Best practices in IR for community and regional banks

Sep 24, 2019
Banks should focus on transparency, timeliness, relevant data and results drivers

Transparency, timeliness, relevant data and results drivers are among the key considerations all bank IR teams should have top of mind as they prepare their company’s earnings reports, conference call materials and other important communications for analysts and investors.

The most effective IR officers approach their jobs as facilitators of consistent and meaningful communication between management and Wall Street, said Aaron Deer, a managing director of equity research at Sandler O’Neill + Partners, during a recent webinar. ‘Don’t be a gatekeeper,’ he said. 

Deer joined Tony Rossi, senior vice president at Financial Profiles, and Michael Bartlett, senior research analyst at Elizabeth Park Capital Management, for a September 20 online discussion on best practices in investor relations for regional and community banks. Nasdaq hosted the webinar, and Chris Anselmo, director and team leader of its advisory services unit, moderated.

The participants agreed that, while difficult at times, banks best serve their investors’ interests with clear, objective and timely reporting of material information – good or bad.

‘Don’t sugarcoat things, and try not to be misleading,’ Deer said. With developments that may adversely affect a bank’s performance or image, he added, ‘the best approach is to always be very upfront about it.’ Otherwise, a bank risks losing credibility. ‘And that can be really hard to restore,’ Deer warned.

Analysts and investors understand that setbacks are inevitable; they simply want to be informed and armed with necessary information to make sense of things. Bartlett said bank executives who demonstrate they can put themselves in shareholders’ shoes when communicating with the Street are typically more effective and more likely to deepen their credibility. ‘That is really impressive,’ he said.

Rossi underscored this thinking by emphasizing that banks should make a concerted effort to help analysts and investors genuinely understand the drivers of their company’s performance. For example, instead of simply noting a bank’s level of loan growth, banks should explain which business lines and geographies are driving loan production and discuss the impact loan payoffs/paydowns are having on total growth in the portfolio.

That kind of detail helps the Street form a complete view of the bank, and it helps analysts to design models to more accurately forecast earnings.

Rossi included that advice among a best practice presentation to launch the webinar. Here are several additional takeaways:

  1. Competition for investors’ attention is intense. There are more than 400 major exchange-traded banks. 
  2. But there also is opportunity: nearly 400 actively managed institutions (13F filers) own at least 10 mid, small or micro-cap banks.
  3. To stand out, banks need consistent and compelling messaging. They should develop five or six core messages and regularly integrate these into all communications materials, from earnings releases to investor presentations. Be forward-looking and focus on differentiation.
  4. Be an expert on your markets; don’t just cite publicly available economic data. Whenever possible, provide information about emerging industries, construction activity and particular companies expanding their operations in your markets in order to provide insight into the factors that are having an impact on business development activities.
  5. Provide a relevant data point to support every statement about the bank’s performance and outlook. Providing data to back up talking points demonstrates that your company is actually executing on its strategies, tracking progress and showing results.
  6. Adopt an active press release strategy to better educate investors about the strategies and operations of the bank. Topics can include new customer relationships, key hires, new business lines, market expansions, awards and charitable activity.
  7. Develop an institutional targeting plan: analyze 13F filings to determine institutions that own banks in your peer group, create a list of the top 50 firms that are the most likely owners of your stock and determine the best way to get in front of each.
  8. Engage with shareholders. Important practices include clearly conveying a mentality that you work on the behalf of shareholders, and making each investor meeting a two-way dialogue to gather feedback about key issues.
  9. Continuously prepare for difficult questions. For example: what are your priorities for deploying excess capital? Will your technology platform require expensive upgrades? What is your management succession plan?
  10. Make sure your IR website is relevant and regularly updated. Provide a ‘Quarterly Results’ page on the site with the latest earnings release, deck, call transcript and 10Q.

Kevin Dobbs is vice president at Financial Profiles

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