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Edited Transcript of WBS earnings conference call or presentation 23-Jan-20 2:00pm GMT

Q4 2019 Webster Financial Corp Earnings Call

WATERBURY Jan 30, 2020 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Webster Financial Corp earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, January 23, 2020 at 2:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Charles L. Wilkins

Webster Financial Corporation - EVP

* Glenn I. MacInnes

Webster Financial Corporation - Executive VP & CFO

* John R. Ciulla

Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO

* Terrence K. Mangan

Webster Financial Corporation - SVP of IR

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Conference Call Participants

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* Collyn Bement Gilbert

Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - MD and Analyst

* David John Chiaverini

Wedbush Securities Inc., Research Division - Senior Analyst

* Jared David Wesley Shaw

Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Analyst

* Laurie Katherine Havener Hunsicker

Compass Point Research & Trading, LLC, Research Division - MD & Research Analyst

* Mark Thomas Fitzgibbon

Piper Sandler & Co., Research Division - MD & Head of FSG Research

* Matthew M. Breese

Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD & Analyst

* Steven A. Alexopoulos

JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - MD and Head of Mid-Cap & Small-Cap Banks

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Good morning, and welcome to Webster Financial Corporation's Fourth Quarter 2019 Earnings Call. I will now introduce Webster Director -- excuse me, I will now introduce Webster's Director of Investor Relations, Terry Mangan. Please go ahead, sir.

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Terrence K. Mangan, Webster Financial Corporation - SVP of IR [2]

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Thank you, Michelle. Welcome to Webster. This conference is being recorded. Also, this presentation includes forward-looking statements within the safe harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 with respect to Webster's financial condition, results of operations and business and financial performance.

Webster has based these forward-looking statements on current expectations and projections about future events. Actual results might differ materially from those projected in the forward-looking statements.

Additional information concerning risks, uncertainties, assumptions and other factors that could cause actual results to materially differ from those in forward-looking statements is contained in Webster Financial's public filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including our Form 8-K containing our earnings release for the fourth quarter of 2019.

I'll now introduce Webster's President and CEO, John Ciulla.

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [3]

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Thanks, Terry. Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining Webster's Fourth Quarter 2019 Earnings Call. CFO, Glenn MacInnes and I will review business and financial performance for the quarter. HSA Bank President, Chad Wilkins, is here with us in Waterbury and will be available during Q&A. I'll begin my comments on Slide 2.

Webster's fourth quarter results demonstrate our ongoing commitment to strong execution on our strategic priorities. Earnings per share were $0.96 in Q4, this compares to $1.01 in both Q3 and Q4 of 2018 when each period is adjusted for onetime items.

The decline resulted from a reduced level of net interest income relative to each prior period, primarily driven by the full impact of 3 Fed interest cut rates during the second half of 2019, a lower-than-expected LIBOR rate in Q4 and a mix shift in the loan portfolio to lower-yielding, high-quality CRE loans. Assuming no further Fed action in 2020, our net interest income is expected to grow beginning in Q1 and continuing throughout the year.

We anticipate full year 2020 net interest income will meet or exceed the $955 million generated in 2019 based upon our current asset growth forecast.

All other metrics in the quarter were favorable. Loan growth was strong, as commercial loans grew 10% from a year ago or by more than $1.1 billion.

Total footings at HSA Bank increased 18% from a year ago for growth of almost $1.3 billion during the year. Disciplined expense control resulted in flat linked quarter noninterest expense. And credit metrics remained remarkably strong, contributing to our lowest quarterly provision in more than 7 years.

In Q4, nonperforming loans, net charge-offs and classified assets were all lower as a percentage of total loans when compared to both the prior quarter and the prior year. The overall portfolio weighted average risk rating improved as well.

Tangible book value now exceeds $2.5 billion and increased 15% from the end of 2018. Tangible book value per share is also 15% higher than last year.

Glenn will dive deeper into the quarter, but I'd like to make a few comments related to full year 2019 performance.

I'm on Slide 3. Reported PPNR totaled almost $525 million and increased 8% from 2018. This was driven by positive operating leverage as revenue grew more than 4%, while expenses increased only 1.5%.

Despite the lower interest rate environment in the second half of the year, the net interest margin for full year 2019 was 3.55% compared to 3.6% in 2018.

The efficiency ratio for the full year improved 1 full point to 56.8%, and the provision totaled $38 million and was at its lowest annual level since 2014.

Our performance resulted in a full year return on common equity of 12.8% and a return on tangible common equity of 16%. The net result was full year EPS of $4.06, up 6.5% from 2018. This represents our tenth consecutive full year of EPS growth, which puts us in select company within the banking industry. Also full year common dividend of $1.53 per share increased 22% from 2018.

Slide 4 highlights the strength of our loan and deposit performance since the end of 2017. A little over $2.5 billion of loan growth has been accompanied by more than $2.3 billion of deposit growth. Our loan-to-deposit ratio of 86% continues to provide us with significant flexibility.

We believe that our ability to consistently generate organic loan and deposit growth year in and year out is a differentiator. Our 5-year loan and deposit growth CAGRs were both around 8%.

Turning to Slide 5. I'll comment briefly on our lines of business. Commercial Banking's loan portfolio has increased more than $1 billion over the past year for end-of-period growth of 10% and deposits were also up 8.7% in that business line.

HSA Bank opened 744,000 new accounts in 2019, representing its third consecutive year with production above 700,000 accounts.

Community Banking's loans and deposits each grew by approximately 6% from a year ago with continued strength in Business Banking and mortgage banking.

I'll now turn it over to Glenn for the financial review.

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Glenn I. MacInnes, Webster Financial Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [4]

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Thanks, John. I'll begin on our average balance sheet on Slide 6. Average loans grew $335 million or 1.7% linked quarter. Growth continues to be led by the commercial business.

In the quarter, we had significant growth in commercial real estate, which increased $355 million versus the third quarter and more than $800 million from a year ago.

Commercial loans now represent 64% of total loans compared to 63% in prior year. Consumer loan performance was led by growth in residential mortgages, with some offset from continued reduction in home equity. Versus prior year, our $1.4 billion of total loan growth was fully funded by deposit growth. Combined, low-cost transactional and HSA deposits have increased more than $1 billion from last year and now represent 58% of total deposits. Their combined cost was 13 basis points in Q4 and 12 basis points in prior year. The Q1 seasonal inflow of HSA and public funds deposits will fund loan growth and reduce short-term borrowings.

Slide 7 summarizes our Q4 income statement and drivers of quarterly earnings. Net interest income was $9 million lower than prior quarter. This was primarily due to a 38 basis point reduction in average 1-month LIBOR, contributing to a reduction in interest income of $18 million. This was partially offset by lower deposit costs of $3 million, reflecting a reduction of 5 basis points, and we also realized the benefit of $6 million from loan and security balance growth.

Likewise, net interest margin was 22 basis points lower than Q3. The drop in loan yields reduced NIM by 23 basis points, which was primarily driven by lower LIBOR rates. Growth in loan and securities also compressed NIM another 6 basis points. This was partially offset by 7 basis points due to reduction in rate on deposits and borrowings.

Net interest income in Q4 was about $5 million lower than our outlook and NIM was about 8 basis points lower. This was primarily the result of lower deferred fees from prepayments, the timing on deposit rate reductions, which came in 2 basis points higher than our forecast, and the mix shift from C&I to Commercial Real Estate and lower-than-expected LIBOR rates.

Versus prior year, net interest income declined $6 million, $21 million of the decline was due to lower rates with a partial offset of $16 million from additional volume. Asset sensitivity has been reduced over the past year. Under a short end down 50 basis point scenario, our PPNR would be lower by 3.8%. This compares to 4.4% at the end of Q3, and 5.4% a year ago.

Noninterest income increased $1 million linked quarter and decreased $2 million from prior year. The linked quarter increase primarily reflects a higher level of revenue from client hedging activities. The decrease from Q4 of 2018 reflects a $4.6 million gain on the sale of banking centers in that period. Reported noninterest expense of a little under $180 million was flat linked quarter and up $5 million year-over-year. Preprovision net revenue of $122 million declined $8 million from Q3 and $13 million from prior year.

Loan loss provision for the quarter was $6 million and essentially matched net charge-offs. The efficiency ratio was 58.5%. The increase from Q3 and a year ago were driven by lower net interest income and partially offset by continued expense discipline.

Our effective tax rate was 22.3%, up from 21.3% in Q3. The increase was due to a discrete tax expense associated with a state and local tax position recognized in Q4.

Beginning with Slide 8, I'll highlight the line of business results. Commercial Banking loan growth was led by investor Commercial Real Estate, which grew 12% linked quarter and 23% versus prior year.

C&I balances were flat linked quarter with fundings offset by payoffs but grew 5% versus prior year. Net interest income grew $1.1 million from last year primarily reflecting average loan growth of $926 million or 9%. This was partially offset by lower loan spreads driven by mix and a lower credit on deposits.

Noninterest income and noninterest expense were essentially flat from prior year. Combined, ongoing loan growth resulted in a 2% increase in PPNR versus prior year.

Slide 9 highlights HSA Bank, which delivered a solid quarter led by the production of 126,000 new accounts.

Our 3 million accounts have $8.5 billion of total footings. Footings were $1.3 billion or 18% higher than prior year, while accounts were 9% higher. Net interest income was 6% higher from prior year, reflecting growth of 12% in average deposits and the impact of a lower net credit rate. The cost of deposits was 20 basis points and has remained flat for 12 quarters.

Noninterest income increased 6% from prior year, driven by an 11% increase in interchange revenue and flat account fees primarily due to a reduction in statement fees as we moved account holders to e-statements.

Total revenue for the quarter grew 6% from a year ago, while expenses increased 12%, resulting in flat pretax net revenue.

January month-to-date deposits are up approximately $400 million from year-end, with new accounts tracking to last year's levels.

Slide 10 highlights community banking. Total loans grew by over 6% year-over-year, with growth coming equally from Business Banking and Personal Banking. Business and consumer deposits grew 10% and 4%, resulting in overall deposit growth of nearly 6% from prior year. Net interest income was adversely impacted by the declining rate environment.

Adjusting for a $4.6 million onetime gain on the sale of 6 banking centers in the fourth quarter of 2018, noninterest income increased 5% year-over-year, led by higher mortgage banking revenue. Expenses grew by less than 1% as investments in technology and people were offset by efficiencies in other areas.

Slide 11 highlights our key asset quality metrics. Nonperforming loans, in the upper left, declined $12 million from Q3. Asset-based lending represented $9 million of the decrease. Net charge-offs in the upper right declined $7.7 million from Q3 and totaled $6.1 million in the quarter. Commercial classified loans in the lower left decreased modestly and now represent 260 basis points of total commercial loans. This compares to a 20-quarter average of 317 basis points.

Our allowance for loan loss remained at $209 million with a provision of $6 million and a coverage ratio of 104 basis points. The $6 million provision reflects the strong credit profile, which John outlined. We're on track with our CECL adoption, which will be recorded on our balance sheet effective January 1.

We expect the day 1 impact to increase our current allowance by approximately 30%, in line with the range disclosed last quarter.

The impact will be recorded as a charge to capital and will reduce common equity Tier 1 capital between 20 and 25 basis points but increase total risk-based capital by about 5 basis points.

Regarding the day 2 impact, our quarterly CECL allowance will be based on loan growth and mix, asset quality and the macroeconomic environment. Given stable metrics, we'd expect our allowance coverage ratio to remain around 30 basis points higher than Q4's level.

Slide 12 provides our outlook for Q1 compared to Q4. We expect average loans to increase 1% to 2%, driven primarily by Commercial Real Estate and residential loans. We expect average interest-earning assets to grow around 1%. We expect net interest margin to increase up to 3 basis points, assuming stable market rates.

As a result, we expect net interest income to increase $2 million to $4 million. Noninterest income is likely to increase $1 million to $3 million. We expect our efficiency ratio to be in the range of 58%, and our provision for loan and lease loss under CECL will be driven by loan composition and forecasted economic conditions.

We expect the tax rate on a non-FTE basis to be approximately 22% to 23%. And lastly, excluding any share buybacks, we expect our average diluted share count to be approximately 92 million shares.

With that, I'll turn things back over to John.

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [5]

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Thanks, Glenn. Webster enters this new decade, and our 85th year from a position of strength based on our efforts and accomplishments in the decade just ended. We will continue to focus on executing against our strategic priorities, always with a long-term view of maximizing economic profits and continuing to build franchise value. We are fortunate to be guided in our strategic direction by an accomplished Board of Directors.

I'm pleased to cite 4 of Webster's Board members, Liz Flynn, Carol Hayles, Karen Osar and Lauren States for their recent recognition among WomenInc's 2019 most influential corporate Board Directors.

As always, I'd like to acknowledge our 3,400 values-based bankers for their outstanding contributions and their unwavering commitment to our customers, our communities and to each other.

And finally, before we open it up for questions, I'd like to take a minute to comment on the announcement we made this morning that consistent with our well-planned multiyear transition, Jim Smith has announced that he will be retiring from Webster's Board of Directors effective at our April Annual Shareholders' meeting, at which time I will become Chairman of the Board.

On behalf of our Board of Directors and all Webster bankers, I'd like to again acknowledge and thank Jim for his incredible contributions to Webster and the communities we serve over his distinguished 44-year career.

I'd also like to thank him personally for his guidance, support and friendship during my time at Webster and particularly during the period of transition.

He is truly a remarkable person.

With that, Michelle, I'm happy to open up for questions.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) Our first question comes from the line of Steven Alexopoulos with JPMorgan.

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Steven A. Alexopoulos, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - MD and Head of Mid-Cap & Small-Cap Banks [2]

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To start, first, looking at the guidance on NIM, the up 1 to 3 basis points of 1Q '20 is a very favorable trend. For Glenn, what are you seeing that leads you to think NIM will expand in the first quarter?

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Glenn I. MacInnes, Webster Financial Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [3]

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So part of that, Steve, is the inflow of both HSA and public funds, which will allow us to pay down some FHLB borrowings, so that'll help NIM. And then we also have CD maturities and promotional savings repricing, which will also favorable -- be favorable, both net interest income and NIM.

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Steven A. Alexopoulos, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - MD and Head of Mid-Cap & Small-Cap Banks [4]

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Okay. And then once we get beyond the first quarter, Glenn, how are you thinking about NIM for the rest of 2020?

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Glenn I. MacInnes, Webster Financial Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [5]

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So it's sort of flattish for the next couple of quarters.

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Steven A. Alexopoulos, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - MD and Head of Mid-Cap & Small-Cap Banks [6]

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Okay. Got you. And then for Chad on HSA Bank. Can you talk about how the enrollment season went for HSAs and how you're feeling about 1Q '20 account and deposit growth based on what you saw?

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [7]

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Yes. Steve, it's John, and I'll let Chad obviously provide some color. Obviously, we say the same thing at this time of the year, which is it's too early to make a firm call, but the guidance we'll provide is kind of to-date in January, we're tracking really almost on top of the ranges we had last year, both in inflow of deposits and new account openings. So if you think of those numbers, that's about $400 million in new deposits and in the ballpark of 250,000 accounts. So we're tracking kind of where we were last year. And obviously, we'll be able to give you much better indication at the next earnings call when the enrollment period wraps.

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Charles L. Wilkins, Webster Financial Corporation - EVP [8]

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Yes, the only thing I'd add, John, is that we continue to see the strongest performance in the channels where we have the most influence on growth activities. And we're going to have the Devenir study coming up between now and the end of the first quarter, and we'll have full results to report on when we get there as well.

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [9]

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And one comment I'll make, Steve, maybe to anticipate other questions on the call too. There was no impact in Q4 of any of the account movements that we talked about in Q3. So we didn't receive any compensation from some of those accounts leaving, and none of those accounts left during the quarter. So fourth quarter was not impacted by the information we guided the group to in Q3.

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Steven A. Alexopoulos, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - MD and Head of Mid-Cap & Small-Cap Banks [10]

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Okay. And then final question. So if we look at full year loan and deposit growth for 2019, they were each running above the 2-year CAGR. Do you think that you can continue pacing above that historical CAGR in 2020?

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [11]

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So you may have noticed, I said in the beginning of my remarks, which was an important point I wanted to make that I thought we would meet or exceed our total net interest income for the year based on our current asset growth forecast, and I think that's a great question. Right now, our loan growth forecast is slightly below what we did between '18 and '19. So I think we're relatively confident we can keep running at that relative pace maybe slightly below on loans. And when you factor in growth in the securities portfolio, we don't think that our asset growth metrics or aspirations are too aggressive.

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Steven A. Alexopoulos, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - MD and Head of Mid-Cap & Small-Cap Banks [12]

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Okay. Before I sign off, John, congratulations on the Chairman role and best of luck to Jim Smith on Retirement.

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Operator [13]

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Our next question comes from the line of Collyn Gilbert with KBW.

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Collyn Bement Gilbert, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - MD and Analyst [14]

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My first question just is around the growth that you saw this quarter, and how you guys are sort of seeing that trend in 2020. Because obviously, as you guys indicated, the mix this quarter of higher CRE versus C&I impacted the NIM.

So number one, just where did the extraordinary growth from CRE come from? And then maybe just some commentary on as how you see that playing out in 2020? And then also maybe just some of the dynamics within C&I as to why that growth didn't necessarily materialize perhaps to what you were thinking.

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [15]

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Sure. Happy to do that, Collyn, and thanks for the question. Yes. It's an interesting underlying story. I always talk about the fact that we've got these great -- this diverse source of loan growth, right, both geographically and product set and in business line. And I wish I could say that we could just simply pull levers and have growth in certain areas. And so I think this quarter just happened to be a quarter of light payoffs in Commercial Real Estate. I'll provide some detail on that. And because I think it's also important to know that we're not sort of being too aggressive in any one area. We had extraordinary growth in our investor commercial CRE book, but that was on about $375 million in new fundings. That compares to $360 million in new fundings fourth quarter of last year. So really, our origination levels were not materially higher. The difference in the story in CRE was, we had $132 million in payoffs this Q4 as opposed to $290 million in payoffs the year before.

There doesn't seem to be a trend line or any dynamics that are driving that. But I think it's an important point to make that we didn't have outsized CRE originations, we had significantly lower CRE payoffs. And the story is similar in C&I and Sponsor & Specialty business, for instance, which you know has been a big driver of high-yielding loan growth for us. We had originations of something like $240 million in Q4 as opposed to around $200 million last Q4, but we had $296 million -- almost $300 million in payoffs in that Sponsor & Specialty business, resulting in an actual decline in the second half of the year.

So it's really a payoff story more than outsized originations. And as you heard me talk about, the net result is a slightly lower yield on the loans and a slight improvement in weighted average risk rating and credit quality in the portfolio.

So I think you'll see more of that going forward. You'll see a different mix in different quarters just depending on -- with our, I think, disciplined credit choices, where we have opportunities across our footprint.

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Collyn Bement Gilbert, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - MD and Analyst [16]

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Okay. And do you have a sense of -- or maybe as you -- within the guidance that you're offering, what you think paydowns will do this year? I mean, do you think they'll slow?

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [17]

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We don't -- I think if you looked at our expectations, again, and it's hard to predict in the various categories. I think we anticipate similar origination volumes and similar paydown metrics. Obviously, that could change quarter-to-quarter. But if we look back over history, if you look at on kind of a trailing 4-quarter basis, you get a pretty good sense of -- the short answer to your question is, we are not anticipating sort of -- some sort of macro change that would either lower prepays or drive them higher.

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Collyn Bement Gilbert, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - MD and Analyst [18]

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Okay. Okay. That's helpful. And then, Glenn, just on the -- the comment on the timing on pushing through some of these lower deposit costs in the first quarter. Just, yes, I'm just curious kind of where your head is, and how you're pricing some of your CD rates now, and just how aggressive you think you could be on some of those? Assuming, I know all your guidance assumes no more Fed cuts. So just kind of getting a sense of what -- where you think ultimately some of those deposit costs can go?

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Glenn I. MacInnes, Webster Financial Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [19]

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So if I look at total deposit costs for Q4, I think we're somewhere around [54 basis] points. We think, on average, in the first quarter, that could drop down to 47 basis points. And a lot of that is, like I indicated, shortening the term of CDs, which also are asset sensitivity, but it's also pulling back on some of the promotional rates that we have out there.

And just so for context, our 7-month CD is at 160 and our -- and we have a savings promotion that's out there at 180 right now.

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Collyn Bement Gilbert, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - MD and Analyst [20]

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Okay. Okay. All right. And then, Chad, a question for you. It's just perhaps an obvious question that maybe you don't necessarily want to hear.

But -- so when we talk about HSA and, John, you had indicated that kind of you're tracking similar to where you guys tracked in 2019. I guess, the simple question is, why is growth not higher, given all that you've done, all the investments you've made within the sales force and infrastructure. Just curious as to why growth isn't coming on higher?

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Charles L. Wilkins, Webster Financial Corporation - EVP [21]

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Yes, Collyn. In 2019, we saw -- we actually saw higher growth rates in our new accounts with new employers. We saw a little bit lower with our existing employers. As you know, a large portion of our new accounts come from existing employers, so it's really -- that was enrollment base. The -- and there's a lot of factors that impact enrollments in our -- in health plans and then consequently in HSAs. I do believe we have the opportunity to influence that to a greater extent. And as we go into 2020, we've conducted a lot of pilots and programs in 2019 that were targeted at providing decision support tools and programs to our employers, which showed really positive results in terms of both penetration and deposit rates with customers. So we're looking to accelerate that as we go into 2020. But again, a lot depends on the macro environment and how that influences enrollments as well.

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Operator [22]

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Our question comes from the line of Mark Fitzgibbon with Piper Sandler.

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Mark Thomas Fitzgibbon, Piper Sandler & Co., Research Division - MD & Head of FSG Research [23]

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And let me echo what's already been said, congratulating both John and Jim on their new roles. First question, I'm curious, John, could you give us a little update on, sort of, how things are going in Boston and also help us maybe size your business these days in Philadelphia and D.C. markets?

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [24]

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Yes, sure. Boston continues to track. We made no secret that it's probably the most competitive market we have with respect to cost of customer acquisition and deposit pricing, and that really hasn't abated much. And you've all read that JPMorgan is there as well, which continues to make the market competitive.

We continue to make progress. I think we're on track to hit our goal in terms of asset growth in loans and deposits and again, it's been probably more costly than the rest of our footprint. We are past breakeven for a year now. I think we had about $700,000 in just retail bank contribution there, which we try and track, to be honest with ourselves and honest with you. Obviously, our profitability in the market, overall market, is pretty strong because that's really the epicenter of our Sponsor & Specialty business, a lot of our sponsor relationships. We've got a great commercial real estate book there, a couple of billion dollars in loans.

So we're happy with where the market is. We continue to need to reduce square footage. Our banking centers there are big, and they don't need to be that big. So we're making some progress on that front. But all-in-all, we think it's a critical market. It's a fast-growing market. There are more cranes in that -- in the sky in that city than you could imagine. And so we do think that our physical presence there, and our retail presence there helps our wealth management and all of our Commercial Banking. So I would say, good, not overperforming and not underperforming, kind of right on our expectations.

With respect to the other markets, Mark, in, obviously, we don't have any retail footprint in those other markets in Philadelphia and D.C. We've got good traction. We've been in the Philadelphia market from a commercial real estate perspective for over 10 years now. We've had a lot of growth in that market. Our total loans in Philadelphia in the South Jersey, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area, approached $2 billion, excellent asset quality, full relationships with middle-market customers. The vast majority of those outstandings are Commercial Real Estate and we have ABL there.

So again, you've heard our philosophy. We don't look at it as a loan production office. We look at it as a core market. We expect cash management and other relationships with our borrowers there. And we're okay with growing at a modest pace because we don't want to be the lender of last resort. And I'd say D.C., which is not as critical to us right now. We've got asset-based lending and commercial real estate, but we're talking a couple of hundred million dollars in exposure there, and it hasn't been really a significant growth market for us recently.

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Mark Thomas Fitzgibbon, Piper Sandler & Co., Research Division - MD & Head of FSG Research [25]

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Okay. And then secondly, John, the market seems to be enamored of MOEs these days. I guess, I'm curious, are there banks out there that you could see a combination with it would make sense to you?

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [26]

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You want me to give you the specific names, Mark? No. It's -- look, obviously, there's a lot more chatter, and there are some compelling reasons, I think, why the banks are choosing to gain scale. We think gaining scale over time is important. We really haven't shifted our focus or made a significant pivot in that regard.

Obviously, as I said, there's a lot more discussions, CEOs are talking with each other. There are compelling reasons, both from a technology investment perspective, higher capital scale, access to data, all the reasons why it's better. We were 3x the size. We've probably spent the same amount on AML/BSA as we do now. So I understand the compelling rationale. We would never say never, but we are very much focused on continuing to grow and exploit our differentiated capabilities. But I'll leave it at that to say, we're not focused on M&A as a primary strategic goal right now, but we would never say never.

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Operator [27]

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Our next question comes from the line of David Chiaverini with Wedbush Securities.

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David John Chiaverini, Wedbush Securities Inc., Research Division - Senior Analyst [28]

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A couple of questions for you. So first on expenses. I was just curious, is there anything on the expense front, you could do to offset some of the recent NIM pressure as we look to 2020? And the reason I ask it, it looks like based on the efficiency guidance of 58%, looks like some of the operating leverage could reverse a little bit?

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [29]

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David, great question. And I'll let Glenn provide some fuller context. And I think it's the appropriate question to ask.

I think we've demonstrated to the market over a sustained period of time that we have good expense discipline and expense control. We have not been aspirational about really aggressively reducing expenses because we've talked about how important it is to continue to invest in our organic growth in our differentiated businesses, particularly in Commercial and HSA, and we've done that. And I think it will set us well over the long term.

The short answer is yes, we have opportunities, and we're working on many of them right now. Business process automation in the middle and back office. We've got a lot of things rolling there. We have fewer people in operations this year than we did last year, and we'll continue that trend. So we think we can really start to bend the curve with the use of technology, automation, middle office efficiency.

And so yes, we do have tools available to us, and not all of that is layered in our forward forecast. We want to make sure that we're not hurting our organic growth and our long-term franchise build, but we do have levers to pull with respect to expense control.

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Glenn I. MacInnes, Webster Financial Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [30]

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Yes. And I would just add, so you have to keep in mind, the first quarter has a couple of things. You have the higher FICO cost, which somewhat offsets some of the medical costs. So there's some ins and outs there, Dave. But to John's point, I think we have opportunity both in the middle and back office as well as optimizing as we continue to do the community bank.

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David John Chiaverini, Wedbush Securities Inc., Research Division - Senior Analyst [31]

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Great. And then shifting to the NII and some of the NIM commentary. Well, on the leverage strategy that you guys kind of spoke about last quarter where you had purchased, I think it was about $640 million of securities funded by FHLB borrowings. Do you plan to unwind that with the deposit inflows in the first quarter? Or conversely, do you plan to add to that leverage strategy?

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Glenn I. MacInnes, Webster Financial Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [32]

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No. So I can tell you, we're likely not unwinding it. And that if you look at our earning asset growth to John's earlier comments, you have both loan growth and proportionate security growth.

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David John Chiaverini, Wedbush Securities Inc., Research Division - Senior Analyst [33]

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Great. And then the last one from -- yes?

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [34]

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No, I'm sorry, David, go ahead.

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David John Chiaverini, Wedbush Securities Inc., Research Division - Senior Analyst [35]

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So and then just continuing with the discussion on NIM. So your interest rate sensitivity, you mentioned about how it was reduced this quarter. How low would you like to take that interest rate sensitivity?

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Glenn I. MacInnes, Webster Financial Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [36]

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So we'd like to move closer to neutral. I think the only caveat to that is, we want to preserve some of the upside as well. So I think if you look at our slide deck, back on Page 20, you can see the progress we've made, particularly in the short end down scenario, on the short -- on a falling rate scenario, and you can see the progress. So part of adding investment securities, part of the balance sheet positioning we did in the second and third quarter, certainly helped that, also the fact that we've absorbed 3 Fed cuts as well. And if you look out, at least as far as we're looking at, more stability in both Fed funds, 1-month LIBOR and 3-month LIBOR, which will sort of keep that sort of constant.

And then actions we take on top of that, whether it's adding more fixed-rate assets in the form of residential or equipment finance, investment securities portfolio or shortening as we have, our borrowings and some of the CD promotions and things like that will have a positive impact going forward.

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Operator [37]

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Our next question comes from the line of Jared Shaw with Wells Fargo Securities.

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Jared David Wesley Shaw, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Analyst [38]

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Just also wanted to give my congratulations to you, John and Jim for a great career. And as a Connecticut resident, I certainly hope Jim stays fully engaged in the opportunities to help improve the financial situation or fiscal situation here in the state.

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [39]

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Sure. Thanks for that comment. And I think I can -- even though Jim's not here, I can tell you, and rest assured that he will continue to be involved in policy around the state.

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Jared David Wesley Shaw, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Analyst [40]

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That's great to hear. Maybe just circling back on the HSA, and Chad or John. Any of the -- have you noticed any of the rhetoric around the political environment right now? And Medicare for All impacting any of the employers' decisions to adopt a high deductible health care plan? Or is that really not flowing into their sort of internal HR discussions at this point?

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [41]

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It's interesting. So some aspects -- some of what I'll tell you is speculation and other is, obviously, what we know. I think on a macro level, obviously, the chances of full Medicare for All single-payer seem to have gone down with changes in the various poles and that rhetoric seems to have gone away a little bit. And we think, as we've said, we've always been confident that given our current health care system that, that wasn't a real risk in the short term.

There have been more discussion in various state capitals around high deductible health plans and so on and so forth. We actually don't think that, that is the dialogue that could be driving maybe lower adoptability. As we've said all along, we think that there is a bit of a compression across the industry based on a 3.5% or 3.4% unemployment rate, where when companies are having to be more and more aggressive in competing for talent that they are optically trying to provide richer, more fuller benefits. And that, that may have slowed the whole industry down over the last couple of years, as you've seen.

We are not seeing, and I'll let Chad put a finer point on it, sort of the dialogue around the virtuous nature or lack thereof of high deductible health plans actually impacting employers' decisions not to offer them or encourage their employers to adopt them.

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Charles L. Wilkins, Webster Financial Corporation - EVP [42]

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Yes, I totally agree, John. That was spot on.

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Jared David Wesley Shaw, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Analyst [43]

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Okay. Great. And then capital management. I hear what you said around M&A and focusing organically. But when you look at capital, you continue to build it here. It looks like that's going to continue as we go forward.

Outside of M&A, should we expect to see Webster be more active in trying to either -- through the dividend or through a buyback again, return more capital?

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [44]

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Yes, good question. I'll be really transparent here again. So obviously, our primary desire is to use capital to grow the balance sheet to support above-market loan growth to look to try and make some key investments or acquisitions in the HSA space or portfolios or people in Commercial Banking as we continue to expand those. And we've obviously been working diligently in those areas and looking at opportunities.

Absent that, you saw in the third quarter, we had an increase in our authorization to $200 million for stock repurchase so that if those internal strategic things don't work, we'll then look at other capital actions, either another increase in the dividend. We had a significant increase in the dividend. And if none of those are available to us, I think what you'll see is us being more likely to buy back shares over the next couple of quarters.

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Jared David Wesley Shaw, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Analyst [45]

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That's great color. And then just finally, for Glenn. Do you know what the -- what's the percentage of the loan book now tied to 1-month LIBOR in prime? Has that changed?

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Glenn I. MacInnes, Webster Financial Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [46]

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So we have about $8.3 billion tied to 1-month LIBOR and another, say, $2.5 billion tied to prime. On a total book of $20 billion.

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Operator [47]

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Our next question comes from the line of Laurie Hunsicker with Compass Point.

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Laurie Katherine Havener Hunsicker, Compass Point Research & Trading, LLC, Research Division - MD & Research Analyst [48]

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And, John and Jim, I just want to also echo what others have said. Congratulations. Just going back to HSAs, can you help us think about -- we saw a drop, I guess, if you will, in HSA, or rather an increase in HSA efficiency ratio. So it had been previously running 50%, 51%, and it was 55%. Can you help us think about how that's going to look going forward?

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Glenn I. MacInnes, Webster Financial Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [49]

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Sure. So I think a lot will depend on the enrollment period, as Chad highlighted, and the balances that we get. I think one of the factors that is driving that, Laurie, is the reduction in the credit rate from -- if you just look from year-over-year fourth quarter versus prior year's fourth quarter, the credit rate that we apply to the deposits is down 15 basis points. So on a base of $6.5 billion that has an impact. So that's one of the things you see driving it.

The other side of it is on the expense side, as Chad pointed out, we continue to invest in the front end, customer experience and things like that, all for the longer-term view of capturing more market share.

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Laurie Katherine Havener Hunsicker, Compass Point Research & Trading, LLC, Research Division - MD & Research Analyst [50]

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Okay. That's helpful. And then do you all have any goals with respect to what you would like HSA PPNR to be relative to Webster's PPNR as you roll forward? And again, that had been tracking closer to 25%, came in at 23% this quarter. How should we be thinking about that next year?

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [51]

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Yes. I mean, it's a very interesting question, Laurie. We've always managed it as -- and you've heard Jim say this before me. So this is about a 5-year consistent message is that we want to kind of maximize the value of HSA, given its growth potential and its unique characteristics.

So we don't look at it as what is the optimal level of contribution. Our real focus is, at some point, if it got to be too big a concentration risk or other elements, we might think about other strategic alternatives. But right now, in this -- if you look at it from round numbers, the commercial banks contributing about 50% of PPNR. For the full year 2019, Chad's group is about 25% to 30%. And then the balance in Community Banking we think that's a really good mix. And based on our forecast going forward. Chad will be a bigger contributor relative to Community Banking, but it certainly won't get to a place where we think we need to make adjustments in our strategy.

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Laurie Katherine Havener Hunsicker, Compass Point Research & Trading, LLC, Research Division - MD & Research Analyst [52]

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Okay. That's great. And then can you just update us on the relationships you flagged last quarter? So you had the likely departure of 2 custodial HSA relationships from the third-party administrator wholesale portfolio. I think 1 was being acquired and 1 was becoming a nonbank custodian. Can you just help us think about where we are and seeing that reflected in the balances?

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [53]

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Yes. And I can answer that question, I think, really easily and clearly. So the guidance doesn't change, meaning over the next 6 quarters, that whole activity will result in financial neutrality, given the fact that we get exit fees and some other income as those accounts leave.

In 4Q 2019, no accounts moved, and we received none of that compensation. So there was no noise in the 4Q numbers, either in balances or in the P&L related to those. And we believe that, that will start impacting us in the first quarter when we report to you on our full enrollment period. We -- as we said last quarter, we will provide in each quarter, growth dynamics of HSA with and without those 2 custodial accounts, and we'll let you know what's moved out. And what portion of income is also related to exit fees and others, so we'll be very careful and very transparent. But in Q4, there was no impact at all.

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Laurie Katherine Havener Hunsicker, Compass Point Research & Trading, LLC, Research Division - MD & Research Analyst [54]

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Okay. And then would you just remind us what those 2 relationships constitute just in terms of HSA deposits as well as investments?

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Charles L. Wilkins, Webster Financial Corporation - EVP [55]

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Yes. What we -- reported that in the last quarter. I'm looking at the notes.

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Laurie Katherine Havener Hunsicker, Compass Point Research & Trading, LLC, Research Division - MD & Research Analyst [56]

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I think we had an estimate last quarter that put it around -- I backed into $700 million but I just didn't have anything specific, and I didn't know if you had anything that was more tightened down.

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [57]

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We're just grabbing the number for you.

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Laurie Katherine Havener Hunsicker, Compass Point Research & Trading, LLC, Research Division - MD & Research Analyst [58]

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Okay. Okay. Great. And then one other question while you're looking at that Glenn -- go ahead.

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Terrence K. Mangan, Webster Financial Corporation - SVP of IR [59]

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390 in accounts and 550.

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [60]

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Right. 390,000 accounts, roughly 550 in balances related to 2 accounts.

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Laurie Katherine Havener Hunsicker, Compass Point Research & Trading, LLC, Research Division - MD & Research Analyst [61]

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Okay. And that's 550 in deposits or in total footings?

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [62]

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In deposits.

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Laurie Katherine Havener Hunsicker, Compass Point Research & Trading, LLC, Research Division - MD & Research Analyst [63]

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Okay. Perfect. Super helpful. Okay. And then just, Glenn, 2 more quick questions. Number one, your lending club balance? And then number two, if you could just help us think about tax rate? I think you said in your comments, 22% to 23%, which is a slight change, I think, from where we were previously at 21%. And I just wanted to understand that change.

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Glenn I. MacInnes, Webster Financial Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [64]

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I'm sorry, your first question, I didn't get.

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Laurie Katherine Havener Hunsicker, Compass Point Research & Trading, LLC, Research Division - MD & Research Analyst [65]

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I was just looking for the balance on the lending club loans.

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [66]

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It's about 170 -- it's $177 million, flat to last quarter. Had no issues, no changes in asset quality or performance.

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Glenn I. MacInnes, Webster Financial Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [67]

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And then the only thing I would say about our full year forecast on taxes, is it's primarily by lower tax credits and other discrete benefits that we received in 2019.

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Operator [68]

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Our next question comes from the line of Matthew Breese with Stephens Inc.

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Matthew M. Breese, Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD & Analyst [69]

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Just curious, I was hoping you could talk a little bit about new Commercial Real Estate and C&I loan yields and spreads, and how that compares to what's on the average balance sheet today.

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [70]

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Sure. I'll give you a little bit of data. So if you think about -- just -- I'll give you a perspective on originated 4Q CRE. The average spread was 152. And so if you think about a LIBOR plus 152 in our CRE as opposed to kind of LIBOR plus mid-3s in Sponsor & Specialty, that kind of gives you the delta in spreads and what mix can do ultimately when we have a mix change.

What else can I answer for you?

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Matthew M. Breese, Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD & Analyst [71]

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How have those spreads evolved over the past year?

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [72]

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I would say they're about in CRE, in this quarter, they are about 25 to 30 basis points lower than they were a year ago. And I think as I look at all of the transactions that came in, I think it's just a result of asset quality, less a result of competitive nature. So we had a lot of high-quality low LTV, high debt service coverage deals come in, in 4Q. And so again, I don't think that tells me anything about the competitive landscape as much as it does the quality of the transactions we brought in, in the fourth quarter.

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Matthew M. Breese, Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD & Analyst [73]

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Understood. My last question is just around the growth outlook, still very strong. If you go to the middle or high end, you're still looking at mid- to high single-digit loan growth. And versus some of your peers, including in market peers, it's strikingly higher. What do you attribute that to?

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [74]

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So I think we look just internally at our momentum, we have the highest [12.31] pipeline in Commercial Bank that we've had over the last 10 years. And obviously, we had a really good fourth quarter with respect to growth. And so I think we go into the year with some good momentum on our average loan balances, which is what drives net interest income and a pretty strong pipeline. And some of the areas that generally are good growth drivers for us, had slower second halves of the year. And just where we are, we think that given, as I said to Collyn earlier in the call, given our wide portfolio of geographies and different business lines and expertise in certain industry segments, we think that, that mid-single digits, if you will, on a total portfolio basis is a good number. Our commercial loan growth, including Investor CRE is probably going to be slightly higher than that with our consumer lending categories being slightly lower.

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Matthew M. Breese, Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD & Analyst [75]

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Okay. And as you think about Commercial Real Estate growth this quarter versus perhaps the past 2 or 3, was there a change in where you went geography wise? And if so, where were you more focused this quarter than in prior periods?

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [76]

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It's a great question. Matt. The Chief Risk Officer is here in the room. Came in before to give me the data that there's actually really almost no geographic disparity from prior quarters. So it really was a question, as I mentioned earlier, of significantly fewer paydowns.

So our originations in CRE were about the same dollar size and fundings as they were a year ago, 4Q. It was just payments were down significantly. And I took a look at the data with respect to property type, geography, weighted average loan-to-value and debt service coverage, and none of those metrics really changed.

So I would say it's blocking and tackling business as usual, no change in strategy, not different dynamics, just significantly fewer paydowns.

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Matthew M. Breese, Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD & Analyst [77]

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Understood. Okay. Just one more if I could sneak it in. You mentioned potential portfolio opportunities in your capital management commentary. And I'd never really considered that for you before, never thought it was on the radar. Can you just be a little bit more specific as to what you meant? I'm assuming loan portfolios, but could you clarify? And if so what types of asset classes and geographies are you looking for? If you looked at opportunities in the past, could you just give us a sense for how many?

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [78]

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Sure. And we've been consistent. We have talked about it, Matt, and it is referring to commercial loan portfolios in particular. So I would say we're -- we look for areas where we have expertise. We look for -- we've looked at equipment finance portfolios, some secured loan portfolios to kind of offset some of our Sponsor & Specialty enterprise reliant exposure. So we look for good yielding, economically profitable portfolio acquisitions that will either enhance an existing specialty or an existing line of business or provide us with an inroad into something that we find attractive at the current period of time. The truth of the matter is, we have not in the last, at least the...

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Glenn I. MacInnes, Webster Financial Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [79]

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Besides the residential...

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [80]

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8 quarters. Besides the residential mortgage portfolio acquisition that we did up in Boston for strategic purposes, we have not successfully acquired a commercial loan portfolio over the course of the last 8 quarters.

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Operator [81]

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There are no further questions at this time. I'd like to turn the call back over to Mr. Ciulla for any closing remarks.

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John R. Ciulla, Webster Financial Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [82]

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Thank you. We appreciate everybody's participation this morning and have a great day.

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Operator [83]

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Thank you. This concludes today's teleconference. You may disconnect your lines at this time. Thank you for your participation, and have a wonderful day.