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Loan Sale and Loan Participation Lessons Learned From the Recession, Part 2

(Note: Part 1 is available here.)

One of the problem areas that came up during the recession was the accounting treatment for loan participations and loan sales. The difficulty arose from the fact that FASB changed the guidance for how to recognize a “true sale” several times over the last decade and not all banks realized that their form documents needed to be changed to reflect those changes. The current guidance is now found in Accounting Standards Codification Topic 860 “Transfer and Servicing” (formerly FAS 166 “Accounting for Transfers of Financial Assets”) which itself was an update of FAS 140 “Accounting Transfers and Servicing of Financial Assets and Extinguishments of Liabilities.

If we go back ten years ago when I had written the cisa exam, there were several different variations on how loan participations divided distributions from loan payments among the parties. Pro rata is perhaps the most common but it was also typical to see both LIFO (last in first out) and FIFO (first in first out) arrangements. The older accounting treatment allowed an institution using any these different distribution models to be treat the transaction as a true sale, thus removing the asset from its books. The accounting treatment today is dramatically different. Under ASC 860, neither LIFO nor FIFO participations transferred on or after the beginning of a bank’s first annual reporting period that began after November 15, 2009 qualify for sale accounting and must instead be reported as secured borrowings.

Many banks actually used preprinted loan participation forms where one simply checks the block showing whether distributions were shared pro rata, LIFO, or FIFO and continued to use such forms after the FAS change. This resulted in interesting situations where pieces of the same loans can receive differing accounting treatments. For example, assume that Bank A originated a $1 million loan on June 1, 2009 and sold 50% of it on a LIFO basis to Bank B on the same date. Assuming that it meets all of the tests necessary to move an asset off of its books then Bank A can treat that as a true sale. If Bank A later sells another 10% of the loan to Bank C on March 1, 2010, also on a LIFO basis, that transfer will not be treated as a true sale and must be accounted as a secured loan by Bank C to Bank A.

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Loan Sale and Loan Participation Lessons Learned From the Recession, Part 1

Watching loan participation activity over the last decade has been like watching the progression of a car on a roller coaster. The early to mid-2000’s showed the car heading ever upward and then in 2008-09 it hurtled downwards at breakneck speed. The last several years have shown a resurgence as the car begins climbing slowly back up the track. Not surprisingly, the FDIC has taken notice of that trend and issued a Financial Institution Letter on Effective Risk Management Practices for Purchased Loans and Purchased Loan Participations in November of 2015.

The reasons why lenders want to sell either loan participations or whole loans and others want to purchase them remain the same today as they were a decade ago. Sellers may have loan to one borrower issues that a loan participation may cure, they may be seeking to reduce overall exposure to a particular borrower or industry or they may find that providing loan product for other institutions is a profitable venture as it may generate gains on sale as well as servicing income depending on how the sale is structured. Buyers are looking to broaden their geographic and industry diversity in order to better manage the overall credit risk inherent in their portfolio and it may be more cost-effective to source loans from another lender than trying to originate them yourself. Another, more recent development, has been the purchase of loans from peer-to-peer non-bank lenders who operate on a national basis.

When the US economy hit the skids in the 2007-2010 time frame with its corresponding bank failures, it became clear that in many situations loan participations had not generated the expected benefits. There were several reasons for this, the most significant being that simply obtaining geographic diversity of ADC loans still left a lender susceptible to outsized losses when that segment of the economy ground to a halt. Too many community banks failed to realize that true diversity in a loan portfolio means that ADC can only be a portion of the entire portfolio, not the entire portfolio, even if you have geographic diversity. The perceived reduction in risk was therefore illusory.

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Community Banks that Thrived During the Great Recession

Notwithstanding the headlines in the press, more community banks thrived during the Great Recession than failed.  A new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis looks at The Future of Community Banks: Lessons from Banks That Thrived During the Recent Financial Crisis.  While 417 banks and thrifts failed from the beginning of 2006 through the end of 2011 (and another 51 banks failed during 2012), the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that 702 community banks (total assets of less than $10 billion) retained a composite CAMELS 1 rating throughout the financial downturn.


The report confirms that community banks can continue to play a vital role in the U.S. economy by allocating credit and providing financial services in their communities – particularly to the small businesses in those communities. In general, the thriving banks were found to have strong commitments to maintaining standards for risk control in all economic environments and business plans that work for their individual markets.  At a macro level, the thriving banks had lower total loans-to-total asset ratios (54% vs. 65%), lower concentrations in commercial real estate and construction and development lending, higher concentrations in consumer and agricultural loans, and were slightly more reliant on core deposits.

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