In this bulletin we interview Andrew Dodds, Managing Associate in the Banking & Finance team at Stevens & Bolton LLP.
Andrew trained at the international law firm, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, and joined their structured finance team on qualification. He subsequently spent time at Macfarlanes LLP before joining Stevens & Bolton LLP in 2015.
Here we find out from Andrew what the Banking & Finance team at Stevens & Bolton LLP are doing to help their clients and to win new business.
There has been a recent trend of relatively subdued demand for bank finance amongst SMEs. Is that something you are seeing in the market and has that affected work volumes?
Yes, there has been some slackening off in SMEs appetite for borrowing. Brexit uncertainty has had an impact on this space as well as other parts of the market. Despite this, we have been and remain busy. We have been doing some borrower side unitranche and mezzanine leveraged finance deals, real estate lending secured on London/regional property, asset based lending facilities, the English parts of international transactions and helping our excellent private client team with bespoke loan and security arrangements. We have a very diverse workflow which is nicely balanced as between borrowers, lenders and other stakeholders. We have also got a quality team of people to do the work which makes my life easier.
How do you ensure consistency in the delivery of your service?
Providing consistently excellent client service is one of the most important parts of my job. We are here to deliver high-quality legal advice in an efficient, cost-effective, stress-free way that helps our clients to meet their commercial objectives. With this in mind, we have developed “gold standard” processes for managing deals. In particular we have produced two key documents: our “borrower” and “lender” checklists. These cover the life cycle of a deal and highlight customary issues and solutions when acting for borrowers and lenders, as well as things to do at particular stages of a deal. A good understanding of deal process and common issues/problems helps us to get the deal done smoothly and meet our client service delivery objectives.
Do you offer any pricing alternatives or is it always a case of one size fits all?
We offer flexible and transparent pricing options depending on how much a client wants to use us. We can do a high-level commentary on a term sheet or loan agreement pointing out off-market and/or unusual terms at a pretty low cost. We can do a “Rolls Royce” job where we manage the transaction from start to finish and draft/negotiate all the documents, which is a bit more expensive. Or we can do anything in between. I call this “menu pricing”. Clients can pick two courses for £10, a la carte or even the tasting menu. It depends on their appetite! In all seriousness, the key take-away here is that S&B's finance practice provides real value for money.
How do you look to assist corporate borrowers to navigate what can be very complicated and lengthy finance documents?
I explain things in plain English. This is really important because finance documents contain lots of jargon and it is crucial to demystify it. For example, an “amortising loan” is repaying a loan in instalments. Secondly, I break down a long loan agreement into the “commercial” conditions that are important to a borrower or lender, and explain the meaning and effect of these sections to clients first. I focus mainly here on pricing (e.g. interest rate, fees), statements that repeat during the life of the deal (representations), promises to do or not do certain things (undertakings), the events which allow a lender to ask for its money back (events of default) and the loan transfer/assignment provisions. We occasionally do “loan agreement audits” where we review an existing loan agreement and summarise these kinds of commercial terms. I know that clients have found them pretty useful.
Do you offer any value added services to clients?
Yes. We offer free training sessions to clients on certain banking topics, as we enjoy sharing our knowledge and market experience. These include “Show me the money” (which explains the most common finance options available in the market) and more “technical” areas like guarantees and security. We also have briefing sheets containing pointers on what to do if your counterparty is in financial difficulty and options to streamline corporate groups via re-organisations, solvent restructuring etc. We can also do bespoke training for clients if they want to cover something in more depth or if they want more tailored training.