Although SNL's Nathan Stovall tantalizes readers with the headline "De novo market could be warming up," I think that--reading between the lines--the De Novo Deep Freeze of the past 8 years is not going to be thawing this year.
Stovall cites the recent de novo charter approval of California's Core Commercial Bank. However, that bank's investment adviser's CEO, Edward Carpenter, while stating his belief that "you can expect to see more applications in the relatively near future," warns that the path to approval of a de novo charter is a rocky one.
[T]he application process for de novos is "considerably more difficult" and requires much greater preparation now than before the credit crisis...
"We believe that a new bank requires more capital than it did in the past. It requires a stronger and deeper management team than it did in the past. And it needs to make a more persuasive case than was often made in the past about community need."
Core Commercial, like the two other most recent de novos, Pennsylvania's Bank of Bird-in-Hand and New Hampshire's Primary Bank, "plans to target a fairly narrow customer base as well, catering to small and medium-sized businesses that might feel disenfranchised by the nation's largest institutions." I assume that the geographic market area is also relatively focused, and that the applicants had to prove with more than lip service that the community was not being adequately served by existing financial institutions.
While Carpenter seems optimistic (and, I'm sure, stands ready to assist other potential clients with their de novo needs), others, including some regulators, are less pie-eyed.
Candace Franks, commissioner of the state banking department in Arkansas, acknowledged that de novo banking activity certainly slows during a recession, but said prior downturns have been followed by a "generous" era of de novo applications. She said that certainly hasn't been the case this time around. Franks, the immediate past chairman of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, said the lack of de novo activity is "very concerning to us," particularly in rural areas like Arkansas, where community banks serve as the engine of small business activity.
Some observers have argued that regulators were hesitant to grant new charters since many banks that failed during the crisis were de novos formed in early 2000s. The Federal Reserve discussed the issue on a handful of occasions. Robert Mahalik, director of applications at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said at a conference in April 2014 that he saw no hint that new charter activity or approval would be on the near horizon.
Stoval also discusses other disincentives that may restrain a de novo deluge.
While regulators might be easy to blame for the dearth of de novos, Stevens noted that bankers have not painted a very attractive picture for parties considering entering the industry, often complaining about heightened regulatory burdens. Such rhetoric could serve as a deterrent to potential investors.
Some advisers say there simply are not many investors looking to form new banks. DD&F Consulting Group President Randy Dennis, who has helped launch a number of de novos in his career, said there is a whole new breed of investors that want to put money to work in the banking sector, but some are concerned they will not be able to receive regulatory approval. He further said the higher capital requirements facing de novo banks have limited investor interest.
...Tom Brown, longtime bank investor and CEO of Second Curve Capital LLC, said at a conference in mid-November that he understood why there is so little investor interest in forming a new bank charter. He believes the capital constraints on de novos make it difficult for investors to earn adequate returns on their capital.
"Who in their right mind would start a bank today? The FDIC requires $35 million in capital to start a bank. And no one can pencil out an annual rate of return on $35 million in the next five years, so you're not seeing new chartered banks," Brown said at the event.
Well, obviously the investors in Core Commercial, who we presume are not insane.
Noted bank attorney Walt Moeling of Bryan Cave also is cautiously optimistic. He thinks the prospects of additional de novo applications is "real," but that there numbers will be far less than in the past.
All the observers seem to agree that the application process will not be easy. The organizers will need to present a convincing case, based on hard data, of the need for the new institution. Capital will be king, and as Tom Brown asserts, the more capital required, the more difficult it is to earn a decent return on equity, especially when private investors have places to place their capital where the returns are larger, quicker. Management will also be critical, with both expertise and probity playing critical roles. Finally, the application process is likely top much more time-consuming and expensive than it ever has been.
And, of course, once the doors are opened, what you have is a community bank, trying to make money in a Post-Franken-Dodd world chock-full of Maxine Waters, Elizabeth Warrens, and other "progressive" ideologues who will look over your shoulder 24/7/365 to "guide" you on the path to righteousness, if not necessarily to profitability.