Posts Tagged ‘Small Business Loans’

Policymakers Baffled by Small Business Credit Issues

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010
Just Listen to Us

Just Listen to Us

Policymakers continue to be frustrated by their inability to unblock the flow of credit to the small business sector. The President has put forward a $30 billion legislative package to offer incentives to community banks to lend to small businesses. While the measure has passed the House and is on its way to a Senate vote, there are doubts as to the efficacy of the proposed measures to stimulate lending. One critic expressing such doubts is Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren who was appointed by Congress to oversee the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, she stated, “policymakers are flying blind”, owing to a dearth of data on small business lending. While the original intent was that TARP recipients would on-lend some of their capital infusion from Washington to the small business sector, they have clearly failed to do that. The largest TARP recipients, those with assets in excess of $100 billion, reported 10% declines in small business lending from June 2008 to June 2009. (One bank has even offered rate reductions on its loans to small businesses that hire new employees.) But Warren is uncertain if the decline is the consequence of the banks’ reluctance to lend or the reluctance of credit-worthy small businesses to borrow. To remedy the data gap, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta recently began a quarterly survey of small business lending in its region, in the hope that better data might craft better policies.

If we were not experiencing double digit unemployment even as viable small businesses that wish to hire are choked for credit, this would be funny. But what the monetary economists of the Fed and their academic advisors needs to do is to actually talk to a few small business owners. I am very active in entrepreneurial groups and the message I hear everywhere is the same. Those of us who own businesses that are credible candidates for loans are reluctant to borrow for fear of rising taxes, higher costs due to healthcare reform and other areas of uncertainty arising from government policies. Businesses generally prefer stable environments when taking on longer-term liabilities, such as loans. We are not close to having clarity on some very important tax and economic policies (yes, we know taxes will rise, but by how much?) that would enable us to see through the fog to determine how much debt we could prudently take on. This is the message that Washington needs to hear.

Banking on Tennessee

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
Banking on Rebirth

Banking on Rebirth

On page 140 of Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses (Wiley, second edition paperback, 2009), I informed readers that when the President declares a federal disaster, early withdrawal penalties on time deposits are waived as residents and businesses will need additional cash resources to recover. Many banks are unaware of this requirement, so I recommended that if your bank is not, get the cash as soon as you need it and seek reimbursement of any early withdrawal penalties, time permitting, when you are further along in your recovery efforts. I also recommended that you immediately request forbearance on any and all loans and credit facilities. In disaster recovery mode, you will need every inch of breathing room you can get.

So I was delighted to read that Bank of America is putting into effect a disaster relief program in the 42 Tennessee counties designated federal disaster areas by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Bank’s disaster relief program provides that small businesses in the affected counties may qualify to avoid early withdrawal penalties on bank certificates of deposit. They may also receive emergency credit line increases on their bank credit cards and may modify or extend payments on loans, credit cards or lines of credit. This is exactly the way to proactively help small business customers in the aftermath of a disaster.

And may I make an additional suggestion to the Bank of America? In the aftermath of a disaster, many small businesses with otherwise pristine credit histories will develop blemishes on their credit reports though no fault of their own. The business will inevitably have some customers that were unprepared for the disaster and will be delayed or default entirely on their obligations, causing some strain on the business. This is the time for banks to show some flexibility and take these factors into consideration for loan applicants.

At a time when bashing banks has become politically fashionable, we should remember how they support our communities. In banking on Tennessee, Bank of America is being true to its roots. A.P. Giannini, the founder of Bank of Italy, the institution that is the predecessor to the Bank of America, saw the opportunity represented by the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906. As other banks succumbed to panic, his made emergency loans to customers, mostly immigrant owned businesses, earning the bank their loyalty. This cemented the Bank’s position as a leading financier to the film and wine industries in northern California.

How Not to Help Small Businesses Access Loans

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Harder to FindIn a recent address to a conference of community bankers, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner invited them to participate in the federal government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (“TARP”). Geithner’s stated reason for offering TARP funds to community banks, those with less than $500 million in assets, was to expand the pool of capital available to underwrite small business loans. Expanding access to capital for small businesses is one of the stated reasons that the federal government is offering the bailouts to large financial institutions. I wonder whether the government is sincere in this effort, and fails to appreciate the unintended consequences of its policy decisions, or if this is cynical pandering to the small business constituency.

Consider the idea of including community banks, which have generally been friendlier to small business borrowers than the big banks receiving TARP funds. Last fall, when certain banks were rumored to be takeover targets, small business owners transferred their accounts to other banks perceived to be more stable. While the protection of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation would make depositors of failed institutions whole, the relief is not instantaneous. Customers of the failed IndyMac, for example, had to wait several days or longer than a week for reimbursement. Many small business owners, out of an abundance of caution, transferred their accounts out of IndyMac upon hearing the concerns of Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y) of the Senate Banking Committee.

The reason is simple: small businesses cannot weather the disruption in their cash flow if they have funds tied up in a failed bank. Small businesses generally cannot defer their obligations. Laws vary from state to state, but generally employees must be paid their salaries within two weeks of their having performed the work. Failure to meet this obligation is one of the few instances in which the corporate veil can be pierced and the small business owner exposed to personal liability. In addition, small business owners often have to provide personal guarantees for many of their commitments. If small business owners continue to behave as they have in the past, they will likely withdraw accounts from TARP-participating banks. It would be a shame if community banks, which have been pillars of small business support, failed to appreciate the consequences of public perceptions of TARP and institutional stability.