Susquehanna Bank is getting behind its brokerage program in a major way.
For starters, the bank recently appointed an executive to lead the 10-plus-year program formerly co-led by two sales managers. The mandate given the new program manager: double revenue over the next three to five years.
"We need to grow substantially," said Brent Smith, the new program manager who assumed his new role on Aug. 1. The program now generates roughly $10 million annually in revenue, substantially below where it should be, given Susquehanna's size and deposits, Smith said.
The bank's focus on retail brokerage comes after a period of significant growth for Susquehanna, which has actively pursued acquisitions over the past 10 years. Now that it's solidified itself as a major player, it has shifted its attention to growing organically, said Smith.
"The bank's been committed to the upside that we see in the revenue that can be produced here," he said, referring to the brokerage program, which currently has approximately $900 million to $1 billion in assets under management.
As with nearly all banks, Susquehanna is also feeling the pinch of a low-interest-rate environment that has hurt its lending margins. "Non-interest income is at a premium and we need to grow that substantially," Smith said.
To double its revenue from the brokerage program, the bank will look to grow its fee-based business, which Smith said is average for the industry. "We have a focus today on growing our fee-based side of the business because we think it's the right thing for the client, it's the right thing for the advisor, and it's the right thing for the bank. It's really the right thing for everybody," he said.
To grow the business, Smith will significantly increase the number of advisors from 25 to some 40 to 45 over the next three to five years. With 250 branches in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and West Virginia, the advisors are now "stretched thin," Smith said.
Kenneth Kehrer, a principal of consulting firm Kehrer Saltzman & Associates, agrees. Susquehanna would need 35 advisors to match the coverage typically provided by banks of Susquehanna's size. "Susquehanna's target coverage of 40 to 45 advisors would give them deposit coverage between $251 million to $283 million per advisor, which is significantly better than average," he said in an email. "Susquehanna is clearly moving strongly in the right direction."
In addition to hiring advisors, Smith plans to bring in associate brokers and groom them into full-fledged advisors. He has already hired one associate, his first hire since becoming program manager, and intends to add three to five more over the next 12 months. "We have a lot of good advisors who are growing great books of business but you can't duplicate some of them," Smith said. "At times, we need to organically grow that ourselves and that's a key focus of mine going forward, so we create sustainability for the program."
The program focuses on customers with less than $1 million in investable assets, "where advising is most critical today," Smith said.
The bank deals with everyday people, Smith said, some of whom don't have enough money, or barely have enough, to retire. He noted the importance of putting the group's consultation services in place to help them on their path to retirement. "We're going to be alongside them all the way as they walk down that path," he said.