Due Diligence Matters

A company’s financial statements are important in assessing a potential borrower’s situation. But thorough due diligence requires looking closely and deeply at all aspects of the company’s operations, from applicable economic and industry conditions to sources of collateral and business operations — and beyond. Only then can you, as lender, accurately evaluate the borrower’s financial status and minimize your risks of delayed payments and default.

Assess risk and review financials

Before you review a borrower’s financial statements, research industry risks. This risk assessment identifies what’s most relevant and where your greatest exposure lies, what trends you expect in this year’s financials, and which bank products the customer might need. Risk assessments save time because you’re targeting due diligence on what matters most.

Now tackle the financial statements. First evaluate the reliability of the financial information. If an in-house bookkeeper or accountant prepared it, consider his or her skill level and whether the statements conform to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. And if statements are CPA-prepared, consider the level of assurance: compilation, review or audit.

Statements that compare two (or more) years of financial performance are ideal. If they’re not comparative, pull out last year’s statements. Then, note any major swings in assets, liabilities or capital. Better yet, enter the data into a spreadsheet and highlight changes greater than 10% and $10,000 (a common materiality rule of thumb accountants use for private firms). You should also highlight changes that failed to meet the trends you identified in your risk assessment. For example, you expected something to change more than 10% but it did not.

Now ask yourself whether these changes make sense based on your preliminary risk assessment. Brainstorm possible explanations before asking the borrower. This allows you to apply professional skepticism when you hear borrowers’ explanations.

Devise a scorecard

Use your risk assessment to create a scorecard for each borrower. It often helps to discuss your risk assessment with co-workers and to specialize in an industry niche.

One ratio that belongs on every scorecard is profit margin (net income / sales).Every lender wants to know whether borrowers are making money. But a profitability analysis shouldn’t stop at the top and bottom of the income statement. It’s useful to look at individual line items, such as returns, rent, payroll, owner compensation, travel and entertainment, interest, and depreciation expense. This data can provide reams of information on your client’s financial health.

Another useful metric is the current ratio (current assets / current liabilities). This measures short-term liquidity or whether a company’s current assets (including cash, receivables and inventory) are sufficient to cover its current obligations (accrued expenses, payables, current debt maturities). High liquidity provides breathing room in volatile markets.

In addition, the efficiency metric total asset turnover (sales / total assets) tells how many dollars in sales a borrower generates from each dollar invested in assets. Again, more in-depth analysis — for example, receivables aging or inventory turnover — is necessary to better understand potential weaknesses and risks. And the interest coverage ratio (earnings before interest and taxes / interest expense) calculation provides a snapshot of a company’s ability to pay interest charges. The higher a borrower’s interest coverage ratio is, the better positioned it is to weather financial storms.

Dig deeper

When applying scorecard metrics, compare a company to itself over time and benchmark it against competitors, if possible. If customers’ explanations don’t make sense, consider recommending that they hire a CPA to perform an agreed-upon-procedures engagement, targeting specific high-risk areas. 

If you have questions about your current approach to due diligence, please contact Marvin Willis at 404-874-6244 or fill out the contact form below. 

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