Girish Bajaj is an expert at financing from the ground up. But the veteran banker-turned-founder of Cornerstone Capital Lending knows that real expertise takes action, not just knowledge.
He founded his company on the notion of “banking relationships without the banking regulations” so that he could work with any lender nationwide to fulfill a client’s needs. We sat down recently to talk banking, commercial loan misconceptions and the value of SBA loans.
What is your experience in finance and banking?
Girish Bajaj: When I arrived in America with $20 to my name, I began working as a bank teller. In 1990, I transitioned to commercial financing. Then in 2004, I became one of the original founders of Beach Business Bank in Manhattan Beach, CA. In 2013, the board decided to sell the bank and I founded Cornerstone Capital Lending to provide SBA and conventional loans to clients who were being overlooked by banks and large lenders. Launching my own company gave me the ability to offer every product to every industry using my network of banks and lenders.
What are the biggest misconceptions about commercial loans and financing?
GB: Many people think that the loan process takes 2 to 3 months. But in reality, that’s often too long to wait for someone who has a funding deadline to meet. Properties in Escrow require much faster action. By working with Preferred Lenders (PLP), we’re able to complete loan requests in as little as 30-45 days from first quote, assuming the client submits the requested information and makes decisions in a timely manner. Our in-house underwriters and client-focused teams make that possible.
What advice would you give to businesses seeking SBA financing?
GB: Don’t stress out. People often get scared of documents, but working with a financial advisor or loan expert can help mitigate the stress of the documentation and loan process. Secondly, always buy real estate instead of just renting, because then you’re paying the mortgage toward your own property instead of just giving it away to landlords. And finally, don’t overleverage yourself by taking out too many loans.
What are some types of businesses or business expansion opportunities that are a good fit for an SBA loan?
GB: Most small businesses are a good fit for an SBA loan. Hotels, car washes, gas stations, liquor stores, bowling alleys, auto repair shops—really any type of business. The key is that at least 51% of the property must be dedicated to daily business use. So, for example, a self-storage company must have an onsite office where people work, rather than simply be a storage facility.
What advice would you give to a business owner seeking financing? How should they start that process?
GB: The first step is to either request a quote or speak directly with a loan officer. There are many types of loans, each with their own specific purpose. At the same time, every business has its unique needs. Speaking directly with an advisor can keep the process simple by pointing business owners in the right direction toward the loan that’s best for them.
What are the benefits of SBA Loans, and how do they compare with other loan programs offered by Cornerstone Capital Lending?
GB: SBA loans typically have a lower down payment on commercial properties. And for the SBA 7(a) program, we don’t charge any fees to the borrower. For businesses that don’t yet own property, an SBA loan is the only way to get the funding they need for their initial purchase.
The SBA is often considered the lender of last resort. As an example, most banks won’t even consider a loan request for a hotel without 35% down—a hefty sum for small businesses. But with 15-20% down, a business owner can typically qualify quite easily for an SBA loan. When nobody else will do it, the SBA will usually find a way to fund a business.
Can you share a story of a client you’ve helped? What was their story, and what did you do for them?
GB: One business owner wanted to purchase a property in rural Nevada to build a hotel. He didn’t have any direct ownership experience in that industry. To the bigger banks and lenders, his lack of experience, the property and the location were three strikes against him. But by tapping into our vast network of bank owners and lenders, we were able to get him a loan for 85% of the value, which allowed him to fund his goals despite his lack of experience. We made sure he was happy with the rate and terms of the letter of intent (LOI). Once he signed the LOI, we began the underwriting process in-house. Through a strategic approach to bank discussions we were able to avoid a lot of negativity and secure a loan that satisfied our client’s needs.
Visit csclending.com to explore the full spectrum of businesses Bajaj and his team have funded, as well as the loan options available to your business.