For any child looking to succeed at a new business venture, parental support comes in handy. The same has been true for Nationwide Bank.
In the last two years, the upstart direct bank has doubled its assets, brought in more than 13,000 new customers, boosted revenue and capital ratios, and begun to increase awareness of its retail banking products. Parent company Nationwide Financial Services' deep pockets have certainly helped, but the credit for strategy and harnessing the strength of the entire Nationwide enterprise goes to Anne Arvia, hired at launch in 2006 to be president of the new direct bank.
Arvia, who has been named to US Banker's rankings of "The 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking" four times, came to Nationwide after 15 years at ShoreBank in Chicago. After rising from controller to president of ShoreBank, she was lured by the challenge of running an Internet-only operation. And though it can be easy for a new bank to show impressive growth rates, there are no layups. "Every market, regardless of the challenges, has opportunity; you just need to look really hard to find it," Arvia says.
Arvia's team has certainly found opportunity. From June 30, 2008 through June 30, 2009, assets increased 69 percent to $2.5 billion, return on equity increased 185 percent from -12.56 percent to 10.62 percent and return on assets increased from -1.12 percent to 0.85 percent. In addition, net income swung from a loss of $4 million to $5.2 million.
For an Internet bank, finding opportunity requires dominating search engine placement. For this Arvia turned to the bank's parent company for resources to invest in search engine optimization. The strategy has worked as deposits have nearly doubled as of the end of the second quarter and the average deposit amount for the bank spiked from $5,000 to about $55,000, Arvia says.
But rather than increasing lending with those deposits, the bank invested in triple-A rated mortgage-backed securities after the Federal Reserve agreed to buy $500 million worth when no one was buying because of the liquidity crunch. By purchasing the low-risk securities at spreads of 250 to 300 basis points, it has helped to boost revenue 66 percent over the second quarter 2008 and improved the bank's efficiency ratio by 20 percent. With numbers like these, it's not surprising that BauerFinancial has given the bank a 5-star rating, its highest possible score, and Bankrate.com gives it four stars.
But perhaps the best example of Arvia leveraging the breadth of the bank's parent company came when multiple divisions worked together to help customers after Hurricane Ike hit Florida and Texas in September 2008. In a hurry, Nationwide Bank developed a pre-approved credit card that customers could start using immediately. Any purchase made in the first three months carried zero-percent interest for the next 12 months.
"Working across a large organization accustomed to working in their own 'silos' was a challenge and a requirement for this initiative to be successful," says NFS president and chief operating officer Mark Thresher. "Her influence over the claims division and constant communication skills to all possible stakeholders was critical to pulling this off."