Are You an Underwriter Thinking About Going into Sales?

September 26, 2023
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call centerMy days of working on deals are long gone but once upon a time I was the head of one of the most well-known MCA underwriting departments (Merchant Cash and Capital). The problem was that I was a restless 24 year-old with a front row seat to watching ISOs my age and younger make up to 4x as much as my salary all while spending their days giving me a hard time. I don’t have to recall what it was like because I wrote it down when it was happening.

“ISOs debate constantly about declines and make excuses for required paperwork that merchants can’t produce,” I wrote.

I had little appreciation for how hard sales was and I relished being a hardliner on guidelines. While this approach ultimately paid off majorly for the company (it was in the run-up to 2008!), it did not prepare me for what I did next. I quit my position and became a sales rep for an affiliated ISO, you know because I thought I would automatically become rich off commissions.

After learning that sales meant I would get only 3 leads per day, it dawned on me that 95% of my time would be spent cold calling UCCs. And so that’s what I did, blasting away UCCs on a manual hand dial basis because there was no auto-dialer. Getting any app in at all was a huge achievement and I begged and pleaded with underwriters to pre-approve incomplete files that in a former life I would have enjoyed striking down.

It was a very humbling experience, which was made all the more humble when about a month later almost every MCA company in the industry stopped funding as credit lines got pulled and the financial system came to a standstill to kick off the Great Recession. I really could not believe my luck. My position had no base pay in those days so I had really shot myself in the foot. Just as before, I documented my experience.

“My streak was extended to 25 declined deals and a merchant I had been pitching for literally 4 months was finally giving me a shot. The sweat, the stress, and the dwindling commission paychecks led to the addition of a 2% closing cost on the deal. The merchant ok’d it and signed my form.”

I wasn’t the closing fee type but after the terrible streak and virtually no pay for a whole month, it happened. Unfortunately, the funder I did it with was not happy about it at all.

“The funder got wind of the closing cost and called our office,” I wrote. “Something was said about greed and overburdening their merchant. A warning was issued and they were going to watch my submissions more closely. 25 straight submissions with auto-decline notices, 4 months of sweat in closing a deal, and only a quarter of that 2% closing cost actually going into my pocket. That’s pre-tax by the way. Now I’m on their watch list.”

Somehow, somewhere at a funding company there was an underwriter out there talking about me being an annoying ISO. Fortunately, I appreciated the irony at the time and it was no hard feelings. I felt thankful for having had the experience on the other side of the table.

If you’re wondering if I went back to underwriting or gave up sales, I didn’t. I continued on as a sales rep and manually dialed hundreds of people a day for another three years. I really enjoyed the challenge and the motivation it sparked inside me. I ended up getting a lot of deals funded, though probably not enough to say that I was ever great at it. I launched deBanked while doing this believe it or not. Smile and dial during the day, type on the site at night. Oh those were the days.

The moral of my experience is that the grass is always greener on the other side and sometimes it takes walking a mile in another person’s shoes to really appreciate what they do. If you’re ever annoyed by someone you have to deal with or envious of whatever they’re getting, just know there’s probably more to the story. I hope this helps.

The State of Funding Right Now

September 19, 2023
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analysis“The first quarter was actually kind of slow, like abnormally slow,” said Daniel Dias, founder of Small Business Lending Source, a brokerage based in San Diego. “We came off actually a record-breaking year last year. First quarter this year turned out slow and then it was kind of weird. Maybe it was owners who are hesitant to see what’s going on because there’s a lot of uncertainty in the market.”

Dias says things changed dramatically in Q2, however, to the point of setting yet again a new record. And the momentum only continued into Q3.

“This quarter is actually turning out really well,” he said.

It’s also going really well for Greenbox Capital, a small business funding company based in Miami.

“Q3 has been our best quarter this year,” said Jordan Fein, Greenbox’s CEO. “We positioned the company well over the last 8 months, ready for whatever the economy throws our way. We are running lean and growing again.”

Greenbox began to tighten its credit policies late last year, according to Fein and by continuing this strategy into 2023, it has allowed the company to evolve. “Our momentum has been building ever since we tightened credit and refined our spending in Q4 2022,” Fein said.

Optimism is also in the air at The LCF Group, a small business funding company based on Long Island. “Navigating Q3 and approaching Q4, we anticipate our positive trajectory to continue given the consistent demand from merchants,” said Andy Parker, LCF’s CEO. “Despite certain sectors of the economy facing challenges and the appearance of recession indicators, we’ve adapted our underwriting to reflect these conditions without any major tightening of our guidelines.”

LCF recently announced that it had acquired key strategic assets from Reliant Funding.

Experts: How GFE Went Big

September 6, 2023
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The Brewster Building is an icon in Long Island City, a bustling district of Queens that’s right across the water from Manhattan. Most people know the building as the official headquarters of JetBlue because their giant logo on the roof can be seen from miles away. Others identify it as a major corporate hub for The Estée Lauder Companies since they sublease a substantial amount of office space inside. But up on the eighth floor, men and women traversing the hallways in suits work for another employer that’s making a splash in a different industry altogether. The sign on their door says GFE, which is short for Global Funding Experts. It’s a company that provides working capital to small businesses nationwide and they just recently secured a senior debt facility of up to $100 million.

Global Funding Experts
The GFE team poses in the Long Island City office on Sept 1, 2023

Boris Musheyev, GFE’s CEO, founded the company almost a decade ago with partner Viacheslav “Steve” Eliyayev. Musheyev was working mainly in real estate when he learned about an innovative way to support small businesses by purchasing their future receivables. A cautious investor, he didn’t just jump right in. Instead, he bided his time with research on how it worked. He crunched numbers and analyzed the risks before he was confident it was something he wanted to do.

“From the outset, I’ve only channeled funds into ventures I wholeheartedly believed would both succeed and offer genuine value,” Musheyev told deBanked. “This commitment was evident in 2013 when we began by investing our capital.”

Alas, Global Funding Experts was born. The company’s model is referral partner driven, meaning they rely on ISOs for submissions and there’s no internal sales force. Today, GFE has an estimated 1,500 ISOs signed up and they receive about 700 applications on an average day. It’s a level of scale that wouldn’t be possible if they didn’t have an efficient CRM, something Musheyev predicted the necessity and utility of long before. GFE began building its own proprietary CRM in 2017 and the company used that to accelerate growth beyond its early startup days.

global funding expertsWith its momentum, GFE brought on Boris Shakhmurov to serve as COO in 2019, a traditional banking executive with 20 years experience. Shakhmurov was previously an Executive Director at JPMorgan Chase and had overseen mainly cybersecurity, technology controls, and compliance before making his move to GFE. The two Boris’s knew each other previously, having been friends for over 30 years already. At GFE, Shakhmurov’s pitch that “banks don’t lend to small businesses” lands differently given his background.

“As an expert in Governance, Risk, and Compliance, when I joined the organization in 2019, our goal was to establish a best-in-class MCA Operational Resilience framework to address current and future challenges facing our industry,” Shakhmurov said. “With a focus on building strong and resilient operational controls, we used a multidisciplinary approach to assess the risk across all of our information assets and business processes. The Zero Trust and Defense-in-Depth approach enabled us to focus on early detection, rapid response, enhanced protection, and reducing single points of failure throughout the entire MCA lifecycle.”

For all the technical talk, Shakhmurov said what really stands out is the firm’s family-like atmosphere, which one can see for themselves in their spacious office. That environment has been achieved all while tightly controlling and compartmentalizing access to data, the company says. Security is paramount.

jet blue sign
The top of the Brewster Building in Long Island City

With the infrastructure in place, GFE hired Jonathan Mayer to be their CFO, a veteran accountant who previously spent more than 10 years at Grant Thornton LLP. Mayer first met Musheyev and Shakhmurov in 2021 and he echoed a similar sentiment about how he ended up at GFE. “The work ethic and trust and family environment really stood out to me,” Mayer said.

Between Musheyev, Eliyayev, Shakhmurov, and Mayer, the firm was then off to the races, ultimately leading up to the securing of a debt facility last month of up to $100 million. A lot went into making that happen, including the enlistment of a well known industry law firm to perform the due diligence, they say.

“Through consistent communication with our merchants and operational adaptability, we’ve not only met but surpassed our profitability benchmarks, all the while ensuring minimal defaults in our portfolio,” Musheyev said.

The company also credits having a qualified CFO and robust CRM technology as being necessary ingredients to getting a serious deal done. GFE’s signature products include purchases of future receivables, reverse consolidations, and more recently something called “Incremental Funding.” There’s also no commission clawbacks, they tout. Overall, GFE has funded over $400 million in capital to small businesses since inception.

The executive team heaped praise on the staff for being integral to their success.

“What we have is trust,” Shakhmurov said, who comes back again and again to the importance of building a business that will endure. “If you look at the banking industry, you need operational resilience,” he said.

New York’s Fourth Department: Revenue Purchase Agreements Are Not Loans

August 25, 2023
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A lawsuit brought by Samson MCA LLC against Joseph A. Russo M.D. P.C./IV Therapeutics PLLC, DBA Aspire Med Spa & Joseph Russo & Marco V Beatrice has brought revenue purchase agreements back in to the legal spotlight in New York State. Once again its been affirmed that they’re not loans.

In May 2021, plaintiff Samson MCA sued defendants for breach of contract and won on summary judgment despite defendants’ contentions that the revenue purchase agreements at issue were actually “criminally usurious loans.” Defendant Marco V Beatrice appealed. After a very careful analysis of the agreements, a final decision was issued by the Appellate Division, Fourth Department on August 11, 2023.

“On appeal, [defendant] contends that the agreements are void because they are criminally usurious loans and that the court therefore erred in granting plaintiff’s motion and denying defendants’ cross-motion with respect to him,” the Court stated. “Thus, the central question before us is whether the two agreements were, in fact, revenue purchase agreements or whether they were, instead, loans.”

The Court said that when determining whether a transaction constitutes a loan, courts must determine whether the amount is repayable absolutely or under all circumstances:

“Usually, courts weigh three factors when determining whether repayment is absolute or contingent:
(1) whether there is a reconciliation provision in the agreement;
(2) whether the agreement has a finite term; and
(3) whether there is any recourse should the merchant declare bankruptcy”

Final decision:

Contrary to [defendant’s] contention, plaintiff established as a matter of law that the agreements were revenue purchase agreements rather than loans, and [defendant] failed to raise a triable issue of fact with respect thereto (see Principis Capital, LLC, 201 AD3d at 754). Here, the agreements submitted by plaintiff contained reconciliation provisions requiring the adjustment of the remittance amount upon request based on changes to the entity defendants’ revenues, and had no finite term and no payment schedule. Additionally, as noted, each agreement contained an acknowledgment “that [plaintiff] may never receive the purchased amount in the event that [the entity defendants’ business] does not generate sufficient revenue” and, for the most part, plaintiff did not have recourse in the event that the entity defendants declared bankruptcy (see Streamlined Consultants, Inc. v EBF Holdings LLC, 2022 WL 4368114, *5 [SD NY, Sept. 20, 2022, No. 21-CV-9528 (KMK)]).

We have reviewed [defendant’s] remaining contention and conclude that it does not warrant reversal or modification of the judgment.

The original lawsuit can be found under Index No. 129401/2021 in the New York Supreme Court.

Full decision by the Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department can be found here.

Should Lightspeed Ramp Up its Merchant Cash Advance Business?

August 18, 2023
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lightspeed commerceAnalysts are wondering if Lightspeed should be doing even more merchant cash advances than the company’s currently doing. The company generated just $8.1M in revenue from them over the last fiscal year, a number that amounted to just 1% of total revenue.

“Under normal circumstances, we would likely be pushing [Lightspeed] Capital even harder,” said Lightspeed CFO Asha Bakshani during the Q1 2024 FY earnings call this month, “however, given the current macro environment, we’re being conservative on the ramp. There’s no lack of demand from our customers, and we believe our high GTV customer base is an ideal demographic to use this financial service, especially in the long term. Risk of business failure is much lower with high GTV customers, but the need for capital is still substantial.”

When Lightspeed touted that it had increased its total merchant cash advance receivable balance by $11M for the quarter, an analyst from Bank of America Merrill Lynch wondered if they were being too conservative. “You mentioned that you would be pushing harder, but given the macro, you’re being conservative on the ramp,” the analyst said, “But then, you also mentioned that there is demand for it, so if there is demand, why not push a little bit harder for capital?”

“Yeah, you’re absolutely right,” Bakshani replied. “Capital is a very promising business for us, but what we have to keep in mind is that it still represents today a low single-digit millions in terms of revenue. And so when our sales teams are fully focused on unified payments, there was some distraction in the quarter on capital. And in addition, we want to make sure that in today’s macro that we’re not rushing anything. We want to make sure that we ensure that we stick with the very high rated credit-rated customers for eligibility. But you’re absolutely right, there’s tons of demand. We’re just taking our time intentionally given the macro. Our default rates still remain extremely low, but we definitely should see that pick back up in the back half of the year when unified payments is behind us.”

Lightspeed’s merchant cash advance program was repeatedly raised during the call in very positive terms.

“Once you’re on Lightspeed payments, we underwrite you for capital so you can have access to capital,” said Jean Paul Chauvet, CEO of Lightspeed. “That is a big win for them and our customers.”

Success On the Last Day? It’s Really About What Happens All Month

August 7, 2023
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busy meetingThere isn’t a more chaotic time in this industry than the last day of the month. Brokers on the front line scramble to close deals to hit their sales targets while funders provide vital support from the backend.

Paul Boxer, COO of Merchant Marketplace calls the last working day “the most insane day of the month.” Boxer told deBanked “… for us we know that on the funding side to make our investors and syndicators happy it’s a very crucial integral day that we’re all hands on deck to do whatever we can to make sure as many deals get funded as possible.”

Among the secrets to a successful end-of-month performance, however, is operating efficiently throughout the month, several sources opined. For Moe Braun, the Senior Director of Business Development at Rocket Capital, he said that means communicating with ISOs about what deals they’d really want to see get closed and funded so that their ISOs are spending their time pursuing the right files all along. Braun himself even sets his own daily and weekly goals to maximize efficiency.

“I think the easiest way to avoid the pressures are to kind of granulate those quotas, instead of monthly, as granular as you can get,” said Braun, “So weekly, daily; when I come into the office every day, I know what I want to get done that day. And then if I get it done that day, I try to focus on how I did and copy that for the next day. And same goes for my week, I look at the end of the week on Fridays, I say ‘hey, was this a good week? Was this a bad week? What went well, how can I do that again next week? And what went wrong and how can I correct that for next week?’”

For Russell Kimyagarov, the Founder and CEO of Fratello Capital, he says they’re constantly tuned into their CRM, tracking deals that receive pre-approvals and identifying follow-ups needed.

“We also have meetings once a week with the staff, with the team, to make sure if there’s anything that we could do better that we’re discussing it and implementing it to close more files and stay in touch with the ISOs a little better,” Kimyagarov said.

“In our CRM, we do track how many submissions a day from which broker,” said Boxer of Merchant Marketplace. “How many offers? Then the breakdown between submissions to offers to contracts out. Why it did or didn’t fund. To the ones that didn’t fund, what happened? Did they get funded somewhere else? Did the merchant just start ghosting the broker? Did it die for other reasons?”

Even for Boxer who knows what the last day of a month is like, he affirmed that there is a bigger picture to it all.

“I think that in this business there are other ways to focus your business, a lot of it’s based on like mentioning quotas and numbers, for us it’s really about relationships,” Boxer said.

Lightspeed Capital Generated $8.1M in MCA Revenue Last Year

June 23, 2023
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lightspeed commerceWhen Lightspeed announced it was expanding its MCA program to the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Quebec, one may have been wondering who they were. The POS e-commerce platform has actually been around since 2005 and has been slowly building up its MCA offerings. Indeed, last quarter deBanked pointed out that the company had been increasing its volume.

As of the company’s fiscal year-end of March 31, 2023, the company had an MCA receivable balance of $29.5M, up from $6.3M YoY. Altogether, Lightspeed generated $8.1M in revenue in FY 2022, amounting to only about 1% of its overall revenue. That means there’s still a lot more room for growth.

“We believe real-time access to capital is one of the largest challenges facing merchants today,” said JP Chauvet, Lightspeed CEO in a press release. “This expansion of Lightspeed Capital provides a simple, streamlined opportunity for our merchants to invest in their business. Our goal is to help turbocharge their operations … all through a single, integrated commerce solution.

Federal Legislators Jump on Commercial Financing Disclosure Bandwagon, Renew Push to Give CFPB Authority Over Industry

June 16, 2023
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US CapitolFeel like there’s a lot of state-level disclosure going around lately? Well now some members of Congress believe another layer is needed at the federal level. In a bill titled the “Small Business Financing Disclosure Act of 2023,” the language looks awfully familiar. There’s a Double Dipping clause in it, for example, which was a term first seen in a New York State law.

The federal bill, which was introduced by US Senator Robert Menendez and Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez, seeks to place the small business finance industry under the authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). As part of that, the Director (currently Rohit Chopra) would be responsible for devising all the rules and formulas, according to the bill. Furthermore, with regards to sales-based financing, the bill specifically states:

1. The provider must disclose an APR.

2. The estimated term of repayment and periodic payments based on projected sales volume must be disclosed.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of the American economy,” said Congresswoman Velázquez. “But for too long, predatory lenders have taken advantage of businesses in need of capital by offering loans and similar products with unclear terms and exorbitant interest rates.”

Supporters of the bill, including Senator Sherrod Brown and Senator Ron Wyden, also stated that the bill is aimed at “predatory lenders.”

In Senator Menendez’s press statement for the bill, it cites Funding Circle, a small business lending company, as a supporter.

“We believe a free and fair market operates most efficiently when there is transparency in pricing, terms and conditions,” said Ryan Metcalf, Head of U.S. Public Affairs at Funding Circle U.S. When a small business has all of the necessary information up front including the annual percentage rate (APR), they can comparison shop and make informed decisions that are best for their business. Funding Circle supports one national uniform small business financing disclosure law because it is in the best interests of small businesses and interstate commerce.”

The push for a small business financing bill is not new. A similar bill introduced by Velázquez last year did not move forward, nor did the one from 2021, nor the one from 2019. The difference is that previous versions focused on Confessions of Judgment and fairness in small business lending. The latest version takes on the air of disclosure while attempting to subjugate the whole industry to CFPB regulatory authority.