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Interview with Seth Benefield, Head of Bank of America Business Capital and Asset-Based Financing
By Michele Ocejo
In August, Bank of America announced that Seth Benefield had been named head of Bank of America Business Capital (BABC) and Asset-Based Financing.
He is responsible for managing an international team of asset-based lenders that deliver secured credit facilities and other complementary banking products and services to mid-size and large corporate companies. With nine primary offices serving the United States, Canada and Europe, BABC provides corporate borrowers with senior secured loans of $5 million or more, cash management, interest rate and foreign exchange risk management, and a broad array of capital markets products.
Based in Atlanta, Benefield has been with the bank for 20 years, previously serving as National Marketing Manager, where he managed a team of business development officers who provide asset-based solutions and banking products to large and middle market companies, intermediates and financial sponsors across the U.S. and Europe. Prior to joining the bank, he served as a special agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Benefield earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Accounting from University of Georgia. He is a Certified Public Accountant and holds Series 7, 24, 63 and 79 FINRA registrations.
You began your career with the FBI. Please tell us a bit about your career trajectory and how the skills you developed in your role as a special agent assist you now.
Benefield: I began my career as a CPA in public accounting. From there, I went to the FBI as a Special Agent based first in Quantico, VA, and then in San Francisco. It was not a normal career path trajectory, but the FBI was also something I’d wanted to do. While there, I investigated bank robberies, organized crime, public official bribery cases and served on a fugitive task force. I also made lifelong friendships that are still important to me.
While it may not seem relevant, my time at the FBI provided great opportunities for personal and professional development. In addition to teaching me self-confidence, I learned two important skills that transferred well to being a manager at Bank of America. The first is the importance of listening. Most of what you do as an FBI agent is interview people: victims, suspects, informants, local police, witnesses, family members, officials with other agencies, etc. I learned quickly that if I did not listen intently, I was in big trouble and oftentimes did not have the opportunity to repeat the interview. This is really not that different than working at BofA. I cannot do my current job effectively if I do not take the time to truly listen and digest daily interactions. This applies not only to external conversations with prospects, referral sources and clients, but also to my internal conversations with my team, peers and managers.
The second takeaway from my FBI experience was how critical teamwork and strong leadership is to a group’s success. One of the things that I loved about the FBI was that it was almost like being on a sports team. Just like great teams, successful FBI squads had strong leaders (ASACs in FBI lingo) and field agents that trusted and backed their fellow squad mates. Building a team takes constant work. Team dynamics change regularly and, without careful attention, a team’s culture can morph and cause unexpected problems. Strong ASACs had their fingers on the pulse of their squads and were able to anticipate and mitigate issues. The same commitment to building a functional team applies in business.
What are your short- and long-term goals as head of BABC?
Benefield: I am focused on five core objectives centered on providing a world-class experience for our associates and clients. My expectation is that these objectives will not change under my leadership. We are in the process of creating alignment across the organization and stability in our vision is important. The Cliff Notes version of these five objectives are as follows:
- Create and maintain the best team in the industry;
- Drive responsible growth by focusing on delivering tailored solutions to our clients and prospects;
- Price deals appropriately;
- Proactively manage risk; and
- Continue to invest in digital innovations and technology to improve our client experience and efficiency.
What effects from the pandemic are you seeing and what effects industry-wide do you expect to see over the next six months?
Benefield: I would start with how impressed I have been with the resilience of our associates during this time. Between going to an almost 100% work-from-home posture, changing roles caused by shifting priorities, and the manpower needed to assist in the government PPP and Main Street Lending programs, our teams have faced many challenges. They have shined during this time, and I am amazed by their engagement.
From a business perspective, after seeing a significant run-up in loan balances in late Q1/early Q2, our asset levels and revolver utilization rates have contracted. This has been somewhat offset by strong fallen-angel activity with cash-flow facilities migrating to ABL structures, particularly in the retail space. Our asset quality remains very good, and we are actively looking to grow our business with our existing and new clients.
I expect the ABL landscape to remain very competitive in the near-term. ABL portfolios continue to perform well, and banks are allocating outsized capital to these groups as a safe haven during this volatile period.
Given the way the pandemic has disrupted certain industries, is BABC pivoting to focus on different industries now?
Benefield: We are maintaining our same industry approach and continue to operate within our risk framework. We are monitoring closely the continued impacts of COVID-19 and government stimulus package discussions. Obviously, some industries are performing better than others. For companies in industries that are most impacted, having enough liquidity to bridge to a more normalized environment is critical. Overall, our clients have done an excellent job managing their balance sheets and maintaining sufficient liquidity to cushion the volatility.