Nicolet Bank sticks to growth plans, shareholder returns


Jeff Bollier, Press-Gazette Media 9:30 p.m. CDT May 11, 2015

Nicolet National Bank will celebrate its 15th anniversary later this year, but it doesn’t plan to change its strategy to grow through acquisitions and buying back shares in 2015.

The banking industry is entering a period in which growth is a primary driver of a bank’s value, and Nicolet National Bank CEO Bob Atwell told shareholders gathered for its annual meeting Monday evening that those conditions suit Nicolet very well.

“As the recovery matures, naturally, the focus is on growth,” Atwell said. “… We are a growth company. From the beginning, we’re an extremely strong growth story in what otherwise is a mature industry.”

Nicolet reported a modest 1 percent increase in its total assets, from $1.20 billion to $1.22 billion, in 2014. Total loans grew by 4 percent, from $847 million in 2013 to $883 million in 2014 while total deposits grew 2 percent from $985 million in 2013 to $1 billion in 2014.

Over the same period, Nicolet’s net income grew 54.6 percent from $6.4 million in 2013 to $9.9 million in 2014 due to acquisitions and a share buyback program that has seen the company purchase 319,100 shares for $7.2 million, an average price of $22.56 per share.

The bank’s share price also increased 51 percent, from $16.54 per share at the end of 2013, to $25.00 at the end of 2014.

“We have delivered in all the key performance areas that drive value: Earnings, growth, quality and capital,” Nicolet National Bank Chief Financial Officer Ann Lawson said. “It was another very good year of earnings and earnings per share and our returns ratios. We improved our net interest margin on good, quality loan growth funded by customer deposits.”

Atwell said low interest rates and regulatory uncertainty lend themselves to Nicolet’s acquisition and buyback strategies as opposed to aggressively increasing deposits and loans.

“We’ve done (lending) extremely well, but it is, in today’s rate environment, not a real good use of capital unless there is a relationship really tied to it,” he said. “So we are growing organically. We continue to take market share, but what we’ve really done is looked for other relationship ways to grow.”

Atwell said any potential acquisitions Nicolet might pursue this year would have to be located in Wisconsin and would have to add value to Nicolet’s bottom line. The bank, headquartered in Green Bay, has acquired three other banks in the last four years.

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