It’s Back to Business For Alternative Funding in Puerto Rico
Last year, alternative funding in Puerto Rico ground to a halt after the island was ravaged by two devastating hurricanes in close proximity. Now, however, the alternative funding business in Puerto Rico is getting its second wind, after a several-month hiatus.
Puerto Rico got lashed by high winds and rain from Hurricane Irma in early September 2017, causing large-scale power outages and damage. Then, about two weeks later, Hurricane Maria hit the island square on, causing even more catastrophic destruction. Millions were without power for months (thousands still are), homes were destroyed, multiple lives were lost, businesses were decimated and the island’s already shaky economy teetered on the brink of disaster.
More than half a year later, residents are still trying to pick up the pieces of the epic humanitarian crisis. Hurricane Maria caused an estimated $90 billion in damage, according to the National Hurricane Center, making it the costliest hurricane on record to strike Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The hurricane knocked out 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s power lines and destroyed its generators. Even months later, the lives of many residents are still in disarray as they wait desperately for insurance payments to materialize and get back to a semblance of their former lives. The island faces additional challenge—and uncertainty— with another hurricane season just around the corner.
In the midst of this turmoil, however, there’s a glimmer of hope for the budding alternative funding sector. Some businesses are once again seeking funds to rebuild or expand, and alternative funders are once again dipping their toes into the Puerto Rican market—albeit somewhat slowly. While some funders have exited the Puerto Rican alternative lending market, other new entrants are starting to stake a claim, citing an expected uptick in economic development that tends to follow natural disasters. Some funders also see Puerto Rico as a sweet spot because the market isn’t as mature as the U.S. and competition from other alternative funders is scant. Banks on the island aren’t always willing to provide businesses there with much- needed funds, so opportunities for non-bank funders are considered plentiful.
Businesses struggling to rebuild from the storms need more help than ever before, says Sonia Alvelo, president of Latin Financial LLC, an ISO that has been arranging funding for business owners in Puerto Rico for three years. “There is no doubt that Puerto Rico has a long, hard road ahead,” she says. But “I can assure you the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well,” she says.
Latin Financial and other ISOs and funders are back to business—courting merchants and trying to help them get back on their feet. In December, Latin Financial processed its first renewal since Maria; in January it funded its first new client since September. Latin Financial continues to arrange funding of between $500k and $1 million per month on average in Puerto Rico, after some hurricane-related downtime.
“The storm destroyed a lot, but it didn’t set the small business drive back. They’re still pushing hard and really trying to maintain and grow business,” says Brendan P. Lynch, business partner and fiancé to Latin Financial’s Alvelo.
Greenbox Capital in Miami Gardens, Fla., an early entrant to the Puerto Rican alternative funding market, has also returned to funding small businesses on the island after a few-month hiatus. The company put off new deals right before Maria hit, and as a goodwill measure suspended the payments of existing customers for 90 days. Given the extension, almost all customers were able to stay on track and the firm suffered very few losses, says Jordan Fein, the company’s chief executive. Greenbox began funding again in January, he says.
To be sure, it’s not exactly business as usual, since many businesses in Puerto Rico are still struggling, Fein says. While the situation should continue to improve, it will take time for the economy and businesses to fully recover, he says.
“They’ve come a long way since September, but they still aren’t fully back. We’re not seeing the same type of submissions that we saw before,” Fein says. Nonetheless, Fein remains positive about the market’s long-term prospects. “I think they are going to come back stronger, I really do,” he says.
To be sure, not all funders are interested the Puerto Rican market. Ripe with political uncertainty and economic instability, Puerto Rico already posed challenges that made many funders hesitant to do business there. The devastation wrought by Irma and Maria complicated matters further, and some funders pulled out of the market completely.
For others, however, the market’s still an opportune one, albeit not as stable as the U.S. market. Certainly, there are reasons for alternative funders to be optimistic. Despite its recent troubles, Puerto Rico is still considered a growth market. What’s more, with new businesses popping up in the wake of the storms, new infrastructure being instituted and businesses anxious to bounce back even bigger and better than before, some funders are striking while the iron is hot.
“This is the right time, as the island is growing,” says Paul Boxer, chief marketing officer and vice president of business development at Quicksilver Capital, a New York-based small business funder. Quicksilver funded its first deal in Puerto Rico in late April.
The company had been mulling over the possibility of doing business in Puerto Rico when an actual funding prospect arose. The company decided to give it a shot, sensing a potentially viable business opportunity. Existing businesses are rebuilding after the hurricane, there’s plenty of new business development and there’s a pressing need for new infrastructure as Puerto Rico continues to recover from the devastation, Boxer says.
Accordingly, Boxer says his company is in the process of vetting additional funding opportunities in Puerto Rico and hopes to continue growing this business in what he says is a largely untapped market. “I see it as a positive addition to what we offer, and I see a lot more opportunity in the future,” Boxer predicts.Last modified: April 20, 2019