During a meeting with big investors and analysts in New York City earlier this month, TCF Financial CEO Craig Dahl and his chief financial officer were peppered with questions about a national auto-lending portfolio that underperformed in the fourth quarter and that amounts to less than a sixth of TCF’s revenue mix.
At one point, CFO Brian Maass asked if they wanted to discuss the 85 percent of business that performed well.
“The auto business is an issue,” said Christopher McGratty of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods in New York last week. “It has been a growing source of their business. TCF also has the [January] lawsuit brought by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. [Investors] are uncertain about their future. And that’s why the stock hasn’t worked.
“Their old business model got upended. And Craig was instrumental in growing new businesses the last few years. What’s challenging is that some of these markets can move quickly against them.”
Dahl, 62, a veteran commercial lender and executive at TCF since 1998, acknowledges there is work to do.
TCF’s stock price has traded mostly between $12 and $18 per share since the Great Recession of 2007-08. That’s far short of the $20 to $28 range of the several years before when TCF was considered acquisition bait by larger banks as it raked in profits from fees and overdraft charges that were limited by regulators after the recession.
Former CEO Bill Cooper, who died of cancer earlier this month at 73, was the leader at TCF since arriving in 1985. He pulled off a widely admired turnaround of the failing S&L, turning it into Minnesota’s third largest commercial bank. Dahl succeeded Cooper as CEO on Jan. 1, 2016 as TCF’s performance improved.
Last year, TCF posted a 6.6 percent rise in earnings to $212 million on a nearly 5 percent increase in revenue to $1.4 billion. As revenue grew in recent years, Dahl restrained costs by closing about 100 of what was once 440 branches since 2012. He invested in technology to bring TCF’s lagging consumer-online services to the level of competitors such as Wells Fargo, his previous employer. And Dahl grew consumer and commercial lending.
Since 2014, TCF was able to increase low-cost deposits by $5 billion, the consumer checking and other accounts it uses to finance higher-yielding loans, mortgages and credit cards.
That long-term progress has led some analysts, such as Jared Shaw of Wells Fargo Securities in New York to project the bank will “outperform” its midsize peer group and achieve a stock price of $19 to $20 this year. It closed at $17.51 Friday.
Dahl is a collaborative leader who samples opinion among a larger group before making decisions. He also has a track record of starting or running commercial lending and leasing business that have grown profitably. As CEO, he also has learned to take a longer view.
“Running the bank for today is what I was doing … driving for performance in all these businesses,” Dahl said. “As I moved into this [CEO] chair, it’s become … What are we going to do tomorrow? What are the things we are not doing today? If I’m not thinking about tomorrow — who is? That’s been my biggest change.”
Dahl, an International Falls, Minn., native who played hockey while earning a bachelor’s degree at Princeton, was nicknamed “Coach.”
While finishing his degree at Princeton after his hockey eligibility expired, Dahl was asked to coach the first women’s hockey team at the school. That mention caused him to smile and recall how much fun it was to coach a group of bright young athletes, something he later did as a youth coach for 20 years in the Twin Cities.
Dahl has surrounded himself with complementary players. Half of his six-person senior management team came up with Dahl through the leasing businesses. He’s balanced the team with three outsiders, including new managers who joined TCF from Target, Wells Fargo and PNC Financial.
Dahl still wrestles with issues from the Cooper era, who could have sold the bank at a premium before the recession, and leaned heavily on consumer overdrafts and electronic fees.
They were curtailed by the Federal Reserve and Congress after the near-failure of the banking industry and the resultant taxpayer bailout of 2008-10.
Mairs & Power, the St. Paul investment firm that was one of TCF’s largest shareholders for years, sold out its position a few years ago amid uncertainty as TCF struggled to replace lost fee revenue with the national auto-leasing business and commercial lending.
TCF’s performance and stock price has improved since 2015. Dahl has proved that TCF could build revenue using a deposit-funding base that’s cheaper than those of most his midmarket peer group while gaining economies by closing branches and replacing them with ATMs.
Dahl’s latest challenge is a lawsuit brought in January by the federal Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), alleging TCF since 2010 has misled customers into a service that costs a $35 fee to cover each overdraft on their accounts.
“We have to conclude that lawsuit,” said Dahl, who knows it concerns investors. “We feel we’re on the right side of the law.”
TCF last week filed its response in federal court as part of a motion asking a federal judge to dismiss the case.
And TCF is not for sale, Dahl said.
“I wouldn’t be investing if I had been told [by the board], to sell the bank,” he said. “We have a clear strategy. Our performance has moved up the continuum among our 50-bank peer group.”
Cooper moved TCF’s longtime headquarters 20 years ago from Minneapolis. The former Republican Party chairman disliked Minneapolis DFL politicians.
After TCF’s lease expired downtown in the former TCF building in 2015, he moved 1,600 employees to a new campus in Plymouth. Dahl said last week he is considering his options of what to do with the company’s Wayzata offices, which is currently the company’s headquarters.
Dahl, unlike Cooper, avoids public politics. The one-time young DFLer from International Falls, who played on a state championship hockey team in 1972, said he’s a political independent.
“I like to stick to business,” Dahl said.