Centralized vs. decentralized underwriting

April 24, 2009 by Guest Contributor

The debate continues in the banking industry — Do we push the loan authority to the field or do we centralize it (particularly when we are talking about small business loans)?

A common argument for sending the loan authority to the field is the improved turnaround time for the applicant. However reality is that centralized loan authority actually provides a decision time almost two times faster than those of a decentralized nature.  The statistics supporting this fact are from the Small Business Benchmark Study created and published by Baker Hill, a Part of Experian, for the past five years.

Based upon the 2008 Small Business Benchmark Study, those institutions with assets of $20 billion to $100 billion used only centralized underwriting and provided decisions within 2.5 days on average. In contrast, the next closest category ($2 billion to $20 billion in assets) took 4.4 days.

Now, if we only consider the time it takes to make a decision (meaning we have all the information needed), the same disparity exists.  The largest banks using solely centralized underwriting took 0.8 days to make a decision, while the next tier ($2 billion to $20 billion) took an average 1.5 days to make a decision.  This drop in centralized underwriting usage between these two tiers was simply a 15 percent change. This means that the $20 billion to $100 billion banks had 100% usage of centralized underwriting while the $2 billion to $20 billion dropped only to 85% usage. Eighty-five percent is still a strong usage percentage, but it has a significant impact on turnaround time.

The most perplexing issue is that the smaller community banks are consistently telling me that they feel their competitive advantages are that they can respond faster and they know their clients better than bigger, impersonal banks.  Based upon the stats, I am not seeing this competitive advantage supported by reality.  What is particularly confusing is that the small community banks, that are supposed to be closest to the client, take twice as long overall from application receipt to decision and almost three times as long when you compare them to the $20 billion to $100 billion category (0.8 days) to the $500 million to $2 billion category (2.2 days).

As you can see – centralized underwriting works.  It is consistent, provides improved customer service, improved throughput, increased efficiency and improved credit quality when compared to the decentralized approach.  

In future blogs, I will address the credit quality component.