surety

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 

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

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 #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 #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 #148: The Greatest Impediment to Bonding

Surety bonds are hard to get. Contractors and their insurance agents know that underwriters are conservative. They ask lots of questions. Then they ask more questions. Then they say they can’t help you. It’s a fun-filled process.

Some contractors can’t get bonded because they have a poor credit history. Others have weak or insufficient financial statements. There are plenty of reasons for an unhappy ending, but what is the single biggest reason – and what can you do about it?

Crappy credit: This is a very common problem. The company may be struggling to get enough work, resulting in a weak credit report. So they decide to move into public work for additional revenues – but the bad credit report makes this impossible. Sometimes the report can be improved by correcting errors and updating the info. This is not the greatest impediment contractors and their agents face.

Weak or insufficient financial statement: There are innumerable potential problems. No financial statement, only an internal statement, only a compilation, an interim FS, a net loss, no working capital – the pitfalls are endless! It’s not the biggest impediment though.

Unsavory circumstances: Excessive bid spreads, inadequate prior experience, bad bond forms, harsh contract terms, too much other work. They are all bad, but they are not the king.

The Greatest Impediment

Picture how the process starts. When the contractor decides to go after bonding, a list of information is requested. The underwriter wants business and personal financial statements. A current work in process schedule is needed. Prior tax returns, resumes of key people and a bank reference letter are desired.

The contractor wants to pursue this, but MAN, that’s a lot of stuff!

He has not needed to make company financial statements, so how to come up with them now?

The company owner never needed to make a resume, always been self-employed. How do I write that up?

The WIP schedule: I don’t have that info available. I know where I am on all my jobs. Why would I take the time to fill out a bunch of forms anyway?

I can get the bank reference letter completed and make copies of prior tax returns (they want the WHOLE THING?!) But if I do that, who’s gonna do the estimating so we don’t run out of work? And I have to visit the projects or everything will grind to a halt. The workers want to milk every job like it’s their last. They’ll suck the profits out of everything if I give them the chance.

Conclusion 

The greatest impediment is the applicant themselves! In my 40+ years of surety bond underwriting, I have concluded that MOST contractors deserve to be bonded, but many fail to acquire surety support. It is because they stop trying, or never really start.

People must make choices. They have to put bread on the table. If they can succeed by doing what they know, why try some experiment that may fail? Sometimes it’s just easier to keep doing the same thing – even if you are discontent.

Our observation is that bonding takes perseverance and patience. It is a journey, a path with unexpected twists. There can be obstacles, but we have solutions! If contractors or agents expect it to be fast and easy… they may be disappointed.

Applicants for bonding must plan to devote some time and energy to achieve a goal they know is worthy. It says a lot to have a surety backing you. They are vouching for your ability, and putting up their own money to prove it. It’s a big deal and not always easy, but always worth it in the end.

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 #146: Financial Statement Sniff Test

Here is a list of my business and accounting courses in college:

  1. _______
  2. _______
  3. _______

I was an Education Major (teaching), so I didn’t get anything on financial statements “FSs”.  When I started as a surety bond underwriting trainee, I realized that I had no idea what a Balance Sheet was – but I learned. 

If your first reaction when you look a FS is “Duh,” we will fix that right now.  Keep reading! This will be a view from 30,000 feet.  Big picture but it will help.

To be complete, every financial statement must include at the minimum:

  • Balance Sheet
  • Profit and Loss Statement

The Balance Sheet

This document is a one-day snap shot of the funds in the company (Assets) and who owns them (Liabilities).  The assets and liabilities are equal “balance” because every dollar in the company is shown from two points of view: the Asset side and who owns it, the Liability side. 

The Balance Sheet has three important parts we can review initially.  Let’s identify them based on their functionality.

Current Assets: This line item is a subtotal found near the middle of the Asset column. It represents those assets readily convertible to cash within the coming fiscal year (such as Accounts Receivable).

Current Liabilities: Found near the middle of the Liabilities column, these are debts to be paid in the coming fiscal year (such as Accounts Payable).

Total Stockholders Equity, aka Net Worth: Usually the last subsection near the end of the Liabilities column. This is the company’s Net Worth that would remain if they shut down and liquidated everything.

The Profit and Loss Statement

This is a historical summary of all the money taken in (Sales aka Revenues) and money spent (Expenses) during the preceding period, usually one year. At the bottom of the column is the Net Profit, which is the money the company “made” for the year after paying all the related bills and taxes.

Now that you can pick out a couple of strategic numbers on any FS, what shall we do with them?

Calculate Working Capital

This is a primary measure of financial strength used by all analysts, including sureties, banks and other credit grantors.  It is found by subtracting the Current Liabilities from the Current Assets. It is an indicator of expected cash flow in the coming year. 

Here is a quick, simplified Sniff Test to use when considering a particular bid or performance bond.  The evaluation is made based on the expected contract (not bond) amount. This is an instant indication of the adequacy of the finances in regard to the upcoming project.

Part One – The Working Capital target amount is 15% of the contract amount.  For example, if the contract amount is $1,000,000, sureties hope to see Working Capital of at least $150,000.

Part Two – The Net Worth target amount is 20% of the contract amount or about $200,000 in our example.

Certainly there is more to surety underwriting than this simple analysis.  However, by using this method, you can get a quick idea of whether the financial statement easily supports the bond, or may be a stretch.  If your analysis reveals negative numbers, which are shown in parenthesis on financial reports, that’s obviously a bad sign.

Also keep in mind, applicants that do not meet these criteria may still qualify for bonds based on other factors – and the reverse is also true. Surety underwriting takes many factors into consideration.  In this article we are offering a very simplified version of the process although it is valid as a quick review. This procedure will enable you to make a fast financial evaluation, and relate it to the upcoming surety exposure.

Summary

This article doesn’t make you a bond underwriter, but now when you get a new FS instead of “Duh!” you can say “Let me analyze this!”

Running a quick analysis plus the Sniff Test will indicate the likelihood of obtaining surety support. You learned a lot in three minutes, but when you have a bond that fails the Sniff Test, that’s where our expertise and market access comes in.  Call us!

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.)