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The 2023 GonzoBanker Awards

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2023. What a year. Bank leaders must feel like Rocky Balboa after 15 rounds with Apollo Creed. Just think of what the industry dealt with in the last 12 months:

The brunt of the unprecedented scope and pace of Fed rate hikes hit home, and banks have seen an .80 basis point increase in deposit cost of funds – and that while total deposit balances decreased for six straight quarters. Four massive bank failures helped the industry’s reputation and customer confidence not one iota.

The housing industry, and mortgage banking revenue, came to a stop. Dick Durbin has decided that already nonsensical changes to interchange revenue could actually be crazier. Fraudsters have become more sophisticated than ever, and the cost and focus to mitigate it increased substantially – why can’t these people work on global warming or something?

Employees are back to work. Or not. Or maybe two or three days a week. The hybrid workforce is a reality that needs to be balanced against the value of in-person mentoring and employee development. Nobody is quite sure which side this seesaw will land on.

Meanwhile, technology changes continued at a breakneck pace, with generative AI the biggest topic around management tables. The specifics are unclear, but bankers recognized that this will be an absolute game-changing technology in future years, and delivery will change in ways we can’t even conjure yet.

That’s enough to send normal people into the fetal position.

Not the financial industry’s “Troublemakers” – those regional and community banks, credit unions and supporting fintech entrepreneurs who continue to engage customers and communities and find niches that keep the grassroots of our country’s financial system alive and kicking. Our Troublemaker clients reacted to all this mayhem by keeping their focus on customers, making good loans, sticking to their digital transformation strategies, developing employees and giving back to their communities. And all this, by the way, while keeping credit, efficiency and earnings solid. We are in awe. Seriously in awe. We are so proud to work in this industry.

But, as is always the case, some of you deserve some big stars. Welcome to Cornerstone’s 22nd annual GonzoBanker Awards, where we recognize the extraordinarily good and call out the not-so-good. You are all aware we have detailed, sophisticated rules and methodologies we use to present these coveted awards – or, well, maybe we don’t. Whatever.

So, grab your favorite holiday snack and beverage and enjoy.

 


 

THE BANKER AWARDS

 

The Bank Acquisition of the Year – goes to the unique PacWest and Banc of California deal. Through a unique reverse merger structure and $400 million P/E injection, PacWest made it through a ring of fire and the two have created a $36 billion California business banking franchise while helping to calm a bank panic in the spring of this year.

Honorable Mentions – while this was a quiet year for M&A, we tip our hat to Atlantic Union’s acquisition of American National Bank and Eastern Bank’s acquisition of Cambridge Bank. Expect more deals to be announced in 2024.

Merger of Equals Deal of the Year (Bank) – Burke & Herbert Financial Services Corp. and Summit Financial Group, Inc. execute one of the few MOE deals forming an $8.2 billion bank in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Merger of Equals Deal of the Year (Credit Union) – Spire Credit Union and Hiway Credit Union put 2+2 together to make a $4 billion institution in the Minnesota market.

The Eagles Hell Freezes Over Tour Award – goes to the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions (NAFCU) announcement of a historic merger. For decades many thought it would never happen but now America’s Credit Unions is becoming a reality.

The Cornerstone Mea Culpa Award – goes to our call of TD Bank’s acquisition of First Horizon as the best deal of the year only to have the deal called off. Four bank failures and an industry full of liquidity pressure didn’t help.

GonzoBanker of the Year (Regional Bank) – goes to Huntington Bancshares Chairman and CEO Steve Steinour. While Huntington is down like most bank stocks, the pain hasn’t been as severe, and Huntington doubled down on local markets in 2023 by consolidating business units. Importantly, Huntington has continued to focus on digital investments and its strong legacy of product management to remain a progressive regional bank.

GonzoBanker of the Year (Mid-Size Bank)  goes to David Findlay, CEO of Lakeland Financial. Anyone who follows the industry knows this focused institution led by Findlay is all about executing the timeless principles of capital management, credit quality, efficiency and customer service. And, looking over the past 20 years of stock performance through crazy times, it’s clear that Findlay has proven his chops as an “up and to the right” visionary leader.

Lakeland Financial Stock Price History

GonzoBanker of the Year (Credit Union) – goes to Rob Stuart, CEO at OnPoint Community Credit Union. Under Stuart’s leadership over the past 17 years, OnPoint has gone from under $2 billion in assets to knocking on the door of $10 billion, all while becoming the most recognized financial brand in the Portland market and achieving some of the industry’s best profitability in 2023. Oh, and along the way, OnPoint will provide an amazing $2.5 million (that’s right million) of financial donations and support to the community in 2025.

Lifetime Achievement Award (Bank)

  • Cambridge Savings CEO Wayne Patenaude looks to end a long and successful career at one of Massachusetts’ 10 largest banks. Enjoy time for watching more of your true passion Wayne – baseball!
  • Jim Herbert – Yes, First Republic failed and was sold to JPMorgan Chase this year. However, this chapter simply cannot define the story of this wonderful human and banker who cared about customers, team and community. There are so many good lessons about relationship banking that our industry should forever remember from Jim.

Lifetime Achievement Award (Credit Union)

  • Citadel Credit Union CEO Jeff March  Jeff began working at Citadel 40 years ago in 1983, and he ultimately led the credit union from $350 million in assets to nearly $6 billion. Importantly, Jeff’s contributions to the credit union industry and the Pennsylvania community are simply too long to list.
  • Lake Michigan Credit Union CEO Sandy Jelenski  Since becoming CEO in 2000, Sandy has led the growth of LMCU from $400 million to $13 billion, all while building a mortgage business and servicing portfolio that nearly matches the size of the credit union’s balance sheet. A humble leader shows us all how it’s done.

In Remembrance

  • Integrated Financial Holdings and West Town Bank and Trust CEO Eric John Bergevin, who passed tragically in a plane crash in January of this year. Eric was a passionate aviator who will be remembered as an incredible friend, colleague, leader and most importantly, husband and father. We all know the team at West Town Bank and its merger partner MVB will continue to honor the life and career of John.
  • Former Bank of America CEO Richard “Dick” Rosenberg, a legendary banker and prolific philanthropist who went on an acquisition tear to make BofA the second-largest bank in America at the time. We remember his architecting the legendary Bank of America and Security Pacific merger on the West Coast.
  • Wells Fargo Executive Greg Beckett  No one knows the pain that led you away from family and friends, but you will be remembered.
  • Generations Bank CEO Menzo Case, the longtime leader who was active in the Seneca Falls community and truly embodied the “George Bailey” spirit of a community banker.
  • Former KBW CEO Charles Lott, one of KBW’s founders and a survivor of the firm’s tragic times during 9/11. A lover of picking bank stocks and playing piano who served our country in the U.S. Air Force.
  • Paul Murphy, founder of Murphy & Co., which provides digital banking videos and user guides to help FIs increase their customers/members’ digital adoption. Paul wrote the “Online Banking for Dummies” book in the late ’80s. He passed away in January 2023.
  • Berkshire Hathaway Legend Charlie Munger – While not a banker, Munger was part of Berkshire’s many investments in banks, and his disdain for the term EBITDA will live in the consciousness of CFOs forever.

The “Giant Sucking Sound” Award – goes to the swell of funds leaving banking and ballooning money market mutual funds. Engine room, where did that $1 trillion go?

The Worst Day of the Year Award – goes to May 1, 2023, when First Republic Bank failed. This one coming off the failures of SVB, Signature and Silvergate really hurt and struck a serious dose of survival panic into banks around the country. We’re so lucky things feel much better heading into the holidays.

The It’s Still No Fun to Work Here Award – goes to the “stagecoach” Wells Fargo, which now is dealing with unionization efforts from employees at certain branches and has set aside $1 billion+ for additional employee severance costs in 2024.

The Shaggy “It Wasn’t Me” Award  goes to former Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan who feels snookered by his former company on compensation owed. Sloan worked in the wholesale banking side of Wells when its infamous account scandal emerged, and many say he became an undeserved scapegoat during the company’s painful transition forward.

The Do the Right Thing Award – goes to two incredible bankers. First, WAFD CEO Brent Beardall took the experience of a life-threatening plane crash and a difficult recovery from serious injuries to spread a positive message to friends, team members and the industry about gratitude and love. Inspiring brother! And second, Valley Bank CEO Ira Robbins, who visited Kibbutz Be’eri in Israel, one of the sites of the terrible atrocities that occurred on Oct. 7. Robbins visited Israel at the invitation of Hanan Friedman, the CEO of Bank Leumi, one of the country’s two largest banks, which holds a 14.2% stake in Valley Bank.

The Comeback Investment of the Year Award – Bitcoin (BTC). While a tech top-heavy S&P 500 is up 16% this year, Bitcoin is up a whopping 140% and people like Black Rock’s Larry Fink are now dubbing it a “lower volatility asset.” The laser eyes are shining brighter going into 2024. (Note for you damn haters: yes, it’s down from a frothy high of $66,0000, but look at the normalized return over the past 15 years since Satoshi Nakamoto’s white paper.)

And … The Crypto Buzzkill Quote of the Year Award  JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon concluded, “If I was the government, I’d close it down” during a December Senate Banking Committee hearing.

And … The Crypto 180 Flip Award – goes to Sofi which, years after making crypto a sexy part of its full servicing financial offerings, announced the shutting down of its crypto offerings. Seems the distributed ledger juice wasn’t worth the squeeze.

Frothy Valuation That Would Make Anyone Jealous Award – goes to NVIDIA. Riding the AI wave, this darling has appreciated a full 8X in the past four years and trades at, ugh, 62 times current earnings. Lots of money saying this chipmaker’s special role in AI means growth, growth, growth. Who knows?

The “What the Hell Are Bankers Doing?” Award  goes to CNBC’s Jim Cramer, who lamented that banks should have been innovating offerings like those delivered by PayPal and Square. “They should have been investing in fintech growth businesses and they had the capital to do it.”

The Ali vs. Foreman Award – goes to hedge fund manager Steve Eisman and Second Curve Capital’s Tom Brown, who are polar opposites in the bank investment landscape. Eisman recently called banks “uninvestable” while Brown has written about the possibility of a generational opportunity for bank stock returns. We’re rooting for Tom to be gloating in a few years.

Best Market Call of the Year Award – goes to investors who went against the shorts and went long on regional bank stocks during the darker days of May when rumors of more failures abounded. Nice to see indices like the KBW Regional Bank ETF (KRE) up 40% in six months.

Machiavellian Talent Scout Award  goes to Citizens Bank for its poaching or “strategic recruitment” of former First Republic talent as covered in The Wall Street Journal. Another lesson that sometimes the most important assets in relationship banking can walk out the door.

The Jon Lovitz “Yeah My Wife Morgan Fairchild Award”  goes to fellow pathological liar and now former OCC Chief Financial Technology Officer Prashant Bhardwaj. It seems this “seasoned executive” had quite a few holes in his storied resume.

The Monty Python “Biggus Dickus” Award  goes to Sen. Richard Durbin for his continued assault on the industry’s ability to make money supporting safe, secure consumer and business payments. Nuff said.

The Joe Namath “I Guarantee It” Award  goes to Elon Musk for his unwavering confidence that he can transform X, the artist formerly known as Twitter, info a financial and payments “super app.” Musk is predicting this move into finance will create a 10X appreciation in X’s value. Grab some popcorn and watch.

“Field Notes of the Year” Award – goes to Sarah Hinkfuss and the Bain Capital Ventures team for their practical take on generative AI.

The Champion Becomes a Challenger Award  JPMorgan Chase for Chase U.K. Nearly 2 million customers and $20 billion in deposits since entering the country with a digital bank in 2021. The subsidiary will break even in the next 12-18 months.

The Let’s Put a Nail in the Coffin of This Proposed Reg Award  goes to “HMDA for small business” or Section 1071 in the Dodd-Frank Act. Bankers were doing an early holiday jig when Congress chose to nullify the CFPB’s proposed far-reaching and onerous rule.

The Monty Python “We’re Not Dead Yet” Award – goes to Affirm and Buy Now Pay Later. Despite concerns about credit quality and impacts to lower-income consumers, BNPL is not going away. November alone had $8 billion in BNPL volume and Affirm has managed to come back from the Fintech Winter with a bang. Affirm is up to $16.9 million with 91% repeat customers, and 30-day DLQ is down to 2.4%. In addition, it has opened more than 400,000 debit cards and is opening as many as 75,000 per month, creating a whole other disruption risk we need to discuss. “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” – probably Max Levchin, CEO of Affirm. On the other hand, Cornerstone’s Brandi Gregory calls BNPL akin to the ol’ “write a check for cash at 4 pm on Friday afternoon and have a fun weekend” trick. Ultimately this endorphin-producing point-of-sale experience will face a consumer debt service reckoning.

The Game Changer or Red Herring Award – goes to fintech attempts to build alternative rails for payments. Venmo and Cash App have moved to add merchant adoption as the big revenue opportunity for their growth, and the potential for alternative payments displacing cards is real. Amazon’s recent decision to move away from Venmo acceptance brings into question merchant adoption of alternative rails, but this threat should not be taken lightly by issuers.

The Bank Regulator Working for Merchants Award! – This award must go to the Federal Reserve. First, the Fed implemented the new Reg II for card not present transactions, costing every issuer of debit cards in the country millions of dollars to the benefit of … MERCHANTS. But wait, there is more. The Fed ended this year with a proposal to reduce the maximum interchange for financial institutions over $10 billion in assets by 31%. Last time we checked the Fed’s role was to protect and ensure the safety and soundness of financial institutions. Seems like maybe this has been forgotten when it comes to these regulations.

The Grow-a-Cool-Niche-Award – goes to Bank Newport for creating a national marine lending business and investing to win with more talent, partnerships and technology. Sounds like a cool strategy to build a smarter bank.

The “Work from Home” Award – goes to Ja Hillebrand, CEO of Stock Yards Bank, for bringing down the house at this year’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference when asked about the bank’s work-from-home policy. To paraphrase: “Sure you can work from home … on Saturday or Sunday.”

The Bank Transformation GPS Award – goes to Umpqua Bank’s Drew Anderson with this quotable from Bank Director’s AOBA conference: “If you ask for the roadmap and it’s a 40-page deck full of logos, it’s NOT a good sign.”

The Focus on Deposits When Deposits Weren’t Cool Award – goes to ex-banker and industry Energizer Bunny Neil Stanley, who has relentlessly brought the deposit and funding risk conversation to the forefront. Timing is important, and 2023 was clearly Neil’s year to be heard.

The Financial Branding Quote of the Year Award – goes to Piper Sandler’s Scott Hildenbrand: “Every bank has a peer group to compare their financial ratios, but bank leaders should also have a social media peer group.”  

The “Put Your Head Between Your Legs and Slink Back to That Cave You Came From Award – goes to Goldman Sachs for confidently entering consumer banking only to crash and burn with its Apple Cards deal being offloaded to AmEx after Apple had successful market growth. Goldman also unloaded its GreenSky home improvement finance business for a reported $500 million after paying a whopping $1.7 billion for the company a few years earlier.

The Alanis Morissette Isn’t It Ironic Award – goes to all large banks and REITs that saw more pronounced commercial real estate issues than regional and community banks that have been pegged as the systemic risk in the system. Word: Community banks don’t lend on $400 million office buildings in Manhattan and San Francisco.

The Off-to-the-Races Award – goes to the dozens of banks and credit unions that recently reached $10 billion and now have the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a new regulatory friend, the historic Durbin debit revenue haircut and the risk of further price caps from the Fed. The only direction now is scale, scale, scale!

The Lifelong Learning Award  goes to NCUA board member Rodney Hood for enrolling in a Wharton graduate program on fintech to be a more informed and effective regulator. 

The Looking Out for the Little Guy Award  goes to financial institutions like Roger (a division of Citizens Bank, Edmond, Okla.) and Frontwave Credit Union looking to enhance financial health offerings for enlisted military personnel. A wonderful investment to help some very valued Americans.

The Rough Year But Shake it Off Award  goes to Banking-as-a-Service. On one hand, there were tons of stories emerging about operational and compliance chaos in BaaS partnerships, enough to scare many banks who were standing at the edge of the pool to conclude, “I’m not jumping in.” On the other hand, none of this spells the end of BaaS. It will be part of the future of financial services – albeit ultimately delivered by what will become a consolidated group of specialists that have competence in operational risk management and regulatory compliance.

The Shortest Time to Return as CEO Award  Open AI’s Sam Altman, who had a chaotic five days leaving the organization, being named a Microsoft executive, and then flipping back. The poor payroll and benefits coordinators!

The Holy Crap Operational Risk Award – goes to the growing threat of ransomware with bank technology vendors. The bank technology supply chain is going to “need a bigger boat” when it comes to risk management capabilities in the future.

The New Shining Darling of Fintech Award  goes to the RegTech needs to address the concerns of BaaS, embedded finance and traditional players in delivering in a real-time world of digital delivery, payments and data integration.

The Morley Safer 60-Mintues Reporting on BaaS Award  goes to Jason Mikula, whose fintech Business Weekly dug deep into the sometimes “Springer Show” drama of BaaS this year.

 


 

THE SMARTER BANK AWARDS

 

Every year, Cornerstone recognizes the “smarter banks” that are modernizing their business and growing in focused and strategic ways. Let salute this year’s standouts:

The Smarter Bank – Strategy Award – goes to Michigan State University Federal Credit Union. This is a team that we don’t believe sleeps. In 2023, CEO April Clobes and her team introduced two new challenger bank brands, deployed a proprietary digital banking platform, and announced the acquisition of three community banks in the Chicagoland area. All while aggressively marketing their Reseda Group service organization to grow non-interest income in the face of approaching $10 billion in assets.

The Smarter Bank – Technology Award – goes to Chris Nichols and the team at SouthState Bank, which creatively and pragmatically skied down the learning curve when it comes to applying artificial intelligence to banking. “Test and learn” was alive and well at SouthState, and the industry benefited from Chris’ transparent sharing of the bank’s experiments and educating peers on how to leverage new technology.

The Smarter Bank – Ecosystem Award – goes to the collection of banks and other industry investors in the JAM FINTOP Capital fintech venture fund, the Bank Tech Ventures group, and the leading credit unions investing in the CURQL Collective also investing in fintechs. These organizations were especially engaged with banks and fintechs in 2023 and proved to be useful experiments in the allocation of financial institution capital to innovation bets.

The Smarter Bank – Data Award – goes to hands-on Consumers Credit Union ($2.1 billion, Kalamazoo, Mich.). The Consumers team successfully launched “Side Car,” a practical next-best-offer tool bringing together disparate datasets and delivering them to frontline employees in a low-friction .NET interface that connects to their Phoenix core.

The Smarter Bank – Customer Experience Award – goes to Synovus Bank. Kevin Blair and the team at Synovus lean into transformation and they exude a culture that still loves the practice of relationship banking. With one of the nation’s top JD Power satisfaction scores; a key focus on employee engagement; and continued investments in treasury services, BaaS and digital experience, Synovus is opening up bigger opportunities for future growth.

The Smarter Bank – Talent Award – goes to Synchrony Bank. While scaling a national consumer finance business can risk creating a sweatshop-type operation, Synchrony has done quite the opposite, consistently scoring a 4.2+ on Glass Door and leaning into programs around work-life balance, professional development and inclusiveness. More than 50% of the bank’s employees participate in the organization’s employee resources groups.

Smarter Bank – Innovation Award – goes to (can you believe it) the United States government for the on-time delivery of FedNow. There were a lot of skeptics out there, including some cranky consultants inside Cornerstone, but FedNow may provide a new standard layer in the stack of future payments and financial experience innovations.

 


 

THE FINTECH AWARDS

 

The Bank Technology of the Year – It’s just too big not to call generative AI the technology of 2023. Although the hype around large language models like ChatGPT is yet to have matured into use cases that have had a significant impact in banking, we expect a lot of ideas to explode from this year on.

The Underhyped Tech of the Year – An older sibling of generative AI, supervised machine learning has had a clear impact on banking via credit underwriting, fraud and information security use cases.

The Overhyped Tech of the Year – Real-Time Payments. While The Clearing House had this payments innovation released well ahead of its government-sponsored rival FedNow, RTP volumes just haven’t blown anyone away.

Core System Deal of the Year (Bank) – goes to Temenos’ big win for replacing the deposit and customer information file at $150 billion Regions Bank.

Core Deal of the Year (Credit Union) – goes to Corelation, which scored a huge win with $16 billion and fast-growing Mountain America Credit Union. This will be Corelation’s largest install by a mile and has spurred great interest with larger credit unions in the market.

Digital Deal of the Year (Bank) – Q2 for a nice win at First Merchants Bank (Muncie, Ind.). This was a big deal given First Merchants’ longtime usage of digital solutions from its core provider.

Digital Deal of the Year (Credit Union) – NCR (at the time, now NCR VOYIX) nabbed a high-profile deal with its D3 digital platform at State Employees Credit Union in North Carolina. This could open up even greater interest in the more customizable D3 platform at larger regional banks and mega credit unions.

The Jake and Elwood “We’re Getting the Band Back Together” Award – Goes to Frank Martire. Frank’s PE firm Bridgeport Partners with other FIS alumni Paul Danola and Frank D’Angelo orchestrated the 2022 CSI acquisition with CEO David Culbertson. CSI subsequently brought in FIS alumni Linda Fischer and Troy Bradley as COO and CTO.

Vendor Merger of the Year – goes to PSCU and Co-op Solutions for their deal to bring together the two largest credit union payments companies. Increased scale, check. Differentiated value, we’ll see. Regardless, mad respect for these two boards coming together for this blockbuster deal. 

Vendor Acquisition of the Year – goes to Abrigo not just for its 2023 niche risk acquisitions of Valuant and DiCOM Software, but also the continued “pearls on a string” acquisitions of Construct and +Pay from BankLabs going back to 2022. Smaller niche deals don’t grab all the headlines but combined with internal developments they led to impressive market growth around the company’s Sageworks commercial lending solution. An example of how focus and private equity infusions can create great revenue value versus just squeezing out cost.

Vendor Bust a Move Award – goes to NCR Chairman Mike Hayford for staying strong through to retirement on his mission to create NCR into more of a software and services company (NCR VOYIX) with the September bust-up of NCR and spin-off of the ATM business into NCR Atleos.

Consciously Uncoupling Award – goes to FIS and Worldpay. In a year when FIS was internally focused with only one minor acquisition (BaaS startup Bond), FIS unwound the Worldpay merchant acquiring business by selling the majority stake to PE firm GTCR in July at a $17.5 billion valuation after taking a $17.6 billion write-down in February. The company paid $43 billion for Worldpay in 2019 and almost immediately began losing merchant acquiring market share to Square and others. Painful stuff, and we wish better roads ahead for Stephanie Ferris and team. 

The Ragu Sauce “It’s In There” Award – goes to every vendor that cynically added .AI to their company or product name in 2023 to boost interest and (maybe) their valuation. Give us a break.    

The Baptisms & Funerals Part of Life Award – goes to Intuit, which laid PFM stalwart Mint to rest in 2023 but also showed an impressive tear of value growth. The company has had its missteps over the years (remember the Digital Insight acquisition and sale?), but the OG fintech company’s relentless approach to birthing new things in its market focus and willingness to cease them quickly led to value creation over the years that any bank and fintech would envy.

The Fintech We Hope Succeeds Award – goes to Simply Home. This fintech believes that housing stability is a key driver for social and economic mobility and is working to apply technology to reintroducing safe, renovated homes to those most in need through HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Program. Innovation, technology and social purpose – let’s go!

Golden Cufflinks Award – It’s a Tie

  • In keeping with the 2023 Color of the Year “Pink” is JHA Symitar’s Meg Bannister. Meg has a practical perspective and deep understanding of how Symitar is architected. She can discuss in detail Symitar’s architecture and system management, including day to day system operations, hardware configuration, database management and disaster recovery. She also brings a best practice perspective. On multiple occasions, Meg and team have heard a client ask about a unique process or product during a demo, gone back to the hotel room, and come back the following day with a crafted solution. Her energy is unmatched, and she can make a core infrastructure discussion interesting. She also builds a personal connection with prospects – we’re pretty sure anyone who has spent time with Meg knows her favorite color is pink, the names of her dogs and has seen photos of her Harley.
  • Also a big Gonzo thumbs up to MANTL’s Jeff Calnen. Jeff goes above and beyond with every client demo to ensure he takes the time with the MANTL platform. He can deliver thought leadership to the executive suite and get into the weeds of operations, IT, BSA and best practices with banks and credit unions. Jeff will go the extra mile to find the answers to complex questions that clients can throw past him and consultants and does it with the utmost professionalism.

The Coffee-is-for-Closers Award – goes to the unmemorable startup CEO who opened his Finovate Spring demo session with: “You name it, we got it.” Seriously, we can’t remember who it was. Hand that fellow an empty cup.

The AI Skeptic Award – goes to rocker Joe Walsh, who said “When AI can destroy a hotel room, I’ll start paying attention to it.” 

The “Don’t Bore Us, Get to the Chorus” Award – goes to Ampersand CEO and Patriot Financial Partners Senior Advisor Kelly Brown, who kicked off her JAM FINTOP Summit presentation this way: “They gave us all two minutes to give you a pitch. Now watch me finish mine in one” and then crushed it with a story of a treasury deposit problem and a use case of how her company solved it … in under 60 seconds. Boom!

The Innovate for the Oft-Ignored Award – goes to Kevin Nazemi, co-founder and CEO of Charlie, for developing a new product for an often-ignored audience: retirees.

The Focus on What Matters Award – goes to Lamine Zarrad, CEO of StellarFI, for developing customer relationships in an unusual/lovely way: forgiving their debts.

The Doing PFM Right Award – goes to Ben Maxim, chief digital officer at Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, for partnering with the fintech Debbie to help members pay off debt by using behavioral psychology. These types of new approaches may be an important step toward greater financial inclusion.

The Take-it-to-the-People Award – goes to Apiture’s Daniel Haisley with this Fintech Hustle quotable back in March: “Instead of forcing your customers to come to your digital banking site, go out and find where they are … in the apps they use.”

The Barbenheimer Award – goes to digital banking upstart Tyfone for a blockbuster mid-year infusion by PE firm Demopolis Equity Partners the same weekend as an acquisition (CUBUS Solutions) and a string of talent adds following including industry vets Marcell King, Tiffany Matthews, Keith Riddle, and board members Tom Shen and Santo Canone among others. Who says 2023 is a fintech winter? Wow!  We’re watching 2024 with popcorn in hand.       

Best Industry Afterparty – It’s a TIE – KBW’s music-filled event at Analog at the Hutton Hotel after the JAM FINTOP Summit in Nashville and the classy lobby bar seen at the JW Marriott in D.C. after hours at CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference.

And finally….

The Billionaire Economic Juggernaut Award – goes to Taylor Swift. We can’t talk about 2023 without bringing up Time Magazine’s Person of the Year and tipping the hat to an authentic artist and creative, tireless entrepreneur. The first ever to field a $1 billion musical tour – take that Mick and Keith. Tay Tay and Travis, have a Merry Christmas.

 


 

When the People Need GonzoBankers

 

So, there you have it GonzoBankers. 2023 brought a lot of cortisone pumping in response to a mongo amount of change and volatility. Isn’t it clear why you might have felt a little fatigued this year?

We wish we could say that 2024 will simply bring a magical soft-landing with fairy-tale slow but steady rate cuts, no negative credit events, and the friendliest bipartisan presidential election the country has ever seen. But Santa did Ozempic this year and he just doesn’t have the weight to summon that dream.

Question marks on rates, higher debt costs for consumers/business/government, commercial real estate, international conflict, China, political “Springer Shows” and whether there will be a Golden Bachelor 2 will be uncertainties we will have no choice but to address. But maybe with one eggnog this season, remember the bankers who were around funding a revolution, holding a country together during a civil war, or two world wars and a great depression.

Remember that while riding a euphoric wave of easy money and rising assets in the past decade has been pretty nice, our real job is to be the stewards of a real economy driven by innovation, hard work and sound money. Our opportunity is to be the adults in the room and a force of stability, engagement and encouragement for the customers, employees and communities we serve.

As Bank of America founder A.P. Giannini once remarked, “A banker should consider himself a servant of the people, a servant of the community … be ready to help the people when they need it most.” The team at Cornerstone recognizes that you’re the bankers, credit union professionals and fintech innovators who make our country’s financial system great. We are honored for the chance to work beside you every single day.

It’s time to kick up your feet, GonzoBankers. Happy Holidays and God’s Blessings to All

–The Cornerstone Advisors Team

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