Banks mining cash from their computer gear

IBM buying up equipment, leasing it back to financial institutions

In another sign of a tight economy, even those that have the money are getting creative with their IT resources in order to find a little financial wiggle room.

Amid the credit crisis some banks are taking their fixed IT assets -- mostly hardware -- and clearing them off their balance sheets to free up dollars to help improve their positions, according to IBM Global Financing (IGF), the company's financing division.

Here is how it works.

Banks, pushed by the mortgage implosion to clean up their balance sheets and raise equity, are selling their IT computer equipment to IBM, which is then leasing the gear back to them on a monthly basis. Banks are finding the process a quick way to get at cash wrapped up in their computer hardware.

While experts say such a program is not a financial panacea, it can be effective as part of an overall plan.

IBM calls it Sale Leaseback, and while it is not a new service, the idea is getting a workout from the financial services industry, according to IBM and analysts.

IBM says its Sales Leaseback business in 2008 has grown by three times what it was in 2007, an unprecedented level of expansion. The company, however, does not break out those figures. Gross profits for IGF in 2007 were nearly US$2.2 billion.

IBM Global Financing's program for leasing new equipment also is up an unprecedented 31 percent from normal patterns of low double-digit growth, according to the company.

Earlier this year, according to IBM officials, the company bought US$200,000 worth of gear from a top-five bank and is now leasing it back to the institution. IBM declined to name the bank, but said it is currently negotiating a Sale Leaseback with another top bank for US$400,000 worth of hardware.

"Their equipment doesn't change on the [data center] floor, but we come in and pay cash for the equipment, the equipment comes off their balance sheets, and now we own it and we write a lease," says Dan Ransdell, general manager for client financing with IGF. "It generates cash for the bank, and it gets their existing assets on a technology refresh cycle."

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