CEO says Zions Bank is on solid ground as broader banking turbulence continues

Zions Bank branch at 7015 South Highland Dr. Cottonwood Heights on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. Zions Bank and other regional banking institutions have suffered stock losses amid the fallout from the closures of Silicon Valley and Signature banks. While Zions and some other institutions that have drawn scrutiny and a wave of social media commentary saw big drops in their stock values early this week, all appeared to be recovering on Tuesday as wider fears about the U.S. banking sector ebbed.

Investors showed renewed optimism in the U.S. banking sector as a number of regional banks that saw steep declines on Monday, including Utah-based Zions Bank, posted recovery numbers at the end of regular trading on Tuesday.

Zions Bank stock finished the day trading at $31.31 per share, up about 4.5% Tuesday, continuing its track of gains following a 44% drop Monday morning.

While investors in U.S. financial institutions rallied on Tuesday, concerns were still being raised from other quarters, including from one credit rating service.

Zions Bancorporation CEO and Chairman Harris Simmons drew a hard line between the issues that led to failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank and the current balance sheets at Zions. Simmons noted Zions has much broader diversification among its depositors and average account balances that are much lower than at either of the banks that were closed by regulators — both of which specialized in business customers in the technology and cryptocurrency sectors.

“Both of them were driven by a very concentrated type of depositor,” Simmons told the Deseret News. “That is reasonably unusual in our industry to see these kinds of concentrations of depositors. And that created something fundamentally unstable.”


Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Simmons said the average size of Silicon Valley Bank’s deposits were 22 times the average at Zions and Signature Bank’s deposits averaged 10 times more than those at the Salt Lake City-headquartered bank. Simmons also noted that the percentage of uninsured deposits at both failed banks, 95% at Silicon Valley and 90% at Signature, were considerably higher than the 53% at Zions, which compares with the rates at numerous other major financial institutions, like JP Morgan, also at 53%, Wells Fargo 52% and Seattle-based Key Corp 52%.

“Analysts writing about us have said we have one of the best depositor bases in the U.S.,” Simmons said. “Our deposits have always been a strength.”

Silicon Valley Bank’s failure was precipitated in large part by a tsunami of customer withdrawals, some $40 billion in a matter of hours last week, fueled by social media postings claiming the bank was approaching insolvency and accommodated by speedy electronic funds transfers.

Former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, Randy Quarles, participated in a Monday town hall hosted by Utah tech advocacy group Silicon Slopes and noted the role social media platforms played in the demise of Silicon Valley Bank.

“The role of social media is something that the regulatory system, the Federal Reserve and other regulators have not really taken into account around the dynamic when a bank is under pressure,” Quarles said. “It’s clear that the panic being spread on Twitter was a significant contributor here.”

On Monday, investors reacted to worries that other banks could experience customer runs like those that pushed Silicon Valley and Signature into closures, even after news over the weekend that the Federal Reserve, U.S. Treasury Department and FDIC would cover uninsured depositors at those banks.

But those concerns appeared somewhat quelled Tuesday and the sharpest rebounds were seen among regional banks that suffered the worst declines in recent days, per The Wall Street Journal. First Republic shares, which crashed on Monday, rose more than 30% Tuesday. PacWest Bancorp was up almost 34% and Western Alliance rose 14%.

Also on Tuesday, Moody’s Investor Services, part of the big three credit rating bureaus, cut its view on the entire banking system to negative from stable, according to CNBC.

“We have changed to negative from stable our outlook on the U.S. banking system to reflect the rapid deterioration in the operating environment following deposit runs at Silicon Valley Bank, Silvergate Bank, and Signature Bank and the failures of (Silicon Valley Bank) and (Signature Bank),” Moody’s said in a report.

Moody’s also placed the following institutions under review for potential downgrades: First Republic, Intrust Financial, UMB, Zions Bancorp, Western Alliance and Comerica.

But while Moody’s was waxing bearish on the banking system, other industry watchers predicted impacted institutions would see a return to values that preceded the events of the last week.

Shana Sissel, chief executive of Banrion Capital Management, told The Wall Street Journal that bank stocks sold off last week and Monday should make a full recovery, but it could take a while.

“Bank stocks still have stress in their system,” she said.

And, Simmons said Zions Bank, which operates over 400 branches across 11 western states, was well situated to ride out the turbulent aftermath of the Silicon Valley and Signature bank failures.

“We’ve created a great deal of liquidity, have an enormous amount of cash on our balance sheet and are highly comfortable with our ability to serve borrowers and depositors,” Simmons said. “As we have for the last 150 years.”

Correction: An earlier version misidentified Harris Simmons as President and Chairman of Zions Bank. Simmons is CEO and chairman of Zions Bancorporation, the parent company of Zions Bank. The story also mischaracterized Moody’s as bullish. The rating company appears bearish, which is associated with falling share prices.