performance bond

Secrets of Bonding #143: Surety Bonds and Brain Surgery

Your doctor says “You have a problem.  We need to call in a specialist.” How do you determine who to call? What do you expect from the specialist? The choice could not be more critical.

We are faced with important decisions every day.  And there are plenty of people trying to influence the outcome.  You need the skills to sort through the “BS” and make the choice that is most beneficial to you. 

Here is an example you have seen in many different forms:

“Our doctors have over 25 years experience”

What exactly does that mean?  You could select that firm and get a doctor with ONE year of experience.  They may have 25 doctors, each with one year in the saddle. Ugh, how misleading!

Another example:

“Dr. Mavromoustafakis has specialized in brain surgery since 1980.”

OK, Dr. Mavromoustafakis  has over 25 years experience as a brain surgeon.  See the difference?

Next question: Does the difference matter?

To answer that, think about why expert help was required.  If there is a special need, and an experienced, expert problem solver is desired, then… Yes! 

That’s how it works with brain surgery and also surety bonds.  Some situations are more complicated.  They require unique solutions and strategies.  The key may be to know a special underwriting technique, or procedure.  The surety business is all about people and their expertise. So your best problem solvers have many years under their belt and a deep understanding of the process.

Conclusion
Surety Bonds: They’re not brain surgery.  But when you need expert assistance, real experience does matter. Pick up the phone and take advantage of our long devotion to this one product. 

FIA Surety is a NJ based bonding company (carrier) that has specialized in Site, Subdivision, Bid and Performance Bonds since 1979 – we’re good at it!  Call us with your next one.

Steve Golia, Marketing Mgr.: 856-304-7348

First Indemnity of America Ins. Co.

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Secrets of Bonding #127: “The Call”

A couple of times every week we talk to a new contractor who wants to get their bond account set up for the first time.  Here’s how it always goes:

  • Contractor: We want to go after bonded projects but we’ve never had bonds before.  What’s involved?
  • Surety: OK Hi! Who am I speaking to?
  • Contractor: I’m Humphrey.
  • Surety: All right Humphrey, can we start by asking you a few questions?  What is the size and nature of the work you intend to pursue?TelefMan-07

Scenario #1 (Pursuing contracts up to $500,000)

  • Contractor: We have performed residential and light commercial work.  We want to go after general construction contracts up to about $250,000.
  • Surety: Great! Tell me the ownership and structure of your company.
  • Contractor: The company is an LLC owned by me and my partner, Bogart.
  • Surety: Are you married?
  • Contractor: Yes, but not to each other.
  • Surety: We have a very easy program that may be a perfect starting point for you.  To be eligible, the owners and spouses must have good personal credit reports. Are the reports favorable?
  • Contractor: Yes.
  • Surety: There are some other criteria.  For example, the program cannot be used for long-term contracts or difficult / unique construction – needs to be plain vanilla.  The good thing is that no financial statements or other documentation is required, only a simple, short app. If this program fits your needs, you’ll never find anything easier or faster! Give me your email address and we’ll send you the FASTAPP.  We can probably get you pre-qualified within 24 hours!

Scenario #2 (Pursuing contracts in excess of $500,000, or for applicants with low credit scores)

  • Surety: We find that most contractors are able to qualify for bonding if their account is developed properly.  That’s where our expertise (since 1979!)  comes into play.
  • Contractor: What info will be needed?
  • Surety:  Getting approved for bonding is like applying for a bank loan. The same kind of financial and background info is needed.  Your relationship with the surety is similar to banking and you promise to protect the surety from loss, just like signing a promissory note with a lender.  That’s why surety bonds are not insurance policies.
  • Contractor: OK what’s the next step and how much does it cost?
  • Surety: We don’t charge for setting up your account!  We’ll send you an email with a list of items that are needed initially.  Gather as much as you can and send over so we can get started.  The process normally takes a week or two.  You don’t pay until you win a contract and need a performance bond.

Conclusion

Have we oversimplified the process? Actually, no.  It is easier than people assume to get their bond account arranged – when you know the ropes.  That’s our niche.  We don’t pretend to be good at everything, but we are experts at this!

FIA Surety is a NJ based bonding company (carrier) that has specialized in Site, Subdivision and Contract Surety Bonds since 1979 – we’re good at it!  Call us with your next one.

Steve Golia: 856-304-7348

First Indemnity of America Ins. Co.

Secrets of Bonding #123: Who Was Edward Aloysius Murphy, Jr. (& Why Contractors Should Care)

(January 11, 1918 – July 17, 1990) An American aerospace engineer who worked on safety-critical systems for the U.S. Air Force. He is best known for his namesake Murphy’s Law, which  states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”  Murphy regarded the law as crystallizing a key principle of defensive design, in which one should always assume worst-case scenarios.Murphys_Law

Keeping Major Murphy’s principle in mind, what are the critical steps contractors can take to get their projects off on the right foot, and bring them to a successful conclusion – while keeping Murphy’s Law out of the equation?

The first key to having a successful contract is to have a contract. It sounds obvious, but contractors are sometimes induced to start work, or perform change orders / additions to contracts, without an executed document in hand.  Maybe the project owner is in a rush, “We need for you to start right away so we can be completed on time.  We’ll do the paperwork later.”

The contractor wants to maintain good will.  They proceed in the hope that their responsiveness will pay off – and sometimes it does.  There are also times when the contractor incurs costs that are never reimbursed because the contract is not executed.  There could be engineering problems, governmental interference or lack of funding. There are any number of reasons for things to go wrong (as our hero indicated.) And for the contractor, they are all bad.

murphyslaw

On the other hand, let’s say there is no problem with the contract.  The paperwork is signed, the work proceeds, is paid for, and the contract is completed with a profit in hand. Is that the end?

No, not quite. Just like there is paperwork to get into the project, there is more to get out of it.  The contractor should obtain written acceptance of the work by the job owner (obligee.) 

  • This important document establishes a completion date for the contract and concludes a portion of the liability that is attached to all open contracts.
  • It will close the Performance and Payment bond if there was one. Closing the file restores the contractors bonding capacity. 
  • It may also be beneficial with lenders.
  • If nothing else, a written acceptance may be a defense when the project owner attempts to call back the contractor at a later date or claim the work was not satisfactory.

Edward_MurphyThese simple procedures are basic, good business practices. Contractors who win work competitively, and are paid under a lump sum contract, already face significant risks.  It is important to have the correct paperwork in hand when starting, modifying, and ending construction projects. 

Major Murphy learned this important lesson the hard way – but you don’t have to! 

FIA Surety is a NJ based bonding company (carrier) that has specialized in Site, Subdivision and Contract Surety Bonds since 1979 – we’re good at it!  Call us with your next one.

Steve Golia, Marketing Mgr.: 856-304-7348

First Indemnity of America Ins. Co.

Secrets of Bonding #118: Bonding Company = Girlfriend

I’ve been in the surety business for a long time.  As a student of the industry, I have observed the dynamics that occur between bonding companies and their clients.  My conclusion: Bonding Companies are like Girlfriends!

(My comments are written from a male point of view, but I’m sure you can flip this to be applicable if the reader is “non-male.”)

Think about relationships you’ve been in.  Don’t they always have a “love / hate” aspect? Jokes about relationships often capitalize on this reality:

Marriage is a three-ring circus. First the engagement ring, then the wedding ring, then the suffering.
– Milton Berle

My wife is a light eater … as soon as it’s light, she starts to eat. 
– Henny Youngman

“I am” is reportedly the shortest sentence in the English language. Could it be that “I do” is the longest sentence?
– George Carlin

And for the ladies:

What’s the difference between a boyfriend and a husband?
About 30 pounds.
– Cindy Garner

As very sophisticated types, we know how to deal with the technicalities of these relationships.  It isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it.   Bonding is pretty much the same!

Step One

How does a construction company gain the support of a surety?  It starts with a flirtation and then “getting to know you.”  The underwriter receives information about a bond that is needed. If there is a spark of interest, an application and financial statements are submitted. 

The construction company wants to look attractive:

  • Here is what we’ve accomplished!
  • This is how much money we’ve made!
  • We can really perform!

Think of this as the dating stage.  It is exhilarating and intense! There are probing questions and well-crafted answers.  Both parties want to achieve success and avoid failure / embarrassment. The same as in romance, the underwriter (girlfriend) will walk away if they find that the contractor (suitor) is dating other underwriters.  This is why bond producers may approach only one market at a time.  No girl wants a playboy who may be disloyal.

Ravishing Wedding Rings Clipart Also Appealing Wedding Rings Clipart Hd Pictures 4 Boostnow Wedd - ~ zxtzdb ~

Step Two

If the relationship blossoms, wedding bells may chime! They tie the knot with a pre-nuptial / general indemnity agreement that says “We’re in this together.  But hurt me and you’ll PAY.” 

Step Three

Eventually they become old married folks.  The contractor gripes that “he/she is never satisfied.”  More info, more questions, more money spent to keep the surety / spouse happy. It NEVER ends.  But the contractor needs the surety and works to keep things on track.

Is the underwriter frustrated?  Yes…  “I have to beat everything out of the contractor.  It’s like pulling teeth!” The contractor may be slow in providing the answers and info the underwriter needs to keep the bond account in healthy condition. “I thought we were in this together!”

There is an element of pain in the relationship, but both parties gain if they keep it together.

Yente  (Click for mood music) cupid

So where does the bond producer / agent fit in?  They are the dating service that brings the parties together.  They succeed by matching the contractor with the right surety.  The role as cupid continues as we shepherd the relationship forward, keeping the info flowing so bonds are available when needed.

The fact is, bonding involves more than paperwork.  It involves people, their perceptions and preferences.  The seasoned bond producer will make the match and guide the relationship forward for the benefit of all parties.  

Sureties, can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

FIA Surety is a NJ based bonding company (carrier) that has specialized in Site, Subdivision and Contract Surety Bonds since 1979 – we’re good at it!  Call us with your next one.

Steve Golia, Marketing Mgr.: 856-304-7348

First Indemnity of America Ins. Co.

Secrets Of Bonding #115: The Most Important Question in Bonding

When Surety Bonds are needed, there is always a questionnaire to fill out.  Why?  Because the underwriters need some basic info, and quickly.  The app asks for company location, ownership, plus facts about the operation and its history. 

So many questions!  Are they all relevant?  Are they all needed?  Actually… they are not equally important.  In fact there is one question on the app which is undoubtedly 

THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION OF ALL

green_shade

 

Let’s test your underwriting skills!  Here are some typical bond app questions.  Are they hot ones, or just background music?  Which question is the most important for bond underwriters?

  1. Q. Date Business Formed This is very important because many surety reinsurance treaties require that all the bond clients have certain longevity – such as minimum 3 years in business.  If the applicant has less than 3 years, some underwriters will stop reading at this point and decline.
  2. Q.Has the company, any affiliate or subsidiary, or any owners / spouse or companies in which they have had an ownership interest or managerial role ever experienced a bankruptcy?  Here is another important question, a deal killer with many underwriters.  They may not want to hear about the circumstances of the BK or subsequent positive developments.  Their reinsurance may forbid supporting such applicants.
  3. Q. Formal Buy-Sell Agreement in place? This question concerns continuity.  In the absence of key people, how will the company survive?  How will the bonded jobs get completed if the boss gets run over?
  4. Q. Is full corporate and personal indemnity by all owners, spouses, and affiliates provided? This is important b/c full indemnity is normally required and some applicants are reluctant to provide it.

Got your answer?  Read on.

 

Conclusion

**All the questions are relevant.  That’s why they are on the questionnaire.**

Let that sink in…

They are ALL important.  So for the underwriter, the question that jumps up off the page is the one left unanswered.

Why do people fill out the app and skip one question?  It has to be either carelessness “Sorry, I skipped over it by mistake,” or intentional “If I answer that question honestly, I may not get the bond approval!”  Both reasons are bad.

We can assume that “N/A” is an option for an irrelevant question, or “Unknown” if you have no info.  But a blank is a problem b/c cause the reader doesn’t know how to take it.

Many facts are double checked during the surety underwriting process.  But for a large portion of the info, the market is simply trusting the applicant to be truthful and transparent.  They depend on having full disclosure, and are entitled to it as the guarantor.

So please, please, please don’t skip any questions.  The app is often the underwriter’s first opportunity to meet the client.  Put your best foot forward by answering completely, and attach additional comments if an explanation is in order.

FIA Surety is a NJ based bonding company (carrier) that has specialized in Site, Subdivision, Bid and Performance Bonds since 1979 – we’re good at it!  Call us with your next one.

Steve Golia, Marketing Mgr.: 856-304-7348

First Indemnity of America Ins. Co.

Secrets of Bonding #113: Your 1st Bond – Choose Door #1 or 2?

Every week we get inquiries regarding clients who need their very first bond.  This is a great question and one we love to answer.  It is particularly gratifying to give a new client their first bond – of many!

There are different paths forward depending on the circumstances.  Each door has different aspects.  Let’s go over them.

Door Number 1:open_door3

Use this door for contracts (federal and all others) up to about $350,000.  This is the fastest / easiest program with the first bond approval coming over in about 1 day!  Only a one page application is needed – no financial statements.  The program is predicated on the work being simple and normal for the contractor, and personal credit reports of owners and spouses must be acceptable.

This door is perfect for companies that are not pursuing contracts in excess of $350,000.  Other applicants can also use it as a quick way to start while completing the application process for higher amounts.

As with all the doors, there is no charge to get pre-qualified for bonding!

Door Number 2:

This is for contracts up to about $500,000.  Similar to Door Number 1, but now add “in house” company financial statements and / or tax returns. A longer questionnaire is needed, and supporting documents such as resumes, references and personal financial statements may be required.

Door Number 3:open_door1

For contracts in the $500,000-1,000,000 range, plan on a CPA prepared Compilation statement.  This is the lowest level (least expensive) CPA financial report.  It is needed once per year.

Door Number 4:

Contracts over $1 million may require an annual CPA Review financial report.

Number 5:open_door5

For large contracts in excess of $10 million, a CPA Audit may be required by the underwriters.

It makes sense that as the obligations become larger, higher quality, more complete information is needed.

Is there some flexibility?  Sure!  It may not seem so, but underwriters are motivated to be flexible and find ways to write the business.  After all, no bonds = no revenues.  They must find ways to say yes.

FIA Surety is a NJ based bonding company (carrier) that has specialized in Site, Subdivision, Bid and Performance Bonds since 1979 – we’re good at it!  Call us with your next one.

Steve Golia, Marketing Mgr.: 856-304-7348

First Indemnity of America Ins. Co.

Secrets of Bonding #104: Your Bid is BUSTED!

Contractors put so much effort into the bidding process. And yet, there is one thing that can cause the bid to be thrown out, BUSTED! All that effort is wasted. 

Busted-1For contractors pursuing public works projects (city, state, and federal), bidding is how they acquire most new jobs. A lot goes into creating the project proposal. The estimating, subcontractor pricing, materials, insurance, it all takes time. When their bid is busted, they lose the time and expense dollars plus the revenues are unrealized. That’s a huge drain management must avoid.

The Process

Almost without exception, public works projects require bid security to accompany the proposal – usually issued in the form of a Bid Bond. The contractor uses a Bond Request Form to notify the surety of the upcoming bid event. They state an estimated contract price (ecp) on the bond request form, which is the focus of the underwriting decision. It is the approximate expected amount for the Performance Bond that follows when the contract is awarded.

The ecp is a guesstimate. Sometimes the subs come in higher than expected. Material costs could jump, especially when unique items have been stipulated: expensive electrical equipment, etc. The final bid number may be higher than anyone anticipated. Then what?

The Issues

It is possible that the bid documents will not support the new, higher amount – resulting in a lost opportunity.

Busted-2This can happen if the bid bond indicates a maximum dollar amount. Federal projects require a bond for “20% of the attached bid,” meaning it automatically adjusts to the contract amount being submitted. But in some cases, a “capped bid bond” is issued.  It will not follow the contract amount above the ecp that was approved. Example, a 10% bid bond is issued on a project estimated / approved for $500,000. If the bid bond is capped, it cannot be worth more than $50,000.  When submitted, if the related proposal exceeds $500,000, the bid security is deficient: Proposal is thrown out! (How do you know if the bid bond is capped? See below *)

In some cases (common in New Jersey) a Consent of Surety is also required. The surety must state “we promise to issue the P&P bond.” This too may be capped, “This Surety Consent shall be valid in support of a contract amount not exceeding $500,000.” Here again, the bid is busted at the last minute – too late to have the documents re-issued for the higher amount.

Prevent / Solve The Problem

Prevention

  1. Don’t shortchange the estimated contract amount. Try not to cut it close. There is never a problem if the contractor bids less than expected.
  2. Don’t order the bond too early. Try to gather the pricing first or at least get indications from subs and suppliers. Using the engineer’s published estimate (in the bid advertisement) may not be a sufficient basis for the bond request.
  3. Determine if the bond, surety consent or power of attorney has a maximum dollar value that may limit the bid amount. Knowing about it is half the battle. Consider increasing the ecp to create a cushion.

When Faced With A Last Minute Increase Unsupported By The Bond Or Consent

  1. Notify the surety promptly! If they re-approve the bid for the higher amount, new documents can be produced. Originals could be rush delivered or electronic copies used – if accepted by the obligee.
  2. If the obligee allows, the dollar value of the bid bond can be supplemented with a bank check. Note: If the Surety Consent is deficient, it must be re-issued / increased.

Honor Cap

Here is an important variation: What action is appropriate when there is NO CAP on the bid bond or surety consent? In this case, there is nothing to prevent the contractor from proceeding with the “higher than authorized” bid amount.

We’ll coin a phrase here, the Honor Cap comes into play. The Honor Cap is the ecp that was approved by the surety. Is the contractor willing to respect the bond approval process? If they cannot obtain re-approval in time, will they still submit the bid and worry about it later? The bonding company expects the contractor to honor the approval terms. This is essential if an ongoing relationship is desired. In this case a simple phone call may be all that’s needed. The surety can quickly confirm that the higher estimated contract price is approved.

FIA Surety is a NJ based bonding company (carrier) that has specialized in Site, Subdivision, Bid and Performance Bonds since 1979 – we’re good at it!  Call us with your next one.

Steve Golia, Marketing Mgr.: 856-304-7348

First Indemnity of America Ins. Co.

* Capped Bid Bond, sample language: “Ten Percent of the attached bid not to exceed $50,000.”

Secret #99: The Awful Truth About Working Capital

“Gotta have it.  Really need it.”  Click for mood music

  • Surety Bond underwriters DEMAND it. 
  • Contractors maneuver to maximize it. 
  • Bond agents pray for it…

What is Working Capital, and what is the awful truth that everyone ignores?

Define the term
When contractors apply for bonding, the company financial statement is analyzed by the surety underwriters.  They always calculate the Working Capital As Allowed on the Balance Sheet, which is simply:

Current Assets minus Current Liabilities

This number is also subject to interpretation by the analyst.  For example, they may disallow assets they feel are overstated or of questionable value – thus the title “As Allowed.”

The working capital figure is then compared to the size bonds and aggregate (overall) program the contractor desires.  Here is the important part:

For many bonding companies, if the WCAA is deemed insufficient, there is an immediate declination.

It’s true that “everything is important” in surety underwriting.  But it is also true that this is a life or death issue for many decision-makers.  Specifically, the fiscal year-end Working Capital As Allowed must be adequate for the capacity requested.  And that isn’t the awful part…

Underwriters focus their decision-making on the fiscal year-end (FYE) of the company, tax day.  For many contractors, this day is 12/31 each year.  This is a natural and convenient annual milestone that is presumed to be realistic and conservative.  Underwriters don’t want puffed up numbers designed to impress them.  That makes good sense.

Awful Truth #1
The Working Capital calculation is only accurate for ONE DAY.  If the company spends cash on January 1st, bills a contract, incurs an invoice, the WC is immediately different.

Awful Truth #2
The WC calculation is always based on obsolete info. When does the 12/31 statement get produced?  Maybe February, but more likely March, April or later.  This GUARANTEES that the WC calculation is always based on old, outdated info.

Awful Truth #3
Considering the great emphasis placed on the importance of fiscal year-end numbers, interim financial statements (produced on other days in the year), are largely ignored by underwriters.  This means if the company has a good mid year results they may be overlooked – however a downturn is always taken into consideration!

Conclusion
rainbowLike an elusive pot of gold, the WCAA underwriters depend on may never materialize as actual cash flow.  But another “truth” is that underwriters must base their decisions on something, and historically this has been a relevant indicator of future success.  Despite the often overlooked flaws we cited, Working Capital analysis will remain part of surety underwriting.

We keep the relative value of this indicator in perspective, and realize that interim statements and other underwriting elements should also play an important role.

About us: FIA Surety is a NJ based bonding company (carrier) that has specialized in Site, Subdivision, Bid and Performance Bonds since 1979 – we’re good at it!  Call us with your next one.

Steve Golia, Marketing Mgr.: 856-304-7348

First Indemnity of America Ins. Co.

Secret #98: The Great Rate Race – Bonding

Some years ago we met with a contractor and the conversation turned to Surety Bond Rates.  He had just become aware of different (lower) rates that were available from bonding companies.  He was clearly upset: “Do you know how many jobs I have lost over the years by a small margin?!”  Of course I didn’t…  The point was that he felt his bond rate caused him to lose opportunities.

GREAT RACE, JACK LEMMON PETER FALK 1965

Surely every expense and cost element is important when a contractor is pursuing “low bid” work.  The practice in the U.S. is for public bodies like federal, state and local municipalities to award work to the lowest responsible (meaning appropriately qualified) bidder.  Read this as “low dollar.”  It is a tough, competitive environment where margins are usually quite thin or zero!

The contractor’s ability to acquire new work is often linked directly to their control of all expenses, including the bond cost.  However the importance of the Rate Race may be overstated. 

Here are two important factors that are often overlooked:

  1. Assume the contractor is with Surety A, and Surety B has lower rates. There is no point in comparing the two if Surety B will not agree to bond this account.
  2. The contractor must remember, the extent of their discontent must be the difference between their current surety bond rate and another rate that is available to them. Example: Currently pays 2.5%, has an opportunity to pay 2%.  The discontent is over the rate difference: .5%, not 2.5%!

The first “Aha moment” is when the contractor realizes that every bidder is paying for a bond.  And the difference between the rates is usually quite small, not a significant factor in the outcome of the bid.

The second Aha comes from the realization that, when it comes to bonding companies, contractors may find CAPACITY is a much more important issue.

Contractors are restricted in the amount of work they can acquire.  The bonding company has a certain comfort level, and will withhold their support if the contractor acquires more projects than they feel is prudent.  The concern is that the contractor may become overextended and ultimately fail.  Think about this: Do the rates matter if the surety will not issue the bond?

Conclusion: We agree that bond rates, like all cost elements, must be monitored and controlled.  However, when selecting a surety and managing the relationship, the contractor may conclude that capacity is king and rate is secondary.

FIA Surety is a NJ based bonding company (carrier) that has specialized in Site, Subdivision, Bid and Performance Bonds since 1979 – we’re good at it!  Call us with your next one.

Steve Golia, Marketing Mgr.: 856-304-7348

First Indemnity of America Ins. Co.

Secret #97: Six Tips for Six-Month Reporting

Look into my eyes!  Deeper!  I see….. that your fiscal year-end… is December 31st!

OK, that’s a pretty safe guess.  Most construction companies have a 12/31 year-end, and 6/30 is their mid-year date.  It is the time for interim financial reporting to the bonding company.

Here are six tips to help contractors survive and thrive in this process:six_fingers

  1. Don’t delay: If mid-year info is not readily available, it makes the contractor look disorganized, or like they are hiding poor results.
  2. Cash Method: No good for banks or bonding companies. Accounting should be set for the “Accrual Method.”
  3. A CPA statement is often not required at mid-year. In house, such as Quick Books, is the alternative.  Check with the underwriter and maybe you can save some dollars.
  4. Maximize billings prior to the reporting date.
  5. Retain Cash prior to the reporting date.
  6. Delay distribution of profits to owners until after the reporting date.

7. Bonus Tip!!!  Compare this mid-year to last mid-year. The underwriters will! 

Are results are better or worse?  Company on track for a profitable year-end at 12 months?  If results are weak, prepare a written explanation regarding the influencing factors, and management’s response.

FIA Surety is a NJ based bonding company (carrier) that has specialized in Site, Subdivision, Bid and Performance Bonds since 1979 – we’re good at it!  Call us with your next one.

Steve Golia, Marketing Mgr.: 856-304-7348

First Indemnity of America Ins. Co.