Why Is It So Difficult To Lend To Small Businesses

Small business have always had a hard time finding and securing financing – regardless of the state of the economy. But, why is this so?There are several reasons:There are mainly two types of organizations that provide small business loans.First – Funds:1) Your typical bank or traditional financial institution. These organizations normally get the money that they lend out to businesses from depositors – individual and businesses that expect their money to be there when they need it. Thus, these organizations have a further fiduciary duty to protect those funds from any harm.2) Private Lenders. These organizations typically get the money that they lend out from investors. Now, these investors know (or should know) that there is always risk in any lending or investment activity. And, for that risk, they expect higher than average returns on those investments. Those who manage those funds (the private lenders), in order to stay in business and continue to receive those investment dollars, know that they have to both lower any risk as well as meet return expectations.Why this matters: Banks have to ensure that they are not taking undue risk with other peoples money. If they fail in this duty, they can be fined, regulated or closed. Thus, they are really tight about risk.Private lenders are essentially in the same boat. While they want to take more risk (in hopes of getting more reward for it) they just can’t really pull it off out of fear of losing too much on that risk and thus losing their investors – no investors, no business.As a side note – all these organizations are in business to make money – not lose it.Second – Regulation:The financial industry is one of the highest regulated industries in the world. Banks bare the brunt of these regulations (has to do with the other people’s money aspect).One of the most detrimental regulations to banks, when it comes to lending, is the Allowance for Loan Losses (ALL) Accounts that these organizations have to reserve for.In a nutshell, a bank has to typically reserve up to 10% of all outstanding loan balances in a separate ALL account. Thus, if a bank puts out a $1 million loan, they also have to reserve in their ALL account 10% or $100,000 – money that they have to hold back and can’t put out in other loans.Now, history has shown that small businesses tend to be more risky. In fact, according to the SBA, small businesses have averages between 12% to 18% default rates – and, up to 60% for some of the SBA’s more risky loan programs like micro loans.Further, when the regulators come to visit these banks and see a higher than average level of small business loans, the regulators can require these banks to increase their reserve amounts to 15%, 20% or higher to cover the potential risk.Banks tend to frown upon these reserve requirements as it takes money out of their lending coffers – money that they can’t put out in any loan type and thus can’t earn any revenue (interest and fee) from. Thus, they tend to do all they can to avoid having their reserve requirements increased and, in some cases like our current economy, tend to pull back all loans as not to have to fund these ALL accounts at all.Private lenders on the other hand, do not face many of these same government regulations but do face scrutiny from their investors – which can result in the same type of pulling back loans to small firms. Also, these private lenders are regulated in how much they can charge in interest rates which puts a floor on the level of loans they are willing to underwrite and fund.Example: A bank might be able to charge say on average 8% for a loan. This 8% covers their cost of funds (2%), their overhead (3%) and their profit margins (3%). Private lenders also have the same overhead costs (3%) and profit requirements (3%) but have to return some 10% or more to their investors – their cost of funds.This means that they have to charge higher rates – which could be capped by regulations. Thus, many of these lenders will try to work around these higher rates by focusing on larger loans from less risky borrowers – not to essential earn more but to reduce their level of defaults.Why does this matter? It is hard to lend outside the box when the walls of the box keeps getting higher and higher to overcome.Third – Cost:Most businesses that bring in more customers can achieve an economies of scale by spreading overhead costs over more customers. But, it’s not so in banking or private lending.Let say that it takes 10 man hours to underwrite a loan – regardless of size. Man hours used to meet with borrowers, collect documentation, perform analysis, create documentation and manage the loan process. Thus, a lender can underwrite 10 small business loans of $100,000 each and spend some 100 man hours doing it. Or, they can underwrite a $1 million loan and only spend 10 man hours. Both would provide the same return (provided they both had the same rate and term) yet, the 10 loans would cost 10 times as much – eating into the lenders profit or investors returns.Why does this matter? Because managing costs is a great way to improve a business’s profits (and, that is what they are in business for).Thus, why it is so difficult to lend to small businesses is due to the trade-off between risk and reward. Small businesses have too much risk for such little reward potential.Why, you might ask, do I bring this up? Because I am seeking input from others on new, innovative ways in which we can change lending to small businesses – ways that may take away or mitigate the risks involved and to help ensure adequate returns on these loans.I have been in the small business lending industry for decades and have been racking my brain on ways to improve lending. But, as most of you know, I am not the sharpest tool in the shed and thus am appealing to others to see if we can’t innovate and change the way financial companies provide small business loans.So, tell me your thoughts and let’s discuss.