The 5 C’s of Credit


With the Banking Code of Practice now effective, there is greater support for borrowers and small businesses. There are some wins for borrowers, but with stronger compliance there will be increased scrutiny for them too. With credit for small business increasingly complicated, perhaps it is timely to revisit the guiding principles of credit. This will ensure that your finance application has the highest chance of success.

Banking credit and scoring models, from mortgages through to corporate lending are complex, though in essence they draw back to fundamentals. At the risk of taking some of you back too many years ago, the lender will typically follow what is called the “Five Cs of Credit“. Character, Capacity, Capital, Collateral, Conditions.

Simple perhaps, but timely for advisers and borrowers alike to keep in mind when dealing with credit providers. Let’s look at each of these, in the context of determining the level of risk associated with providing finance.

1. Character
Character is best summarised as a borrower’s willingness to meet their credit obligations. How trustworthy and reliable are they? In essence this is a “body of work” and something lenders ideally like to build an understanding of over time.

Of course, in the reality of assessing new lending scenarios, character is strongly weighted by your credit report which are becoming increasingly sophisticated. In short, without good credit character you won’t move forward very far. “Lending is not based primarily on money or property. No sir, the first thing is character” – J.P. Morgan

2. Capacity
We could devote pages to Capacity. It may seem simple but borrowers do not always understand its importance in isolation. It measures your historical, current and forecast cashflow, and the ability to repay your debt obligations from these sources. Traditionally, assessing the risks of a commercial borrowing is more complex than a consumer loan, but recently the latter is tougher too. This is an area where borrowers find trouble and become frustrated. “I have so much collateral/security, so what is the issue for the lender?”

Yes, lenders want the option of multiple sources or retiring debt – cash, cash flow from business, asset realisation, or cash from an external source. Though the first way out through free cash is always the most desired. Lenders do not want to forced to draw on assets or guarantors given the increasing level of compliance, uncertainty and adverse public relations that can impact their ability to do business.

This drives increasing levels of bank speak in mortgage applications or descriptive covenants in your business loans. Take Debt to Income Ratios in mortgages for example. More disclosure yes, but also an opportunity to build greater financial literacy for borrowers.

3. Collateral
Often confused with Capital. Specifically, the assets that are pledged to support the loan. The “second way out” for the lender. This constitutes the traditional and tangible forms such as property or cash. It can also include specific or general cover over a business and its assets.

Collateral has been a big focus for mortgage and commercial lending. There has been a re-alignment around purpose of borrowing, and matching this to the appropriate collateral profile. For example, using a regulated mortgage product for business purposes is now a loophole that is closed. As are revolving lines of credit without a justifiable point in time purpose.

There are unintended consequences. This is contributing to a contraction in available debt in instances where new or emerging business have plenty of second way out, but not the first. So the days of starting a business with a dream and handing a property title to the bank are largely over.

The quality of the collateral provided does in turn drive risk and in turn, pricing. So we can’t have it both ways. Hence the growth of short term financiers with interest rates like a phone book. However, this will continue to find its level as the market becomes more developed and risks are better understood.

4. Capital
Often confused with Collateral. Capital is the value of assets that a borrower owns, which may include assets that are pledged as collateral for a loan. Lenders like to see some contribution or “hurt” from the borrower and this is where a contribution of capital is desired. A material level of deposit for a property purchase etc.

For example, a business or mortgage loan may be supported with a property given by a third party (“guarantor”) of considerable value but without any contribution of capital from the borrower. In this instance, there is a lot of collateral (second way out) but a lack of borrower contribution.

5. Conditions
So, after we met the other “C’s”, the conditions of your loan such as the interest rate, the repayment term and the purpose of the money are of course critical factors too. The updated Banking Code of Practice talks of more “plain English”. This should also help borrowers understand their obligations or any covenants that apply to their lending after it is funded.

Source: Investopedia