surety secrets

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.)

 

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

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

Bonding Companies Are ALL The Same.

OK, you know that’s not true.  In fact, your success may depend on knowing the differences between sureties.  Each one has a certain appetite, a niche.  We are all the same, and yet we are all different.

So here is a little bit about us.

What We Do

  • OUR GOAL is to be your high capacity market that provides fast, reasonable, (maybe even wonderful) underwriting responses!
  • Exclusively contract surety.  That means bid, performance and payment, and maintenance bonds.
  • We bond construction, including subcontracts, plus service and supply contracts.
  • Sovereign nation contracts are supported
  • Also demolition, abatement and remediation
  • We will consider young companies
  • Production Underwriters: We can support companies with less than perfect credit – even with liens and bankruptcies. We’re not shackled by “bonding company bureaucracy.”
  • We are flexible regarding financial statement presentation on bonds up to $10 million each.
  • We have our own contractors questionnaire, bond request form and WIP schedule because after doing this for forty-five years, we know what info helps get your deal done.
  • Our standard bond forms are unmodified AIA forms, readily accepted throughout the construction industry.
  • Our rates are flexible / competitive.
  • We are licensed to write in every state, including D.C., and can also consider overseas projects.
  • We respond to all new business submissions on the day received.
  • We are offering new agency appointments.  No volume commitment is required.
  • Our underwriting staff is available every day of the week, including evenings, 365. (You can call us right now! 856-304-7348)

What We Don’t Do

  • Fidelity bonds or surety other than contract.  For example, we do not support license & permit, court & probate, or site & subdivision.
  • Waste your time.  We only develop files we expect to write.

We not bragging.  We just wanted you to know.

Our strong financial position (Best rating: A-8) makes us a perfect fit on a wide range of opportunities.  Aggregate programs to $15 million and fast service.  How can we help you succeed today?

 

KIS Surety Bonds, LLC is the exclusive surety underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company an “A – 8” carrier licensed in all states plus D.C.  “steve@kisbonds.com” or call 856-304-7348.

SECRETS OF BONDING #157: Bid Bond Quiz

Is there anything less interesting than a bid bond?

They may not seem too exciting, but the lowly bid bond is an integral part of our surety business.  For contractors, they are often the key to acquiring new revenues.  If you don’t think they are important, watch what happens when a client is waiting for one that never arrives.

As surety underwriters, we spend a great deal of effort assuring these documents are accurate, delivered on time, and we track the outcome on each one.

Everybody knows about bid bonds, right?!  OK let’s see if you do…

True or False:

  1. If you decide to not use a bid bond you ordered, you have to send it back to the surety within 48 hours
  2. They have an expiration date
  3. A bid bond precedes every performance bond
  4. The surety can cancel the bid bond
  5. The dollar value of the bid bond equals the amount of the proposal it accompanies
  6. The surety must know the exact dollar value of the bid bond before they will issue it
  7. The premium for them must be paid in advance
  8. They remain active for up to six months
  9. It is better to use a check for security than a bid bond
  10. The same surety that issues the bid bond must issue the performance bond

OK team, how’d you do?  # of True______? # of False____?

They are all False!

  1. An unused bid bond has no value but it makes a great liner for your bird cage
  2. Never has an expiration date
  3. Some contracts are negotiated (no bid bond) or may require a surety capacity letter instead
  4. Like a performance bond, these surety instruments cannot be cancelled
  5. Most often the penal sum of the bid bond equals a percentage (10-20%) of the proposal amount
  6. Most bid bond amounts are expressed as a percentage of the proposal amount, not a dollar amount, to protect the confidentiality of the proposers bid. In such cases the exact dollar value is unknown in advance.
  7. Sureties are entitled to charge for them, but usually don’t
  8. Although not stated, most sureties consider them void after 90 days
  9. Wrong! If the performance bond is not produced, the check can be forfeited
  10. Nope! Two different sureties can be used, even if a “Consent of Surety” was issued with the bid bond.

Bonus Question: If the bid is rejected because the surety’s credentials are found to be inadequate, can this result in a bid bond claim?

Answer: Theoretically, it should not. If the bond is declared inadequate, how can it be sufficient for a claim?

When flexibility and aggressive underwriting are needed, give us a call. We have in-house authority for Bid and Performance Bonds up to $10 million each, and guarantee a same day response.  Find out what you missing when it comes to surety bonds.  

KIS Surety Bonds, LLC is the exclusive surety underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company an “A – 8” carrier licensed in all states plus D.C.  “steve@kisbonds.com” or call 856-304-7348.

Secrets of Bonding #151: It’s Time For…Timing!

With Surety Bonds, Timing can be critically important.  There are certain things that must happen first.  You can’t get them out of order. Here are some examples.  Do you know which comes first, and why?

Cover the answers with a piece of paper as you scroll down. (Paper is white stuff people used to write on. Really!)

  1. Bid Bond / Performance Bond
    • OK that was an easy one. They get harder. Bid bonds always come first – if there is one.  Not all performance bonds are preceded by a bid bond. Negotiated projects would be an example.
  2. Bond execution / Indemnity Agreement execution
    • The Indemnity always comes before the bond. It is the promise to pay back the surety in the event of a claim / loss. Sureties want this protection in place before they assume any risk.
  3. Surety Consent to Final Payment / Obligee Status Inquiry Form
    • The Status Inquiry form comes first. It is the obligees statement that the work is acceptable.  The surety requires to see this before agreeing to release the final payment.  If there are unresolved issues, the contractor must address them before the last contract funds come over. (That’s true motivation!)
  4. Payment Bond Release (exoneration) / End of Lien Period
    • Since the bond guarantees the payments that may be owed during the lien period, the time for liens must end before the bond is concluded.
  5. Contract Acceptance / Maintenance Bond Issuance
    • Sureties want the contract accepted first and the P&P bond released before assuming the risk associated with a Maintenance bond. Some obligees require issuance of the maintenance bond simultaneously with the P&P bond at the start of the project, but underwriters resist this.
  6. Bid Results / P&P Bond Issuance
    • Underwriters want to evaluate the adequacy of the contract price prior to bond issuance. They do this by evaluating the bid results, comparing the various proposals from different companies.  In some cases, the bid results are not published, in which case they have wing it!
  7. P&P Bond for Started Project / All Right Letter
    • The All Right letter is the obligee’s assurance that there is not already a problem on the contract that will result in an immediate bond claim. Sureties require a clean bill of health before bonding a started project (unless the degree of completion is very low i.e. 5%).
  8. Award Letter / Notice to Proceed
    • Award letter comes first, then the contract signing and Notice to Proceed is issued. Then “Grab ya hamma!”
  9. Tough Bond Problem / Call KIS Surety!  856-304-7348
    • You can call us for discussion or general info any time. However, when a tough bond problem arises, that’s your cue to call in the experts. 

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.)

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 # 142: Make Bid Bonds Great Again!

 

You used to love them.  They were so easy.  Now they are in dollar amounts and percentages, sometimes with a limited maximum value.  They can be electronic or digital.  Sometimes a letter is required instead.  Sometimes nothing is required instead! There may be a single or annual charge for it or maybe it is free! It’s outta control…

So here is your chance to catch up with everybody’s favorite: The fun and fascinating world of Bid Bonds.

The Basics
These instruments accompany a contractor’s proposal during the acquisition process for a new project.  This is routine on public work, such as federal state and local municipal contracts.  The procedure may also be used on private projects at the contract owner’s discretion.

The bond guarantees that, if awarded, the bidder will sign the contract, furnish the required Performance and Payment Bond, and commence with the work – or – pay the difference between their bid and the next higher bidder (subject to the maximum dollar value of the bid bond.)

Cost
Usually free although the surety is entitled to charge for them.  Typical charges could be an annual bid bond service fee or a per bond charge.

Underwriting
The decision to issue the bid bond is based on the underwriter’s willingness to provide the related P&P bond, because that is the real money transaction. The decision is NOT based on the dollar value of the bid bond.  Rely on the fact that the underwriter will not provide the bid bond if they do not feel they can support the final bond.

Bid Spreads
If the bidder is more than 10% below the next bidder without a plausible explanation (we have a special machine,  already have materials, are already working next door, we’re super fabulous, etc.) the surety could decline the final bond, resulting in a bid bond claim.

Alternative Forms of Security
In addition to a bid bond, proposals may also be secured using a cashier’s check or irrevocable letter of credit, depending on what the project owner (Obligee) is willing to accept.

Percentages
The Invitation or Bid Solicitation describes the proposal requirements.  It will state if a bid bond is required and the amount.

The bond value is often expressed as a percentage. Example “20% of the attached proposal amount.”  This is convenient because the underwriter doesn’t want to know the actual bid amount (to preserve the bid confidentiality).  It is the best way to express the exactly correct amount when typing the bond in advance.

Capped
Because the percentage bond actually has an unknown dollar value at the moment it is executed, language is sometimes added establishing the most it can be worth (to prevent a wildly high amount the underwriter didn’t expect).  Example, “10% of the attached bid, not to exceed $100,000.”

Fixed Penalty
“Bond Penalty” is the term used to express the bond dollar value.  A fixed penalty bond has a stipulated amount, regardless of the bid.  Example, “Maximum bid bond amount required: $20,000.”

Surety Letter
Some owners choose to require a letter from the bonding company, but no bond. Federal projects are handled this way at times.  The letter talks about how much they love the client and the contracts they are willing to bond.

Consent of Surety
This letter is the surety’s written promise to issue the P&P bond if the contract is awarded.

Electronic
A scanned copy (pdf) of the executed bond may be acceptable for an online bid.

Digital
Some state departments of transportation use this.  The surety registers with the obligee in advance and the bid bond is “filed” online using a unique identification number.

No Free Lunch
If you default (cause a bond claim), the surety will come after the contractor, it’s owners and spouses for recovery.  Remember: Bonds are not insurance.

Funky Land
Now some of the weird stuff:

  • You may encounter a bid bond requirement, but no final bond (P&P bond) to follow
  • Can also have the opposite: No bid security required but a final bond is needed
  • No! You are not required to use the same surety for the bid and final bonds – although the bid bond provider fully expects to write the final bond and may hunt you down and kill you. (Just kidding!!!)
  • Yes! If you obtain a bid bond under the promise to provide collateral, you are allowed to get the final bond from a different surety that is not demanding collateral. (But you face the hunt and kill thing again)
  • When you acquire a project using a Consent provided by ABC Surety (their promise to provide the bond upon award of the contract), you are not prohibited from taking the final bond from XYZ Surety. However, good protocol dictates that you remain loyal to those who enabled you to acquire the job (meaning ABC).

Make Bid Bonds Great Again
So there you have it.  These instruments are fussy and sometimes complicated.  It is imperative that they be executed correctly and filed on time or it can cause the bid to be thrown out (loss of contract.)  This always makes people very crabby (Read: LAWSUIT).

The key is to review the written bonding requirements as described in the bid advertisement. Use any mandatory bond forms that are stipulated and double check the correct execution and typing of the document including name spelling, job description, project identification details and the correct bid bond amount.

Now that you know, you can start to love bid bonds again!

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.)