HEN financial markets are flush, lenders often compete based on price or by offering covenant-light or even restriction-free loans. Finance becomes a commodity and lenders increasingly accept more than reasonable risk to secure business. However, in the long-term, a lender does its corporate customers no favours by compromising its credit principles. Ultimately, lenders and borrowers who remain disciplined will be better prepared for the next downturn. Smart contractors look beyond today’s interest rates for a lender that can serve the broader interests of the company. How do borrowers find a lender who will value them both in good times and when the market shifts? Here are five key attributes to consider when seeking smarter finance:

When the economy is riding high, many companies have easy access to finance. But when the economy inevitably turns (as is happening with the US sub-prime mortgage financial crisis) and the capital markets retrench, a solid relationship with a lender is invaluable. Seek an established lender who can accommodate your future needs; the construction contracting industry can change dramatically in a short time and you need someone who can support those business cycles. Does the lender offer various loan structures – cash flow, asset-based and structured – to accommodate changing circumstances? If your cash flow turns negative, will the lender show you the door or work with you to find other alternatives? A financier with a big balance sheet who can support a company’s peaks and troughs is typically more patient as markets ebb and flow.

There are distinct advantages to finding a lender who specialises in your industry. The learning curve is shorter, the loan structure’s more tailored and the industry expertise often adds value and greatly facilitates the loan process. Specialists who have finance and operational experience are arguably most effective since they have been on the “other side”, running companies. Look for financial institutions with genuine experts in your field. They’ll truly understand the challenges CEOs and CFOs face. Their understanding of the industry and the collateral clients may use to secure the loan can often lead to greater liquidity and flexibility. They also often become advocates for a client.

Many companies – including lenders – participate in proven programs that measure customer service. For instance, the Net Promoter Score (NPS), as described in Fred Reichheld’s book, The Ultimate Question, tracks customers’ responses to the question, “How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?” The answers allow companies to determine NPS by simply subtracting the percentage of its detractors from the percentage of its promoters. Once you know where clients stand, you can improve what’s creating dissatisfaction and amplify what clients like. A Bain & Company report showed that in most industries, NPS leaders outgrow their competitors by an average of 2.5 times. Whether it’s NPS or another measure, search for a lender with a commitment to continually improving their service.

Not all lenders can back your company throughout its lifecycle. An emerging company needs funds for capital expenditure, growth and working capital. As it grows, the company may need equity or financing to support mergers and acquisitions or project finance. When it reaches maturity, the company may need help with spin-offs, recapitalisations, securitisations and interest rate risk management. If the company hits a bump in the road, it may require restructuring, debtor-in-possession or refinancing. Finding a lender that can evolve with your financing needs can allow you to focus on running your business.

Resources that companies can tap beyond the deal can make all the difference to borrowers. Management experts in the lender’s company can work onsite with clients to help them improve and grow their business.

Borrowers can afford to be choosy in today’s highly liquid finance market. Savvy business leaders should look beyond the capital cost and search for smart finance – a lender with depth and breadth of products and services who can serve them for the long haul.

Alastair Metcalf is Managing Director, Corporate Financial Services, Australia and New Zealand, GE Commercial Finance.

Source: Construction Contractor