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What Your Banker Wants You To Know

What Your Banker Wants You To Know

In small or large businesses, we often end up dealing with banks and bankers beyond the checking account. When you have debt with your bank (your lender), the relationship takes on another dynamic. The typical loan agreement for traditional debt includes loan amount, terms, collateral provided, the covenants you must live by, and the dos and don’ts allowed. When things are going well, the relationship with your banker seems to always go well.  It is in difficult times that things get tough. Let’s look at what your banker wants you to know.

Growth is good, but it requires more capital to sustain. Learn about the 25 Ways to Improve Cash Flow (in addition to acquiring capital from the bank).

What Your Banker Wants You To Know

Your banks wants to know the bad new sooner than later. Furthermore, your banker does not want surprises. If you are having issues with your business, then discuss these early on with your banker. If you’re getting close to the limitations of your covenants, then let your banker know. In addition, if you see a change coming in your industry, then let your banker know early on. Be sure to give your banker the good news also. If you are planning on changes to Sr. Management, then mention these to your banker.

The banking world changes based on the economy, regulations, and markets. We remember 2008 when new credit at banking institutions basically shut down. Before that, it was fairly easy to get credit. And loan requirements were not as cumbersome – which is not always good. But the crisis caused a change in behavior at banks – some of it self implemented and some implemented by regulators.

In today’s market, money is still relatively cheap. There is an abundance of liquidity in the markets. So banks do want to loan money, but you must meet some basic guidelines.

What Your Banker Wants You To KnowWhat Commercial Banks Want

In order to loan you money, commercial banks basically want just a few things:

  1. They want to have collateral that secures their loan
  2. They want to know you have the cash flow to payback their loan
  3. They want to understand your business and they want to know what the funds will be used for
  4. They want to understand how much they will make $ on their loan to you

Different Types of Lenders

There are different types of lenders, including the following:

The cost of that capital goes from cheapest to most expensive lender on the list above. The structure of the debt also goes from easiest to most complex structure in the list above. Some want collateral (security), and some do not.

Looking for more capital? There may be cash lying around your business. Learn the 25 Ways to Improve Cash Flow today.

Keep Your Eye on Your Debt Covenants

Most likely, if you have commercial debt, then you may have some debt covenants stated in your loan agreement. Covenants are the requirements you as the Borrower must maintain to be in good standing with your loan agreement.

Oftentimes, the bank and banker find out something is wrong when you turn in your financials and/or bank compliance certificate. They find that one of the covenants is out of whack. You may have a debt/EBITDA covenant ratio as part of your covenants. This is a common requirement. Do not wait for you to “bust your covenants” before you reach out to your banker. Monitor your covenants closely. If you see drivers in your business that may create a problem with your covenants, then reach out to your banker.

Renegotiate Covenants

Believe it or not, I have been in situations where the loan agreement is already a few years old. The company has become much more financially healthy, and I went back to renegotiate certain covenants to ease the reporting burden. The bank was very open to modifying some covenants. Usually, you have to be in good standing and have a good historical track record to modify or request to modify covenants. But do not be shy. Simply ask. The worst that can happen is your banker says, “no”.

Most bankers in today’s market do really care about the relationship, even at the biggest banks. Your banker does want to see you succeed. If you are living through troublesome times, then your banker does want to see you get financially healthy. But you need to communicate with your banker. The worst thing you could do is hide something from your banker or try to sweep something “under the rug”. That will eventually come, out and you will have burned a bridge with your banker. After you hide something, or if you do not disclose something, your banker will always carry that doubt in the back of his mind. And they may not be there for you when you really need to negotiate that debt covenant.

Are there other areas in your company that you can focus on to improve cash flow (outside of bank loans)? We have put together the 25 Ways to Improve Cash Flow whitepaper to make a big impact today on your cash flow.

 

What Your Banker Wants You To Know
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What Your Banker Wants You To Know

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Debt Compliance 101: Keeping Your Banker Happy

keep your banker happy

While Houston is mostly underwater from Hurricane Harvey that made landfall over the weekend, we are keeping our heads high and finding some purpose. Houstonians are going out of their way to save people, help clean up flood damage, and providing the necessities for their fellow neighbor. Similarly, you should find ways to keep your banker happy. They need certain things from you that only you can provide. One of the biggest ways you can keep your banker happy is by staying in compliance with your loan covenants.

What is Debt Compliance?

Debt covenants are used to protect the bank by implementing measures to ensure the bank gets paid at the end of the day. Business Dictionary defines debt compliance as “legal measures taken to ensure that borrowers repay their debts.” If you stay within the confines the bank has set, you most likely will not hear from the bank. But if you float between compliant and noncompliant or are simply noncompliant, you will face some consequences. Debt compliance is one of the best ways to keep your banker happy.

Floating between debt compliance and noncompliance? If this is you, then you need to free up cash within your business soon. Download our A/R Checklist to effectively collect your accounts receivable and manage your cash!

keep your banker happyNot Being Debt Compliant

Not being debt compliant means that you have broken debt covenants. But what exactly does that mean? Your bank, in the worst-case scenario, will call your loan. If being noncompliant is not a pattern for your company, banks do not generally want to take this route. Instead, they will likely freeze your credit line and you will need to survive off only the cash flow generated from your company’s operations. Just like Houston prepared for the worst-case scenario with Hurricane Harvey, you have to prepare like that too because the worst case might be the reality.

Keep Your Banker Happy

A client once told us that business was great. They tried to convince us that their Q1 numbers were looking good and would  still allow them to have healthy debt coverage ratiosBut their banker wasn’t so sure. Oftentimes in business, we look at just a sliver of information when we report the news – good or bad. But to protect themselves, the bank looks at a wide array of information. Their banker wanted more information and financials to ensure his confidence, even though the company reported reasonable Q1 numbers.

Maybe you are like our client, and you are experiencing misplaced pressure from your banker, or worse, perhaps your banker is putting pressure on you for good reason. As financial consultants who facilitate the relationship between a company and its banker every day, we know this dynamic very well. There are a couple things that you can do to keep your banker happy. These include considering your banker’s perspective, asking what they need, getting busy, and consistently checking in with your banker.

Consider Your Banker’s Perspective

Perspective requires effective communication skills and the ability to listen to what they are seeing from their viewpoint, not yours. If your local economy is encountering uncertainty, your banker is going to be more sensitive not just to your business, but to his or her entire portfolio. Even if your business is doing well, he or she may be facing pressure due to funds lent to other companies that are suffering. It’s critical to provide your banker with the confidence that your business is either (1) a-okay or (2) prepared to get better.

How can you best do this? Provide all the information they need to know where you are financially. Then, provide a plan to improve your business moving forward, even if your numbers are looking great. This extra step helps ease the stress and pressure the banker is facing. By going this extra step, you will be able to build the trust of your banker.

keep your banker happy

Ask What They Need

Let your banker know that you are prepared to provide cash flow projections, debt ratios, and more. Ask what they need from you to feel confident. You can do this by asking the following question, “what do you need to feel good about our company?” But the key is you have to listen to what they need from you. Oftentimes, businessmen and women think that asking the question will result in some brownie points. Listen carefully to what factors in your business scare them, encourage them, etc. Remember, do not assume anything.

For example, a client once went to the bank to discover that it was really uncomfortable with his lack of reporting. This lack of consistent and accurate data required the bank to just take the owner’s word for the numbers. But in reality, the owner didn’t have a grasp on his business. We partnered together to create a more streamlined accounting and reporting process. As a result, the bank felt a lot more comfortable with them and were even flexible in crunch times.

Get Busy

The best thing you can provide your banker is evidence that the bank’s money will be paid back. You provide this assurance with a plan. We suggest you provide dynamic cash flow projections to your banker. (Keep in mind, this is not easy). Bullet point the operational strategies that the company is using to make these projections a reality. Also include some financial ratios like the company’s debt service coverage ratio. Collect your accounts receivable to increase the amount of cash in your business. If you need help with cash management, download our A/R Checklist here.

Check In

Be sure to follow-up with your banker once you have provided all this information. Let him or her know how the company is on track (or not) with the projections and what measures you are taking to ensure the company’s financial health. Generally speaking, if you follow-up before they ask for more information, your banker will feel safe about your account. Just like in marketing or sales, follow-up is key for success.

Banker’s Reputation

Your banker’s reputation depends on your company’s success. Their job is on the line just like your company needs the lent cash to operate. Help keep their heads well above the water (last Hurricane Harvey reference, I promise). For more ways to add value to your company, download your free A/R Checklist to see how simple changes in your A/R process can free up a significant amount of cash.

keep your banker happy

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keep your banker happy

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5 Ways to Prepare for Seasonality

four seasonsSeasonality can be brutal.  If your business is like ours, summertime is pretty slow.  The phones don’t ring, employees and clients are on vacation, nobody is available for appointments and not much happens in general.  Even if summertime is busy in your industry, chances are that there are other times during the year that business slows down noticeably.

5 Ways to Prepare for Seasonality

While a slower pace may sound like a dream if you’re coming off of a busy season, a slowdown can cause issues if not anticipated and planned for.  Employees out of the office can impact productivityCustomers unavailable for appointments and silent phones can mean fewer sales.   All of these factors can have a negative impact on profitability and cash flow.  Here are some steps you can take to prepare for these slow times and minimize their impact.

Consider Temporary Staffing

Some businesses do 75% of their work during 25% of the year.  This definitely makes resource management challenging.  Even if your company isn’t in an extreme situation such as this, utilizing temporary staffing can help smooth out seasonal bumps in productivity.  With staffing firms cropping up in more and more industries, the availability of temporary workers is on the rise.  While the short-term cost of these employees may be more than an in-house worker, the flexibility they provide is attractive to companies that aren’t able to carry the burden of excess staff during slow times.

Build Up Your Backlog

What happens to your sales pipeline shortly before quarterly sales bonuses get paid out?  Chances are, you see a sudden spike in closed sales.  What this seems to demonstrate is that our salespeople have some measure of control over the efforts to close their sales.  With this in mind, there are a couple of approaches you can take to ensure that there are enough sales to get you through the slow times.

First, try sitting down with your sales force with a calendar and map out your seasonality.  Awareness of the seasonal dips may be enough incentive to encourage them to build up their backlog prior to these dips.   Assuming that your sales staff will only be motivated by sales commissions, an alternative solution would be to set your bonus payout dates immediately prior to your slow times.

Keep an Eye on Your Inventory Levels

If your vendors experience the same seasonality as you do, they may not have the manpower to keep up with customer orders in a timely manner during their slow periods.  Hitting them with a last-minute rush order may not work out well and going to another vendor will likely yield the same results.  To avoid running out of key materials, make sure that items needed for planned production are ordered well enough in advance to allow for any seasonal slowdowns.

Get a Handle on Cash

During slow times, a business is likely to consume more resources than it produces.  To ensure that your business has enough liquidity to keep things running smoothly during seasonal dips, it’s important to manage cash carefully.  Here are a couple of cash management tips below. For more ideas, check out our free checklist, “25 Ways to Improve Cash Flow.”

Collect Receivables

If you and your customers are on the same sales cycle, chances are that they’ll be short-staffed at the same times you are.  Payment of payables won’t be high on the list when departments are running on a skeleton crew, so make sure that you’re current on collections before things slow down.

Prepare a Cash Flow Forecast

One of the most important steps you can take in managing cash is to prepare a cash flow forecast.  The forecast will tell you when cash will be tight. Then you can work with your banker to ensure that your company has the liquidity it needs.  On that note…

Keep Your Banker in the Loop

Chances are, you are not your banker’s only client.  They likely have many clients across several industries, so they don’t always know when business is slow for your company.  Rather than waiting for your banker to ask you why this quarter’s results don’t look as good as last quarter’s, reach out to them. Do this especially before business slows down to let them know what your projections look like.  While it may seem counter-intuitive to give your banker potentially bad news, your candor will give them confidence in you and make it more likely that they will work with you if you need it.  Besides, you’ve projected that things are going to improve, right?

Regardless of when your slow times fall, taking steps to prepare for seasonal dips can help minimize their impact on cash flow and profitability.  Now is the time to start to identify and address seasonal fluctuations.  After all, the holidays are just around the corner…

prepare for seasonality

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prepare for seasonality

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More Questions Your Banker Wants Answered…

monopoly bankerIn a recent post, I talked about a conversation I had with our banker and the three questions she’d most like answers to.  In case you missed it, her questions were…

  1. How are you feeling about your business and the local economy?
  2. What is the outlook for the rest of the year?
  3. What are you doing about it?

More Questions Your Banker Wants Answered…

In response to the article, several of you reached out with questions of your own to add to the list.  Not surprisingly, the questions largely focused on what is going on in the Houston economy right now as a result of the decline in oil prices. Here were your thoughts:

1.  How is the current economic situation impacting your specific industry?

If you’re doing business in Houston you’ve likely felt (or will soon feel) the effects of the drop in oil prices.  Even if you’re not in the energy sector, your banker wants to know that you’ve taken a look at how the economic situation may affect you.

2.  What are the recent trends in your industry that impact your operations?

What other trends are affecting your industry?  Government regulation, increased competition, technology, substitution, etc.?  Your banker wants to know what your plan is to deal with these trends whether it entails mitigating risks or exploiting a competitive advantage.

3.  What are your 5- and 10-year goals and what are you doing today to achieve those goals?

It’s important to your banker to know where you’re headed in the long-term.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day operation of a business, but your banker wants to know that everyday decisions are made with the bigger picture in mind and not just reactions to the situation on the ground.

In the original article, I talked about the 5Cs of credit and how Character was the most important “C”.  Based upon your comments, I’d have to say that Conditions may be of greater importance (or at least more immediate) to you in the current economic climate.

Thanks so much for your feedback!  I’d love to hear what other questions you have.

Questions your banker wants answered

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3 Questions Your Banker Wants Answered

3 Questions Your Banker Wants AnsweredRecently, I had lunch with our banker.  During the meeting, I asked her what she wanted to accomplish when meeting with her customers.  She said that she wanted to know the 3 questions your banker wants answered…

3 Questions Your Banker Wants Answered

1.  How are you feeling about your business and the local economy?

Have you felt the impact from the changes in the local economy and, if so, were they good or bad?  Has there been any fallout with your customers?  How are your competitors reacting?

2.  What is the outlook for the rest of the year?

Do you see the local economy getting worse, recovering, or staying flat?  What forces or drivers do you see influencing your outlook?  What local indicators are you watching?

3.  What are you doing about it?

What actions have you already taken to address any impact?  Have you identified your next steps?  How will those actions impact the financial statements?

In establishing banking relationships and making loans, bankers look to the 5 Cs of Credit for guidance.  The most important of those Cs is Character.  Character covers not only your personal character but also your business competence.  It also covers your management team.

When market conditions fluctuate, bankers want to know that you and your team are strong enough to navigate the rough waters until the economy recovers.

The challenge for business leaders is to be optimistic without being naive;  realistic without being pessimistic.

How are your conversations going with your bankerLeave us a comment below.

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3 Questions Your Banker Wants Answered

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3 Questions Your Banker Wants Answered

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What You Should Know About Breaking Debt Covenants

What You Should Know About Breaking Debt CovenantsThe end of the first quarter of 2015 is approaching, and quarterly debt covenant compliance certificates are coming due. If your business is like many in our area, this thought probably fills you with dread. With so many businesses in Houston tied to the energy industry, the effects of the free fall in oil prices that started last summer will begin to be seen in this quarter’s results. Watch the video below to discover what you should know about breaking debt covenants.

What You Should Know About Breaking Debt Covenants

So what can you do if you’re out of compliance? Even though the situation may look bleak, there are several things a business can, and should, do when faced with broken debt covenants. Check out this video that addresses:

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What You Should Know About Breaking Debt Covenants

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What You Should Know About Breaking Debt Covenants

See also:

Daily Cash Report

Flash Report

Dynamic Cash Flow Projections

Bank Covenant Violations

How to Be More Credit Worthy

2

Choosing a Bank

See Also:
What are the 7 Cs of banking
Categories of Banks
Finding The Right Lender
How Important is Personal Credit When Negotiating a Commercial Loan?
Bank Reconciliation

Choosing a Bank: Which Bank to Choose?

I was involved in a speaking engagement recently with my friend, a banker named Larry from Community Bank located here in Houston. After our talk a gentleman from the audience, Al, asked us “Are banks different and if so, which one should I choose?” Larry answered first and after his response all I could say was “I agreed.”

Larry started by saying “Yes banks are different.”

He continued by telling Al that “Part of my answer I know you didn’t request but it is necessary information you need to consider.”

“To answer your question I feel that it is essential for small business owners to write out what they want and need from a bank. This is no different than having specific criteria or objectives in looking for an employee. What do you want the banker and bank to do for you and your business? Then, as you interview banks tell them what your needs and expectations will be and that you require them to be met. Larry stressed this point “Voice them now or be sorry later!”


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5 Considerations for Choosing a Bank

Larry went on to say that for larger businesses there are 5 primary areas of concern that need to be questioned during the process of choosing a bank:

1) Financial Standing

Review the bank’s financial statements. If the bank is a public corporation their financial information is available at www.sec.gov. If they are a private company their financial information is available at www.fdic.gov. Your areas of concern while looking at the financial information are: a) is the net worth of the bank increasing annually, which usually means they are making a profit and b) are bad loans increasing or decreasing. Ask the banker why there are changes in the net worth or bad loans because, rest assured, the banker will ask you why there are changes in your business. Just like a bank will not loan you money when your company is losing money, you do not want to be involved with a bank that is making poor business decisions.

2) Community Standing

What is the perception of the bank by leaders in the community? Talk to business leaders in the primary business sectors, such as real estate, retail, wholesale. Or even to your competitors who may be customers of the bank you are considering.

3) Lending Appetite by the Bank

Larry said “Al, there are two concerns in it this area you should address.”

a) Risk appetites (tolerances) – You need to ask the banker the bank’s lending philosophies, such as loan advance percentages against collateral and loan policies to make sure your business fits within what the bank wants and you can accept.

b) Loan appetites – Is the bank mainly a consumer or commercial lender? What industries specialization does the bank promote? Make sure they already understand your business, because you don’t have time to teach them. What types of loans does the bank not want to make?

Banks’ may mainly make loans on income producing real estate or loans to owner occupied businesses. If you are looking for something else, it is probably not going to happen with the bank you are talking too. What size loan customers does the bank want? Banks normally consider a small business one which has revenues less than $2 million. They define lower middle market businesses as those with revenues from $2 million to $30 million. Finally, they consider middle market businesses as having revenues from $30 million to $250 million. Make sure your company fits into the size the bank wants, or you may not be satisfied with the bank’s effort to get and retain your business.

4) Loan Office Experience Level

“Do you want to deal with an order taker or a decision maker?”

5) Bank’s Desire

Do you feel they are interested and excited about doing business with you? Recall your dating days, how you got excited if the other person appeared interested! This is about establishing a relationship. Is there connection between you and the bank? You must remember there is a price to pay if you have to change your banking relationship.

Larry finished by telling Al, “What it really boils down to is two people getting to know one another and seeing if their needs match.”

Learn how you can be the best wingman with our free How to be a Wingman guide!

choosing a bank

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