Plansmith Blog

Why Community Bank ALCOs Fail: An Unclear Purpose

Posted by Craig Hartman on 6/11/14 3:00 PM
The Asset Liability Committee, ALCO, is often best characterized as observers of the margin rather than controllers of margin behavior. Why, after all the meetings, sophisticated computer software, consultants and regulatory pressure, do ALCOs fail management? Because unlike a financial institution failure, it continues to function, it simply just does not make a difference. There is motion with no progress.

As providers of community bank and credit union planning software and consulting services for over 40 years, it is our mission to help our clients make the entire planning and management process both efficient and effective. To that end, we conduct ongoing research into the challenge of building an effective ALCO.

We have been able to identify three reasons for ALCO failure:

1) Unclear purpose

2) Wrong tools

3) Wrong people

In the first part of this series, we will be addressing the issue of having an unclear purpose.

Clarity of Purpose

To quote Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat "if you don’t know where you are going, then any road will take you there." Does your community bank's ALCO have a destination or goal? While developing the goal, the first controversy we usually meet is whether the ALCO is limited to margin issues, or should it deal with decisions related to the entire institution? As we talk to bankers, we find that many ALCO meetings become loan meetings; others complain that they become embroiled in complex investment products. The largest segment of ALCO’s review their gap reports, discuss data inaccuracies, and review rates then adjourn.

The first step toward creating an effective ALCO is to define its goals and objectives. Why are we here? What is our purpose? How will we know we are truly effective? What is asset-liability management anyway? How do we do this job? Who should be on this committee? What resources do we have available to us?

Once the strategic issues are resolved, other questions should be considered. What is the best margin we can achieve in this environment? Most institutions would gladly take a 5% margin, but it is probably impossible in their market, in this environment. Other considerations include calculating the required margin. There is a minimum margin that can be computed by adding capital formation requirement, dividends, net overhead, loan losses and taxes, i.e., all those cash flows the margin must support. These considerations help us quantify the goals and even suggest strategies to reduce the pressure on the margin and establish realistic margin goals.

In addition to a strategic plan, the ALCO need an ALCO policy to serve as a guide as the ALCO moves forward. Most recently developed ALCO policies include measurement of risk using simulation results and margin minimum and maximums, or possibly allowable margin changes under multiple rate scenarios, high, low and most likely.

Finally, an ALCO action plan should be the product of the meeting. Always conclude your ALCO meetings with specific set of actions to be executed by designated individuals operating within a specific timetable. Even if everything is going according to plan and the committee elects to do nothing, that is an action plan and should be noted in the minutes. With this simple discipline, you will reap substantial rewards for your efforts.

Check back for parts two and three of this series, "Why ALCOs Fail: The Wrong Tools" and "Why ALCOs Fail: Staffing the ALCO" .
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A Tech In Community Bank’s Clothing

Posted by Ricardo Pena on 5/22/14 3:30 PM
The road to profitability begins with a very simple concept. An asset is acquired at a certain value X and it is sold at a value Y where Y is greater than X and the difference between the two gets you going. This is a concept that is very simple indeed. But this post isn’t a narrative about the arithmetic involved in generating profits; rather it is a discussion that begins with examining the nature of the assets being bought and sold, which is money.

Non-financial businesses ranging from the humble lemonade stand to the behemoth WalMart are easy to understand. The assets being transacted are, for the most part, quite tangible. It is easy to understand that something is manufactured, it is delivered to a retail place of business, it is stored in a warehouse as a portion of inventory, it is displayed on a shelf and it is ultimately purchased by people like you and me to put in a bag to take home. The equivalent chain of distribution can be identified in banking but there is one big difference that makes it all the more complicated. It is the fact that the product, being money in its many different forms, is not something you see, feel, taste, hear, or smell in any direct way.

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Community Bankers, Use Scenarios to Reduce Uncertainty

Posted by Karen Schaefer on 5/9/14 12:00 PM

If you are a parent, you use "what if" scenarios every day with your child. What if you get lost? What if you saved your allowance rather than spend it? What if your friends ask you to…? What if you study for that test? What if a stranger offers you a ride?

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Communication is Paramount to Achieving Community Bank Objectives

Posted by Sue West on 4/7/14 10:30 AM
Tell me about your business. What is your organization like today? How did it get there? How is it managed? Where do you see it going and how are you planning to get there? What obstacles are in your way? Tell me about your business.

When I ask this of a financial institution, I usually receive balance sheets and risk reports. Most people immediately think ‘numbers’ when you mention planning. I challenge you to think differently, think communication. Tell me about your business.

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Of Bulls and Bears (Deuxième Partie)

Posted by Tom Parsons on 3/7/14 5:00 AM

Last week we covered the first half of the OCC letter requesting information from client banks on their interest rate risk (IRR) model. Along with the letter, you may have run across some forms to be filled in with results from your model. This post and the accompanying webinar are meant to clarify the letter and terminology. Separately, but related, we have produced a video and guide for completing the OCC EV IRR Data Form for Financial Compass Clients (to be released soon).

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Strategic Planning in Community Banks 101

Posted by Shawna Brauer on 2/11/14 6:00 PM

This past year, I sent my oldest off to college for the first time. Amid the tears (ours) and shouts of joy (hers) there was much hard work, paperwork and check writing involved to get her to this point. And while we want her to celebrate what she has already accomplished, we also want her to focus on the details needed to get her to the next milestone - College Graduation. Fortunately, she does have a mandatory Strategy 101 class that – among other things - requires her to map out her course schedule for the next four years. The focus is not to create a roadmap that she should not deviate from, but rather to get her thinking about how to build in nice-to-haves (study abroad), plan for some "what-ifs" (change of interests), and to regularly check back in to see if she is staying on course or needs to alter her path.

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