|09/25/2018||Meet Central Diligence Group Oct 4th|
A Word From Central Diligence Group
Central Diligence Group is a sponsor of deBanked CONNECT San Diego. The half-day event for funders, lenders, brokers and industry professionals is being held at the Andaz on October 4th!
Here’s where fintech and online lending rank on the Inc 5000 list for 2020:
|351||Direct Funding Now||1,297%|
|647||Fund That Flip||724%|
|1229||Smart Business Funding||365%|
|1282||Global Lending Services||349%|
|1502||Fountainhead Commercial Capital||293%|
|1933||Choice Merchant Solutions||218%|
|2466||Bankers Healthcare Group||167%|
|2537||Central Diligence Group||162%|
|3062||Shore Funding Solutions||127%|
|4344||Yalber & Got Capital||76%|
|4509||Expansion Capital Group||70%|
For brokers, funding partnerships are critical to success. But making the most of these connections can be elusive.
“Transparency, efficiency and a thorough scrubbing on the front end can help the whole process,” says William Gallagher, president of CFG Merchant Solutions, an alternative funder with offices in Rutherford, N.J. and Manhattan.
Gallagher recently moderated an “Underwriting 101” panel at Broker Fair 2018, which deBanked hosted in May. The panel featured a handful of representatives from different funding companies discussing various hot-button items including striking the proper balance between technology and human underwriting, trade secrets of the submission process and stacking. Here are some major takeaways from that discussion and from follow-up conversations deBanked had with panel participants.
Each funder has slightly different processes and requirements. Brokers need to understand the different nuances of each firm so they know how to properly prepare merchants and send relevant information, funders say.
Many brokers sign up with funders without delving deeper into what the different funders are really looking for, says Jordan Fein, chief executive of Greenbox Capital in Miami Gardens, Fla., that provides funding to small businesses.
For example, there are a growing number of companies that rely more heavily on advanced technology for their underwriting, while others have more human intervention. Brokers need to know from the start what the funder’s underwriting process is like—the nitty gritty of what each funder is looking for—so they can more effectively send files to the appropriate funder.
“They will look poor in front of the merchant if they don’t really know the process,” Fein says.
Certainly, it’s a different ballgame for brokers when dealing with funders that are more human based versus more automated, says Taariq Lewis, chief executive and co-founder of Aquila Services Inc., a San Francisco-based company that offers merchants bank account cash flow analysis as well as funding that ranges from 70 days to 100 business days.
At Aquila, the process is meant to be totally automated so that brokers spend more time winning deals faster, with better data to do so. This means, however, that some of the underwriting requirements differ from some other industry players. Aquila’s most important requirement is that a merchant’s business is generally healthy and shows a positive history of sales deposits. Other funders require documents and background explanations, whereas Aquila strives to be completely data-driven, Lewis says. These types of distinctions can be important when submitting deals, funders say.
Stacking is another example of a key difference among funders that brokers need to understand. It’s a controversial practice; some funders are open to stacking, while others will only take up to a second or third position; a number of funders shy away from the practice completely. Brokers shouldn’t waste their time sending deals if there’s no chance a funder will take it; they have to do their research upfront, funders say.
Most times, brokers “don’t invest enough time to understand the process,” Fein says.
Some brokers may feel competitive pressure to sign up with as many funders as possible, but it can easily become unwieldy if the list is too long, funders say. Better, they say, to deal with only a handful of funders and truly understand what each of them is looking for.
“There are brokers that deal with 20 [funders], but I don’t think it’s a good, efficient practice,” says Rory Marks, co-founder and managing partner of Central Diligence Group, a New York funder that provides working capital for small businesses.
He suggests brokers select funders that are easy to work with and responsive to their phone calls and emails. Not all funders will pick up the phone to speak with brokers who have questions, but he believes his type of service is paramount, he says. “It’s something we do all the time,” he says.
He also recommends brokers consider a funder’s speed and efficiency of funding as well as document requirements and their individual specialties. There are plenty of funders to choose from, so brokers shouldn’t feel they have to work with those that are more difficult, he says.
To prevent a broker’s list from becoming too unwieldy, Gallagher of CFG Merchant Solutions suggests brokers have two to three go-to funders in each category of paper from the highest quality down to the lowest. Having a few options in each bucket allows greater flexibility in case one funder changes its parameters for deals, he says.
Brokers “sometimes just shotgun things and throw things against the wall and hope they stick,” Gallagher says. Instead, he and other funders advocate a more precise approach –proactively deciding where to send files based on what they know about the merchant and research they’ve done on prospective funders.
It used to be that when sending files to funders, brokers would provide some background on the company in the body of the email. This was helpful because even a few sentences can help funders gain some perspective about the company and better understand their funding needs, says Fein of Greenbox Capital.
These days, however, Fein says he’s getting more emails from brokers that simply request the maximum funding offer, without providing important details about the business. The financials on ABC importing company aren’t necessarily going to tell the whole story because funders won’t know what products they import and why the business is so successful and needs money to grow. Providing these types of details could help sway the underwriting process in a merchant’s favor. Brokers don’t have to say a lot, but funders appreciate having some meaty details. “A few sentences go a long way,” Fein says.
Many brokers make the mistake of overpromising what they can get for merchants and how long the process could take, funders say. Both can cause significant angst between merchants and brokers and between brokers and funders.
If a company is doing $15k in sales volume and asking for $50k in funding, the broker should know off the bat, the merchant is not going to get what he wants, says Marks of Central Diligence Group. By managing merchant’s expectations, brokers are doing their clients—and themselves—a favor. Why waste time on deals that won’t fund because they are fighting an uphill battle? Brokers shouldn’t knowingly put themselves in the position of having to backtrack later, Marks says.
Instead, explain to the merchant ahead of time he’s likely to receive a smaller amount than he’d hoped for. To show him why, walk the merchant through a general cash flow analysis using data from the past three to four months, says Gallagher of CFG Merchant Solutions. This will help merchants understand the process better, and it can help raise a broker’s conversion rate, he says.
“It’s about setting realistic expectations,” Marks says.
Sometimes brokers take only a cursory look at a merchant’s financials, and because of this, they overlook important details that can delay, significantly alter, or sink the underwriting process, funders say.
Heather Francis, founder and chief executive of Elevate Funding in Gainesville, Fla., offers the hypothetical example of a merchant who has total deposits of $80k in his bank account. On its face, it may look like a solid deal and the broker may make certain assurances to the merchant. But if it comes out during underwriting that most of the deposits are transfers from a personal savings account as opposed to sales, there can be trouble. Based on the situation, the merchant may only be eligible for $30k, but yet the owner is expecting to receive $80k based on his discussions with the broker. Now you have an unhappy merchant, a frustrated broker and a funder who may be blamed by the merchant, even though it’s really the broker who should have dug deeper in the first place and then managed the merchant’s expectations accordingly. “We see that a lot,” says Francis.
To get the most favorable deals for merchants, some brokers only present the rosiest of information in the hopes that the funder won’t discover anything’s amiss. Several panelists expressed frustration with brokers who purposely withhold information, saying it puts deals at risk and makes the process much less efficient for everyone.
Marks of Central Diligence Group offers the hypothetical example of a merchant whose sales volume dipped in two of the past six months. To push the deal through, a broker might submit only four months of data, hoping the funder doesn’t ask about the other two months. Some funders might accept only four statements, but other shops will want to see six. If a funder then asks for six, the broker’s omission creates unnecessary friction, he says.
Funders say it’s better to be upfront and disclose relevant information such as sales dips or some other type of temporary setback that weighs a merchant’s financials. Kept hidden, even small details could easily become game-changers—or deal-breakers—a losing proposition for merchants, brokers and funders alike.
“If we have the full story upfront and we’re going in eyes wide open, we can look at the file in a little bit of a different way,” says Gallagher of CFG Merchant Solutions.
Nearly 60 percent of small businesses applied for financing in 2017 because they wanted to expand their business or pursue new opportunities, according to the latest report by the Federal Reserve. Forty-three percent of small businesses sought financing for operating expenses while 26 percent sought capital for refinancing. Nine percent had a different reason.
Of course, not all applications are funded. Forty-six percent of small businesses received all the financing they sought, 12 percent received most (more than 50 percent) of it, 20 percent received some (less than 50 percent) of the financing they desired and 23 percent were denied financing altogether.
Of the reasons why merchants were denied funding, “Having insufficient credit history” ranked number one, according to the report. A very close second was “Having insufficient collateral,” followed by “Having too much debt already.” After that, in descending order, came “Low credit score,” “Weak business performance” and “Other.”
The “Having insufficient collateral” category does not apply for MCA financing, but the other categories do. According to Nick Gregory, founding partner at Central Diligence Group, which provides MCA underwriting services, “Having too much debt already” is perhaps the main reason why merchants seeking cash advances get declined.
“A lot of times the merchants are overleveraged,” Gregory said.
He explained that if a merchant also has something like two MCA arrangements (or positions) already, that merchant likely has taken on too many contractual obligations which will often be a reason to decline the application. In Gregory’s experience, another common reason for declining an MCA financing application is “Weak business performance.”
Contradictory to the Federal Reserve report’s top reason for denying financing to a small business borrower, Gregory said that “Having insufficient credit history” is seldom a reason to deny MCA financing. This disconnect likely comes from the fact that the report includes all types of small business financing, with MCA accounting for just seven percent. The number maybe seem small, but it continues to increase while small business applications for factoring have decreased.
A keen eye can spot a good deal. And for New York-based Central Diligence Group, an underwriting-focused company founded in 2015 by four partners, it has been a boon for business. The company has lately been providing its underwriting expertise to a wider variety of clients, including some outside the MCA space.
“We started to gear towards a more underwriting-centric model [where] a deal would come in, we underwrite it once, we assess the risk, we determine what box it would fall under and where it would qualify, and depending on what that pedigree of information [was], we would essentially [fulfill] the full underwriting [job,]” said Nick Gregory, one of the founding partners at Central Diligence.
Initially, the company provided underwriting services mostly to smaller funders, syndication brokers and ISO clients that service MCA merchants in the construction and trucking businesses, among others. But close to three years later, its roster of clients is far more diverse.
Over the past six to eight months, Central Diligence has been working with a west coast-based credit card processing company with a portfolio of over 100,000 clients, according to Andrew Hernandez, another Central Diligence partner. The credit card processing company has just built out its own MCA product, but they don’t have an underwriting team, which is where Central Diligence comes in. Hernandez said that this company, the identity of whom he could not disclose, just renewed its contract with them.
Another unique client is an institutional investor, with offices in New York and Dallas, that just formalized a new working relationship with Central Diligence over the last week to go beyond just underwriting and into the realm of funding and servicing. According to Hernandez, this client is looking to make investments in MCA at the higher end of the market.
“In our space, $50,000 to $250,000 is pretty easy to come by, but $250,000 to $1 million, not so much,” Hernandez said. “So they see that there’s a gap with small businesses…and they’re using us to do [due] diligence [on companies.]”
Finally, Central Diligence is finishing an agreement with another unconventional client, an overseas mortgage company with interest in MCA. According to Hernandez, it is looking to execute a kind of beta test in the U.S. and then take the business model to Europe if it works.
In addition to the four founding partners, who work as underwriters, there are four additional underwriters and two junior underwriters for a total of ten on staff.
Hernandez attributes these new opportunities to the reputation they have built in the MCA space, including the 10+ years of experience that each of the founding partners have.
“Because of our experience and history in the space, a lot of our relationships have been built because of our credibility,” Hernandez said. “That’s the most important.”
Facebook and Snapchat might be the last things that employees are being distracted by these days. Instead it’s Coinbase and Blockfolio, two cryptocurrency apps, that are quickly stealing the attention of young finance professionals. And the interest in Bitcoin, Ethereum and alt coins is causing some in the industry to wonder if the phenomenon can somehow be connected to online lending and merchant cash advance.
A meetup hosted by partners of Central Diligence Group (CDG) on Tuesday night in NYC, for example, was geared towards cryptocurrency enthusiasts. CDG is a merchant cash advance and business lending consulting firm. Those that attended, talked candidly about Ripple, Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the hot topic of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). And it did seem all connected. Companies successfully raised more than $3 billion through ICOs in 2017, for example, some of them online lending companies.
ETHLend and SALT, blockchain-based p2p lenders, each raised $16.2 million and $48.5 million respectively through ICOs. What’s more, their crypto market caps currently stand at $325 million and $754 million respectively. The latter is nearly twice as valuable as online lender OnDeck. The founder of Ripple, meanwhile, briefly became one of the richest men in the entire world.
Whether these valuations are overdone is besides the point. A smart phone is all that’s required to get in on the action and trade thousands of cryptocurrencies online, many of which move up and down by astronomical percentages over the course of a day. Becoming a millionaire overnight by hitting on the right one is a dream sought after by many. And young people, especially millennials, are become unconsciously comfortable transacting in non-government-backed currencies through technology that completely shuts out banks.
And that may be the shift in all of this to pay attention to. It isn’t that a local restaurant is going to collateralize their Bitcoin to get a loan and outcompete an MCA company, but that a portion of the monetary system eventually starts to sidestep banks.
Trying to collect on that judgment? Good luck tracing the money in cryptos.
Need to freeze funds? You can’t freeze someone’s Bitcoins if they’ve got them stored on their own hardware.
Evaluating a business’s bank statements? The transactions can only be verified on a blockchain.
You might not believe me, but it’s incredibly likely that you’ve encountered a client that has defaulted on an MCA or loan whose stash of money has been obscured in cryptos all the while their bank statements appear to show insolvency.
It’s also likely that you’ve encountered a client that has used the proceeds of their MCA or loan to buy a crypto. Maybe not the whole amount, but with some of it. One study, for example, revealed that 18% of people have purchased Bitcoin using credit. Bloomberg reported that the phrase “buy bitcoin with credit card,” just recently spiked to an all-time high.
People are even taking out mortgages to buy Bitcoin, according to CNBC.
If you think cryptocurrency is an industry completely independent of your business, consider that the market cap of cryptocurrencies is currently valued at more than $700 billion. That’s nearly twice the market cap of Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, COMBINED. The #3 cryptocurrency by market cap, Ripple, is being pitched almost entirely to traditional financial institutions.
Bet all you want on the prediction that this bubble will burst. Maybe it will. But the underlying technology, transacting without banks in non-government backed currencies that may be difficult to trace and recover, is a genie that’s not returning to its bottle anytime soon.
In the meantime, now might be a good time to poll your employees or colleagues about their knowledge or use of cryptocurrency. You may be surprised by what you find, especially among the younger crowd.
Disclaimer: I currently hold a material amount of Ether, the currency of the Ethereum blockchain.
Thanks to everyone that attended deBanked’s first ever industry golf outing at Marine Park Golf Course in Brooklyn, NY. And thank you to all the sponsors who helped make it a success!
- SOS Capital
- Elevate Funding
- Hudson Cook, LLP
- Yellowstone Capital
- Signature Printing & Consulting
- Grassi & Co
- Central Diligence Group
- Sure Funding Solutions
- Unique Funding Solutions
- Imperial Advance
Official photos from the event should be available soon. In the meantime, follow us on Instagram to see them when they come out.
P.S. The inaugural conference for MCA and business loan brokers is COMING SOON. Visit http://brokerfair.org to receive updates on Broker Fair 2018.
Update 11/30 7:30 pm: CAN says they are still open for business and still providing access to capital for current customers and renewal business. They are not actively seeking new business at this time, but will evaluate it as it comes in.
Part II of the industry’s season finale has begun. On Tuesday afternoon, CAN Capital confirmed that CEO Dan DeMeo had been put on a leave of absence. The chief risk officer and chief financial officer have also reportedly stepped down. Parris Sanz, the company’s chief legal officer, is now running the company, a CAN spokesperson said. His new title, acting head (which is how their statement referred to him), is perhaps a subtle clue that the company did not plan these moves far in advance. And it’s the phrasing that’s used to describe the departure of these executives that’s worth raising an eyebrow. A leave of absence? A curious fate indeed.
In an exclusive interview deBanked conducted with DeMeo last year, he said of CAN at the time, “it’s a self-sustaining business. We’re not forced to approach the capital market to cover our burn rate. We’re cash-flow positive.”
But more recently, there’s a different tone. A spokesperson for CAN said that the company had “self-identified that some assets were not performing as expected and that there was a need for process improvements in collections.” The sudden decapitation of the company’s top officers seems a harsh consequence for this apparent underperformance, especially given that CAN has long been on the short-list as a potential IPO candidate. DeMeo himself had been with the company since 2010, having started originally as the CFO and rising to the CEO position in 2013.
While CAN Capital is a private company, they are notable in that they have originated more than $6 billion in funding to small businesses since 1998 and secured a $650 million credit facility led by Wells Fargo just last year.
Some of CAN’s ISOs report being told that originations have been put on hold until January. A source with close knowledge of the company however, said that’s not correct. The Financial Times reported though that CAN had paused new business until the end of the year and would only be servicing current customers. And they might indeed need time to upgrade their systems since American Banker cited an unnamed source that said “problems arose when CAN Capital used old systems, which were not designed to require daily repayments, to collect money owed by term loan borrowers.”
Some outsiders are not surprised by what’s going. Alex Gemici, the chief revenue officer of World Business Lenders (WBL), said that it’s an indicator that uncollateralized lending is not the panacea everyone thought it was. “What we’ve been saying all along is right there on deBanked,” Gemici said, while directing me to the prediction they made a year ago that appears right on this website. At a December 2015 event at the Waldorf Astoria, WBL CEO Doug Naidus told a crowd comprised mostly of his company’s employees that he believed the bubble was about to burst. He doubled down on that prophecy in an interview four months ago in which he chided companies for having forsaken sound underwriting.
Is he right? In the last six months, the CEOs of Lending Club, Prosper and CAN Capital have all stepped down. Avant shed a lot of its staff. Dealstruck, Circleback Lending and Windset Capital have stopped funding. Confidence in the business side of alternative finance has also started to slip on a measurable basis before the election even happened.
“I believe companies are experiencing higher than normal losses due to a serious lack of proper underwriting practices, policies, and procedures,” said Andrew Hernandez, a managing partner at Central Diligence Group, a company that specializes in risk analysis who wasn’t commenting about any lender specifically. “As I say to people not familiar with the space, ‘putting the money out is the easy side of the business; getting it back is what proves to be the most difficult.'”
But CAN has not specifically fingered underwriting practices as the reason for their management shakeup, instead leaning towards it being a lapse in their process as the company grew. “It became clear that our business has grown and evolved faster than some of our internal processes,” they said in their statement.
The only alternative business lender funding more annually is OnDeck, a company that has garnered its fair share of criticism over its lackluster financial performance. Their stock is currently down a whopping 77% from the IPO price, but they have put on a good face for the industry they lead. The familiarity of their famous CEO and the decade in business under their belt arguably even has a calming effect on the tumultuous world of financial technology startups.
OnDeck too though, has been referenced in the context of bursting bubbles. Less than two years ago, RapidAdvance chairman Jeremy Brown voiced concern that the industry was heading into unsustainable territory, even going so far as to call out OnDeck by name. “When I see some of the business practices, offers, terms and other aspects of our business today, I am worried,” he wrote. “I am worried because I believe that 2008 has been too quickly forgotten, and very few, other than those of us that were on the front lines on the funding side at that time, appreciate what happened to outstanding portfolios at that time when average duration was 6 months and no deals were written over 8 months.”
For risk experts like Hernandez of Central Diligence Group, he thinks the newness of everything has been part of the problem. “I believe [funding companies] have faced a big hurdle in acquiring talent,” he said while adding that funding companies can be forced to hire underwriters with no prior knowledge of the product just to keep up with the growth.
While still very little is known about what exactly happened at CAN Capital, most people that deBanked spoke with were shocked that anything could happen there at all. “It’s insane,” said the chief executive of another competitor who wished to remain anonymous. “This is CAN we’re talking about.”
A sign of the times?
central diligence group and forward financing are must adds. great companies run by good people, , thanks! forward put a pause so will see...
central diligence group and forward financing are must adds. great companies run by good people...
central diligence group they are my go to. great company with good people....