Insider's View: Why Your Bank is Watching You So Closely

The yin and yang of the lender-borrower relationship

John Flippen Jr., Managing Director of Petroleum Capital and Real Estate

bank watching lender, retailer

WASHINGTON -- Your convenience-retail company and your bank have several things in common. I ask you today to consider three interconnected items and how they affect each of you: regulation, leverage and profit.


In today’s ever-increasing regulatory environment, particularly in the world of banking, there is always someone watching. Why are they watching? What are they looking for?

Whether it is the Federal Reserve (FED), the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) or your local bank, there are rules, some clearly defined and others that have yet to be defined, that must be followed by law.  Banks have a few to hundreds of regulators (people) working directly in their building(s) watching every transaction, and banks continue to work with their regulators to better understand and comply with the rules set by the FED and/or the OCC.

These are some of the reasons why banks are regulated:

  • Prudential—To reduce the level of risk to which bank creditors are exposed.
  • Systemic risk reduction—To reduce the risk of disruption resulting from adverse trading conditions for banks causing multiple or major bank failures.
  • Avoid misuse of banks—To reduce the risk of banks being used for criminal purposes.
  • To protect banking confidentiality.
  • Credit allocation—To direct credit to favored sectors.
  • The rules may also address treating customers fairly and maintaining corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Keep in mind that your bank is being monitored by federal regulators, just as the banks monitor your loans. Under the increasing regulatory environment, some banks believe that it is their responsibility to be intimately involved in your business. Your company may not have regulators working in the same building, but I am sure some companies feel like the banks have become a part of their management team.  From PetroCapRE’s vantage, we see tremendous variance between banks and how much they are involved in a company’s business on a day to day basis.


One of the primary items that the regulators monitor banks for is leverage. The FED and OCC have decided that the maximum preferred leverage should be six (6) times total debt to EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) or less. Total debt includes not only senior debt, but also junior and/or mezzanine debt.

As with all broad measures, leverage is not always applicable to all industries and/or loans. For instance, an Internet-services company (low leverage) will need substantially different leverage than a company with a lot of real-estate assets (high leverage). Bank regulators separate all of the bank’s loans into different categories with different risk ratings based on many factors with leverage being an important component.

These categories are important because they dictate the “capital requirement” that a bank must maintain in cash/equityas a percentage of risk-weighted assets. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

What is the first question a bank will ask your company when it is buying a new asset or refinancing? “How much equity are you putting in?” Just substitute equity for capital requirement, and now you understand that the regulators are requiring banks to apply a higher portion of equity to riskier loans.

The regulators will scrutinize loans that have leverage higher than six (6) times and place those loans into what is called the “criticized asset” category.It is similar to when/if your company breaks one of its loan covenants and your company is put under closer review. And no one likes that process.

So, the commonality between the bank and your company is that leverage is closely monitored, and higher amounts of leverage require higher equity infusions that affect financial returns, i.e. profit. Also of note is that these rules to reduce bank leverage have produced an increase in non-regulated lenders willing to fund higher-leveraged loans, and our industry—convenience retailing—has been a recipient of this interest due to its high real-estate component and steady cash flows.

NEXT PAGE: The Profit Tug of War


By John Flippen Jr., Managing Director of Petroleum Capital and Real Estate
View More Articles By John Flippen Jr.