Look mommy, I shrunk the bank

By: Tom Hannagan

An article in American Banker* today discusses how many community banks are now discouraging new deposit gathering. We have seen many headlines in the past couple of years about how banks are not lending. Loan origination has been trending downward for many months. Now, they aren’t seeking deposits either. You would think this is the ultimate way to lower risk, but that’s not necessarily so.

There are many different reasons why banks have or may be reducing their balance sheets. Tighter credit standards, and relatively low loan demand are chief among them. This is largely a reaction, on the part of banks and borrowers, to the economic contraction and painfully slow recovery. The softness in real estate is still a large overhanging problem – for consumers, businesses, governments and the banks. Banks are still working on loss provisioning in an attempt to deal with the embedded credit risk from the last recession.

Even though they may be shrinking, or very slowly growing their loan portfolio, all of the forward risk management considerations are still there. That is true for the lending business and for managing the overall balance sheet. Most apparent among all these considerations is that the entire existing loan portfolio is steadily coming up for renewal consideration. That is as much of an opportunity for reconsidering a loan’s risk and return characteristics as is considering a new loan. It is also an opportunity to review the relationship management strategy, including the value of other relationship services or the time to sell new services to that client. All these sales situations involve risk and return considerations. Not least among them are the deposit services – existing and potential – associated with the relationship.

The main point in the American Banker article was that banks can have trouble putting new deposit funds to work profitably. That makes sense. Deposits involve operating risk and operating costs. The costs include both fixed and variable costs. There are four or five major types of deposits. Each of them has very different operating cost profiles, balance behavior and levels of interest expense. They also involve market risk in that their loyalty or likely duration varies.

So, it is important to take both the risk and return factors of new/renewed loans into account AND to take the risk and return factors of new/existing deposit balances into account as part of ongoing relationship management – and the bank’s resulting balance sheet direction. This is a lot to consider. A good risk-based profitability regimen is as critical as ever.

*American Banker, Tuesday, July 27, 2010. In Cash Glut, Banks Try to Discourage New Deposits. By, Paul Davis