How to Partner with a Lender

By Rick Dennen | January 24, 2022

Lenders pulled back on business loans amid COVID-19, tightening criteria and even halting traditional loans to focus on Paycheck Protection Program loans. With the PPP program closed, insurance agency owners and leaders are returning to traditional lending for financing. As a result, lenders are seeing an uptick in requests for funding. How do you know if your business is worth the risk for lenders?

If your agency’s business strategy involves a need for financial resources, a good first step is to understand what a lender wants for the underwriting and approval process. Before turning over any financial documents or completing the first application, research and find the best lending fit for your business’ needs. Options include commercial banks, SBA loans, or niche lenders.

How to Partner with a Lender

Lenders need to understand your business, your business plan, and review your current and future financial situation to decide if your request is credit worthy. The following list outlines what a lender will request and why. During the lending process, expect the lender to prepare a term sheet and a deal map.

Basic background. A lender will ask for the basics, including amount of the loan request and how cash will be used. Be prepared to provide corporate legal documents, including contracts with your insurance carrier or MGA. For an acquisition, provide the purchase agreement or letter of intent along with relevant financial projections. Lenders need to understand the company’s strengths and weaknesses to make a loan decision. They’ll ask about the business structure, ownership team, key employees and business partnerships, how long you’ve been in business, and future business plan. Don’t be alarmed if lenders note potential business weaknesses. For example, if the agency operates without a controller, it could be perceived as a lack of accounting depth. That doesn’t mean the request will be turned down. It is a factor underwriters will note and take into consideration with regard to terms of the loan.

Financial review. You will be asked for three years of historical financials, including income statements and balance sheets. Lenders run your personal credit score and will ask you to complete a personal financial statement. Tax documents also will be required. Lenders use financial documents to see revenue sources and how long they’ve been in place. They want to see how revenue is tied to clients along with future agency performance. They’re looking at how your books are organized and to understand any uncommon expenses. Uncommon expenses could include a larger than normal overhead that includes rent or an office with extravagant furniture. Owners sometimes run personal expenses through their books with the idea this will help to decrease their tax liability. Expenses such as family members on the payroll or country club dues may raise questions. It’s best to review these items before a lender’s financial review.

Collateral. Cash flow is the primary source of repayment for loans. Lenders look for secondary sources of repayment in case the business doesn’t perform as planned. For insurance agents, having the right lending partner is important when it comes time to review collateral. A niche lender that understands how an agency works creates a collateral stream using recurring income, normally considered an intangible product. Credit worthiness is derived from the predictability of the future cash flow.

Business valuation. In the future, an owner may sell their agency. Lenders may rely on third-party valuations to determine if a sale would provide sufficient funds to repay the loan. For larger loan transactions, a third-party business (enterprise) valuation of the agency may be requested. There’s no need for a borrower to prepare anything. Lenders have pre-approved firms to prepare such a valuation.

With a basic understanding of what a lender will review, it’s time to find the right capital partner. Ask questions to be sure the lending options available support short-term needs and long-term growth. This creates a long-term financial relationship designed to meet your agency’s growth.

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