With the change of its top leader, BMO Harris Bank is getting back to its Chicago roots.
The U.S. unit of Bank of Montreal announced Thursday that David Casper, head of its commercial banking group, will succeed the retiring Mark Furlong, 58, as president and chief executive on June 1. Furlong joined BMO Harris with the 2011 purchase of Marshall & Ilsley.
To analysts, the pivot to Casper, also 58, should make BMO Harris more competitive in Chicago's commercial banking scene. The $98 billion-asset bank, which has long been a strong player in that segment, has faced increasing middle-market competition from larger banks and ambitious companies like Wintrust Financial and PrivateBancorp, said Dan Werner, an analyst at Morningstar.
BMO Harris "is a Midwest bank, but really Chicago is the focus of the Midwest and there has needed to be more of an emphasis on lending there," Werner said. "I'm not saying they've lost sight of that but the fact that a Chicago guy is going to be leading it is a positive. If I was a commercial lender of theirs in Chicago, I'd be happy with the appointment."
Casper said during a brief interview that he is keen on expanding BMO Harris' commercial lending operations and looking for more ways to use technology to improve services for retail clients.
"The commercial business is a very good opportunity for us - across the Midwest and nationally," Casper added.
Casper, perhaps showing BMO Harris' ongoing commitment for commercial banking, will continue to oversee the bank's growth strategy in that area while also having responsibility for its North American Treasury and Payments Solutions group.
Casper said he could also pursue deals across a range of businesses, though he declined to comment further. M&I in Milwaukee, Wis., where Furlong was chairman and chief executive, marks BMO Harris' last major U.S. bank acquisition. That deal had some integration-related problems initially, but is widely considered a good deal because BMO bought M&I at a discount to the seller's book value.
"Given the price they paid, it is pretty hard to screw it up," Werner said.
Werner said he could see the company pursue acquisitions of commercially focused banks in existing and contiguous markets. Given BMO Harris' size, he added that any target would likely need to have at least $10 billion in assets.
The company also bought CTC Consulting, a Portland, Ore., firm with wealth management capabilities, in 2012. Like other Canadian banks, the company could also be looking for targets that excel at wealth management or other fee-based businesses.
"If they are actively looking, any targets would likely have a strong element of fee revenue with them," Werner said.
BMO Financial, Bank of Montreal's U.S. arm and BMO Harris' parent, will split some of Furlong's companywide duties. Casper will become head of BMO Financial's commercial banking operations, while Alexandra Dousmanis-Curtis, a 14-year veteran of the company, will oversee retail and business banking.
Retail banking is another area that BMO Harris is keen to expand, largely by making investments in technology, Casper said. He also expressed enthusiasm for the bank's mobile and digital push, noting that ongoing efforts will provide clients with more options and offerings.
Mobile Cash, which allows customers to withdraw cash using a smartphone application instead of a plastic card, is "one of the great products of all time," Casper said. "It's a much more secure way for some of our individuals to get money out of the ATM."
BMO Harris, which has more than 600 branches and 1,300 ATMs in eight states, also launched a pilot last week for Smart Branches, a video teller machine program.
"The consumer drives what we do," Furlong said during the same interview. "Whether it's consumers or institutional, it's about what they want to transact, and how to do it."