Asset-based lending is one of the best ways for mid-sized companies to get to the next level.
And the role of credit insurance, which has vastly improved since the days of the Great Recession, is often overlooked… yet will be vital to recovery after countries – and the companies in them – exit lockdown.
Jo Bennett-Coles, managing director of FGI Finance, a global leader in domestic and international finance for mid-sized companies, gives us the lowdown on credit insurance, including when you need it, how it works, and the many varieties of coverage available.
This type of coverage gets a bad rap in some circles. Jo dispels the myths and offers some best practices.
Tune in to find out…
- Why credit insurance is a powerful tool for private equity
- Services credit insurers provide that will surprise you
- How credit insurance fits in with M&A
- The biggest mistake companies make with credit insurance
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Patrick Stroth: Hello there, I’m Patrick Stroth. Welcome to M&A Masters where I speak with the leading experts in mergers and acquisitions. And we’re all about one thing here, that’s a clean exit for owners, founders and their investors. Today I’m joined by Jo Bennett-Coles, Managing Director of the global finance leader FGI. FGI’s slogan, no deal is too complex and no market is out of reach. Jo brings a wealth of experience in a specific field of finance that will play a significant role as companies look to recover from COVID-19.
Not long ago, 208 out of 260 companies surveyed expect to be back at full speed in six months after opening. Now they’ll be challenged to find new ways to get there. One of those tools is credit insurance. Private insurance is not what you might have thought before. That’s why I’m very excited to have Jo join me today and explain these new opportunities for companies. Jo, welcome to the program. Thanks for joining me.
Jo Bennett-Coles: Thank you, Patrick.
Patrick: Now, before we get into the credit insurance and these new tools and the new application of them, let’s set the table for our audience. Give us a quick background on how you got to this point in your career.
How Jo Got to This Point in Her Career
Jo: Gosh, it’s a long time ago, Patrick, that’s for sure. But let me start from the very beginning and overview. Well, I’m an attorney by profession. So before everyone’s switches off, I haven’t practiced in law now for probably over about 30 years, so you’re quite safe out there. I went from practicing law into the world of commerce very, very early on in my career because I wanted to be close to the action.
So I joined a mid-market logistics company in the UK which had about 300 employees and seven divisions. And I worked my way from the shop floor, literally. Starting in the credit control department because, you know, cash is king all the way up to the board. And I did that for 12 years. So I cut my teeth on a tough rough business where we did everything from restructuring to buying stuff, having the good days, definitely having some bad ones too.
And then from there, I found my feet in the world of asset-based lending. I was lucky enough to join an advisory group, where I again started on the bottom working with asset-based lenders and helping them to work out, fix problem situations. So I saw a lot of challenge loans and a lot of deals that needed to be refinanced. And I did that for 12 more years. And along the way, I met up with the great team at FGI, and they became personal friends. And about five and a half years ago, they said, Hey, come and join us.
Come and see what it’s like to actually put together deals where you put the money out and finance. And that’s what I did and that’s how I ended up at FGI in 2015. And what I do essentially today from the UK and Europe is work with our, work with advisors, work with other asset-based lenders to provide asset-based loans, which is what, is one of the main areas of FGI. And obviously, as part of that structure, when FGI puts together a lone, we use credit insurance because we’re working with transactions that are multi-jurisdictional cross border. We have credit exposures in just over 60 countries.
And in order to do that, in order to lend in more places, to lend more efficiently and more comfortably, we’ve always relied on credit insurance in FGI. And FGI, just to give you a little flavor, if that’s okay, Patrick, is a business that’s been going now for over 20 years. We are a global leader in domestic and international finance and we provide asset-based loans and loans against accounts receivable and there’s, that’s aimed particularly to mid-size companies. Companies in a variety of different industry sectors from manufacturing to service providers.
But the other side of FGI, and this is why we use credit insurance so much, is we’re actually a broker of credit insurance. And we also have technology. We have unique technology, which is our own. And that brings out the best in credit insurance. And it’s been making us a great study across this particular time because, you know, it’s, we now have three words we use, finance, protect, collect. These are the three areas which we think are very strong in the current climate. So it’s a collaborative effort between all these elements to give us the comfort we need when we’re lending. Hope that’s helpful, Patrick,
Patrick: Very helpful. And I’ll tell you, the issue today is that when times are good, issues about credit and financing aren’t that important or they’re less emphasized because everybody can get credit and everybody can get capital very easily. It’s when times are bad that suddenly, the attention gets directed to Okay, what are some of our options? What are alternatives out there?
And how can we go ahead and get from point A to point B in this new environment? And the other emphasis out there, need for capital, is that if we look back, as many people have at the last recession, where we had a big shock to the system, there were a lot of opportunities in the wake of the recession that a lot of players didn’t take advantage of just because there was so much fear.
Those same investors this year are now going to look and capitalize on these opportunities that they missed last time. And so you’re already seeing pieces being moved on the board to get companies in position to do that. And so tools like this that they may have overlooked, are why we need to go and bring the emphasis back. Yeah, what are you seeing, just either economy or the business as we’re pulling out of COVID-19 and beginning to move forward?
Why it’s Going to be Different This Time
Jo: Yeah, I mean, it’s a great one. And it’s fantastic to draw the analogy back to the great recession of 2008-2010. And you made a great, you know, very accurate statement, but there’s been analysis done on this. Obviously, the fear factor has been that there’s going to be a lot of bankruptcies. I think we all accept that that’s going to happen.
And it could be very ugly. No one knows the numbers. But there is an upside and the upside is there’s going to be this bounce and everyone needs to be ready for it. And, you know, getting that, getting businesses geared up, getting them ready to go and getting not only the businesses ready to go, but getting their lenders comfortable with lending as well is very important.
And I think when we reflect back to the great recession that people miss a challenge when you talk about credit insurance because people say oh yeah, I remember credit insurance in the great recession. It didn’t work. Didn’t work. Well, the world’s moved on a long way since then. And I think one of the big areas, of course, is great technology, better information sharing. And those are things that are going to make it very different this time. It’s far more joined up than it was before. So I think as far as businesses getting back on their feet, there are a number of tools.
There’s obviously a lot of businesses are talking very much with their lenders right now and getting them organized. There’s a lot of support coming to businesses, both from governments around the world. And I talk globally because I’m a global lender. I think businesses are refocusing themselves. There’s a lot of businesses that are changing, tweaking the way they operate. And that’s a big thing. They’ve got to get comfortable themselves. They’ve got to get their customers and their supply base comfortable with that. And in order to do that, you’ve got to have some good tools to move quickly.
So credit insurance is a great fix. Businesses are having to work differently now. They’re having to work remotely, they’re having to work with better technology, they’re having to do things separate from each other. So you need greater levels of transparency and speed of information to make all those things happen in a joined up way. And that’s not going to change anytime soon. We’re in a whole new world now. I think we all accept that. And that means what we do now is going to carry on for a very long time. It’s going to be the sort of the game-changer for the future.
And I think there is a, generally, what I see out there in the market is businesses are sharing far more between themselves amongst lending communities as well, how they’re fixing problems, how they’re coming up with solutions. It’s very open. Everyone is trying to help each other. There is a mentality to share risk now far more than there ever was before. And you’re seeing that from governments all the way down. Right now, I mean, for example, today in the UK, there’s been an announcement that we’re going to have a big government’s pull program around the credit insurance world that’s going on across a number of European countries as well.
And it will become a global thing, of course, everyone will be doing it. So that’s happening top-down, and that’s going to flow all the way through. So that will stimulate a lot of trade, a lot of activities. So these are all the things that we’re starting to see. Look, it’s a long way to go, Patrick. We’ve got, we’re only in the early stages of coming out of this lockdown process and different countries are at different parts of their release.
You know, for example, in the US, you’re probably a little bit further behind some of the European countries now. We’re seeing, for example, in mainland Europe, the car plants are opening up again. They have far more freedom in terms of their hospitality sector is getting moving. Asia is further ahead than all of us just because they finished their lockdown earlier. But, you know, we’re all fearful along the way of making sure that we put in place good measures that can cope with any potential second surge that may come from COVID. So this is a sustainable release from this lockdown period.
Patrick: Let’s get into credit insurance specifically because, you know, for those that our audience just was basically, what is it, who it’s for and how? And this is the real big thing is it’s not just for your traditional manufacturers that are at foreign supply chains. This is now being used and it’s embraced and it is ideal for the technology industry. So give us the one on one on that.
The Lowdown On Credit Insurance
Jo: The lowdown. Yeah, and, you know, before I do that, I’d say the first thing I get is particularly when I’m talking in the US market, you kind of get this eye-rolling. Oh, credit insurance. And it always makes me laugh because historically, when you’re talking particularly into the US market, it’s always been it doesn’t work. Why doesn’t it work? Well, you know, I bought it and I stuck it in the drawer. And yeah, well, credit insurance is a living breathing thing. You don’t just, it’s not a buy it and forget it and stick it in the drawer. You’ve got to love it, nurture it, otherwise it doesn’t work properly.
So very simply what it is, there are a number of big carriers out there. There are some specialized ones too. But they’re probably about, you know, 8 to 10 really big names who are global and they will offer different lines of coverage, which give you the protection if your account debtor fails to pay or goes bust. So really what you’re doing here is you’re buying something that shares the risk. You’re going to get paid out, you’re going to get paid out something if your account debtor fails to pay you. That’s very simply what credit insurance is doing.
And there’s all sorts of different types of policy. What I would say that you need when you’re buying credit insurance, particularly if you’re buying a biggish policy is probably needs some expert help. That’s the first thing. It’s a little bit like when you buy motor insurance or household insurance, you probably going to speak to someone who will explain the nuts and bolts of how it’s gonna work. And you need that, particularly because there are a number of different kind of levers you can use with credit insurance to make it efficient for you.
The other thing I would say with credit insurance not just for you, as the business person, you as the technology company, having it is very powerful as a tool for your lender because if you’ve got it for yourself, it gives you protection. It gives you that comfort of thinking, well, if I don’t get paid, I’m gonna get the money back from the credit insurer so my cash flow’s protected, that’s great. But if you have a lender and you say, by the way, I’ve taken the step, the lenders gonna feel a lot better about you. You can use that to leverage or a loan facility. So it has more power than just your own cash flow. It shares the outside world.
Patrick: In other words…
Jo: Exactly right. You can use it to go around the market and potentially get a better loan, better availability, particularly obviously, if you’re with, you know, an invoice financer or asset-based lender, it’s a very powerful tool. So if you take control by having your own policy, it says an awful lot to the outside world. So very simply, you are getting something that protects your cash flow, gives you the comfort.
You can sleep nights, that’s what it’s about. But you’ve got to love it and nurture it. You can’t just buy it, stick it in the drawer and then when you feel you need to make a claim go, I’m going to make a claim, because likelihood is you haven’t complied with the policy and you’re going to get the insurer come back to you and say, I’m not paying. And that’s one of the other big problems that I used to come up against when talking to certain markets. Well, credit insurance, you never get paid. Like Yeah, well, if you follow the rules, you’ll get paid. Same with like having house insurance or car insurance, follow the rules, you get paid. Same thing.
So now having more technology, having more clever ways that make it easy in terms of managing a policy are the way forward to ensure you stay in compliance all the time without having to work super hard to do that. So that’s really the kind of nuts and bolts of credit insurance, but I would always recommend to anybody who’s looking at it that they get some help with putting the right policies together that’s suitable for them, suitable for their business and also it’s going to make them attractive for a lender potentially. So you can hit a number of boxes there.
Patrick: And it enables you, as a business, to grow more because they can extend more credit and more payment terms to their customers. So customers are only allowed to buy $5 million in a quarter. Well, if you have insurance, you can sell them $10 million worth of your product because you have the insurance to back you up. So now all of a sudden you can increase sales and have no risk.
Jo: Absolutely. That’s a great point, Patrick. And you can do that not only domestically but also internationally. Traditionally, credit insurance was always seen as the international tool. But nowadays, it’s everywhere. It’s global. It’s as much domestic as it is international. And I think what we’re learning as we come out of COVID is that the traditional markets that maybe your business was facing into, are going to be different. So you’re going to have to have that flexibility to be able to move quickly with new customers in different jurisdictions, different scales, different levels of concentration that you had before COVID.
It’s going to look new now, new and fresh. So yes, you’re absolutely right. The other thing you may find as well, certain lenders may only have certain levels of limit on different customers. You may be able to get more somewhere else. That’s an important point too. So it’s really, really essential that you explore these options yourself and get very comfortable with the process that you understand. All the mechanics of how credit insurance can really bring you value and I think we’ll talk a little bit about more of that, as we go through this conversation.
Patrick: Well, with what we’re seeing out here now, I could just see this as an extra tool for private equity, or some of these emerging companies that as they’re growing quickly, they don’t necessarily know what other expertise they need to have in house. And one thing was credit insurance, I think there’s a nice value add is where you can leverage the database of the insurance company to go ahead and do background checks and credit checks on prospective customers. And that I can imagine saves a ton of time. Could you explain that for us?
Jo: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s one of the great things. And people often say to me, Well, you know, I’m paying this premium, what do I get for it? Well, you’re getting the power of this global credit insurer behind you and it’s not just you’re getting the insurance coverage, you’re getting the power that they have from financial information, real-time.
They get stuff, and I’ll give you an example. We were, I was working on a deal recently where the financial information I was provided on a major account debtor to my client was about six, nine months old. And it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t pretty. And we were like, Whoa, we don’t like the look of this. But I spoke to one of our credit insurers and they had data that was only three months old. They’re like, how do you do this? And this is because they have an enormous network.
They have huge power. They have the ability to research financial credit reports and what this is doing for you, as the policyholder is saving you huge amounts of time and money and effort in doing all this stuff because you are effectively using their underwriting skills. That’s becoming your credit department. And you should use that. That’s so powerful because they have all that data at the touch of a button. And that’s important to remember. And I will say this every time, they are sharing the risk with you.
So, you know, you must use them as the partner and get maximum value out of all the facilities they have. And not only remember, not only are they got all this information, but they often have collections teams as well in different countries. So if you’re stuck with trying to, you know, recover some money in a territory you’re not familiar with, they can help you with that too because they have this massive global network. So there are a lot of benefits here that come with credit insurance programs that save you a bunch of time and money and resources.
Patrick: While we’re all about M&A here Rubicon. So let’s talk about credit insurance in the context of a mergers and acquisitions transaction. How does that play a role from your experience?
Credit Insurance and M&A
Jo: Yeah, I mean, it’s in my experience when we see it within the M&A world, obviously, typically, we’re looking at providing some kind of EBL facility as part of the deal. And what always has been looked for is maximum availability. Maximum availability in a facility. You want to squeeze out every penny of availability to assist with the program of the M&A. And in order to do that, having an efficient credit insurance program that can give you that availability over all your account debtors, in whatever jurisdiction they’re in, whether it’s domestic or international, is absolutely critical.
But also it gives comfort to the private equity groups. And often, you know, we’re dealing lower down in the chain of command here but if you can prove and show that you have structured this thoroughly and every area has been thought about, you’ve managed all the risk. That is a very big kind of comfort point for everybody in the process. And at the end of it what you show is an availability or borrowing base and this is me talking as the lender here where we’ve been able to give as much coverage as possible to the account debtors because we’re using credit insurance that’s working efficiently.
Patrick: Yeah. And again, that could be a situation where post-closing you have some outstanding amount due from a customer, the customer doesn’t pay or can’t pay. And all of a sudden that could result in a breach on the reps and warranties and trigger all kinds of other bad financial outcomes, but by having that risk mitigated and transferred out, no worries.
Jo: Absolutely, because, you know, we’ve seen with other deals that we’ve worked on historically, where potentially there might be an issue regarding a customer where there’s concentration. So if you can’t, if we couldn’t get comfortable through credit insurance, then what we would probably have ended up doing would be going back to the private equity group and saying, you know what, we can’t finance this account debtor.
So either you’re going to provide some kind of security or some kind of guarantee or it’s out of the game. So actually going and then take a chunk of money away. So you don’t want to be in that position. So having the credit insurance is a big win for them because it takes away that headache. So one less thing to think about.
Patrick: Perfect. How is COVID-19 and this whole pandemic, you can contrast it with the experience you had after the 2008-2010 recession, but how has COVID impacted credit insurance today?
Jo: Yeah, it’s a great point. Yeah. I mean, obviously, it has, yeah. I’m the first one to say credit insurance is great, but it isn’t a silver bullet for absolutely everything. Clearly, there are areas now where credit insurers are taking a tougher line. The first thing I would say is, you can’t, there is credit assurance out there to be found. You can find the coverage. It’s what level of coverage you’re going to get right now. And it’s changing all the time. With, if you’d asked me two or three weeks ago, I’d have said certain sectors are very difficult right now. But it’s really moving very fast.
And keeping on top of that managing and monitoring that information is a day to day job right now. You can’t do that manually. That’s the first thing I would say. Certainly going to have an impact on price. But really pricing when you consider it as a percentage of premium, the premium effectively, this percentage of your revenue is still very low. I mean, it’s less than 1% of your sales figure.
So when you look at it like that, it’s minute. But yeah, we are seeing increases for sure. Those that will go up, they’ll go down, there’ll be movement all over the place. I think all the credit insurance of expecting to get a higher round of claims, there are going to be more claims. It’s like a tsunami. They know it’s coming. It’s not arrived yet, but it’s coming. And what I would say with regard to that is, you know, if you follow the rules, if you have your policy properly managed and monitored, you’ll get paid.
But if you don’t, there’s no doubt in my mind, insurers are going to take a much tougher line before they’ll pay out because why would they not? They’ve got to be sensible here. So I think, you know, what I would say in the marketplace right now is any coverage is worth having. It’s all about risk-sharing. You won’t get everything but you’ll get something and that’s got to be a good thing to have right now. Work with your credit insurer through a good broker or work directly if you’re with a smaller group. But they are creative thinkers.
They’re working very hard. There’s a huge amount of support going into the credit insurance industry globally right now from governments as well because it’s seen as such a key tool for domestic and international trade. And therefore, that’s why there’s so much support going on now. So yeah, price increases, a narrowing of appetite, sure, get your claims filed, you know, carefully, but you’ll get paid. These are the kind of key things we’re seeing at the moment.
And, you know, the big players are the ones who obviously have the strengths. Some of the small what I call niche credit insurers, they may be more challenged. Perhaps if you’ve worked with, you know, traditionally with one big credit insurer, try another one for a change and see how they can beat it. So don’t be frightened of doing that right now. You know, don’t fall into that route of saying, Oh, well, they’ve always looked up to me so I’ll stick with them. Don’t be frightened about doing that right now.
Patrick: That’s the role you can provide at FGI is that, you know, business owners, the CFO, they don’t have to do this themselves. They come to you, you’ve got the relationships with multiple facilities, and there may be a niche little boutique facility that can fit a boutique client in that space and be ideally suited. You can do all of that. They don’t have to kind of, you know, do it yourself, figure all that out. So that’s a great benefit.
Jo: Yeah. Absolutely right. And thank you, Patrick. Yes, I mean, we can do the whole thing. So we can, you know, we can help broker a policy for them. We can help the technology to manage the policy and also if they need finance, we can help with that too. We can do all three things. You know, there are other brokers out there, I wouldn’t say I’m the only one in the world, of course not. But we’re in a very unique space at FGI, where we have these three great strengths and they all dovetail together very neatly to provide, you know, a business, a technology, business service business, business, that’s, you know, going through an M&A process.
The private equity teams with a whole bunch solutions that fix the problem in the current climate, which is getting the deal done, getting the finance in place and ensuring you can sleep nights because you’re going to get paid and there’s not going to be a big hole in the cash flow three months down the line.
Patrick: Yeah. And the objective for a lot of the people in our audience with private equity and investment bankers, is we’re taking these owner-founder companies, and you’re looking to scale them and grow them quickly, steadily. However, you’re not going to be perpetually in one state. You’re going to be growing and there’s going to be a need for scale, a need to adapt to complexity as needs change and so forth.
It’s nice getting in on an entry-level, okay, when the needs are simple, but then have this enhanced tool that can be used in a variety of different ways. I think the combination of the fact that you’ve got, you’re transferring risk as you’re getting some risk out, you have the leverage of improved rates from lenders, because you’ll save money right there because lenders will give you more favorable terms if you have this insurance, which is a benefit anyway. And then on top of that, you can use the resources for doing background checks on, you know, on potential customers.
So all those items offset this minimal cost and at the same time, if something really bad happens, we’ve all now just gone through this so we can see that something bad can come from out of nowhere. It’s there for you. It’s an absolute no brainer, particularly as is flexible. I mean, lenders are more flexible. There are facilities out there that are more flexible. Because of technology we have to be flexible. And having a tool like this that will work with a client is really, really reassuring. Jo, what are the basic entry-level information that a prospective client would need to give you? What are you looking for just baseline to get an engagement started?
Jo: Yeah, so very simply, we would have a chat with them first about what it is they need. We have a very simple discovery document usually about one page or so. We have a whole team in the US. Our headquarters are in New York. We have offices in Chicago and in Florida and in California as well. So we can speak to the client, find out what they need and do some discovery work and then build. If they’re looking for brokerage help with a policy, that’s how we’ll start to build a policy for them.
If there’s something specific they need, if they’ve got a lender in play, if this is part of a, you know, an M&A program, we can look at all these elements. We’re very much a bespoke team. So we don’t have a one size fits all at all. And we’ll look at what’s needed to help the client achieve their goals. So the most important thing is have a chat with us and we’ll take it from there and build something that’s unique for them.
Patrick: That’s ideal. And you can go ahead and get that processed, onboarding processed fairly quickly. You’ve done this so many times. And really figure out what they need, and then you cut out the superfluous stuff, right?
Jo: Absolutely. Yeah. We’re all about getting things done quickly. We work, FTO, works in a world where we have to respond very fast as a boutique commercial finance business. That’s our niche. We don’t have a complex structure. And, you know, funny enough, I was on a call earlier today to do with credit insurance. And somebody said, how quickly can we get them a proposal? And I said, Will you give me some information? And literally inside of 24 hours, that’s how fast. So, yeah, yeah. So we speedy, we’re speedy, and that’s the key. And right now, you have to be quick. You have to be quick because tomorrow could look really different to today.
Patrick: Yeah. And if you get a proposal, jump on it now because unlike other things, firms can change very, very quickly.
Jo: Yeah. And that’s a really great point, Patrick. You know, things are moving very quickly. They’re moving fast in the world of credit insurance. They’re moving fast in the world of finance, too. And, you know, particularly in the M&A space. And deals have to be done quickly. Money’s moving fast and appetites are changing now more quickly. We’ve been used to 5, 6, 7 years of benign conditions where everything was the same day in day out, and now it’s a very different road. And it’s going to be like that for a while, for a very long while I fear so.
Patrick: Yeah. The conversations I’ve had with a few PE firms where we’ve been talking about their inability to get out and travel and get very active on their acquisition activity, many of them have turned to focus their efforts on maintenance and taking care of their portfolio companies and just making sure that there’s management and cleanup and ironing out any wrinkles and so forth. That’s going to continue. We should see a flurry of activity and everybody galavanting out there to go meet others in the coming months.
But while they have this time, I would strongly recommend having them reach out to you because, have a conversation. You may not know or realize that you need the types of tools and facilities that Jo can offer. And so I would definitely advise anybody, just as a preliminary diligence for assisting your portfolio companies and protecting your investor’s interests. You really owe it to yourself and your investors to go ahead and reach out to Jo. Jo, how can our listeners find you?
Jo: Yeah, thanks, Patrick. That’s a great one. Well, we have a great website which is fgiww.com. Not only do we put all our details of where you can reach us on there, but there are some fantastic case studies, both on our credit insurance side, but also on our finance side. We publish details of companies we work with and testimonials so you can get a real sense of the story that drove what we were doing and the outcome that we were able to achieve in those cases.
We have teams, obviously, you know, we’re headquartered in the US, New York, Florida, and California, as well as Chicago. I have, we’ve got email addresses that we can share for all the different teams. I’m based in the UK. So if you’re, you know, thinking about to deal in the UK and Europe, then probably I’m a good person to talk to.
But clearly, if you’re in California, you’re going to want to speak to our excellent colleagues in our San Francisco office and La Office as well. So, yeah, so we’re easy to reach and we’ll be delighted to hear from you, all of us. And obviously, waiting to see if we can help fix some problems or come up with some solutions and ideas that meet your requirements.
Patrick: And in the unlikely event that you can’t find FGI and get to Jo, please reach out to me firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll also have the show notes here, and you can get to their website but they are uber responsive. I would definitely say that about them. Jo, thanks very much for joining us and we’re going to talk again,
Jo: Patrick, thank you. I really enjoyed our chat. Stay safe. Stay well, Bye, guys.