The Broker: How Gerald Watson Mixes Factoring with MCAs
I’m the owner of The Watson Group, a factoring broker company.
How did you end up in the industry?
I got started in what I call the contract financing industry about 35 years ago, kind of by accident. I had spent years working with a large management consulting company in Boston and we had some major contracts in the DC area. I was on an assignment there and my son was in school there with another kid, and I met the parents and the dad told me what he was doing and he said I needed to come by the offices to check it out.
I really had no intention of going at all, but finally to get this guy off my back, I went by one day and he showed me the business they were in. When I left I was totally on board. I had been working for several years in management consulting, but this was all new and I was excited because it was helping real businesses solve real problems and it was very hands-on.
I came on board and I’ll never forget my first day on the job: I didn’t know anything from anything – rights, factoring, contracts financing – this was years before the MCA industry even existed, and my boss said he just got a job, 911 call from a printer and they needed some funding help. “Can you help them? Why don’t you come ride with me? It’d be good on the job training for you.” And so we sat down with the guy and found a solution for him. And to this day he hasn’t had to close his business.
How were those early days?
Interesting because this was before the internet, almost before cell phones, in fact. I remember at one point when I was being hired, the Motorola flip phone was just coming out and they were like $1,500 around 25 years ago. And I said okay, I’ll take the job but you’ve got to give me one of these Motorola phones, so he did and it was great but this is before the internet and I didn’t really believe in traditional advertising or mailing out brochures, so the strategy I take is called “institutional referral-based marketing.”
In a nutshell, what that is, is working with various institutions that refer clients to use on a regular basis and as part of that process, I’d give talks or seminars and workshops and sit on panels and teach some of these referral groups how to assess deals and package them and get them ready for funding. You know, develop a pretty solid reputation in the industry for what we did and even today we’re 100% referral.
What can you tell me of the style in which you approach deals?
The approach that I’ve always taken is really a diagnostic approach, we kind of almost see ourselves as doctors. If you go to a doctor and you have pain, you may not know what’s causing that pain, you just want to feel better. And so what does the doctor do? They have to understand what’s going on in order to make you feel better.
Client’s got a pain: “I need money. I need working capital and I need it now.” And so we get a clear picture of what their objectives are and what they’re looking to accomplish: how much they need, what they need it for, timing, etc., and like a doctor, we go through a series of diagnostic tests, which can involve getting a list of documents – financials, bank statements, whatever it is – and going through them. You’re drilling down on where they’re at and coming up after that, coming up with what I call a treatment plan or funding strategy.
Here’s the key: you’ve got to ask the right questions, because if you don’t ask the right questions you’ll never get the right answer. All too often what a broker will do is they’ll get right into solutions and answers and talk about why what they offer is the best or why their funder is the best thing since sliced bread without having a picture of what their client’s true needs are in this situation. So I have a whole series of quizzes I’ve done a million times so I don’t need to write them down. I know what they are but I systematically go through ‘em, and we call that a preliminary underwriting interview.
What is the value of combining MCAs and factoring?
Funding solutions typically involve multi-funding products. And that’s where the advent of MCAs came in, and why they’re such a real asset. Because you meet a client today and it’s Wednesday, or Tuesday, hell maybe even Thursday, and the guy’s siting there with half a million dollars in receivables that we can convert into cash but we may need 3 days to do it, but he needs 2 days.
MCAs are a great product because we can step in, solve the problem, get him an immediate injection to stop the bleeding, and take it out from factoring proceeds a few days later. So it’s a great compliment and tool and this is something I’ve tried to educate on both sides. It’s not a threat it’s a complement. The key is how you use it. It’s like two medications. You go to a doctor, they’ll prescribe a list of meds, the key is to make sure they all complement each other.
Any advice for those looking to combine MCAs and factoring?
The first thing you want to do as an ISO who’s interested in developing a factoring brokering business is to understand the basics of factoring: what is factoring, how does it work, how do you qualify, how much does it cost?
The second thing you want to do is look internally to develop your customer base and the quickest customer base is what we call the low-hanging fruit. These are existing merchants that didn’t fund. Any merchant that is in B2B, whether they got funded or not, is a candidate for factoring. So go back through the files, look at the database and you may find out you probably have a lot more than what you ever imagined.
The third is to develop your database of funding resources – of funders.
And the last thing you want to have is a game plan. What’s your game plan and what’s your strategy for moving forward with your factoring broker business?
Connect with Gerald on LinkedIn
Brendan Garrett was a Reporter at deBanked.