For small business owners, one of the most perplexing situations is a realization that there are now essentially “good banks” and “bad banks”. To make matters worse, it is rarely easy to distinguish between the good and bad ones. For many commercial borrowers, business finance consulting has emerged as a helpful tool to determine which banks are still effective. But overall, the world of banking has changed dramatically for almost everyone, and many business borrowers are angry and confused by a new commercial banking landscape that does not seem to be working very well.
One of the more difficult aspects associated with the “good bank and bad bank” analogy is that there are so many competing explanations as to what constitutes a “good bank”. One popular analysis has focused on how much banks are really worth in view of the toxic assets that are so complicated to evaluate. With this analysis, “bad banks” are typically those with assets worth less than their liabilities and as a result such banks have been referred to as “dead banks walking” or “zombie banks”.
It is fair to say that we have not yet encountered a bank which has openly agreed that they deserve to be looked at as a zombie bank because their liabilities exceed their assets. This would be tantamount to describing themselves as a bankrupt bank. If a bank is truly deserving of the bankrupt status (and there are a number which certainly appear to be in this category), the current banking laws do not permit such a bank to go through the kind of bankruptcy process being considered by General Motors and Chrysler.
Instead the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is supposedly required by law to assume the operation of the bankrupt bank until a new management and ownership arrangement can be established. For a number of smaller banks, this has in fact occurred during the past few months. What has been missing so far from this legal bank takeover approach by the FDIC has been the inclusion of larger banks which appear to have problems that are much more serious than the smaller banks which have already been liquidated and transferred to new owners by the FDIC.
The FDIC and other public officials have not made public why large problem banks have not been liquidated. One obvious possibility is the belief that the public failure of a major bank would create a crisis of confidence for virtually every other bank whether they are financially healthy or not. An equally strong likelihood is that the FDIC simply does not currently have sufficient assets to cover the failure of a big bank. This viewpoint is supported by the recent announcement that the FDIC is in the process of raising fees paid by banks in order to replenish the FDIC insurance funds.
Small business owners need their own evaluation standards to determine what constitutes either a “bad bank” or “good bank” as it relates to the future financial health of their own business. Business owners should include an assessment that focuses on results as to which banks can provide the needed help for their specific business circumstances involving working capital financing and commercial loan needs. While such information would go a long way toward establishing a good bank-bad bank distinction, the banks themselves are not likely to be helpful in providing the needed data to produce this candid evaluation.
There are possibly several large bankrupt banks that have not rushed to advise the public that they are in serious trouble and are still functioning normally. Similarly we are already seeing that while most banks proclaim that they are making small business loans and SBA loans in a normal fashion, in reality virtually all banks have reduced commercial lending dramatically during the past few months. Some specialized business lending such as commercial construction financing has been frozen altogether in many areas.
In addition to the critical importance of identifying “good banks”, we have published a related report which describes the delicate issue confronting many business owners who might need to fire their banker. Just as there are “good banks” and “bad banks”, there are also “good bankers” and “bad bankers”.
Business finance consulting has emerged as an important tool to help small business owners work their way through a complicated commercial banking maze. In the Bernie Madoff fiasco, one of the common questions asked repeatedly is why investment advisors did not evaluate the Madoff internal operations prior to placing investor funds with Madoff and his Ponzi scheme.
Our candid final point is that the use of a commercial finance consultant should be at least considered by commercial borrowers in their search for new working capital loans and commercial mortgage financing. Businesses now need to act more aggressively than before in order to protect their own financial interests.
Stephen Bush is a business finance expert who has worked with business owners for 30 years => AEX Small Business Loan Programs – The Working Capital Journal