Activist investors are turning their attention to the U.S. banking industry, which many see as ripe for a new merger wave as lenders struggle to distinguish themselves amid intensifying competition.
Funds from veteran Jeffrey Ubben's ValueAct to first-time agitators like Dallas-based Blue Lion Capital have been turning up the heat on banks over the past year, seeking everything from investments in digital banking platforms to outright sales.
Activist investors, who take big stakes in companies and pressure them to break up or shift strategy, often steer clear of heavily regulated banks. But with the Trump administration and a GOP-controlled Senate trying to ease some of the industry's oversight, the possibility of big bank deals has resurfaced across Wall Street.
"We've been seeing activity and clients looking into the banks space for a number of years now," said Schulte Roth & Zabel Shareholder Activism co-chair Ele Klein. "We've been waiting for more activism for a while now: There are too many banks in the U.S. right now and the industry needs consolidation." According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's latest numbers, there were 703 federally backed savings institutions and 4,774 federally backed commercial banks in the U.S. at the end of Sept. 2018.
The logjam broke Thursday, when BB&T and SunTrust announced their $28 billion all-stock merger, the first big bank deal in a decade. The combination will create the sixth-largest lender in the United States with around $443 billion of assets.
The deal is expected to result in annual cost savings of around $1.6 billion by 2022, the companies said.