Why Loan Participations Still Work For Banking

September 19th, 2016

community-banks-9-19-16.pngOne consequence of the relaxation of branching restrictions in recent decades has been the near demise of correspondent banking, and specifically “overline lending,” where a community bank looks to a larger, geographically distant bank to extend credit to a customer of the community bank in excess of that bank’s legal lending limit.

The spread of branch banking, though, has enabled larger banks to compete for customers once the sole province of community banks. Further, large banks are under increased regulatory pressure to lend to smaller businesses. Consequently, traditional overline lending has largely disappeared. Community banks must now look elsewhere to place that portion of a loan exceeding the bank’s lending limit.

At the same time, technology is leveling the playing field between large and small banks in assessing and managing credit risk of business customers. Although customer relationships are still at the heart of community banking, not only does computerized process-based lending reduce costs, but it can lead to better lending decisions when, for example, data analysis provides a defensible rationale for rejecting a loan request from a customer who has a strong relationship with the bank. Community banks should utilize this technology to strengthen their relationship with existing customers as well as to attract new customers.

The Transformation of Community Bank Lending
Today, community banks find much of their traditional business lending imperiled by changes in banking technology, structure and regulation:

  • Credit-risk evaluation techniques have become more sophisticated;
  • Branching restrictions no longer protect local lending markets;
  • Computerized, process-based lending increasingly drives small-business lending, reducing the importance of relationship banking;
  • Business customers can still outgrow the lending capacity of their community bank;
  • Overline lending through correspondent banks has largely disappeared; and
  • Regulatory compliance costs have risen while becoming more complex, increasing compliance risk.

Because of these irreversible trends, much traditional business lending has left community banks, with the consequence that they have become more dependent on commercial real estate (CRE) and construction and development (C&D) lending than is the case at larger banks.

Community bank CRE and C&D lending usually is limited to a bank’s immediate market area, leading to a concentration of geographical credit risk that can be dangerous, if not fatal, to the bank during an economic downturn. CRE and C&D loan losses were a major factor in the failure of many community banks following the 2008 financial crisis. Although community banks have been increasing their commercial and industrial (C&I) lending, they still are too heavily concentrated in CRE and C&D lending.

How Community Banks Can Compete More Effectively Today as Lenders
A major challenge facing many community banks today is how to reduce their dependency on CRE and C&D lending while profitably attracting and retaining other types of business customers and borrowers. Community banks, though, still have many advantages they can capitalize on?proximity to their customers, local market knowledge, the ability to develop and maintain personal customer relationships, and speed and flexibility in tailoring banking solutions to a particular customer’s needs.

Community banks must implement new techniques to increase their non-real estate business lending, especially when a customer’s credit needs outgrow the bank’s balance-sheet capacity to accommodate all of those needs. Selling participations in loans that the bank has originated represents an effective way to retain customers with growing credit needs; loan participations are the modern-day equivalent of overline lending. At the same time, buying loan participations represents an effective way for a community bank to diversify its loan portfolio, both geographically as well as by customer type.

Key, though, to selling and buying participations in business loans is efficiently evaluating credit risk as well as monitoring and servicing a loan over its life. Working collaboratively with third-party providers of specialized banking services who are not competitors represents an excellent way for a community bank to profitably and safely engage in both buying and selling loan participations.

Conclusion
Community banks have been burdened in recent years by increased regulation while technology has enabled large banks and some emerging non-bank firms to divert business lending away from community banks. Nonetheless, relationship banking still is a valuable service that community banks can and do provide. However, they need to collaborate with other community banks to create the scale necessary to compete against the big banks by utilizing new technology to make their lending processes more efficient and to enhance the banking experience for their customers. Using technology in buying and selling loan participations represents an important way to accomplish that objective.

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Bert Ely has been a financial institutions and monetary policy consultant in Alexandria, Virginia, since 1983, where he specializes in banking policy and deposit insurance issues. He has served as an advisor to BancAlliance, a network of over 200 community banks.