Starting from Scratch: Reassessing Business Loans
By: Amber Buker
June 19th, 2020
Deposits are up, investors have shown signs of optimism and parts of the country are slowly reopening. But amid these positive signals, banks are only just beginning to see the signs of future trouble that Covid-19 may cause for their loans. Prudent banks are working to plan for the long-tail impacts the crisis will have.
One of the banks gazing into its crystal ball is PNC Financial Services Group. The Pittsburgh-based bank made headlines when it sold its 22% stake in BlackRock last month. Chairman and CEO William Demchack, explained in an early June company presentation that the institution was selling while it could, and preparing for the unknown effects that Covid will likely have on the economy.
“[B]ehind the scenes, what hasn’t played out, and will take some period of time to play out, is the deterioration we’ve seen in small business, commercial and real estate,” he said. Once the stimulus payments and deferrals run out, “the pain shows up.”
That pain may be especially acute for smaller banks which, Demchack pointed out, tend to carry higher concentrations and exposures to small business and commercial real estate than their larger counterparts. “[I]t’s the smaller end of our economy that’s really getting crushed here.”
With losses looming on the horizon, some banks are leveraging data and analytics solutions to essentially re-underwrite their entire loan portfolios in light of Covid-19.
Just after announcing the BlackRock sale, PNC was again in the news for a brand new partnership it struck with OakNorth, which licenses an AI-based underwriting platform it incubated within the company’s UK-chartered bank. OakNorth recently announced some of its first partnerships with U.S. banks, including Customers Bancorp, a $12 billion asset institution based in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania.
Customers’ Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer, Sam Sidhu, is paying close attention to the unknown outcomes of Covid and the effects the economic crisis will have on the bank’s “core” mid-sized commercial loans.
Sidhu explains that in the first 30 to 60 days of the crisis, banks encountered the known, obvious risks that social distancing and stay-at-home orders posed to businesses like restaurants, hotels and hair salons. “But where banks can become a little complacent is the areas that are unknown risks,” says Sidhu. That’s where it’s important to practice discipline in stress-testing the portfolio.
But how can a bank re-evaluate its loans at scale, in a way that doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater?
A generalist might point out that restaurants won’t perform well in this environment. But what about a pizza franchise that earned significant portions of its revenue from deliveries pre-Covid? These types of restaurants may be unaffected by the health crisis; in fact, they may be booming because of it.
To complicate the calculation, it’s not just immediate issues like an absence of demand that lenders need to consider. They also need to understand a business’ ability to restock and recover. To do that effectively, context is key. That’s what the technology that PNC and Customers Bank have licensed from OakNorth is designed to provide.
The OakNorth platform categorizes businesses into 1,600 sub-sectors so that they can be segmented into highly specific groupings. Then, the platform can be used to apply any number of OakNorth’s more than 150 stress testing models, including a new Covid Vulnerability Rating framework, to assess business borrowers.
Customers Bank is working with OakNorth on portfolio management and underwriting. Sidhu says a benefit of using the technology is that it’s “allowing a community bank to be able to have investment banking-type access to data” — an important factor in a world where old models have been rendered irrelevant.
“Everything that you thought when you underwrote a loan is no longer true,” says OakNorth Chief Information Officer Sean Hunter. Banks typically use previous years’ financial statements to underwrite a loan, but 2019 financials cannot predict how a business will perform in the 2020 world. Hunter says “you need to underwrite your whole book again, from scratch.”
OakNorth has been offering banks the opportunity to test drive its Covid Vulnerability Rating, running a forward-looking analysis on bank portfolios using 15 to 20 anonymized data points to identify at-risk loans.
No one knows what risks banks will be battling in the coming months. “Hopefully, these unknown risks will never become an issue,” says Sidhu, “but smart banks can’t really rely on hope. [They] need to be focused on trying to proactively address those risks, and get ahead of problems.”
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