Financier Looks Beyond Legacy Brands for Lending Candidates
Cristin O'Hara, Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Even the largest players in franchise finance are looking beyond the tried-and-true brands as potential funding candidates, according to Cristin O’Hara, who heads the restaurant finance group for Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Boston.
She’s tweaking the group’s strategy “to be more competitive around the edges,” or to put it another way, “to lend to more brands, to get more brands approved on a more regular basis,” she says. That’s in part because more lenders are entering the restaurant franchise space.
The group won’t be looking to lend to brand new concepts or brand new franchisees. “That’s very difficult for us to do,” she says, although such candidates may get funding through an Small Business Administration-backed loan. But they will target “brands that have a track record, brands where we know the franchisor in addition to the franchisees very well.”
What else does her group pay attention to when making financing decisions? “Where we think there’s a good opportunity, whether in product development, whether it’s appealing to the millennial generation of customers. We’re paying attention to that, and paying attention to where people want to be eating and how they want to spend their dollars.
“So that may be different from going to your traditional QSR. We’re looking at fast casual, especially when they’re being picked up by larger clients that are very well established,” she says.