In dealing with lenders, it is important for executive teams to understand the background of those with whom they transact business. Bankers, for instance, are often conservative by nature, have little experience running their own business, and can be a part of a corporate system that is bureaucratic and slow moving. Realizing from the outset that the word “risk” is a four-letter word to these professionals can prepare you to have better conversations. Furthermore, you must accept that most front-line bankers are not empowered to question the standards they must enforce on behalf of their employer or the banking system as a whole. All of this is especially true after the recent mortgage industry troubles of the 2008 recession genre. By keeping in mind who is on the other side of the desk when a loan request is submitted, you as a management team member can position your request in a way that gives the banker the best ammunition to give you an affirmative response.
How Lenders Think
Understanding how lenders think helps the entrepreneur better understand why lending policies are pragmatic rather than opportunity-driven, standard rather than adaptable, and monitoring rather than recommending. While market opportunities drive the entrepreneur, lenders approach the very same data with caution. The same unpredicted cash shortage that merely surprises a business owner may send a lender into a panic. Lenders are not in the business of selling advice–in fact, they can be held liable if found to be doing so and the business goes under. They are in the business of making money on loans. Therefore, their loyalty is to company profits and a return on their monies borrowed–and noting else! Anyone who wishes to test the strength of this premise should try missing a few note payments.
Consistency is the hallmark of the lender, due in large part to the constraints of a corporate directive of standardization. The seemingly two-sided face that the entrepreneur sees the lender wear is real; the lending officer truly wants to help and has empathy, but is governed by institutional guidelines. Overidentification with the needs of the borrower can cause a lender to lose her job.
Consequently, the face the business owner sees is not reality but rather a front depicting what the lending institution would like to see happen. Rarely does a borrower learn the true acceptable level of performance that a lender would be willing to accept. Since lenders control the purse strings to the resources that keep the borrower in business, these lenders are impossible to control. Knowing a lender’s true bottom line enables the borrower to influence lending policies that permit operation under the best possible conditions.
How Lenders Act
During tough economic times, lenders are expected to:
- serve as a flexible yet profitable source of capital,
- monitor the performance of borrowers in their book of business, and
- provide sound references to inquirers on behalf of their clients.
Lenders must be allowed to continue to make money on the loans they have extended, but the borrower may request modifications of the terms of repayment based on business financial performance. Principal payment deferrals, interest accruals, and other methods can be used to create cash within the business operation, but one is ill advised to single-handedly embark on such practices without securing the commitment of the lending institution in advance.
To the extent they are able, lenders should be encouraged to visit the places of business of their borrowers and check things out. Outside assessment of company execution of its plans by this important stakeholder group can prove valuable to the management of the company. Hopefully, an open dialogue creates an environment where the lender reference in credit applications is always a positive one and facilitates smooth operations in your company!