Misplaced Ire

Vitriol directed at the marine lending community may appear justified by businesses that have been curtailed or consumers with foreclosed loans on their boats. Yet the energy expended in the seething anger at specific banks, individuals, or trade associations could be better channeled by those throwing darts to remind the financial community that boating, though diminished, is here to stay.

The notion that an international banking entity, let alone an individual, is somehow responsible for the meltdown in credit to dealers, manufacturers or boaters is ludicrous. The complex series of events that fomented the credit freeze and continuing tight credit market emerged from a cauldron of bad decisions and practices by the public, governments, financiers, industries, economists, consumers, crooks, deadbeats and even dreamers. As the famous comic strip Pogo suggested, let’s all look in the mirror.

Now is the time to begin campaigning to bring liquidity back to boating through traditional lending sources. There is a slow credit thaw taking place on the retail lending side; unfortunately it does not extend to the wholesale or floorplan sector. It’s not occurring as quickly as most would like, but loan rates are remarkably low and the funding spigot, though rusty, is beginning to open.

Competition for funds is stratospheric and has grown global. Those with the money can deliver it down the street to a promising local business, or they can, without much greater effort or fear, send it to the other side of the world. The industry needs to underscore facts and rebuild a positive perception that lending to a boating company or a boat buyer is not risky or complicated, it is transparent and socially acceptable. Spreading the word will improve the odds of gaining the attention and funds of the financial community.

When lenders unfamiliar with the boating industry look in from the outside, they need to be guided to see that excess inventory is going away and some builders are bringing workers back to make new models. Point them to www.GrowBoating.org to view the homemade videos that reflect the passion of current boat owners. Invite them to the service shop to see that the “back end” of the business is rocking.

Those who suggest bankers won’t help competitors learn the boating business need to look at the reasons banking groups exist. Their mission includes making their members better at what they do. As in other industries, when lenders perform to higher standards, the result is a more level playing field with less risk and higher satisfaction from clients. Most would agree, returning to more prudent lending practices of the past will be very good for lenders, the public and boating, as well as other industries.

This isn’t about whether a community bank, regional lender, national bank, financial service firm, credit union or any other iteration of lender is better than another at supporting borrowers. Each will focus on the segments of the market it is able, and wishes, to serve. If CUs can only handle small boats, embrace them!

A main objective of the National Marine Bankers Association is to educate the lending community about the benefits of boat loans. Its new President, Karen Trostle of Sterling Acceptance Corp. of Annapolis, Md., is leading an awareness effort by NMBA members to reach out to community banks and others to encourage them to get into the boating business. This is not completely altruistic since new funds may flow to service firms like hers, which profit when they expedite loan deals.

“Send us the names of institutions who have shown interest in boating and we will go talk with them,” Trostle offers. “Point them to www.marinebankers.org where there is a boat lending ‘white paper’ overview, written by lenders for lenders, pointing to opportunities serving the market. There is also a Webinar for boat businesses to guide them in prospecting with local banks.”

Delivering an honest view of the current boating landscape to the financial community will not result in a gusher of funds from every lender who is willing to listen. But more will be inclined to get involved if they are shown the emerging positives as opposed to witnessing the wagging fingers of those who want to extend the blame.

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