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BirdsEye View

it's strategic planning season again

Quotes of the week:  "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money."  Margaret Thatcher  


"You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.  What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.  The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.  When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half get the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend , is the beginning of the end of any nation.  You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it."  Adrian Rogers  


Reactions continue to pour in from the last two articles.  Here's one of note:  "As we consider the media frenzy, it is also important to note that journalists and readers are also influenced in no small part by a continuing governmental diatribe.  That diatribe similarly paints with a broad brush the evils of bankers and presents its reform efforts as a necessary intrusion to enable the banking system to again carry out its proper role in society.

The notion of governmental intrusion into heretofore private industry is discussed, in a not-too-charitable manner, in an article by Amity Schlaes in the August 3, 2009 edition of Forbes (p. 21).  Ms. Schlaes is a senior fellow in economic history at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In that article, she comments that government reformers view themselves as morally superior, but it a mere illusion as they succumb to the same drive of private business to do that which is in their own interests rather than of society's.  One obvious result is "taking advantage of an economic crisis to aggregate power for themselves and their offices."  Examples she notes include the AIG takeover and the exercise of corporate management in the auto-industry."

And, from Dave Holmes, VP at Whitney Bank:  "Further to your spot-on call to action:  An article on the front page of last weeks Mobile Register read: "Banker Convicted of Bribing local official (in Birmingham, AL)."

1.It was not a "banker" but rather an "investment banker";

2. He bribed a local official to get the deal for some Jefferson County bonds;

3. He was also the Head of the Democratic State something or other (I don't have the article any more).

Point:

The headline ( which most readers don't get passed) make us Banks look like the evil, cheating capitalists. Journalism is indeed in the tank."  


And I'd say, the reputation of the commercial banking industry is in the tank.  


On the personal side, Guy, Monica, Isabella (4) and Cecilia (1) spent two days at our house for the very first time.  We were very excited!  My good friend Hiroshi Ueno (who translates this column for our Japanese readers) and his son Kohei came to visit and enjoyed Napa winery tours with Liat and us; and Arik, Dick and I spent a few character-building days in Utah in the wilderness. to be followed by a couple of days in LA helping Gil set up his room at his fraternity and go on a huge shopping spree at Costco for his supplies.  These were great two weeks for family time!

 

Next is the start of our Forum season, and I'm really looking forward to it.  I want to thank every one of our members for your continued support and encouragement.  Thanks to you we are celebrating TWENTY YEARS OF FORUMS this month, and did not have to cancel a single meeting for the fall season.  Our members know that the Forums produce great returns for their shareholders, and perhaps even more so during these tough times.  Again, THANK YOU!!!!

 

Have a fabulous back-to-work (for some of us is "still-at-work") September,

 

Anat

 

 

Article synopsis : Strategic planning can and should be a substantive, not paper-intensive, process.  Below are some thoughts on the key environmental factors that need to be considered during this planning cycle.


 

IT'S STRATEGIC PLANNING SEASON AGAIN




Second quarter earning season is almost over, and strategic planning season is upon us.  The financial analysis is almost done, peer information has been prepared, and now comes the really tough part:  what should we plan for in 2010 and beyond, during these times of tumult and uncertainty?

 

I hope the thoughts below will help you as you dive deeper into your plans.



     

  • Too many banks.  The industry is bound to continue reducing capacity, not only through FDIC assisted deals but also through natural consolidation (such as the First Niagara-Harleysville merger).  We have not reduced capacity in our business for years.  Instead, we continued to build branches.  Investor capital flocked to deposed CEOs in hopes of getting yet again 3X book after 5-7 years of ballooning the balance sheet with brokered CDs and shared national credits.  Those days are over, as we all know.  Discipline has returned to the markets, as well as hard times instead of go-go days.  The result is a welcome "ventilation of the system" which will yield many opportunities for surviving banks to prosper further by acquiring other banks, branches or branch systems, lifting out banker teams and snagging customers from their brethren.


  • Changing customer views.  High rates used to be the main attraction to retail customers.  Today they are viewed with some suspicion, as they imply to many a bank that is having difficulty raising deposits.  Perhaps I'm giving too much credit to the market, but it is a fact that the megabanks have attracted more than their fare share of deposits since they have been unofficially declared "too big to fail."  So today, high rates might connote problems, not bargains.  At the same time, how do community banks combat this new market positioning that the largest banks have attained with the government blessing?  There are significant differentiation implications following this shift in market perception.  Big banks might still be perceived as the big bad banks, but they are safe...


  • Balance sheet discipline.  Second quarter earnings clearly demonstrated to me that there is a bright line between those banks with balance sheet discipline and those who temporarily put it on hold to capture what they thought were irresistible opportunities.  Banks operating in the very same markets have markedly different asset quality, funding and capital profiles, depending upon their core strategy and the will to say "no" when an asset category exceeds their risk-based-capital limits.  Those banks that put limits on commitments vs. outstandings; who used fine categories vs. gross ones (e.g. office space vs. commercial real estate); who did not leverage the balance sheet using borrowings and wholesale funding sources beyond a small percentage; who included deposits as a major category in their Relationship Managers' incentive compensation more than two years ago; and who had little tolerance for credit exceptions; those banks have done better than others regardless to the market.  The point is, community banks reflect the communities in which they operate, and, as such, when the market tanks, so does the bank (Michigan is a good example...).  At the same time, internal discipline is the differentiator for those who turn around the earliest and who suffer the least.  Refining and intensifying this discipline is an important element to today's strategic planning, one that should not be forgotten as the economy turns around and times get better.


  • Differentiation from the mega-banks.  We should all recognize that what's important to us is not necessarily relevant to the big banks. This is not just a scale statement.  It is a market positioning and value proposition statement.  Cross selling is far more important to community banks than to their largest brethren, for example.  It goes well beyond business tactics, though.  Credit woes plague so many of us, but the larger banks can handle them better because their balance sheets are far more diversified across industries, geographies and also businesses (beyond commercial banking).  Similarly, when consumers change their behaviors to reduce NSF incurring activities, we all suffer, but community banks suffer more, since they do not have as many sources of fee income as do the largest banks.  Understanding the differences and managing them are both risk reduction tools as well as differentiation opportunities.


  • Equity markets are open for business again.  This is true not only for capital raises, both public and private. While this is a momentous development that will facilitate consolidation and bank growth, it also presents other opportunities.  This is a great tie for public banks to clean house, develop a story and start executing on it.  Analysts will listen.  This isn't the time to figure out how to "make the quarter." Not that there is ever a good time for that, but the temptation is strong at times.  Right now the difference in stock performance across the entire SuperCommunity Bank spectrum is generally small, and often not directly related to performance.  Analysts expect the worst and indeed have their expectations met in most cases.  However, they are also looking for stories, for banks which might be seizing opportunities even as the storm rages on, and who can fit those opportunities within their strategic story and identity.  Showing the likelihood of future earnings is a great plus in every environment, and especially today.  Ironically, today's stock prices are based more than ever on tomorrow's financial results.


 

In sum, this year's planning process can be your opportunity to reinforce your strategic focus and sharpen it, identify 2-4 strategic drives that will help your balance sheet create future consistent earnings, make the investment necessary to get there if you have the capital or can raise it, and then execute, execute, execute.