Saving the Sinking Bank

by David McSwain


Rural populations continue to decline, so what does that do to a local bank? How does a community bank survive when its bread and butter – the people and the businesses owned by the townspeople, are moving away or dying out? The pool of customers gets thinner each year. What’s feeding the local economy?

Technology — and especially mobile tech — is increasing at an increasing rate. It’s the “me, me, me/now, now, now” age. People want their money zipped through their phone not only to retailers but to each other. The time that customers could only choose from the local banks to do business is long gone, making the choices open for them, and the competition tighter for the banks. Cash apps and mobile-friendly banking seem to be the norm rather than an outlier these days and growing…

Customers continue to highly rely on credit to get by, maxing out credit cards not only around the holidays, but getting one too many credit cards without the ability to pay them all off. Credit scores plummet. When it comes time to get the loan, yeah, thanks, no, thanks. It becomes a bigger risk for the bank. Johnny’s burger fry shack can’t get the loan because he financed the boat, the house, and Jim and Jill’s college education.

Times are tough on banks, yes. So, what is a sinking bank to do? Can they not only survive but thrive?

Saving Tactic 1: Be innovative. 

Change is tough, and most people only feel comfortable doing what they’ve done in the past. Yet with changing dynamics in how and where people are doing business, banks must also change. Being innovative can mean reaching out to new markets, including other towns and even types of industries, and even becoming an online bank. Banks that never had to market or advertise in the past must now decide who they really are, how to position themselves to stand out, who they want to attract and then go after that business aggressively. No more just opening the doors and hoping people will walk in, or even drive though! This means employing people who are not simply paper pushers, but who are good people-people and salespeople. People who understand banking is a business that needs to attract business, not a commodity. Diversify. Own a niche for lending. Go for what the other guys aren’t. Become an expert in one area. What’s your specialty? I know of banks who have niches as an airplane lender, one that focuses on SBA loans and another that specializes in loans for vets across the country.

Unfortunately, a lot of community banks are behind on this front, but it’s not too late.

Saving Tactic 2: Exit Strategy

Can’t go it alone? Nothing wrong with that. Maybe it’s time to talk merger or being acquired, or your bank buying another! Join up with others who are doing what you’d like to be doing. There is great power in numbers, especially if it’s the right fit. Explore it. When I drive through a small town, I know if a community has a good bank because it’s thriving. That’s right. Just the opposite of what you might think. The town is not deteriorating. Streets are clean. The school looks good. In most cases, if you support your community, it will support you. Back in the ‘80s in Oklahoma, Gene Rainbolt bought many banks at a discount and made Banc First into one of the largest and most successful state banks in Oklahoma.

Whether it’s innovation, a fresh workforce, a new market or a merger or acquisition, the time is now for banks to look at not only surviving but thriving.

David McSwain is an Oklahoma bank consultant and president of McSwain Consulting providing loan risk management solutions, bank loan review services, and bank consulting services to community banks in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas. 

Hallmarks of a Risky Loan

by David McSwain

IMG_3996Risk assessment can be life or death for a bank. Do it right, it’s a win-win for the bank and the customer. Getting it wrong is like hitting an iceberg you didn’t see coming. Hit enough of them and the ship sinks. The key, then, is finding the sweet spot when it comes to risk v. reward by identifying the risk in the first place and knowing what to look out for. Fewer icebergs. More smooth sailing.

Here are the hallmarks I’ve identified in my thirty years of loan risk assessment and reviews:

  1.   The customer doesn’t provide adequate information. Current financials are a must and strict adherence to the list of what’s needed is important. In fact, if the customer cannot get you what you need in a timely manner, then most likely they are a ship without a GPS.  It can be because it’s an inconvenience and it takes time out of their day to find what’s needed, but that doesn’t mean the bank should slide on obtaining the information. Dig in. Get it, or leave it. Assumptions are a bad thing and any laziness on the part of the customer or the bank can provide trouble down the road. Trouble spelled S.I.N.K.
  2. Not enough collateral coverage. Generally, you need more than you think you need. When a loan goes bad and you must sell the collateral and most of the time at discount prices, it’s rarely enough, so you’re not covered. Get more if possible.
  3. The borrower doesn’t understand their business cycles. Perhaps neither does the analyst. This is a cousin to #1, but this one plays out over time, because they may not be accounting for the seasonal or market changes. When a post-mortem occurs on a loan, and you go back to the initial underwriting, that loan shouldn’t have been made because policy disciplines were not held in place. It could be based on information for that industry, too.  Consider oil and gas loans. You must understand that the industry is volatile over time. It can be risky in the short-term or long-term because it’s a volatile industry.  Stress-testing the customer and industry is important.  Real estate can have large swings, and it does go up and down but over a long period of time it has historically normalized.

A lot of banks don’t have an accurate assessment of cash flow until the deal goes bad. Even those who know their cash flow doesn’t mean they won’t fail.  Remember, everything a bank does is leveraged, using someone else’s money. So how do we avoid the three big hallmarks of a risky loan?

Tick off these musts and you’re more likely to avoid rough waters ahead.

  • Know what you are doing. Have the right loan policy for that loan, which means having a variety of loan options based on the industry and proper speed bumps.
  • Be aware of that industry. If you don’t know it, research it and even get to know it in person.
  • People loaning the money should understand cash flows to stay abreast of how the borrower is doing. Stop in. Read up. Stay engaged.
  • Have adequate cash flow and collateral. Some bankers don’t understand that even if they get principal back, they still lost money on loan. How? Look at the principal and interest in its entirety. If you don’t collect it, you have opportunity cost. Most bankers don’t count that as a loss, but it’s an impairment that can come back to bump you like that iceberg.  Know the cost of carry for a bad loan. Add in legal expenses, lack of collecting interest, liquidation expenses. It adds up in a hurry.

David McSwain is an Oklahoma bank consultant and president of McSwain Consulting providing loan risk management solutions, bank loan review services, and bank consulting services to community banks in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas. 


Saving the Mom Business

As a commercial lender in Oklahoma, a young person and single mother came to the bank with a mutual friend.  They approached me about starting a business.  We had several discussions over the next couple of weeks as she was gathering information.  The projections and market research was adequate to make the loan request to start the business.  It was more of a venture capital loan than a commercial loan, but the information was solid.  Now it came down to the experience of the individual and management experience.

We set the loan up for five years on monthly payments.  The loan paid perfectly and as agreed.  After the loan was paid off as agreed, the business owner requested a meeting.  We met. The meeting was to expand the business with an additional location. At the time my biggest concerns were that she was going to increase her overhead two fold and cannibalize her existing business.

After much projections on my part and cash flow analysis, I softly turned down the expansion loan.  In my opinion, most bankers would have made this loan because of her track record of payment. The owner was obviously upset.  So she set out to prove me and the world wrong.  She sought individual funding.

Fast forward two year’s later and the small business owner called me and requested a meeting.  She was bringing her attorney, who was a friend of mine, and her accountant.  After a quick conversation, the attorney removed himself from the meeting and the owner and accountant asked me to help them solve their problem.  After having received the advice not to expand, she did it anyway and now she needed help from going broke. She was headed into bankruptcy.

Fundamentally, the business had great cash flow.  She needed to expand, but not to locations, just adding space.  Her original lease was up for renewal and had an idea of what to do, but didn’t have the capital to move locations.

I gave them a list of documentation I needed.  It consisted of a financial statement over the past two years, income information and cash flow statements along with tax returns and many other documents.  After spending an enormous amount of time analyzing the information, I called the accountant and owner.  We had a meeting.  Based on the information provided, I found a formula for success.

At the meeting, I gave a presentation to the owner and the accountant of all the shortfalls I found inside the financials.  The shortfalls were inventory controls, payroll controls, measured benchmarks and numerous of other things that were fundamentally wrong with running a business.  After the negative, I presented a proposal for them.  Under very certain covenants, the bank would be willing to make a capital loan to save the business.  The main reason, the cash flow was there.

Five years later, the loan paid as agreed.  The entrepreneur established a retirement account, increased her take-home pay, established a retirement account for each of her employees, increased her income by 50% and her profitability increased dramatically.

The moral of the story: your self-employed customers know how to do the work well.  Most of them don’t know the financial side of the business.  Over the past 20 plus years, I have seen this happen in all sizes of businesses.  As Bankers, we are own worst enemies.  We have blinders on when it comes to our customers.  We are too close to the decision in many ways from loan growth to profitability inside our portfolios.  But we won’t separate ourselves.

That is where McSwain Consulting comes in.  We have over 20-years’ experience in cash flow analysis and loan review in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas.  We understand main street and beyond.

A good friend and business partner’s definition of a good banker, “A good banker is one that will get you in trouble by loaning you more money than you can pay back”. Let’s not be that banker.

David McSwain is an Oklahoma bank consultant and president of McSwain Consulting providing loan risk management solutions and bank consulting services to community banks in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas.