Capital Market Commentary – August 2017

By: Stephen Clinton, President, Capital Market Securities, Inc.

Market Update
The U.S. has entered the ninth year of economic expansion. While the growth has not been spectacular, it has been steady. GDP expanded at a 2.6% annual rate in the second quarter. The GDP growth in the current recovery has averaged 2.1%. This compares to the 3.6% average of the 1990’s recovery and the 4.9% average for the 1960’s expansion. (These are the most recent economic recoveries of comparable length to the current expansion.)

  • American’s largest companies were reported to be on pace to post two consecutive quarters of double-digit profit growth for the first time since 2011. Factors explaining the growth in profitability include a weaker dollar that helped U.S. exports, limited wage growth, and cost cutting programs.
  • Unemployment was reported at 4.4% in June, near the lowest rate in a decade.
  • Despite nearing full employment, wage growth has increased only modestly. It was reported that wages increased .5% in the second quarter.
  • At the Federal Reserve meeting in July, the Fed held interest rates unchanged but announced that it soon will begin to shrink its securities portfolio. The Fed currently holds more than $4 trillion of investments; a large portion of these were purchased as part of the Fed’s quantitative easing programs.
  • Consumer spending rose at a 2.8% pace in the second quarter, an increase from 1.9% in the first quarter. However, concerns remain about the spending outlook at a time of soft wage growth, stalling car sales, and a growing overhang of auto and student-loan debt.
  • U.S. business investment rose for the second straight quarter. In the second quarter, nonresidential fixed investment advanced at a 5.2% pace. That comes on the heels of a 7.2% gain the prior quarter. The continuation of strong business spending suggests firms have confidence in the durability of the economic expansion.
  • The U.S. housing market continues to improve. After falling throughout the usually busy spring season, the monthly index of signed contracts to purchase existing homes increased 1.5% in June compared with May. The Case-Shiller Index, which measures the increase in home prices across the country, rose 5.6% in the 12 months ending in May.
  • Overall, inflation continues to be held in check. The U.S. inflation index was 1.4% in May, well below the Fed’s 2% target.

The stock market has reached all-time highs. This has occurred despite the lack of action on President Trump’s plans for lowering taxes and economic stimulus. Should these initiatives be enacted, 2017 should be a very good year for investors.

Interesting Tid Bits ƒƒ

  • The New York Times recently reported that homeowners now stay in their homes for an average of 8½ years, up from the 3½ year average in 2008.
  • Twenty years ago, there were 7,322 listed public companies in the U.S. At the end of 2016, there were only 3,671 companies publicly traded on U.S. exchanges.
  • Deer & Co., the maker of farming equipment, is the fifth largest agricultural lender. This is in addition to the billions that they lend to farmers to fund purchases of their farming equipment.
  • It is widely anticipated that the Libor index will be phased out over the next five years. Libor is used to set the price on trillions of dollars of loans.

Short-term interest rates have moved up in response to the Fed’s actions of increasing short-term rates with the 3-month T-Bill ending July at 1.07%.

The 10-year T-Note ended July at 2.30%. The yield curve has flattened this year with the 10-year T-Note falling 14 basis points while short-term rates moved up 56 basis points.

The general stock market reached historic highs in July. The Dow Jones Industrial Index ended July 31 at an all-time high and was up 10.77% for the year. The Nasdaq Index closed up 17.93% for the year. Banks have under-performed the general stock market this year. The Nasdaq Bank index was down 3.10% for the year. However, since the election, bank stocks are up 22.50%, which is a larger increase than the Dow Jones Industrial Index since the election.

Merger and Acquisition Activity
Through July there were 147 bank and thrift announced merger transactions. This compares to 151 deals for the comparable period in 2016. Despite the slightly lower number of deals, the total assets involved in transactions increased from $109 billion to $124 billion. The median price to tangible book for transactions involving bank sellers was 162%.

Developing a Consensus on Capital Adequacy – The First Step in Strategic Planning

By: Gary J. Young, Founder and CEO

The most critical component of every strategic plan is a thorough understanding of your position on capital adequacy and your target for capital. They are not the same.

The Regulator View of Capital
As community bankers, we have all heard the mantra that we need to increase capital. It may be an over simplification, but to the regulator more is always better. The regulator does not have interest in your shareholders. And as I will discuss later in this article, an increase in capital lowers the return on equity, or the return to shareholders. The regulator’s #1 job is to ensure a safe and sound banking system. Your job is to satisfy the regulators and your shareholders. You have to balance the interests of both. You need to proactively communicate your bank’s opinion regarding capital.

An example of the need to balance is shown below. There are four banks with a 1% ROA. However, the equity/asset ratio at each is different ranging from an 8.0% leverage ratio to a 12.0% leverage ratio. By dividing the ROA by the leverage ratio, you get the ROE. By multiplying the ROE by an assumed PE, you get the multiple of book. In this example, the bank with an 8.0% leverage ratio has a value of $30 million while the bank with a 12.0% leverage ratio has a value of $20 million. The amount of capital provides a significant difference in the return to shareholders.

Capital Adequacy
I agree with the OCC. Capital adequacy at each bank is uniquely based on the current and planned risk within the bank. And, it is the responsibility of the bank board to determine capital adequacy with the input from executive management. Capital adequacy is the point that if capital falls below, the Capital Contingency Plan must be implemented. In other words, let’s assume capital adequacy has been defined as a 7.5% leverage ratio, or an 11.25% total risk-based ratio. If actual capital falls below either measure the bank should implement the methodology for improving capital as described in the Capital Contingency Plan.

Capital Target
A bank’s target or goal for capital is higher than capital adequacy. It is an estimate of the amount the board of directors has decided is desired to take advantage of opportunities such as additional organic growth, branch expansion, purchase of a bank or branch, stock repurchase, etc., or to use as additional insurance or protection against negative events that could hurt profitability and capital. As an example, a 7.5% leverage ratio could be defined as capital adequacy, but the target level of capital is 9.0%.

The Right Amount
There is no right amount. The average $300 million – $1 billion bank has a 10.3% leverage ratio and a 15.4% total risk-based capital ratio. Most everyone would agree that banks do not need that level of capital. But, every bank is unique with different levels of risk and different levels of risk appetite. The important thing is that executive management and the board of directors understand that there is a shareholder cost to holding excess capital. That doesn’t make it wrong. The board of directors has multiple responsibilities and at times these can be conflicting. From the shareholder perspective, you want to maximize the return on equity and shareholder value which assumes leveraging capital, but you must also oversee the operation of a safe and sound bank. And, at the heart of safety is capital adequacy. It takes balance and awareness of both to determine the right level of capital for your bank. My concern is that through the Great Recession and after, the capital mantra has been more is better. Well frankly, more is not necessarily better. I am suggesting that it is time to balance the capital need for risk management with the capital need for improving shareholder value.

Strategic Planning
After there is agreement on capital based on risk, planning can begin on the methodology or methodologies to best utilize any existing or planned excess capital. The recommended considerations that follow do not address all of the issues within your mission statement or vision statement. Rather, these address your desire to maximize shareholder return and to maintain your bank’s independence.

Consider the following:ƒƒ

  • Ways to generate additional organic growth. This means growth from your market without any significant increases in infrastructure. This is normally the most profitable short-term methodology.
  • Expansion opportunities. I would suggest looking for opportunities that begin turning a profit in two years or less. While this is long-term, most bankers are in for the long haul. Remember, a branch that increases net income by $500,000 increases shareholder value by $6,500,000, assuming a 13 price-earnings ratio.
  • The purchase of another bank or branches. This can significantly impact capital, but once the target is effectively absorbed by your bank, the value rewards can be great. But, also make sure you adequately consider the risks.
  • A stock repurchase plan. This is a win for the shareholders that want to sell and the shareholders that want to hold. Everyone wins and shareholder value should increase. I look at this as buying your bank as opposed to buying another bank. I recommend to every client that has a tier-1 leverage ratio in excess of 9% that they should at least consider a stock repurchase.
  • A slow, steady increase in dividends to shareholders. If after all other approaches to capital utilization excess capital remains, then increase the dividend. This will increase dividend income to shareholders without jeopardizing capital adequacy.

Consider how all of these items might impact your capital adequacy, return on equity, and shareholder value over a 3-5 year period. Remember, the goal of executive management is to maximize profitability and shareholder value within capital guidelines approved by your board of directors.

Contact
If you would like to discuss this article with me, you can reach me by phone at 330.422.3480 or e-mail at gyoung@younginc.com.

Excess Capital is Hurting Shareholder Return

By: Gary J. Young, President and CEO

The Mantra
As community bankers, we have all heard the mantra to increase capital. This is heard by the banker that has an 8% leverage ratio who needs to increase capital to 9%, by the banker who has a 9% leverage ratio that needs to increase capital to 10%, and by the banker who has a 10% leverage ratio that needs to increase capital to 11%. Based on this view regarding capital, more is always better. I disagree.

Capital Adequacy
I agree with the OCC. Capital adequacy at each bank is uniquely based on the current and planned risk within the bank. And, it is the responsibility of the bank board to determine capital adequacy with the input from executive management. Capital adequacy is the point in which a capital contingency plan is implemented if actual capital falls below that level. In other words, let’s assume capital adequacy has been defined as a 7.5% leverage ratio, or an 11.25% total risk-based ratio. If actual capital falls below either measure the bank should implement the methodology for improving capital as described in the capital contingency plan.

Capital Target
A bank’s target or goal for capital is higher than capital adequacy. It is an estimate of the amount the board of directors has decided is needed to take advantage of opportunities such as additional organic growth, branch expansion, purchase of a bank or branch, stock repurchase, etc., or to use as additional insurance or protection against negative events that could hurt profitability and capital. As an example, a 7.5% leverage ratio could be defined as capital adequacy, but the target level of capital is 9.0%.

Cost
Excess capital has a cost. Let’s assume you had to eliminate $1 million of excess capital. To balance that transaction, you would also eliminate $1 million in assets which would be investments. Let’s assume that the investments had an average yield of 1.5%. After taxes, that would be approximately 1.0%. Based on this example, the return on equity of the $1 million of excess capital is 1.0%. We must agree that 1.0% is unacceptable. Well, it is unacceptable unless that is your return for opportunity capital or insurance capital as described above.

Another example of the cost of excess capital can be seen in the table on page 2. There are four banks with a 1% ROA. However, the equity/asset ratio at each is different, ranging from an 8.0% leverage ratio to a 12.0% leverage ratio. By dividing the ROA by the leverage ratio, you get the ROE. By multiplying the ROE by an assumed PE, you get the multiple of book. In this example, the bank with an 8.0% leverage ratio has a value of $30 million while the bank with a 12.0% leverage ratio has a value of $20 million. This is a simplified example that provides information on the cost of excess capital.

The Right Amount
There is no right amount. The average $300 million – $1 billion bank has a 10.3% leverage ratio and a 15.4% total risk-based capital ratio. Most everyone would agree that banks do not need that level of capital. But, every bank is unique with different levels of risk and different levels of risk appetite. The important thing is that executive management and the board of directors understand that there is a shareholder cost to holding excess capital. That doesn’t make it wrong.

The board of directors has multiple responsibilities and at times they can be conflicting. From the shareholder perspective, you want to maximize the return on equity and shareholder value, which assumes leveraging capital, but you must also oversee the operation of a safe and sound bank. And, at the heart of safety is capital adequacy. It takes balance and awareness of both to determine the right level of capital for your bank. My concern is that through the Great Recession and after, the capital mantra has been “more is better.” Well frankly, more is not necessarily better. I am suggesting that it is time to balance the capital need for risk management with the capital need for improving shareholder value.

Best Practices
The question for executive management is what should I do? It is my opinion that best practices would indicate that every bank develop a definition of capital adequacy based on inherent risk. Furthermore, a capital contingency plan should be part of that plan that indicates the steps the bank might take if capital falls below or is projected to fall below the bank’s definition of capital adequacy. You should then have a frank discussion at the board level on the amount of capital that is your goal or meets your comfort level. If you then find that your capital is above that consider the following:

  • Focus on additional organic growth, if possible.
  • Consider expansion opportunities. I would suggest looking for opportunities that begin turning a profit in two years or less.
  • Develop a stock repurchase plan. This is a win for the shareholders that want to sell and the shareholders that want to hold. Everyone wins and shareholder value should increase.
  • Achieve a slow, steady increase in dividends to shareholders.

Consider how all of these items might impact your capital adequacy, return on equity, and shareholder value over a 3-5 year period. Remember, the goal of executive management is to maximize profitability and shareholder value within capital guidelines approved by your board of directors.

Conclusion
If you would like to discuss this article with me, you can reach me by phone at 330.422.3480 or by email at gyoung@younginc.com.

ADA Website Audits

By: Mike Lehr, HR Consultant

Clients of Young & Associates, Inc. have been receiving demand letters from plaintiffs’ law firms, alleging that their websites aren’t accessible to individuals with disabilities. In effect, these letters claim that they are violating
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). More press and training have surfaced on this issue too.
If your bank has received such a letter, don’t ignore it. Attorneys we know have had to defend their clients in court over these letters. If your bank has not received one, it’s best to begin working with your legal counsel and reviewing
your website before you do. Proactivity can help here. In our audits to date, the main problem has been clients relying too heavily on assurances from their website vendors and on results from compliance software. Auditing software is a tool, not a judge. As a result, individuals with disabilities might be able to access the website, but they have unreasonable difficulty doing so. The website still isn’t in the clear.

That’s why Young & Associates audits employ four tests:

  1.  Compliance software tests
  2. Manual audit of home pages, main navigation pages, and high problematic pages
  3. Screen reader test by Young & Associates consultant
  4. Screen reader test by a sight-impaired person observed by Young & Associates consultant

Young & Associates audits use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and the Section 508 Standards for federal agencies as their baselines. To meet our clients’ many different needs, we have three different audits to select from:

  1. ADA Developmental Website Audit: The purpose of this audit is to assist the bank in the development of a new website or to provide a cost-effective first look at a current website that has never been audited or tested in any manner. It employs the compliance software test, the manual audit, and a modified screen reading test.
  2. ADA Compliance Website Audit: The purpose of this audit is to perform a formal compliance audit of the website. It employs the full complement of tests.
  3. ADA Follow-Up Website Audit: The purpose of this audit is to review the changes made to the website in response to the findings of other audits. It usually employs just the compliance software test or a modified application of the full complement of tests.

For more information on ADA Website Accessibility Compliance or how Young & Associates, Inc. can assist your bank in this area, download our “Better Understanding ADA Website Compliance & Young Associates Audit,” or contact Mike Lehr, Human Resources Consultant at 1.330.777.0094 or mlehr@younginc.com.

Capital Market Commentary – May 2017

By: Stephen Clinton, President, Capital Market Securities, Inc.

Market Update – The Trump Effect
The election of President Donald Trump was followed by a strong upward movement in the market. Hopes related to lower taxes, less regulation, and economic stimulus led the market to new highs. Since the election, the Dow Jones Industrial Average moved up 14.22% through April 30th. Banks moved upward even more, increasing 21.29% (as measured by the Nasdaq Bank Index). Much has been made of the first 100 days of the new administration, with many Executive Orders being issued but no real legislative actions accomplished. The March failure to pass legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act was a stark reminder that enacting legislation is a difficult process. However, the market appears to remain optimistic that President Trump’s initiatives will be delivered.

Economic Developments of Note ƒƒ

  •  April marks the 94th month for the current economic expansion, the third longest in U.S. history (1960’s and 1990’s were the two longest).
  • The U.S. economy grew at its weakest pace in three years in the first quarter as consumer spending barely increased and businesses invested less on inventories. Gross domestic product increased at a 0.7% annual rate, the weakest performance since the first quarter of 2014. The economy grew at a 2.1% pace in the fourth quarter of 2016.
  • The latest annual inflation rate for the United States is 2.1%, exceeding the Fed’s target of 2% for the first time in nearly five years. The increase in inflation may provide support for the Fed to continue its plans to move interest rates up in 2017.
  • In March, it was reported that employers slowed their pace of hiring. However, unemployment was reported at 4.5%. The March unemployment rate was the lowest in almost a decade. It was also reported that private-sector workers saw average earnings rise 2.7% in March compared to the previous year. This is a sign that we are nearing “full employment” and competition is heating up to attract and retain employees.
  • Activity in the manufacturing sector remained solid in April marking the eighth consecutive month of industrial expansion. One concern for the future, however, is the auto industry. After seven straight years of sales gains, including two consecutive record performances, auto demand has cooled in 2017 despite soaring discounts. Overall, auto makers sold 1.43 million vehicles in the U.S. in April, down 4.7% from a year earlier. A record 17.55 million vehicles were sold in 2016.
  • Exports were reported to be higher by 7.2% this year. This is a positive sign to future economic growth.
  • Home prices have continued their impressive climb upward. The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, covering the entire nation, rose 7% in the 12 months ending in February. We anticipate that these gains will continue, perhaps at a slower rate, due to high demand, low inventories, as well as the overall positive financial condition of home buyers.

We expect that the economy will remain on a positive trend this year. We project GNP to be at 2% for the year as a whole. Job growth should remain positive this year. We expect home building and home sales to be positive. We think that the Fed will increase rates, but anticipate them to be cautious in how quickly they raise rates and reduce their holdings of securities.

Interesting Tid Bits ƒƒ

  • It has been reported that several large auto lenders have decreased their emphasis on auto lending due to concerns about credit quality issues and auto resale values. A portion of this concern is related to the length of new car loans being made. Loans with original terms of between 73 and 84 months accounted for 18.2% of the market. It was further reported that 31% of consumers who traded in a car in 2016 did so in a negative equity position.
  • China’s banking system was reported as the largest by assets, reaching $33 trillion at the end of 2016. This compares to $16 trillion for the U.S. banking market.
  • U.S. household net worth was reported at a record $92.8 trillion at year-end 2016. U.S. households lost approximately $13 trillion during the 2007-2009 recession. The eight-year rally since has added $38 trillion in net worth principally from rising stock prices and climbing real estate values.
  • The Farm Credit System (a government sponsored enterprise) has over $314 billion in assets which would place it as one of the country’s ten largest banks.
  • A bankruptcy judge recently issued a $45 million fine against Bank of America. The action was in connection with a $590,000 residential mortgage loan and servicing issues related to its delinquency.
  • We have been led to believe that small businesses employ the majority of Americans. This is no longer the case. Large companies (10,000 employees or more) employ over 25% of the workforce. Employers with more than 2,500 workers employ 65% of total employees.
  • Nonbank lenders (i.e., Quicken Loans) were responsible for 51.4% of the consumer mortgage loans originated in the third quarter of 2016. This is up from 9% in 2009.
  • People in the United States ages 65 to 74 hold more than five times the debt Americans held two decades ago.

Short-term interest rates ended April 30 up 29 b.p. from year-end with the 3-Month T-Bill at 0.80%. The 10-Year T-Note ended April at 2.29%. This is lower than December 31, 2016, when they were at 2.45%. This reflects a flattening of the yield curve.

The general stock market continued to climb to record levels in the first four months of 2017. The Dow Jones Industrial Index ended April up 5.96% for the year. Banks, after their spectacular rise after the election, retreated somewhat in the first four months of 2017. The broad Nasdaq Bank Index fell 4.05%. Larger banks were more fortunate (as measured by the KBW Bank Index) falling only 0.60%. Banks appear to have been more impacted by the uncertainty surrounding proposed tax cuts and less regulation than other companies.

Merger and Acquisition Activity
For the first four months of 2017, there were 77 bank and thrift announced merger transactions. This compares to 83 deals in the same period of 2016. The median price to tangible book for transactions involving bank sellers was 159% compared to the 133% median value for all of 2016.

Capital Market Commentary – November 2016

By: Stephen Clinton, President, Capital Market Securities, Inc.

Market Update
The current expansion began in June 2009 and has now continued for 88 months, making it the fourth longest period of growth since the data has been recorded. The third quarter growth in the U.S. economy was 2.9%. A tight job market, increasing wages, and low oil prices are aiding the economic growth. Additionally, stronger export growth added to the GNP. Corporate profits are expected to grow and businesses are showing interest in business expansion after sitting on the sidelines for some time.

The following summarize certain issues we think are worth watching:

  • Retail sales in September were up 2.7% from the prior year. Consumer spending, the primary driver for the U.S. economy, accounts for two-thirds of GDP.ƒƒ
  • The number of Americans applying for first-time unemployment benefits was reported at a four-decade low in early October. Initial jobless claims have now remained below 300,000 for seven years, the longest streak since 1970. Job growth has been spurred by a hiring streak that surpassed its previous record in March and is now at 70 straight months. Unemployment is now at 5%.
  • Median household incomes have risen, increasing 5% in the last year. This has led to the consumer confidence reading hitting its highest point in nine years.
  • The Fed continues to remain cautious. Despite fueling expectations for rising interest rates, the Fed has boosted rates only once since the last recession.
  • Home-price growth accelerated in August, as a lack of inventory and low interest rates helped push prices to near record levels. The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices covering the entire nation rose 5.3% in the 12 months ending in August.
  • Inflation has remained below the Fed’s 2% annual target for more than four years, but has shown signs of firming recently. Now expectations are building that inflation may move above the Fed’s target.
  • Mr. Trump’s November election will usher in a new President who will have party majorities in both the House and Senate. This should help the new Administration enact programs and policies more readily.

Short-term interest rates remain historically low with the 3-month T-Bill ending September at 0.26%. The 10-year T-Note ended September at 1.56%, down 71 basis points from year-end 2015. This has led to a significant reduction in the slope of the yield curve.

The stock market performance in 2016 has been positive. The Dow Jones Industrial Index closed September up 5.07% for the year. The Nasdaq Index closed up 6.08%. The Nasdaq Bank index ended September up 5.15%. Larger U.S. bank pricing struggled, ending the first three quarters of 2016 down 3.05%.

The dichotomy between big bank pricing and smaller bank pricing can be seen by comparing pricing multiples for each. Since 1995, banks in the S&P Bank Index averaged a price-to-earnings multiple of 14.1. Currently they average 12.0. Conversely, smaller banks had a historical average of 15.9 and are now trading at a multiple of 17.8.

Interesting Tid Bitsƒƒ

  • New Competition. Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street giant, recently began offering consumer loans. An online consumer lending platform was rolled out offering personal loans up to $30,000.
  • CFPB. Thanks to a lawsuit brought by nonbank mortgage lender PHH Mortgage, a three-judge panel recently ruled that the single director structure of the CFPB was unconstitutional and limited the CFPB’s ability to ignore statute of limitations governing administrative enforcement actions.
  • The Big Get Bigger. It was recently reported that since Dodd-Frank was passed in 2010, large banks have grown by 30%. The six largest U.S. banks now hold assets of approximately $10 trillion. There are now at least 1,500 fewer banks with assets under $1 billion than prior to the financial crisis.
  • ƒBoom in Global Trade. The S&P 500 is up nearly nine-fold since October 1986. Among factors cited to explain this dramatic growth is the acceleration of global trade spurred by various trade agreements.
  • ƒƒMerger and Acquisition Activity. In the first nine months of the year, there were 185 bank and thrift announced merger transactions. This compares to 195 deals in the first three quarters of 2015. The median price to tangible book for transactions involving bank sellers was 129% which is down from the 141% median recorded in 2015.

The Value of Internal Audit Through a Fresh Set of Eyes

By: Jeanette McKeever, CCBIA, Consultant and Internal Audit Operations Manager

There is risk in every aspect of the banking industry and the regulatory environment seems to continually change. As to the governance and control functions of the banking industry, it may be refreshing to the board of directors, audit committee, and executive management to have their internal audit function re-assessed and validated though a fresh set of eyes to assure that the controls in place are functioning as intended.

A strong internal control system, including an independent and effective internal audit function, is part of sound corporate governance. The board of directors, audit committee, senior management, and supervisors must be satisfied with the effectiveness of the bank’s internal audit function, that policies and practices are followed, and that management takes appropriate and timely corrective action in response to internal control weaknesses identified by internal auditors. An internal audit function provides vital assurance to a bank’s board of directors (who ultimately remains responsible for the internal audit function, whether in-house or outsourced) as to the quality of the bank’s internal control system. In doing so, the function helps reduce the risk of loss and reputational damage to the bank.

All internal auditors (whether in-house or outsourced) must have integrity and professional competence, including the knowledge and experience of each internal auditor and of team members collectively. This is essential to the effectiveness of the internal audit function.

We encourage bank internal auditors to comply with and to contribute to the development of national professional standards, such as those issued by the Institute of Internal Auditors, and to promote due consideration of prudent issues in the development of internal audit standards and practices.

Every activity (including outsourced activities) of the bank should fall within the scope of the internal audit function. The scope of the internal audit function’s activities should ensure adequate coverage of matters of regulatory interest within the bank’s audit plan. Regular communication by the audit committee, management, and
affected personnel is crucial to identify the weaknesses and risk associated to assure that timely remedial actions are taken.

Young & Associates, Inc. can independently assess the effectiveness and efficiency of the bank’s internal control, risk management, and governance systems, as well as processes to provide assurance and value that the internal control structure in place operates according to sound principles and standards.

For more information on how we might provide internal audit services specific to your bank’s needs, whether it is outsourced or co-sourced, please contact me at 1.800.525.9775 or click here to send an email.

Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) Compliance – Important Changes

By: Sharon Jeffries, Human Resources Manager

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requires plan administrators (employers) to give plan participants in writing the most important facts they need to know about their health benefit plans.

One of the most important documents participants are entitled to receive automatically when becoming a participant of an ERISA-covered health benefit plan is a summary of the plan, called the Summary Plan Description or SPD. The plan administrator is legally obligated to provide to participants, free of charge, the SPD. The summary plan description is an important document that tells participants what the plan provides and how it operates. It provides information on when an employee can begin to participate in the plan, how service and benefits are calculated, when and in what form benefits are paid, and how to file a claim for benefits. If a plan is changed, participants must be informed, either through a revised summary plan description, or in a separate document, called a Summary of Material Modifications, which also must be given to participants free of charge.

A Wrap Plan Document is designed to meet plan documentation requirements under ERISA and other federal laws and to incorporate all other welfare plans, insurance contracts, and other relevant documents into a single plan. These materials can be kept together for administrative ease. The Wrap Plan Document provides additional legal protection for the employer and plan fiduciaries and can simplify plan administration.

What Does That Mean?
In the past, much of the regulatory focus was on the retirement side of the ERISA legislation. However, with the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), that has changed. Much of the current government monitoring, oversight, and auditing relates to the health and welfare side of the ERISA regulation.

ERISA now requires employers who are plan administrators of their group health plans to comply with two (2) critical requirements or they will risk potential penalties and possible government audits.

Those requirements are:

  • Maintain and distribute SPDs to plan participants which accurately reflect the contents of the plan and which include specific information as required under federal law.
  • Group health plans must be administered in accordance with a written Plan Document which must be made available to plan participants and beneficiaries upon request.

Are You at Risk?
Yes, and the reason is this: Many banks will mistakenly assume that insurance contracts, certificates of insurance, and benefit summaries fulfill the ERISA requirements for an SPD and Plan Document, but they do not. And, the primary reason is that they do not include the required or recommended provisions that protect the plan and the employer.

What Should You Do?
Recognize that:

  • Failure to provide an SPD or Plan Document within 30 days of receiving a request from a plan participant or beneficiary will result in a penalty of up to $110/day for each violation.
  • ƒƒLack of an SPD could trigger a plan audit by the United States Department of Labor (DOL).
  • The United States DOL has increased its audit staff and national enforcement initiatives to investigate employers’ compliance with Health Care Reform, resulting in companies of all sizes being audited and being required to provide an SPD and Plan Document.

The Solution
Do not try to create these documents in house. Allow experts in the areas of benefits and benefits regulations assist you with this monumental effort. Young & Associates, Inc. has partnered with The Alpha Group Agency, Inc. to offer our clients this unique service. The Alpha Group Agency, Inc. is a highly skilled, reputable organization involved in the management of health insurance services as well as other related subjects.

The Alpha Group Agency, Inc. has been an advisor to Young & Associates, Inc. for almost fifteen (15) years in the management of its group health insurance plans. For additional information on how you can become compliant with these critical ERISA regulations and also lower the risk of a DOL audit, contact Sean Nehlsen, The Alpha Group Agency, at 1.800.886.3315 or snehlsen@thealphaga.com.

Capital Market Commentary – August 2016

By: Stephen Clinton, President, Capital Market Securities, Inc.

Market Update

The economy continued to move forward into the seventh year of post-recession recovery. The first quarter growth in the U.S. economy was 1.1%. The following summarizes certain issues we think are worth watching:

  • Brexit shook the markets in June. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has caused the market additional concern about world-wide economic growth prospects.
  • This adds to the existing concerns about growth potential in the world’s second largest economy, China.
  • ƒThe Federal Reserve is in a holding pattern as we approach its late September policy meeting. Most believe that the Fed wants to continue to move interest rates upward, but they are being cautious.
  • ƒJune’s job growth report indicated a renewed momentum in the labor market. After a dismal report in May, the job growth in June exceeded most analysts’ expectations. Unemployment was reported at 4.9%. This falls within the Fed’s normal long-run employment target of between 4.5% and 5%.
  • ƒThe tightening job market has put upward pressure on wages as employers are in competition to find workers. The average hourly earnings for private-sector employees was estimated to have increased 2.6% in the last year. This is the highest growth in wages since 2009. Since 2000, median household income (adjusted for inflation) has dropped 7%. Thus rising wages is a positive sign for future consumer spending.
  • The global issues have caused the U.S. dollar to gain value. The dollar has increased in value almost 10% over the last year. This increase makes U.S. exports more expensive.
  • ƒƒBusiness investment has been slowing. Companies have been hesitant to invest in machines, technology, and inventory. The level of business investment in capital goods has declined nearly 12% since 2014.
  • ƒOil prices continue to remain well below historical levels. This has impacted the market in a variety of ways. Consumers and businesses have benefited from lower gasoline prices. However, the oil production firms have been hard hit and banks are being forced to strengthen their loan loss reserves for struggling oil related
    firms.
  • After years of volatility, home prices have grown at an annual rate of approximately 5% since early 2015. Increasing home prices and low mortgage rates have made the housing market one of the strongest sectors in the U.S. economy in recent months.
  • We are now approximately three months from electing a new President. The differences between the two candidates appear to be dramatic. The uncertainty surrounding the election will impact the markets until after the election.

Short-term interest rates remain historically low with the 3-month T-Bill ending June at 0.26%. The 10-Year T-Note ended June at 1.49%, down 78 basis points from year-end 2015. This has led to a significant reduction in the slope of the yield curve.

The stock market performance in 2016 has been mixed. The Dow Jones Industrial Index closed June up 2.90% for the year. The Nasdaq Index closed down 3.29%. The Nasdaq Bank index ended June down 4.18%. Larger U.S. banks fared even worse, ending the first half of 2016 down 11.25%.

Interesting Tid-bits ƒƒ

  • Lost value. Since the start of 2016, 20 of the world’s largest banks have lost a quarter of their combined market value. In total, approximately $465 billion has been lost.
  • ƒƒPrinting money? The Fed owns approximately $2.4 trillion in U.S. Treasury debt at the end of June. This represents approximately 20% of the total U.S. Treasury Debt.
  • ƒƒThe wealthy get richer. It was recently reported that the top 20% of American families account for 48.9% of total U.S. income compared to 44.3% in 1990.

Merger and Acquisition Activity
In the first half of the year, there were 114 bank and thrift announced merger transactions. This compares to 139 deals in the first half of 2015. The median price to tangible book for transactions involving bank sellers was 131% which is down from the 141% median recorded in 2015.

Strategic Planning – 8 Lessons from the Facilitator

By: Gary J. Young, President and CEO

For 30 years, I have had the pleasure of working with community banks across the country in developing a strategic plan. Yes, my first strategic planning engagement was in 1986. I recently completed a strategic plan for a great bank in Alaska, the first one in that state. There are two banks in Ohio that I have been facilitating strategic plans for since the mid-1980s. And there is another bank in New Mexico in which I am approaching 20 years. Many others are new clients. I certainly feel that I have helped those banks succeed in the way they define success. I also have learned from
all of my strategic planning clients. Those main items are the subject of this article. Regardless of how you approach strategic planning, I believe these concepts will help make your plan meaningful to the management team and the board of directors.

The following are the 8 lessons learned from the facilitator:

1. There is no value in a strategic plan. I know this is a strange thought coming from a strategic plan facilitator. But, I have learned that value is achieved only when the plan is implemented to the benefit of the bank. It is absolutely critical to build consensus and buy-in. If participants believe the plan is from the facilitator, you have lost. The facilitator is there to achieve consensus on the bank’s plan, then write that management and the board want to implement for success.

2. A strategic plan is not about predicting the future, but making the future. Nobody can predict the future. But, that’s not what strategic planning is about. An effective strategic plan is about making the future not predicting it. That’s why I often ask plan participants, “If you could envision the perfect future for your bank, what would it look like, or be like in five years?” The goal is to then build strategies and tactics to deliver the consensus of that perfect future. Of course, there will be deviations from which a change-in-course will be made. We call that good management.

3. There is no one best plan. I have seen successful banks run in an extremely conservative manner and successful banks run in an extremely aggressive manner. There is never one best way. Whatever the strategy, I can give you an example of a successful bank that took a different position. The key is to have a consensus in strategy that exists between the board of directors and senior management. I don’t mean there needs to always be agreement on issues, but agreement on the basic core values that lead to direction.

4. Every good community bank needs to fill in the blank. However you might define this statement, it is wrong.  Community banks are incredibly unique. While Bank A may have 80% of things in common with Bank B, they are still incredibly different. To the facilitator, keep your EYES WIDE OPEN. Only in that way, will you see the nuances that make the job of facilitating a strategic plan rewarding and down-right fun.

5. Banking is about risk. Without risk there is no bank. This relates to 3 and 4 above. But, it is critical that the facilitator help define the risk appetite of the directors. This will then help define capital adequacy which ultimately is at the heart of every strategic plan. Management and the board of directors need to understand there is no right answer. Your risk appetite is all that matters. But, I will tell you one thing that is absolutely wrong: taking risk that is beyond your appetite and that you don’t fully understand. Please, never do that.

6. Define your target or goal for capital. This is a part of 5 above, but it is critical. Let’s assume that capital adequacy based on risk is 7.5%, but the board wants to maintain 9.5%. This is certainly OK, but understand there is a cost to the excess capital. Excess capital could be viewed as an insurance policy against potential losses. Many banks that had excess capital during the Great Recession were certainly happy they did. Excess capital could also be used as pportunity capital in case it is needed for a branch purchase, bank purchase, etc. But also remember, as the tier-1 leverage ratio increases, the return on equity decreases, all other things being equal. A decrease in return on equity is a drag on shareholder value.

7. Asset quality can kill you. Discussing asset quality is not as exciting as many other issues. But, nothing will derail a bank’s plans quicker and more completely than problems in asset quality. Even though loan growth drives asset growth, which is a key component of bank success, we must remember to aggressively seek and conservatively underwrite, and thoroughly understand the risk associated with the loan growth.

8. A facilitator will never know your bank or your market like you do. I am like most other facilitators. I have had the experience of working with hundreds of community banks and seeing how things work positively and negatively. That is my perspective and it is good to have that voice at the retreat. But, I always remind new clients that while I have an experienced perspective, just because I share an opinion does not make it right for your bank in your market. It might be right for 95% of other banks, but that doesn’t mean that it is right for your bank.

I hope that you will consider these concepts as you complete your next strategic plan. And, if you are considering a facilitator, I hope you consider Young & Associates, Inc. If you would like to discuss this article or strategic planning, please call me at 330.283.4121 or click here to send an email.