Many investors have a hard time trusting the banking sector, and after the financial crisis, who could blame them? Investors who owned shares of banks like Citigroup and Bank of America are still a long way from recovering, and they got off easier than shareholders of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.
However, within the banking sector, there are risky stocks and not-so-risky stocks. We asked three of our analysts to suggest some of the latter variety that could provide great returns for decades to come without keeping investors on the edge of their seats.
Dan Caplinger: Most bank investors focus on huge national powerhouses, but smaller regional banks often have more stable prospects and management teams. First Interstate Bancsystem (NASDAQ:FIBK) has a familiar name to many in the western U.S., with most banks carrying the First Interstate name having transformed into Wells Fargo branches in their 1996 merger. But the ongoing Billings-based First Interstate has locations throughout Montana, Wyoming, and western South Dakota, and it also has the rights to use the First Interstate name in Idaho, Colorado, Utah, and North Dakota should it choose to expand further.
First Interstate's proximity to the booming energy industry in the Northern Plains states has given it the benefit of the region's expansionary boost, with many oil workers commuting hundreds of miles to take advantage of job opportunities in western North Dakota. At the same time, its long history of founding-family ownership adds stability to the bank, which has gone through boom and bust periods before and has therefore taken steps to protect itself from the possibility of a reversal in the oil boom there. With a nearly 3% dividend yield and a reasonable valuation of just 14 times trailing earnings, First Interstate offers a value that many bigger banks lack right now.
Matt Frankel: One bank I would trust to be a safe and profitable investment for the next 20 years and beyond is Canada-based Toronto-Dominion Bank (NYSE:TD), which is simply known as TD Bank to most people.
What I don't trust over the long run are banks that focus on the risky aspects of the business, such as investment banking or trading. While not necessarily bad ways to make money, they do make for a volatile revenue stream.
Instead, I want to invest in banks that focus on consumer banking and wealth management like TD does. TD Bank does have some investment banking operations, but the vast majority of its earnings (about 80%) come from its retail banking operations. And since TD is focused on retail banking, it prides itself on being among the best at what it does. Known as "America's Most Convenient Bank," TD aims to deliver a superior level of customer service and convenience, which has resulted in impressive growth over the past few decades.
Plus, now is a great time to get in an a very good price, as TD's share price has dropped by about 20% over the past six months, thanks to headwinds caused by falling oil prices and the strong U.S. dollar.
Jason Hall: I own shares of two banks -- Wells Fargo and BofI Holding (NYSE:AX) -- the holding company behind Bank of Internet USA. Between the two, I'm picking Bank of Internet. Why would I pick a Web-based bank over a stalwart like Wells Fargo?
There are significant cost advantages for a bank without physical branches, and I think as time passes, traditional banks could become more exposed as consumers find comfort with the online-only bank choices. I think in a lot of ways, I'm part of the last generation of traditional bankers, at just shy of 40. I do my primary banking with a large "bricks and mortar" bank, even though I haven't been in a branch in more than a year.
Technology could affect physical banks in a similar way that it has affected the Postal Service: It still serves a role, but it will be far diminished over time. This trend will only accelerate as millennials who have lived fully online lives, come to drive the economy.
BofI Holding stock is expensive by almost every metric, but it's tiny by bank standards with huge room to grow. I'm counting on a solid management team to keep delivering solid results, and a major shift in consumer sentiment to lead millions of new bankers to Bank of Internet's virtual doors over the next two decades.