Annemarie van Gaal doesn’t like banks who withdraw loans to companies at the drop of a hat and then buy them up for peanuts
Parasites are clever little creatures. They leave the work to an oblivious host and strike when his immune system begins to flag.
If your body has been invaded by a parasite you don’t really notice very much at first. It isn’t until it gets into the blood stream, makes its way to the brain and starts to shut down bodily functions, that you will slip into a coma and die. A seeming healthy participant in a breakfast meeting could be dead by dinner time.
The other day I drove to an early morning meeting with a bank in the south of the country to talk about one of the companies I invest in. It is a fine company with an excellent record and a healthy cash flow. A 2007 take-over was financed with a couple of millions from the shareholders and a loan from this bank.
In spite of the fact this company, like many others, is feeling the pinch, it has managed to pay back most of the €5m loan on time. The last payment of the loan, €1.65m, is due in September 2013.
Again like many other companies, this one got involved in a court case, one that, according to the lawyers and the available information, we were sure to win.
The case got to court and to our great surprise we lost. What can you say except that judges judge although they don’t always do so wisely. We are appealing, of course. Then we were struck another blow: the bank announced it was withdrawing the remaining part of the loan. The continuity of the company is in danger and therefore we are acting ‘according to the conditions’, we were told.
Because we, the investors and good clients of the bank, were not reaching for our purses the minute the bank snapped its fingers, we were given a month to find a new buyer. An impossible task under the present economic circumstances. We showed the bank this company has a healthy future. Surely a bank wouldn’t let down a company which has been faithfully paying off a loan because of a temporary setback?
But the bank had already made up its mind. Through its own venture capital company, it has taken over the company for the trifling amount of 1.65m. You have guessed it: exactly the amount of the remainder of the loan.
The bank is not only stealing a fine company from its shareholders but is also side-lining justice. The take-over has been constructed in such a way that the legal claim forms no part of it.
Back to my meeting in Den Bosch. The poker-faced banker opposite me did not have much to say except: ‘Well, we have our opinion about this but we will not be sharing it with you.’ Or: ‘Madam, if you accuse us of theft one more time, we will have to end this conversation.’
Surely it can’t be the case that the entrepreneurs of this country have to live in fear of banks withdrawing loans the minute things don’t go as well as before and then pull the rug out from under them completely by buying the company for next to nothing themselves?
Many businesses and private individuals have banks. One in three people has a parasite. Parasites are very difficult to treat. They are too clever. Clever and deadly.
Annemarie van Gaal is head of publishing company AM Media. She is also a writer and television personality
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