Sheila Spangler, CBI, Capital Strategies, Boise, ID
There was an article recently on CNNMoney.com that said SBA loan production is down 36 percent from 2008. As business brokers, many of us have felt that pinch first hand, but have you wondered why SBA loans have waned along with the rest of the credit market? After all, don’t those loans have a guarantee? Why won’t the bankers make them? I decided to do a little research.
As a former commercial banker, banking school graduate and business broker, I am a big fan of SBA loans. I’ve originated many in the last 20 years. Without these loans, my main street business clients would not have been able to sell their businesses to new owners or expand. We are suffering through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. During the Depression, interest rates were too high and no one could afford to borrow even though there was plenty of liquidity. Today, the problem is different. Rates are low yet liquidity is even lower for banks. Here’s two reasons why banks aren't willing to open the credit spigot:
1) Unhealthy balance sheet. Just because a bank may have paid back TARP, it doesn’t mean the bank is “healthy.” In many cases, problem loans are not being addressed because doing so would cause write-downs, which erode bank capital. The regulators are stepping softly in many cases encouraging bankers to term out loans for longer than normal periods to avoid losses, business closures and panic. But in many cases, the bankers are using a “head in the sand” approach and not addressing problems.
2) Fear of making the wrong decision. Bankers are running scared. The lack of capital and unaddressed time bombs on the balance sheet has made them even more cautious than normal. They are playing a waiting game: waiting for things to get better. But it’s a catch 22. Eventually, someone has to step forward and lead the charge. Of course, just like the eager lieutenant on the battle field, there is always a chance they’ll get shot in the back, too.
You’re probably thinking “Okay, but why don’t banks make SBA loans since they have a government guarantee? Aren’t they completely safe for the banks? What have they got to lose?”
Here are my top four reasons why SBA loan production is down. These reasons are based on experience and conversations with bankers, regulators and debt buyers.
• Laid off their experienced SBA business development officers and underwriters when the market melt down happened last year.It’s going to be awhile before the credit market loosens. In the meantime, buyers and sellers of businesses have to get more creative and flexible. This means sellers will have to self-finance more of the transaction. That’s good for buyers but not so good for sellers that want to exit the business and not worry about it any more.
• Don't want to learn the program because they perceive the return to be low, and for many, what they don’t understand, they fear.
• Know that even if they get the SBA loan done properly, there is really no assurance that the bank will be able to collect on the guarantee to get “paid back” should the business fail. The loan must be properly underwritten and serviced in order to maintain the guarantee for the life of the loan.
• Don’t like unknowns and right now everything is an unknown. Is the seller’s business really able to withstand a transition now? Does the buyer really have the skills to manage and lead? Is there a hidden problem?
In some cases, the business owner may not be able to sell the business at all. So he or she will have to continue to work longer. This is heartbreaking for many business owners. Some have worked years to build their businesses and now see them falter just when its time to retire.
The only thing I can say is this: business owners are the toughest people in the world. Just like everything else in your business life, you’re going to have to find a way to fix this yourself. Perhaps we can form a business owner’s co-op and provide loans to each other to take the banks out of the picture. Now wouldn’t that be something?