Axos Financial: A Deep Dive Into the Innovative Online Bank

Axos Financial: A Deep Dive Into the Innovative Online Bank

In this week's episode of Industry Focus: Financials, host Jason Moser and Fool.com contributor Matt Frankel, CFP, take a deep dive into Axos Financia

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In this week’s episode of Industry Focus: Financials, host Jason Moser and Fool.com contributor Matt Frankel, CFP, take a deep dive into Axos Financial (NASDAQ:AX), an online-based banking institution that offers checking and savings accounts, mortgages, auto loans, and more. The pair discuss what makes Axos’ business model unique compared to other online banks and what investors should know about the risk factors involved. Plus, Frankel discusses why net-lease REIT STORE Capital (NYSE:STOR) is on his radar now, and Moser talks about what he’ll be watching when Zoom (NASDAQ:ZM) reports earnings.
To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool’s free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on June 1, 2020.
Jason Moser: It’s Monday, June 1. I’m your host, Jason Moser, and on today’s Financials show, we’re going to take a closer look at Axos Financial, what it does and what the future may hold for the business. As always, we’ve got a couple of stocks we’re watching this coming week. Joining me, as always, remotely, because we’re all remote nowadays, it’s Certified Financial Planner Matt Frankel. Matt, how’s everything going?
Matt Frankel: Pretty good. It’s an interesting time to be around here, but it’s a beautiful day in South Carolina. We’ve had great weather this weekend, and I am having a great time here. I am trying to enjoy this new office I’m in right now. This is not a virtual background, by the way; this is actually, I’m in an 1-800-Bakery that has been converted into a co-work space.
Moser: Oh, wow! Yeah, you’ve got a nice little backdrop there. The weather up here has been pretty nice too. I’d tell you it was a good weekend to get out and some walking and got a little yard work done. Of course, we understand the state of affairs right now all around the country. You know, this is one of those things that isn’t going to go away. And so, Matt, I’m hopeful that this is a period in time where not only the leaders in Washington, DC, but really the leaders in our business communities everywhere around the country can really step up and have their voices be heard.
Because you and I can say something, and that’s fine, but people aren’t listening to us, we’re not in a position of leadership. I think we have a whole country full of businesses, both small and large, that can really play a part in hoping to take this conversation to the next level and figuring out a way to all get along. You know, really, it’s just sad to see this.
Frankel: It is. And so we don’t want to get into our opinions of the situation or anything, but it’s definitely sad to see. I mean, the people listening to the podcast can’t see, but right behind me out the window is the staging area for the police in Columbia, South Carolina. So it’s a strange situation, and I’m just hoping — I don’t want to see any violence, I don’t want to see anyone get hurt, I don’t want to see anyone lose their business or get their business damaged over this, but it’s definitely conversations that need to be had. I think we can all agree on that part.
Moser: Yep, you’re right, and I think we probably will. So you know, we can at least hope.
But let’s dig into why we’re really here today. We wanted to talk a little bit more about a company that has been in our Foolish universe for a while. It started out in the Foolish universe as a little bit of a different company though, at least a different name, and today, it’s known as Axos Bank. But Axos Bank, which today the ticker is AX, is actually formally known as BofI or Bank of Internet, in an IPO in 2005. Now, if you were fortunate enough to get into the stock when it IPO’ed, you know, you’re looking back at a pretty nice little track record there. Stock is up about 660% over that time.
Now, if you look at the last five years, Matt, last five years haven’t been so kind. And actually the stock is down about 7%. Now, we’ll get into the competitive environment in a bit and why the stock might be having a little bit more trouble these days. But let’s just start off with the basics here. We know that Axos is a bank, but it’s not your traditional kind of bank, is it?
Frankel: No, it’s unique, in that it’s an online-only bank. I say “unique” because when it first started, it was, you know, essentially the only company that did what it did; that’s why it was called Bank of Internet. I’ve been a customer of theirs for a while, and if the people who are watching live could see my Bank of Internet debit card. But I’ve been a customer of theirs for a while and it’s really unique because they are very customer-focused online-only banks. They operate out of a single office. And it gives them a lot of competitive advantages that we’re going to get in a little bit, but the thing that makes them really unique that you need to know is that they provide a full range of banking services online. You know, a lot of online banks have savings accounts and CDs, that’s the big thing that we see from these online accounts, but Axos also offers checking accounts, they offer a range of mortgage products, they offer auto loans. So they’re really a full-service bank that’s exclusively online. And even today that’s still, kind of, a rarity to find.
Moser: Yeah, you know, it is. I mean, I remember when we first started talking about this one on the investing team years ago. And that whole idea that the banking center it’s kind of like the DMV, right? You’re trying to figure out a reason not to go. And if you could get your stuff accomplished without having to go to the physical location then that’s great. And Bank of Internet or Axos Bank, really that was that thing they were really firing in on, wasn’t it? It was taking technology and building out this financial institution that was just completely different than what we grew up with.
And you mentioned that they do provide a wide suite of financial services. If you look at their financials you can see over time deposits, non-interest-bearing deposits grow, interest bearing deposits are growing. They do serve the mortgage markets, the car markets. You know, who are their customers? How does this bank really make money? Is it more about the lending or is it more about the deposit accounts and the relationships with the consumers?
Frankel: Well, the model is, generally, they offer better interest rates on deposits than you would find on, say, a brick-and mortar bank. The interesting thing is they don’t — you can get higher interest rates on savings accounts and CDs, generally. I can’t tell you exactly what my Axos account is paying right now, but it’s lower than, say, like a Marcus by Goldman Sachs is paying right now. So as far as online banks, they’re not the highest, but it’s the value that they offer you in terms of, say, a checking account, and things like that.
So they make their money on lending, specifically mortgages. One of the unique things about their portfolio of loans is that 95% of their loans are asset backed. They don’t do credit card lending, for example, which is a riskier type of loan that isn’t backed by any certain asset. They don’t have a ton of home equity lines of credit which are backed by assets but they’re, kind of, in a second-lien position. So they don’t have a ton of that. So pretty much everything they lend, with very few exceptions, is backed by a first-lien position on a tangible asset, so that’s a big thing to know.
In mortgages, the biggest part of their business is jumbo loans, which are loans that exceed the limits set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; you know, if you want to buy a house for $1 million, if you can’t get a Fannie Mae loan to do it because the house is too expensive, so you need to go to a lender like Axos that specializes in loans that are for higher amounts. They actually have something called, I want to say they call it, ultra jumbo loans. Axos actually makes loans of $10 million or even more in certain cases for lenders.
So yeah, they focus on the high end of the market. Their buyers generally have high credit profiles. I think their average credit score for a mortgage customer is over 760, which is pretty good. So that’s the bulk of their consumer lending.
On the commercial side, they also focus on mortgages. They have a lot of multifamily mortgages. That’s a big part of their portfolio. And just general asset-backed loans to businesses. They’re a big lender to the — I mean, people aren’t going to want to hear this part, but they’re a big lender to, say, the oil industry. They have a good portfolio of asset-backed oil loans.
So they’re basically an asset-backed lender that makes their money by charging their borrowers one rate and paying out an attractive but a reasonable interest rate on deposits. And their results have been good. Their net interest margin is higher than the banking average. I want to say it was about 4% last year, which is, I mean, in most of the big banks we cover, their net interest margin is in the 2% to 3% ballpark. And they have the advantage of being able to operate more efficiently and kind of predict credit better because they don’t have to worry about credit card defaults skyrocketing, which a lot of banks are worried about right now given the current situation.
Moser: Yeah, that’s going to be something that really comes to materialize, right? I mean, we certainly see with companies like American Express or even Discover, they’re talking about that now, and that’s going to be something they’re going to have to deal with here over the coming years, whereas when we were talking about Visa and MasterCard the other day, they don’t necessarily have to worry about that because they’re not the ones lending out the money.
Frankel: Yeah, I mean, Axos could absolutely see defaults pick up on their mortgages, for example, but then that’s a loan that’s backed by an asset. I mean, it’s in nobody’s best interest to foreclose on a house, banks don’t want to do it. But it kind of provides a kind of loss limit for the bank in terms of, you know, they can always foreclose, sell the house and get made whole, for the most part. So it’s a lower-risk type of lending. You’re even seeing companies like Bank of America and Wells Fargo that have large credit card businesses and large personal loan businesses. Especially a lot of internet-only banks especially have big portfolios of unsecured loans. I mentioned Marcus by Goldman Sachs, that’s essentially what their lending business is.
So it’s a less risky form of lending. And we’ll get into the returns in a little bit, but that’s essentially how they make their money, is these asset-backed loans that are really, you know, a good type of loan to be in in a situation like this where there’s a lot of uncertainty in the marketplace.
Moser: Yeah. And I notice they do a really good job. Another metric we look at from time to time with banks is return on assets. And you like to see that, if you can see 1% or greater on a consistent basis, that’s nice. I mean, I see with Axos, they have recorded 1.5%, 1.6% return on assets pretty consistently. And I think that goes to show the type of business they can run. Now, we talk about their loan book, and you mentioned a few different things there, commercial, car, residential, and just to talk a little bit about that, because I was looking through some of their exposure there. Commercial lending, it looks like that’s about 31% of their portfolio. Auto loans, maybe about 3%; so you’re not overexposed. You know a car is going to depreciate, obviously, whereas property tends to appreciate over time.
But one thing I did notice, and I thought about this when you mentioned jumbo loan. You know, jumbo loans are something that really comes in handy when you’re in areas where property valuation is really high, and I’ll use Northern Virginia as an example. We live here in Fairfax Station, Northern Virginia. And if you don’t have enough money to put down, you’re going to be looking at some situations where you probably will have to take out a jumbo loan, because prices here are just simply higher, it’s just a high-traffic area where a lot of people are trying to come. So the housing market is always in high demand.
In regard to that jumbo loan exposure, though, I also noticed they have a very hefty exposure to the State of California, like, better than 50% of their book, it looks like, is levered to property lending in California, which, given what we’re going through right now, it’s reasonable to think that there might be a little bit of an exodus as people start working remotely and maybe they don’t feel like they need to live in places like California where the properties are so expensive. So I’m just curious to get your take on that exposure to California. Is that something you even really worry about or are concerned with?
Frankel: Well, it’s a pretty natural kind of market for them. I say necessity is the mother of invention, and Axos is based in California. So I think they still operate out of San Diego, but they were talking about moving to Nevada for tax purposes.
Moser: Oh, yeah, you know what, I think they may have already gone with that.
Frankel: I think they may have. But they were based in California; that’s their primary market. And as you said, the California housing market is — in Southern California, you know, they’re not going to find anything more expensive. So it’s definitely a risk, and it’s definitely why we’re seeing the stock hit more than you would expect just a pure asset-based lender to be in a situation like this. And I’m going to get into some more of the riskier assets that they own in a little bit, but you’re right, especially in their jumbo portfolio, they’re very levered in the California market, which, I mean, someone in Columbia, South Carolina, like me, would really not have much of a reason to take out a jumbo mortgage. [laughs]
Moser: Yeah, I mean the market’s going to dictate that. And I think a lot of places in Virginia, you’re not going to have that problem either, it’s just this one area where DC and Southern Maryland and Northern Virginia all kind of come together in this one very heavily populated area, and it’s just kept real estate here [laughs] at prohibitive levels for a lot of people for a long time.
So let’s talk about, then, where this bank stands today. I think a time ago, back when they were really kind of the new kids on the block, doing something a little bit different in a capital-light bank with no banking centers, just a tech bank. That was the competitive advantage, that will sort of — you see where they were being able to take advantage of something where other banks still had this heavy overhead maintaining these banking centers. You fast-forward to today, and the big banks have responded pretty nicely to this threat. I mean, they’ve built out robust online banking operations of their own. Now, they still have the cost structure and maintaining those banking centers. And I think that the trend is that you’re seeing fewer banking centers over time, not more, but do you feel like that has diminished Axos’ competitive advantage at all? Or do you feel like there still is some degree of separation there?
Frankel: Sure. Well, competition has definitely heated up. It’s diminished their competitive advantage when it comes to growth, I would say, not necessarily in profitability or efficiency or anything like that, but it’s definitely kind of — I mean, if you want an online savings account right now, it used to just be Axos and maybe a few other places you could go. Now, pretty much everybody offers a high-yield online savings account. If you look at our sister site, The Ascent, I mean, we’ve done reviews on, I think, over 10 of them. And most of them pay more than Axos to try to attract deposits right now.
Their competitive advantage is, just to kind of reiterate, the variety of their products that they offer, checking accounts, in particular, have been a big focus on growth. Up until about five years ago, Axos was mostly CDs and savings accounts like everybody else, but they’ve really focused on the checking account part of the business, because that’s something that in the financial world, a lot of companies have had the attitude that you can’t do an online checking account, that it’s not as practical as a savings account because you need constant access to your money and you need ATM access, things like that. Axos figured out ways to do that. For example, they reimburse for ATM transactions. I mentioned I am an Axos customer. When I go to withdraw money from the ATM, I don’t have to find an ATM that has my bank’s name on it. I can use any ATM in the country, and they pay the fees, period, the end.
To test this out, when I was in Las Vegas last year, and ATMs in casinos, I don’t know if you’ve ever been, you know, the fee is like $10. So to see if that worked I just took $50 out of the ATM there, and sure enough, the reimbursement showed up the next day. So things like that are really attractive to customers. I don’t know of any checking account online that has unlimited fee reimbursement in that way. A lot of them have — you know, they’ll reimburse the first few dollars each month or whatever, but Axos, it’s unlimited.
So they’ve really done a great job. I think, checking accounts, my number is right here, about 50% of their total deposit base right now, which is really impressive considering that it was nothing a few years ago. I also mentioned the lack of exposure to any risky type of lending, no focus on the credit card business, for example, is a big one; that’s a big competitive advantage. And the branchless structure. You mentioned a lot of these new up-and-coming companies are doing what Axos does, but they still have branches. I mentioned Marcus by Goldman Sachs. They don’t necessarily have branches, but Goldman has a lot of office space. I would bet Goldman has [laughs] a lot more office space than Axos Financial does.
Moser: Yeah, I’d be willing to bet.
Frankel: And a lot of these, like, Synchrony is a high-yield deposit platform, I bet you they have a lot more office space than Axos, even though they’re not branch-based. So because of that, Axos has one of the lowest efficiency ratios in the country, lower is better with efficiency, they are in a better return on assets, better return on equity than most other banks. Their return on equity has been over 70% for the last five fiscal years. And if you look at the numbers from like a Bank of America or Wells Fargo, that’s very impressive.
So the branchless structure combined with their asset-based lending focus, and they’ve done a bunch of really good partnerships over the past few years. H&R Block is a big one. They’re the exclusive partner for H&R Block in terms of the refund anticipation loans. If you go to an H&R Block to have your taxes done, your refund will be issued on an Axos Bank debit card, which not only brings all that business into their ecosystem but creates a lot of cross-selling potential. So they have a bunch of nice competitive advantages that are worth noting.
Moser: We looked at the difference between how the stock has performed since the IPO and how the stock has performed over the last five years. I mean, it’s probably safe to say that going forward, it’s going to be a more competitive environment for them, but it also sounds like they know what they do well. And they really focus on that. Like, I don’t know that you’re going to see them jumping into that credit card market anytime soon, particularly as we see what’s starting to shake out now. What do you feel like going forward are some of the challenges or the risks that they’re going to face? Like, what’s going to help them make these next five years a better performance than these last five years?
Frankel: Well, I feel like to keep up their growth rate, they’re going to have to focus on some of the types of riskier loans we were talking about. Not credit cards, I don’t see them ever going there, but they have mentioned expanding their auto loan business, for example, as a potential growth driver. Just to kind of put the numbers into perspective, between the three types of loans they do, jumbo mortgages, multifamily loans, and asset-based commercial loans, that’s about $8 billion worth of their assets. Their auto loans are currently about $300 million. So auto loans are kind of a drop in the bucket relative to that right now. So auto loans are riskier types of loans than mortgages. They’re generally made to borrowers with slightly lower credit scores, for example. The value of an auto tends to go down, not up, over time. So if the bank is to repossess it, they might not be able to recoup their money. So that’s one.
Unsecured personal loans are another area they mentioned they really want to ramp up. That’s only $116 million of their assets right now. So less than about 1%. So there are a few ways they’d have to grow that would, kind of, add risk. You mentioned they’re really levered to California right now. I see that as kind of a perceived negative at the moment which could be weighing on the stock. And the jumbo mortgage market has limited growth potential. They would have to really, kind of, expand their presence in the agency mortgage world, as it’s called, which are Fannie- and Freddie-backed loans. So they would really have to branch out, in a nutshell, to continue their current growth rate, which I think they can do effectively, but not with the same kind of asset — 95% asset-backed advantage that they have now.
Moser: And it feels like on the management side of things, CEO Greg Garrabrants, he’s been with the company, I think, since 2007, if I read correctly. So he’s been there for a while. I mean, he was part of the business, obviously. They went through, I think, an investigation period, maybe 16 months where they were under investigation just for some questions regarding the lending practices and whatnot. And I don’t think anything materialized from that, I think that investigation was closed down and they were not deemed to have done anything wrong. It does feel like, though, that Greg Garrabrants has the skill set to continue to take this bank to the next level. Wondering if you have any insight as to leadership there or any concerns that investors should be aware of?
Frankel: The real concerns, if you look back to when he took over… I mean, the bank has done great under his leadership, there’s really no reason to think why it would change. He kind of, you know, spearheaded the transition to checking accounts that I mentioned earlier, which was a very innovative thing at the time for an online bank to do, so. And not to mention the H&R Block partnership, which is, you know, that’s huge in the past few years. It started out as a nonexclusive partnership, I believe, a few years ago, and now they’re the exclusive provider of the refund anticipation loans. And H&R Block does almost 20 million tax returns each year, so. And they really haven’t exploited, kind of, the cross-selling potential of that. Like, when someone gets a refund anticipation loan, maybe steer them toward an Axos auto loan or there something to that effect.
So Axos is a pretty small bank right now, they have about $10 billion worth of assets, and just to, kind of, put that in perspective, JPMorgan Chase has about $2 trillion. So they’re a tiny, tiny company right now. And that partnership just creates a lot of cross-selling potential, I’d say, and I think that was something that the current leadership really was very effective on, so.
Moser: Yeah. I also wonder, you know, I’m not seen really, and this is just anecdotal I guess, but I never see advertisements for Axos. I think they’ve done, really, probably fairly well growing sort of a grassroots word-of-mouth campaign. I don’t know that I’ve ever really seen any type of an advertising campaign undertaken there. I mean, there’s always that possibility going forward that they invest some money in an advertising campaign that really can create a lot of interest, particularly, you’re just trying to bring people into the door, give them another way to do it.
I mean, we understand there are a lot of unbanked folks out there in this country. So we need companies like Square and even PayPal trying to cater to that unbanked population, or underbanked. And you know, certainly Axos plays in that same sandbox, so to speak. I wonder if we won’t see advertising campaigns from them in the future.
Frankel: Yeah, it’s a good point. They’ve pretty much been a word-of-mouth company to this point. I mean, not necessarily word-of-mouth, but you’re right, they’ve done very limited marketing, especially on a national level. I don’t live in California, and I’d imagine that they do a lot more of their marketing in California than other places just because that’s where they’re based. I mean, they don’t advertise in markets that don’t have jumbo loans, like mine. So for me to say that I’ve never seen an ad from them is kind of, you know, take that with a big grain of salt.
Moser: Yeah, good point. And I guess, you know, let’s wrap this up here, Matt. Clearly, you’re an account holder. Are you a shareholder?
Frankel: I have been; I’m not right now. I got out of Axos a couple of years ago. I think when they were under investigation, I decided to take a step back and get out, because, I mean, being under active investigation is more often than not a good reason to sell if you’re looking for something to get rid of.
Moser: No, I think that’s very reasonable. Yeah, I kind of feel the same way. When I see a company get to that point, and then I start trying to assess everything, oftentimes, in my mind at least, I can rationalize and say, you know what, I think that that money might be put to better use somewhere else. And that’s enough for me to go ahead and trigger a sell right there. Just feeling of if that capital could be better off somewhere else then it’s pretty easy to make a sale.
Frankel: Right. So now that they’re not under active investigation, they’re definitely on my watch list right now.
Moser: There you go.
Frankel: I bought a few banks during the pandemic and some that I just thought were much better value, honestly. But they’re on my watch list  I would not be surprised if I become a shareholder again.
Moser: Well, there you have it, folks, Axos Financial. Thanks so much for digging into that for us, Matt, really appreciate it.
Before we take off this week, let’s give our listeners one to watch. What stock is on your radar this week, Matt?
Frankel: I am watching one of my favorite real estate stocks, Store Capital. We just saw some data that says about commercial real estate rents that have been paid in May, and the drop-off from April really hasn’t been that big. Essentially, April and May were equal, and I was worried that in May, you were going to see a bigger drop-off as companies started to really feel the pain. That really hasn’t materialized. And I think, now in June, when everything is going to be at least partially open in most of the country by the end of June, I think, you’re going to see a big spike in rent collection. And in the stronger companies, like Store Capital, I think you’re going to potentially see a big spike in their share prices if that’s reported. So that’s one I’m watching.
Moser: And what’s that ticker?
Frankel: STOR. They are a real estate investment trust that specializes in single-tenant retail properties.
Moser: Very good. Well, I am going to be keeping an eye on Zoom Video. Their earnings come out tomorrow. And I’ll tell you, if you’re a Zoom shareholder right now, you’re feeling pretty good about things. Stock is up another 13%, 14% today, busted through $200 per share. This has just been such an impressive performer since they went public. The valuation is still — I would say, it’s a little bit ahead of itself, but by the same token, you know, the market pays up for exceptional potential. And we’ve seen it oftentimes before. I mean, the company has got exceptional potential there, and the market will pay up for it.
With Zoom, last quarter, they announced they had approximately 81,900 customers with more than 10 employees. And that was up 61% from a year ago. And they also said they had 641 customers contributing more than $100,000 in trailing 12 months of revenue, that was up 86% from a year ago. And we’re going to be hearing from them now as right in the thick of this pandemic where everybody — I mean, Zoom has become a verb, right? It’s not the name of the company, it’s a verb, it’s kind of like “netflix it,” “google it,” “zoom it.”
And so I’m going to be interested just to hear how things have been shaking out for them this past quarter. And even more so, I want to hear them address the security concerns, because I think that’s been the thorn in their side. They clearly did not make enough investment on the security side early on. The good news is, that’s fixable. They made an acquisition, I think, of a company to focus more on that on that security side, but regardless, it should be a fun report to go through tomorrow. So that’s what I’m going to be keeping my eye on.
But, Matt, I think it’s going to do it for us this week. Thanks again for joining. I appreciate you digging into Axos. It was a good time; I enjoyed the conversation.
Frankel: Yeah, always fun to be here. Everybody, stay safe out there.
Moser: Absolutely. Stay safe. And remember, folks, you can always reach out to us on Twitter @MFIndustryFocus; you can drop us an email at IndustryFocus@Fool.com.
As always, people on the program may have interests in the stocks they talk about, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don’t buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear.
Thanks, as always, to our man Austin Morgan for making it happen this week. For Matt Frankel, I’m Jason Moser. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

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