Chicago Resumes Call for Protection of Small Business Owners Against Predatory Lenders

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Illinois State Capitol BuildingChicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers has picked up where Rahm Emanuel left off a year ago. During a January 25th Illinois Senate Financial Institutions Committee hearing named, Small Businesses, lack of access to capital, and predatory lending practices, Summers called for new legislation to protect small business owners from misleading and dishonest predatory lenders.

OnDeck we mean you

Spencer M. Cowan, Senior Vice President for Research, Woodstock Institute, also testified during the hearing and referenced OnDeck specifically. “The terms do not, without calculations that few people can make, let the borrower know that the loan will take a full year to repay with an effective interest rate of just under 70 percent,” he said. Cowan’s position was that banks need to lend more so that small businesses don’t need such alternatives. “If businesses do not have access to loans from banks, then they are probably going to resort to the same types of strategies as consumers who can’t get small loans from banks,” he said.

Cowan cited a report he prepared 18 months ago that examined the relationship between banks and the racial makeup of the small business owners they lend to. The sources he cited about alternative lending were blog posts written by industry critic Ami Kassar.

Treasurer Summers meanwhile recommended the following measures be included in draft legislation to protect small business owners:

  • Require loan terms to be clear and unequivocal. Loan terms should be clearly stated using straightforward language and the interest rate should be clearly disclosed as an annualized interest rate or an annual percentage rate (APR).
  • Loans should be free from traps. Borrowers should not be hit with new fees on existing principal if they refinance or modify a loan. Borrowers should not be charged interest or periodic costs for the remaining period of the loan if they pay it off early.
  • Lenders should be required to display information about the results of their previous loans. This information could be anonymous and in the aggregate, but would give borrowers important data points as they determine whether or not to use a particular lender. If borrowers are able to see that a lender has a pattern of providing loans that are not paid back or have caused businesses to fail, they will be more likely to choose a more reputable lender.
  • Conflicts of interest should be disclosed to borrowers. Borrowers should know what types of incentives are driving the lender and whether the broker will receive higher fees for using certain lenders or types of loans.
  • Because many of these loans are made online, lenders must take substantial steps to protect the data privacy of loan applicants. Borrower data should not be allowed to be sent to third parties without the written consent of the borrower and lenders should be required to take steps to ensure that the data is encrypted and protected from breaches.

Unsurprisingly, the Illinois Bankers Association (IBA), who was not even invited to the hearing, felt compelled to issue a public statement. In a letter addressed to Chairperson Jacqueline Collins, the IBA was rather protective of their own interests. “We share the Committee’s concern with the proliferation of these under-regulated lenders, sometimes known as ‘fintech’ companies,” they stated. “This relatively new ‘shadow banking’ industry — unlike traditional financial institutions — is in many respects unregulated. Consequently, some bad actors are engaging in predatory lending practices with repayment terms that too often are forcing small business customers into cycles of debt.”

However they tapered down the rhetoric and made a technology-forward plea. “We do think it is important for lawmakers to preserve the benefits of lending innovations, and to ensure that mainstream financial institutions are not prevented from adopting technologies that result in better customer service,” they said. “For example, mobile lending interfaces and faster loan approvals, with appropriate safeguards, provide many potential benefits and match changing customer needs and expectations. We should seek to preserve these innovative solutions that benefit entrepreneurs and small businesses, while at the same time curbing abusive lending practices.”

A public digital transcript of the hearing is not currently available.

Last modified: February 12, 2016
Sean Murray

Category: Politics

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