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					Best Practices for Middle-
Market Lending
By John A. O’Connor

Larger loans, automation and a focus on retaining customers
are hallmarks of successful banks.




L
       ong seen as a consistent, stable income provid-   Using the benchmark data, participants can make
       er, the middle-market segment of commercial       decisions based on real-world information.
       lending is beginning to strain under ever-ex-
panding competition, compounded by shrinking                    Aligning Human Assets
margins and a diminishing client base. Realizing that
traditional revenue sources have become fatigued,               to Bank Assets
institutions are searching for alternate methods to
maintain competitive position and viability.             When we examined commitments, we found, consis-
  Our most recent benchmarking study analyzed            tent with our findings in our small-business lending
the lending practices of top U.S. banks whose ag-        benchmark program, that middle-market units were
gregate outstandings represent more than one-third       very bottom-weighted while the dollars are top-
of the commercial outstandings in the United States.     weighted (Exhibit 1). The most recent middle-market
This study revealed the continued trend among            benchmark showed that, on average, 70 percent to
forward-thinking institutions toward more central-       80 percent of participants’ commitment units were
ized processing, increased automation and more           under $2.5 million; the remaining 20 percent of these
disciplined, standardized pricing.                       units accounted for 80 percent of the total dollars.
  As part of the middle-market benchmark program,        For these institutions, 20 percent of the portfolio
we analyzed product profile, product delivery            is driving the majority of the revenue; therefore,
configuration, prospecting and relationship manage-       retention and good credit quality of these loans is
ment, credit analysis, credit decisioning, collateral    especially important. In addition, we found that
valuation, document preparation, review, booking,        many organizations’ due-diligence process for new
portfolio management, loan servicing, collections        credit, renewal credit and review credits are strik-
and recovery.                                            ingly similar—meaning the same effort and expense
  As data about each organization is collected,          that is applied to very large credits is applied to very
the functional duties within the organization are        small credits.
aligned with relevant core processes. For example,         Banks should thoroughly examine their approach
the duties and behaviors of one underwriter within       from a policy and process perspective across their
a particular organization may be very different          portfolios, understand where the bulk of their
from the duties of an underwriter in a comparative       allocations are distributed and align processes
organization. We examine the detailed work flow           and policies accordingly. In addition to being an
for every relevant position within each organiza-        exercise in risk management (align human ef-
tion in order to determine the unique drivers that       fort to where the largest risk pool lies), this effort
make that organization successful, whether they
are policy, practice, technology or division of du-      John A. O’Connor is the Commercial Practice Manager at BenchMark
ties among staff. This provides a clear picture of an    Consulting International, Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached
organization’s investments, processes and policies.      at j-oconnor@benchmarkinternational.com.



JULY–AUGUST 2005                                                                             COMMERCIAL LENDING REVIEW      21
Best Practices for Middle-Market Lending



Exhibit 1                                                                                                                                                   This shift is just the ini-
Portfolio Units by Dollar Size                                                                                                                           tial step in a much-needed
                                                                                                                                                         review of the cost struc-
              17%               8%               12%                        25%                       19%                 8%             11%             ture for middle-market
              17%                          22%                              22%                      17%                10%         6%         6%        loans and services. The
                   22%                     11%               13%                  17%                14%                11%              12%
                                                                                                                                                         next step is for banks to
                                                                                                                                                         address inclusions in the
                    25%                          12%                13%                   22%                 11%              9%            8%
                                                                                                                                                         pricing model, examining
                    25%                           15%                     15%                  18%                12%          7%            8%
                                                                                                                                                         the entire bank relation-
                         29%                           11%            13%                  19%                11%             8%             9%          ship and evaluating how
                         29%                           12%                13%                  20%                11%           8%           7%          much value should be
                         30%                                 17%                   19%                      19%                    9%        4%
                                                                                                                                                         designated for each par-
                                                                                                                        13%                    3%
                                                                                                                                                         ticular loan and in what
                                     48%                                          15%                14%                                5%
                                                                                                                                                         amounts. To gauge the
     0%                        20%                            40%                        60%                      80%                             100%
                                                                                                                                                         value effectively for each
                                                              Allocations for Each Bank
                                                                                                                                                         loan, institutions must
          <$250M     $250M < $500M           $500M < $1MM                 $1MM <$2.5MM     $2.5MM < $5MM       $5MM < $10MM             >$10MM
                                                                                                                                                         first look at the cost of
Source: 2003 Middle Market Lending Benchmark, BenchMark Consulting International                                                                         credit granting and the
                                                                                                                                                         ongoing maintenance
                                                                                                                                                         (portfolio management).
will assist with pricing and return on investment
(ROI) calculations. If institutions are allocating the                                                             Mechanization of the
same maintenance and servicing effort and cost to
lower-value loans as they are for the higher-level                                                                 Credit Process
commitments, where is the ROI?
  Our research does show that middle-market                                                                Bankers have automated the lending process for
lenders have become more disciplined with pric-                                                            credit card, auto finance, consumer and small-busi-
ing structures in recent years, in part due to use                                                         ness segments and some are just now beginning
of models such as risk-adjusted rate (RAR). As                                                             to look at the middle-market segment. The vary-
a result, banks are beginning to focus on higher                                                           ing risk appetites among branches within a single
credits for larger companies. Traditionally, the                                                           organization—and the resulting inconsistency in
middle market has been defi ned as customers                                                                portfolios—are fueling this need for automation.
with revenue between $10 million and $500 mil-                                                                Our work with middle-market groups revealed that
lion, with some defining the top end as $1 billion.                                                         the most forward-thinking organizations are addressing
As lenders have become more strategic and more                                                             this lack of control by moving away from the tradi-
aware of pricing considerations, this low-end                                                              tional one-by-one loan approach and embracing a more
threshold is gradually increasing.                                                                         mechanized and scientific approach to the credit pro-
  Today, we’re seeing many organizations adopt                                                             cess. Traditionally, banks have had decentralized credit
a floor of $20 million (some have gone as high as                                                           groups that complete the financial spreads, ratios and
$50 million), leaving smaller companies to small-                                                          analytics, but the results of benchmarking indicate the
business banking. Many banks are realizing that                                                            beginning of an evolution to either fully centralized or
companies under this $20 million mark simply                                                               fully regionalized processing of these tasks. Consolida-
do not have the returns when a middle-market                                                               tion of tasks does not necessarily imply staff reductions.
approach is applied to them, because they do                                                               For instance, we found two basic models around
not require all the credit services middle-market                                                          origination and portfolio management representing the
bankers provide. If the services are not needed,                                                           same staff allocation but unique task allocation.
the bank cannot charge the associated fees; thus,                                                             The first is the traditional model, where a single
the ROI for these accounts is negligible or, even                                                          relationship manager is responsible for origination
worse, negative.                                                                                           as well as underwriting and portfolio management.

22         COMMERCIAL LENDING REVIEW                                                                                                                                   JULY–AUGUST 2005
                                                               Best Practices for Middle-Market Lending




The second model divides these duties between two          signatures being committee structures. In our consult-
roles, a sales executive and a portfolio manager (both     ing and benchmark program, we have seen that effort
in the same location). The sales manager is solely         does not translate into a quality book of business. For
responsible for the originations, while the portfolio      top-performing institutions, it is more about what is
manager is dedicated to underwriting and managing          done than it is about how much is done.
the credits while the loan is on the books. Freeing up       Adding to the number of steps in the approval
the sales manager to focus entirely on sales ultimately    process is the relatively small credit authority
drives more activity. Many of the next-generation          limits for seasoned middle-market calling officers.
banks are taking this one step further by centralizing     Authority levels are often not much greater than
some of the more basic portfolio manager activities.       those found in small business. This drives the need
Dividing duties between a sales executive and a            to incorporate multiple approval levels and slows
portfolio manager has advantages, but successful           the approval process. The more successful banks
execution can be difficult. There is the potential for      empower credit authority at the officer level. An
additional handoffs and duplication of adjudication        interesting point for consideration: In our research
effort. The higher-performing banks integrate incen-       we found an institution that was requiring only
tive plans and ensure both positions are given equal       two signatures for a $15 million loan renewal,
weight in the process. Attracting the right personnel      those of the regional manager and the credit of-
and skill sets is a key to success with this model.        ficer. Interestingly, this institution had the lowest
  In 2005, we will perform another syndicated bench-       past-due and the lowest charge-off rate, with totals
mark. We are certain that it will reveal a great deal      one-third that of other participants.
of activity in this area and expose a more singular,         At the moment, this example may represent an ex-
unified underwriting discipline that will empirically       treme end of the spectrum. However, current and past
demonstrate results for these organizations, whether       research has revealed a growing interest among industry
they embrace a regionalized or centralized approach.       leaders in the continued streamlining of the process,
The industry continues to improve and change;              including more efficient write-ups. In a very traditional,
banks that stand still will fall behind.                   nonautomated process, the approaches to granting
                                                           credit may vary from underwriter to underwriter.
     Belt-and-Suspenders Approach                          Streamlining policies and processes enables the under-
                                                           writing process to become more standardized. Once
Despite a growing awareness of the benefits afforded        processes are standardized, technology can be applied
by more mechanization, most middle-market insti-           to drive and script underwriter comments, thus enabling
tutions still struggle with redundancy of effort and       middle-market bankers to decrease redundancy, create a
a belt-and-suspenders approach to decisioning of           more scalable process, increase the relationship manag-
credit. While many have taken on projects to stream-       ers’ effectiveness and reduce the number of steps while
line servicing and operational areas, a good deal of       retaining the integrity of the due diligence.
improvement remains to be gained in originations
and portfolio management. Some organizations are                Customer Relationship
reluctant to attain some of these efficiencies because
the dollars on a credit-by-credit basis are larger for          Management Systems
middle-market loans. These institutions fear that by
reducing steps in the credit-decision process, their       One of the most significant revelations was in the use
book of business will become riskier. The thought is,      of customer relationship management (CRM) systems.
“Why not take 3X steps to ensure diligent underwrit-       While millions of dollars have been invested in these
ing, rather than risk a million-dollar loss because only   systems, they are not being used to their full potential.
X steps were used?” We have seen banks with vastly         We found these tools are not being used accurately or
different requirements for decisioning similar loan        consistently or, in many cases, used at all. When the
amounts; in most cases, redundancy of effort exists. In    systems are used, the staff often inputs only the infor-
some environments, a $2 million to $3 million dollar       mation that is most desirable to display to managers,
loan requires five to seven signatures, with the last two   instead of the actual activity that is taking place.

JULY–AUGUST 2005                                                                      COMMERCIAL LENDING REVIEW   23
Best Practices for Middle-Market Lending




  Often when institutions attempt to use CRM sys-                  outdated philosophy that “if the client is happy, then
tems, they have multiple inputs and tracking of data               we must be making money.” Next-generation banks
for call reporting, deal creation, pipeline, incentive,            are realizing that measurements do matter.
document requests, booking requests and others.                      Were these million-dollar purchases an unwise
Despite this apparent depth of information, we still               investment? No—the high-level analysis afforded by
find a great deal of subjectivity being applied to                  these technologies still offers great potential. However,
incentives and other officer measurements—which                     technology alone is not the answer—it can only enable
is distinctly different than other groups within the               process. Policy drives the results, and many of these
bank. Some of the middle-market groups that have                   systems still require work to truly support the different
installed tracking and adopted empirically driven                  groups that are being asked to use these systems.
incentive plans now look back and call their old
incentive plans “entitlement plans.”                                     Examination of the
  Another reason for inconsistency in CRM usage is
the difference in information required for the calling                   Cost of Lending
officers and that required for monitoring sales activi-
ties. Calling officers typically need basic information                       In addition to a weak economy, income has been
documented, such as whom they called on, when                                depressed for the middle-market business model
the call was made and what products were offered                             for a host of reasons, such as the expansion of the
and/or sold. Simple notes and a personal database                            competitor market, cutthroat margins, a reduction in
are the preferred method of record keeping for many.                         borrowing and an increase in nonbank competitors.
Incentive programs are often driven by a series of                           To compensate for lost revenue, these middle-mar-
customer activities that require diligent (and some-                         ket lenders typically raise borrower fees. These fee
times redundant) data entry into the CRM. One of                             hikes are becoming abrasive to consumers and may
the most common complaints was the time devoted                              no longer be tolerated; thus, other revenue sources
to CRM maintenance. It was for this reason that we                           need to be identified. Forward-thinkers are focusing
often observed data being tracked manually.                                  on the cost of lending—shrinking their expenses by
  Middle-market units are struggling with the policy                         dramatically rethinking their approach to traditional
for CRM systems, specifically how to set the em-                              duties and where these are being performed.
pirical standards needed to quantify and effectively                           For example, a bank’s credit policies dictate a
analyze the activity taking place. Perhaps the big-                          process that may cost as much as $8,000 to $10,000
gest challenge in addressing this is overcoming the                          (even as high as $25,000) for a new credit. Many
                                                                                                         replicate that same pro-
Exhibit 2                                                                                                cess (and expenditure)
Personnel Cost to Originate a $10 Million Loan
                                                                                                         for renewal/reviews.
                                                                                              $39,869    Clearly, when this ef-
   $40,000
                    Credit Decision
                                                                                                         fort is applied against
   $35,000          Credit Analysis                                                   $32,937            smaller credits or re-
                    Sales
   $30,000
                                                                              $29,774
                                                                                                         lationships, there are
                                                                                                         customers that cost rather
   $25,000
                             Average = $20,791               $20,301 $20,626
                                                                                                         than create money for the
   $20,000                                           $17,457                                             institution. Our most re-
   $15,000                                   $13,770                                                     cent benchmarking study
                                  $12,154
             $9,771
                        $11,250                                                                          found that the cost of
   $10,000
                                                                                                         origination varied by al-
    $5,000                                                                                               most 200 percent (Exhibit
                                                                                                         2). We have worked with
        $0
                                    Personnel Cost for Each Financial Institution
                                                                                                         institutions that compete
                                                                                                         against each other in the
Source: 2003 Middle Market Lending Benchmark, BenchMark Consulting International                         same marketplace, with

24     COMMERCIAL LENDING REVIEW                                                                                   JULY–AUGUST 2005
                                                              Best Practices for Middle-Market Lending




relatively the same asset size, that have cost struc-        For example, “Bank A” has identified that its loss
tures six to 10 times different. It is not unusual to      rates are unacceptable and wishes to improve in
find this multiple even higher.                             this area. Looking to the top-performing competitor
  Organizations moving to more streamlined models          within this segment may or may not assist Bank A in
have seen very high performance gains, reflecting how       creating a solution. The top performer in this group
the business model is slowly evolving from more of         may use a customer approach that is not palatable
an art form to a more pragmatic, scientific approach.       for Bank A. Bank A may then look to other work
Time and time again, we see that policy drives process,    flow and process performance areas to determine
which in return drives profitability. The key success       another way to improve loss rates.
is the ability to simplify the process and to still keep
one’s credit appetite within the same range. Successful         Continued Evolution Toward
organizations have found it is not how much you do
but what you do in both the initial credit due diligence        a Data-Driven Approach
and the review and renewal process.
                                                           Based on findings from our previous middle-market
     Applying Benchmark Data                               benchmark and our extensive consulting work in the
                                                           industry, we believe the dominant trend for 2005 will
In determining how best to apply benchmark-                be the continued evolution of the business model
ing data, it is imperative first to acknowledge            from an art to a science.
the variances in corporate cultures of different             As avenues for top-end growth decrease,
institutions. Corporate culture is formed by               middle-market organizations will be increas-
many drivers, including the bank’s credit poli-            ingly charged to do more with less. Just as
cies, incentive plans, customer interactions and           automation and mechanization have taken place
customer profiles.                                         throughout small business, auto finance and
  Because cultures vary among banks, best prac-            corporate lending, middle-market groups will
tices in one middle-market organization may be             begin to assimilate these refinements and enjoy
different for another. When using benchmarking             the benefits of increased efficiencies. The most
information, we advise participants first to con-           forward-thinking banks are already beginning to
sider their corporate culture. In some instances, it       explore options for more centralized operations.
is simply a matter of identifying how to improve           As word of gains in efficiencies and economics
operations within those corporate guidelines. On           spreads, more and more institutions will move
other occasions, it may be that challenges in the          from traditional one-to-one client interactions
organization are actually created by the culture.          and overly bureaucratic decision making to a
We have also found situations in which the solu-           more rigorous, scientific approach to commercial
tions needed to address the identified challenges           lending. Going forward, we expect to find an in-
are prevented by the current corporate or credit           creased emphasis on customer retention versus
choices. Thus, a solid understanding of the insti-         acquisition. This will be reflected in the scrutiny
tution’s culture is a prerequisite to identifying and      of portfolio management processes and better use
implementing any solutions.                                of CRM systems to support these initiatives.


         This article is reprinted with the publisher’s permission from the COMMERCIAL LENDING REVIEW,
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JULY–AUGUST 2005                                                                    COMMERCIAL LENDING REVIEW   25
John O’Connor is the Commercial Lending Practice Manager responsible for the sale and delivery
of commercial banking engagements. He holds extensive experience in commercial banking
management, reengineering and streamlining operations, product and project management, mergers
and consolidations.

BenchMark Consulting International has specialized in improving the financial services industry
since 1988. The company is a management consulting firm that improves the profitability of its
financial services clients through the delivery of management decision making information and
change management services to realize the benefits of business process changes. BenchMark
Consulting International’s expertise is in the measuring, designing and managing of operational
processes.

The firm has worked with 36 of the top 50 (in asset size) commercial banks, all 14 automobile
captive finance corporations, several of the largest consumer finance corporations and many
regional banks throughout the United States. Internationally, BenchMark Consulting International
has worked with the five largest Canadian commercial banks, more than 40 European organizations
in 11 different countries, in addition to financial institutions in Latin America, Asia and Australia.

The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Fidelity Information Services, Inc., with clients in
more than 50 countries and territories, providing application software, information processing
management, outsourcing services and professional IT consulting to the financial services and
mortgage industries. BenchMark has dual headquarters in Atlanta, GA and Munich, Germany. For
more information please go to www.benchmarkinternational.com




                                               BenchMark Consulting International
                                                          14 Piedmont Center NE, Suite 950
                                                                    Atlanta, Georgia 30305
                                                                            (404) 442-4100
                                                           www.benchmarkinternational.com

				
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