SunTrust's cost-cutting efforts are extending well beyond its previously disclosed mortgage layoffs.
The $172 billion-asset company is still intent on achieving a 60% efficiency ratio despite a "sort of permanent loss in topline revenue" from its mortgage business, William Rogers Jr., SunTrust's chairman and chief executive, said during a conference call Friday to discuss quarterly results.
"We are not giving up on" the efficiency goal, Rogers said. The efficiency ratio is a function of a company's expenses divided by revenue.
SunTrust (STI) had already announced plans to cut 800 mortgage-related jobs, or 20% of staffing in that area. Rogers said management is still in the process of reviewing another $1.5 billion of operations costs with an objective of finding other areas where they can cut costs.
"We are sort of in full diagnosis phase," he said during the call. "We have a significant effort under way. … They would be in things like consolidation of lending areas, looking more at our call centers, the kinds of things that we would do to … make ourselves more efficient and client-responsive."
It may take SunTrust longer to reach its efficiency goal - the ratio stood at 66.6% at June 30 before ballooning to 90.77% in the third quarter due to a series of mortgage-related expenses - but Rogers said he expects "to see continued improvement" next year.
"I would be looking for next year's overall expenses to be better than this year's overall expenses," Rogers said.
SunTrust also hopes to reach its goal by increasing revenue in areas like consumer lending and private wealth management, Aleem Gillani, the company's chief financial officer, added. "We are going to work to decrease the size of our chassis … but at the end of the day I think we will need some revenue growth to help us get there," he said.
Mortgage woes took a big bite out of quarterly earnings. The company's third-quarter earnings fell 51% from the second quarter and 83% from a year earlier, to $179 million. The quarter included $323 million in expenses tied to recent settlements with regulators over mortgage violations.
The company had warned earlier this month that such costs would weigh down its quarterly results.
"I set an objective this year to get as many legacy issues behind us as possible on the best terms available," Rogers said during Friday's conference call. "As you know, there have been discussions happening on these legacy mortgage matters for months and, in some cases, years. Dialogue with the respective parties increased this quarter."
Net interest income fell slightly from the second quarter and was down 5% from a year earlier, to $1.2 billion.
Total loans rose 2% from the second quarter and a year earlier, to $124 billion. Deposits increased 1% from both periods, to $129 billion. The net interest margin compressed 6 basis points from the second quarter and 19 basis points from a year earlier, to 3.19%.
The loan-loss provision fell 35% from the second quarter and 79% from a year earlier, to $95 million. Noninterest income fell 21% from the second quarter and 73% from a year earlier, to $680 million, due to a reduction in mortgage activity and the company's decision to set aside$63 million to address repurchase settlements with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Noninterest expense rose 25% from the second quarter and 1% from a year earlier, to $1.7 billion, because of the mortgage-related legal costs. The company also said that it incurred $96 million in expenses after increasing its allowance for servicing advances.
SunTrust's compensation costs fell 7% from the second quarter and 13% from a year earlier, to $682 million. The company said it had reduced its staff by 6% over the past 12 months.
The company also noted that it had a $113 million after-tax benefit that helped cushion the blow from the mortgage issues.