OLA CEO Mary Jackson: Colorado True Lender Bad for Borrowers
Last month, the Colorado Attorney General’s office announced a settlement with Avant and Marlette Funding, setting a precedent for how “true lender” cases will be handled. The fintech lenders and their partners are free to lend in the state, subject to a lot of restrictions, as long as they stick below the 36% APR level.
Some touted the decision as a safeguard for fintech bank partnerships. Still, many, like those represented in the Online Lenders Alliance (OLA)- saw misplaced regulation that harms borrowers more than it helps.
Mary Jackson, CEO of OLA, said that while well-meaning, the 36% rule arbitrarily limits the ability for non-prime credit customers to get a loan at all. The limit draws an arbitrary line in the sand, based on an outdated centuries-old lending system, and doesn’t describe loans that last shorter than a year very well, Jackson said.
“What it did was drive out all the lenders,” Jackson said. “Non-prime consumers have fewer choices. They have to go and be subject to fraud or more unscrupulous lenders, or they have to go back to overdraft as another option.”
Jackson represents a group of lenders that offer online services, which regularly partner with banks to provide loans nationwide at higher APR rates than some states allow. Jackson said these are not fintech “rent-a-bank” cases to skirt state regulations, but natural partnerships that enable larger institutions to gain the tech and talent of leading tech companies to reach a greater customer base.
“Big banks cannot keep up with the technology that fintech providers have developed,” Jackson said. “A key US bank has a lot of data scientists that they employ, but if you’re a regional or smaller bank, you don’t have that capability: it’s nearly impossible to drive an IT team as a banker.”
Jackson said that when her firm Cash America, that offered storefront cash advances, was bought by online lender CashNetUSA, she saw the differences between in-person transactions and the IT teams necessary for online lending. “It’s like two different worlds, two different ways of looking at something.”
“Our lenders are sophisticated like Enova, Elevate, CURO, Access Financial,” Jackson said. “These are companies that employ hundreds of data scientists that compete for jobs with Google in Chicago and a small regional bank can’t keep up.”
Fintech talent is helping to reach the 42% of Americans that have non-prime credit scores- FICO scores below 680, according to the Domestic Policy Caucus.
Jackson said these customers, many of whom can pay for loans, have almost no options. Jackson sees many of her partner companies offering a “pathway to prime” service, empowering customers to rehabilitate their credit.
“Most of these people are non-banking customers, these folks have damaged or thin file credit,” Jackson said. “Most banks don’t service that customer, except for overdraft- a 35$ fee for lack of money in their account- I think bankers want to be able to offer longer-term installment loans.”
Jackson said research backs up her claims, pointing to a 2018 US Treasury report that discussed how banks would have to rely on fintech partnerships to innovate and drive product change. That’s what is finally happening, Jackson said.
She also pointed to a 2017 study into the effects of the 2006 Military Lending Act. The act intended to protect military families from lending products with an APR above 36%. The study out of West Point found that the limit only hurt military members, some of which lost their security clearances when their credit fell too low.
“We find virtually no statistically or economically significant evidence of any adverse effects of payday lending access on credit and labor outcomes. In a few cases, we find suggestive evidence of the positive impacts of access. For example, our second survey suggests that a 1 standard deviation increase in the fraction of time spent in a payday loan access state decreases the probability of being involuntarily separated from the Army by 10%”
Not only was there no harm done, but the paper argues on behalf of payday lending as a healthy way to maintain the credit necessary to keep a military job.
She sees similarities in the legal fight over the creation of interstate credit card laws in the 50s and 60s, saying it used to be the case that consumers had to use a texas-based or California based card. The country had to decide how interstate credit worked then, and with the induction of new technology to loans today, the same question is being asked.
The majority of Jackson’s clients offer products above the 36% limit, in the 100 to 175% APR range. She said that looks high, but consumers are looking at it on a monthly basis, and most of them pay it off early.
“These fintech partnerships allow the bank to offer one rate to everybody across the United States,” Jackson said. “We feel that really adds more democracy to credit, making sure that those who’ve been left out of banking have a shot at it.”Last modified: September 21, 2020
Kevin Travers was a Reporter at deBanked.