TD Bank: North America’s most convenient IR program

Mar 03, 2011
<p>Canada&rsquo;s TD Bank swept the IR Magazine Canada Awards with a blend of transparency and good old customer service</p>

Start with a management team that supports IR with candor, transparency and a good dose of charisma. That’s impressive – but these days only to be expected from a top-flight C-suite.

Back up management with a team of eight IROs – a mix of IR specialists, veterans of line management and competitive analysis experts – and you start to see what sets TD Bank Group apart.

Model the IR program on the bank’s core values of customer service and convenience, and the deal is sealed: this is Canada’s best IR program, winning five awards and nominated for three others at the IR Magazine Canada Awards 2011.

In an interview at TD’s downtown Toronto headquarters, vice president of IR Mushtak Najarali echoes what the outgoing head of IR, senior vice president Tim Thompson, and CFO Colleen Johnston said publicly at the awards gala the night before. ‘It really does start from the top. Colleen and Ed have a huge impact on the program,’ Najarali says, referring to Johnston and Ed Clark, TD Bank’s well-respected CEO.

On picking up the trophy for best IR by a CFO at a large-cap company, Johnston hinted at the journey that brought TD from the shadows into the spotlight at these awards. In 2004, the year Johnston came to TD from Scotibank, and 2005, when she was named best CFO, EnCana and other energy companies dominated the lineup of award winners. Among financial services companies, Manulife had taken over from Royal Bank of Canada as the sector’s best example of IR, while TD, though highly visible in the news, was left out of the awards.

‘We at TD made the strategic decision about five years ago to make IR a competitive advantage for the bank,’ Johnston explained on stage at this year’s awards. ‘Our investors really are our lifeblood. They’re so important to a growing organization.’

Najarali explains that TD’s strategy was (and is) growth, and as a growth company it needed to build a strong IR mandate. ‘If you’re going to make acquisitions, you need your shareholders to support you and you need a growing number of them,’ he points out. ‘If you’re going into the US making acquisitions, then – to the extent that you want to hold onto those shareholders – they need to understand your story.’

TD first entered the US with a 51 percent stake in Banknorth in 2005 and took full ownership in 2007. In 2008 it acquired Commerce Bank and in 2010 three FDIC-assisted banks in Florida and Carolina-based South Financial Group. In December 2010 TD announced it was buying Chrysler Financial, the automaker’s old lending arm, from private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management for $6.3 bn.

Today TD’s trademark green is on street corners across the US, a familiar sight for Canadians who still remember when Toronto-Dominion was the smallest of Canada’s big five banks, before it merged with Canada Trust in 2000.

‘The bank’s North American vision was predicated on a strong shareholder base, and on building a strong IR program to ensure that,’ Najarali continues. ‘When Colleen talks about building the IR program, she doesn’t just mean the IR infrastructure. She means instilling an IR focus across the organization.’

With a broad swathe of senior management involved in IR activities, the investor relations team takes a strategic approach to having the right mix of executives go to the right places and events. Sell-side research has grown to 17 covering analysts, so the focus is on the wise use of management’s time. The IR team lays out a plan for each senior executive involved, providing context by showing his or her place within the bank’s overall IR mandate.

Credit has clearly been an important part of the story for the last two years, and last year TD’s chief risk officer, Mark Chauvin, spent a lot of his time on the IR program, supplementing significantly higher credit disclosure over the past two years.

Throughout the financial crisis, Canadian banks have performed well compared with US counterparts, so from a marketing perspective, it’s been easy to sell the Canada story. On the other hand, maybe it’s easy for TD because it had it so hard before. Around the time Clark took over in 2002, the bank was mired in losses related to the battered telecoms sector.

After taking some hard hits, TD adapted its client-focused strategy to measuring risk against reward in every area of its business. The idea was that if it couldn’t understand a business, ten it probably didn’t make sense to be in it. That’s what led TD to get out of structured products in 2005 and 2006, long before those risky instruments blew up. That move, plus the fact that it was never in the subprime mortgage business, has helped make TD one of only seven banks worldwide to hang on to a triple-A debt rating from Moody’s.

TD’s disclosure is straightforward, even when it’s about complex banking issues. From the annual report to quarterly management discussion and analysis, the IR, corporate public affairs, legal and accounting teams focus on making everything clear and understandable, even to an investor new to the story.

It all comes down to transparency, Najarali says. If there’s something the bank can’t or won’t disclose, the IROs ask why, and what the limitations are. Is it because the firm doesn’t know? If it doesn’t know, can it find out?

For example, for Q4 2010, TD could have said simply that its expenses came in higher than expected. But it went further, including in the quarterly presentation a slide giving context and answering questions about the type of expenses and whether they signaled a new run rate.

TD holds what it calls ‘face-to-face investor calls’, meaning each quarterly earnings announcement is a hybrid of a live meeting, with around 10 to 15 sell-side analysts, buy-side analysts and portfolio managers on site in Toronto, combined with a conference call and a video webcast. It’s a lot of work and expense, Najarali admits, but it increases management access for investors.

In addition to one-on-ones and conferences, TD does a lot of bank tours, which maximize ‘executive coverage’ while minimizing travel. As with reverse roadshows, sell-side analysts bring along investors from different places on bank tours, and TD’s executives get to meet a broad range.

Investor days are perhaps the most important kind of live event. In the last 18 months, TD has done three, covering three of its four main businesses: Canadian personal and commercial (P&C) banking, US P&C and wealth management. (The fourth business area is securities.) The US event in New York in June 2010 combined an investor day with a tour of one of the bank’s Manhattan locations. Bharat Masrani, TD’s US head, gave a presentation, as did a series of his senior managers from personal banking, product management and credit and commercial areas.

TD’s 2010 annual report features an interactive online version, replete with videos of Clark, Johnston and chairman John Thompson. It’s the culmination of enhancements to the website TD has made over the last 24 months, including ‘leadership views’ – videos of Masrani and Clark in fireside chat-style interviews.

Najarali says TD wants to keep thinking up ways to use the web to make it easier for investors to understand all four of its businesses. For example, audio versions of the videos of Masrani and Clark are available to download as MP3s, so investors can listen to them on their own time. It’s all part of the bank’s convenience model, he says – its ‘platinum level of IR service.’

Team players

TD’s IR team, eight IR professionals plus two to four support staff, is large by Canadian bank standards. Vice president of IR Mushtak Najarali chalks that up to the scale of its mandate. Not only is the team active in terms of IR marketing, but it also has an analytics side that functions as an in-house research team, providing peer benchmarking, competitive intelligence and trend analysis for senior management and business heads.

Najarali says the great thing about the team is that it’s a mix of IR practitioners and people from the operational side. Although he joined the team just a year ago, he is approaching 20 years at TD, having started in branches as a student then rising through the ranks of wealth management and personal and commercial banking. Before his IR posting he was a regional vice president in charge of 16 branches and more than 300 employees in the Scarborough area outside Toronto.

IR at TD is a ‘destination of choice’, meaning there’s high demand for a spot on the team. ‘It’s a fantastic opportunity to be involved at the top level, across all the different businesses. You really get a bird’s eye view,’ Najarali says. As part of the bank’s associate program, some interns have a chance to do a stint in IR.

With the size and breadth of the IR team, it was critical to ‘institutionalize’ the process, so that new personnel can be rapidly brought up to speed on the TD story and how it’s communicated. Najarali says feedback over the last 12 months shows investors appreciate the seamlessness: even though there are new IROs, the program feels consistent from an investor’s point of view.

TD uses an outside firm to do investor perception studies for the entire TD brand, of which IR is a component. That gives useful feedback about IR performance, as does an internal survey of the finance team. Najarali says letting people know TD’s IR team aspires to a very high standard is an important part of ensuring useful feedback.

Noise filter

‘As a result of the financial crisis, banks have gone through significant assessment, evaluation, even criticism. There’s been a lot of change and uncertainty for the industry as a whole. It was already a highly regulated environment, and it’s now becoming an even more highly regulated environment.

‘Investors have been asking, What is the impact of US regulatory reform and Canadian regulatory reform? Everyone wants to know about the immediate impact on earnings. There’s a lot of focus now on ensuring banks have sufficient capital. What are our capital ratios? What are the minimum thresholds? Can we meet them today?

‘But rather than trying to answer every single question people are asking, IR should stand back and try to identify the question it is ultimately trying to answer: What is the impact? Are we going to have to issue new shares to meet the new capital rules? We’ve gone out with the message: the answer is ‘no’.

‘From an IR standpoint, the key is to help investors look beyond the noise. And when you’re dealing with a lot of noise, you need to give clarity even when you can’t give certainty.’

– Mushtak Najarali, vice president of investor relations, TD Bank

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