When small-time banking pays off big-time

By Rob Cox
November 10, 2010

Who wants to be an American community banker? It doesn’t sound like an especially appealing profession these days. After all, scores of local lenders are failing every week — more than 143 so far this year including four last week. Regulatory red tape is on the rise. And all those “too big to fail” institutions bailed out by the government have gotten their mojo back and are gunning for small-bank customers and depositors.

But the success of one executive, John Kanas, may be sufficient to make small-time banking as attractive as the hedge fund business. Kanas is the chief executive, chairman and president of BankUnited, the 70-branch Miami Lakes, Florida, financial institution that he — along with a Who’s Who of private equity hotshots — bought on the cheap from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp last year.

BankUnited recently filed to go public and raise fresh capital, just 18 months after its rescue, and subsequent handover, to Kanas and backers including Stephen Schwarzman’s Blackstone and David Rubenstein’s Carlyle Group. By the look of things, it’s going to be an embarrassment of riches for the group. For the FDIC and its chairman, Sheila Bair, it won’t look good: the agency estimated losses of $4.9 billion on the deal.

That’s because a guarantee on over 80 percent of the failed bank’s assets from the FDIC is the gift that keeps on giving to BankUnited’s new owners. Payments that the regulatory insurance fund will make to BankUnited over the next few years carry an estimated net present value of about $800 million. As a result, BankUnited is widely expected to fetch a premium valuation to its $1.2 billion book value, or assets minus liabilities.

At 2.25 times book, Kanas and his co-investors would see their initial $900 million investment triple. While that valuation may sound punchy, it would represent a not unreasonable multiple of some 12 times annualized earnings. That would value the 2.5 percent stake owned by Kanas at around $68 million.

Now, compared to his last gig, it may not sound like such a windfall. Kanas rose through the ranks to run North Fork Bancorp, a Long Island regional bank, which he sold four years ago to Capital One for $14.6 billion. Capital One later availed itself of $3.55 billion from the Treasury’s bailout program. Kanas’ bonanza from the deal came to $185 million including vesting restricted stock, tax gross-ups and other goodies.

Of course, that was the culmination of decades of work. Kanas had been president and CEO of North Fork since 1977. And he acknowledged at the time the payout was “an egregious amount of money,” but justifiable: “It’s not like I flew in here on a private jet three years ago and prettied up the company and then booted it out of here.”

But at 63, Kanas doesn’t have quite as much time as he did earlier in his career. Luckily for him, BankUnited’s prospectus shows there may be ample opportunities for Kanas and his executive team to match, or even surpass, their North Fork haul. Most of the actual details on compensation remain blank. They will be filled in closer to BankUnited’s debut, and will include salary, bonus, options, non-equity incentive plans and pensions.

It’s the other equity incentives that look juiciest, particularly the award of “Profits Interest Units” to Kanas. According to documents submitted to regulators, these “represent the right of the holder to share in distributions” of “an amount equal to ten percent of the increase in the value of (BankUnited) after returns to our investors have been made.” Essentially, these grant Kanas and his team the kind of carried interest that private equity firms rely upon for the bulk of their investment returns.

How big a boon these will be for Kanas only will become clear when details are revealed closer to the IPO. And they will, perforce, depend on the medium-term performance of BankUnited’s stock price. Moreover, Kanas and his team have agreed to a number of restrictions on selling their shares. But combined with his extraordinary timing on the BankUnited deal and the rich guarantees provided by the FDIC, there is every chance the Kanas touch will prove more lucrative this time around than his last golden trick.


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This disgorgement of riches by the FDIC is not an uncommon occurrence, by any means. The FDIC shared-loss agreements with the acquiring banks is an enormous ‘can’t lose’ deal for the lucky bank. The agreement is structured so that the acquiring bank can almost always foreclose on every asset in the pool at less risk than if they attempted to negotiate a settlement with the borrower. The bank is highly motivated to “close the file” rather than attempt to negotiate a commercially reasonable settlement.

The shared loss agreements create an obscene river of cash from the taxpayer to the bankers, at the expense of the businesses and their employees who are forced out into the hoards of unemployed.

I should add that I have no knowledge of residential mortgages so affected, but a good understanding of what the FDIC shared-loss agreements are doing to small businesses.

Posted by JRD6348237 | Report as abusive

The unfortunately mishandled and aggressive foreclosures of residences is widely covered. I would very much like to see media coverage of the foreclosures on small businesses as aggravated by the FDIC’s shared-loss agreements with acquiring banks. The FDIC’s program incentivizes the bank to ‘close the file’ at any cost, rather than make an effort to preserve capital and jobs in a commercially reasonable settlement.

Posted by JRD6348237 | Report as abusive

[…] Rob Cox has a great column on the deal, concentrating on the instant riches accruing to BankUnited’s CEO, John Kanas. Cox has found a smoking-gun quote from Kanas when he sold North Fork, making $185 million for himself: “It’s not like I flew in here on a private jet three years ago and prettied up the company and then booted it out of here.” […]

Posted by News Financial World » Banks gain from FDIC | Report as abusive