By Campbell Pryde, President and CEO of XBRLUS
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Surety Bond Guarantee program works with 350 authorized bond producers, and in fiscal year 2020, the SBA guaranteed more than 10,000 bonds (bid, performance, and payment) valued at over $7 billion.
Without an SBA guarantee, many small contractors would have a difficult time getting bonded. And without a surety bond, they may be unable to bid on key contracts. Bond producers have an important role in facilitating contractor access to new business. While small contractors are skilled at the trade side of their work, they may be relatively new to the task of starting a business. Bond producers working with small contractors often help in finding banking and accounting partners, providing advice, and standing up the building blocks of a new business. They may help with preparing financials and in giving pointers on planning for future financing needs like getting a line of credit before it’s actually needed.
Bond producers also assist small contractors to get, and maintain, SBA surety guarantees. Producers help small contractors obtain the application information, check references, and guide contractors on how to increase the quality of their financials to meet the requirements of sureties.
Keeping track of potentially hundreds of contractors, each with ten or more revolving projects, some with guarantees and some without, is challenging even for the most experienced bond producers.
Last month the SBA launched a new program that aims to reduce the burden on bond producers, as well as contractors and sureties, in their work to help these small contractors. Producers with contractors that have SBA guarantees help their clients by submitting Work-in-Process data to the SBA. Historically, they have been required to input data through the online SBA Form 994, Schedule of Work-in-Process, as shown below.
CCI Surety, Inc. has been in business since 1999, supporting thousands of small businesses. CCI was named the #1 top-performing bond agency in FY21 by the SBA, and has been in the top 10 list for the past 20 years.
“Each bond producer at CCI spends anywhere from five to 15 minutes per WIP report manually entering data for each of our small contractors,” said Andrea Haight, Assistant Vice President at CCI. “That adds up to a lot of data entry each week. If we can get our contractors to adopt this new application method, it will reduce data entry workload and free up time we can spend more productively analyzing financials and helping our clients.”
The SBA requires that WIP reports be current within 90 days of requesting the bond. The new process set up by the SBA allows producers like CCI to use an updateable spreadsheet template (CSV file) that contains identification and WIP data for each contractor. The CSV file leverages a standardized data format called XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language) that, combined with CSV, produces a digitized version of the WIP that can then be automatically submitted and ingested into the SBA system. The new process reduces workload for the SBA, and for bond producers, contractors, and sureties that use the SBA online portal. Bond producers using the new automated process will no longer be required to enter data into the SBA online portal. They can simply add updated facts to an existing WIP spreadsheet and submit it directly to the SBA system, eliminating much of the manual data entry they must do today.
Check out the SBA automated submission application. Read the SBA Announcement about the program.
But Automation Is Not Just For Contractors With An SBA Surety Guarantee
This SBA program stems from an initiative that NASBP has been driving for several years, to bring greater automation to the surety bonding process. In fact, NASBP has published a template that can be transformed into machine-readable data, too. We worked with NASBP to recently update that template so that it uses the same methodology as the SBA CSV template but includes a larger set of data as shown below (note that because of the many columns in this WIP, the spreadsheet is wrapped into two sections for ease of viewing). This may look familiar to many of you because it’s the same template that NASBP recommends as a standard for the Work-in-Process report.
This machine-readable version of the template was developed to help contractors get quicker access to bonding programs. The traditional process for sureties to collect and analyze WIP data from the many contractors they serve is just as manual as the SBA process. Underwriters and/or data entry staff receive the WIP report from contractors or bond agents primarily in PDF file format. They then manually rekey and verify the data from the WIP into their internal financial systems, which can take from 20 minutes to several hours, depending on the length of the WIP.
“Standardizing the data collection process of downloading contractor WIP data, as well as full financials, will reduce frictional costs for all stakeholders. More importantly, it can result in more timely reporting and faster response times,” said Greg Davenport, SVP, Liberty Mutual Surety. “Timely reporting of WIP is one means for a contractor to maximize its surety capacity.”
This is a small, but important, step towards the surety industry taking advantage of current technologies and standards to bring more automation into its process.
What could be next? Generating WIP and financial statement data automatically from contractor reporting software?
Check with the sureties your clients work with to see if they are able to consume XBRL-formatted Work-in-Process reports. Take the NASBP template from the Producer Toolkit, https://www.nasbp.org/toolkit (NASBP login required), for a test drive and generate your own machine-readable WIP report. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
 SBA Recognizes Top 10 Surety Companies and Agencies of FY 21: https://www.sba.gov/article/2021/dec/09/sba-recognizes-top-10-surety-companies-agencies-fy-21?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery