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Boston Private Financial Holdings (NASDAQ:BPFH)
Q4 2019 Earnings Call
Jan 23, 2020, 8:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good day and welcome to the Boston Private Financial Holdings Fourth Quarter 2019 Earnings Conference Call and Web Cast. All participants will be in listen-only mode. [Operator Instructions]. Please note this event is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the conference over to Mr. Adam Bromley, Director of Investor Relations. Mr. Bromley, please go ahead.

Adam Bromley -- Director of Investor Relations

Thank you, Keith, and good morning everyone. This is Adam Bromley, Director of Investor Relations of Boston Private Financial Holdings. We welcome you to this conference call to discuss our fourth quarter and full year 2019 financial results. Our call this morning includes references to an earnings presentation, which can be found in the Investor Relations section of our website, bostonprivate.com. Joining me this morning are Anthony DeChellis, Chief Executive Officer; Steve Gaven, Chief Financial Officer; and Paul Simons, President of Private Banking, Wealth & Trust.

This call contains forward-looking statements regarding strategic objectives, and expectations for future results of operations and financial prospects. They are based upon the current belief and expectations of Boston Private's management, and are subject to certain risks and uncertainties. Actual results may differ from those set forth in the forward-looking statements. I refer you also to the forward-looking statements qualifier contained in our earnings release, which identify a number of factors that could cause material differences between actual and anticipated results, or other expectations expressed. Additional factors that could cause Boston Private's results to differ materially from those described in the forward-looking statements, can be found in the company's filings submitted to the SEC. All subsequent written and oral forward-looking statements attributable to Boston Private or any person acting on our behalf, are expressly qualified by these cautionary statements. Boston Private does not undertake any obligation to update any forward-looking statements to reflect circumstances or events that occur after the forward-looking statements are made.

With that, I will now turn it over to Anthony DeChellis.

Anthony DeChellis -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks Adam. Good morning everyone and thank you for joining the call. On today's call, I will begin by updating you on our progress against strategic initiatives. Steve Gaven will then lead a review of our financial information, and we will close by taking your questions.

As we shared at our Investor Day in May of 2019, we are focused on building a private banking and wealth management firm, with a differentiated return profile for shareholders. Much of our time in 2019 has been focused on positioning our business for ambitious growth. This has included reorganizing our management structure and refining our processes to improve our ability to effectively and efficiently deliver high value advice and guidance to our clients. All of which we plan to have increasingly aided and empowered by technology.

Here are a few updates on our progress during the fourth quarter. First, the leading indicator of our ability to achieve the targets we shared at our Investor Day remains our ability to attract high quality talent to Boston Private. We are pleased to share that our net advisor count increased by four during the quarter, and we added six new advisors and relationship managers during the quarter, primarily in New York and South Florida.

We made key advancements to our technology platform, when we rolled out a new digital banking platform in November. Our team worked hard throughout 2019 to deliver this key initiative, which represents a significant upgrade to our digital platform and client experience for banking clients.

We also rolled out Precision Lender in December and we are scheduled to roll-out Encino in May. Improving our technology not only augments our high touch client service, but also opens up new channels for growth, particularly with next generation clients.

As the banking technology upgrade nears completion, we have already begun to focus on the 2020 design and development of a dramatically upgraded Wealth platform. We are currently finalizing vendor selection and outlining our vision for both advisors and client experiences, before formally launching this project. We aspire to build a platform that empowers our clients to pursue solutions and desired outcomes, in partnership with our highly skilled Wealth Management teams.We believe our Envision platform will offer a client experience, that will be appealing to both existing clients and to the next generation of clients, who as we know, are increasingly consuming Financial Services away from traditional channels. We also expect that a more powerful, tech enabled platform will accelerate our advisor recruiting.

In December, we finalized the design of our new advisor compensation plan. The new plan is more formulaic and less discretionary. It better aligns the interest of our clients, advisors, and shareholders, as it rewards our advisors for growth, for delivering on our aspirational client experience, and the overall success of the company. Also during the quarter, we expanded our presence in South Florida by opening a new Wealth Management office in Miami, which we expect to be a meaningful part of our future growth.

While we will get into more details on AUM flows later on this call, we are encouraged by a significant improvement in new business generation in our Wealth Management and Trust segment. Our team generated $407 million of new business during the quarter, the highest levels in 2019. A meaningful sign that our recruiting efforts and platform upgrades are beginning to have an impact. As Steve will detail later, overall net flows were slightly negative, due in particular to a known terminating legacy Trust and an unrelated departure of an advisor.

Looking ahead, we anticipate that our primary avenue to grow our advisor population will be through organic hiring and recruiting. We will stay focused on a disciplined approach to hire high quality advisors who share our values. We will not sacrifice quality for quantity.

There are obviously other means to grow ambitiously, and while we are open to acquisitions, the current valuations for RIAs makes inorganic growth, a lower probability. We are committed to being prudent and responsible stewards of our shareholders' capital, and frankly at the moment, given a choice, I'd prefer to buy back our own stock, which you know we have done.

With that, I will turn it over to Steve Gaven, who will walk us through fourth quarter 2019 results. Steve?

Steve Gaven -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks Anthony. Good morning everyone. My comments will begin on slide 3, where we show a summary of our consolidated financial highlights from the fourth quarter. This quarter, we reported net income of $21.2 million or $0.26 per share. During the quarter, we benefited from a $1.1 million gain related to the revaluation of a receivable we have from the divestiture of BOS, which we completed in December of 2018. Excluding the net after-tax impact of this gain, we reported operating net income of $20.5 million or $0.25 per share.

Total deposits averaged $7 billion for the quarter, a 1% increase year-over-year. While the year-over-year comparison shows 1% growth, we intentionally ran off brokered deposits during the quarter, and throughout 2019, resulting in average client deposits increasing 6% from the fourth quarter of 2018 to the fourth quarter of 2019.

Total loans averaged $7.1 billion for the quarter, a 4% increase year-over-year. We continued our efforts to prioritize on balance sheet liquidity to support future client acquisition, as we sold approximately $100 million of residential mortgages and participated out approximately $100 million of commercial real estate loans during the fourth quarter.

Total AUM as of December 31st, 2019 was $16.8 billion, a 5% increase year-over-year, as positive market action offset negative net flows. Total net flows for the company were negative $209 million, $114 million of which was attributable to the Wealth Management and Trust segment, and $95 million of which was attributable to our investment manager, DGHM. As Anthony mentioned, we had very strong new business during the quarter, but outflows were negative due to a departed advisor and a large terminating trust.

Tier 1 common equity ratio was 11.4%, while tangible book value per common share increased 10% year-over-year to $9.02. For the full year of 2019, we returned 59% of operating net income to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases.

Slide 4 shows our consolidated income statement on a reported basis under GAAP. As you recall, we completed the divestiture of BOS in the fourth quarter of 2018. Financial results from BOS remain consolidated in fourth quarter of 2018 results, through the closing of the divestiture, which primarily explains the year-over-year decrease in revenue and expenses. Fourth quarter 2018 results also include the net impact of a $13.8 million related to the impact of notable items in divestiture of BOS.

To enhance comparability in analyzing financial trends in the core business, the upcoming slides include certain non-GAAP operating metrics, that exclude the previously mentioned restructuring charge, and contribution from BOS in the fourth quarter of 2018. A reconciliation of GAAP to non-GAAP metrics can be found on slide 15.

Slide 5 shows a consolidated income statement, excluding notable items and BOS. Pretax, pre-provision income decreased 5% year-over-year, primarily driven by lower net interest income, while the linked quarter decline was driven by higher non-interest expense. Net income increased 2% linked quarter and 5% year-over-year, primarily driven by a provision credit during the fourth quarter of 2019.

Slide 6 shows consolidated revenue trends; net interest income was flat linked quarter, as lower funding costs and borrowing volumes offset lower loan yields. The wealth management and trust fees decline was primarily driven by lower trust fees, while core wealth management fees in the legacy Boston Private Wealth business increased 1%. Excluding the impact of BOS in notable items, total operating revenue during the fourth quarter was $81.8 million, up 1% linked quarter.

On slide 7, we show a detailed breakout of our consolidated expenses on a GAAP basis. Total non-interest expense declined on a year-over-year basis, primarily as a result of restructuring expense and BOS results that are included in the fourth quarter 2018 results.

Slide 8 shows a detailed breakout of consolidated expenses, excluding notable items and BOS results in the fourth quarter of 2018. Total non-interest expense decreased 1% year-over-year, while increasing 5% linked quarter. The linked quarter comparison reflects higher salaries and employee benefits expense, which includes higher incentive compensation. As we previously mentioned, some of our key technology initiatives came into service this quarter, which caused information systems expense to increase linked quarter, and professional services expense to decline linked quarter, due to the conclusion of technology consulting engagements.

Slide 9 shows the past five quarters of average loan balances and average deposit balances by type. Total average loans during the quarter increased 4% year-over-year to $7.1 billion. As previously mentioned, residential balances were impacted by a $100 million loan sale during the fourth quarter, while commercial real estate balances were impacted by $100 million of participations out. The increase in C&I lending, was driven by higher client borrowing activity on revolving lines of credit.

Total average deposits during the quarter increased 1% year-over-year and 5% linked quarter to $7 billion. The linked quarter increase was primarily attributable to seasonality inherent in our client base, partially offset by continued intentional runoff of brokered deposits. Client activity was especially strong at the end of the quarter, as end of period balances were $7.2 billion, which is approximately $280 million higher than average balances. While this activity helped drive the end-of-period loan to deposit ratio to 96%, we anticipate the fourth quarter average is more representative of where we will be during the first quarter of 2020.

Slide 10 shows a five quarter trend of consolidated net interest income and net interest margin. Core net interest income, which excludes interest recovered on previous non-accrual loans was flat linked quarter, as lower funding costs and lower borrowing volumes were partially offset by lower loan yields. On the bottom of the slide, we show a net interest margin table, including changes in interest earning asset yields and funding costs. The core net interest margin decreased one basis point linked quarter to 2.7% during the fourth quarter of 2019. The rate of decline decelerated, as benefits from the Fed cut in September flowed through to our funding base, and deposit inflows enabled the repayment of higher cost borrowings. The total cost of funds decreased 13 basis points linked quarter from 112 basis points to 99 basis points.

Slide 11 provides detail on our asset quality; this quarter we booked a provision credit of approximately $3.7 million, which was primarily driven by a decrease in criticized and classified loans, and a decrease in loss factors. The chart below shows asset quality metrics during the quarter. Overall criticized loans declined 10% in the quarter to $126 million. ALLL as a percent of total loans was 103 basis points.

With respect to the upcoming CECL implementation; we have completed our model development and we are in the process of finalizing model validation. Based on current economic factors, portfolio mix and loan balances among other factors, we anticipate a reserve release that will ultimately lead to a slight increase in capital levels. We will provide more details on the specific impact in our Form 10-K filing. On slide 12, we show the Private Banking segment. Excluding the Wealth Management and Trust portion of the Bank, the private bank efficiency ratio increased from 63% to 66% linked quarter, driven primarily by higher compensation and technology expense.

I will now turn it back to Anthony, to discuss our Wealth Management and Trust segment.

Anthony DeChellis -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks Steve. Slide 13 shows performance performance highlights for the Wealth Management and Trust segment, which includes financial results from Boston Private Wealth and KLS Professional Advisors, as well as the Trust operations of Boston Private Bank & Trust Company.

Segment EBITDA margin for the quarter was 28%, reflecting increased hiring at Boston Private Wealth and KLS. As Steve mentioned, consolidated AUM was $16.8 billion, of which $15.2 billion was in the Wealth Management and Trust segment, an increase of 4% linked quarter and 7% year-over-year.Net flows for the quarter of 2019 were negative $114 million, as outflows were related to a departing advisor and a large terminating Trust, partially offset via $407 million of new business.

That concludes our prepared comments on our fourth quarter 2019 reported results, and we will now open up the line for your questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Yes, thank you. [Operator Instructions]. And the first question comes from Chris McGratty with KBW.

Christopher McGratty -- KBW -- Analyst

Hey, good morning everybody.

Anthony DeChellis -- Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Chris.

Christopher McGratty -- KBW -- Analyst

Steve aor Anthony, I'm interested in kind of the progress that you're making on the hirings, and how we should be thinking about the pace of expense growth as 2020 unfolds? I think you said in the past, you need to get the technology upgraded and then you will start the hiring efforts. I'm just wondering, how we should think about the ramp in expenses? Thanks.

Anthony DeChellis -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, I mean on technology, we don't expect it to be any different than what we've projected. As you know, the hiring is dependent on -- it's not going to be a set number every quarter, it depends on not only who we can attract, but who we accept. I would expect that we would -- we hired six in the fourth quarter. I would expect that to be at least what we hire each quarter. Paul Simons is here, and Paul, I don't know if you'd add anything of what you expect on a quarter-to-quarter basis? Six or somewhere thereabouts [Phonetic]?

Paul M. Simons -- President of Private Banking, Wealth & Trust

No, I think that's the right number directionally, but as Anthony said, we will be both opportunistic and selective.

Steve Gaven -- Chief Financial Officer

And Chris, this is Steve, just for modeling purposes, I would think about operating expense in the first quarter in kind of the $60 million to $61 million range. Obviously, you have some seasonal payroll impact in the comp and benefits line that usually runs $2 million to $2.5 million. And then beyond that, to Anthony's point expense progression will largely depend on kind of pace of hiring. So that's what I would start to think about throughout the year, but that's where kind of first quarter should shake out.

Christopher McGratty -- KBW -- Analyst

And maybe just following that up Steve, if we think about the hiring, and that will obviously bring revenues with it, what's the right way to think about, either operating efficiency or operating leverage as kind of the year unfolds? I assume, there will be...

Steve Gaven -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, I mean, I think you should expect...

Christopher McGratty -- KBW -- Analyst

[Multiple Speakers] revenues come later?

Steve Gaven -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, exactly. I think you should expect to see that model kind of weighing operating leverage early on, because you're on-boarding the talent, and then there is a lag between the time they start and when AUM transfers and then revenue starts to build. So it's likely that we'll see some operating leverage pressure in the first part of the year.

Christopher McGratty -- KBW -- Analyst

Okay, great. And then maybe on the growth front, I think you said, you participated at $100 million of commercial real estate, what was the loan sale on the resi side?

Steve Gaven -- Chief Financial Officer

That was also about $100 million. And what we did there Chris was really -- I think if you go back to our second quarter, we talked about working loan deposit ratio down to 100% by the end of the year. And we went through the loan book and tried to isolate pockets of of the portfolio where we didn't have deep relationships with those clients, but it was very scalable or easy paper to participate out, because of credit quality. So we're able to create capacity, improve on balance sheet liquidity, and now we're on a much better place to onboard more strategic clients as we roll out the new strategy.

Christopher McGratty -- KBW -- Analyst

Okay. So less loan sales and maybe a little bit stronger net loan growth, is that the right way to think about it?

Steve Gaven -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, I mean if you think about -- if you look at just kind of development of the loan book into the fourth quarter, we actually had really strong originations. They are north of $400 million, I think that was the strongest origination quarter in the year. So it's not an issue of generating loan growth. Really what you saw in the fourth quarter was, some balance sheet management tactics, and quite frankly, freeing up capacity as we roll out the new strategy, particularly in the family office segment.

Christopher McGratty -- KBW -- Analyst

Thanks.

Operator

Thank you. And the next question comes from Alex Twerdahl with Piper Sandler.

Alexander Twerdahl -- Piper Sandler -- Analyst

Hey, good morning guys.

Anthony DeChellis -- Chief Executive Officer

Good morning Alex.

Alexander Twerdahl -- Piper Sandler -- Analyst

Just first off, wanted to try to get a better sense for how we should we thinking about the trajectory of AUM, as 2020 progresses? And I appreciate your commentary on working on the design for the Envision platform. Do you need that new platform to really come online, before we can see a meaningful shift in the trajectory of AUM?

Anthony DeChellis -- Chief Executive Officer

No. I think for -- the way to think about it is, for our traditional businesses at Boston Private Wealth and Trust and KLS, there have already been some enhancements to -- pardon me, the platform. The technology part is really to address the emerging trends we see in client expectations, but particularly for the next generation. So it's about improving the experience both for our advisors and clients, but also beginning to open up some perhaps new channels for -- particularly in emerging client base that prefers, just to consumefinancial services in a different way, and frankly more directly, and to empower that.

So we still should be able to grow the way we've always grown, albeit with some better support. It's really about giving us increased optionality going forward.

Alexander Twerdahl -- Piper Sandler -- Analyst

Okay, I guess kind of as we think about the modeling, obviously AUM balances drives a big portion of your business. How should we be thinking about, when you guys are thinking about your modeling for 2020 and the goals that you put out last May to triple AUM basically over three years, how far into that progress do you envision getting in 2020? Do you think AUM can really make a meaningful progression forward this year?

Anthony DeChellis -- Chief Executive Officer

I would expect AUM to make a meaningful progression forward, particularly trending toward the end of the year. It's more sort of a pace that I think will be important by the fourth quarter of this year. When you onboard an advisor, it typically takes them about six months to sort of get seasoned in their seat, there is some immediate flow. But it's really an 18-month process for them to kind of move their business and get acclimated to a new firm, and a new platform.

When we originally put out those and I think I may have mentioned in our previous call, when we put out the goals, there was an organic component of the existing client base. We had and we thought we could do more with them, better connecting our private bank with our clients on the commercial banking side, who as you know, a lot of them tend to be family enterprises. There was that element, which we thought would take us $23 billion to $25 billion, and then we thought given the WEN [Phonetic] prices of some of the RIAs, we thought there would be $5 billion to $10 billion of possible acquisition opportunity, and then the remaining $15 billion, we would hire over that four year period and grow. That was sort of how we broke it down, and thought about it. And I think what's still in place, is certainly the synergies in our existing client base and working more closely with clients across businesses, and the opportunity to hire. It's really the -- it's really our choice to have backed away from some of the pricing, the valuation requirements of that $10 billion, we thought we could acquire, and so we'll see if that environment changes in the meantime, that's why I remarked that, we would mainly grow organically, hiring individual advisors or teams when they fit our profile.

Alexander Twerdahl -- Piper Sandler -- Analyst

Okay. So sort of slow progression early in the year, later in the year, we should see the pace be more representative of what it could be potentially in '21 and '22?

Anthony DeChellis -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I think you should see it steadily improve. We were pleased to see that, again, a lot of these folks are really new to the firm and new clients of $407 million flowing in through these folks, there'll be more of them each quarter and though, we will have more and more seasoned people. So I would expect it to be an accelerating and improving trend.

Alexander Twerdahl -- Piper Sandler -- Analyst

Okay, great. And then just, Steve, one question on the margin, kind of given the current outlook for rates and and what's happening with funding costs during the quarter and loans etc., do you think there is more room to come down on funding costs in the near term, and potentially that the margin could have bottomed here in the fourth quarter?

Steve Gaven -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes. Alex, if you think about interest bearing deposit costs, 1.20% in the fourth quarter, that could get down to 1.06% to 1.08% range. In terms of NIM, I think you are in the kind of the low to mid 2.7s into the first quarter, and depending on the rate environment plays out, you could see some more improvement in the back half of the year. But it does feel like, given what we know today that 2.70% kind of the bottom of where we'd expect rates to be. Again, based on what we see in the rate environment today.

Alexander Twerdahl -- Piper Sandler -- Analyst

Great, I really appreciate all the color, guys. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. [Operator Instructions]. And the next question comes from Michael Young with SunTrust.

Michael Young -- SunTrust -- Analyst

Thanks, good morning. Anthony, I wanted to quickly follow up on RIA commentary, obviously that the pricing can shift at any time. But given where things stand currently, it sounds like we should lower our total AUM expectations for where we think we'll get at the end of this process? But can you talk about any of the offsetting factors or other impacts that they have, in terms of your overall profitability targets and/or, your ability to buy back more stock? I think you mentioned that as an alternative, since you might not pursue that strategy? Can you just talk about kind of how that will affect everything overall?

Anthony DeChellis -- Chief Executive Officer

Sure. I think what I -- my comment was, is that given a choice between buying an overpriced RIA and our own stock, I would pick our own stock. As far as how we use our capital, we're really not changing what we've said in the past. We still want to use it for growth. It's just how we spend that money or how we spend that capital.

We may -- initially we anticipated it might include the acquisition of an RIA. We are leaning more toward the acquisition of talent and possibly buying back more of our of our stock. But we haven't changed any prior stock buyback plans that we put in place last year. So for the moment, that remains constant. I'm sorry, what was the other part of your question?

Michael Young -- SunTrust -- Analyst

Just does that reduce kind of the overall profitability target, if you're able to scale, maybe less quickly or end up at a lower kind of AUM balance at the end of this targeted kind of growth range?

Anthony DeChellis -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, I mean the balance -- and if you can hire really good advisors, and they can onboard quickly, that usually -- it's just a lot harder, takes a little bit more time, a lot more work, frankly than buying a group of high quality advisors, where there also tends to be more certainty in moving that business to the firm. It's just more expensive. So we are actually -- it should be better, done this many times in my career. Hiring advisors one at a time as much more difficult, but in the end it should produce much better value creation for shareholders. It's just a longer process. So the way I would think about it is, I broke down for you where we saw the components of AUM coming from, the part -- and things can change as you said, the piece of it of getting $50 billion, $10 billion of it we thought we would acquire, will lean more toward -- still aiming toward that goal, if possible, is just leaning more toward advisor hiring, as opposed to buying those RIAs.

Michael Young -- SunTrust -- Analyst

Okay. And maybe Steve, just as a quick follow-up on the deposit growth this quarter, can you just kind of provide a little more detail on that, how much of that do you expect to stick around? And just any other color on how that transpired?

Steve Gaven -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, sure. It was -- a lot of client activity really in the last two weeks of the quarter, so about $400 million of deposits, really associated with liquidity events within those clients businesses. Some of that will stay, some of that will go. As we commented earlier, the 96% end of period LD ratios probably overstated in terms of being lower than quarters -- probably closer to 100%. So I think there is just some adjustment that happens in that late quarter activity that happened, as we get into the first quarter and the second quarter 2020.

Michael Young -- SunTrust -- Analyst

And similar question just on AUM, do you have any visibility for any other kind of larger outflows or exits, as we move into the first part of 2020?

Anthony DeChellis -- Chief Executive Officer

Why don't I have you comment on that?

Paul M. Simons -- President of Private Banking, Wealth & Trust

No, we don't have -- there is no immediate visibility into significant outflows from the Wealth business in the first quarter.

Michael Young -- SunTrust -- Analyst

Okay, thanks, that's all for me.

Operator

Thank you. And this concludes our question-and-answer session. I would like to turn the conference back over to Mr. Anthony DeChellis, Chief Executive Officer for any closing remarks.

Anthony DeChellis -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you and thanks everyone for joining us today. We appreciate you being on the call. Of course, we are here for any for any follow-up. Other than that, I wish you all a great day. Thank you again.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks].

Duration: 31 minutes

Call participants:

Adam Bromley -- Director of Investor Relations

Anthony DeChellis -- Chief Executive Officer

Steve Gaven -- Chief Financial Officer

Paul M. Simons -- President of Private Banking, Wealth & Trust

Christopher McGratty -- KBW -- Analyst

Alexander Twerdahl -- Piper Sandler -- Analyst

Michael Young -- SunTrust -- Analyst

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