bonds

Secrets of Bonding #154: Be A Bean Counter (The Importance of Bid Results)

It’s not sexy.  Nobody has it on their business cards.  It may not be in your “official” job description.  But this article is the start of your new vocation as an official Bean Counter!

A major area of surety bonding is “Contract Surety.”  This refers to bid and performance bonds for construction contracts.  When we set up a new account, an amount of bonding capacity is established and the individual bond requests are processed within that line.  It is possible for a client to use up the full capacity of their line, then our underwriting department could consider granting an exception to support additional work.

Efficient management of the line can minimize instances where an exception is needed.  Here’s where the bean counting comes in.

We manage bonding capacity the way a bank runs a credit line.  A series of individual transactions (bonds) can equal the full capacity amount (referred to as the “aggregate”).  Bank credit lines work the same way.  For the bond or bank customer, it is advantageous to maximize the available credit.  Prompt reporting of bid results helps accomplish this objective.

Advantages Of Reporting Bid Results Promptly

  • When a bid bond is approved / issued, the underwriter debits the amount against the aggregate capacity. However, the full contract amount is used, not the dollar value of the bid bond.  For example, a 10% bid bond for $100,000 actually uses $1 million of aggregate capacity.  Therefore, when it is known that the bid is not likely to result in a contract award (the client is not “apparent low bidder”), this fact should be reported so we can restore the capacity.
  • Detailed bid results are needed on low bids in order to process final bonds. Example: Our guy has a low bid for $5,000,000. The second bidder is at $5,400,000.  Third bidder submitted $5,550,000. Because our bid is less than 10% below the second bidder, the adequacy of the contract amount is supported.  If our client is more than 10% below the second bidder, there will be an additional evaluation before proceeding with the P&P bond.
  • Bid Spreads – in cases where the bid spread is excessive, it is important to have a prompt discussion with us. If there is a bid calculation error, and the contract price is inadequate, there is a limited amount of time to withdraw the bid without penalty (such as a bid bond default / claim).  Learn more about bid spreads:  Click!
  • Low bids may be for lesser amounts than the original bid approval. Example: We approve a bid for an estimated contract amount of $9 million, but the actual bid goes in at $8,500,000 due to last minute changes and reductions. Therefore, when the low bid results are reported, $500,000 in capacity is restored to the aggregate.
  • Postponements – sometimes bids are postponed at the last minute, with no immediate reschedule date. The bid approval may never be used. If it dies on the vine we will restore the capacity immediately.
  • Withdrawal – clients may decide not to bid a project after ordering the bid bond. They may have determined that the plans are unclear or unacceptable.  Advise us so capacity can be restored.

If you are now sufficiently impressed with the importance of minding these small details, you may don your green eye shade and declare yourself an Official Bean Counter.  It’s not glamorous, but it is necessary for proper management of the bond account.  (Actually, we think it is glamorous!)

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KIS Surety Bonds, LLC is the exclusive underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company an A – 8 carrier licensed in all states plus D.C.  

We have in-house authority for Bid and Performance Bonds up to $10 million each.

Contact us for creative solutions and a same day response: 856-304-7348.

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Secrets of Bonding #119: Lien On Me

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Secrets of Bonding is brought to you by Bonding Pros

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

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

“It’s what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.  It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”  A famous quote by…?

Let’s go over what you need to know about construction liens.  They can have a big impact on construction contracts and companies.            Click for mood music!

A Mechanic’s Lien is filed when a subcontractor or supplier on a construction project fails to be paid. The lien is a form of claim filed against the project itself. For example, the unpaid mason (subcontractor) files a claim against the building owner. “My bricks and labor are in that façade. I can’t take them back now, but assert that the general contractor has failed to pay me!”

Liens are used on non-governmental projects. Typically, claimants are prohibited from liening a public building – which is where Payment Bonds come in. Issued by surety companies, the payment bond is a resource to protect suppliers of labor and material from non-payment.

So far that’s all pretty straight forward. On private contracts unpaid subs and suppliers can file a lien. On government jobs they make a claim on the payment bond instead.

Here are some implications worth knowing.

Release of Lien

The lien can be released, or “bonded off,” by the filing of a (you guessed it) Release of Lien Bond. This removes the lien from the property in question, which is beneficial for the project owner, while still providing financial protection for the plaintiff (unpaid sub or supplier.) The dispute is still unresolved, but the plaintiffs security shifts from the physical project to the surety bond.

A release of lien bond is not easy to obtain. But if a payment bond was issued, that surety has motivation to prevent a payment bond claim, and issuing the lien release bond could do so.

When the lien release bond is filed, it takes some pressure off the defendant (general contractor). You can assume the unpaid mason hopes the lien will cause the owner (who is the recipient of the lien) to force the GC to respond. When the lien is bonded off, that effect disappears from the project owner – but not the surety.

Stop Notices

California, Mississippi, Arizona, Alaska and Washington use a slightly different procedure. On governmental projects a Stop Notice is filed which freezes a portion of the project funds to protect the claimant. This forces action on the part of the GC, or they can file a Release of Stop Notice bond to keep the project funds flowing while dealing with the dispute.

Understand the Difference

Mechanic’s Liens are filed against the project owner.  The claim attaches to the real property and is recorded against the property title – which therefore restricts the owner’s ability to dispose of the property.  

With a lien, the claimant may be paid regardless of whether the owner paid the GC.  In fact, the owner may have to pay twice: First to the GC then again to the sub / vendor claimant, to remove the lien and clear the property title.

Stop Notices “trap” contract funds, assuming there are funds to trap.

If the claimant files a Stop Notice after the funds have been disbursed, it is useless. 

Other basic differences:

  • Unlike a lien, the stop notice does not give the debt any security.
  • The stop notice is sent to the relevant parties, but it is not legally recorded such as a lien filed against the property title.  The claim is inherently less official and is sometimes even ignored because of it’s less formal appearance.
  • Unlike a Mechanics Lien, the Stop Notice can affect the entire project because it freezes a portion of the contract funds – which the GC may need in order to continue working.

NOTICE: The author is not an attorney and is not giving legal advice.  This article is for entertainment only.  Gimme a break!

mark-twain

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.

Secrets of Bonding #78: The Single Most Important Key to Obtain Bonding

Underwriter: “Tell me about your job cost records.”
Contractor: “I’ve been doing this for so long, I know just where I am on every job! I keep it all up here.” (Pointing to head.)

Underwriter: “Do you produce mid-year financial statements to track your progress?”
Contractor: “No, I have a bookkeeper do my taxes at the end of the year. That’s when I find out how I did.”

Underwriter: “Have you been profitable the last few years?”
Contractor: “Sure, but why give it all to the government? I bonus out the earnings to keep my taxes low.”

This is not an atypical conversation. Is this contractor a good applicant for Bid and Performance Bonds? Will the company be able to qualify? Mmm… Probably not! Let’s look at the decision making process used by bond underwriters to understand why.

You know the normal routine.  Many pieces of information are required:  Questionnaire, financial statements on the company and owners, resumes, a bank reference letter, work in process schedules, tax returns, etc. Why do bonding companies ask for all this? The info is needed to reveal where the company has been, the current status, and where it’s headed. This evaluation will determine if the company is approved for bonds.

All bonding companies are looking for successful, well-managed firms that require bonding in their normal course of business.  Remember: All sureties are risk averse. They are not looking for desperate contractors who need a bonding company to rescue them from impending failure. Sureties are “for profit” operations that issue bonds for the sole purpose of making money.

Now that we understand the underwriter’s viewpoint, think about that opening dialogue. Did the company appear to be successful, well-managed and headed in the right direction? Would the answers make you confident to back them with your money?

The simple fact is that regardless of how financially successful business owners may be, if their companies do not appear to be successful in the eyes of third-party analysts, bonds will not be forthcoming.

The contractor who carries the books in his head, takes out all the profits, and has a minimal financial presentation does not have a means of proving the company is viable to outsiders.  The single most important key to obtaining bonding is for the company to demonstrate a level of success and good management. Contractors who have not been successful and those who cannot prove their strengths will have great difficulty obtaining bonds.

The guidance we provide to specific contractors depends on each applicant’s circumstances. The company may need to develop better management practices or accounting methods. Some need to build up their track record of completed projects.

For companies that have never been bonded, the simple answer is that they must demonstrate that they have operated profitably/successfully on non-public work. This is the critical steppingstone to bonded work.

Surety agents make money by delivering bonds to contractors. They will always attempt to provide bonding even if applicants are minimally qualified.  However, all bond agents know that the best applicants are companies that have thrived on private work and now wish to pursue public contracts. These firms can show elements of success that bonding companies expect to see.

The essence of qualifying for bonds is to demonstrate the past success, solid management and future business plans that make surety underwriters enthusiastic supporters of the firm.

Secrets of Bonding is brought to you by Bonding Pros

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

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

Secrets of Bonding #53: Funds Control vs. Tripartite Agreements

You may have heard these terms used in connection with Performance and Payment Bonds.  The concepts are similar in some ways, but have different purposes.  Let’s talk about them and how they can help you as a surety bond producer.

Funds Control

Also called Funds Administration or Escrow, it is a procedure that always originates at the request of the surety.  The contractor applying for the bond (the Principal) is receiving a “conditional” approval.  The underwriters are confident there is sufficient expertise, labor, equipment, etc. to perform the bonded contract, but the contractor has some financial issues.  The underwriter is willing to bond the performance obligation, but has reservations regarding the handling of money and payment of bills (the Payment Bond exposure).  Funds Control can provide a level of protection for the surety by taking the money handling responsibilities away from the contractor.

Normal contract, the project owner (Obligee on the bond), is required to pay the contract funds to the Principal.  This is usually in monthly payments, each for the work recently performed.

With Funds Control, the money handling is taken away from the contractor and moved to a party chosen by the surety and empowered by the Principal.  The surety will require that the contractor execute a letter of instructions directing the obligee to pay the Funds Administrator instead of them.  The administrator becomes the paymaster on the project paying all suppliers of labor and material, and paying the principal, too.  This procedure eliminates most of the risk of claim on the Payment Bond.   (#Why not 100%?)

There are companies that are professional Fund Administrators.  They may be well known to the surety and handle a series of contracts with them.  A dedicated bank account is opened for the contract, and checks are issued each month which are then distributed by the principal to the vendors.  In some cases, the surety may perform the Funds Administration in house.

Tripartite Agreements

This arrangement also involves the contract funds being redirected to a third party, instead of being paid to the contractor.  And similar to Funds Administration, the point is for the Tripartite Administrator to be the paymaster on the contract.

The primary difference between the concepts is that there is no bond when a Tripartite Agreement is used – it is in lieu of a P&P bond and actually only replaces the Payment Bond.

  • Funds Control is required by the surety providing the P&P bond.
  • A Tripartite Agreement is stipulated by the obligee in lieu of bond.

Review federal regulations regarding Tripartite Agreements: A tripartite escrow agreementhttp://www.acquisition.gov/far/html/Subpart%2028_1.html

“The prime contractor establishes an escrow account in a federally insured financial institution and enters into a tripartite escrow agreement with the financial institution, as escrow agent, and all of the suppliers of labor and material. The escrow agreement shall establish the terms of payment under the contract and of resolution of disputes among the parties. The Government makes payments to the contractor’s escrow account, and the escrow agent distributes the payments in accordance with the agreement, or triggers the disputes resolution procedures if required.”

This procedure may be used for contracts between $30,000 and $150,000. The Performance Bond may be waived at the contracting officer’s discretion.

Conclusion

These procedures have different implications.  Let’s examine them.

FC= Funds Control

TA= Tripartite Agreement

The Obligee:

  • FC – They are getting Payment protection and a Performance Bond. The surety will monitor the project and step in to keep things on track (and prevent a claim or default) if necessary. In the event of failure, the surety completes the project.
  • TA – Even unbondable contractors can be awarded work. A TA may be less expensive than a bond with FC. Limitation: There may be no Performance guarantee.

The Principal:

  • Both processes result in the contractor successfully obtaining the project but with no handling the project funds.
  • TA – No need for personal or company indemnity.  No collateral for the surety. Financial reporting, legal fees and other expenses may be less.  Limitations: Federal only permits TA on small contracts.  Fails to build a track record of “performing under bond”

Subs and Suppliers:

  • Under both procedures they are paid by a professional intermediary, which may be more dependable and faster.
  • FC – They can make a claim against the Payment Bond
  • TA – Limitation: No opportunity to claim against a surety bond if they are unpaid, or not fully paid.  What is their recourse?

Agent and surety:

  • TA – No Bond!  (Beans for supper again?)
  • FC – A normal P&P Bond is issued

# If the principal fails to list any subs or suppliers during the set-up process, they will not be under the protection of the funds administrator.  However, they WILL still have the right to make a claim against the payment bond!


A special note from the author: Steve Golia

I am an Independent Broker and Surety Bond Specialist. If you wish to co-broker bond business, together we will deliver the best in bonding expertise for your clients.  I have a broad range of markets available and often can solve problems even when others have failed.

Call me now (856-304-7348) or email: Steven.Golia@gmail.com

Secrets of Bonding #46: Turn IRON into GOLD

When contractors apply for Performance Bonds, the underwriting review always includes a financial analysis along with other elements.

Two key components of the financial analysis are Working Capital (WC) and Net Worth (NW).  WC is a measure of short term financial strength.  NW is the ultimate value of the company upon liquidation.

The inspiration for this article came from a new bond account we recently reviewed.  The company is a trade contractor, the kind that normally performs their own work rather than subcontracting. This means their financial statements should show appropriate levels of labor, plant, and equipment.

In this case, the Profit and Loss Statement (P&L) showed sales in excess of $10 million, not a small company. The Balance Sheet showed an acceptable amount of WC, but NW was low – resulting in some weak ratios.

Another element caught our attention: On the Balance Sheet, the net value of the equipment asset was only $65,000! This made us wonder how a company could perform $10 million in sales with so little in physical resources.

There could be a couple of explanations:

  1. They could be subcontracting most of their work.  This is unlikely, however, because they themselves are subcontractors. Typically there is not enough profit to share between two firms. A review of this company’s P&L statement did not indicate extensive subcontracting.
  2. They could be renting almost everything (instead of owning).  This doesn’t sound like a practical approach with sales as high as $10 million, and the P&L did not show high rental expenses.
  3. The equipment could be substantially depreciated resulting in a low net value on the Balance Sheet.  This did turn out to be the scenario in their case.

Let’s talk more about #3. But first off, what is depreciation?

IRS definition: http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-%26-Self-Employed/A-Brief-Overview-of-Depreciation

It says in part, “Depreciation is an income tax deduction that allows a taxpayer to recover the cost or other basis of certain property. It is an annual allowance for the wear and tear, deterioration, or obsolescence of the property.”

This means when a $100,000 backhoe is purchased, its value as an asset on the Balance Sheet goes down each year as the depreciation progresses.  Bear in mind, this is an accounting entry.  It is not an indication of the current market value of the asset.

Eventually, the asset is depreciated to zero. However, even if it is valueless on the Balance Sheet, it may still be out on a job site working and producing revenues.  It may still have a market value. So therein lies the Gold.

Assets such as heavy equipment (referred to as “Iron”), may have value that is not reflected on the Balance Sheet. So the question is: How to recapture that value and help the bond worthiness of the account?

One way is with a professional appraisal.  Even if the backhoe is depreciated to zero, if the current market value is $25,000, that represents NW that can be added to the financial ratios.

Imagine the effect for the company in question.  Upon further review, we determined that the cost of their equipment was nearly $2 million.  They had a lot of it and it was older so depreciation had reduced the net value on the Balance Sheet to $65,000.  However the current market value was actually $500,000!

Q. Based on these facts, what value should the bond underwriters use for the equipment:  $65,000, $2,000,000, $500,000 or some other amount?

A. If you’ve been following along, that’s where the appraised value comes in.  You need an independent determination of current market value that recognizes the amount of cash these assets could bring.  If well maintained, they have a value higher than that shown on the Balance Sheet. ($500,000)

How else can the value be determined?  The client could provide a copy of their equipment floater as evidence of current value.  You could also get an informal appraisal from their equipment dealer.  Any of these options are better that living with the unrealistically low value shown on the Balance Sheet.

Going back to our example, if the backhoe’s market value is currently $25,000, give that info to the underwriter.  The newly found net worth for all such assets can be added to the bonding analysis.  You turned the Iron into Gold, a POT of Gold!  It can totally transform the ratios and the client’s ability to qualify for the bonds they desire.

Consider this technique for companies with a sizable fleet of mature equipment, especially when their Net Worth is less than desired for bonding purposes.  This analysis can also help strengthen the banking relationship.


A special note from the author: Steve Golia

I am an Independent Broker and Surety Bond Specialist. If you wish to co-broker bond business, together we will deliver the best in bonding expertise for your clients.  I have a broad range of markets available and often can solve problems even when others have failed.

Call me now (856-304-7348) or email: Steven.Golia@gmail.com

 

Secrets of Bonding #43: Subcontractors and Subcontracts

“If you are a bonding company, why won’t you bond subcontractors?”

It might seem odd, but some Sureties do not embrace the opportunity to serve subcontractors.  So what’s different about subcontractors and subcontracts?  Why do some sureties red line this entire segment of the market?

The Food Chain

One complaint underwriters may have about subcontractors is that they are farther down the food chain than General Contractors. GCs have a “prime” contract, meaning they work directly for the project owner, and are the first recipient of monetary payments.  The subcontractors are subsequently paid by the GC.  Subs may face delays and sometimes even harassment at the hands of GCs. Remember, subcontracts are all private contracts not regulated by governmental rules even if the prime contract is public. Put simply, subs have a harder time collecting their money.

Other Issues for Subs and Their Sureties

  • GCs do not normally disclose bid results (2nd & 3rd  bidder’s figures).  This makes it difficult to evaluate contract price adequacy – a disadvantage for both the sub and surety.
  • Unregulated procurement procedures and contract administration – GCs may be aggressive in their procurement methods, pressuring subs for price concessions: “Knock their heads together.” Such practices make the subcontracts less profitable and therefore more risky for the sub and surety.  Subs can also be victimized with verbal awards and unwritten change orders.
  • Contract documents (including bond forms) may be non-standard, drafted by GCs specifically to give strong advantages over subs and sureties.  In some cases the normal Performance bond is transformed into a forfeiture type financial obligation.
  • Flow-down or pass-through clauses in subcontracts force subs to assume obligations rightfully belonging to the GC. An example would be wording that makes the sub responsible for the liquidated damage amount on the prime contract if they are found to have caused a delay on the subcontract.
  • “Pay when paid” language can result in delayed payment to the sub.  “Pay if paid” can result in the sub never being paid.
  • Unbonded public work is rare, but in such cases there is no Payment Bond at the GC level to protect the sub, and liens (filed against the project for failure to receive payment) may be prohibited.
  • Indemnification: Broad form indemnity clauses can make the sub financially responsible even if they are not at fault.
  • Delay damages: Subs may be barred from seeking financial recovery.
  • Lien waivers: When read literally, these documents may operate to waive and release claims for which the subcontractor has not yet been paid.
  • Termination for Convenience: This contract clause can enable the GC to terminate the contract and leave the sub with a series of unreimbursed expenses and lost profits.
  • Some trades perform their work late in the project, meaning the bond is carried for a lengthy period with no progress on the contract.
  • Certain trades can operate with minimal capitalization, so the field may be populated with lightly financed companies. Such competitors can drive down contract prices making it harder to bond their work.
  • Financial reporting may be less sophisticated than for GCs (CPA financial statements vs. bookkeeper or QuickBooks).
  • Due to their size and circumstances, subs may lack bank support, such as a working capital line.

Conclusion

Subcontractors literally perform the majority of all construction work.  They are the backbone of the construction industry and cannot be ignored by sureties.

When it comes to bonding, subcontractors need to demonstrate that they are well-managed companies that reflect the same attributes as a successful GC.

Secrets #5 and #15 contain important guidance to help agents get subcontractors approved.

Start by choosing a surety that is actively seeking to support subcontractor accounts without requiring collateral.


A special note from the author: Steve Golia

I am an Independent Broker and Surety Bond Specialist. If you wish to co-broker bond business, together we will deliver the best in bonding expertise for your clients.  I have a broad range of markets available and often can solve problems even when others have failed.

Call me now (856-304-7348) or email: Steven.Golia@gmail.com

 

Secrets of Bonding #42: My Bond Amount Can Beat Your Contract Amount

Q. What is the normal relationship between the contract and bond amounts?

A. Performance and Payment Bonds are normally issued for 100% of the initial contract amount.

 

Q. What do you call a bond that’s for less than the full contract amount?

A. Underwriters call these “percentage bonds,” such as a 50% Performance and Payment bond. Some obligees stipulate these in order to make the bond cheaper (doesn’t work), to help the contractor preserve their bond capacity (doesn’t), or to make the bond easier to obtain (nope). What it does do is deprive the obligee of part of the protection they are buying.

 

Q. What happens with the original 100% bond amount if there is a subsequent amendment increasing the contract price?

A. The bond is often required to automatically follow an increase in the contract amount, without “notice to or consent of” the surety.

 

Q. Is there a limit to how much the bond can be automatically increased?

A. A limitation may be stipulated in the bond to protect the surety from huge unanticipated increases, such as no more than a 10% increase without the written agreement of the surety.

 

Q. What is the basis of the calculation for the bond cost?

A. The cost of the bond is normally based on the amount of the contract being guaranteed, not the bond.  If the bond is for 75% of the contract amount, the bond cost would be unchanged. Why does this make sense?

  1. The surety’s decision making process is still based on the entire scope of the contract including all technical aspects and the difficulty of performance. The underwriting expenses are unchanged.
  2. Which 75% of the contract does the bond cover? It covers the entire contract, but subject to a lesser maximum bond penalty. You could say it covers the bad 75% where the claim lies.  Full penalty bond losses are extremely rare, so the reduction to 75% has little benefit for the surety.

 

Q. What is the cost difference for Performance only, no Payment bond?

A. Since the underwriting is unchanged, there is no cost reduction.

 

The Maximum Rule:

Does your brain hurt yet?  It will after this.

The purpose of the Maximum Rule is to limit how much is charged (the maximum) for a “percentage” bond.  Suppose you have a 10% P&P bond on a $1 million contract with a straight rate of $25 / thousand.  Based on the contract amount, the bond fee would be $25,000.  Will the obligee pay $25,000 for a $100,000 bond?  Even though the bond will cover the entire $1 million of work, it’s a hard sell.  This is where the Maximum Rule comes in.

The price calculation under the Maximum rule is different.  Here is a typical example:

If the rate used in the Maximum Rule is $50 / thousand for the aggregate of the Performance ($100,000) plus Payment bond ($100,000) amounts, it will equal $50 x 200 or $10,000.  So in this example the maximum applicable charge would be $10,000 for the $100,000 bond, in recognition of the greatly reduced bond penalty.

With the Maximum Rule, you charge the normal price or use the Max Rule price – whichever is less.  As the percentage of the bond amount increases, the advantage of using the Maximum Rule disappears.  In this example the tipping point is 25%.  The Performance and Payment bond amount must be less than 25% of the contract amount for the Max Rule to result in a reduced charge.

Conclusion

Here’s the good news.  The vast majority of contracts stipulate a P&P bond equal to 100% of the contract amount; this is the typical statutory requirement on public work.  The same routine is normally followed on private contracts as well because it is the best way to protect the obligee’s interests.


A special note from the author: Steve Golia

I am an Independent Broker and Surety Bond Specialist. If you wish to co-broker bond business, together we will deliver the best in bonding expertise for your clients.  I have a broad range of markets available and often can solve problems even when others have failed.

Call me now (856-304-7348) or email: Steven.Golia@gmail.com