bid bond

Secrets of Bonding #150: Surety Bonds Are Exactly Like Insurance

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Surety Bonds are exactly the same as Insurance.  They are like… twins!

If you are a follower of the Secrets blog, this statement may surprise you.

Go all the way back, way back to article #1 in this series published in February 2014.  It was titled “Bonds Are Not Insurance.” OK, if you read it, so when did they start being like insurance?

Question: Does this sound familiar?

Your contractor client calls up and tells you they have just won a new contract and are ready to sign. “We need to provide an Insurance Certificate.”

What would be your very next comment? Would you say “I’ll transfer the call to Bertha who issues our certificates!” Or would you ask for a copy of the insurance specification and the new contract so you can review them?

You’d probably do the latter. You need this to determine if there are any special requirements, onerous clauses and to determine the coverage levels needed.  Before issuing the certificate, you may need to modify their program to be compliant.

Let’s compare this to Surety Bonds. When an agent colleague sends over a bond request form (or bond app), we always ask for the written bonding requirements, any mandatory bond forms and a copy of the contract if it is available.

We do this for exactly the same reason as with insurance. We want to understand what the customer needs, and be sure what we provide fulfills the requirements. It’s just good business.

Admittedly, bonds are still very different from insurance – except for this common underwriting step. You agree?

Now let’s go a step deeper.  If we will always review these supporting documents to accompany each bond request, what are we looking for when we get them?  What are the hot buttons?

Bond Forms

It is important to note if bond forms are included in the specification.  If they are, you must determine if they are mandatory to use, or if equivalent or standard forms may also be accepted.

In contract surety, all bid bonds are pretty much the same.  However, Performance and Payment bonds can vary great depending on the obligee (protected party).

For example, on all federal projects, the bond forms are the same, and using them is mandatory.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has developed a standard set of bond forms that are well accepted by all parties and commonly used in construction.  You may find these are stipulated.

When it comes to private contracts, such as a subcontractor working for a general contractor, the bond forms can be anything.  It might say AIA forms, or they might invent their own P&P bond form that is mandatory. You need to know!

Surety Credentials

The standard for the bonding company could be as simple as “the surety must be acceptable to the obligee.”

However, there can also be licensing and rating requirements that must be adhered to.  A license issued by the local state insurance department could be required “a bonding company authorized to do business in New Jersey.”

A minimum size and strength rating from a rating bureau like A.M. Best could be indicated.

Along similar lines, a surety listed on Circular 570 (a federal approval list) is not uncommon.

Conclusion

There is no way to assure your client has exactly what they need other than to review the requirements. Failure to provide exactly what a client needs can lead to embarrassment, loss of a contract and one disappointed “former” customer. 

Bonds are NOT the twin of insurance, but the underwriting has some common elements, namely the need for certainly when providing the correct coverage issued by an appropriate carrier.  Get the supporting documents and read them. Discussion with the client and underwriter may be appropriate. 

In both bonds and insurance, this procedure protects your E&O, assures your professional performance and leads to stronger client relations.

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 #149: Be A Surety Bond Fixer

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Being a problem solver is a great way to deliver value for your customers.  When it comes to surety bond problems, do you have any creative solutions?  Are there tricks up your sleeve that make your clients say “Mr. / Ms. Bond Fixer, I’m sure glad I called you today!

Well try your hand at solving these surety bond problems.  They may have more than one good solution, but I will give at least one for each at the end.

  1. The company owner is willing to give personal indemnity, but the spouse refuses. Your solution?
  2. The underwriter has approved a performance bond but collateral is required (money the contractor lets the surety hold as a security deposit against possible bond claims.) The contractor doesn’t have the cash to put up. Your solution?
  3. The subcontractor is required to provide a P&P bond, but no surety will support it. Your solution?
  4. In order to support a Performance Bond, the underwriter requires a CPA Reviewed financial statement. The client didn’t anticipate this and only produced a Compilation (lower quality) report at their last year-end. Your solution?
  5. A property owner has awarded a project to the contractor, but he is being required to issue a performance bond to the local township. The underwriter declines this stating “there is no contract for the performance bond to cover.” Your solution?
  6. Company Working Capital is too low. Main problem is that Accounts Receivable were overdue at fiscal year-end. Your solution?
  7. An old line excavation contractor can’t get bonded because their Net Worth is too low and the Debt to Equity ratio is too high! Your solution?

 

Feel free to post your ideas on how to fix these bond problems.

 

Possible Solutions:

  1. Indemnity – Get the spouse to sign a “non-transfer agreement” prohibiting the indemnitors assets from being moved over. Other possibilities: Spouse indemnity that excludes certain assets, capped indemnity with a maximum dollar value or trigger indemnity that is active only under special circumstances.
  2. Collateral – Can another party put up the money? Could be in the form of a loan to the company owner. Maybe an interested subcontractor or supplier will put it up so the contract can proceed (and they get the work.) How about using Funds Control with a hold back that collects the collateral account from the contract funds as the work progresses?
  3. No subcontract bond – The general contractor could add a retainage clause to the contract, or increase it in lieu of the bond (hold back some money until completion as a security deposit.) On a short term subcontract, make a single payment for the full contract amount at the end when the work is satisfactorily completed.
  4. Compilation FS – Have the CPA go back and do the additional work to upgrade the report. Sometimes, if it is late in the fiscal year, the underwriter may proceed with bond issuance based on proof that the next CPA statement will be a Review. Get a copy of the engagement letter with the CPA.
  5. No contract – The underwriter is correct. There is no contract with the township, it is with the property owner.  A bond on the property owners contract would be for the wrong amount in any event.  A Site or Subdivision bond is the correct way to protect the interests of the municipality.  It would guarantee the construction of the “public improvements” such as roads, sidewalks, sewers, etc. Caution: The property owner should be the applicant for this bond (not the contractor!) or they should at least be an indemnitor.
  6. Slow Receivables – Slow receivables are disallowed by analysts based on the expectation that they will never be collected. Obtain a current update on the collections of the A/R list from the financial statement date. If they have subsequently been collected, they are included in the Working Capital analysis despite being old on the FS date.
  7. Low NW – After years of operation, depreciation can wipe out the asset value of heavy equipment on the Balance Sheet. Document the current value to re-capture these dollars for the financial analysis. Get a copy of the equipment floater and a current appraisal to determine the current “forced sale” value.
  8. Other problems – Think we listed all the possible bonding problems in this article? No, we left out a few million! When you get tough bond problems, or just want the help of experts, give us a call. That’s all we do!  We have the markets and the expertise.

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 #148: The Greatest Impediment to Bonding

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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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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.

Do The Right Thing / Get Screwed Anyway: Secrets of Bonding #144

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

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You performed professional quality construction work, billed the general contractor and got paid.  Done deal. Now, three years later you get a letter from some attorney demanding that you return the funds!  Are they insane?  This is a horrible threat that you cannot avoid.

Situation:

  • Spiffy Construction, Inc. was a subcontractor on an unbonded project. They billed their client “Gigantic General Construction” for work completed: $262,800.
  • The invoice was reviewed and approved. Gigantic sends Spiffy a check for $262,800. Awesome!
  • Spiffy deposits the check. All the funds are used to pay bills and upgrade equipment.
  • The next monthly requisition is held up and eventually never paid. Gigantic then declares bankruptcy.
  • After incurring legal expenses, Spiffy is ultimately forced to write off this receivable. It has a severe impact on the company – but they manage to survive.
  • Three years later Spiffy receives a letter from an attorney demanding that they return the last payment. The attorney says failure to return the funds can result in a “preferential lawsuit.”  What the heck is going on?!

This is not an imaginary scenario.  It is based on true facts.  This happens all the time and can be very bad for the defendant (Spiffy aka the creditor.)

What is a Preferential Payment?

When a business declares bankruptcy, the court reviews payments made to creditors of the company in the period immediately preceding the bankruptcy to determine if any were (in the court’s opinion) inappropriate. They want to determine if any creditors were given extra favorable “preferential” treatment at the expense of others.

In our example, Spiffy was paid less than 90 days prior to the BK declaration, so the trustee is attempting to claw back the funds to be distributed as THEY see fit.  Keep in mind, everything that happened prior to the demand letter was normal and legal.  Spiffy did the work, billed the GC and got paid.  Period, end of story. However, it’s not be the end of the story…

The trustee will attempt to prove that the payment received was more than would have been allowed if made through the bankruptcy proceedings. That’s bad because Spiffy collected the full amount they were owned, but in a BK, creditors are typically paid less than 100%.

Spiffy is now forced to pay a second round of legal fees to defend this claim. If they lose, they may be required to return the last payment they received. Add this to the final payment they never received and had to write off.  This situation keeps getting worse. 

What are some remedies available to companies caught in this untenable position?

Examples of Defenses to a Preferential Payment Claim

  • Substantially Contemporaneous Exchange – this means the payment and delivery of product or services happened at the same time, such as a COD payment. A payment by check may also be included in this category if it cleared promptly.
  • New Value – If a $100 account receivable was collected during the preference period, then an additional $75 AR was billed but not received, the preference amount could be claimed to be only $25, not $100.
  • Floating Lien – This is a creditors security interest in present or acquired assets such as accounts receivable. The creditor would need to show that their collateral position has not improved during the preference period.
  • De Minimus – Means debts that are too small to include in the BK analysis.
  • Ordinary Course of Business – There is a history of accounts receivable showing invoices and payments with that debtor / client. The amount owed was in line with prior transactions.

Conclusion

The last example, “Ordinary Course of Business” may be the most natural response for Spiffy Construction and other contractors.  However, in order to raise this defense, the creditor must have appropriate records.  Copies of contracts, invoices, AR schedules and bank statements are critical documents.  Good record  keeping is needed with an efficient means of storing and retrieving the data, in this case three years after the original transaction.  Without it, defendants like Spiffy have little chance of defending such claims.

Sometimes you do the right thing, but you get screwed anyway.  At least now you know about the danger, protective actions you can take and potential legal defenses.

Reminder: We are not attorneys and are not intending to give legal advice.  For that, call your ATTORNEY.  For a bond, call us!  856-304-7348

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 #143: Surety Bonds and Brain Surgery

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Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

Your doctor says “You have a problem.  We need to call in a specialist.” How do you determine who to call? What do you expect from the specialist? The choice could not be more critical.

We are faced with important decisions every day.  And there are plenty of people trying to influence the outcome.  You need the skills to sort through the “BS” and make the choice that is most beneficial to you. 

Here is an example you have seen in many different forms:

“Our doctors have over 25 years experience”

What exactly does that mean?  You could select that firm and get a doctor with ONE year of experience.  They may have 25 doctors, each with one year in the saddle. Ugh, how misleading!

Another example:

“Dr. Mavromoustafakis has specialized in brain surgery since 1980.”

OK, Dr. Mavromoustafakis  has over 25 years experience as a brain surgeon.  See the difference?

Next question: Does the difference matter?

To answer that, think about why expert help was required.  If there is a special need, and an experienced, expert problem solver is desired, then… Yes! 

That’s how it works with brain surgery and also surety bonds.  Some situations are more complicated.  They require unique solutions and strategies.  The key may be to know a special underwriting technique, or a special underwriter.  The surety business is all about relationships. So your best problem solvers have many years under their belt and deep relationships with the right underwriters.  They deal with them every day.

Conclusion
Surety Bonds: They’re not brain surgery.  But when you need expert assistance, real experience does matter. Pick up the phone and take advantage of our long devotion to this one product. 

Steve Golia’s personal surety bond expertise dates back to 1972 (started in grade school.) Solutions to every problem you’ve seen, and some you haven’t.  Our experience is the key to your success and our service is the best.  We have the market access and expertise to handle bonding problems large and small. 

When you need a bond, call the Pros!  856-304-7348

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 # 142: Make Bid Bonds Great Again!

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

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

You used to love them.  They were so easy.  Now they are in dollar amounts and percentages, sometimes with a limited maximum value.  They can be electronic or digital.  Sometimes a letter is required instead.  Sometimes nothing is required instead! There may be a single or annual charge for it or maybe it is free! It’s outta control…

So here is your chance to catch up with everybody’s favorite: The fun and fascinating world of Bid Bonds.

The Basics
These instruments accompany a contractor’s proposal during the acquisition process for a new project.  This is routine on public work, such as federal state and local municipal contracts.  The procedure may also be used on private projects at the contract owner’s discretion.

The bond guarantees that, if awarded, the bidder will sign the contract, furnish the required Performance and Payment Bond, and commence with the work – or – pay the difference between their bid and the next higher bidder (subject to the maximum dollar value of the bid bond.)

Cost
Usually free although the surety is entitled to charge for them.  Typical charges could be an annual bid bond service fee or a per bond charge.

Underwriting
The decision to issue the bid bond is based on the underwriter’s willingness to provide the related P&P bond, because that is the real money transaction. The decision is NOT based on the dollar value of the bid bond.  Rely on the fact that the underwriter will not provide the bid bond if they do not feel they can support the final bond.

Bid Spreads
If the bidder is more than 10% below the next bidder without a plausible explanation (we have a special machine,  already have materials, are already working next door, we’re super fabulous, etc.) the surety could decline the final bond, resulting in a bid bond claim.

Alternative Forms of Security
In addition to a bid bond, proposals may also be secured using a cashier’s check or irrevocable letter of credit, depending on what the project owner (Obligee) is willing to accept.

Percentages
The Invitation or Bid Solicitation describes the proposal requirements.  It will state if a bid bond is required and the amount.

The bond value is often expressed as a percentage. Example “20% of the attached proposal amount.”  This is convenient because the underwriter doesn’t want to know the actual bid amount (to preserve the bid confidentiality).  It is the best way to express the exactly correct amount when typing the bond in advance.

Capped
Because the percentage bond actually has an unknown dollar value at the moment it is executed, language is sometimes added establishing the most it can be worth (to prevent a wildly high amount the underwriter didn’t expect).  Example, “10% of the attached bid, not to exceed $100,000.”

Fixed Penalty
“Bond Penalty” is the term used to express the bond dollar value.  A fixed penalty bond has a stipulated amount, regardless of the bid.  Example, “Maximum bid bond amount required: $20,000.”

Surety Letter
Some owners choose to require a letter from the bonding company, but no bond. Federal projects are handled this way at times.  The letter talks about how much they love the client and the contracts they are willing to bond.

Consent of Surety
This letter is the surety’s written promise to issue the P&P bond if the contract is awarded.

Electronic
A scanned copy (pdf) of the executed bond may be acceptable for an online bid.

Digital
Some state departments of transportation use this.  The surety registers with the obligee in advance and the bid bond is “filed” online using a unique identification number.

No Free Lunch
If you default (cause a bond claim), the surety will come after the contractor, it’s owners and spouses for recovery.  Remember: Bonds are not insurance.

Funky Land
Now some of the weird stuff:

  • You may encounter a bid bond requirement, but no final bond (P&P bond) to follow
  • Can also have the opposite: No bid security required but a final bond is needed
  • No! You are not required to use the same surety for the bid and final bonds – although the bid bond provider fully expects to write the final bond and may hunt you down and kill you. (Just kidding!!!)
  • Yes! If you obtain a bid bond under the promise to provide collateral, you are allowed to get the final bond from a different surety that is not demanding collateral. (But you face the hunt and kill thing again)
  • When you acquire a project using a Consent provided by ABC Surety (their promise to provide the bond upon award of the contract), you are not prohibited from taking the final bond from XYZ Surety. However, good protocol dictates that you remain loyal to those who enabled you to acquire the job (meaning ABC).

Make Bid Bonds Great Again
So there you have it.  These instruments are fussy and sometimes complicated.  It is imperative that they be executed correctly and filed on time or it can cause the bid to be thrown out (loss of contract.)  This always makes people very crabby (Read: LAWSUIT).

The key is to review the written bonding requirements as described in the bid advertisement. Use any mandatory bond forms that are stipulated and double check the correct execution and typing of the document including name spelling, job description, project identification details and the correct bid bond amount.

Now that you know, you can start to love bid bonds again!

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.