SBA Woman Lender of the Year: Merri Adams

July 23, 2020
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What does an SBA 504 loan have to do with Jenga? You might be surprised.

Merri Adams isn’t though. She has been working in finance for more than three decades.  Merri is a VP, Senior Commercial Lender at CDC Small Business Finance and is an expert at putting each necessary piece in place to close SBA 504 commercial real estate deals.

Her depth of SBA knowledge makes all the difference.  Merri’s success is based on her focus on assessing each situation and then customizing her approach to get the deal closed.

That’s why the Coleman Report named her the SBA Woman Lender of the Year in the annual 2019 SBA Lender Awards.  Merri was selected due to her part in closing over $2 billion worth of SBA 504 loans with owners seeking to purchase commercial real estate for their businesses.


So how does Merri make it happen?

She compares working on a deal to playing the popular puzzle game, Jenga. “If you build your blocks properly, you’ve got a really sturdy foundation.”

SBA 504 financing brings great advantages to both the small business owners and their community. Merri has helped foster the acquisition of more than 10 million square feet of real estate with the SBA 504 loan. These deals have also supported the creation and retention of more than 18,000 jobs.

One of the most important steps to Merri? Bringing clarity to the process for the borrower and any other partners on the deal.  “It’s not like getting a residential mortgage loan that’s a straight 30-year fixed,” she said. “With SBA 504 loans, there are a lot of different ways that you can approach the same transaction and it’s really important to understand that and to walk the borrower through it.”

Everyone at CDCSBF is proud of Merri and thrilled to congratulate her on receiving the SBA Woman Lender of the Year award.


We’ll let Merri tell you more about her approach to SBA 504 loans in our Q&A:


Q: Do people know about the SBA 504 loan program and its low rate?

A: I think the 504 is one of the best-kept secrets out there. It’s been around for over 30 years and I still talk to business owners every day who have never heard of it. They don’t realize that there’s a very special SBA loan just for the purchase of commercial real estate that offers only 10% down and a below-market fixed-rate. The perception is that SBA 504 loans have the same parameters and guidelines and requirements of a 7a and it does not. It’s very, very different.


Pho Ca Dao owner, Duke Huynh describes his process of working with Merri and receiving a 504 loan to expand his family business:

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Q: Why do bank and real estate partners work with you?

A: My deep knowledge of the SBA is what attracts many of my referral partners.

Once a referral partner has been involved in a few SBA 504 deals they quickly realize that each and every transaction is very different.  So, aligning with someone who can assess a deal quickly and identify if it is a fit for an SBA 504 is very valuable.

When somebody picks up the phone and says ‘I have this type of business with this type of background, is this going to be a problem for SBA?’ I usually can answer right away. I don’t have to go back and look it up because I’ve read the SOP (the SBA’s eligibility requirements, policies, and procedures) and I understand.  The SOP is a couple hundred-page detailed document, so my keen understanding of it helps streamline the process.

Merri Adams and Pho Ca Dao owner, Duke Huynh

Merri Adams and Pho Ca Dao owner, Duke Huynh

Q: What questions do you ask when assessing an SBA 504 deal?

A: Every transaction has to be looked at in a new frame because each transaction is very different. Questions cover a broad range. Are the numbers clear? Is it projection-based, is it an expansion, is it a current business that’s been around for a long time? Is there some kind of personal history issue that has come up in the borrower’s past that we need to make sure we talk about?

The success comes from both asking the questions and knowing what questions to ask.  The questions all revolve around determining the ability of the SBA to approve the loan.


Q: Why is the borrower story so critical with the SBA?

A: The SBA is a storybook type of a lender. The reason the SBA is offering these loans for small businesses is that they may not be able to get conventional financing for a variety of different reasons.

My motto is, if there’s a story to tell, let’s tell it!  SBA wants to hear it.


See how Merri and an SBA 504 loan helped Kevin Darroch of Machinetek:

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Q: How do borrowers come to you?

A: Sometimes it’s referral sources that send me borrowers, like banks and commercial real estate brokers. Sometimes people just call us directly and other times it’s people that we’ve worked within the past – repeat business. It’s equally exciting to help a business owner purchase commercial real estate for their business for the first time as it is to help a past client who is growing and needs to expand their business with more space or a new location.


Q: What is the experience for the borrower?

A: I work closely with the borrower to understand their goals and their business and how it will fit with an SBA loan.  I strategize as to what we need to do to make it work? Do we need to wait another year? Do we need to get more current financials? Do we need to ask different questions? Do we need to understand the business differently? Do we need to get projections? With the assessment, I help the borrower find the path that will get them the financing they need.

Once a loan is closed, at CDC Small Business Finance, we consider our borrowers family.  We are there for them through the life of the loan and beyond.  We have business advisors that can advise them when they are ready to grow and our servicing team is responsive and provides very personal customer service.

Machinetek owner, Kevin Darroch and Merri Adams

Machinetek owner, Kevin Darroch and Merri Adams

Q: What’s the best result for each loan?

A: It has to be a win for everybody, that’s the beauty in it. It’s a win for the borrower. It’s a win for the bank. It’s a win for the mortgage broker. It’s a win for the commercial real estate broker. And it’s a win for us because we’re all about helping small business owners get the financing they need.


Q: What impact can the SBA 504 program have on borrowers’ lives?

A: SBA 504 lending is full of small business owner success stories. When you meet with them they don’t always see where owning a building is going to take them. They just know they need to lock in their rent, or they need to have a permanent location or something that they can call their own. I’ve seen borrowers who started from scratch who were barely scraping by. Then they had these amazing opportunities to buy their real estate, generate rental income, and create value.

It’s really exciting when you look back in time and see the impact that you’ve had in helping these people navigate the process and follow their dreams.  And often, we are introducing them to the SBA program, which helps them create great opportunities for themselves, their family, and their community.


Team San Diego

Merri is grateful to be part of Team San Diego with Mike Sarthou.  Merri and Mike along with their underwriting and closing team, are committed to helping as many small business owners as possible get access to the SBA 504 loan.  They work closely with bank and real estate broker partners to make a difference in the San Diego community.


Want to connect with Merri?

Reach out to Merri by phone 619.243.8665 or email

You can also get Merri’s bio here.


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