What to Tell Your Lender, and When

Nobody really likes to share bad news. And when that news pertains to problems with your business, you may think the last person you should share that with is your lender. Maybe you are thinking you can turn things around before your lender has to find out. You wouldn’t want them to worry, would you?

Wrong. When your business encounters difficulties, you need to be in touch with your lender even more often. Lenders hate surprises. The key to maintaining a good relationship with your lender is to keep him informed every step of the way when you are handling a financial crisis. You can never give your lender too much information.

Open communication is the best way for your lender to be an advocate for your business and help you through the situation. Remember, your banker wants you to succeed and will do what he can to help you. But he can only do that if you keep him informed.

In my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned From CEOs’ Mistakes,” I talk about the 10 C’s of Bank Relationships for CEOs. Communication is one of those C’s, and in fact, almost every one of the other C’s hinges on it. (To learn the other nine, you can buy my book!)

I worked with a company I’ll call Giant Manufacturing, which had been a booming business for decades prior to 2007. But some unprofitable long-term contracts, coupled with the broader economic decline in the United States, resulted in severe declines in cash flow.

The company did not inform the bank until it was in dire straits. As you can imagine, the bank was not happy. Because it was so surprised and caught off guard by the situation, it cut back on availability of funds for Giant Manufacturing, which gave the company even less money to operate.

Had the CEO been proactive and called the bank immediately and continued to keep them informed, he could have potentially kept the bank on his team as he worked to get the company back to profitability. But because he kept them in the dark, they no longer trusted his ability and shut down access to much-needed operating capital.

After I took over, one of my main challenges was to obtain funding. Most sources had already declined to fund the company. But after 16 months, we were able to turn around Giant Manufacturing to having a positive cash flow position and a new lender was more receptive because of the speed of the turnaround. He could trust that the company was operating in a fiscally responsible way.

But an important part of obtaining that credit was educating the new bank. Yes, we shared our successes with the turnaround, but also the challenges we faced and the ones that had led to severe decline in revenues.

Giant Manufacturing learned its lesson and maintains a healthy relationship with its bank. And like any healthy relationship, it depends on ongoing and honest communication.

Mark Twain said, “A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.”  With respect to Mr. Twain, I’d alter that quote just a bit. The banker is quite happy for you to hang onto that umbrella, just as long as you keep him informed of any storms you are encountering and allow him to work as a team member to help your business weather them.

 

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