December 21, 2018

Innovation, higher rates, nonbank rivals color banks’ ‘19 outlooks

Jeff Tengel is the president of People’s United Financial Inc.
John Holt
Joe Gianni

Interest rates are expected to continue rising next year as the Federal Reserve tightens the flow of money to tamp down inflation. But other challenges remain on the horizon for the financial-services industry, bankers say.

Technology will continue to dictate how banks and credit unions interact with, and deliver products and services to customers.

Meanwhile, traditional financial outlets will continue facing mounting competition from non-traditional and nonbank competitors, such as online-only banks and crowdfunding sources.

The Hartford Business Journal asked three financial executives — Jeff Tengel, president, People's United Financial Inc.; Joe Gianni, president of Greater Hartford market, Bank of America; and John Holt, president and CEO, Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union — to relate their Connecticut banking industry forecasts for 2019.

Here are their top issues to watch:

Interest rate-hike cycle could signal downturn

Holt: Most economists agree interest rates will continue to rise in 2019. Historically, these rate-hike cycles are followed by a short crisis, a recession or worse. We've just come out of a very long period of years with record-low interest rates.

The U.S. economy, I believe, is also in a stage of being very overvalued. We've got a lot of ingredients that could make for a significant downturn. Some believe the bubble will be corporate debt or the energy market, some believe it could be auto loans or real estate loans. Some even believe it could be all of these. The question is how severe and for how long.

Connecticut economy, budget major question marks

Tengel: Absent a healthy and robust economy, banks are left to compete for a shrinking pool of potential customers. With fewer opportunities to lend money and gather deposits in this state, Connecticut banks will look to deploy their capital elsewhere.

There is no magic wand that will solve all our state's fiscal problems, but we have to start now or we will fall too far behind our healthier neighbors.

What bears watching in 2019 is the effect of a new governor. New policy, tax codes and incentives could change the state's future, but rest assured it will not happen overnight.

Gianni: So far, Connecticut has recovered 90 percent of the jobs lost in the Great Recession, but we still need 11,400 net new jobs to reach overall employment expansion. But it's not just about creating jobs, it's about making sure those who live and work in Greater Hartford have higher-quality jobs.

Innovation, technology will continue to pressure banks

Gianni: Consumers are looking for more ways to interact with companies digitally, which is what led us to launch Erica earlier this year. Erica is the first widely available artificial intelligence-driven virtual financial assistant. Right now, you can use Erica on your mobile device to search transactions, view upcoming bills and account balances, and get credit scores.

But soon, Erica will be able to help you tackle even more complex tasks by providing personalized, proactive guidance and insights to help users stay on top of their finances. Technologies like this will continue to drive our industry forward.

Tengel: While most banks and credit unions are in the early stages of adoption, robo-advice, voice recognition and algorithms designed to monitor fraud patterns will soon be commonplace. ATMs will become more sophisticated in the years to come, using biometrics and (eye) recognition to confirm customer identity, and frictionless mobile banking will put a full banking experience in customers' hands.

However, digitization of banking is happening at a faster pace than many organizations have expected, putting pressure on financial institutions to deliver.

Holt: It's not enough to have an electronic service. It has to be easy to use. And if you really want people to use it, it has to be easier than the traditional options.

Depositing checks electronically is very easy. But until a year or so ago, the process for many financial institutions was clunky and adoption was slow as a result. Now, it's super-fast and has reduced the traditional methods of depositing. We will start to see this more and more as other electronic options continue to become super easy.

Emergence of nonbank lenders a threat

Tengel: Commercial real estate has seen a rise in debt funds that compete directly with banks. The home-loan market will also continue to see a marked shift in Connecticut, as online platforms like Quicken Loans, Freedom Mortgage and others grow market share, especially as rates rise and borrowers seek more competitive options.

Adaptable and lightly regulated, these nonbank firms are shifting loan growth away from traditional banks. In 2019, banks will need to be nimble to compete, and in some cases face a realization of shrinking margins to keep existing customers and attract new ones.

Return to HBJ's 2019 economic forecast landing page

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