Having talked with hundreds of companies about financing over the past 10 years, I know that one of the most frustrating experiences for growing businesses is getting turned down for a loan.
And I get it: The business’s leaders are confident the company will grow and be able to pay off a loan, and they think they’ve made a clear case. In New Resource Bank’s situation, because we’re looking for borrowers with a commitment to sustainability—a core value for many in the organic and natural products space—if they can check that box, a loan seems all the more assured.
And yet sometimes we still say no. We don’t like to. We try not to. But any bank has to consider creditworthiness when evaluating a loan application. And if your application sends up major red flags, the banks you apply to are likely to say no, even if they agree that your business has great potential.
Many factors go into assessing credit risk, but the top three leading to turn-downs are:
Most often when we say no, it’s because we’ve looked at what the company requests in light of historical performance or its balance sheet, and we see that it really needs equity in addition to debt. Obviously it’s more appealing for a business owner to pay 6 or 7 percent to the bank than to give away a portion of the company, but unfortunately, equity investments are the reality most entrepreneurs face once they’re past the bootstrap stage. Most companies can’t grow just with debt.
A good rule of thumb is that for every $300,000 in debt you’re seeking, you should have $100,000 in equity. If you ask for a loan that will put your company at a debt-to-equity ratio of more than three or four to one, a bank will think you are overleveraged.
2. Insufficient historical profitability.
Banks look at an application like this: If we gave them that money today, could they make the payments based on their cash flow from last year? Companies often want us to make a loan based on their projections. If they can demonstrate why the profit is going to be greater—say, they just signed a new contract with Whole Foods—we’ll consider it.
If you ask for a loan based on projections, nail down your proof points. “The market’s great and we think we can grow 20 percent” probably won't be assurance enough for a bank. “We just did energy-efficiency improvements on our manufacturing facilities and we can show that our utility bills have dropped 20 percent,” however, can help your case.
3. Unsophisticated financial statements.
We call this the curse of QuickBooks. Many companies think that because someone on their team can use QuickBooks, they don’t need an accountant, much less a CFO. People who start businesses are usually smart, capable and talented, so they say, “I can do this.” The software makes it seem so easy—you just follow the instructions. But you need to understand the correct inputs before you can get the correct outputs.
We see this problem not just with companies that have $1 million or so in sales, but sometimes with companies that have tens of millions in sales. We’ll start analyzing their financials and see that something doesn’t make sense and something else doesn’t balance. We’ll see projections that don’t tie in with accounts receivable levels. And that makes us think the company has poor financial controls.
This is a problem you can fix (or ideally, prevent) by hiring an experienced controller or CFO to clean up your books and make sure they stay clean. We always advise hiring top talent for future growth rather than having that investment lag behind growth.
We try to find solutions for applicants—to let them know what we can do, and what they can do to help us say yes later. But ultimately, the basic foundations of credit just have to be there.