After an acquisition, banks typically spend many months linking their systems, but when a failing financial company is purchased the buyer often has to integrate the new unit much faster.
In some cases, bankers say a failed bank can go from failing to the auction block to shotgun acquisition in less than a week; and be essentially assimilated as soon as two months later.
For the technology team at the acquiring bank, the compressed schedules mean system conversions and customer notifications have to happen quickly to avoid confusion, ensure network continuity and mitigate customer displacement.
"We have a checklist to make sure all of the T's are crossed and the I's are dotted," said Larry Kallembach, an executive vice president and the chief information officer at MB Financial Bank. The $8.8 billion-asset Chicago banking company this spring acquired the $225 million-asset Heritage Community Bank — one of the 53 failed banks seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. this year, as of last week.
Kallembach said MB's conversion checklist is dominated by potential problems that could affect the security and effectiveness of systems and sensitive customer and employee information. This includes integrating an unfamiliar payments system or image capture platform, or possible errors in migrating customer, bank or employee data from the acquired bank to its new owner.
"When everything happens fast, things can get overlooked," he said.
Even with the risk of errors, the pressure is on institutions and their tech providers to complete the conversion as fast as possible to reap the benefits of absorbing the assets of a collapsed institution.
"The quicker the integration, the quicker you can see cost reductions from the merger," said Dave Santi, the president of bank solutions for Fiserv Inc., MB's core banking technology provider, which played a key role in MB's assimilation of Heritage.
The FDIC seizure/acquisition process flies in the face of a "normal" acquisition, which can involve months of negotiation, board votes and regulatory scrutiny — then an integration period that can take six months or more.
Sales of failed banks, by contrast, can take as little as a few days, and the months-long conversion period for a normal merger — used to ferret out stuff like best practices, assessments of vendor contracts, rebranding branches and migration of core processing platforms and data centers — can happen in as little as two months following a government auction.
"It's very hard to pull off an FDIC acquisition, because the only due diligence you can do beforehand is looking at what information is available publicly," said Joe Teplitz, a managing partner with the Stamford, Conn., market research company Gartner Inc.
For the acquiring banks' tech teams, Teplitz said determining what to salvage from the old financial company — from people to software to projects — is complicated by the fact that the decision making process happens after the acquisition.
Teplitz said one solution is to determine what the overarching IT strategy is for the acquisition itself, and to base decisions within that framework. "What's the end state? By doing a project portfolio assessment and figuring out what needs to be done can help with these decisions, but there's really not a tool that tells you what projects and systems to keep at an acquired institution and what to discard," he said.
Jack Deano, the chief technology officer of the $5.7 billion-asset Iberiabank Corp., which converted the failed, $3 billion-asset ANB Bank, suggests making use of legacy employees and IT staff at the "old" bank, which he said can help merge the two cultures and develop a plan to fill gaps and other inconsistencies between different data platforms and processes.
One result of this collaboration between employees and conversion specialists at Jack Henry & Associates Inc., which served both Iberiabank and ANB, was to use the data migration process as a jumping-off point to inform customers of the emergency acquisition and assure them of the new bank's solvency.
Also, ANB's legacy Web site was retained and updated to include merger and contact information on the welcome page.