Pricing effectively “forever”

February 25, 2009 by Guest Contributor

By: Tom Hannagan

This post is a feature from my colleague and guest blogger, John Robertson, Senior Process Architect in Advisory Services at Baker Hill, a part of Experian.

Years ago, I attended a seminar at which the presenter made a statement that struck me as odd, but has proven to be quite prophetic.  He simply stated, “margins will continue to narrow … forever!” He was spot on.
At that time, a variety of loan products (such as mortgage loans) were becoming commoditized and this emerging market acted as an intermediary for needed cash to provide banks the wherewithal to continue to lend in their respective locales. The presenter continued by making a call for a systematic and effective pricing methodology then and “forever”.
Pricing loans in a competitive market does not necessarily translate into smaller yields. Nor should banks be willing to accept smaller yields for less than quality loans. There are several viable options to consider when loan pricing in a market where the margins continue to shrink.

Cutting operating expenses
Generally, a financial institution’s first reaction to narrowing margins is to cut operating expenses. Periodically the chaff does need culling, but most banks run efficient shops by depending heavily on technology to create those efficiencies and for risk management. They continually measure themselves with efficiency ratios which, in part, help to drive their strategic operating decisions. So, when the edict comes from above to cut operating expenses, there aren’t too many options.

So, why is a bank’s first reaction usually an all-out call to cut operating expenses? Generally, it’s because these operating expenses are more easily identifiable and banks still lack effective tools to measure the value of their customers and relationships. Couple that with the perception that there is no control over a competitive market with narrowing margins. As a result, banks price accordingly — just to get the deal. Consequently, their efficiency ratios may look good, but what about the potential impact on yield, service and internal morale? Community banks, in particular, pride themselves on customer service and, in fact, site it as one of their strengths against larger banks. Do you give up that advantage?

Relationship management
To price effectively in a market where margins have narrowed, the bank has to also consider the relationship’s value. The value of deposits should be measured and included to allow for more competitive pricing. The influence of deposits on the relationship allows the bank to be more aggressive in its loan pricing or can enhance the relationship yield itself.
Loan pricing in a competitive market does not have to translate into smaller yields and/or credit quality. The key to staying ahead of competition is measuring the value of the relationship and applying any or all of the outlined effective risk-based pricing methodologies to position the bank to win the deal and still meet the targeted return objectives. While the phrase “margins will continue to narrow … forever” may seem to hold true, banks can counter by using the “power of pricing” to offset the impact to earnings …forever!