again, one participant raised the issue. This time the issue was raised in an open manner, with a chairman indicating that they’d heard from various professionals that they should reconsider the practice but so far their board was still asking for approval of individual loans. A majority of the directors in attendance indicated concurrence.

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The Misconceptions of Private Bank M&A

Last week, Kevin Strachan joined me in the podcast studio to discuss the ability of privately held banks to use their securities as consideration to acquire another institution.

Sadly, since the last time we recorded a podcast, the patriarch of our banking practice, Walt Moeling, passed away.  Our previously posted memorial included several links to remember Walt, but of particular relatedness to the podcast, we encourage everyone to listen again to two earlier podcasts with Walt sharing his wisdom.  In December 2016, Walt joined us on the podcast to discuss, among other things, the future of the banking industry and what one regulatory change he would make if given unlimited power. Then, in March 2017, Walt spoke about establishing a sustainable sales culture.

Somehow, I was able to read the notes I had scribbled about Walt, and we then continued to discuss two common (and contradictory) misconceptions on private company merger and acquisition activity. 

The first misconception is that privately held companies can’t issue stock as merger consideration.  The second misconception is that privately held companies can issue stock without restriction as merger consideration.  We regularly hear both of these misconceptions when advising private companies on a potential merger transaction where they are looking to issue (or receive) private company stock.  While neither of these ideas are correct, the truth is messy and usually requires further discussion.

Among the topics covered with Kevin in this episode of The Bank Account are:

  • the additional flexibility of banks without holding companies (and the limitations of that flexibility);
  • SEC registration via merger;
  • Regulation A+ in mergers;
  • the state Fairness Hearing exemption; and
  • using Rule 506 of Regulation D to issue securities to the target shareholders.

For private companies considering an acquisition of another institution, further conversations with investment bankers and lawyers are almost certainly going to be needed, but this episode of The Bank Account can give you a head start in understanding some of the potential options that may be out there.

Please 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.

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Georgia Noncompete Law Remains Enforceable

In light of the continued merger activity within the state, including the blockbuster SunTrust/BB&T merger, we’ve seen a renewed focus on the enforceability of non-compete provisions – from banks looking to hire, from banks hoping to retain, and bank employees considering a change.

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Apparently, we’re not alone. On May 1, 2019, the American Banker published a story titled “What ruling on non-compete clauses means for banks — and job hunters.” The article looks at the potential impact of the the Georgia Court of Appeals’s decision in Blair v. Pantera Enters., Inc. (2019 Ga. App. LEXIS 114). Among other things, the article posits that “if BB&T and SunTrust want to enforce non-compete agreements with all their loan officers and wealth management experts stationed in Georgia, some of those contract provisions might not pass legal muster, according to legal experts.” While the enforceability of non-compete agreements is always subject to legal uncertainty, with the specific facts at play and the trial judge potentially playing a significant role, we think this vastly overstates the impact of Blair v. Pantera, particularly in the bank context.

Blair v. Pantera involved the enforceability of a non-compete provision against a backhoe operator. The court found, correctly and consistently with the Georgia Restrictive Covenants Act (O.C.G.A. § 13-8-50 et seq.), that he was not an employee under the statute against whom a non-compete could be enforced. Under the Georgia Restrictive Covenants Act, non-competes may generally only be enforced against employees that: manage the business, regularly direct the work of two or more other employees, can hire or fire other employees, are regularly engaged in the solicitation of customers or with making sales or taking orders, or meet the definition of a “key employee” under the statute. Under the statute, an employee must fit in one of these categories to sign a valid non-compete. See O.C.G.A. § 13-8-53.

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Public Comments Due Soon on Proposed Community Bank Leverage Ratio Rules

The public comment period for the banking agencies’ capital simplification rules for qualifying community banking organizations (i.e. the Community Bank Leverage Ratio proposal) are due on Tuesday, April 9th.

As previously discussed, the regulators have proposed a new, alternative, simplified capital regime for qualifying institutions that will deem an institution to be well-capitalized so long as it maintains a leverage ratio of at least 9% and adequately capitalized so long as it maintains a leverage ratio of at least 7.5%. While initially proposed last November, publication in the Federal Register was delayed until February of this year. As a result the comment period for the rule ends on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Comments can be submitted online through Regulations.gov.

Through the publication of this blog post, the primary comments online appear to be the appropriate threshold for the new Community Bank Leverage Ratio. As background, EGRRCPA, the statutory basis for the reforms, obligates the regulators to apply a threshold of between 8% and 10%, and the regulators proposed 9%. Most of the submitted comments, including several from community bankers, comments from the Kansas Bankers Association and the Independent Bankers Association of Texas argue for a lower 8% ratio. Conversely, the Mercatus Center has submitted a comment supporting a 10% ratio.

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Roleplaying as Chief Strategy Officers

On January 25th, Jonathan and I returned to the studio to record the latest podcast for The Bank Account. We’re trying to live up to our commitment to podcast more often in 2019 then we did in 2018; nothing like setting a low bar!

We first briefly discuss the latest IRS regulations for the taxation of Subchapter S banks and the reactions that we’ve seen from our clients on tax reform. Generalization appears virtually impossible, as we’ve seen reactions ranging from terminating Subchapter S elections, doing transactions and forgoing Subchapter S elections, sticking with the status quo, and, as Jonathan puts it, “Sub S or Die.”

We then turn to a hypothetical scenario that both Jonathan and I think about from time to time; what if we decided to cease providing legal services and instead attempted to become bank officers. What would our first steps be as a new Chief Strategy Officer of a hypothetical depository institution. Jonathan suggests beginning with the question of whether the institution is a true “community bank,” with a provocative definition for the term. Per Jonathan, a “community bank” is one whose existence is self-justified, as an irreplaceable benefit to the community it serves. (Jonathan than proceeds with an approach that even he admits might be better suited for a visual presentation.)

I suggest instead that the first question should be what is expected/desired by the institution’s shareholders. Depending on the shareholder base and their expectations for the institution, different strategic approaches are called for.

Please 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.

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