surety secrets

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!

Security Solutions!

If you have read my (numerous!) surety articles online, you may think bonds are the only thing I care about.  While this is true, I do have ideas on other subjects and here is one that has me worried: Cyber Security.

The threats are all around us: Phishing, hacking, denial of service attacks, viruses, identity theft and credit card fraud.  It is obvious that the bad guys will never let up, never stop looking for ways to take advantage of people – unless we do something dramatic to thwart them forever.

So here they are, solutions that are inexpensive or FREE! that will help protect you, your privacy and your assets.

Protect Your Data

Do you trust the “cloud”?  What if they lose your data, sell it or they get hacked?! Here is a solution that will protect your passwords, account numbers and other valuable info, prevent all internet and email scams and assure that you have complete access to all your info, all the time.

This solution is portable and permanent, and the total cost is (you’re gonna love this): $1.79 at Staples. 

This security solution is called a “Pocket Notepad.”  Here’s how it works:

You write down all your important stuff, then you put the notepad in your pocket. 

THAT’S IT!  No hacking, no phishing, and you can take it with you when you go fishing. Totally portable!

Credit Card Fraud

So many ways for thieves to get your info.  They use skimmers to read your data. There is malware, web scams and picking through your trash.

Here is a security solution that will prevent all unauthorized use of you credit / debit cards – and this one is Free!  This solution is called “Cash.”

Cash is paper money and coins issued by the government.  You can use it to buy anything, and it is accepted everywhere.  Pay with Cash and never worry again about unauthorized access to your account.

Privacy

Facebook and other social network platforms gather your info – then what?  There is no way to predict who may have access and then misuse it.

Our final security solution is another Free one!  This will absolutely protect your info from misuse or attack on the internet.  You will still have the ability to pursue new relationships and maintain current friendships as you do with your current social media.

In fact, this solution goes even further! It enables an enhanced level of communication where you can see the individual in real time, and actually touch them!!!  It is called “Talking.”  You talk to the person, they answer you and (get this) they are right in the room with you!!!  Insane!

This is actually a very old concept that has been used successfully for thousands of years.  It is tried and proven – and it could work for you.

So there you have them, three great inexpensive / free solutions to the cyber threats we face.  Technology is the cause of the problem, and it may not be the cure.  With this article, we invite you to consider the following:

  1. You may not find the solution to every problem in your cell phone. I admit they are cool and do a lot – more every day.  But sometimes “old school” is better.  Try giving it a chance occasionally.
  2. You think all Bond People are boring? We’re not!  We love to use our knowledge and creativity to solve bonding problems. Our underwriting staff has many (many, many) years of contract surety expertise.  When you call needing a bid or performance bond up to $10 million, our greatest joy is to be the solution you were looking for.  Keep this number in your new $1.79 Notepad: 856-304-7348.

We are the national contract bond underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company, a corporate surety with an A-8 rating.  We can help you solve your next contract surety need. KIS Surety 

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

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

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