Answering the ABL question: When is Asset-Based Lending right for your business?

September 28, 2023

Asset-based financing can provide liquidity to companies with greater flexibility and fewer covenants than a cash flow-oriented structure may allow. Learn which business scenarios are the best fit for asset-based liquidity solutions.

If your company needs liquidity, an increasingly popular way to obtain it from a bank is through an asset-based loan (ABL) structure.

An ABL is a specialized loan product in which financing is predicated not only on the creditworthiness of the borrower and strength of its balance sheet, but also on the quality and value of the collateral provided to support the extension of credit. ABL has emerged as the structure of choice in good times, for companies of all sizes across a wide range of industries, and is an especially attractive alternative in challenging times when cash flow is strained.

Companies may turn to asset-based finance to obtain the liquidity they need for purposes such as effectuating buyouts, funding dividends, developing new product lines (both financing working capital builds and/or capital expenditures) or simply providing liquidity for working capital purposes.

Features that make ABLs attractive

ABL structures are primarily revolving lines of credit, though some include a term loan component. Various types of collateral can be used to secure an ABL facility, including accounts receivable, inventory, machinery and equipment, real estate and, in some instances, intellectual property.

ABL financing is formula-driven against pledged assets. For example, a borrower may have an ABL credit facility which allows for borrowings up to 90% of the value of its eligible accounts receivable and 75% of the value of its eligible inventory.

What makes an ABL appealing to many companies is its flexibility. The availability of financing expands and contracts with the corresponding availability of a company’s assets, which means ABL is especially attractive for companies in these situations:

  1. Significant transition is occurring in the business (i.e., high growth, acquisition, sale or dividend recap)
  2. Company’s Debt-to-EBITDA ratio is greater than 3.25 times earnings and it has a meaningful amount of working capital assets
  3. Company utilizes a traditional cashflow revolver, may be operating with tight liquidity, but has a strong balance sheet with material healthy working capital assets
  4. Company would benefit from a loan structure with minimal financial covenants
  5. Company operates in a seasonal and/or cyclical industry (i.e., retail, distribution or manufacturing)
  6. Company is either owned by or exploring a partial or full sale to a Private Equity firm
  7. Company is a “fallen angel” which is currently, or is potentially, experiencing declining performance trends which could result in a cash flow revolver covenant breach

Covenants, cash dominion and other benefits

By leveraging a company’s balance sheet, an ABL facility can provide many borrowers more liquidity than a traditional cash flow revolver.

Another major advantage: ABLs have fewer covenants than traditional cash flow loans. An ABL is typically governed by a single fixed-charge coverage covenant.

In exchange for this covenant flexibility, the ABL lender requires a cash dominion mechanism to be put in place prior to closing. In its simplest form, the cash dominion mechanism allows for A/R cash receipts to directly pay down the outstanding ABL revolver. The borrower can then re-borrow under the facility to fund operations. For many borrowers, this requirement can be structured to “spring” at an agreed upon minimum liquidity threshold.

“Essentially, a traditional cash flow facility and an asset-based facility are underwritten based on the same criteria, but in a different order,” says John Freeman, Managing Director, Working Capital Finance at U.S. Bank.

“A traditional revolving facility is primarily underwritten to the predictability of a borrower’s cash flow performance and is sized based on a leverage multiple,” he explains. “But a committed ABL facility is an alternative senior secured facility which is primarily underwritten, and sized, based on value of the assets which the borrower chooses to pledge as security for the loan.”

A traditional cash flow revolver is underwritten based on:

  1. Strength of management
  2. Cashflow predictability, which is monitored through multiple financial covenants including, but not limited to Debt-to-EBITDA, tangible net worth, maximum Capex, FCC (fixed-charge coverage), etc.
  3. Collateral coverage

An ABL underwriting prioritizes collateral and liquidity and is based on:

  1. Strength of Management
  2. Collateral / Excess Liquidity (an ABL solution looks to maximize liquidity)
  3. Financial covenants, specifically FCC

“With a revolver-only facility the typical FCC covenant is set at 1.0x,” Freeman noted, “and with a revolver plus term loan facility, the typical FCC covenant is set at 1.10x or higher.” 

The ABL is secondarily underwritten to the historical and projected financial performance of the borrower. As part of the diligence process, an ABL lender will perform an initial field exam and appraisal(s) which will primarily focus on establishing an agreed upon borrowing base formula. 

Both the field exam and appraisals (inventory, RE, M&E, and IP) will be part of the on-going ABL collateral monitoring. Additionally, the company will be required to submit an updated Borrowing Base Certification (BBC) on a periodic basis, typically monthly or weekly, based on excess availability metrics. That said, borrowers are now able to utilize software which automates much of the reporting requirements. Such technology provides ABL reporting efficiencies that had not existed historically.

Shopping for an Asset-Based Lender

Organizations that are exploring a transition from an existing cash flow facility to an ABL facility should seek to partner with a lender that has both a seasoned ABL team along with a wide breath of ancillary banking product solutions which can provide the borrower with greater efficiencies and ample capital, at the lowest cost, available for continued growth.

Here are several criteria to consider before choosing an asset-based lender:

Do they want a relationship — or just a transaction? It’s always best to work with a lender that wants a relationship with your company. In tough times, conducting business is always smoother when the borrower and the lender know each other well and have built a level of trust and transparency.

Do they listen? Anyone can calculate an advance rate. But does the lender exhibit a willingness to dig in to understand your business, think creatively and tailor a solution to meet your specific needs?

Do they have experience in your industry? A major determinant of a lender’s ability to add value to an asset-based structure is its understanding of your business. U.S. Bank, as one of the nation’s largest ABL lenders, has a deep understanding of many specialized industries, which can benefit from an ABL construct. This knowledge enables us to provide industry-specific solutions and enhance our ability to fit your needs.

How long have they been in the business? Lenders have tended to come and go in the ABL business. Ensuring that your lender has an extensive track record, one that illustrates an ability to provide this type of financing throughout multiple stages of the economic cycle, will serve your business well long-term.

At U.S. Bank, we’re here to help you decide if an ABL is right for your organization. Contact your relationship manager or visit usbank.com to learn more about leveraging assets with asset-based finance.

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How community gave life to lifestyle boutique Les Sol

How I pivoted my business during COVID-19

Comparing term vs. permanent life insurance

The San Francisco bridal shop that’s been making memories for 30 years

How four women pivoted amidst a pandemic

Community behind Elsa’s House of Sleep

How Wenonah Canoe is making a boom in business last

Achieving their dreams through a pre-apprenticeship construction program

How Lip Esteem is empowering women

How I did it: Transitioned from the military to a private sector career

How running a business that aligns with core values is paying off

How Gentlemen Cuts helps its community shine

How to search for jobs (and interview) in a virtual job market

4 steps to finding a charity to support

Meet the Milwaukee businessman behind Funky Fresh Spring Rolls

Tech lifecycle refresh: A tale of two philosophies

How to choose the right rewards credit card for you

5 steps to selecting your first credit card

How to winterize your vehicle

Don’t underestimate the importance of balancing your checking account

How to be prepared for tax season as a gig worker

6 questions students should ask about checking accounts

What you need to know as the executor of an estate

How to build a content team

CRE trends

5 financial benefits of investing in a vacation home

7 diversification strategies for your investment portfolio

Can fantasy football make you a better investor?

Year end tax planning tips

4 major asset classes explained

ETF vs. mutual fund: What’s the difference?

Effects of inflation on investments

What applying for store credit card on impulse could mean

Credit: Do you understand it?

What types of credit scores qualify for a mortgage?

Test your loan savvy

How to manage money in the military: A veteran weighs in

How to roll over your 401(k)

4 times to consider rebalancing your portfolio

Credit score help: Repairing a bad credit score

How do I prequalify for a mortgage?

Can you take advantage of the dead equity in your home?

Home equity: Small ways to improve the value of your home

Is a home equity line of credit (HELOC) right for you?

How to use your home equity to finance home improvements

Should you get a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit?

6 questions to ask before buying a new home

What is refinancing a mortgage?

What is an escrow account? Do I have one?

Quiz: How prepared are you to buy a home?

10 questions to ask when hiring a contractor

What to know when buying a home with your significant other

What is a home equity line of credit (HELOC) and what can it be used for?

Dear Money Mentor: When should I refinance a mortgage?

Building a dream home that fits your life

Are professional movers worth the cost?

First-time homebuyer’s guide to getting a mortgage

Beyond the mortgage: Other costs for homeowners