Kelly interviews Peter Weinstock, Partner, Hunton & Williams, Dallas Office. They talk about bank M&A deals and minority shareholder actions to gain control of bank management. Peter Weinstock’s practice focuses on corporate and regulatory representation of financial institutions. He is Practice Group Leader of the Financial Institutions Section and has counseled institutions on more than 150 M&A transactions, as well as provided representation on securities offerings and capital planning.
Kelly Coughlin is CEO of BankBosun, a management consulting firm helping bank C-Level Officers navigate risk and discover reward. He is the host of the syndicated audio podcast, BankBosun.com. Kelly brings over 25 years of experience with companies like PWC, Lloyds Bank, and Merrill Lynch. On the podcast Kelly interviews key executives in the banking ecosystem to provide bank C-Suite officers, risk management, technology, and investment ideas and solutions to help them navigate risks and discover rewards. And now your host, Kelly Coughlin.
Kelly: Hi, this is Kelly Coughln from the BankBosun. Hope everybody’s doing fine. I’m going to do an interview today with a deal guy. He’s with a law firm in Dallas, Texas. We’re going to talk about the types of deals that are getting done. Are they P&A deals? Are they stock deals? There are distressed deals out there, there are strategic ones, and what is he saying in terms of M&A activity in the banking sector. With that, we’ll get Peter Weinstock on the phone, from Hunton & Williams.
Let’s talk about deals, Peter. I have kind of a basic question on general trends. In bad banking economies, it seems that we have a lot of P&A deals, where I think the seller is normally the FDIC, correct?
Kelly: We must have had a lot of those in 2008, 2009, possibly up to 2010.
Peter: Yeah, I agree. For really almost a four, four and a half year period, there were more deals sold by the FDIC than there were private sector M&A transactions.
Kelly: Then today, better economy, better banking environment, we don’t see many of those, correct?
Peter: Very few.
Kelly: Would you say that the number of P&A deals is a leading indicator, lagging indicator of economic conditions of banks in general?
Peter: Yeah, it’s certainly a lagging indicator, just like capital as a protection is a lagging indicator because what tends to happen is asset quality issues or concentration levels or interest rate risk, some of those other factors, the metrics indicating those issues are becoming problematic kick in long before capital starts declining and capital starts declining generally long before or moderately before problem banks are looking to sell or the FDIC takes over. The number of P&A transactions, which again, we’re down to very few, are more reflective of the fact that the economy seemed to turn sometime in 2012 and we’ve had now three full years of, even though it’s not a great recovery, we’ve had some recovery.
Kelly: How many P&A deals have we seen in three years?
Peter: I think we’re only up to two so far this year, where we were, in 2009 through 2011, we were having dozens and in one of those years over one hundred bank deals.
Kelly: The two this year, are they in, say, oil patch regions that are struggling economically or somewhere else?
Peter: That’s an outstanding question because the answer is, it’s not. That’s not to say that the oil patch or the commodity price areas are not under stress. Certainly, the ag economy is under some stress, but again, it gets back to your first question about lagging indicators. The banks that are failing now are banks that have been circling around the drain for a long time now. They’ve been shrinking to maintain capital ratios, but they can’t get recapitalized because of the legacy assets that they have from the downturn, so we still have a significant number of banks that are undercapitalized and unless something happens, they could fail because they have elevated problem asset levels and those problem asset levels are what would bring them down. At December 31 there were 78 banks that were still somewhere undercapitalized or only adequately capitalized, which is down from, at one point, the problem bank list was over 600, but the 78 institutions that are adequately capitalized or worst, as of year end, are ones that are suffering from the last downturn, rather than the next one.
Kelly: All right, you mentioned 78 that are undercapitalized. What’s the metric that you use?
Peter: These are banks that are not well capitalized, so they’re adequately capitalized or lower, which is they have to have a leverage ratio of 5% in order to be well capitalized. Then you have the Basel III metrics. Right now, you’re talking about a total risk-based capital ratio of under 10% and total leverage ratio of under 5% to be adequately capitalized or, in that case, undercapitalized. It’s not an incredibly high bar that they’re not able to chin, so these 78, you would think that they would be able to recapitalize themselves, but the big challenge that they have is their elevated asset quality levels.
Kelly: You have these 78 banks. Are brokers out there, investment bankers out there trying to get them to sell? You guys probably don’t do that. Lawyers don’t hustle for business like that, I don’t think, right? You’re not making cold calls?
Peter: We’re purist, man. We would never do such a thing. I’m sure that all 78 of them have been shaking the trees and have talked to anyone and everyone who they think could be an avenue for capital and for addressing their problems, but at some point, if you’ve got capital of 5 million but you have problem assets of 15 or 20 million, at some point the numbers don’t make sense for an investor and that’s why these institutions are still on the list, some of them.
Kelly: Let’s talk about the good side of the market, not the problem areas. Let’s say last year, you being a proxy for the market, how many deals were related to distressed banks and how many were for strategic acquisition reasons or market expansion?
Peter: I would tell you the vast majority of them were strategic and few were problem bank acquisitions. What I mean by strategic isn’t necessarily that the seller was in great shape and they sold for a very high price. What we’re seeing is a number of sellers are kind of giving up the ghost because in this interest rate environment, with anemic loan demand, very competitive loan pricing, there are sellers that look at their compliance costs and their IT costs and their personnel costs and they’re saying, “We’re not big enough to do a deal. We’re not big enough to survive on our own and make our shareholders a fair return, so we need to look at doing something else.”
The something else is not necessarily selling for cash and going on down the road. One of the biggest trend lines we’ve seen in the last two, three years, is the willingness of sellers to take illiquid stock, stock from a privately owned financial institution.
Kelly: In the acquiring company.
Peter: To take illiquid stock from an acquiring company, that’s another community bank like they may be, sellers are much more willing to do that than they ever have been before in my 30+ year career. I think the biggest driver of that is that on the operational standpoint, the challenges of being a bank are such that skill matters and then on the shareholder valuation standpoint, I think they recognize that this may not be the greatest pricing time to sell out, so they look at doing some kind of strategic combination to be part of a bigger, more profitable organization, even though the stock is illiquid.
Kelly: Let’s say, in those situations where you’ve got a reasonably healthy bank, they see that if they don’t do something they might be in part of the 78 again, but they might go down that way, so they’re proactive. As a part of that, they have to lock up some of their good producers, right? Their good credit officers and those things. One of the thing we do in our business is help with non-qualified plan benefits to try to use that as a way to lock in good senior management. Do you see much of that going on as part of the deal criteria?
Peter: It surprises me that more banks that are potential sales candidates don’t do more. In community bank America, it almost doesn’t matter how big you are, you’re a potential target. I’ll give you an example. One of my clients is a $5 billion bank in California and they merged with an $8 billion bank in December, they announced it. The reason is because our client, that’s $5 billion, felt that they needed to get bigger in order to compete. The $8 billion bank felt like they needed to be bigger to compete, so now they’re going to be $13 billion. If you’re not an $8 or a $5 billion bank, if you’re smaller than that, you might say to yourself, I don’t need to be bigger to survive, but my efficiency ratio sure as heck would improve if we got bigger. I would tell you that almost every bank is a candidate to be sold, they’re a candidate to buy and they’re a candidate to be sold.
KPMG did a survey in 2014 and it indicated that over 50% of the banks thought they would engage in an acquisition, but 3% of banks thought they would sell. The numbers wound up in 2015 being something like 4.4% of all the banks sold. Every bank out there, it seems, is thinking about doing an acquisition, but every bank and community bank America is a potential candidate.
A long way around to your question is because the banks are all potential merger candidates, then they really should look at putting in place protections for their employees and really locking them up, but when they’re doing that, they also need to think about not hurting shareholder value. The way you could hurt shareholder value is you provide some kind of agreement, let’s say a change in control agreement, that provides on a change in control the employee gets paid if they leave the bank. Now we hurt shareholder value because the buyer knows that they could lose that person because there’s an incentive for that person to leave. Really, it takes somebody like you to think through not just how to protect the person, not just how to lock them up, but also to do it in a way where it creates or at least preserves shareholder value because the buyer is not looking at that contract and saying that that contract harms me because I’m going to lose a valuable producer.
Your question is a good one and I would even go further and I’d say what exists gets paid. If people want agreements to be in place, they need to put them in place because if they exist they’ll get paid, where if you wait until a potential acquisition, then what’s going to happen is the acquirer is going to say, “You can do that, but if you do that it comes out of the shareholder’s purchase price,” and I don’t think you want to be negotiating those types of agreements with another person with their elbows on the table.
Kelly: I’ve got a lot of experience in other financial sectors like financial advisors and broker dealers and the common theme with them is you’ve got much more highly paid execs, but the notion that the assets go down in the elevator every day. It’s more or less the same thing with many banks and not locking them up one way or another in an acquisition, it always kind of surprises me.
Let’s talk about surprises in an acquisition landmines. It seems to me that when we’re talking about banks that are not a huge footprint, a community bank that’s got 1 to 15 branches, isn’t it a fair statement to say that more of the acquirers or interested acquirers are going to be a current competitor of that bank and doesn’t that always present a bit of a due diligence challenge or problem, where you’re going to release sensitive, confidential information to your competitor?
Peter: That is absolutely correct that that’s a possibility. The reason for that is because most financial institution mergers are driven by cost savings. Where do you get the most cost savings? In a market deal or an adjoining market deal. It is very likely the party that can pay the most is going to be an existing competitor. That absolutely presents challenges in terms of protecting your employees and your confidential information. Obviously you’re going to negotiate the heck out of the non-disclosure agreement, if that’s likely buyer, if you’re the seller.
The other thing is you’re probably going to want to hold back on when you deliver information until there is an agreement on all of the relevant terms and then the due diligence becomes more in the way of confirming diligence than it does in terms of setting the price. You’ll release some key information, including whether there’s a termination fee as a result of the transaction on your data processing agreement, changing control agreements with employees, give all of that pricing type information, but you might hold back the loan review and the customer review until the deal is essentially set.
Kelly: The customer name is withheld until the deal is a little more mature.
Peter: We’ve also done it where you redact the customer names, but in an in-market deal it doesn’t take a lot of information for the buyer to know who that player is.
Kelly: Yeah, right. Back to my other question that we started on. Surprises?
Peter: I’d say the biggest surprise to buyers is that the seller’s compliance issues could infect them. I’ll give you an example. When MB Financial was acquiring Cole Taylor, Cole Taylor had a major compliance issue and the transaction was held up for about a year, while the regulators got comfortable with the resolution of that compliance issue.
Similarly there have been a number of red-lining cases and BSA cases where the compliance issues of the target have held up the deal. I think that’s a surprise for a number of buyers because if you’re engaged in a potential transaction, you’re locked into that transaction. You’ve agreed to try to get that deal closed. If you wind up with an extended regulatory approval time period, that could prevent you, preclude you from going after a deal that becomes available six months, a year later that might be a better deal for you.
Similarly for sellers, even in cash deal, if there’s a surprise that the buyer’s compliance issues can be such a hold up and what we’ve seen is we’ve seen AML, BSA, KYC issues that have held up approval of deals for two or three years in UDAP and some other consumer compliance issues that similarly have held up deals. As a seller, you have to perform some reverse due diligence, some extensive reverse due diligence on the buyer, even in the transaction that’s a cash deal. For a lot of sellers, that’s a surprise to them.
Kelly: Do regulators hold up the deal or does the buyer intentionally hold that up?
Peter: Generally it’s the regulators because from the buyer standpoint, they become aware of the issue and they adopt a plan of remediation for the issue. It’s one thing for a private sector party to get a handle on an issue and have a plan of remediation and feel good that they can implement it. It’s a whole other thing for an agent, say, to get their arms around it in a time frame that seems reasonable. The Federal Reserve has two analysts in Washington who handle compliance issues with regard to applications.
Kelly: The buyer would just haircut the valuation. At the end of the day it’s a contingent liability, right? They would just haircut the valuation on it.
Peter: If it’s a known risk and it’s one that they have presumably priced in. If it’s not a known risk and they become aware of it, then they may go back to the seller and say, “We’ve got all of these costs related to it, we need to reduce the price,” or if it’s significant enough, they could decide to walk the transaction.
Kelly: In terms of surprises, known compliance issues and I suppose the ‘know what you don’t know,’ whatever that term is. You know those issues, it’s the unknown compliance regulatory issues. Any ideas on pre-detecting, early detection of those things?
Peter: That’s really you just have to engage in some pretty thorough diligence of the other party to really understand where the risk areas are.
Kelly: I suppose you look at their internal controls and their timely filings or substantiation and all of those things on the control structure.
Peter: You do. Something that I like looking at as a starting point for diligence is nowadays banks have to do risk assessments. Seemingly a banker can’t walk out doing a five-page risk assessment. Those risk assessments are the other party’s self-confessing, if you will, where they see their own challenges or concerns. The beauty of that for the other party is that gives them a roadmap of things to look at in diligence.
Kelly: I was director of risk management for asset management subsidiaries of Lloyd’s Bank out of London, and this was many, many years ago. Regulatory issues and compliance back then just didn’t quite get the importance. They actually did in the UK, but things have ramped up in the US quite a bit, that it’s probably more on par with what it was with the British banks back then.
Peter: If you parachuted back, if you were Mr. Peabody and you got in the Wayback Machine and went back to 2000 and you had a full-time, dedicated BSA officer, and how many banks had full-time, dedicated compliance offer and how many banks had a full-time, dedicated risk officer, and how many banks had a full-time, dedicated IT person, and you compare those numbers to the way they are now, it’s just shocking. The bigger the acquisition, the more you want to look at areas that you might not want to spend the money on if you’re a smaller institution. In a bigger deal, you absolutely want to evaluate IT exposures and make sure that there have not been or in place potential breaches.
Kelly: Why don’t you give us parting thoughts you’d like to give. Speak to both buyers and sellers.
Peter: One thing we’re seeing for banks that may not want to be a seller is there is a lot more activism. We had six private banks in the fourth quarter that had proxy sites, tender offers. One even had a TRO, a temporary restraining order, filed against them. That’s continued in the first quarter of 2016. One thing is to put in place protections and recognize that your risks can be from your existing shareholder base or people who buy in. The world’s awash in money and people out there know if they could buy stock of a bank at eight-tenths of book or book and then wrestle control of the board and get control, then the bank on the sale might be worth book and a quarter or book and a half, book seven, where they could potentially even more than double their money, buy the stock and flipping it in a control situation. We’re seeing activism creeping down into the community bank, into the private bank sector, and that’s something clearly you want to watch.
Kelly: You’re not talking political and social activism. You’re talking about business acquisition, venture capital, investment activism.
Peter: Absolutely. We’re talking shareholder activism. Then just another thing that we’ve seen on the buyer’s side is buyers tend to be most focused targets who are of sale who sent them books. We talked about some of the compliance challenges of the application process. Just because somebody sends you a book and the book says, “We’re for sale,” doesn’t mean that they’re the greatest candidate for you to buy. What you want to be careful about is being locked up on a deal in the regulatory process that is somebody who doesn’t really move the needle for you. It’s got something that obviously is worthwhile, but maybe it’s really not consistent with your strategic focus. We’ve seen potential buyers almost shift their strategic focus just because an investment banker sends them a book on a potential target.
Kelly: Two good points. I always like to finish with two things: Your favorite quote and the stupidest thing you’ve either said or done in your business life.
Peter: There are a lot of the latter. Upon the former, I like the Warren Buffet quote, which it really resonates when you’re talking about shareholder activism. He said, “I prefer to manage my business for the shareholders who want to stay in and not the ones who want to get out.” I may be paraphrasing it, but that’s the thought. I like that quote a lot because that’s actually directors of the bank. Those are the people they have a duty to.
The second one is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my career?
Peter: One thing that I learned a long time ago not to do is something that’s emotionally gratifying because in business it almost always is a bad decision. Early on in my career I would get testy with regulators and that’s never a good strategy. Gray hair and maybe even the loss of hair and some experience, I’ve learned the wisdom of working together with regulators a lot more than trying to beat them up.
Kelly: Can you recall one that you said something to?
Peter: I remember when I was a third-year lawyer, I went to a meeting with the Federal Reserve and I’m not exactly sure what I said at the point, but this person with the Federal Reserve got up and it wasn’t quite Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe on the table, but he was animated.
Kelly: All right, Peter. Thank you very much. I appreciate your time. I wish you the best.
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Kelly is licensed with the Minnesota State Board of Accountancy as a Certified Public Accountant. Kelly provides bank owned life insurance portfolio and nonqualified benefit services to banks across the United States. The views expressed here are solely those of Kelly Coughlin and his guests in their private capacity and do not in any other way represent the views of any other agent, principal, employer, employee, vendor or supplier of Kelly Coughlin.