Few events are more unsettling for a small business owner than losing the financial support of their bank or lending institution. In 2013, a major North American bank ended its relationship with hundreds of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) because of a change in commercial banking focus. It was not an isolated incident. “There can be changes in the overall economic or credit environment,” says Sol Roter, president of Liquid Capital Corp. Financial institutions, he says, “that may dictate whether to enter or leave whole industries, depending on circumstances.” This can be a function of the economy or a change in their lending portfolio profile.
Whatever the reason, the results can be devastating for SMEs that are caught unaware. Suddenly, lines of credit dry up. If too many receivables accumulate, it could push you into a cash-flow crisis. “It could even put you out of business,” Roter says. So what can you do to survive the sudden loss of your financial institution? Fortunately, the answer is plenty—if you’re prepared.
“You need to figure out what financing you need, and then update your forecasts and your business plan as quickly as possible,” Roter says. “Do a credit check on your firm and yourself to see if anything sticks out that you can correct before approaching a new financial institution.” Also, conduct a registration search to see if any registrations need to be dealt with in advance.
Once you’re sure that you’re in a position to put your best foot forward to a new institution, start working your network of contacts. Ask them if they have entrees with banks and other lenders that may want to do business with you. Ask your accountant, lawyer, insurance broker or anyone else you think can refer you. But sometimes conventional banks won’t touch less-than-stellar businesses. Says Roter: “If your business is hurting and out of financial covenant, you’re going to have to reach beyond conventional banks and approach non-traditional funders such as receivables financiers and asset-based lenders.”
Whomever you approach, there are other steps you can take to prepare for visiting a new financial institution. “It’s really important to prepare yourself properly,” Roter says. “On the credit side, if you don’t have an up-to-date financial statement, or you’re just not willing to discuss and deal with difficult matters, it doesn’t look good.”
Professional lenders will check into your background and it’s wishful thinking to believe that they won’t find shortcomings or, worse, skeletons. “Disclose it up front,” Roter says. And in this era of pervasive social media, examine your online presence, including your personal one, for anything that may cast you in an unflattering light. Any content that shows you behaving irresponsibly could affect your credit rating and, ultimately, your next banking or lending relationship.”
If your business is shipshape, keep an eye out for changes in the economic climate that may sideswipe you, as the banks tend not to view individual businesses in isolation. “Banks will signal into the marketplace,” Roter says, “but it’s nuanced. They’ll express in the media that, say, they’re concerned about certain sectors. These days it’s oil and gas. It shouldn’t be any surprise to oil and gas companies to find that the bank says it’s reducing exposure in that sector. It may be nothing personal.” The lesson here? Be prepared and always keep your eye out for new financial relationships.