Saturday, 16 April 2011

Enterprise-wide Risk Management (ERM): Yawn

I attended an industry presentation on ERM this past week put on by RSM McGladrey.  The topic highly interested me, not because it is interesting, but because everybody is talking about it and there are differing opinions about what to do about it. What an opportunity for a non-audit, non-compliance, non-IT, and non-credit blogger to write about it!

First I would like to say that the McGladrey speaker really knew his stuff and was balanced. So often I hear commentary on ERM by advocates that think it is the next best thing to, say, online banking. Well, no it isn't. It is not likely to make your FI a lick of money. That said, here is my criteria for an ERM program:

"A successful ERM will result in reduced losses that exceed the investment made in the ERM program."
~ jeff for banks

Why else would an FI embark on ERM? If the investment in ERM exceeds losses foregone, then don't invest in an ERM program. It's not worth the money. As community FIs, regulators force us to throw enough money down a black hole without us volunteering to do so.

But managing risk across organizational silos is highly fragmented in FIs. It makes sense to coordinate the effort into one area. Perhaps, as suggested by one attendee at the presentation, ERM could streamline risk management efforts to make reporting more relevant, less voluminous, and less labor intensive. If this was a by-product of ERM, then I'm in! I think your Board of Directors (Trustees for CUs) would appreciate reducing the size of monthly Board reports for monitoring risk.

An organization's risk profile looks like the bubble chart below from McGladrey's presentation. But not all risks are equal. If we were to quantify risk across the industry, Credit Risk would rank at 10 for greatest risk (on a hypothetical scale of 1 to 10), but other significant risks would be much lower such as Liquidity and Interest Rate Risk (perhaps 4's). How would a non-audit, non-compliance, non-credit person develop a ranking system for risks?
Look at past experience to determine levels of risk. For example, perform a lookback over a meaningful sample period (perhaps 10 years, or at least one economic cycle) to identify where your FI actually lost money. A second criteria could be to query your personnel with the greatest knowledge of the risk to quantify the possible loss and the likely loss from a certain risk. By developing such a discipline, the FI should determine how much resources, if any, should be dedicated to mitigating the risk.

The bubble chart above contains too much in the form of risk categories, as most categories have sub-risks. The McGladrey presenter mentioned having 20-25 risks worth monitoring and mitigating, although he was not married to it. As ERM evolves, we have to guard against monitoring so many risks that the processes that result are inefficient in their application and ineffective at preventing those risks that represent the greatest potential loss.

For example, I was evaluating processes in a client's deposit operations function where one of the ladies in the department sorted through a large stack of checks for two hours each day. I asked why she did it. She said the Bank had a check fraud about seven years ago, and therefore she had to manually review all checks over $5,000. I asked what a fraud might look like. She didn't seem clear. I asked how many she has prevented since the undertaking. She said none.

Here was an FI that allocates two employee hours per day to prevent a fraud that she probably would not prevent. The investment in resources significantly outsized the risk. I put to you that this example will be all too familiar if we implement ERM without evaluating the size and likelihood of risk. And processes, like government programs, last forever.

This past economic cycle made clear that the single greatest risk FIs face is credit risk. I don't see this changing. Even FIs that failed due to liquidity had their woes start with credit risk, including the credit risk in the FIs investment portfolio. So let's not fool ourselves into thinking that somehow "employee fraud", or some other risk, ranks nearly as high.

But there are risks that can have materially negative impacts on our business. So a CEO and Board can efficiently and effectively monitor the greatest risks to the safety and soundness of the FI, consider implementing a well thought out ERM that is focused, efficient, and effective.

Any thoughts on what such an ERM program would look like?

~ Jeff

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Product Profitability Anyone? The JFB Pro-Growth Matrix

A bank attorney spoke at a recent Financial Managers' Society (FMS) meeting that I attended. His topic: Leadership. His thesis: Analytics should be the basis for strategic decision making. He offered an interesting fact: 40% of critical decisions in U.S. companies are made from the gut. This style of decision making was romanticized by Jack Welch in his popular 2001 book: Jack Straight from the Gut.

But in reading Welch's tome regarding his successful years at the helm of GE, it is clear that he was far more analytical than the book's title indicates.

Community FI's are similar to other companies in their strategic decision making. Often, critical decisions are made from the gut or based on past experience that becomes more irrelevant as industries, such as ours, rapidly transform. Such disruption gave rise to strategic advisory firms that break down strategic decisions to the facts important to increasing the likelihood of positive outcomes.

One such firm is the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), creator of the Growth-Share Matrix that depicts the potential for a company's products based on growth prospects and market share. Intrigued by BCG's concept and the ability to illustrate facts to improve decision making in FI's, I created the jeff for banks (jfb) pro-growth matrix.

Instead of using market share, as in the BCG model, I utilized net revenue per product. For loans, this was calculated as a percent of the product portfolio as follows: coterminous spread - provision + fee income. For deposit products the formula was: coterminous spread + fee income. This data was pulled from my firm's profitability database for all FI's that subscribe(d) to our profitability outsourcing service.

I chose to use net revenue instead of product profits because of the step-variable nature of an FI's cost structure. Most costs are fixed until a certain level where employees struggle to get the work done and the FI must invest in people and/or technology to increase capacity. If revenues decline, it is not typical for expenses to decline, as banks don't often let people go or scale down operations like a mortgage origination shop or a brokerage firm. Therefore, focusing on the products that drive the greatest revenue through a relatively fixed expense base would be closer to a realistic alternative for FIs.

I measured for both the fourth quarter of 2000 and 2010 to look at how our industry has changed. Change it has! Gone are the days that core deposit products generate net revenue between 4%-9%, as depicted by the "Stars" from 2000. That is because the re-investment rate, or credit for funds, for deposit products has dropped dramatically as a result of the interest rate environment today, particularly at the low end of the yield curve. Many readers may have experienced their treasurer lamenting they don't want any more deposits because they have no place to put them. That phenomenon is represented in the pullback of deposit products from 2000 to today.

But even in our historically low rate environment, core deposit products linger near the "Stars" box. Because revenues are low, some have drifted into the question marks. Interest rates are beyond our control, but if the net revenues per product decline, and much of the decline is outside of our control, then to move "Question Marks" to "Stars" may require an analysis of our expense base and the processes in place to support those products. Are we using technology to its fullest capacity? Do we still engage in outdated processes to protect from a risk that is negligible today?

Another interesting point from the jfb pro-growth matrix was that commercial real estate (CRE), much maligned since the recent crisis, remained in the Question Marks camp, albeit knocked down a notch because of the decline in the 3-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) used to calculate the Market Growth portion of the chart. With today's elevated loan loss provisioning, CRE continues to contribute to an FIs profitability with above average net revenue generation.

Time deposits have declined on a CAGR basis since 2007, as noted in its position on the chart. In 2000, time deposits had a CAGR of 4.65% and net revenue of 0.53%. Today, CDs CAGR is -8.69% as FIs backed away from this expensive funding source because there is no loan demand. Why book a CD when its current coterminous spread is negative, which is where it stands today? But even when CDs had a positive spread, this product remained unprofitable.

Lastly, the sheer gaggle of products in the "Question Marks" quadrant indicates an opportunity for FIs. Using analytics, product managers have the opportunity to migrate marginally profitable products into either "Stars" or "Cash Cows". Knowing where you do and don't make money is a critical starting point, and positive action based on analytics can improve your FIs financial performance.

How do you use analytics for critical decision making?

~ Jeff

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Guest Post: First Quarter Economic Update by Dorothy Jaworski

The World Around Us

World events are impacting our markets. Unrest in the Middle East has already changed governments in Tunisia and Egypt. Protests and internal fighting in Libya have led to an international coalition bombing the country in order to establish a “no-fly” zone. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain also face protests. Triple tragedies in Japan from the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the giant tsunami, and the ongoing nuclear emergencies have us all unsettled.

Moody’s Rating Service never sleeps and has downgraded the debt of Spain, Greece, and yes, Japan. Oil prices keep rising and we’ve seen a 15% increase in gas prices since year end 2010. So far, about half of the positive economic impact of the surprise 2% reduction in social security taxes and small business tax cuts are gone because of higher gas prices. It may not take long before the remainder is gone, too.

It is no surprise then that the confluence of these events chipped away at the stock market rally and set into motion the inevitable correction. Stock markets had been rallying nicely since the Federal Reserve unveiled their $600 million quantitative easing program, commonly known as “QE2,” in November. Actually, stock markets are up nearly 100% since the Fed was in the midst of their first quantitative easing program in early 2009. One of the Fed’s QE2 goals, as stated by Chairman Bernanke, was to improve the stock market. In that, it has succeeded.

But the other stated goal was to keep longer term interest rates low or push them lower; this has not been accomplished. The bond markets had other ideas, selling off continuously since November, until three year through ten year Treasury yields had risen by over 100 basis points, peaking at increases of 130 to 140 basis points over November levels. It was not until stocks began to correct in early March that rates began to fall some-what, or about 25 basis points, as investors bought Treasuries and other bonds in a flight to quality because of all the uncertainty in the world.

Fundamentally, stocks should continue to do well in this, the third year of the rally. Corporate profits are strong and companies are sitting on a $2 trillion stockpile of cash. Mergers and acquisitions are continuing at a brisk pace. Prospects for economic growth are gradually improving, with 3% to 3.5% expected this year, and consumer and business confidence has been rising. The S&P 500 forward price-earnings ratio of 13.5 times is well below the historical norm of 15.5 times, so there is room to continue the upward trend, if world events cooperate, that is.

The Missing People

I usually do not obsess over economic data but I have been trying to figure out why the unemployment rate managed to drop from 9.8% to 8.9% in just three months, without a commensurate improvement in the number of jobs created. There has not been a drop of this magnitude in the unemployment rate in so short a time since 1958, when I was an infant. So, let’s look at some of the recent numbers and you will probably join me in asking “Where are the missing people?”

Payroll employment rose by 407,000 in the past three months, or an average of 135,000. Household employment, which incorporates the self-employed, rose by 664,000, or an average of 221,000.

Now, let’s look at the other data: Over the past three months, the number of people reported as unemployed has dropped by 1,028,000, the pool of available workers dropped by 1,206,000, and the total labor force dropped by 704,000. Where are these people, when there were not enough jobs created to account for the drop in unemployed persons? Why are they missing? If they didn’t get jobs, where are they?

We are creating average monthly payroll growth of 135,000 and household growth of 221,000, or barely enough to absorb new entrants into the workplace, and we are supposed to believe that the ranks of the unemployed dropped by over a million and the unemployment rate has miraculously dropped by nearly 1%! Ridiculous!

Growth for 2011

Economists were stampeding over each other to raise their GDP forecasts to 3.5% from 3.0% for 2011 earlier this year after the surprise tax cuts for consumers and businesses. Even the Federal Reserve raised their forecast range to 3.4% to 3.9% from the prior 3.0% to 3.6%. Then they all got another surprise from surging oil prices (currently over $100 per barrel) and gas prices (currently up almost 50 cents from the end of 2010), so the higher growth projections may have been a bit premature. At this point, we will probably see the originally projected 3%, given the still rising oil and gas prices, high unemployment, higher interest rates, and still weak housing markets.

To put this 3% growth rate into perspective, it would be only slightly better than 2010’s rate of 2.7% and equal to the average rate of GDP growth from 2000 to 2004. But 3% is tremendously above the recent average between 2005 and 2009 of 1.0%. We long for the glory days of the 1990s, when the average growth rate for the decade was 3.8%.

But, dream on, because the long term historical average is 3.2% since World War II, so we are close to average. I will note that GDP for 4Q10 was a record $14.86 trillion (annualized basis), which is above the prior record set in 4Q07. Consumers, businesses, and governments – state and local – are improving slowly. Very slowly. Enough to keep the Fed on hold with short term interest rates near zero – until unemployment falls from today’s high levels – from real job creation not just missing people.

Putting It All Together

Since my NCAA bracket did not turn out too well – I had Temple, Pitt, and Syracuse among others – I am forced to focus on the rest of the madness in the world. It really is true that our markets are closely tied to what is happening elsewhere and not always what is happening at home. Other than protests and natural disasters, there is one theme that has been garnering attention – that of soaring food and energy prices.

Some of the Middle East protests are in response to higher food prices, which, according to the IMF, are setting new records. So far, these dramatic price rises have not worked their way permanently into the prices of other goods and services. That is because our economic recovery is still fragile and increases in prices may not be sustainable.

Consumers likely will pull back spending in response to high prices, leading to weakening economic growth. We count on the Federal Reserve to watch inflation developments closely and they are seeing excess capacity, high unemployment, low wage and salary gains, and continued weak housing markets.

Today’s issue is to reduce unemployment; tomorrow’s issue may well be fighting inflation. Expect the Fed to keep short term rates low for an “extended period” of time, just as they promise us each month. Expect the Fed to remain angry over the bond market’s reaction to their QE2 program. For all we know, they may be plotting QE3. Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading! DJ 03/21/11

Dorothy Jaworski has worked at large and small banks for over 30 years; much of that time has been spent in investment portfolio management, risk management, and financial analysis. Dorothy has been with First Federal of Bucks County since November, 2004.