performance bonds

Secrets of Bonding #166: Meet the Weatherman

Tonight’s forecast: Dark!

We like to joke about the TV weather team: “I wish I had a job where I could be wrong 50% of the time!” *  But in reality, we still tune in and watch.

   Question: Is a surety bond underwriter just like a weatherperson?  How are they similar?

Both are paid to make predictions.  They gather and analyze information: “Crystal ball gazers.”  There is a hope / expectation that they will achieve some degree of accuracy.  Whether you are forecasting the POP, or the completion of a construction project, isn’t it just about the same?

You know forecasters use computer models.  They have the National Weather Service and there are Canadian and European Models.  They could just put that up on the TV screen!  We don’t really need the “local weather talent,” do we? 

What about bonding? Many sureties already use computer based programs.  These provide instant or quick answers on surety bonds that fall into certain categories.  Is that all we need?  Should we get rid of the Surety Underwriter / Weatherman entirely?  We say “No!”  Here’s why…

  • The Underwriter does more than predict the future. A good underwriter contributes to the outcome.  Their efforts positively affect many people. 
  • When bonds are approved, the bond agent makes money.  The construction company achieves new revenues. So do their suppliers and subcontractors.  Think of the ripple effect!
  • The bonding company and their reinsurers make money. 
  • Presumably something of value is built for the owner; a useful asset is created. 

Really good underwriters are more than “yes / no” decision makers, they are facilitators. The experienced underwriter sees a path forward that may not be obvious to others.  How can this deal (performance bond) be supported while protecting the interests of the surety, the guarantor of the project’s success?  Here’s where knowledge, experience and attitude come in. 

Does the underwriter want to make the deal happen, and have the know-how to do it?

These high level underwriters aren’t weathermen, they are Rain Makers!  They work actively to produce profits and success for all they touch. Without their expertise, projects would not be supported and built.  Doors get opened and companies reach new, higher levels of mutual success. 

This is a combination of science and art with a dash of experience.  And you don’t find it too often.  But when you do, grab an umbrella and watch good things happen.

KIS Surety is the exclusive national underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company, an A-8 rated carrier.  Call us with your next bid or performance bond. 856-304-7348 

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*  Actually, weather forecasters average more than 80% accuracy.  Good job guys!

Secrets of Bonding #164: The Phantom of the Underwriting Department

When it comes to surety bonds, you know your underwriter. You know the process.  There are questions and answers, then a decision.  Simple, right?

You rely on your rapport with the surety and know how to monitor the status of the underwriting.  Maybe you understand the underwriter you see.  But what about the invisible surety underwriter, a shadowy phantom who exists in every transaction, and whose opinion always affects the outcome. Call this mysterious one “The Phantom of the Underwriting Department.” 

For mood music, Click!

You cannot talk to the Phantom…

Invisible.

There are no emails, no Q. and A. 

And yet, the Phantom analyzes, reviews and influences every bonding decision.  Let’s pull back the curtain on this ethereal being.

Contractors Questionnaire

It all starts here.  Your underwriter looks at the basic info: How long in business?  Largest prior jobs? What do they do, what do they sub?

But the phantom yearns for more. What company ownership structure was chosen?  Is it a proprietorship, corporation or LLC?  Did the founders make prudent decisions? These choices affect taxes, profits and future liabilities.  They can help or hurt the company… and its surety.

If criminal history, litigation, tax problems or surety bond claims / losses are indicated, these may require further investigation.  The Phantom will make a deeper review.

Continuity of Ownership: Who succeeds the current stockholder in the event of death? Will the company maintain operations and complete its projects? These arrangements show that management has an eye toward the future.

The Work In Process Schedule

These are requested often.  They show the contracts in progress, their billing status and costs. The underwriter wants to know how much “work on hand.” Then, silently, the Phantom digs deeper.

The current expected profit is compared to the original estimate. What does this show? Is the profit expectation as predicted or better? Is the estimating department in sync with the field organization?  Is job site supervision highly efficient? Can an undeclared underbilling asset be added to Working Capital?

Is the expected profit sufficient to produce a net profit at year end?  The Phantom will compare the projected job profit percentage to the company Profit and Loss Statement. Based on historical expense trends, the likelihood of an upcoming profitable fiscal year-end can be verified.

Company Financial Statements

He loves these.  There is so much.  They talk to him. The Phantom takes full advantage of this document to determine more than just “the numbers.”

Beginning with the accountants cover letter, who has the contractor chosen for this important assignment? Are they using a construction expert? Did they pay for a quality presentation?  Is the best accounting method in use? Is the fiscal date at an advantageous point in their business cycle?

Obviously, underwriters look at working capital, net worth, ratios, profitability. But there is so much more.  The financial statements show how the stockholders / managers treat the company.  What does it mean to them? Do they nurture and respect it, growing the tiny acorn into a mighty oak?

Past borrowing practices are revealed.  Also, the relationship between financial performance and the ambitions of management.

Growth of the revenue stream is observed and management’s success in monitoring / controling expense levels.

The Phantom reviews financial statements and tax returns to appreciate the owner’s commitment to the bonded company.  This commitment is a cornerstone of the underwriter’s confidence.

Banking Relations

Very important! There are similarities between banking and surety bonds.  The banker’s opinions help reaffirm the underwriting position.

The banking history can reveal good cash flow and prudent business practices.  It can indicate stability, reliability and good management skills.

Credit Reports

The pay record is just the tip of the iceberg.

Now there is a historical review which indicates the adequacy of cash flow, the quality of money management, planning and the applicant’s good moral character.

The Phantom is always there, making this deeper analysis that may never be discussed, but can always make a difference.

Meet Our Phantom

Now, Remove the Mask!

Sorry, we don’t actually have any Phantoms.  All our underwriters are regular people, with real experience and know-how when it comes to bid and performance bonds. Our surety professionals review the facts promptly and efficiently. 

Their deep analysis enables us to support opportunities that may have been declined elsewhere – up to $10 million each.

KIS Surety is the exclusive national underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company, an A-8 rated carrier.  

We hope you found this article entertaining, but more importantly, informative!  With us, the underwriting is deep and detailed, giving the applicant the highest likelihood of approval.

Call us with your next bid or performance bond, and speak to a real person. 856-304-7348 

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It’s SO HOT!

Record heat is being recorded in many parts of the country.  But what else is hot?

  1. Floyd Mayweather – Hot earner made $7.6 million per minute for his fight with Connor McGregor
  2. Stephen Curry – Hot contract, NBA’s first for over $200 million
  3. Timothy Berners – Lee (never heard of him?) Inventor of the world-wide web and creator of the first web site. He changed everything. Very hot.
  4. Surety Bonds by KIS – Exclusive national underwriters for Great Midwest Insurance Company!
  5. Bill and Melinda Gates – Hot philanthropists donated $4.78 Billion in 2017. (Don’t worry, they kept some for themselves.)

What was that number 4, Surety Bonds?! Come on!  How can they be hot?

Glad you asked:

Surety bonds are a special area of the business.  They are unique and difficult, an opportunity and sometimes an obstacle.  But they are always a chance to shine: A path to greater success for you and your clients.  All you need… is a way to get there.

What if the surety underwriters were cooperative and production oriented?

Wouldn’t THAT be hot?

You need to ask yourself

  • Do my underwriters promise a same day response?
  • Do they help me find a way to write the business?
  • Are they open to a wide range of underwriting situations?
  • Are they Problem Solvers?

If not, you need to heat up your surety bond production.  Find out why agents bring their big / tough contract surety bonds to KIS Surety, exclusive national underwriters for Great Midwest Insurance Company, an A-8 rated corporate surety specializing in bid, performance and payment bonds for contractors.

Same day response.  Bonds up to $10 million.  Flexible and creative.  THAT’S HOT!

We can help you solve your next contract surety need. KIS Surety   Call us! 856-304-7348

Bucket List: Update

Great news!!  Today you can check off one more item from your Bucket List!

Current Bucket List:

  1. Learn to bartend like Tom Cruise in “Cocktail”
  2. Visit Abbey Road in London and re-create The Beatles’ cover
  3. Hug Mickey Mouse
  4. Write my name in wet cement
  5. Bury a time capsule
  6. Ride a Vespa
  7. Find a Bonding Company as Good as I Want
  8. Make a tie dye shirt
  9. Be the house on the block with the most Christmas lights
  10. Try every cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory

Today you can finally check off #7: “Find a Bonding Company as Good as I Want” There are two big questions and we will answer them now.

First Question

What do you want from a bonding company? They must have capacity.  If the company is too small, they can only write tiny bonds.  They are of little use to Surety Bond Agents and their Contractor clients.

Good credentials.  The bonds must be widely accepted so contractors can use them on various contracts, in any state.

Flexible underwriting.  The process of getting the bond approved must be willing and aggressive, like the underwriters actually want to write the bond.

Speed.  You can’t wait forever for an answer.  How long should it take the underwriter to respond?  Basically, your Bucket List surety will give you a same day response.

Second Question

Exactly who is this extra special, wonderful bonding company? #7 is Great Midwest Insurance Company! (GMIC) Never heard of us?  We are part of Houston International Insurance Group an “Excellent” rated company in the $250 million plus category.

GMIC is a provider of contract surety bonds (bid, performance, payment) that is licensed in every state.  This corporate surety uses a flexible underwriting style that may support clients that were declined under more traditional underwriting methods.

Bonds are provided up to $10 million each with surety programs up to $15 million.

What about speed? The GMIC surety program is available exclusively through an MGU provided by KIS Surety Bonds. Our underwriting expertise originated in the early 70’s!  We have lots of experience solving problems for our clients efficiently and with a same day response.

Hooray!  You nailed #7.  When you need the next bid or performance bond call us: 856-304-7348. KIS Surety, MGU.

Now, here is a link to help you with #1: Click!

Secrets of Bonding: #163: Financial Statement Fraud!

You know the old adage, “Financial statements don’t kill people, people kill people.”

While it’s true there can be misrepresentation and deception in a financial statement (FS), the document is not inherently bad, it is the poor intentions of the preparer or company that is to blame.

As credit analysts, we always review and rely on FSs when underwriting surety bonds. We know there may be attempts to mislead our judgement or even downright deception. But the need to evaluate the financial report is unavoidable. It is considered a valuable “report card on the quality of management.”

There are three levels of financial presentation by Certified Public Accounts (CPAs):

Compilation – a properly organized report where the numbers have not been verified or evaluated by the CPA

Review – includes some checking “Review” of key elements

Audit – is the highest level and includes the CPA’s statement that they have checked and believe the numbers are correct

The reader of the FS is entitled to certain expectations: A candid and complete presentation that informs the reader. Are they entitled to more than that? Does the reader sometimes expect too much?

Let’s consider what the FS actually says, and what it doesn’t… 

The Balance Sheet

This shows assets and liabilities. It describes the dollars in the company (assets) and who owns them (liabilities and stockholder’s equity). You know many of the normal entries: Cash, accounts receivable, accounts payable, inventory, bank debt, the net worth / stockholder’s equity section, etc.

The balance sheet always has a date, such as 12/31/2017. It shows the status of these accounts on the one day. Credit analysts calculate the Working Capital aka Net Quick (NQ) which is considered a measure of short term financial strength. You find the NQ by subtracting current liabilities from current assets. When the bond underwriter has the NQ number, it can then be incorporated in the decision making.

“What size bonds will be approved for this applicant?”  “How much total capacity can they be allocated?” The NQ figure becomes a benchmark that is used for the remainder of the year.

For many analysts, this one number carries a huge importance for the following 12-15 months.

Let’s move forward one day in time, to 1/1/2018. “Happy New Year!” and let’s check the bank account. Some money has come in! The accounts receivable and cash have changed. Other elements are also different and so, if we calculate the NQ based on the 1/1 balance sheet, the NQ will probably be different from 12/31. Again, that’s because the balance sheet shows the state of these accounts on ONE DAY. It is always changing!

The reality is that the working capital number is only correct for one day, then it is subject to revision. This is not to say the number is not important or relevant. And certainly decision-makers must have annual benchmarks and a method for their determinations. It is very important, but so are other elements.

Financial Statement Fraud

The most common FS fraud is not committed against us by others. It is the self-deception we commit by over relying on these “one-day numbers.” To do so is to miss the big picture!

Underwriters love to see a big cash account sitting on that top line (of the balance sheet). But that’s a one-day number. Isn’t it even more important to determine the average funds on deposit for the prior six months or year? Many analysts fail to ask for this.

Accounts Receivable and Payable – here is another key area where the “one-day number” can easily be given a historical perspective. Aged schedules of A/R and A/P are easy to obtain and they give a view over more than one day. These documents are not automatically included in FSs, and underwriters may fail to ask for them.

Another example: A broader understanding of the banking relationship is accomplished by looking beyond the balance sheet bank debt.  A reference letter can reveal if the client has bounced checks, broken loan covenants or defaulted.

Conclusion

As readers of these documents and analysts, let’s not cheat ourselves by over relying on the balance sheet or thinking it is more than a one-day snapshot. It should be scrutinized and viewed in harmony with other key underwriting factors such as mid-year financial reports and supporting documents.

In this manner underwriters can make realistic, well-informed decisions.

Steve Golia is the National Surety Director for KIS Surety Bonds LLC, MGU for Great Midwest Insurance Company, an A-8 carrier specializing in contract surety.

The company provides Performance and Payment Bonds with speed and creativity, up to $10 million per bond.

Contact us today and let’s discuss how we can help – even if others have failed. Call 856-304-7348.

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Secrets of Bonding #162: Burn Baby, Burn!

In the surety underwriting business, we are forward looking.  Bond decisions are based on a variety of factors including “The Four C’s of Bonding” (read our article #5).  Underwriters make a detailed analysis, then set surety capacity levels to administer the account. That all makes sense.

However, the forward looking analysis makes assumptions – that may or may not be correct.  If incorrect, the outcome could be devastating for the contractor and surety.

In this article we will delve into an aspect of evaluation used extensively by investors, but not so much by bond underwriters.  It is called the Burn Rate.  Mood Music: Click!

 

Here is the internet definition:  

Burn Rate is the rate at which a company is losing money.  It is typically expressed in monthly terms; “the company’s burn rate is currently $65,000 per month.” In this sense, the word “burn” is a synonymous term for negative cash flow.

It is also a measure for how fast a company will use up its shareholder capital.  If the shareholder capital is exhausted, the company will either have to start making a profit, find additional funding, or close down.

Very interesting. The reason our underwriters use the Burn Rate is because of the assumption it does not make…

Think of the typical decision-making process.  Working Capital (WC) and Net Worth are calculated then compared to the requested bonding limits. The underwriter wants to predict if the company’s financial strength is sufficient to support the amount of surety capacity.  (A 10% case?) This evaluation is important, but it assumes the client will have enough future work to fill the bonding capacity limits. But what if they don’t? Can we predict the company’s ability to survive with inadequate revenues and in the absence of profits?  Would this not be an important measure of financial strength and staying power?

The Burn Rate enables us to determine:

Runway

 A company’s “Runway” is the time it can survive on existing capital without new funds coming in.

Here’s how to calculate a company’s financial Runway. This is a hard core analysis that eliminates all expectation of new revenues. The formula requires two elements:

  1. Working Capital “As Allowed” by the underwriter’s analysis
  2. Average monthly fixed expenses

Working Capital (WC), as you may recall in Secret #4, is a measure of the company’s short term financial strength.  It calculates the assets readily convertible to cash in the next fiscal period.  Every underwriter identifies this number during their financial statement review.

If future revenues are inadequate, what is the company’s survivability?  The Fixed Expenses help us determine this fact.  These are the expenses that don’t go away, even if there are no new revenues.  Every month, you pay the rent, utilities, administrative staff, telephone, maintenance, insurance, etc.  These expenses are coming regardless of how much or how little sales are achieved.  In the absence of future revenues, it is Working Capital that must pay these monthly bills.  The Runway is how long the company can operate in this mode.  The Burn Rate reveals this survivability.

An actual client:

12/31 Working Capital As Allowed from the Balance Sheet = $1,099,000

1/31-12/31 Total Expenses from the Profit and Loss Statement (not including Cost of Goods Sold, aka Direct Expenses) = $1,243,000

Burn Rate: Average Monthly Expenses = $1,243,000 / 12 = $104,000 per month

Runway: WC Divided by Average Monthly Fixed Expenses

$1,099,000 / $104,000 = 10.6 months

Based on current expected cash flow, the company can cover it’s fixed (unavoidable) operating expenses for 10.6 months even if it has no income/ profits from new revenues.  The Runway is 10.6 months. This measure of survivability can be compared from period to period, by year, or from one company to another.

Don’t forget, when the mood music stops, the party is not over.  Our national underwriting department brings this high level of expertise and willingness to all your bid and performance bonds. 

Call us when you need a corporate surety with excellent credentials and capacity on surety bonds up to $10,000,000.  Excellence in underwriting, aggressive, creative, fast. Underwriting the way you wished it would be.

KIS Surety, exclusive national underwriters for Great Midwest Insurance Company.

 We’re available now: 856-304-7348

Secrets of Bonding #160: Deep in the Weeds with Set Aside Letters

In this article we will peel back the onion on Set Aside Letters (SAL) issued by banks in connection with construction loans.  What are they, when they are useful for bonding companies and when are they not?

Here is the essence of such documents:

“The agreement covering the project will provide that the funds in said impound account are … to be disbursed for payment of the (Name of Project) mentioned above and only after (Bank) has satisfied itself that the work paid for has actually been performed… In the event (Borrower) fails to complete the project described herein… all funds remaining in said impound account shall be immediately available to Surety to complete and pay the costs of said project, and in such event, (Borrower) waives any claim or interest in the remaining funds. Surety shall not in any way be obligated to repay said funds so used to (Bank).

This is an irrevocable commitment of funds which is not subject to recall or offset by (Bank).”

Pretty interesting!  This letter / agreement keeps the loan in play to fund the completion of the project  – even if the borrower (bank customer) fails / defaults.

When Are Set Aside Letters Used?

These documents are a common underwriting tool when a Site or Subdivision Bond is issued by a surety. If the bond applicant (who is also the developer and borrower) is relying on a construction loan to fund the bonded work, the SAL protects the surety by providing funds for the completion of the work in the event of a default.

What a great idea.  So why don’t we use these on everything?  Let’s look at another example.

Commercial Projects

The project owner hires a bonded contractor and a bank loan will fund the project.  The bank needs a guarantee that the asset / project (which backs the loan) will be built as intended.  A Performance and Payment Bond accomplishes this and assures there will be no Mechanics Liens against the property for unpaid bills.  These two aspects benefit the project owner and the lender.  Keep in mind, in a borrower default situation, the bank becomes the new owner of the property.

It is common for the bank to stipulate that a bonded contractor be used, and they may want to be a named beneficiary on the P&P bond – accomplished by issuing a Dual Obligee Rider.  In turn, should the underwriter require a SAL from the lender?

On Commercial projects, the normal practice is to NOT obtain a SAL from the lender.  Why not?  Why is this different?

Choose one:

a. The bank is a secured lender

b. The bank can subrogate against the borrower’s assets

c. The Dual Obligee Rider serves a purpose similar to the SAL

a. and b. are true, but the answer is c.

Welcome to the Weeds

We’re going in now. The Dual Obligee Rider adds the lender as a beneficiary with all the rights and obligations of the obligee named on the bond (the project owner).  And what are they?  Obviously they are entitled to make a performance claim and have the project delivered as indicated in the contract.

The named obligee also has obligations, one of the most primary is to PAY the builder. Important: The obligee is prohibited from making a performance claim if they have failed to pay the contractor.

Therefore, when the bank is included under a Dual Obligee Rider, they accept the benefits and obligations.  If the borrower defaults, the lender cannot make a bond claim unless they continue to pay the construction loan to the surety.  (Now the bank owns the project and the surety has become the contractor.)

Summary

Is this starting to make sense?  When a borrower defaults on a commercial project, a lender included by Dual Obligee Rider cannot make a claim unless they continue to pay the project funds to the surety.

Deeper Weeds

On Site and Subdivision there is a unique risk – the lender can take a free ride on the surety by having the bonding company pay out of pocket to complete the project.

Site and Sub-D bonds have the local municipality as obligee, not the bank.  The bank doesn’t want a Dual Obligee Rider because they automatically receive a financial benefit if the municipality makes a bond claim to demand completion of the project.  If the borrower has defaulted, the bank has the opportunity to withhold the balance of the loan (the borrower is gone), and watch the surety pay to complete a project they now own.  And they were not even the bond claimant…

This is the risk sureties avoid on Site and Subdivision Bonds by requiring the SAL that keeps the loan in play, even if the bond applicant / borrower has failed.

Admittedly, this is a pretty obscure subject, but also interesting to us “bond nerds.”  It never hurts to understand how things fit together.  These skills help us solve your complicated bond opportunities.  Take advantage of our expertise when the next one pops up.

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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