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Commercial Lending and Risk Management lessons from British Punk Bands

By: Mike Horrocks

The other day in the American Banker, there was an article titled “Is Loan Growth a Bad Idea Right Now?”, which brings up some great questions on how banks should be looking at their C&I portfolios (or frankly any section of the overall portfolio).

I have to admit I was a little down on the industry, for thinking the only way we can grow is by cutting rates or maybe making bad loans.  This downer moment required that I hit my playlist shuffle and like an oracle from the past, The Clash and their hit song “Should I stay or should I go”, gave me Sage-like insights that need to be shared.

First, who are you listening to for advice?  While I would not recommend having all the members of The Clash on your board of directors, could you have maybe one.  Ask yourself  are your boards, executive management teams, loan committees, etc., all composed of the same people, with maybe the only difference being iPhone versus Android??  Get some alternative thinking in the mix.  There is tons of research to show this works.

Second, set you standards and stick to them.  In the song, there is a part where we have a bit of a discussion that goes like this.  “This indecision’s buggin’ me,  If you don’t want me, set me free.  Exactly whom I’m supposed to be, Don’t you know which clothes even fit me?”  Set your standards and just go after them.  There should be no doubt if you are going to do a certain kind of loan or not based on the pricing.  Know your pricing, know your limits, and dominate that market.

Lastly, remember business cycles.  I am hopeful and optimistic that we will have some good growth here for a while, but there is always a down turn…always.  Again from the lyrics – “If I go there will be trouble, An’ if I stay it will be double”  In the American Banker article, M&T Bank CFO Rene Jones called out that an unnamed competitor made a 10-year fixed $30 million dollar loan at a rate that they (M&T) just could not match.  So congrats to M&T for recognizing the pricing limits and maybe congrats to the unnamed bank for maybe having some competitive advantage that allowed them to make the loan.  However if there is not something like that supporting the other bank…the short term pain of explaining slower growth today may seem like nothing compared to the questioning they will get if that portfolio goes south.

So in the end, I say grow – soundly.  Shake things up so you open new markets or create advantages in your current market and rock the Casbah!