Growth in U.S. Bank’s Commercial Loan Portfolios Continues to Slow

The FDIC recently published detailed bank data as of end-4Q13. This data revealed that U.S. banks are continuing to grow their commercial and industrial (C&I) loan portfolios, although the y/y growth rate has been steadily declining, from a high of 16% in 2Q12 to 7% in 4Q13. C&I loan portfolios declined significantly following the financial crisis, reaching a low of $1.2 trillion in 2Q10. Since then, C&I loan portfolios have grown 38%, and have driven overall U.S. loan growth.  The recent deceleration in the C&I loan growth rate had reduced the gap between C&I loan growth and overall net loan growth, from a high of 12.3 percentage points in 2Q12 to 3.7 percentage points in 4Q13.

Within C&I loan portfolios, overall growth has been driven by individual loans valued at more than $1 million. Mirroring overall C&I loan portfolios trends, y/y growth for >$1MM loans peaked at 21% in 2Q12, and has been declining since then.  Meanwhile, small business loan portfolios (C&I loans with initial values of <$1 million) only started to report y/y growth at the end of 2012.  This growth rate reached 3% in 2Q13, but has slowed since, to 1.4% at the end of 2013. This slow recovery in small business lending has been due to both tight bank underwriting (which is only now beginning to ease), as well as low demand for small business loans due to uncertainty regarding the prospects for economic recovery. Interestingly, within this C&I loan <$1MM segment, strongest growth is being seen in the <$100K loan segment, which includes small business credit card loans. This <$100K portfolio rose 4.2% y/y in 4Q13, up from 2.9% in 3Q13.

Strongest growth in C&I loans between end-2012 and end-2013 was reported by mid-sized banks with $1-$10BN in assets. The largest banks (>$100BN in assets) had trailed the industry average, as banks like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo reported anemic loan growth. C&I loan portfolios for small community banks (<$100MM in assets) were unchanged y/y, as they struggle to compete with the broad commercial product range and cutting-edge online and mobile tools on offer from the larger banks.

Given the slowdown in the growth of C&I loan portfolios, how can individual banks continue to build their commercial loan portfolios?

  • Target specific geographic markets or vertical industry segments, where the bank already has—or can quickly create—dedicated capabilities
  • Re-commit to the small business segment
  • Develop initiatives to increase commercial loan utilization rates (which continue to trail historic averages for many banks)
  • Identify and dedicate resources to capture growth in other loan categories, which have been ignored in recent years

Banks Reducing Marketing Intensity

An analysis of 4Q13 and full-year 2013 financial results for the leading U.S. banks reveals that most are continuing to reduce their marketing spend.  This is being driven by both economic uncertainty as well as banks’ long-term desire to cut costs and maintain profitability as they struggle to generate revenue growth.

  • Of the 12 banks studied, 8 reduced marketing spend between 2012 and 2013, with 5 of these cutting budgets by more than 10%.

  • Taking a longer term view, 8 of the 12 banks increased their marketing expenditure between 2008—when the financial crisis hit—and 2013.

At first glance, this would imply that banks have ramping up their marketing spend in recent years.  However, many of these banks have changed dramatically during this period, mainly through acquisition.  For example, Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia, Chase bought Wamu, and PNC purchased both National City and RBC Bank.  So, to ensure that we are comparing like-with-like, we need to look at “marketing intensity”, which we define as the ratio of marketing spend to net revenue.

  • In 2013, there was a broad disparity in intensity for the various bank categories: highest marketing intensity (>8% of revenues) for branchless monolines, which have no branch networks and which are overwhelming focused on selling credit cards; lowest intensity for regionals (<2% of revenues); and megabanks tend to spend 2-3% of revenues on marketing, with the notable exception of Wells Fargo.  Capital One is a monoline/branch bank hybrid, with a branch network but also a continued high dependency on credit cards; this is reflected in the 6% of revenue it devotes to marketing, higher than traditional branch banks, but lower than monolines.

  • So, even though 8 of the 12 banks increased their marketing expenditure between 2008 and 2013, during this period, 9 of the 12 banks reduced their marketing intensity levels.  It is notable that the two “banks” with the highest marketing intensity—American Express and Discover—have both increased in intensity over the past five years.  On the other hand, the largest decline was recorded by Capital One, which has been transforming itself from its credit card monoline to full-service bank.

As there are now signs that economic recovery is gaining strength, increases in consumer and business confidence should translate into a greater demand for financial revenues and opportunities for banks to grow revenues.  However, the need for increased marketing investment to capture business growth will be battling against banks’ cost-cutting culture that has become in recent years.

Banks Cut Marketing Spending in Absence of Revenue Growth

EMI analyzed bank marketing data of 25 leading U.S. banks and found a 4% y/y decline in marketing expenditure for the first nine months of 2013.  During this period, marketing spending accounted for 2.6% of net revenues.

Our analysis finds that marketing expenditure levels and changes vary significantly by bank type .

  • Monolines: These banks are characterized as having a strong dependence on their credit card operations.  The three banks in this segment—American Express, Discover Financial and Capital One—allocated 7.8% of their revenues to marketing in the first 9 months of 2013.  Capital One’s spend levels are relatively lower, as it has transitioned over the past decade to be more like a full-service bank, with a network of 900+ branches.  The ‘monoline’ segment is also bucking the overall trend, with a 4% y/y rise in marketing spend.

  • National banks: These megabanks invest about 2% of revenues in marketing to promote their brands, support their extensive physical and virtual channels, and advertise their wide array of financial products and services.  As these banks (which include JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Bank of America) are under pressure to maintain profitability in a low/no growth environment, they reduced marketing spend 8% y/y.  Wells Fargo stands out, insofar as its marketing spend as a percentage of revenues is much lower than its peers, as it has traditionally focused its revenue-generating activities on its branch network.  However, Wells Fargo was the only one of these four national banks to report y/y marketing growth for the first three quarters of 2013.

  • Regional banks: The 18 regional banks analyzed by EMI allocated 1.6% of their revenues to marketing over the first 9 months of 2013.  Under pressure to cut costs and maintain profitability in the absence of revenue growth, these regional banks cut marketing budgets by 13%, led by large regionals like KeyBank (-31%) and SunTrust (-29%).

The extent to which banks ramp their marketing spend will be based on whether they see significant revenue growth opportunities, which in turn is dependent on economic growth.  And there are some positive signs in this regard, with the OECD projecting that U.S. GDP growth will rise from 1.7% in 2013 to 2.9% in 2014 and 3.4% in 2015.