Fintech Remains Loyal to Prosper & Suber
When deBanked reached out to fintech market participants for comment on Ron Suber’s sudden departure as Prosper’s president, the responses were the same — ‘anything for Ron.’ Dubbed the Godfather of fintech, Suber might deserve superhero status given the recapitalization that he and the Vermuts led half a decade ago to save Prosper Marketplace. That type of rescue inspires the kind of loyalty that investors and other fintech participants are displaying not only for Suber but also the Prosper brand.
“Ron is an incredible business partner. His word is always good. He doesn’t overpromise, and he always follows through. We were honored to work with a guy like that,” said Matt O’Malley, co-founder and president of Looking Glass Investments, which has been investing on the Prosper platform since 2008.
Perhaps he has never seen him overpromise but in recent weeks he and many other investors on the Prosper platform did observe an overstatement of returns. O’Malley calls it a forgivable mistake.
“In my view, it is our responsibility to track our returns. Prosper provides an extremely robust data set. We have the ability to calculate our returns daily,” said O’Malley, pointing to a nascent fintech market that is still evolving. “This asset class is new. If you compare it to investing in stocks and bonds, it’s in its infancy. When preparing returns, it’s very challenging to determine what they are,” he said.
Looking Glass has been investing in individual loans on the Prosper platform since before Suber’s time and has watched as the former Wells Fargo executive has transformed the peer-to-peer lender to welcome institutional investors.
“He didn’t have to let us stay on the platform. They could have chosen to replace the little guy. But that isn’t how he does business. He knew the investment banks and [other] banks would get involved, however he knew there was enough room for everyone,” said O’Malley.
That day is here, evidenced by Prosper’s previously announced deal with a consortium of institutional investors to purchase $5 billion worth of loans via the Prosper platform over the next couple of years.
FT Partners was the lead advisor on that deal.
“When they needed capital they could have chosen anybody to help. We were excited to be the chosen one to help them on the deal. It was one of fintech’s largest deals and certainly the largest of its kind,” said Steve McLaughlin, founder of FT Partners.
McLaughlin went on to explain the unique circumstances surrounding the transaction, including a lack of diversification tied to Prosper’s capital sources, which he added was a learning experience not only for the peer-to-peer lender but for all of fintech.
“They were focused on getting capital from hedge funds in a steady stream. When the capital markets had a blip, lots of that capital backed away. It was an unprecedented thing to go out and get a $5 billion forward agreement from a series of investors. “There was nothing cookie cutter about it,” said McLaughlin.
Since then the rest of fintech seems to be catching on.
“FT Partners is getting a lot of attention and a lot of calls for all of the other activity we are doing in the space as well. We raised capital for Prosper and a bunch of other companies, including Earnest, GreenSky, Upstart, Kabbage and others. We get a lot of calls, and we’re doing a lot of deals in the space. It’s a lot of fun,” McLaughlin said.
Much of the success of the multi-billion dollar Prosper deal was thanks to Suber.
“A lot of people are very familiar with Ron and the Prosper story and view Prosper as a high-end institution that while having some issues on financing had a very big and long-term future. Lots of Ron’s connections from before came into play in the round,” said McLaughlin.
Now that Suber is out of the picture in an official capacity, investors have every right to be disappointed. But as McLaughlin pointed out, Suber remains a big shareholder in Prosper and the peer-to-peer lender’s greatest supporter, two things that the FT Partners founder does not expect to change.
“This is not a major blow for Prosper. They maintain Ron as a friend of the firm and as an advisor. He has great friends and colleagues at Prosper. He is not going to work for anybody else. He won’t be doing anything with any other lending companies, I don’t think. He may be able to do more good from the outside than the inside at Prosper. I think Ron will always be part of the Prosper family,” McLaughlin said.
If things were going so well for Suber ushering Prosper into its chapter that included expanding the role of institutions on the platform then why is he leaving now? While Suber himself was not available to answer that question, the answer seems to be that it is personal. The fintech community knows Suber for his role in advancing this new asset class but what people might not know is that he is also a husband and a father.
“I think he just feels like this is more of a personal shift,” McLaughlin said.
O’Malley’s impression was similar. Upon joining the fintech startup, Suber made it a point to get to know the Looking Glass team.
“Ron invited us to breakfast. We did this three times. I remember meeting him and thinking this guy is exactly what we need – extra bright, charismatic and he talked lovingly about his children and his wife. He even joked that marriage is like yoga – it’s harder than it looks,” O’Malley said. “My guess is they are going to spend some time together as a family. And he is going to come back bigger and better than ever.”
Meanwhile Both O’Malley and McLaughlin were familiar with Prosper before Suber came on board, and both will remain engaged with Prosper even after Suber’s departure.
“They’re terrific and we have a great relationship. If they do something, we’re definitely the banker for it,” said McLaughlin.
O’Malley’s commitment is steadfast “We will remain loyal,” he said.Last modified: July 10, 2017