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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 #146: Financial Statement Sniff Test

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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.

Bonded Contracts – Show Me The Money! (Secrets of Bonding #139)

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Laurel and Hardy. Ben and Jerry. Bonding companies and money. They just go together!

Let’s take a look at the focus bonding companies place on money when providing Bid and Performance Bonds. It’s a matter of survival. If called upon, the surety hopes to complete the project with the remaining (unpaid) contract funds. They track a number of elements and there are critical milestones. Learn about them so you know what’s ahead.

Of course there is a significant financial evaluation of the applicant (the construction company), a subject we have written about extensively. Visit our index of article subjects. Here we will only talk about the bonded construction project.

An early money question is “how is the work funded?” Most bonded jobs are public work. This means the project is paid for with tax dollars. On private contracts, the work can be funded in a number of ways. For commercial building, the project owner may have a construction loan or set funds aside in an escrow account. In any event, the bond underwriter wants to be sure the contractor will be paid after they incur costs for labor and material. Not being paid could cause the company to fail and result in claims on all open bonds.

Regarding the new contract, the surety will ask:

  • How often will the contractor be paid?
  • Is a portion of the contract amount paid up front, immediately when the work commences?
  • Are there Liquidated Damages – a financial penalty assessed per day for late completion of the work?

Once the contract is underway, the surety wants to monitor the money:

  • Is the job proceeding profitably, and therefore headed for a successful conclusion?
  • Do the contractor’s billings correlate with the degree of completion? It can be dangerous when they get too far ahead by billing the job aggressively.
  • Are suppliers of labor and material being paid on a current basis (by the contractor / surety client)?
  • Is the project owner paying the contractor in accordance with the written payment terms?

Sometimes underwriting issues are resolved by using a “funds administrator.” This procedure is intended to enable the contractor to perform the work, while the money handling is performed by a professional paymaster. The paymaster pays all the suppliers of labor and material, plus the contractor. This procedure minimizes the possibility of claims under the Payment Bond.

When the project reaches a conclusion, there may be important final transactions:

  • Final payment – the contractor collects the last regular payment under the contract. The bonding company issues a consent for release of this payment. If there are any problems or issues, they may withhold such approval. Underwriters can require copies of lien releases (from suppliers of labor and material) to assure that everyone has been paid – to prevent Payment Bond claims.
  • Release of Retainage – the contractor now collects a percentage of the contract amount that was methodically held back (retained) as security for the protection of the project owner. Surety consent is often required for this, too. The owner will not release this money unless all the loose ends are resolved, referred to as a “punch list.”
  • Bond “overrun” premium – normally the surety is automatically required to cover additions to the contract amount (bond automatically increases.) Therefore, they are entitled to an additional premium for such exposure. If not collected during the life of the project, this would be a clean-up item at the end. Sometimes a refund is issued for an “underrun” (net contract reduction.)

Bonus Question: Why do some underwriters require premium payment in advance for Performance and Payment Bonds?

Answer: Unlike insurance, surety obligations (P&P bonds) are not cancellable. Therefore, if the underwriter doesn’t get paid the bond premium, they are still “on” the risk!

Conclusion

Surety underwriters strive to bond reputable, capable companies. But even the biggest, best contractors cannot avoid the financial aspects that pop up during the life of all bonded jobs.  Deal with them as they arise. Now you know what to expect.

Enjoy  this scene from Jerry Maguire (click): Show me the MONEY!!!  

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 #138: Hate Union Bonds

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Union Bonds, aka Wage and Welfare Bonds, can be a troublesome area for contractors, agents and bonding companies.  But we like to think there is something there to love. We will explain…

The Hating

For contractors, this is often their first brush with the wonderfully playful world of surety bonds. Maybe the contractor is focused on light commercial work, or is exclusively a subcontractor, so bid and performance bonds have never been needed. The contractor wants to get workers from the union hall so a new contract can begin on time.  Suddenly this road block appears: “A $50,000 surety bond is required.” Unfortunately, the contractor learns that financial statements are needed – but they are not immediately available.  And there are financial strength requirements, which the contractor may need meet, soooo…!

For bonding companies, you might assume that if they get paid their premium, they should be perfectly happy to issue these.  They are not.  The union bond is often their first bond request from the new client.  In other words, they don’t have a file, don’t know the financial condition of the applicant, are not confident in their ability to operate successfully, and this bond is considered a “financial guarantee” (as opposed to a performance and payment bond). A financial guarantee bond guarantees that the principal (construction company) will pay funds when due at a future date.  Get out your crystal ball!  If the contractor cannot pay the required union wages and benefits resulting in a bond claim, where will the money come from to reimburse the surety for the loss?  Underwriters are quick to admit they think these bonds are the worst part of a contractors account, and they dislike having one as the first bond request from a new client.  They prefer to get a couple of P&P bonds under their belt first.

For the bond agent, if they can get the bond approved and issued, what’s not to love?  The problem is that for many new applicants with credit issues or poor financial statements, the bonds are only approved with “full collateral.”  This means if you want a $50,000 bond, the surety wants to HOLD $50,000 as a security deposit against potential future claims.  Plus you pay the bond premium.  Plus you sign an indemnity agreement, probably including personal indemnity, plus your spouse. So, faced with these terms, it is not unusual for the contractor to give the $50,000 directly to the union in lieu of the bond.  For the agent, this means when the bond is approved, the client no longer wants it.  No commission.  Ugh!

The Loving

Here is the flip side.  If the bond is painlessly approved, everyone goes home happy.  But even with a full collateral requirement, there are reasons to still chose the bond (over security held directly by the union). With a bond in place, any claim by the union must be reviewed and analyzed by the surety’s claims department.  The surety is likely to ask the contractor for info and an explanation. Normally money does not go flying out of the bonding company.  It is possible the claim may be declined. This investigative process can be protective for the construction company. If a cash deposit is used, the union has immediate access to the contractor’s money.  Secondly, the wage and welfare bond can open the door with the surety.  Maybe it will lead to a new performance bond facility.  That could result in more revenues, more profits, greater success for the contractor. Another benefit is that after a track record is established, the collateral requirement could be waived. Now the contractor has the bond with NO collateral required.  It was worth the wait!

So there you have it.  Wage and welfare bonds may seem like a PIA, but even if it’s hard to get the bond, it may be worth having in the long run.

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 including Idaho

Secrets of Bonding #135: Surety Bond Challenge Question!

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

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

What kind of surety bond can be written with another bond as it’s subject?

Our articles have covered some of the oddities of the surety world: Seemingly crazy bond forms and rating procedures.  Out of all of them, one is the strangest. An agent colleague called us on one this week, so let’s talk about this ugly baby.

Characteristics:

  • Inexpensive, but hard to get.  Often collateral for more than the bond amount plus full indemnity is required.
  • The bond penalty (dollar amount) may not be fixed.
  • Banks and insurance companies can be both the applicant and beneficiary of such bonds.
  • This bond “renews” for free – for years.
  • It is a surety bond that can have another bond as it’s subject.

Sounds pretty weird? Raise your hand if you know.

It is a Lost Instrument Bond.

So what do these do? No, you don’t get one when you can’t find your tuba.tuba

These bonds are required when an instrument such as a cashier’s check or stock certificate has been lost, and a replacement is desired.  The bond protects the interests of the issuer, and is subject to claim if both the original and the duplicate are cashed.  The bond applicant would be responsible for the financial loss – thus the common need for collateral.

The subject of the surety bond can be a government issued investment bond.  So this is the one surety bond that covers another bond!

Bonding companies are not fond of these because they make a one-time annual premium charge, but the bond must remain in effect for a statutory term, typically years (ugh!)

drummerUnderwriters may refuse to provide a bond immediately after the instrument is lost.  The concern is that the original may be found and the bond returned for a refund.  The surety may require a cooling off period to see if the original is located (90 days?)

Instruments with a changing dollar value, such as shares of stock, are covered with an Open Penalty bond.  This means the dollar value will automatically increase to cover the current value of the instrument, in the event of a claim. This is one more reason to make underwriters reluctant – and require more than 100% of the initial value in collateral.

Lost Instrument Bonds: The ugly babies of the surety world.  So now you know.  They aren’t ugly, they’re just “different!”

(BTW, the author thinks ALL babies are beautiful!)

Secrets of Bonding #133: “Please Sign Here” (with caution!)

 

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sign-here-arrow-2

We have written about indemnity agreements before (enjoy Secrets #19 and #79) but recent activity with our clients has inspired yet more on this vital subject.

As a follower of the “Secrets” series, you may already know what a General Indemnity Agreement (GIA) is, and that it is a requirement all bond applicants face.   Basically, it contains a payback obligation to the surety similar to a promissory note.

As a bond applicant, why should you be cautious when signing such documents?

The first reason is that it may include companies or individual people who are inappropriate. Some examples:

  • An affiliated company in which the bond applicant has a minority interest. These should be excluded if the bond client doesn’t have a controlling interest.  
  • Another example would be an individual person with little or no ownership in the company who is not married to an officer, key person or major company owner.

The second reason is that there may be clauses in the indemnity agreement that may be subject to negotiation – although underwriters tend to resist such modifications. Nevertheless, if you see something objectionable such as “Confession of Judgement” which is not even permitted in some states, you should ask for it to be removed. 

This would also be the time to ask for additions to the document, such as a dollar limitation on personal indemnity of certain individuals (Spouses? Minority owners?) or Trigger Indemnity which is only activated under specific circumstances.  No harm in trying.

The third reason is because of the gravity of the indemnity obligation. Through the GIA, the bond applicant company and its owners agree to repay the surety for losses and expenses.  They are literally putting everything on the line. sign-here-arrow-204x300

What is the dollar limit of this obligation?   Is it:

a) The contract amount? 

b) The Payment Bond amount?  or

c) The T-list of the surety? 

Answer: The liability amount is unlimited

This is a big deal. Keep in mind (see Secret #1!) “Bonds Are Not Insurance.”  The surety is a guarantor of the principal’s performance. If the contractor fails to perform, the bond is not insurance to protect them from the consequences of their failure.

In conclusion, the bond applicant should approach the signing of a GIA with some caution.  Certainly it is a document to read and manage where possible but this brings us to the final point: If you want surety bonds, it is mandatory that the surety be indemnified.  Regarding the indemnity of spouses not active in the business, they too must sign.  We tell contractors “Nobody likes it, but everybody has to do it.”

sign_here_manIf you want bonds, be cautious, but get ready to sign on the dotted line.

Insurance Agents and Contractors: When tough bonding situations arise, we have the markets and the know-how to succeed even when others have failed.

Give us a call today!  856-304-7348

Not available in all states including Idaho.

Secrets Of Bonding #114: Offer a Concrete Solution?

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This Concrete Subcontractor has a big problem.  How would you solve it?

The Facts

  • The bond applicant, we will call ‘Subby,’ is a highly experienced subcontractor who performed concrete work on a school job.
  • Subby was not required to give a Performance & Payment Bond to the GC.
  • The GC, “Gigunda Const.,” has given a P&P bond to the school district.
  • The GC claims that the concrete Subby installed has failed a critical strength test. As a result, Gigunda is demanding a 2 year maintenance bond to cover potential defects.
  • Subby has disputed this charge and feels they are in compliance with the contract.
  • Since the requested maintenance bond will run to the GC and not the school district, it appears the issue must arise from within the subcontract terms (not directly with the school district).
  • Subby has an ongoing relationship with a major bonding company: “Wonderful Surety.”
  • Wonderful Surety has refused to provide the maintenance bond.
  • Subby’s agent called us for help. Is it possible some of our sureties may support it?

Consider the Issues

  1. The work is not covered by a performance bond.
  2. Subby’s current surety has refused to support them.
  3. If Subby ignores the problem, the GC may ultimately have a performance claim ontheir  The GC, and their surety, are responsible for the entire project, including the subcontracted work.
  4. If Subby ignores the problem, the GC may have to fix it – and will back charge them for the costs.
  5. If Subby doesn’t provide the maintenance bond, the GC will withhold the remaining money in their sub contract.
  6. Gigunda’s subcontract may have imposed the GC contract conditions automatically on to the subs (possibly including concrete strength requirements).
  7. It would be normal for the subcontract to state that Subby must protect Gigunda from claims arising from their work.concrete_truck

Possible Solutions

Which One Do You Like Best?

  1. Subby can ask a new surety to provide the maintenance bond.
  2. Subby can rip out the questionable work at their own expense and re-do it to Gigunda’s satisfaction.
  3. Subby can review the subcontract to determine what strength requirements were indicated, and if Subby is actually in violation.
  4. Gigunda can press their surety to issue the maintenance bond. (Although this would be unlikley if Gigunda is the beneficiary.)
  5. Subby could refuse to get the maintenance bond or replace the work (do nothing.)
  6. Subby could ask Gigunda for a contract amendment providing additional money to rip out / replace the questionable work.
  7. Subby could let Gigunda hold money for 2 years in lieu of the bond (the entire bond amount).

So you chose: #_____

 

Conclusion

The step we recommend is #3, “review the subcontract requirements.”

Subby is an experienced concrete company that is convinced their work product is correct. They are not aware of the strength requirements that are the basis of this dispute – but a careful legal review is needed.  

Subby should also ask the GC to cite where these strength requirements appear in the subcontract.

If the work is in violation of the subcontract, Subby will have to choose between paying to replace it now, or face the difficult task of obtaining the maintenance bond. It is possible that no surety will support this without requiring substantial collateral, or maybe even full collateral.  

Pretty tough, but the bond would offer some important advantages even if full collateral is required:

  1. Subby could totally avoid the cost of replacing the work if the concrete performs successfully. Only time will tell, and filing the bond gives them that time.
  2. The bond is better for Subby than letting Gigunda hold funds. If Gigunda concludes the concrete has failed during the 2 years, they will have to go through the surety’s claim department for recovery.  That’s better than just letting the GC use their money if they want. This type of advantage always exists for bond applicants when choosing between a surety bond or putting up cash directly with an obligee / beneficiary.

The experts at Bonding Pros can help Insurance Agents and Contractors when tough bonding situations arise. We have the markets and the know-how to succeed even when others have failed.

Give us a call today!  856-304-7348

Not available in all states including Idaho.