corporate surety

Secrets of Bonding #159: Beware the False Asker

Surety Bond Producers have one main goal: produce the business and move on.

You know there is a process when submitting a surety bond for approval but hate that sick feeling when the underwriter comes back with a ton of questions.  Let’s face it, customers just want to complete the transaction and get on with their lives.  They have more important things to do than fill out forms, scan documents and complete applications.  You know you’ll get push back if you bug them.  

What’s more, the questions may result in a dead end, a declination!  Did the underwriter already form an opinion?  Did they already decide the account is not for them, but just want to complete the file… to have a complete file?

We will call such a person the “False Asker” – an underwriter who puts you through the paces, just to say no at the end.  They never really wanted to write the bond and are developing the file under false pretenses.  They send you on a fools mission.  It is 100% a waste of your time!

Or just maybe, questions are the opposite…  The bond underwriter thinks the account may be a fit, but just needs to check a few more points.  This could be the first step on a successful journey. Here’s more: There may be something wonderful about the questions good underwriters ask.  Let’s explore.

When reviewing the file, the analyst marks off elements of strength and weakness.  For example, the company is 10 years old, but current management has only been in place for a year (a plus and a minus).  Or maybe the net worth is strong, but debt is high resulting in too much leverage.  If there is more good than bad, an approval may be in order – after additional development. 

Now comes the gift: The key points, the underwriting questions, are an insight to the decision making process.  They are keys to the underwriter’s mind.  With favorable answers, authorization may ensue. The questions chart a course that the producer could imagine but not confirm.  In this manner, the underwriting questions are priceless, the keys to success.

Remember, there is room for frustration on the underwriter’s side, too.

Q. Which of the underwriting questions are optional? You know, the unimportant ones?

A. They are all important.

Sometimes we ask 5 Q’s and get back 3 A’s.  Then re-ask the 3 and get back only 2.  It’s like beating your head against the wall…

It all comes down to this:  Beware the False Asker.  You must avoid that person who churns the file and wastes your time.  Every producer has been through it.  You answer questions for two weeks and get a declination they could have figured on day one – and not wasted your time.

A good underwriter only develops an account they intend to support.  They like it and want to proceed, but must tidy up the file. Their Qs are a gift, the path forward, the key to your success if you follow through willingly and diligently.

Judge all of us by our performance:

  • Good underwriters are prompt. For example, our office provides a same day response on all submissions.
  • Are our responses concise and easy to understand?
  • Do we offer a prompt declination or clear path forward, defined by the underwriting questions that will get the deal done?

A good surety underwriter can be your important ally and business partner.  Choose us carefully based on performance, and always Beware the False Asker!

KIS Surety is the national contract bond underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company, a national, corporate surety with an A-8 rating.  We throw all this underwriting talent at your bond opportunities and support contracts up to $10,000,000. 

If you have a contract surety case that needs a fast, creative response, call us: 856-304-7348

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Secrets of Bonding #158: Booby Trap Bond

Booby Trap Performance Bond

“The Surety, for value received, hereby stipulates and agrees that if the Contractor has been declared in default by the Obligee, and there has been no uncontested failure, which has not been remedied or waived, of the Obligee to pay the Contractor as required under the Construction Contract: (i) The Surety shall promptly remedy the default…”

Waaaa?!  We read this over and over to understand the implications. Is this just another boring bond form, or is there a Booby Trap, an elaborate effort to gain an advantage over the surety?

Every bonding company has their own standard Performance and Payment Bond forms. We prefer to use the AIA A-312 unmodified P&P bond. It is a well balanced, widely accepted form. Whenever we receive a special bond form, we must review it carefully. Why did the obligee spend the time and money to devise it? There must be some advantage – for them.

Last week we received an obligee’s mandatory bond form on a private contract and a key phrase is stated above. Our client is the GC / prime contractor. Sometimes the unique bond forms are not too bad. Let’s pick this one apart. Maybe you’ll run into it some time.

This language is very important because it concerns the Obligee’s responsibility under the contract. In order for them to be entitled to make a performance bond claim, they must fulfill their end of the bargain, which is to PAY for the work. Is a bond claim for lack of performance reasonable if the Obligee has failed to pay the contractor? Of course not! The contractor can’t work for free. 

What are the implications of the wording in that special bond form? Let’s use the A-312 as a benchmark. (Owner means Obligee) It says:

“If there is no Owner Default under the Construction Contract, the Surety’s obligation under this bond shall arise after…” And in the definitions it goes on to say:

“Owner Default. Failure of the Owner, which has not been remedied or waived, to pay the Contractor as required under the Construction Contract or to perform and complete or comply with other material terms of the Construction Contract.”

Pretty simple. If the owner fails to pay for the work, and then makes a bond claim, the surety has an appropriate reason to deny the claim. So how does it work in the Booby Trap Bond? Instead of the convoluted lawyer talk, let’s turn it into plain English. It says…

The Obligee is not guilty of failing to pay unless:

  1. They neglect to declare the Contractor in default and,
  2. There is an unremedied or unwaived failure to pay the Contractor that the Obligee has not contested

Ugh… that last part! Assume that in every case, the Obligee will contest an allegation that they have failed. When they do, the surety has no claim defense even if the contractor has not been paid.

What a trap for the unwary bond underwriter! It would have been more fair if the bond just said “Obligee is entitled to make a bond claim even if they don’t pay for the work!” But then people would understand…

Special bond forms can be benign or Booby Trapped and our underwriters review every one.  Good underwriting protects the bonding company and the Contractor from such excessive risks!

Summary: We have a lot of underwriting talent over here. But what good is it if we don’t produce any bonds?  Well, we do!

KIS Surety is the national contract bond underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company, a national, corporate surety with an A-8 rating.  We throw all this underwriting talent at your bond opportunities and support contracts up to $10,000,000.  We are entertaining new agency appointments at this time!

If you have a contract surety case that needs talented underwriters, now you know where to find us 24 x 365!  Call: 856-304-7348

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Secrets of Bonding #155: The Double Bonding Conundrum

This is America. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But on the subject of Double Bonding (Contract Surety) we will not all agree.

So here are the facts. You will decide if this is a great idea or just a waste.

What is Double Bonding?

Also called “back bonding” or “subcontract bonding” an example would be when both a subcontract and a prime (directly with the project owner) construction contract are bonded. The prime contractor is the General Contractor (GC).

The GC gives some of the work to trade contractors such as the plumbing, electrical and HVAC. These firms may be required to give a subcontract bond to the GC guaranteeing their work. In turn, the GC provides a bond that covers everything. In other words, it too covers the plumbing, electrical and HVAC. That’s the “double” part. Sounds pretty dopey so far, right? Why would anybody do that?

Turns out this occurs often. Depending on your viewpoint, it may seem helpful / essential, or just a waste of money. Let’s evaluate it and you decide.

Why Love It:

  • Owner: Subs that have been approved by a surety may perform better.
  • GCs: May have a policy to automatically bond subs over a certain dollar value. This is intended to prevent delays and unpaid bill problems.  In addition, the GC / prime contractor is the direct beneficiary, and the potential claimant against such bonds.
  • Subcontractors: With a surety backing them, they may have an advantage when pursuing new work. These are important credentials that prove they have passed the underwriters scrutiny and have the backing of a professional guarantor.
  • Sureties:  May find it easier to support the GC bond if major subs are bonded. A portion of the risk is then covered by *another bonding company.
  • Third tier subs and material suppliers: May not be protected by a payment bond unless double bonding is in place. The GC’s bond may not go down to the third tier (sub of a sub or third tier suppliers.)
  • The most important reason: It is possible that the GC’s surety may insist that major subs be bonded as a condition of supporting the GC. This can be the key to acquiring the contract.

Why Hate It:

  • Owner: Doesn’t need sub bonds because the GC’s bond already covers all the work.  They may be forced to bear the related premium costs if the sub bonds were anticipated. If they were not, the charges may come out of the GC’s profits.
  • GC: In a competitive situation, the related costs could cause them to lose the project. Sub bonds may help GC with their surety, but they do not reduce the cost or dollar value of the GC’s bond.

Bonus Conundrum

Love it or hate it, double bonding is sometimes done voluntarily, or it may be stipulated by the GC’s surety. There is no denying that the concept is important – so important that in some cases both the GC bond and the sub bonds are written by the *same surety. Why would they do that?!

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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.

Flat Tires and Surety Bonds

“It’s only flat on the bottom!”  When you heard that, did it make you feel any better?  No… a flat tire is a real PIA. Nothin’ good about it!

What about “Flat line?”  Heaven forbid!  That’s real bad.

When I was a kid we had an expression, a “Flat leaver.”  That was a person who left you flat. Don’t like that either.

You can probably think of other examples: Flat footed, flat broke, flat on your back…

BUT! When it comes to surety bonds, flat can be good. Look at how major sureties typically make their decisions.  There is the field person in the branch, plus a supervisor, and a bond manager.  Then there is a home office underwriter, maybe two.  Together this “committee” makes major decisions.  Problem is, they don’t actually work as a committee, they process the decision sequentially.  Each person looks at it, then sends it on to the next.  That’s a great system, unless you need an answer in this lifetime!

This is an example of a decision making structure that is not flat.  It is multi-layer, multi-person, each with an “in” box and other priorities.  Getting a decision will take a couple of weeks.

When it comes to surety bonds, you want flat.  You want a structure where decisions are made promptly and efficiently.  Then everyone wins.  You get the answer you need, when you need it.  Isn’t this how the system is supposed to work?

KIS Surety / Great Midwest Insurance Company (GMIC) is your large capacity, most flat market.  We process decisions fast.  All new submissions receive a same day response.  Productive, creative, expert underwriting that has produced superb results for years.

Do yourself a favor.  Take a step up to surety bonds the way they should be. 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 #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 #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

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Secrets of Bonding #149: Be A Surety Bond Fixer

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.

KIS Surety is the national contract bond underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company, a national, corporate surety with an A-8 rating.  We throw all this underwriting talent at your bond opportunities and support contracts up to $10,000,000.

If you have a contract surety case that needs a fast, creative response, call us: 856-304-7348

(Don’t miss our next exciting article.  Click the “Follow” button at the top right.)