A New Breed of Space Cowboys

 

Our latest blog comes to you with the assistance of Charlie Perer who is co-founder and head of originations for SG Credit Partners. Charlie, thank you for letting us integrate your thoughts into our blog.

Clint Eastwood starred in the classic year 2000 movie, Space Cowboys, about a retired astronaut who, along with his colleagues, was sent back to space to fix a satellite he helped build in the 1960s.

It turned out (in the movie) that NASA had no one around with any knowledge of the dated technology built into the satellite, so they had to turn to a retired astronaut to solve the problem. The importance of this particular satellite was that it was carrying an old nuclear warhead at risk of detonating.

 

FLASH FORWARD TO 2019  …

Flash forward to 2019 and one could argue we are dealing with the same crises in the field of special assets. The good battle-tested professionals who were in their 40s and 50s during the 2008 downturn are now in their 50s and 60s and thinking about retirement or joining a more lucrative turnaround firm.

This combined with banks focused intensely on their expense ratios as mandated by Wall Street and the slimming down of non-revenue producing divisions, has a created a dearth of experienced special assets professionals.

 

FEWER WORKOUT PROFESSIONALS …

It’s easy to see why banks are holding on to assets and trimming expenses to maximize profits while they can, but it’s a clear risk to do so at the expense of your front line of defense – professionals skilled in workouts.

Rather than one proverbial satellite, the nation’s banks are dealing with the equivalent of a watch-list of marginal credits and a bunch of space cowboys – professionals who are at or nearing retirement or worse have been downsized as part of cost cutting.

Try calling the workout departments of big and small banks and ask them off-the-record whether they are prepared for the next downturn.

The answer is no.  It’s a hard job that requires on the job training and a unique set of qualifications – knowing when to use the hammer versus the velvet glove; knowing when to exercise remedies versus judgement and patience.  Banking is at the end of the day a local and regional business – meaning whatever experience a borrower has on the way in or out will surely be communicated to their respective communities.

 

A UNIQUE SET OF QUALIFICATIONS …

Knowing how to solve the problem for the bank in getting its loan returned and creating a reasonable experience for the borrower often takes an experienced third party. 

As Charlie points out, it takes training and a unique set of qualifications. In many cases, banks, with a need for dealing with problem loans, transfer bankers from other banking areas into special assets.

Like any game, it takes time to learn the rules, and that is where a trusted middleman can be of help to both the lender and borrower.

We work with the bank to maximize their return on difficult loans and with companies to minimize the pain. When approaching a lender with a problem loan, it’s important to remove the emotion in a difficult situation. And most importantly, to never make commitments to a lender based on speculation and hope.

 

HIGHER RISKS & LOOSER LOAN STANDARDS …

According to the New York Times, loans to companies with large amounts of outstanding debt – known as leveraged lending – grew by 20 percent in 2018 to $1.1 trillion, according to the Fed’s twice-annual Financial Stability Report.”

There is no arguing that credit standards have loosened (both bank and non-bank) over the past few years and banks have fought bitterly for assets.

The result is that while the economy is by all means still thriving, the banks have just booked significant assets with higher risks, looser standards and lower rates.

There is going to be a real leverage epidemic in the next downturn and the resounding theme seems to be that bank management seems to think allocating staff with commensurate experience will be easy to do when many of their most experienced staff have been downsized, are on the verge or retirement or have found more lucrative consulting work.

Each bank should be asking themselves what their plan is for their workout department and start checking where their space cowboys are today.

 

 

 

Revitalization Partners specializes in improving the operational and financial results of companies and providing hands-on expertise in virtually every circumstance, with a focus on small and mid-market organizations. Whether your requirement is Interim Management, a Business Assessment, Revitalization and Reengineering or Receivership/Bankruptcy Support, we focus on giving you the best resolution in the fastest time with the highest possible return.