The slumping energy economy has bankers in Texas and Oklahoma doing some soul searching.
Energy lenders' profits have plummeted since oil prices began their freefall in 2014, and some have sought to guard against future shocks by buying banks in less-energy dependent states. That trend could accelerate over the next couple of years, industry experts said, once oil prices stabilize and stock prices of energy banks start to recover.
"Once we get through this downturn in oil prices … a lot of these [banks] will think about how to diversify their revenue stream so they're less susceptible to risk during the next downturn," said Brian Johnson, a managing director in the financial institutions group at Commerce Street Capital.
For now, banks in states such as Texas and Oklahoma are primarily focused on containing issues tied to oil prices, and any deal announced by a bank heavily involved in energy lending would be closely scrutinized by regulators, industry observers said.
Some may also want to hold off doing deals until their share prices rebound. Stock prices of many banks in energy states are trading at 25% or 30% below their 52-week highs.
Still, many executives are likely considering long-term geographical diversification. Banks that operate in oil-dependent markets face indirect exposure in areas such as hospitality and mortgages, even if they avoid energy-related concentrations.
A slowdown in those markets could also limit opportunities for balance sheet growth, said Dallas Salazar, chief executive of Atlas Consulting in Austin, Texas.
"If a bank is lending to a Burger King franchise where the economy is dependent on oil, they don't have to count that as exposure," Salazar said. "You won't show that as a liability if energy isn't healthy. But we all know that the restaurant's till runs on money coming from the energy sector."
Triumph Bancorp in Dallas is among the banks that have been stung by depressed oil prices despite having minimal direct exposure to the energy sector. One area that has been hit involves factoring tied to transportation, said Aaron Graft, the $1.6 billion-asset company's vice chairman and chief executive.
At Triumph, factoring involves buying invoices from truckers at a discount, then collecting full payment from the company that did the shipping. The business is more profitable when Triumph can buy larger invoices, but the overall value of invoices has decreased by about 25% as a result of slumping oil prices, Graft said. Revenue suffers even if there are no credit issues.
"If you're in energy-concentrated segments of Texas, I don't care if you're a dentist or a baker," Graft said. "You're exposed to oil and gas. It's a fundamental part of the economy."
Triumph is fortunate to already have geographic diversity, including branches in Iowa and Illinois. The company also agreed in March to buy ColoEast Bankshares in Lamar, Colo.
Banks in Oklahoma could have more motivation than lenders in Texas to expand beyond their home state, said Steven Reider, founder of Bancography. Oklahoma's overall economy is weaker than that of Texas, and its metro centers, like Tulsa and Oklahoma City, are much smaller than Texas' biggest cities.
"Diversification is an insurance policy for the entire commercial loan portfolio," Reider said.
Since September, four banks based in Texas and Oklahoma have announced deals to acquire banks in other states (California, Colorado, Missouri and New Jersey).
Colorado is an attractive option. While the state is home to some oil and gas firms, it also has strong tourism and technology sectors, said Vincent Hui, a senior director at Cornerstone Advisors.
BOK Financial's Colorado operations are among its most diversified, with a large trust and wealth management business, Norm Bagwell, the $31 billion-asset company's executive vice president of regional banks, said.
The Tulsa, Okla., company has operations in eight states, focusing on several areas of specialty finance, including marine transportation and health care. BOK also agreed in December to buy the $655 million-asset MBT Bancshares in Kansas City, Mo.
"One thing that has been helpful to our bank is the diversification of our franchise," Bagwell said. "I can't tell you how long this cycle will go on, but a bank like ours … has been built to weather cycles."
California, where Midland Financial in Oklahoma City agreed in March to buy 1st Century Bancshares in Los Angeles, is another option. The $732 million-asset 1st Century focuses on professional service firms, such as law and medical offices, accounting firms and real estate professionals.
"Everything has been strong … from rising rents and real estate values," said Jason DiNapoli, 1st Century's president and chief executive. "We've seen lots of loan demand and lots of growth or the past four or five years, and I don't see it slowing down right now."
A representative for Midland declined to comment.
There are predictions that the number of community banks in California could drop to roughly 100 by 2018, possibly opening the door for outsiders to do deals there, said Ruth Razook, chief executive of RLR Management Consulting. Some banks could also look to pick up clients from Royal Bank of Canada's purchase of City National, she added.
Smaller banks in Texas and Oklahoma that lack the ability or desire for deals outside their home state could still pursue acquisitions in parts of their home states that are less affected by oil and gas. In Texas, for example, about a quarter of the state's banks have less than $100 million of assets and could be potential targets, Razook said.
Commerce Street is working with several clients that are thinking about deals in Texas communities that are less dependent on oil, Johnson said.
"Some of these guys … are looking to enter potentially higher-growth markets," Johnson said. "Some of our west Texas clients say that they like the Dallas-Fort Worth market because it has better demographic trends than the ones they're already in."