How Commercial Lenders Went Wrong With Small Business Financing

Small business owners will be more likely to avoid serious future business finance problems with working capital management and commercial real estate loans by exploring what went wrong with business financing and commercial lending. This is not a hypothetical issue for most commercial borrowers, particularly if they need help with determining practical small business financing choices that are available to them. The bankers and banks responsible for the recent financial meltdown seem to be saying that even if anything actually went wrong, everything is fine now in the world of commercial lending. Nothing could be further from the truth. Commercial lenders made serious mistakes, and according to a popular phrase, if business lenders and business owners forget these mistakes, they are doomed to repeat them in the future.

Greed seems to be a common theme for several of the most serious business finance mistakes made by many lending institutions. Unsurprising negative results were produced by the attempt to produce quick profits and higher-than-normal returns. The bankers themselves seem to be the only ones surprised by the devastating losses that they produced. The largest small business lender in the United States (CIT Group) declared bankruptcy after two years of attempting to get someone else to pay for their mistakes. We are already seeing a record level of bank failures, and by most accounts many of the largest banks should have been allowed to fail but were instead supported by artificial government funding.

When making loans or buying securities such as those now referred to as toxic assets, there were many instances in which banks failed to look at cash flow. For some small business finance programs, a stated income commercial loan underwriting process was used in which commercial borrower tax returns were not even requested or reviewed. One of the most prominent business lenders aggressively using this approach was Lehman Brothers (which filed for bankruptcy due to a number of questionable financial dealings).

Bankers obsessed with generating quick profits frequently lost sight of a basic investment principle that asset valuations can decrease quickly and do not always increase. Many business loans were finalized in which the commercial borrower had little or no equity at risk. Banks invested almost nothing in cash (as little as three cents on the dollar) when buying future toxic assets. The apparent assumption was that if any downward fluctuation in value occurred, it would be a token three to five percent. In fact we have now seen many commercial real estate values decrease by 40 to 50 percent during the past two years. Commercial real estate is proving to be the next toxic asset on their balance sheets for the many banks which made the original commercial mortgages on such business properties. While there were huge government bailouts to banks which have toxic assets based on residential mortgages, it is not likely that banks will receive financial assistance to cover commercial real estate loan losses. As a result, a realistic expectation is that such commercial finance losses could produce serious problems for many banks and other lenders over the next several years. As noted in the following paragraph, many lenders have already drastically reduced their small business finance programs.

Inaccurate and misleading statements by commercial lenders about their lending activities for business finance programs to small business owners is an ongoing problem. Although banks have typically been reporting that they are lending normally with their small business financing, the actual results indicate something very different by any objective standard. It is obvious that lenders would rather not admit publicly that they are not lending normally because of the negative public relations impact this would cause. Business owners will need to be skeptical and cautious in their efforts to secure small business financing because of this particular issue alone.

There are practical and realistic small business finance solutions available to business owners in spite of the inappropriate commercial lending practices just described. The emphasis here is focusing on the problems rather than the solutions primarily because of the lingering notion by some that there are not significant current commercial lending problems. Despite contrary views from bankers and politicians, collectively most observers would agree that the multiple mistakes made by banks and other commercial lenders were serious and are likely to have long-lasting effects for commercial borrowers.

Small Business Financing Goes Into Intensive Care

An earlier article noted that business financing is effectively on life support based on recent reports of reduced business loans made by banks throughout the country. There are several reasons why intensive care comparisons might help to explain what is wrong with working capital financing and at the same time provide a healthy prognosis for impacted businesses. Because commercial financing is proving to be a serious challenge for most small business owners, this analysis should be reviewed by any borrower about to obtain or refinance commercial loans.

During the past two years, banks have lost much credibility and good will. Until the federal government provided massive bailouts for many of them, most of these lenders were on life support themselves. While some of the banks have recovered, others are effectively still in the intensive care process. But whether we are reviewing the healthy banks or ones still recovering, working capital financing for most small businesses is predominantly in what appears to be long-term intensive care. Banks are generally reducing or eliminating a large portion of their business financing activities, as indicated from most ongoing public and private reports. For example, with little or no advance notice, most banks appear to be closing commercial line of credit programs for small businesses regardless of profitability or length of the lending relationship. This is apparently not a temporary move to the sidelines but rather a permanent reallocation of resources to more profitable activities based on the manner in which this is being accomplished.

Lending activity has also decreased significantly for other forms of business financing such as commercial mortgage loans. Commercial loans have essentially been downsized or laid off just as many workers have. The realization that banks are rarely announcing publicly that these cutbacks have occurred is what makes this situation different. Perhaps bankers like to think that when they stop making small business loans nobody will notice. When it becomes public knowledge that their small business lending window is effectively closed, the bankers who placed commercial financing into intensive care are astute enough to realize that their public image will suffer even further damage.

Before they realize that the business financing world has changed before their eyes, it is possible that small business owners might need to connect several dots. As this article and other reviews indicate, banks are simply no longer providing the commercial loan services that they once did. Commercial borrowers should primarily rely on extensive candid discussions with other small business customers of the bank to confirm whether their bank is one of the few exceptions to this new reality. Even in the rare instances in which banks are truly lending “normally” to small businesses, the prevailing trend of less working capital financing coming from traditional banks should not be ignored.

While business financing patients (commercial borrowers) might be in serious condition when they find that their bank will not provide needed commercial loans, experienced small business finance specialists can frequently help in restoring financial health that will facilitate a business getting out of an intensive care situation. In some cases, this involves finding a healthy bank that is willing (and able) to provide “normal” commercial loans and working capital financing. For successful commercial funding it will be necessary to explore non-bank solutions in many other instances.

Understanding Small Business Finance

If you are an entrepreneur, then you know that there is always a need for small business finance to keep things going. Being able to get the money that is needed for your business means that you need to make several financial and non-financial considerations.

Firstly, before you search for funding for your business, it is important to know what type of financing required. Would the business need debt financing (a loan for running your business) or equity financing (money that is taken from savings or investors)?

Small business finance through debt financing means taking loans from credit unions, banks and other traditional financial institutions. Among the loans that are available are short-term loans which must be repaid, with interest, within a specific period of time. Such loans may be termed as demand loans as the lender can call in the loan for repayment any time. Small business finance longer debt loans are normally used for financing assets like renovations or investments in equipment.

There are many businesses that make use of lines of credit as a source of small business finance. They make arrangements with lending institutions for a set amount of available credit that they can draw upon when need arises. Lines of credit allows businesses to use the cash when they need it and they only need to pay back the amount that has been used and interest is paid on the outstanding balance of the line of credit. Numerous lending institutions offer credit cards as a means of small business financing. These cards are used by establishments to finance their operating expenses. But, credit cards can be expensive because of the interest rates. The cards are ideal for use if the balance is paid in full monthly.

Small business finance through equity is normally used in a limited manner. Informal source of equity funding includes friends and family; while the formal sources include venture capitalists. Venture capitalists generally have a considerable pool of resources that allow them to finance ventures and participate in some of the more crucial decisions in the business. However, these capitalists conduct studies before making the decision to provide funding.

There is also some equity small business finance that are received from people who are called as “angel investors”. These are normally people who have deep pockets and are willing to provide funding.

Different types of small business finance helps to increase the chance of the business to become successful.