Congratulations, Mr. or Ms. CEO. You're now in charge of a bank facing nuclear anxiety among your directors, shareholders, entire customer base and hardworking staff who expect you, on Day One, to solve the cascading capital, portfolio, earnings and liquidity problems.
Welcome to Turnaround 101.
You're in charge of one of hundreds of banks under heightened regulatory scrutiny, with orders to fix everything.
You're here because of pressure to replace the previous CEO as the first big we-get-it-we're-on-it change. " You've survived "nonobjection" (the regulatory equivalent of pass/fail). Maybe your comp package has been approved. Maybe not.
You, New CEO, represent only the first change. If you're the only change this outfit makes, that's not enough. True, meaningful change needs to be obvious and very aggressive. Insiders and outsiders all need to see it, and the longer you procrastinate the harder change will be. Uncomfortably, most of the changes mean people.
The most important turnaround variable is speed. Unforeseen events or regulators' arbitrary deadlines will be the most frustrating for you. Make sure you're No. 1 on every action list — from investment bankers, CPA firms and vendors to your newest workout specialist. When someone says "next week," tell them plenty of others are eager to do it faster and better. You think you can be patient, plus you've done everything you can think of. Wrong. Do more. I can't say it enough: Time is your worst enemy.
Capital is the magic bullet for an industry that was massively overcapitalized a few years ago to now, where the only game in town for many is de facto nationalization — where banks are stewards of the FDIC for a weekend before their keys are politely handed over to some new owner. Our industry was well capitalized for the risk profiles of the 1990s, but this is not then. We discovered way too late that we grossly underestimated our balance sheet risks — and how exposed they were to encroaching stresses. And don't forget equity markets move unpredictably. All you can do is try to fully position your bank to get onto the A list of desired investor targets.
So, New CEO, you must recapitalize. But in the fallout from the crisis triggered in 2007, capital is available only for the truly worthy banking platform. Look sexy, to entice the heartless private-equity investor's direct recapitalization — not the FDIC auction process for loss-sharing bids. Forget dilution — the alternative is nothing. Capital solutions available to you may be limited but they, too, can vanish overnight. Take private equity, the love-hate capital infusion: you're in favor one week, out the next — it depends on who you're talking to, other deals they have going or how they're viewed by regulators. The recognized investment bankers available to you will have their favorite solution for your platform — assuming, of course, you somehow got onto their radar.
Believe it or not, the regulators are your friend. Though unpredictable, the agencies have templates for managing their side of the crisis. Regulators' jobs are massive and complex, just like yours. Like you, they're subject to the unremitting pressures of oversight (targets, politics, bureaucracy, finger-pointing). Unlike you, they have virtually unlimited resources. Meeting them more than halfway — performance — is critical. Listen to them. Be unflinchingly honest with them as a bank in trouble. No matter how many banks you've run, or even turned around, regulators have seen far more than you have. If you disagree with their opinions, remember who holds the cards. Don't count on waiting it out with fingers crossed, hoping for improvements in market conditions and asset valuations.
Finally, your bank's problems can actually be to your advantage. Properly displayed to all — including regulators and responsible media — your troubles and plans to deal with them can be a galvanizing catalyst to refocus immediate attention from looming seizure back to winning solutions. Although you bear the most significant accountability for success, you cannot fly solo.
Oh, and one more thing. It can be done.