Fair enough, interest is your biggest cost and you know there is a wide range of interest rates out there. There is nothing wrong with asking for better terms from any of your suppliers.
You’ve been to the bank and asked the question, can I get a better rate? Am I on the best possible interest rate? Can you sharpen the pencil?
The issue with these questions is that they require a yes or no answer. Obviously, you would like a yes, but in the current agri debt market, with a lack of liquidity, there is greater power with the bank. That means the default answer is likely to be a no.
Chances are, your banker has said something like: “you are on the best rate we can give you…” “you’re on a pretty good rate now…” “we need to hold more capital against your loan…” “we need to ensure we are getting an adequate return on your loan…” or my personal favourite “well, actually we need to talk about your margin going up…”
A bank is a commercial entity, just like yours. It is in its best interests to maximise profit.
Banks make money against the capital held against the loans they make. Holding capital against a loan is a cost to the bank. The theoretical cost of that capital is something you have no control over. You do, however, have some control over the amount of capital a bank will hold against your loan.
When you have an interest rate discussion with your bank, what are you offering in return?
There are ways you can improve the risk profile of your business, and therefore lessen the amount of capital, reducing the bank’s cost of lending to you.
Risk pricing is not new and has been prevalent in the agri debt market since the GFC. There are three key aspects to how a bank assesses the risk in your business.
- Viability (Probably of Default). This is based on the historical performance and the outlook for the business. This is also influenced by your equity within the business and your ability to raise external capital to meet obligations.
- Security (Loss given Default). This is based on the security offered to the bank, and what type of security it is. i.e. A Loan to Value ratio (LVR) of 40% is much more attractive to a bank than an LVR of 60%. In addition, land is more valuable (or less risky) for security than livestock.
- You (Personal Factor). Banks are now more than ever making both subjective and objective judgments on you and your ability to manage your business through the ups and downs.
These are the types of questions banks are asking themselves about you and your business…
What is the track record of the business? How experienced are the key principals? How well you can articulate your business, what are the strengths and how well do you mitigate any weaknesses? How can you explain your financial performance and how does that link into the outlook for your business? How well do you do typically perform vs budget? What changes have you made in the business to make it more resilient? Do you have a strategy that the bank can understand? How have you performed in a down durn? How did you fund losses? What independent advice do you have for the governance or leadership in your business?
If you do not answer these questions, the bank will answer them for you…
So, what are you doing to present your business to the bank?
Every interaction with the bank is an opportunity to articulate the strength of your business. Tell your bank you want 6 monthly reviews. Align them with key dates in your farming and financial year. They will already be reviewing your business at least annually, so why not take control of that?
We typically aim for an annual review with the bank around a month either side of balance date. The topics discussed are along the lines of:
- Presentation of Interim Financial Results for the Season vs budget. What went well, what are the work-ons.
- Presentation of the Strategy for the season ahead, what are the key focuses for the season, which have been driven from the FY20 results.
- Budget for the season ahead, funding requirements and debt repayment goals and any major capital projects for the year ahead
- Rollover/Extension of any term lending expiring
Around 4-6 months into the financial year is a good time to have an interim review. That will focus on:
- Delivery of the financial statements, which really is a confirmation of the numbers already presented at annual review
- Update on any strategy changes in the year as per previous
- Any changes to the forecast for the season due to prices, climatic etc
Throughout the rest of the year, typically on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, we present variance reporting to the bank which covers off actual results vs budgets.
It is common now in Agri Lending to have covenants in place. It is very important to understand covenants on your lending, and the potential consequences of breach of those covenants.
Covenant reporting is another opportunity to showcase the strength of your business. Report to the bank need, but take the time to understand and explain any variances.
With positive variances, link it to management decisions if that’s how it resulted, and explain how it might improve the budgeted financial position throughout the year. With negative variances, understand and articulate the implications on working capital position or key strategic goals. Discuss what management decisions have been made to mitigate any impact.
This will help improve the risk profile of your business as it strongly links to the Personal Factor assessment – your ability to understand and manage the risks within your business.
Interest Rate Review
Influencing how the bank sees the key management and leadership of your business is the best way to influence funding costs. By providing high-quality reporting to the bank that clearly articulates where the business is going, how it is performing vs budget, why management decisions were made and the progression towards strategic goals is the best way to improve the bank’s view of the business.
Let’s be honest, Banks are still banks. Passing on savings from your improved credit rating is still a commercial decision the bank needs to make. When having an interest rate discussion with your bank, spend time setting expectations which link specific credit outcomes and milestones to interest rate savings. I.e. If I achieve x, what will that do to my interest rate?
The agri debt market is imperfect and there is clearly a difference in approach depending on whether your business has the ability to refinance or not. Our preference is always to derive gains by improving the relationship your business has with your current bank, because when times are tough these relationships matter.
That is not always possible, so you need to understand different bank credit criteria and how your business aligns with those parameters. Then you will understand what funding options you have available to you, which can balance the power gradient in the relationship. Healthy competition between banks is a good thing and it leads to better outcomes.