M&A Could Spell Opportunity for Regional Bank Competitors

by tom 4. February 2011 14:54

0309-merger_full_600A recent article in American Banker magazine entitled, “Stealing customers. Poaching deposits. It's all on the table when M&A disrupts a marketplace,” offered some interesting statistics about the shift in deposits when a bank is acquired. We have seen a lot of M&A activity in the banking community as troubled institutions are being gobbled up by their healthier competitors, and the result has created some new opportunities for smaller, healthier, regional banks. As one source in the article states:

"When there's a strong local competitor like a WSFS and out-of-market large banks come in out of acquisition, those local banks I believe do stand to benefit and pick up customers that are either not wanting to bank with an out-of-state bank competitor or just experience some turmoil related to the integration effort," said Mary Beth Sullivan, a partner in the Capital Performance Group consulting firm. "It always has created opportunities," she said, "and it will continue to do that. But my sense is, the best opportunity is on the business banking side of the equation when that happens."

The article cites a number of examples where, following an acquisition, they acquired bank actually increased its deposits. For example, when New York Community Bancorp acquired AmTrust in Cleveland, the New York Community executives were conservatively estimating a loss of 15 percent of $8 billion in deposits would likely follow. Instead, AmTrust’s deposits grew by nearly $200 million in the first quarter. This could be because AmTrust kept its name and the fallout from the merger was fast, and AmTrust stopped its layoffs and started hiring right away. Hence a perceived turnaround for an established local brand.

An interesting observation about this example is that depositors tend to leave a struggling bank at the first sign of trouble. By the time AmTrust was acquired by New York Community, only the most loyal customers were still banking with AmTrust.

The article also tells a David-and-Goliath story of how FirstMerit Corporation of Akron was able to attract depositors from Cleveland competitor National City after the latter was acquired by PNC Financial Services Group. FirstMerit was a healthier bank with fewer problem home builder loans, and was able to attract depositors with new special offers, such as a new checking account with one free overdraft per year and free return of canceled checks. FirstMerit was able to increase its core deposits by $1.34 billion in the first year following National City’s acquisition, and it moved into number 7 in deposit market share as of June 2010.

“Ali Raza, an executive vice president at Speer & Associates, a financial services consulting firm in Atlanta, said he has seen acquisitions play out in two ways in his local market. ‘When a new bank comes in to town, there is some opportunity for consumers to look at a new alternative," he said. "At the same time, there is some defensive play and an opportunity created by a longtime hometown bank to assert itself as a player that has been there for a long time and differentiate itself, 'We know the market better than the newcomer' sort of thing.’”

Whether consumers switch banks or not is really a matter of convenience. If there are enough local branches and ATMs then they will consider an alternative when their bank goes through a transition. Offering innovative products and aggressive deposit rates to attract their attention helps as well.

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