US Banking Consolidation Still on the Cards, Says Greenwich Associates

Between 5% and 10% of US banks will be acquired or otherwise disappear by the end of 2011, according to new projections by Greenwich Associates. By 2015 the number of banks in the US is projected to fall to 20% below 2007 levels. During the same period, the number of bank branches in the US will decline by 25% and the resulting disappearance of some 20,000 branch locations will undue much of the past decade’s expansion.

Those are just some of the conclusions of a new report from Greenwich Associates, ‘US Banking 2010-2015: Two-Steps Forward, One Step Back’. Every year, Greenwich Associates interviews and surveys more than 40,000 large corporations, middle market companies, and small businesses about the banks and banking services they use. Based on an analysis of current and historic results, Greenwich Associates concludes that, over the next five years, the US banking industry will be characterised by four trends:

  1. A continuation of more restrictive credit policies put in place by banks during the crisis.
  2. A surge in banking industry mergers and acquisitions (M&As).
  3. A rate of bank failures and government takeovers that remains far above the historic norm.
  4. An emerging acceptance of cyber banking relationships that reduces the importance and number of bank branches while allowing banks to compete outside traditional network boundaries.

Driving these trends will be sustained pressure on banks from underperforming loans in commercial real estate and other areas, rising costs associated with new regulation and the need for increased capital levels. The same trends will put pressure on banks and limit the recovery in lending, keeping credit in short supply for US companies. They will also combine to cause dramatic reductions in the size of the industry.

“Many banks with less than US$1bn in assets will be consumed by larger and more financially secure banks seeking efficiencies and scale,” said Greenwich Associates consultant Don Raftery. “Smaller banks will struggle with the increased costs of greater regulatory oversight. The group of survivors will likely include more foreign banks that take advantage of industry dislocations to build a significant presence in the US market.”

2010: Compressed Margins, Cost Discipline and Risk Controls

Bank net-interest margins will compress throughout 2010 as interest rates begin to inch higher, deposits decline to more normalised levels and loan floors give way to growth efforts. With only modest growth in the economy, high levels of unemployment and a continued real estate backlog, growth in bank earnings will be driven largely by management discipline on costs augmenting investment banking and cash management profits. Internal bank culture and power that has shifted over the past 24 months will solidify around the risk management function, possibly at the cost of renewed growth.

Banking Beyond 2010

Beyond 2010, US banks and foreign institutions will compete in a much-changed industry:

  • Regulation and market pressure will instil a new degree of separation between traditional depository institutions and risk-taking firms, with increased levels of private equity ownership of banks throwing a wildcard into that mix.
  • For large and mid-size depository institutions, insurance will become a fully integrated mainstay business, transforming the insurance distribution model far beyond the insurance brokerage arms owned by a few banks today.
  • Banks will once again be generating meaningful credit capacity through securitisation, using a new and improved model in which mandatory risk-sharing and put-back clauses to originators mitigate excessive risk-taking and poor oversight.
  • The broader application and acceptance of video communication and remote banking transactions will transform bank relationships, decreasing the importance of bank branches and allowing banks and new market entrants to compete beyond their traditional network boundaries.

Important Implications

The coming months will provide unprecedented opportunities for banks with the necessary financial strength and management acumen. During the current breakdown in the ‘originate-to-distribute’ credit model, management teams should be focusing on annuity businesses such as cash management, as well as opportunities in segments expected to recover more quickly (e.g. small business). They should also be moving to take advantage of opportunities to upgrade their own quality and capabilities by hiring available talent and preparing themselves in advance for potential acquisitions, especially those that come available through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) bidding process.

In addition, bank management teams must resist the temptation to become overly averse to risk or slow to resume lending as the economic recovery unfolds. It is during this time in the credit cycle when savvy lenders can command pricing premiums, negotiate favourable terms and build relationships that will sustain their business over the long term.

“Meanwhile, legislators and regulators face a daunting two-part challenge,” said Raftery. “They must address regulatory deficiencies that permitted or encouraged destructive behaviour among banks, while simultaneously encouraging the same banks to be more aggressive in their lending. As this report shows, the banking industry is more fragile than it might appear. Proceed with caution.”


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