If it’s all about location, location, location when opening a business, credit unions may want to pay attention to several cities in Florida, California and Texas.
According to Biz2Credit, a New York firm that connects lenders with small businesses for financing, the top 10 metro areas with the highest loan application growth in 2011 and 2012 were Houston, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Denver, Seattle, Dallas-Fort Worth, Orlando, Atlanta, Charlotte, St. Louis and San Francisco-Oakland.
Couple that growth with regional and community banks returning to the small business marketplace to aggressively court entrepreneurs, and credit unions may have to go above and beyond to stay competitive in the game.
Since the Great Recession, credit unions welcomed in business owners turned away by banks, often severing relationships that lasted for decades. The stories ran the gamut from bankers’ denials for extended lines of credit to refinancing. For some of these small businesses, it was the first time they ever heard about credit unions and the small business financing they can provide.
Now that the economy has started to turn, fickleness may be one of the dangers credit unions might have to deal with.
Banks such as Capital One, Bank of America and Wells Fargo are back, touting lower interest rates and prime terms to woo small businesses, said Frank Amantia, president/CEO of Mid-Atlantic Financial Partners LLC, a business lending CUSO, that is a subsidiary of the $286 million Mid-Atlantic Federal Credit Union in Germantown, Md.
Over the past decade, the CUSO has facilitated more than $150 million in commercial and business loans, Amantia said. It currently services more than $80 million for its credit union clients. Mid-Atlantic Financial is owned by four credit unions and has affiliate or transactional relationship with 15 credit unions.
“Terms are being offered that most credit unions can’t compete with,” Amantia said. “It wasn’t that many years ago that credit unions couldn’t find deposits to save their lives. The money was going to banks. Then when the economic downturn took place, there was a flight to safety. Banks were in distress and credit unions were the safe haven.”
Now, Amantia is concerned that complacency may have set in. Some credit unions may have assumed once they established a relationship with a borrower for loans, the alliance would be sustainable.
“What they’re finding out is some of these were merely relationships of opportunity,” Amantia noticed.
At Mid-Atlantic Financial, some credit unions are saying there isn’t a shortage of borrowers because there are now more players in the small business marketplace.
If Biz2Credit’s data is any indication, it appears that geography has certainly played a part in where banks and other lenders are targeting their efforts.
“We expected cities such as New York City, Boston and Philadelphia, which both have well deserved reputations for business innovation, to be atop the list,” said Rohit Arora, president of Biz2Credit. “However, the costs of doing business are much greater in big cities along the East Coast. In other sections of the country, the cost of living is much cheaper.”
Small businesses in Houston, for instance, had the highest average number of employees at 7.1, according to Biz2Credit. Arora said this is significant because smaller companies have created the lion’s share of new jobs during the past decade. Another trend is the arrival of large numbers of Latinos and South Asian immigrants, who are starting companies in metropolitan areas in all sections of the country, including cities in southern California, Texas and Florida.
The $763 million Charter Oak Federal Credit Union in Groton, Conn., revamped it business lending program in 2009. Last summer, it provided a unique multiyear financing package for a shipyard that allows the facility to refinance its existing mortgage as well as fund future improvements at the 6.5-acre marina in Mystic, Conn. In April, it hired a 30-year bank industry veteran as its new vice president of business lending.
“Our biggest issue going forward is the arbitrary MBL cap, not our competitors,” said Brian Orenstein, president/CEO of Charter Oak. Still, competition is on his mind.
“We rebuilt our business lending department back in 2009 to ensure we can compete with banks in the local business lending market,” Orenstein said. “We have also developed competitive business deposit products and services that are typically better for the member than those of our competitors.”
Unlike consumer lending, commercial and business lending is not cyclical, Amantia explained. There is constant turnover, and loans are always maturing, he added. The problem is when banks, nonbanks and conduits left the scene during the Great Recession, credit unions stepped into fill the void, convinced they were the long-term answer.
If credit unions want to retain those small business member relationships established over the past few years, they might want to rethink how they approach commercial and business lending such as targeting smaller loans and lines of credit and considering retail strip centers rather than traditional apartment buildings, Amantia suggested. Borrowers with less than stellar credit histories might get a second, longer look, he noted. Amantia cautioned that he is not talking about helping those with distressed credit but those with complex credit.
“The crème de la crème–those are the ones that are disappearing first,” Amantia said.
Indeed, small businesses in San Francisco, New York, Boston and Los Angeles tended to have higher credit scores, according to Biz2Credit. Arora said many of these cities are tech hubs with small, nimble and profitable small businesses and with long histories of innovation and success, and thus, higher credit scores.
By evaluating the market, credit unions can seize on untapped opportunities and establish several niches, Amantia offered.
“You can stay where you are and watch your portfolio disappear or you can adapt,” he said.