Looking Back & Forging Ahead: A Dialogue With David Goldin
DeBanked Magazine recently caught up with David Goldin, the founder, president and chief executive of Capify, a New York based alternative funder. Goldin, who started his business in January 2002 as a credit card processing ISO, has been an outspoken and active participant in the alternative funding space since that time. He is also president of the Small Business Finance Association, the industry trade group that he helped found in 2006. The following is an edited transcript of our discussions.
DeBanked: Since you started the business, Capify has grown from a credit card processing ISO into a global company with more than 200 employees in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia. Please talk a little about where Capify is today and your future growth plans for the company.
The key here is responsible growth and the responsible providing of capital. Anyone can fund deals. The hard part is collecting the money back, so you have to know how to operate during a down economic cycle. Capify did it very successfully in the last economic downturn. As we move into uncertain times, it seems there’s a greater possibility that the economy is going to get worse over the next 18 months. Even so, we’re working on several new products and new partnerships that we’ll be announcing shortly. Again, the trick is to be responsible about growth. We’re staying laser focused on our business right now and being very selective about where to invest capital in new projects during these uncertain times.
DeBanked: Continuing on the subject of growth, what do you think has been the most significant contributor to the company’s upward progression over the past several years?
I think our underwriting model is what has helped us the most. Our performance data has allowed us to make decisions in tough times and automate our processes further based on historical trends. We have 10-plus-years of performance data in the U.S. and 8-plus-years overseas. Most companies have only three to five years of experience, and most importantly, they haven’t been through an economic downturn.
DeBanked: How has the competitive landscape in the industry changed in the past few years?
Lenders are a different quality now. There is more variation in lenders than ever before—from lower-risk providers of capital to higher-risk providers of capital. Higher-risk providers of capital tend to charge a lot more. They also tend to have very aggressive business practices. The public perception is that all funders are the same—but we all have different business models and ethics in the way we operate our companies. It can be challenging at times to help customers, the media, partners and investors understand the difference between Capify and less scrupulous players.
DeBanked: What do you think the industry will look like in five to 10 years?
I think you’re going to see a lot of consolidation, and I think you’re going to see a whole new variety of products being offered to customers. The customer acquisition cost is too high to only offer one type of product. Similar to banks, alternative funders are going to start offering multiple products, if they aren’t already, and that will help make for a stickier customer and increase the bottom line.
Also, there will be significantly fewer funders than there are today and many ISOs will not be able to survive. I think more and more companies are going to start building their own internal sales forces. There are lower default rates and higher renewal rates in the direct model; the ISOs don’t have skin in the game. I think some of the stronger ISOs over time will become part of the larger funding companies.
DeBanked: There seems to be a consensus in the industry that more regulation of alternative financing is inevitable. How is regulation going to change how alternative funders operate and how might it change the competitive landscape?
I think you’ll see a lot more self-regulation before you see actual regulation when it comes to business-to-business lending. Funders are taking self-regulation more seriously and there have been more associations formed to educate policy-makers about the performance rates, default rates, renewal rates, customer satisfaction levels and how the products work.
The one area there could be potential regulation is in providing capital to sole proprietorships. The argument is that tiny businesses may need more assistance than larger companies, and some make the argument that these micro businesses are quasi-consumers. We disagree. We feel that if a sole proprietor is using the capital for his business, it should be considered a business transaction. However, several factors— including rampant media attention, more publicly traded alternative financing companies, tremendous growth of marketplace lending over the past several years and an election year—provide a recipe for all the regulation noise.
DeBanked: What are the biggest risks our industry is facing right now?
We’ve seen the movie before—in 2007 and 2008—when alternative funders didn’t factor in the severity of how an economic downturn could affect their business. The risk is there again. Funders have to be even more responsible. It’s not about how much you fund, it’s about much you collect back. You can’t be super-aggressive during times you think you may be
going into a down period. There could be significant industrywide fallout from irresponsible underwriting.
DeBanked: What advice would you give to new funders entering the market now?
I think the boat has left the dock; I don’t think they will be able to compete with established players in a meaningful way. Someone who really wants to be in the business should look at acquiring several small to medium-sized companies and rolling them up to get scale. It would be very challenging and require many years of investment to start from scratch at this point to build a substantial company. It’s harder now than it was in the past.
DeBanked: Can you talk a little about where you see the future of banks and alternative funders and how they will work together?
I think some banks will want to acquire platforms for speed to market or partner with platforms where the banks provide the capital and the funders service the loans. The latter is the model that J.P. Morgan and On Deck chose. The challenge is that the banks aren’t going to want to take a risk on applicants that don’t fall within the certain credit profile that they are comfortable lending to. While the partnership model will help banks make decisions faster about lending to small businesses, many small businesses will continue to be underserved. This could, in turn, provide an opening for independent funders who are willing to provide capital, albeit at higher rates because you can’t make a profit providing working capital (typically unsecured) at bank rates to the credit and risk profiles of businesses that most alternative funding companies work with today.
DeBanked: Please address the major technology trends shaping the alternative financing industry and what this means for industry players?
My opinion is the technology is ahead of the typical business brick-and-mortar business owner. Whilethe technology exists for business owners to go to a website and provide their personal and business data, we have found most business owners want to speak with a salesperson first, get a comfortable level and then apply online. (Compared with going right to a website and applying without a human involved). However, each year that goes by more and more business owners get more comfortable with technology and a greater percentage of them will look for a completely online experience. Being that it costs millions of dollars and years of time to build these platforms, you have to constantly evolve your platform to stay relevant. You can’t just snap your fingers and have it up and running.
I think the trend for our specific industry is being technology-enabled rather than being pure-bred tech companies. Customers still want to speak to people,but you also have to have viable backend technology so your business is scalable. Technology, such as digital bank statement transmission via various platforms, also helps cut down fraud compared with reviewing manual documents that can easily be forged or “Photoshopped.”
DeBanked: How can alternative funding companies best meet the challenges they are likely to face over the next few years?
I think alternative funders need to focus on more responsible providing of capital. This means really focusing on business owners’ ability to repay, taking a hard look at overburdening them with debt through stacking, for example, and further evaluating the referral sources of business they are getting their deal flow from in order to ensure that business owners get the best possible experience. Furthermore, I think as more alternative funding companies focus more on profitability and not just growth, coupled with the tightening of available institutional capital with an appetite for our industry, you will see some of the recent trends potentially reverse such as extremely high approval rates and industry margin compression.