Serial acquirers get used to answering two questions: How's the last deal going? When's the next?
First Financial Holdings (SCBT) in Columbia, S.C.; Prosperity Bancshares (PB) in Houston; and Union First Market Bankshares (UBSH) in Richmond, Va., had opportunities on Wednesday to field such questions at the Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Bank Conference in Boston.
Last year was a period of major transformation through M&A for those companies. First Financial and Union First announced marquee deals that significantly increased their sizes. Prosperity completed three deals and has one more pending in a march to emerge as a regional player.
The following are summaries of what executives had to say about the integration process and how they view future consolidation.
The repeated vow from Robert Hill, First Financial's chief executive, has been to take time integrating last year's acquisition in order to appropriately blend the companies and their cultures.
Chief Financial Officer John Pollok "and I were at a community bank that was acquired by Bank of America, so we know how not to do it," Hill said during his presentation. "It is best to be open and direct. We tell our employees what we know when we know it. The fear of the unknown is worse than the fear of the known."
The company has consolidated separate business lines under the same management but will not complete its core systems integration until July.
Analysts and investors wanted to know how management views the $10 billion-asset threshold where interchange fees are capped and more regulation is triggered. Hill says the company is building its infrastructure, but warns that banks shouldn't view the added compliance as an issue exclusive to banks of a certain size.
"That is all coming downstream," Hill says. "Everyone is going to be faced with it."
As for other deals, he says it is not happening this year.
"M&A is not a high priority," Hill says. "We get calls weekly about merger possibilities and I tell them what I tell you. In 2014, we won't be doing anything. In 2015, I don't know. The deals have gotten more expensive so it is hard to answer."
Union First Market
Union First bought StellarOne in January. The deal catapulted its assets by nearly 80%, to $7.1 billion, making it the biggest community bank based in Virginia.
Seven weeks in, the companies are starting to feel "like a blended family," says G. William Beale, Union First's chief executive, adding that he thinks StellarOne welcomed Union First warmly.
One area where Union First's culture will be asserted is in lending. StellarOne had been growing loans at a fast clip, especially in Richmond. Catherine Mealor, a KBW analyst, asked if the company would keep the momentum going. No, Beale says.
"I would model off Union's growth rate," he says. "StellarOne was what we would call an irrational competitor. They consistently underpriced us and it reflected in the margin. They were trading margin for growth."
The company aims to perform its data integration in early May. Beale says his team could return to acquisition mode should that go smoothly. It is possible that Union First Market could close another deal in 2015.
Once it is back on the hunt, it is sticking with Virginia.
"I think for the time being, we will look to fill in the Virginia map to take advantage of the cost saves. We are expecting 32% in Stellar. Maybe there is something with 50%," Beale says. "We want to drive greater returns to our shareholders without putting too much ground between our core franchise and North Carolina."
Prosperity ended 2012 with about $9.5 billion in assets. Faced with losing up to $8 million in interchange fees by going over $10 billion, the company decided it needed to go way over.
Management went on a buying spree. In 2013, it bought East Texas Financial Services, Coppermark Bancshares and FVNB By June 30, Prosperity should have more than $21 billion in assets after it buys F&M Bancorp.
Prosperity said after announcing the F&M deal that it would take a year to properly integrate its acquisitions and build the infrastructure for its doubled size.
"The majority of all of our money has been going into infrastructure," David Zalman, Prosperity's chief executive, told investors on Wednesday. Zalman says he is so far pleased with recent integrations and repeatedly touted Mike Epps, an executive who joined the company in 2012 through an acquisition, for his ability to wring out expenses.
Like First Financial and Union First, Zalman says he is still on the sidelines, but the calls keep coming in.
"The integration of FVNB has been extremely good and if F&M goes good, the timeframes that we sent out shouldn't be an issue," he says. "There are a lot of deals out there... we are only limited by the amount of energy and time we have."