Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Bank of Oklahoma Financial Leaders Preach Gospel of Balance

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Bank of Oklahoma Financial Leaders Preach Gospel of Balance

Article excerpt

The ancient Aztecs would have appreciated it, as would Constantin Brâncusi, Mary LoVerde and any follower of Taoism.

On nine different occasions Tuesday, plus six times in its graphic displays, BOK Financial leaders used the word "balance" to describe their business strategy.

"Our philosophy is to grow deliberately and focus on long-term value for our shareholders," Stan Lybarger, president and chief executive of the Tulsa-based bank holding company, told guests at BOKF's annual meeting. "The focus is on growth and success in all of our markets, in all business lines and throughout all economic cycles. Some may refer to this as diversification. We call it balance."

With Chief Financial Officer Steven Nell, Lybarger looked at three elements of BOKF's growth, in its balanced strategy, balanced geography, and balanced revenue sources.

"Our goal is to grow earnings per share at a materially higher rate than comparable regional banks," said Lybarger. "We have a long- term EPS (earnings per share) growth rate of 16 percent since our inception and we have enjoyed record earnings every year since 1991. No gimmicks, no restructuring charges, just sound banking strategy."

That has helped BOKF's stock price grow more than 90 percent over the last five years, outpacing most indices. That included 21- percent growth last year, Lybarger said, although he noted a market rotation out of financial stocks affected BOKF along with its competitors.

"We will use these times to be more opportunistic in repurchasing shares under our board-approved program," he said.

The company enjoyed record financial results last year, marking 16-straight years of earnings growth with 17-percent loan growth and 9-percent deposit growth. Its assets now top $18.1 billion, nine times its level at BOK Financial's launch in 1991, with 160 offices in eight states.

While its peer banks increased their commercial real estate loans, BOKF kept its relatively consistent at about 25 percent. The lender also stressed asset quality; its net charge-offs as a percent of average loans fell to 13 basis points last year while its non- performing loan ratio dropped to 26 basis points.

The company also pursued balanced growth across its footprint.

As Bank of Oklahoma continued to leverage its position as the state's dominant lender, Lybarger said that BOKF's growth outside Oklahoma had balanced its Sooner State returns. Since 2002, he said its banks outside Oklahoma accounted for 69 percent of its loan growth and 84 percent of earnings growth.

"We target attractive, rapidly growing markets, hire top talent and expand the product offering," he said. "We accomplish this while retaining and building upon the historic strengths of the organizations we acquire. After gaining critical mass in a geographic area, we generally shift our focus from acquisitions to almost exclusively internal growth. …

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