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Thursday, 24 July 2008

High quality, common sense business banking

How often do you hear that? I met a senior HSBC banker yesterday who has been around for many years and seen a few recessions. His view was that we are in one now and its going to get nasty in the UK economy. Meantime, we were meeting because one of our clients and one of his customers has a serious problem.

CompanyRescue was appointed to assist this company after HMRC rejected a 24 month time to pay programme. this fast growing company had discovered a black hole in its accounts due to poor internal controls, rather than any fraud.

Our colleagues at The FD Centre Ltd had analysed the company's accounts and introduced Sage Line 200. Painstakingly every accounting transaction was typed in for 2007-8 financial year and eventually a £450,000 hole appeared. FDC called me in and we thought the board was strong, products were good with growing demand and the board were determined to lean form the control errors and rescue the business. My solution was to use a company voluntary arrangement to manage the debts over 5 years.

Now our usual approach is to contact every creditor upon our appointment and inform them that we are dealing with their debts, not the company, generally we ask them to wait a few weeks until the proposal is prepared and circulated. This takes the pressure off and allows the board to focus on running the business, whilst KSA restructures the debt. One larger creditor decided they did not want to do that as they felt the directors had somehow hoodwinked them. A petition was issued and it was advertised yesterday.

In my experience in every other case where a petition is advertised the bank automatically freezes the bank accounts. This is generally to prevent disposition of assets. Instead the senior banker in the West Country called the client and asked them, FDC director and me to attend a meeting with him and a regional risk manager from HSBC special situations.

We were not hopeful but after telling him what the plans were, how sales were rising, creditors were generally supportive and continuing to supply and that business was recovering he told the board he would be keeping the overdraft open and the factoring facility functioning.

Yes he put the charges up marginally to cover monitoring costs but his view was, "you are being honest and open with the bank and so, its business as usual for the bank". The special situations manager was also supportive and will keep a watching brief on the company for now. The factoring manager was also able to say she will support the company to 80% drawdown as normal.

Common sense is what we preach/sell to all clients and creditors. And common sense is what we got from the bank. I was very surprised but also very pleased for my client. As per an earlier blog - once again something new for me yesterday!

So now its time to get the CVA completed and published and then lets get it approved. This will take a further 3-4 weeks but after that the petition will be rescinded.

A great day for common sense and hopefully it demonstrates that good bankers will help customers get through this recession if that is what it turns out to be. My only fear is that there aren't enough of them with the experience and courage of this banker.

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