Covid 19- Banks need to be more flexible to support the businesses
Evolving scenario due to Covid-19 endemic is creating a huge liquidity crunch for many businesses especially MSMEs. Banks should support by extending loan with very flexible terms.
Post lockdown announced by the Hon’ble Prime Minister, the economy suddenly came to grinding halt. There are hue and cry in the business community for a rescue package to help them to overcome the challenge they face in managing the cash flow. In response, RBI Governor on March 27, 2020, announced to extend the moratorium on loans.
Alongside few Banks have announced schemes to support the business to tide over the acute cash crunch.
Against this backdrop, we reviewed the CoVid-19 loan of few banks on how they support the struggling businesses.
COVID-19- is an uncertainty based risk:
The present global crisis triggered by the Coronavirus outbreak is one of its kind never seen since the organized lending (under the regulatory oversight of central banks) is started in the global economy. The pandemic is not a routine risk confronting the businesses. No positive probability can be assigned to estimate the likelihood of recurrence. It is an uncertain risk and can be classified as an act of god. In other words, it can be described as a force majeure event.
Since it is a special event and an extraordinary situation is developed and still evolving. Its longevity, spread and impact are still unclear. The world economy is entering into uncharted water and does not have the capability to estimate the impact.
Hence the situation demands special attention to those who need help to stabilise the economy by supporting the economic enterprises to prevent their collapse and or value destruction due to their inability to adjust to the new challenge. It is more pertinent to the MSME segment who are shouldering the social burden of engaging unorganized & semi-skilled labours and largely financially weak to navigate the challenge from Covid 19.
Banks have an important role to bail out the business in the scenario
The circumstances we are discussing is extraordinary and the global community never experienced this in the past. It needs special attention. The consequences on the business as well as finance providers are needed to be handled with the utmost sensitivity to the people who are affected.
RBI and Banks are responding well. Many banks have shown an inclination to assist the businesses in many ways. We have been seeing the press publications of special loan products launched by the banks in India to help businesses to tide over the cash crunch. Their enthusiasm is amazing.
I had a chance to review the special COVID 19 loan products launched by three banks recently. Though the narrative signifies the commitment and concern for the businesses affected, the finer reading of the products is highly disappointing.
Out of three banks, two are major nationally important banks and. The glaring aspect is- products seeks to limit the eligibility to those customers whose account/s is graded SMA0 only. (SMA0 grade indicates the account which is a standard asset in the books of the bank and not having any adverse features in the operation. Other two categories are SMA1 and SMA2. These two categories are also standard assets but suffer from some deficiency in meeting their commitment on a timely basis).
There are two important points which negate the relevance of the Covid-19 loan products of these banks:
a) Narrow scope: Limiting the eligibility to SMA0 means exclusion of a very large section of the borrowers to get accommodation, especially MSMEs. They lack the financial flexibility to remain SMA0. It is quite likely that banks mightn’t have made an assessment of what proportion of their customers will be eligible. As a result, this product is just a narrative than a source of comfort in the trying circumstances for many.
b) The product does not recognize the evolving scenario: In the global crisis like the one we are witnessing, the risk across the asset class converge as we had seen in the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. In other words, the riskiness of SMA0 and SMA2 will be the same in this scenario. The distance between these two asset classes is not significant enough to predict the better default probability. Because they are going to confront the challenge in almost equal level. If the business scenario deteriorates and the default chances will be almost the same.
In the nutshell, the products of two banks have narrow relevance and have ignored an important aspect- how default probability will behave in the face of evolving uncertain scenario. Unless it is made more inclusive and having flexible terms, there are high chances that many of the standard loan accounts may not be able to navigate the challenges, especially in MSME space.
Businesses are confronting a very unique challenge and scenario is going affect them in almost equal measure for a large section of the business community. Banks need to structure the Covid-19 loan products to make it relevant to bail themselves out.
Loan Restructuring support for MSMEs –Extension is positive
The extended restructuring window to assist the MSMEs in distress is a welcome step. However, its utility depends on how we draw the restructuring proposal.
Finance Minister Mrs Nirmala Seetharaman in her budget speech announced that the scheme of one-time restructuring of existing MSME loans that have defaulted but are not non-performing as on January 1, 2020, will be extended for one more year. Consequently, RBI also took steps to issue the notification in this regard.
The key points as below:
1. The aggregate exposure, including non-fund based facilities, of banks and NBFCs to the borrower does not exceed ₹25 crores as on January 1, 2020.
2. The borrower’s account was in default but was a ‘standard asset’ as on January 1, 2020, and continues to be classified as a ‘standard asset’ till the date of implementation of the restructuring.
3. The restructuring of the borrower account is implemented on or before December 31, 2020.
4. The borrowing entity is GST-registered on the date of implementation of the restructuring. However, this condition will not apply to MSMEs that are exempt from GST-registration. This shall be determined on the basis of exemption limit obtaining as on January 1, 2020.
5. It is clarified that accounts which have already been restructured in terms of the RBI’s previous circular dated January 1, 2019 shall be ineligible for restructuring under this circular.
Extending the support by another nine months is a good step to assist the MSMEs to restructure their business and work out a turnaround path for themselves.
In the ongoing economic slowdown and growing incidences of Covid-19 outbreak, many MSMEs may suffer liquidity stress and require some breathing space to realign the financial model. If any entity experiences symptoms of distress, it is better to approach the bank to restructure the loans than seeking short term high-cost borrowing to keep the account regular.
However, we observed that due attention is not given to draw the proposal to avail its benefit.
The key factor of failure of restructuring – Not synchronizing with cash flow:
Recently I met an entrepreneur who has availed this facility in the month of September 2019. Despite restructuring, he is still grappling with the same level of distress as it was prevailing before. Upon reviewing the revised repayment schedule, I found that it was drawn arbitrarily and there was no linkage to the business characteristics and cash flow from the operations. I found that the restructuring is undertaken without drawing financial projections and solely with the focus of avoiding to classify it as NPA.
It is not the right approach. The scheme is a one-time opportunity for both borrower and banker to undertake a course correction so that precious public money will be returned in an orderly manner. It is an appropriate context to review the business holistically and draw a realistic financial projection for the few years and draw the repayment schedule based on that.
Arbitrariness in fixing the revised schedule will not serve any purpose and likely to render the project unviable leading to perennial distress. A situation can be easily avoided provided we give little attention to make a detailed and realistic financial plan.
We suggest a simple process to make restructuring successful:
1. Review the business holistically and understand the challenges and opportunities in a very unbiased manner
2. Draw a realistic financial projection based on step 1
3. Identify the needs – Rescheduling the existing loan/s, carving the deficit, seeking additional funding, stretching the repayment holiday etc
4. Make a comprehensive formal proposal and don’t accept the changes if it does not support the planned turnaround.
5. Highly desirable to seek expert support while drawing a revival and restructuring plan
A sustainable and enduring turnaround from financial distress requires a very meticulous approach. Restructuring of bank loan is an important step in this regard. The exercise needs to be approached with the utmost care and due concern to cash flow. As emphasized by the RBI circular, it is a one-time benefit for stressed MSMEs to undertake course correction. Don’t ignore the basics.
SMEs in Distress- Beware of ‘Soldiers of Fortune’
When in distress, many SMEs chase new money and normally end in traps of mischievous elements who make tall promises and swindle money.
I recently met one entrepreneur after a gap of two years. Once he had a flourishing business in excess of Rs 50 crores. He had built the business by himself brick by brick. Having come from a middle-class family, despite the success, he stuck himself to the higher values-Extremely affable, god-fearing, and committed to meet promises.
The back to back the introduction of policy measures – Demonetisation and GST-pushed him to the slippery position. Before he could make the required changes in the business process and financial management, the situation went out of control. The liquidity stress started appearing and he started defaulting on the payments resulting in personal insinuations from the providers of loan and suppliers which he never experienced in his life. On the other hand, the trade cycle got disrupted and order flow dried up as his principals started realigning their business to adjust to the new reality.
While he was battling in multiple fronts he started getting offers for a comprehensive bailout. Obviously these offers attract him as he was already exhausted to deal with demand from various people.
They offered to arrange a very large sum and consolidate the borrowings into a single source along with a very attractive rate of interest much below the RoI applicable to well-rated borrowers despite being highly stressed.
The waiting is still on…
Unfortunately, he is still hoping for the new money ever after two years. In the meantime bank and NBFCs have initiated recovery action against his properties and have been establishing their rights. The business is closed and the family is living with agonising pain and praying for better days.
It is commonly observed among the entrepreneurs in distress:
Most of the entrepreneurs in financial difficulty look for quick solution fearing that continued distress may affect the business and their reputation. Having pledged every asset to lenders they fear the impact of distress much more than what it really is. That in turn, prompts them to seek an instant solution. They tend to react to any proposal with much more intensity and avoid confronting those mercenaries to understand their credentials.
Fortune soldiers- Mercenaries who boast about exclusive access to money:
These agents claim that they have an exclusive arrangement to secure money at very soft terms. They show a lot of empathy and promise to work for clients with all the sincerity. If we analyse the experience of interaction with these fortune soldiers there are commonalities in their approach. Some of them are :
- They present as if they enjoy a high degree of confidence of the financiers.
- They seek very small fraction as advisory fee and a still smaller fraction as advance
- Terms are so compelling to justify taking risk of giving advance
- The advance will be packaged as a commitment fee or insurance premium to bring the money from abroad etc
- They do not reveal much about the financier.
- They prop up the names of people in higher offices
- They set the meeting in very premium places
Eventually, their target is to extract advance as much as possible, keep giving excuses to frustrate and eventually make one go away.
Entrepreneurs are more vulnerable in India for financial distress than in any other country:
The options for turnaround are limited in India. The general perception of the stressed enterprise is highly prejudiced. Many see them with suspicion of laundering money from the firm. Being in stressed and struggling lonely, entrepreneurs are obviously vulnerable.
Many take risk of giving the advance in the hope of getting a large sum. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs have lost a huge sum of money in their hunt for fortune.
The greater damage will be when an entrepreneur diverts his attention to chase this route and keep away from immediate tasks. Lack of credible proposal may prompt recovery action leading to the collapse of the business and destruction of enterprise value.
How to deal with this situation?
If anyone offers a deal which is cheaper than a bank loan, it is to be examined thoroughly before committing. We have not still come across a charity extending helping hand to distressed businesses.
Entrepreneurs should desist from the temptation to seek quick money and allow them to be drifted away from reality. It is nothing but a distraction to find a viable solution within their reach and exacerbating the distress.
Keep your attention to immediate tasks such as talking to creditors and suppliers.
Many a time we falsely blame the absence of money for our distress. However, the fact is that most of the reasons for distress lie elsewhere and pumping more money won’t solve the problem.
Review the business strategy with the support of professional advisors. With professional assistance, you can build a new roadmap and lower the risk to sustainability. When an outsider is roped in, fresh scrutiny will open the mind to explore alternatives.
Distressed entities require better policy support:
MSMEs need better implementation of the law to assist entrepreneurs to undertake course correction. Unfortunately, half-hearted implementation of regulations to support distressed entities in India is preventing entrepreneurs from taking an orderly path to turnaround. This will naturally make them fall prey to unscrupulous elements.
The Insolvency and Bankruptcy code needs to be made universal. The option of restructuring of loans should be enforced upon all the banks(public/private) and NBFCs.
In the present era of globalization, the vulnerability for risks is unlikely to recede rather likely to go up. Thus a stable policy environment is needed to support the turnaround of distressed entities. Also tagging prejudice of criminality with distress situation must end.
Entrepreneurs in distress should appreciate that there are no short cuts to come out of it. Recovery from distress is an orderly process and time consuming requiring one to review in entirety and draw a new strategy.
Anil Kumar Shetty, Founder, SME Advisors
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