Month: May 2017

Secrets of Bonding #148: The Greatest Impediment to Bonding

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Need a bond?  Talk to the Pros!  856-304-7348  www.BondingPros.com

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

Surety bonds are hard to get. Contractors and their insurance agents know that underwriters are conservative. They ask lots of questions. Then they ask more questions. Then they say they can’t help you. It’s a fun-filled process.

Some contractors can’t get bonded because they have a poor credit history. Others have weak or insufficient financial statements. There are plenty of reasons for an unhappy ending, but what is the single biggest reason – and what can you do about it?

Crappy credit: This is a very common problem. The company may be struggling to get enough work, resulting in a weak credit report. So they decide to move into public work for additional revenues – but the bad credit report makes this impossible. Sometimes the report can be improved by correcting errors and updating the info. This is not the greatest impediment contractors and their agents face.

Weak or insufficient financial statement: There are innumerable potential problems. No financial statement, only an internal statement, only a compilation, an interim FS, a net loss, no working capital – the pitfalls are endless! It’s not the biggest impediment though.

Unsavory circumstances: Excessive bid spreads, inadequate prior experience, bad bond forms, harsh contract terms, too much other work. They are all bad, but they are not the king.

The Greatest Impediment

Picture how the process starts. When the contractor decides to go after bonding, a list of information is requested. The underwriter wants business and personal financial statements. A current work in process schedule is needed. Prior tax returns, resumes of key people and a bank reference letter are desired.

The contractor wants to pursue this, but MAN, that’s a lot of stuff!

He has not needed to make company financial statements, so how to come up with them now?

The company owner never needed to make a resume, always been self-employed. How do I write that up?

The WIP schedule: I don’t have that info available. I know where I am on all my jobs. Why would I take the time to fill out a bunch of forms anyway?

I can get the bank reference letter completed and make copies of prior tax returns (they want the WHOLE THING?!) But if I do that, who’s gonna do the estimating so we don’t run out of work? And I have to visit the projects or everything will grind to a halt. The workers want to milk every job like it’s their last. They’ll suck the profits out of everything if I give them the chance.

Conclusion 

The greatest impediment is the applicant themselves! In my 40+ years of surety bond underwriting, I have concluded that MOST contractors deserve to be bonded, but many fail to acquire surety support. It is because they stop trying, or never really start.

People must make choices. They have to put bread on the table. If they can succeed by doing what they know, why try some experiment that may fail? Sometimes it’s just easier to keep doing the same thing – even if you are discontent.

Our observation is that bonding takes perseverance and patience. It is a journey, a path with unexpected twists. There can be obstacles, but we have solutions! If contractors or agents expect it to be fast and easy… they may be disappointed.

Applicants for bonding must plan to devote some time and energy to achieve a goal they know is worthy. It says a lot to have a surety backing you. They are vouching for your ability, and putting up their own money to prove it. It’s a big deal and not always easy, but always worth it in the end.

Insurance Agents and Contractors: Love the “Secrets” articles? You’ll really love it when we solve your tough bonding problem! We have the markets and the know-how to succeed even when others have failed.  Call us with your next surety bond need.  We guarantee a same day response.  856-304-7348

Not available in all states.

Secrets of Bonding #147: Surety Challenge Question “If It Quacks Like a Duck…”

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Need a bond?  Talk to the Pros!  856-304-7348  www.BondingPros.com

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

Up for a challenge?  Here is the scenario:

A Performance and Payment Bond has been approved on a project. The lender (funding the contract) is requiring it.

There is a discussion regarding the procedures that will be used to control disbursement of the contract funds – they are extensive.

A licensed architect is being used and they will oversee the processing of each monthly payment to the contractor.  To protect the lenders interests, they will not only review the paperwork that is submitted (called a Pay Requisition), they will also conduct a physical inspection of the site.  The point of this is to assure that the contractor is only paid for work actually in place.

If approved by the architect, the pay requisition then goes to the lender for their review and handling.  Finally, the money is paid to the general contractor (GC) who then pays subcontractors and suppliers.

The GC has additional controls in place.  They monitor the status of all their subcontractors and suppliers.  Each month lien releases are obtained which is a guarantee that all the people downstream are being properly paid.  This step prevents future claims against the contractor, project owner or surety for non-payment.

Everything is checked and double checked. Each month these controls assure that the funds are handled properly. 

So here is the Surety Challenge Question:

The bond underwriter has required “Funds Control” as a condition of the bond approval. Do the multiple procedures we described satisfy this requirement?  If it quacks like a duck, is it a duck?

Answer: No!

It seems hard to believe, because no one would deny those controls are all good – and highly beneficial. But actually there is a missing piece we must add to have true “funds control.” It comes at the end of the money handling, the disbursement.

From a surety viewpoint, the funds administrator must be the Paymaster for the contract. It pays everyone, including the general contractor.  The problem with our example scenario is that the GC is paying all the subs and suppliers.  This is just what the surety does not want.

True “funds control” aka “funds administration” gives the underwriter confidence that the money will stay in the project and not get diverted to the contractor’s other work.  It also prevents claims against the Payment Bond by assuring that suppliers of labor and material are paid properly and timely.

Funds Control is a specialized process conducted by a party separate from the surety company. When utilized, applicants must be prepared to pay an additional fee for these “back room” services, and follow the required procedures for prompt money handling each month.

Learn the difference between Funds Control and Tripartite Agreements: Click!

Insurance Agents and Contractors: Love the “Secrets” articles? You’ll really love it when we solve your tough bonding problem! We have the markets and the know-how to succeed even when others have failed.  Call us with your next surety bond need.  We guarantee a same day response.  856-304-7348

Not available in all states.

Secrets of Bonding #146: Financial Statement Sniff Test

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Need a bond?  Talk to the Pros!  856-304-7348  www.BondingPros.com

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

Here is a list of my business and accounting courses in college:

  1. _______
  2. _______
  3. _______

I was an Education Major (teaching), so I didn’t get anything on financial statements “FSs”.  When I started as a surety bond underwriting trainee, I realized that I had no idea what a Balance Sheet was – but I learned. 

If your first reaction when you look a FS is “Duh,” we will fix that right now.  Keep reading! This will be a view from 30,000 feet.  Big picture but it will help.

To be complete, every financial statement must include at the minimum:

  • Balance Sheet
  • Profit and Loss Statement

The Balance Sheet

This document is a one-day snap shot of the funds in the company (Assets) and who owns them (Liabilities).  The assets and liabilities are equal “balance” because every dollar in the company is shown from two points of view: the Asset side and who owns it, the Liability side. 

The Balance Sheet has three important parts we can review initially.  Let’s identify them based on their functionality.

Current Assets: This line item is a subtotal found near the middle of the Asset column. It represents those assets readily convertible to cash within the coming fiscal year (such as Accounts Receivable).

Current Liabilities: Found near the middle of the Liabilities column, these are debts to be paid in the coming fiscal year (such as Accounts Payable).

Total Stockholders Equity, aka Net Worth: Usually the last subsection near the end of the Liabilities column. This is the company’s Net Worth that would remain if they shut down and liquidated everything.

The Profit and Loss Statement

This is a historical summary of all the money taken in (Sales aka Revenues) and money spent (Expenses) during the preceding period, usually one year. At the bottom of the column is the Net Profit, which is the money the company “made” for the year after paying all the related bills and taxes.

Now that you can pick out a couple of strategic numbers on any FS, what shall we do with them?

Calculate Working Capital

This is a primary measure of financial strength used by all analysts, including sureties, banks and other credit grantors.  It is found by subtracting the Current Liabilities from the Current Assets. It is an indicator of expected cash flow in the coming year. 

Here is a quick, simplified Sniff Test to use when considering a particular bid or performance bond.  The evaluation is made based on the expected contract (not bond) amount. This is an instant indication of the adequacy of the finances in regard to the upcoming project.

Part One – The Working Capital target amount is 15% of the contract amount.  For example, if the contract amount is $1,000,000, sureties hope to see Working Capital of at least $150,000.

Part Two – The Net Worth target amount is 20% of the contract amount or about $200,000 in our example.

Certainly there is more to surety underwriting than this simple analysis.  However, by using this method, you can get a quick idea of whether the financial statement easily supports the bond, or may be a stretch.  If your analysis reveals negative numbers, which are shown in parenthesis on financial reports, that’s obviously a bad sign.

Also keep in mind, applicants that do not meet these criteria may still qualify for bonds based on other factors – and the reverse is also true. Surety underwriting takes many factors into consideration.  In this article we are offering a very simplified version of the process although it is valid as a quick review. This procedure will enable you to make a fast financial evaluation, and relate it to the upcoming surety exposure.

Summary

This article doesn’t make you a bond underwriter, but now when you get a new FS instead of “Duh!” you can say “Let me analyze this!”

Running a quick analysis plus the Sniff Test will indicate the likelihood of obtaining surety support. You learned a lot in three minutes, but when you have a bond that fails the Sniff Test, that’s where our expertise and market access comes in.  Call us!

Insurance Agents and Contractors: Love the “Secrets” articles? You’ll really love it when we solve your tough bonding problem! We have the markets and the know-how to succeed even when others have failed.  Call us with your next surety bond need.  We guarantee a same day response.  856-304-7348

Not available in all states.

Secrets of Bonding #145: “You Can’t Fit Ten Pounds of S…”

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Need a bond?  Talk to the Pros!  856-304-7348  www.BondingPros.com

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

You know that old expression about jamming in too much. It’s true, and it applies to Surety Bonding like everything else.  “You can’t fit ten pounds of “STUFF” in a five pound bag.”

Check this out:

“Here’s what we’ll do: We will issue a $500,000 contract and bond it.  Then, once the surety is on board, we’ll issue an addendum for an additional $500,000.  The surety will automatically cover it and we’ll have the $1 million bond we couldn’t get in the first place!”

Would that actually work?  Yes, often it could because many P&P bonds state that they will automatically cover increases in the contract amount.

The surety finds themselves bonding a contract larger than originally intended – perhaps well beyond their comfort level. Sound underhanded?  It could be and it happens in multi-million dollar amounts. 

This scenario can also come up inadvertently – in an innocent way.  The contract has a large increase and the bond gets pulled along.  Either way, the underwriter is holding an obligation far in excess of their approval amount.

It’s the sureties own fault for allowing this to happen, right?  Uh, no! When underwriters caught onto this practice, they added a bond condition stating that increases of more than a certain percentage (i.e. 10%) require the prior written consent of the surety. No more free ride.  No more 5 pound bag.  If the contract is increased in violation of this condition, the bond can be invalidated.  That’s a big deal.

So you can’t jam a ten million dollar contract into a five million dollar bond, but is there a legitimate approach?  One that does not violate the relationship with the underwriter?  Yes!

One option is to issue a phased contract. The $10 million project has “Phase One” for $5 million, and a $5 million  P&P bond is issued.  When the work is completed and accepted by the obligee, the bond is rolled forward to the next phase.  In this manner, the bond is never worth more than $5 million, but it covers every part of a $10 million contract – just not all at the same time.

This method enables the principal (contractor) to stretch their capacity on a contract larger than the surety normally would provide.  The obligee still gets a project that is 100% covered: win / win / win!

Another idea would be to issue multiple contracts (if suitable) and bond them sequentially. This technique can be used when the nature of work is such that it can be logically divided, such as multiple buildings. A separate bond is issued for each contract.

Conclusion

Bonding companies intend to automatically cover minor increases in the contract amount.  But when a big addition is considered, they are entitled to exercise discretion over their exposure.

With open communications, there can be solutions where larger projects are bonded without risking failure to comply with the bond conditions.

Insurance Agents and Contractors: Love the “Secrets” articles? You’ll really love it when we solve your tough bonding problem! We have the markets and the know-how to succeed even when others have failed.  Call us with your next surety bond need.  We guarantee a same day response.  856-304-7348

Not available in all states.