Tag Archives: credit

Factoring Programs

Factoring Programs: Good News For Young Entrepreneurs

The lecture hall was packed, but students weren’t listening to a lecture; they were listening to what could possibly be their only chance at entrepreneurship: factoring programs.

It’s an old — and often misunderstood — strategy for young entrepreneurs whose capital and credit history aren’t as appealing to banks as they should be in order to qualify for loans.

Factoring programs allow for the advancement of funds for small businesses, such as those started by students, against an approved commercial invoice. The remainder is then given to the client once is the invoice is paid. These funds then assist small businesses by allowing them to raise capital, provide credit, etc.

For many students, factoring programs are the only options they have in financing their entrepreneurial projects.

In an interview after the lecture on factoring programs held on the Arizona State University campus, Robyn Barrett of FSW Funding, formerly Factors Southwest LLC, explained the interest of these young entrepreneurs in advancing their ideas and ambitions in the business world. “It’s great to work with people that are so passionate about their job, work and their company,” she said.

One of FSW Funding’s success stories involves a young man who came up with the idea of combining engineering and art to craft a product that he believes makes a difference: Refresh Glass. Refresh Glass products are entirely made from recycled glass. Thanks to factoring programs, Refresh Glass is now a growing business.

Robyn Barrett also says, however, that students must be prepared to take on these entrepreneurial projects, whether they are using factoring programs or not. Students must equip themselves with basic accounting principles. Barrett says that many entrepreneurial students lack these basic skills essential to their entrepreneurial success.

And so as student entrepreneurs walk through their graduation ceremony and their future awaits, they can now be more hopeful. Factoring programs may be an old and misunderstood strategy for financing, but it’s one they may be able to count on.

For more information on factoring programs provided by FSW Funding, formerly Factors Southwest LLC, visit factors-southwest.com.

Make Larger Loans To Small Businesses - AZ Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

Arizona’s Credit Unions Want To Make Larger Loans To Small Businesses

As lending opportunities for small businesses throughout Arizona continue to tighten, legislation has been moving through Congress that would enable Arizona’s credit unions to make more loans to small businesses. The media is filled with reports about how small businesses are having trouble gaining access to affordable credit. Credit unions did not take TARP money during the financial crisis, and they can help small businesses create jobs and jumpstart the economy, all at no cost to the taxpayer. This is inconsistent with additional proposals that would give added TARP money to the for-profit banks in order to stimulate small-business lending.

Many local credit unions stand ready to help. But unlike banks, credit unions are constrained by an arbitrary cap that, under current law, limits the amount of small business loans they can make to 12.25 percent of total assets. The Senate is currently debating legislation introduced in the House, the Small Business Lending Fund Act, and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) has offered a proposed bipartisan amendment to the bill that would raise the business lending cap on credit unions from 12.25 percent of assets to 27.5 percent.

Upholding credit unions’ history of prudent and responsible lending, the credit union would need to meet certain criteria and be approved by the National Credit Union Administration to lend in excess of the current 12.25 percent cap. A credit union would have to be well capitalized (above 7 percent); at or above 80 percent of the current business lending cap for one year before applying; have five or more years of business-lending experience; have a history of strong underwriting and servicing of business loans; and have strong management, an adequate capacity to lend and policies to manage increased business loans. This amendment also includes provisions that would protect the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund. The Treasury Department also sent a similar proposal to Congress earlier this year.

If the credit union member business lending cap were raised from 12.25 percent to 27.5 percent of assets, the estimated increase of small business loans would be $10 billion in the first year, leading to the creation of 108,000 new jobs, according to estimates from the Credit Union National Association. More than 1,600 of those jobs would be created here in Arizona. Just as important, this arbitrary lending cap increase would come at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer.

Small business is the cornerstone of our community and the key to increasing jobs and economic recovery. The additional lending authority would enable credit unions to do more of what they do best — make safe-and-sound loans to members. In this case, to members who are looking to start or expand a small business in Arizona.

As member-owned, not-for-profit, cooperative financial institutions, supporting local business is natural, and oftentimes, members are seeking a business loan that is too small for banks. The average size of a credit union small business loan in Arizona is only about $240,000, and Arizona credit unions maintain only about 2.6 percent of the local business lending market share.

A well-run member business lending program has the potential to bring a great amount of success to the community. First and foremost, the member businesses have another lending option, allowing them a chance to succeed with the right loan. However, a member business lending program requires personnel and resources. With a cap that is as low as 12.25 percent, many credit unions find the cap too restrictive to offer business loans.

With more capacity to make small business loans, credit unions throughout Arizona can do more to help spur the creation of new jobs, and help accelerate our nation’s economic recovery.

Arizona Credit Unions
Currently Offering Member Business Loans

  • Arizona Federal
  • Arizona Heritage Credit Union
  • Arizona State Credit Union
  • AEA Federal Credit Union
  • Continental Federal Credit Union
  • Credit Union West
  • Arizona Central Credit Union
  • First Credit Union
  • Tempe School Credit Union
  • Tombstone Federal Credit Union
  • Desert Schools Federal Credit Union
  • Vantage West Credit Union
  • TruWest Credit Union
  • Tucson Federal Credit Union

Austin De Bey also contributed to this article.  He is vice president of governmental affairs for the Arizona Credit Union League & Affiliates, www.azcreditunions.coop.

Arizona Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

Arizona’s Credit Unions Are Helping - AZ Business Magazune Sept/Oct 2010

Arizona’s Credit Unions Are Helping Those Who Depended On Payday Loans

With Arizona’s payday loan industry now history, the state’s credit unions are jumping into the resulting void to both help consumers and gain new members.

Called REAL Solutions, the Arizona Credit Union League & Affiliates’ new program offers an option for consumers who depended on the short-term loans made by the payday loan industry. But in proverbial teach-to-fish fashion, REAL Solutions also aims to help those consumers build long-term financial security.

One service provided by REAL Solutions is a small dollar emergency loan, which allows credit union members to get short-term loans at lower interest-rates than normal payday lenders would offer.

The average payday loan was typically for 14 to 30 days, and the fees varied between $15 and $20 per $100 borrowed. Under this model, a 14-day loan could carry an APR of 520 percent. With REAL Solutions, interest rates vary by credit union, with rates starting as low as 12 percent.

While these loans are an option for consumers, they are not the solution to borrowers who relied heavily on payday loans. However, credit union loans can benefit the borrower in ways that payday loans cannot. If repaid on schedule, the short-term loans can build the borrower’s credit score, because payments to credit unions are reported to credit bureaus, while most payday loans are not. Credit building allows borrowers to obtain better interest rates and terms on their next loan products.

Some credit unions also will put a portion of the loan repayment in a savings account if paid on time. The amount is small, but normally will cover the fee involved in setting up the loan.

Because borrowers can easily fall into a debt trap with payday loans, credit unions only provide members with the opportunity to have one of these short-term loans at a time. This keeps the borrower from getting into a never-ending cycle of taking out a loan to pay off another loan.

Two additional components of the REAL Solutions program are low-interest credit cards and member-rewards programs.

Low-interest credit cards help members gain financial stability. These credit cards are designed to be less of a financial burden on the cardholder by keeping interest rates lower than normal cards.

Credit union members also can enroll in a member-rewards point program, which is similar to a credit card rewards program. The member receives a point for every dollar paid in interest, as well as incentive-based points for continued membership, referring new members or utilizing member-friendly services such as online bill pay. The members can use the points they accumulate for items such as discounted loan rates or even to waive fees they have incurred.

The Arizona Credit Union League realizes that education is the key to financial stability and freedom. Proper financial education on budgeting, debt management, identity theft prevention, building credit, home buying, retirement savings and buying a car are key to being financially empowered.

REAL Solutions includes such benefits as:

  • Second chance checking
  • Member rewards
  • Credit building loan programs
  • Free financial education (for all stages of life)
  • Short-term, small-dollar emergency loans
  • Credit building credit card programs
  • Reloadable prepaid debit cards
  • Low-cost personal loans
  • Overdraft protection
  • IDAs (Individual Development Accounts)
  • ID theft/fraud services
  • Holiday loan skip pay

Each REAL Solutions Credit Union provides independent programs and services. Names of services and programs may vary depending on the credit union.

Arizona credit unions participating in REAL Solutions:

  • AEA FCU
  • Alhambra CU
  • Altier CU
  • American Southwest CU
  • Arizona Central CU
  • Arizona Federal CU
  • Bashas’ Associates FCU
  • Canyon State CU
  • Credit Union West
  • Desert Medical FCU
  • Desert Schools FCU
  • First Credit Union
  • Hughes FCU
  • MariSol FCU
  • Mohave Community FCU
  • Pima FCU
  • Pyramid CU
  • Southwest Health Care CU
  • Tempe Schools CU
  • TruWest CU
  • Tucson Federal CU
  • Tucson Telco FCU
  • Vantage West CU

Austin De Bey also contributed to this article.  He is vice president of governmental affairs for the Arizona Credit Union League & Affiliates. For more information about the REAL Solutions program and the credit unions that offer it, visit the Arizona Credit Union League website at www.azcreditunions.coop.

Arizona Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

money line

Stabilizing Asset Prices Is Key To An Economic Recovery

The declines in asset prices are sweeping around the globe like a giant tsunami tumbling everything in its wake. Equity prices are down 47 percent from their highs, commodities 53 percent and, of course, residential real estate 25 percent. Industrial production, retail sales and personal consumption expenditures are all showing losses year-over-year and do not appear to be decelerating in any meaningful way.

In the first quarter of 2009, the negative feedback loop — the lower prices go the lower they will go — is being exacerbated by the erosion of confidence and the availability of credit. If this weren’t enough, the lack of accountability and transparency in the system is further eroding investor confidence, thereby curtailing capital spending and stifling employment.

As the monetarists and fiscal policy makers rush to shore up the banking system, they have, for the most part, missed the mark. Long ago, the highly levered global economy transitioned from a banking-dominated regime to one that hides behind securitized lending. The off-bank balance sheet structures such as SIVs (structured investment vehicles), hedge funds, CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) and the like fueled the explosion in asset prices as they levered up the system exponentially. As we are finding out the hard way, no real underlying economic value was being created, other than prices would surely be higher tomorrow, which reinforced speculative non-productive behaviors.

The false promise that rising prices alone create wealth is being unmasked as the de-levering of credit and speculative excesses unwind. The plea from Congress that banks need to start lending fails to recognize that the highly leveraged off-balance sheet bank, the Shadow Bank, is dead. The credit creation in the Shadow Bank was 30- or 40-to-1, versus 10-to-1 for the banking system most of us are familiar with. It is not that the 10-to-1 folks don’t have problems; it is that they simply do not have the capital to restructure all the 30-to-1 junk that is choking the system.

It’s about the capital
Nouriel Roubini, a highly respected economist and chairman of RGE Monitor’s newsletter, has estimated that the charge-offs and write-downs may reach $3.6 trillion before this cycle bottoms out. Bloomberg Financial, which has been tracking these charge-offs, recently reported that the number has reached $1 trillion, or about one third of Roubini’s best-guess number. In October 2008, the Federal Reserve reported that the U.S. banking system had about $1.4 trillion of capital, hardly enough to deal with the massive write-downs Roubini, Goldman Sachs Group and others see on the horizon.

The obvious simple solution is to figure out how to stop asset prices from declining further. Although this has been attempted over the past many months, the seemingly uncoordinated efforts have failed. The TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program), which explicitly gave the U.S. Treasury the authority and money to purchase assets with the intent of stabilizing prices, instead saw those monies going into the checking accounts of banks. However well-intentioned the program was, it did little to stem the tide in the deflationary spiral, leaving us deeper in debt and virtually in the same position as when the legislation was enacted.

Price stability
In order to encourage investment and spending, we must first have price stability. Asset prices do not need to rise to get the economy moving, nor should we expect that they must. The value of the enterprise over time will be clear and will be priced accordingly. The benefits of price stability encourage investors to take on risk and give lenders the confidence to lend. Rapidly rising or falling prices merely confound and confuse even the biggest risk takers among us and that, in large measure, is why we see return of principal trumping return on principal.

All is not lost, however, as interest rates are down, mortgage re-financings are up and the stock market has attempted to battle back from some very bad economic news. The first half of 2009 is proving tough going. But we are guardedly optimistic that the second half will show signs of stabilizing, laying an important foundation for recovery in 2010. The stock market has its own twisted personality, but if it can move above the October lows the more optimistic we are that better times are ahead.

Money Crunch

The Credit Crunch Is Leading Many Organizations To Outsource Asset-Intensive Legacy Processes

Market conditions are always a driving force in organizational spending, and the current environment is no exception. But in 2009, in addition to cost reduction, companies are now evaluating whether they can maximize their scarce credit availability by outsourcing capital-intensive IT functions that were traditionally “off limits” to these sorts of exercises or simply not technologically feasible.

Now, leading organizations are addressing not just the effective use of a third party expense platform, but also are evaluating the use of OPA — Other People’s Assets.

As with everything in business, outsourcing moves in cycles. In the early days of enterprise computing, when mainframes and huge computer systems were the only option and the cost to purchase was high, the only model that made sense was to outsource. However, as technology changed and developed — and as credit became more readily available — many organizations spent large amounts of capital to build and manage their IT infrastructure.

IT infrastructure comprises the data center, servers, routers, switches, firewalls and more — all of the components that make up the back end of your e-mail, CRM, ERP, Web sites, Blackberry servers, file servers, print servers, etc. IT infrastructure is core to every organization and it is not cheap, especially when you want to ensure you are doing it right.

Technology is a powerful enabler of these considerations, and nowhere can this more clearly be seen than in industry of outsourced IT infrastructure and hosted IT infrastructure. Technology has developed to a point where now the highest performance infrastructure can be allocated to multiple users. Companies such as VMware and Cisco have pioneered virtualization. This technology now allows hosting to go to the next level. No longer are hosting companies providing low-end servers and storage to their customers. With virtualization hosting, companies are now providing Fortune 100 quality infrastructure. Access to this type of technology can be a game changer, but at a minimum provides end users with the best opportunity to leverage their IT infrastructure.

Hosted infrastructure is very simply utilizing the above mentioned resources that are owned by someone else. There are multiple benefits to hosted infrastructure, including: specialization by your hosting provider (hosting is their core business), access to typically better infrastructure, newer infrastructure, higher performance, etc. And in times like these, perhaps the most relevant benefit is no capital outlay. In a time when capital is scarce, spending on only what you need and not making a major asset investment in infrastructure could be the difference between being buried in debt and fighting to the top of your market.

Emotion is perhaps the most difficult obstacle to overcome when evaluating an outsourcing decision. Wehave already touched on the fact that the job can be done internally. But another emotional aspect is tied to a person’s job, and if something isoutsourced then someone, maybe even the person doing the analysis, might put themselves out of work.Outsourcing has always been associated with people losing their jobs. But in reality, just the opposite istrue. If an organization is using capital to grow instead of building its IT infrastructure, more people will have opportunities and more jobs will be available.

Outsourcing of IT infrastructure and the use of hosted infrastructure are being utilized by nearly every large organization, and it is growing in the small and medium business sector. In the next five years, nearly every organization will benefit from outsourcing, whether it is their Web sites, e-mail, file servers, offsite storage or their entire data center. Organizations are realizing very quickly that it is more efficient to allocate their capital to grow their business than to buy servers and routers.

Small Businesses getting help in down economy

Despite Weak Economy, Credit Unions Are Providing Financial Assistance To Small Businesses

When talking about credit unions and business loans, the key word is small. The percentage of business loans to credit union assets nationally is about 2 percent; business loans in Arizona average about $240,000, compared to $180,000 nationally. And because the loans are relatively small, the focus is on small businesses. Federal law caps credit union business loans at 12.25 percent of total assets.

“With business loans hovering at around 2 percent, it tells you that a lot of credit unions are not doing business loans. But they have plenty of room to assist businesses,” says Scott Earl, CEO of the Arizona Credit Union League and Affiliates.

One of the reasons that a majority of credit unions, especially smaller ones, don’t dabble in business lending is because of the level of expertise required.

“You need to be fairly sophisticated,” Earl says. “Traditionally, larger credit unions have the ability and staff support to make business loans.”

Of course, not all business loans require a lot of sophistication. Perhaps a teacher has a summer job doing yard work and needs a trailer to haul things around. In fact, many of the loans go to sole proprietors, and some involve small-business owners who were turned down by a bank.

“We hear stories like that all the time,” Earl says, “and not because of economic conditions.”
Traditionally, a credit union gets involved in business loans because some loans are too small for the average bank — not worthy of their time and effort. That’s probably a bigger issue during an economic boom, Earl says.

“We’re making business loans. You hear about banks pulling out of business lending. But we have not done that,” says Mark Olague, assistant vice president of business lending for Desert Schools Credit Union.

He tells of a business prospect who had a construction loan with a bank and was having difficulty getting timely advances. Not only did the credit union make the construction loan, refinancing was approved for commercial loans on several of the client’s other Phoenix area properties, as well.

“We were able to step up and do the construction loan for that small business, making our member happy,” Olague says. “The key regarding the credit union world is that not only are we here to service business loans, we’re looking for relationships. We are relationship-oriented.”

In addition to providing an attractive interest rate on a business loan, credit unions offer such services as a checking account, credit card options for sales and purchases, and a 401(k).
“We’re like a one-stop shop,”

Olague says. “We can make loans for an overdraft line of credit for as small as $2,000 or for the purchase of a business vehicle for $30,000 to $40,000. Generally our footprint is from $25,000 to $2 million.”
Desert Schools’ business members generally seek loans for purchasing a fixed asset to start a new business.

“We’re not entertaining startups,” Olague says. “Normally, we’re looking at businesses that have been in existence for at least two years.”

All, however, is not rosy among credit union business members. A few have had bankruptcy issues and cash flow difficulties.

“We’re here for them in good times and bad times,” Olague says. “We may modify their loan to make payments easier for the interim.”

At First Credit Union, which has been making business loans for four years, Joe Guyton, senior vice president of credit, says he’s not seeing startups like he did a year earlier.

“The economy is clearly having a big impact on the capital needs of beginning a business,” Guyton says.

“There are not many people out there with the confidence to start a business. Our business members are coming in to maintain their borrowing relationship. They are concerned about losing that relationship. The amount of inquiries regarding new projects has almost dried up — anything with construction dollars on it.”

Although some business members have filed for bankruptcy, because First Credit Union is relatively new to business lending, the impact on it is considerably less than it would be on a major bank, Guyton says. Fewer than 1 percent of the credit union’s 60,000 members are businesses.

“We’re in a good position to continue to help them,” he says.
Michael Hollar, vice president of business financial services for Arizona Central Credit Union, says most of his business members are struggling. Last year, when gas prices skyrocketed, business members making deliveries took a huge hit. They were looking for alternate sources of fuel and were not seeking loans to buy new vehicles. They repaired what they had.

“A few of the savvy ones, when interest rates started dropping on the real estate side, came in to refi a loan with lower rates,” Hollar says. “We accommodated most of them. We charged a fee, but they were OK with that, rather than staying with the same payments.”

The volume of loan requests dropped considerably during the last three-to-four months of 2008. There were a few startups, mainly from people who had been laid off and were trying to go into business for themselves.

“In this environment, there is very little interest in businesses buying a new piece of equipment or looking for a building,” Hollar says. “They’re hunkering down to ride out the storm, hoping that 2009 brings a brighter day.”

Financial Institutions Receive Bailout

Financial Institutions In Arizona Are Expected To Receive Bailout Money

While most of Arizona’s state-chartered banks were mulling over their options for federal assistance late last year, Uncle Sam was injecting billions of dollars of new capital into national banking companies with Arizona subsidiaries. The question is whether any of that money from the Department of the Treasury’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) will find its way here.

Although there were a couple of exceptions, nationally chartered banks with Arizona operations didn’t know whether portions of their capital infusions would be earmarked for deployment in Arizona, and they may not know until sometime during the first quarter. The capital comes in the form of federal purchases of senior preferred shares. The Treasury set aside $250 billion for the program.

The Treasury purchased $200 million of shares in Seattle-based Washington Federal Inc., the parent company of Washington Federal Savings. John Pirtle, senior vice president and Phoenix division manager for Washington Federal, estimates the thrift’s Arizona operations will receive about $20 million and use it for mortgage lending.

Western Alliance Bancorporation in Las Vegas, owner of Alliance Bank of Arizona, received $140 million from the Treasury. James Lundy, chief executive officer of the Arizona bank, expects his parent company to share the new capital.

“I would expect we’ll get somewhere between $8 million and $12 million,” Lundy says. “That would be a good estimate. We are well capitalized now, but we do have plans to continue our growth trajectory, which has been pretty strong.”

Alliance Bank would use the capital to “support a bigger balance sheet, so we can gather more deposits to make more loans,” Lundy says. “Banks like ours are the ones making loans to small and mid-size businesses. Despite the economic issues Arizona is facing, we have strong loan demand from borrowers we think are very creditworthy.”

Ten million dollars in new capital can be leveraged to generate $100 million in new loans, Lundy says.

The Treasury purchased $1.715 billion of stock in Milwaukee-based Marshall & Illsley Corporation.

“All the funds are going to be used throughout the franchise,” says Dennis Jones, chairman and president of M&I’s Arizona region. “It’s not a matter of allocating a certain amount of it for Arizona.”

Chicago-based Northern Trust Corporation, parent company of Northern Trust Bank, received a $1.576 billion capital infusion. David Highmark, chairman and chief executive officer of the Arizona subsidiary, says he expects enough of the capital will flow to his bank to allow it to keep growing. Northern Trust Bank’s loan volume is two to three times its normal level.

“If our loan volume continues to grow as it has, we will get a portion of that money allocated to us,” Highmark says.

The parent company is classified as well capitalized, “but we knew, based on our growth, that we would ultimately need more capital. This was a timely opportunity for us,” Highmark notes.

Zions Bancorporation in Salt Lake City, owner of National Bank of Arizona, received $1.4 billion from the Treasury. Keith Maio, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona bank, says he expects his bank will receive some of the capital, but the amount has not been determined. Maio says the funds will be used to bolster the bank’s capital ratios to keep it actively lending, targeting small to medium-size businesses.

Other Treasury stock purchases of nationally chartered banks with Arizona subsidiaries break down as follows:
JPMorgan Chase & Co., New York — $25 billion.
Bank of America, Charlotte, N.C. — $25 billion.
Wells Fargo & Company, San Francisco — $25 billion.
U.S. Bancorp, Minneapolis, owner of U.S. Bank — $6.599 billion.
Comerica Incorporated, Dallas, owner of Comerica Bank — $2.25 billion.
Mutual of Omaha in Omaha, Neb., which acquired First National Bank of Arizona, did not apply for TARP funding.

The Treasury gave publicly traded banks the first opportunity to receive capital infusions, with a Nov. 14 deadline to apply for stock purchases. It issued capital-infusion guidelines later for privately held banks, which had until Dec. 8 to apply. According to the Arizona Bankers Association, most of Arizona’s 33 state-chartered banks are privately held and had not applied to the Treasury while they weighed their options as their deadline neared. Jack Hudock with the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions said eight state-chartered banks or bank holding companies had applied, but he could not identify them and did not know the status of their applications.

Meridian Bank of Arizona, a privately held, nationally chartered bank owned by Marquette Financial Companies in Minneapolis, applied for a federal stock purchase and was awaiting a decision from the Treasury concerning how much capital it might receive. Doug Hile, president and CEO of Meridian, is not happy that publicly traded banks had first shot at a capital infusion. He does not mince his words in his displeasure over how the government treated privately held banks.

“From a public policy perspective, it’s not fair to small banks that have opted not to go public with their stock,” Hile says. “We are up in arms about it. This is harming Main Street banking by not allowing them to participate on an equal basis.”

Money Flow

State-Chartered Banks Are Still Lending Despite The Credit Crunch

The credit crunch is gripping much of the nation, but Arizona banks are still lending money and most are well-capitalized to weather tough economic times. The state’s core capitalization rate of 10.31 percent is well above the national average of 7.89 percent. That means Arizona banks have a good cushion to ride out the mortgage-induced banking crisis.

Arizona has approximately 83 banks, and of those 33 are state chartered. It also has roughly 58 credit unions and 26 are state chartered. Felecia Rotellini, superintendent of the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions, which oversees all state-chartered banks and credit unions, says state-chartered banks were not involved in subprime mortgage lending, so the mortgage meltdown is not impacting them. But capital drying up and lack of funds for borrowing, which precipitated the federal government’s $700 billion Wall Street rescue package, do impact state banks and make it more difficult for them to do business. Thus, state regulators across the country are closely monitoring the policies and proposals coming out of the U.S. Department of Treasury to make sure the advantages large national banks acquire from Treasury Chief Henry Paulson’s plan have equal impact on state community banks.

“As a result of subprime mortgages, foreclosures and the drop in property values, banks are seeing a reduction in profits and asset quality,” Rotellini says. “But I believe our state-chartered banks are well-managed and well-capitalized to weather the storm. It’s a matter of good management and reserves.”

In September, National Bank of Arizona’s strong capital position enabled it to acquire the FDIC-insured deposits of Silver State Bank’s Arizona offices in Tolleson, Chandler, Sun City and Scottsdale, after federal regulators took over the Nevada-based bank.

National Bank of Arizona’s plan is to merge all Silver State offices into its own nearby branch locations. National Bank of Arizona President and CEO Keith Maio says the bank is currently lending money to small and mid-sized businesses and for commercial real estate projects. But unlike a few months ago, the bank now has a stronger pre-leasing requirement on commercial real estate and a slightly higher credit quality hurdle for small business transactions. The bank also takes into consideration whether a prolonged economic downturn will significantly affect a business and whether management has the ability to maneuver a company through a protracted economic slump. Assessing management is critical, Maio says, because good managers have a solid business plan, they don’t look for excessive leverage and they can run a business successfully through good times and bad.

“Whether you’re an individual, business or bank, you can weather the storm if you have adequate capital,” Maio says. “Our goal is to work with customers the best we can while preserving our capital for future opportunities. That doesn’t mean we’re not making loans. It means we’re going to be judicious about capital. For the last eight to 10 years, there’s been too much leverage in both the business and consumer sectors and that’s what’s caused this financial crisis in its simplest form. Credit was too easy and too cheap. Now it’s harder to get and more expensive.”

The spiraling economic downturn has been a blessing in disguise for Bankers Trust Phoenix, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the $2.5 billion Midamerica Financial Corporation. The bank opened in January with $15 million in capital and a clean balance sheet, enabling it to build relationships with local real estate professionals and lend against high-quality assets that are strategically well-positioned to ride the economic upturn early in the next cycle.

“The fact that we missed the boom of the last several years has turned out to be an advantage for us,” says Patricia Rourke, president and CEO of Bankers Trust Phoenix. “As a newcomer in the market with no troubled credit and nothing in our portfolio, we were ready and able to lend when developers and real estate professionals were being turned away from other local banks.”

Harry Mateer, president and CEO of Altier Credit Union in Tempe, says credit unions have also been affected by the country’s financial crisis, but to a lesser degree. Credit unions have strict investment policy guidelines that prohibit them from entering into many of the lending areas of banks and other financial institutions. They focus on specific areas of lending, such as auto loans, home equity and credit cards.

“We’re currently seeing some liquidity shortages in the system,” Mateer says. “And I’ve heard this from other credit unions around the state, too. Members don’t have as much to save so there’s not a lot on deposit. Nevertheless, we’re focused on helping members in light of the economy and working with them when they have difficulties. People can still get loans, but we’ve changed our loan to value requirements to be a little more conservative. We’re now doing 80 percent loan to value, not 85 to 90 percent. And I think that’s what’s being done across all banks and credit unions.”

As a result of the mortgage-induced banking crisis, Arizona legislators passed a law during the 2008 legislative session (SB-1028) requiring all loan officers of mortgage companies in the state to be licensed after 2010. The Arizona Department of Financial Institutions is developing the licensing system for the state. Arizona has approximately 8,000 to 14,000 loan originators that will need to be licensed.

“Over the past few years, there’s been a breakdown in education and training of loan originators in Arizona who explain nontraditional loan products to consumers,” Rotellini says. “A lot of borrowers got into a loan product they didn’t understand and couldn’t afford over the lifetime of the loan, and the loan originators didn’t carry out a loan transaction that was suitable for the borrower. Loan originators also made more commission on option ARM (adjustable rate mortgage) products that over time yield higher interest rates, so conventional loans and FHA loans fell out of favor.”

The Department of Financial Institutions recently investigated a case that resulted in a Phoenix man losing his home. The man was put into an option ARM product with a teaser rate he could afford, even though he would have qualified for a VA loan. In time, the loan adjusted to a higher interest rate and the man couldn’t afford to make his house payments. When the man complained, the loan officer threatened to harm him, so the Department of Financial Institutions intervened. Unfortunately, it was too late. The man had no money to refinance, his credit was destroyed and he lost his home.

“Requiring loan originators to be licensed raises the level of accountability,” Rotellini says. “It’s going to improve the whole mortgage-lending experience for consumers and provide assurance that the loans they enter into will not default and are legitimate. Of course interest-only products will still be available, but they will no longer be abused.”

money squeeze

Tips On How To Navigate The Current Credit Crunch

The credit crunch is making its way from Wall Street to Main Street and squeezing businesses across all industries. There are some proactive steps Arizona companies can take to prepare for potentially challenging days ahead.

Cash is king

If you have cash on your balance sheet, you have a greater degree of flexibility in your decision making.

Issue: In a slowing economy, understanding and managing cash flow are paramount.

Action Steps: Negotiate aggressive credit terms with suppliers and customers. As soon as invoices are late, begin subtle but firm collection efforts. In the short term, it may be wiser to sacrifice profitability in order to generate cash.

Be relentless on cost control

Look hard at discretionary expenses and remove unnecessary spending — but don’t compromise business strategy.

Issue: To maintain your current levels of profitability, you will almost certainly need to cut costs and spending where possible.

Action: Employ zero-based budgeting to review all costs carefully in terms of their value to the business.

Evaluate customers and suppliers

Understand the financial well-being of customers and suppliers. Look for signs of financial distress and express concerns.

Issue: Challenges in credit markets have put increased pressure on the purchasing power and credit worthiness of customers, resulting in a tightening of credit terms and product availability.

Action: Reevaluate credit terms with customers and negotiate the shortest reasonable terms.

Get smarter on taxes

It is important to look at how to manage those costs and the related impact on a company’s cash flow.

Issue: Taking appropriate advantage of the opportunities available to reduce tax liabilities.

Action: Take advantage of available tax credits, such as the fuel tax credit or deductions for domestic production or property depreciation. Take extra care when considering the calculation of quarterly estimated tax payments.

Reconsider capital investment plans

Is now really the time to invest in new capital assets?

Issue: Investing in new assets in a downturn can bleed you of cash. Carefully consider capital investment plans, and question the proposed value and timing.

Action: Take into account the timing of investments. If it isn’t mission critical, consider delaying or deferring.

Get closer to banks

Take a hard look at your reporting and accounting systems. If these are not quite what the bank would like to see, consider improving them.

Issue: Banks will be more cautious and concerned about credit quality. Borrowing will likely come at a higher price — both in terms of interest rates and fees — and will almost certainly include more restrictive covenants and require increased monitoring and transparency.

Action: Treat the bank as a partner by keeping it informed about the status of the business and giving it plenty of notice if you need help.

Consider financing options

Talk to a professional about arranging financing and consider alternatives to traditional lenders.

Issue: Having issues with your bank can result in a severe restriction in your borrowing capacity. It’s not as easy as it used to be to secure an alternative source of capital.

Action: Consider other financing sources such as leasing, asset-based lenders, factoring companies or even government-supported financing programs. Look at negotiating payments on long-overdue accounts receivable or obtain financing through trade vendors.

Keep an eye out for bargains

Be alert to opportunities where business valuations are falling and where business owners are looking for quick exits.

Issue: The current feeling of uncertainty will drive many shareholders to seek an exit rather than hunkering down and trying to weather the storm independently, creating buying opportunities at depressed prices.

Action: Whether playing the stock market, engaging in real estate or considering acquisitions, the best buys are made in a down market. But make sure the action makes sense with your growth plan.

Protect personal wealth

Before agreeing to become more personally exposed for the sake of the business and less diversified personally, think about options.

Issue: It is likely that businesses will have greater borrowing needs. Solving business cash needs with personal assets will reduce diversification of overall personal net worth and further expose you to the recessionary economy.

Action: Equity financing provides resources if the economy does not improve as quickly as expected. If debt financing is the best course, avoid personal guarantees and pledges of personal assets. Employ experienced counsel to help with the transaction.

Worst case scenario

Get help far in advance of a financial crisis, if at all possible.

Issue: The future is uncertain and trade credit is contracting.

Action: Look at your business without its existing debt and determine its debt capacity based on the most current financialprojections. Do not wait until you are almost out of cash.

The more time you have to identify your options and craft a plan, the better your chances of success. Contact your professional services advisors immediately to discuss your current situation.

Ed O’Brien is the managing partner of Grant Thornton’s Phoenix office. For more information, call (602) 474-3444 or visit www.grantthornton.com