I was maybe only 5 or 6 years old when my father took me to the Cow Palace in San Mateo, California to watch Ali and George Foreman fight in what is known as The Rumble in The Jungle on closed circuit television broadcast on giant movie screens. I don't remember much of the fight except that I recall how surly the crowd was and all the smoking. My Dad was always, and still is, a big boxing fan and it was a favorite pastime listening to Howard Cosell describe Ali fights. I watched that fight many times in years since and grew ever more appreciative of just how masterful Ali really was in using the "Rope-a-Dope" to fool his opponents and snatch victory. In my book he is the greatest fighter of all time and like so many sports - there are lessons which can be carried into life and certainly into business.
A recent poll of 10,000+ CEOs and CFOs uncovered a very interesting result: The majority agreed they would participate in M&A in some way however, very few sheepishly admitted (3%) to wanting to sell. But I think the die has been cast.
For an institution implementing a future merger strategy, what would another $250,000+ per year in additional profit mean (without having to make a single loan)?
The Business Performance & Innovation (BPI) Network created quite a brouhaha releasing a new and unique study in May called the Less Burn, More Return (LBMR) that looks at the issues and priorities facing today’s community banks during a period of prolonged low interest margins, increased regulatory pressure and sluggish economic growth. While the study touches many different aspects of current industry business problems, it looks closely at one key area of non-interest expense (NIE) – spending on core bank processing and related IT outsourcing services. The study uncovers a major opportunity for improved efficiency ratios, profitability and franchise value. One California CEO quoted in the study completed a merger just a few months after restructuring a new 7 years deal with their core vendor that in turn added more than 7% to the merger deal for his shareholders. The data used to validate the BPI Network study was collected from surveys conducted with over 10,000 senior executives from banks and credit unions with less than $5 Billion in assets. Interviews and testimony from CEOs, CFOs, investors, and advisors are peppered throughout the 24-page report further standing up BPI’s claims and data sources. The report can be downloaded for free at bpinetwork.org – just look for the Less Burn, More Return program link.
The Fiscal Cliff negotiations are temporarily off the table as our leadership has figured out a way to kick the can down the road. At every level a qualified failure and we can all be disappointed at the entire spectacle. We all saw this coming a year ago when they manufactured the post-election fiscal cliff show down and none of us were surprised they could not get it done when those chickens came home to roost. Like most Americans I am enjoying the brief pause in non-stop news coverage on the failed negotiations. There is always something to learn from failure and so during this respite I have taken the opportunity to reflect on the mechanics of the failed fiscal cliff negotiation and outline some key similarities and observations that I see all-too-often in the community banking industry when bankers and vendors negotiate their own fiscal cliffs (albeit a lot smaller). I don’t believe for a minute that I might be the best negotiator on the planet, nor do I know anyone who might be, but the fact is over the last four years we have successfully restructured and renewed many dozens of multi-million dollar Core & IT services agreements for institutions of all sizes coast to coast. In fact, all we do here at Paladin is restructure and negotiate deals using a proven, research-driven, outcome-based methodology that doesn’t harm existing relationships. In just four years, we are approaching $65,000,000 in hard dollar non-interest expense reduction for our bank clients, averaging nearly $800,000 per deal, and without having to change core vendors (i.e. Fiserv, Fidelity, Jack Henry, etc.) or perform a wasteful RFP process (scam). We’re proud to stand on such a strong record and experience and I hope to share some of these insights with you here.
“How do you do that and make money?” “Are you crazy, why would you give away what you know?” “There has got to be a catch – really…for free?” These were the top three questions heard from bankers after we announced that all of our national market research on Core & IT providers was accessible to CEOs and CFOs for no cost or obligation. Yes, we even provide our analysts’ time up front to discuss the entirety of your Core & IT contract renewal options, make recommendations to the bank and specifically detail what steps you should take even if you do it on your own. Is it crazy consulting? No. It’s called Naked Consulting and while not a new concept in business, this model is quite rare in a community banking industry accustomed to the rote approach of paranoid vendors holding back the answers until after you have signed their contract. Coined by a old friend of mine and best-selling author Pat Lencioni (Five Temptations of a CEO, Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Death by Meeting) it describes a way of consulting whereby you build trust, confidence and respect with bank leaders [in you] by being vulnerable, disclosing and completely honest in advance. And yes, you do give away proprietary business intelligence, insights, advice and direction in the early stages of earning business relationship and without expecting a penny of compensation in return.
I had the great fortune of hiring Patrick as my CEO Coach for about 2 years (circa 1998) just as he was publishing his first book. I learned a lot from him about being vulnerable, completely clear and not being afraid of saying what I thought was important even if it meant taking a slightly weaker negotiating position. This style of management and consulting has served me well over the years and while he had not yet invented the concept of naked consulting back then – his most recent book Getting Naked finally does and I recommend it strongly.
In my last article we summarized that there are two initial steps necessary to successfully renegotiate a new or renewal service agreement with any Core or IT vendor. Step One: Admit that you’re a banker and not a CIO. The deck is stacked against you. These multi-billion dollar corporations have forgotten more about writing a obnoxiously favorable vendor-leaning agreement than you might ever know in your entire career as a banker. That’s nothing to be embarrassed about – it’s reality. Begin with the humility of “knowing you don’t know what they know.” Step Two: Don’t believe for a second that beating up your vendor will get you anything that might not be gained with a more partnering approach. Using an RFP process or overtly entertaining other vendor pricing (when you genuinely have no real intention of ever leaving your current provider) is a crime and a shame. Speaking as a former vendor…there exists a silent code amongst vendors for treatment of bankers that use this water boarding tactic to extract improved pricing, terms and conditions. That is, you may get the pricing you want – but the partnership is over. Forget ever calling in a favor or receiving anything that resembles a “deal” in the future. Unlike terrorists, you can get you want out of Core & IT vendors without the torture of an RFP or public hearing with their competitors.
So then, if you are ready to be humble and show your vendors respect, then you have a chance of executing the next steps successfully.
More than ever in the history of American banking, bankers are looking for sensible costs of doing business. They want to pay a fair price to attract and retain solid core clients.