Thompson: 30 Years in Franchise Finance


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Rick Thompson has a long track record in the franchise finance sector that has included playing a key role in building franchise finance platforms for major lenders, including Citibank, Merrill Lynch and current employer BMO Harris Bank.

Thompson’s first move into franchise financing came in 1987 with a job at Citibank when the bank was in the early stages of expanding its restaurant lending. “At the time, everybody thought it was scary and you couldn’t lend money to restaurants, and we were able to prove that you could do restaurant financing in a safe and prudent way,” says Thompson. 

Thompson has continued that pattern of prudent lending over the past 30-plus years. He currently serves as managing director and group head of BMO Harris Bank’s Franchise Finance Group based in Irvine, Calif. In that role, Thompson does a little of everything, from meeting with clients to approving credit transactions, which is just how he likes it.

He joined BMO Harris in 2012 with the task of building out a dedicated franchise finance platform. That effort started from scratch, including finding office space and putting computers and phone lines in place to building a strong team and developing process procedures for underwriting and credit requirements. 

Over the past six years, that group has grown to a group of 20 industry experts that Thompson now oversees. “What we try to do here at BMO is not just provide capital to the franchise space, but we try to provide capital married with advice and a full suite of financial services as well as always looking to provide strategic introductions,” says Thompson. “So, we try to bring the full package together to make our clients more successful, because when they win, we win.” 

For example, the team might have knowledge of a franchise owner who wants to sell a group of restaurants and can introduce the individual to someone else who is interested in a buying opportunity, or BMO Harris may be in a position to assist with a cross border application or interest. At the end of the day, that type of service helps to win financing on a transaction along with a loyal client. “That’s what we try to do to differentiate ourselves in a market that is awash with capital,” says Thompson.

Historically, restaurant financing has been dominated by banks, equipment financing companies and other specialty lenders. Over the years, that has changed with both private equity and large institutional investors that have moved in to provide restaurant financing for chains, franchisors and franchisees. Today, Thompson estimates that there are more than 100 different capital sources providing debt or equity to the restaurant industry. 

“There is just an unlimited number of options to restaurant operators right now,” says Thompson. “So, what we try to do is help restaurant operators understand the various types of capital and help them come to a conclusion on what’s best for them given what’s happening in their industry.” 

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