|01/29/2021||New self-service feature w/ Elevate Funding|
|11/21/2018||Elevate Funding strengthens compliance|
|11/20/2018||Elevate Funding announces new partnership|
|08/01/2018||Elevate Funding Supports HeroBox.org|
Ken Peng - Elevate Funding - SEAA 2021
Yesterday, Elevate Funding announced that it would be using the PerformLine Platform to enhance its compliance and email monitoring abilities.
“Terminology is very important in this industry,” said Elevate Funding CEO Heather Francis.
Francis said that much of Elevate’s decision to use PerformLine is to make sure that the correct terms are being used so that the company is consistent in how it presents its MCA product, both to merchants and to referral partners.
“We’ve always been very in tuned to our image, both with our referral partners and with our merchants, and we like to make sure it’s a consistent image,” Francis said.
Together with PerformLine, Elevate Funding created a list of 500 problematic words or phrases. If these terms are used in an email – written by an Elevate Funding employee, a merchant or a referral partner – the email will get flagged and brought to the attention of Francis. Some red flag key terms include “loan,” “term,” “payback” and “free.” Regardless of who wrote the word, the Elevate Funding employee will be asked to send a clarifying follow-up email.
For example, Francis said that if a merchant sends an email that reads “What is my loan balance?” this email would be flagged and the company employee would respond, clarifying that the MCA deal is not a loan. In addition to being clear with customers and referral partners, the PerformLine service is beneficial for compliance reasons.
“In today’s regulatory environment, Elevate must stay on top of its compliance procedures not only to satisfy industry requirements but to ensure the security of sensitive data,” Francis said. “This includes all levels of interactions with our referral partners and the small business owners we service. PerformLine has provided the opportunity to review this information with speed and accuracy, so our compliance team can address any issues as they occur.”
Other funders, like GreenBox Capital, have employed monitoring capabilities not just to protect themselves from legal liability, but to protect merchant data.
Based in Gainesville, FL, Elevate Funding employs about 20 people.
Elevate’s net income increased 459 percent from $1.7 million in Q1 2017 to $9.5 million in Q1 2018, according to the company’s Q1 financial statement released on April 30th.
“What you are now seeing is a business beginning to leverage its scale in a market that is almost boundless,” said Elevate CEO Ken Rees. “We are gratified by our strong start to 2018 and by the fact that we’ve done it offering what we believe are the most responsible credit products available to non-prime borrowers today.”
Elevate (NYSE: ELVT) provides funding solutions to non-prime consumer customers. They offer three products: RISE, a state-licensed online lender that offers up to $5,000 in unsecured installment loans and lines of credit, Elastic, a bank-issued line of credit, and Sunny, a short-term loan product for customers in the UK. RISE and Elastic serve the US market.
The RISE product has performed well, likely buoyed by the hiring of Tony Leopold a year ago to build on the product. Elevate is still new as a public company. It recently celebrated its one year anniversary on the New York Stock Exchange in April.
According to the Q1 earnings report, the total number of new customer loans for the first quarter of 2018 was approximately 70,000, an increase of 32.1 percent compared to approximately 53,000 new customer loans in the first quarter of 2017.
Founded in 2014, the Fort Worth, TX-based company has originated $5.5 billion to 1.9 million customers. The company also has offices in Dallas, TX, San Diego, CA, and in the UK, in London and Bury St. Edmunds.
Alternative funders have had a roller coaster 2017 with highs and lows that will likely be remembered as a high-stakes time for the industry, one in which the rubber met the road for many and the market landscape shifted for everyone from funders, to merchants to brokers.
Three C-Suite executives in the alternative funding space — Christine Chang, CEO of 6th Avenue Capital, Heather Francis, CEO of Elevate Funding and Torrie Inouye, National Funding president — spoke with deBanked, offering their take on some of the industry shakeups, direction of the alt lending space and upcoming developments at their respective companies.
All three execs are embracing what appears to be shaping up as a bigger and better 2018 with plans on the horizon for new products, relationships and deals but also where there could be further shakeout as the shift in the industry landscape takes hold.
6th Avenue Capital, provides short-term funding to merchants that Chang describes as “high touch, high tech and fast.” The company is building an SEC RIA compliant infrastructure as Chang believes that MCA regulation will take place over the next several years. Chang said she is sympathetic to the banks and the onerous rules that they must follow, and whatever form the industry regulation eventually takes on, the company will be ready for.
A recent story in The Wall Street Journal points to community banks comprised of those with less than $10 billion in assets historically funding local merchants in what’s dubbed character-based lending. As the name suggests, the underwriting standard for the loans was tied to the character of the business owner, which the lender knew based on personal relationships in their own communities.
The financial crisis gave rise to greater regulation, driving a spike in that model and the rest is history. Small banks were forced to direct their resources toward risk management and compliance instead of adding more personnel to service loans. The WSJ quotes a small business lender that bears repeating: “When they created too big to fail, they also created too small to succeed.”
When that door closed, however, another one opened, creating the opportunity for alt lenders to service a niche that was getting left out in the cold.
“The alternative funding industry is here to stay. That’s good news for MCA and fintech in general. There’s a need for fast funding and there will continue to be a trend toward that,” said Chang.
Banks, meanwhile, have started coming to the fintech table to compete for deals. “We’re in the process of speaking to a number of banks, some quite large and some regional, that have expressed an interest. We think this is a great opportunity for them. The idea is that we’d help them to serve a population of clients that they would not otherwise be able to serve,” said Chang.
6th Avenue has had discussions about white labeling and customizing the platform for institutions. “We would run everything for them,” said Chang.
In addition to possible new banking relationships, 6th Avenue Capital, backed by a private family and institutional investors, will expand the business model to include more investors on its platform. “We are in discussions with a number of significant international investors. It’s in the works. We’re building an institutional infrastructure, so it was always contemplated,” she said.
Elevate Funding, whose is 100% referral-based and whose product suite is comprised of a trio of MCA solutions, is coming up on its three-year anniversary in December.
“When I created Elevate, I did it with the purpose of providing a product to high-risk merchants. That’s who we deal with. We’re not dealing with credit scores. There is a level of risk to who we work with. Elevate was created to provide a product that is going to fit their needs and also provide a product that doesn’t treat them like they’re high risk. That’s who we are,” said Francis.
Gainesville, FL-based Elevate recently hired Michael Gaura to spearhead a new MCA product that the company is rolling out in 2018. Francis held the details of the new funding product close to the vest, but she did offer her views on the direction of the MCA and alternative lending space.
“I see difficulty in the coming years, especially in 2018, for qualified lead flow. You have a lot of big banks that are getting into this industry. And that’s a lot of marketing dollars that you’re competing against.”
She points to JPMorgan Chase, American Express, Square and PayPal, saying they are “huge marketing dollar companies” with tremendous access to customers on their respective platforms.
“There’s going to be a shakeout of what can you reach, who can you reach, can you get them the first time? How do you engage them to where they only want to work with you and they’re not submitting 20 applications for every website they come across?”, Francis said.
San Diego, Calif.-based National Funding is a balance sheet lender whose primary product is loans, not MCAs. The broker factor has changed significantly for the lender in a very positive way this year. “We’re really seeing sizeable growth in our broker channel in 2017 and have designed a strong and consistent process for our broker clients” Inouye said. The leads have been driven by a variety of factors, not the least of which comes down to CAN Capital and Bizfi’s loss being National Funding’s gain.
“That’s a factor we can’t ignore. The broker community has rewarded us for being consistent and building those relationships and being a partner to them,” Inouye said. “We definitely saw an uptick in business when they left the space. I can say we’ve continually experienced sizeable growth in our broker channel year over year but 2017 was beyond what we had expected. It surpassed other years.”
Incidentally, National Funding was one of the earliest alt funders on the scene along with CAN Capital in the 1990s. CAN’s fate started unraveling about this time a year ago.
“It’s not positive when you see that happen in the industry. However, we are really focused on what we’re doing and the decisions we’re making internally. I think that’s why we’ve consistently had profitable growth over the years. We’ve stayed true to our underwriting principles and the market seems to have rewarded us. We were consistent and not erratic. Brokers know they can rely on us and feel confident that we would quickly fund their deal once we issued an approval,” said Inouye.
The Broker Effect
Elevate, a balance sheet funder, relies on outside brokers and referrals for deals. “I don’t find it a disadvantage for us not having an internal sales team. A lot of companies in this space have the ability for a chief marketing officer who focuses entirely on leads. Elevate isn’t there yet. Will we be there in five years? Maybe. Marketing can change by that time,” Francis said.
6th Avenue Capital welcomes relationships with brokers as well. “We have an in-house business development team that works with brokers. 6th Avenue Capital is also considering direct sales in niche strategies in its future,” said Chang.
6th Avenue Capital has a starter program in which there are no guarantees but considers businesses that have been in existence for less than a year and businesses with credit scores of 500 or more. Plus, they’re willing to do consolidations up to two advances.
In addition, 6th Avenue Capital is open to offering financing to brokers. “It’s really good in that there is an alignment of interests and allows brokers to participate in the deals they put forth. If they think the merchant is credit worthy and a terrific opportunity, they participate. Everyone has skin in the game and interests are aligned,” Chang said.
While technology is at the core of fintech, all three of the companies take a hybrid approach when it comes to credit underwriting comprised of a tech platform and the human touch, which perhaps keeps character-based lending alive in some form.
With respect to fintech, “6th Avenue Capital’s philosophy is that technology is a tool to supplement human underwriting. We use technology to detect fraud, manage workload processes and manage risk. We do not use technology to make our final decisions,” said Chang.
Specifically, 6th Avenue Capital benefits from research, artificial intelligence and predictive technology of its sister company Nexlend Capital. 6th Avenue Capital has customized Nexlend’s consumer lending algorithmic intellectual property, which uses machine learning and credit analysis with high speed execution to make better and faster decisions.
Elevate also takes a dual-approach to its underwriting process. “I believe in a hybrid method. You have to have someone looking at it, to have eyes on the paper at some point in the process. This doesn’t mean a computer system can’t help to weed out what might not meet the criteria, but I do believe there needs to be a person reviewing the files,” Francis said.
National Funding was started as an equipment leasing company. “We apply some principles we learned as a leasing company and take into account all of the attributes that go into that business in addition to FICO and cash flow,” Inouye said.
Automation is an area of technology that they continue to look to for innovation and process efficiencies. “We do serve our customers online, but we also provide a human contact as well. We deliver a loan experience that builds trust and confidence with customers. We try to deliver on what our customers want in the most efficient way,” said National Funding’s Inouye.
National Funding continues to look at construction deals and accepts them as a niche in their portfolio, which Inouye said differentiates the company. “It allows us to be more flexible and comfortable with certain industries that other lenders might stay away from.”
2017 has been a roller coaster year for fintech including alt funders. While there have been plenty of bright spots, there was also some fallout that left veteran players scrambling to salvage either their reputation, status as a funder or both.
SoFi has been at the center of controversies that resulted in the Mike Cagney leaving his chairman post with plans to step down as CEO. Most recently, the lender has removed its application for a bank charter, according to reports.
We asked Elevate’s Francis about it. “SoFi is a very big company. They’re to the level where the CEO has people to answer to. They have a checks and balances system they need to go through,” said Francis. “It worked, and they removed him.”
Francis maintains an open-door policy with her employees, and she says all you can do is focus on your house and keep your house in order. “My door is always open. That’s our office policy. They use that quite frequently; it’s a catch 22,” she said with a laugh.
Fintech and Diversity
Something else that all three executives have in common is that they are all women in top roles in fintech, an industry that isn’t known for its diversity.
6th Avenue’s Chang’s career includes working at a large institutional bank for six years. Out of 200 professionals, only four of them in her group were women. “At the end of the day, performance is the best differentiator. If you perform well, it presents unique opportunities. At 6th Avenue Capital, diversity is embraced. Our underlying merchants aren’t just one gender or color. Diversity helps us understand the needs of small businesses better, so we can provide fast and customized funding quickly,” she said.
Lots of small businesses need capital in Puerto Rico and not many companies are trying to provide it. Combine that with the island’s tax incentives, tourist attractions and gaggle of ambitious entrepreneurs, and America’s largest unincorporated territory can seem like an archipelago of opportunity for the alternative small-business finance community – a virtual paradise.
But for alt funders, the sunshine, sandy beaches, swaying palms, picturesque rocky outcroppings, rich history and renowned cuisine can’t change two nagging facts about this tropical commonwealth that 3.4 million people call home. Alternative finance remains largely unknown on the island, and it’s difficult if not impossible to split credit card receipts there.
Let’s start with the good part. “If you call a restaurant in Los Angeles at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, you’re the 15th person to call them that day, but if you’re calling a business in Puerto Rico, you might be the only one,” says Andrew Roberts, director of partnership development for Merchant Cash Group, which funds some deals on the island. “So it’s not the same cutthroat competitiveness that we have here.”
But consumers in Puerto Rico’s tourist areas rely on PIN debit cards, which don’t qualify for split funding between merchants and finance providers because the cards don’t have Visa or MasterCard logos and thus merchants can’t run them as credit transactions, Roberts says. Besides, processors on the island don’t want to split the revenue from credit card transactions between funders and merchants, either, Roberts notes. “If there’s a processor in Puerto Rico that will split fund, I haven’t been unable to find them,” he says. “Believe me, I have looked.”
The two main processing platforms on the island, Global and First Data, require ISOs to carry 100 percent of the risk on a split, according to Elevate Funding CEO Heather Francis, who was involved in the island market at another company before taking her current job. That’s why split remittance “remains almost nil” in Puerto Rico, she says.
Splitting funds by using a “lockbox” – which works like an escrow account and distributes a certain percentage of receipts to the merchant and the rest to the funder – doesn’t provide a solution because banks in Puerto Rico decline to use the option, Roberts maintains. That’s why he advises that it’s easier to offer ACH-based products on the island.
Merchants on the island have to meet the same requirements for ACH that apply on the mainland, Roberts notes. That includes a reasonable number of checks returned for non-sufficient funds and a reasonable number of negative days. “The underwriting procedure on the island is pretty much the same as it is here,” he says.
Perhaps the difficulties of setting up the split in Puerto Rico shouldn’t cause any uneasiness about entering the market because the bulk of alternative funding on the island relies on daily debits—just as it does on the mainland, Roberts says. Still, he notes that some merchants in both places may qualify for split funding but fail to measure up for daily debit.
Though merchants and funders have those commonalities, the banking systems differ on the mainland and on the island. Banco Popular, which has held sway in Puerto Rico for nearly 120 years, controls much of the island’s banking and inhibits the growth of alternative funding for small businesses there, Francis says. Still, Puerto Rican merchants should have some familiarity with alternative finance or high-fee products because of the island’s high concentration of title loan companies, she notes.
Similarities and and differences aside, the Puerto Rican market provides a little business to some mainland alternative finance companies. United Capital Source LLC, for example, has completed five deals for small businesses on the island, says CEO Jared Weitz. Companies can provide accounts receivable factoring there, he says.
Alternative funding has yet to post runaway growth in Puerto Rico, Weitz says, because it’s not marketed strongly there, only a few mainland funders are willing to do business in Puerto Rico, the range of products offered there is limited, and small business remains less prevalent there than on the mainland.
But a handful of mainland-based companies have been willing to take on the uncertainties of the Puerto Rican market, and Connecticut-based Latin Financial LLC serves as an example of an ISO that has enthusiastically embraced the challenge. The company got its start in 2013 by offering funding to Hispanic business people on the mainland and began concentrating on Puerto Rico early in 2015, says Sonia Alvelo, company president.
Alvelo built a strong enough portfolio of business on the mainland that funders were willing to take a chance on her and her customers in Puerto Rico. Latin Financial now maintains a satellite office on the island, and the company generates 90 percent of its business there and 10 percent on the mainland.
Latin Financial has a sister company called Sharpe Capital LLC that operates on the mainland, says Brendan P. Lynch, Sharpe’s president. Alvelo describes Lynch as her business partner, and he says he’s started several successful ISOs. He credits her with helping Puerto Rican customers learn to qualify for credit by keeping daily balances high and avoiding negative days.
“It’s a small company with a big heart,” Alvelo says of Latin Financial. She was born in Puerto Rico and came to Connecticut at the age of 17. “For me it’s home,” she says of the island. She’s realizing a dream of bringing financial opportunity to business owners there.
To accomplish that goal, Alvelo spends much of her time teaching the details of alternative finance to Puerto Rico’s small-business owners, their families, their accountants and their attorneys. “You want to make sure they understand,” she says, adding that the hard work pays off. “My clientele is fantastic,” she says. “I get a lot of referrals.”
Latin Financial started small in Puerto Rico when a pharmacy there contacted them to seek financing, Alvelo says. It wasn’t easy to get underway, she recalls, noting that it required a lot of phone calls to find funding. Soon, however, one pharmacy became three pharmacies and the business kept growing, branching out to restaurants and gas stations. Already, some merchants there are renewing their deals.
Growth is occurring because of the need for funding there. Puerto Rican merchants have had the same difficulties obtaining credit from banks as their peers on the mainland since the beginning of the Great Recession, Alvelo says. “It’s the same story in a different language,” she notes.
Speaking of language, Alvelo considers her fluency in Spanish essential to her company’s success in Puerto Rico. “You have to speak the language,” she insists. “They have to feel secure and know that you will be there for them,” she says of her clients. Roberts agrees that it’s sound business practice to conduct discussions in the language the customer prefers, and his company uses applications and contracts printed in Spanish. At the same time, he maintains that it’s perfectly acceptable to conduct business in English on the island because both languages are officially recognized.
People in Puerto Rico have been speaking Spanish since colonists arrived in the 15th Century, and English has had a place there since the American occupation that resulted from the Spanish-American War in 1898. Still, more than 70 percent of the residents of Puerto Rico speak English “less than well,” according to the 2000 Census, but that’s changing, Alvelo says.
Whatever the linguistic restraints, the products Latin Financial offers in Puerto Rico have been short-term, most with a minimum of six-month payback and a maximum of 12 months, but Alvelo hopes to begin offering longer duration funding. She also believes that split funding will come to Puerto Rico. “It’s in the works,” she asserts, noting that she is campaigning for it with the banks and processors.
At the same time, mainland alternative finance companies are learning that the threat of Puerto Rican government default does not mean merchants there don’t deserve credit, notes Lynch. “Just because the government is having trouble paying its bills,” he says, “doesn’t mean these merchants aren’t successful. The island is full of entrepreneurs.” In fact, many of Puerto Rico’s merchants use accountants and keep their business affairs in better order than their mainland counterparts do with their homemade bookkeeping.
Alvelo also knows many merchants there are worthy of time and investment. She strives to listen to her customers when they express their needs and then help them fill those needs. “I’m very, very proud to be doing this in Puerto Rico now,” she says.
One of the Six Women of Alternative Finance is leaving their current position to launch their own funding company. Heather Francis, EVP of Merchant Cash Group appeared in the September/October issue of DailyFunder. A regular at the industry’s conferences and who was in many ways the face of Merchant Cash Group, Francis is moving on to start Elevate Funding.
When the news broke, deBanked asked Francis about the change. This was her response:
“So the start of the new year begins with something exciting for me as I will be leaving Merchant Cash Group to pursue heading up my own funding company. Elevate funding is still in the set up stages and will not be operational and funding until Mid February but I can assure you that with each unveiling of what we will be funding and what we will offer to the Alternative Industry as well as the business owners will help shape a new future. I enjoyed my time at Merchant Cash Group and I wish them all the best but I am excited for this new adventure and to take a lot of the ideas that have been kicking in my head for a while and see them come to fruition. I know it will be difficult and I am greatly looking forward to the challenge. In the words of a Fort Minor song : This is 10% luck, 20% skill, 15% concentrated power of will, 5% pleasure , 50% pain, and a 100% reason to remember the name… Best of luck to all in 2015!”
Elevate will be based in Gainesville, FL.
Elliot J Dabah, CEO of NYC-based Merchants Cash Partners, LLC, recently passed away. Known throughout the merchant financing industry, friends and colleagues began collecting kind words to reflect on his life to be able to share them here.
Elliot Ashkenazie, his business partner and best friend, said “Elliot Dabah would step up and help anyone in need whether that be his own employee, another ISO, or a complete stranger on the street. He didn’t keep any secrets so he would have an advantage over others, he simply paid it forward and helped the community as a whole benefit from it. Merchants Cash Partners will work tirelessly to carry on his legacy and his values.”
“Elliot Dabah was the heartbeat of the Financial District and he was an integrated part of my life, both professional and personal,” said Gigi Russo. “Not only did Elliot and I live three blocks from each other, but I first had the privilege and pleasure of meeting him while I was working for deBanked, at CONNECT San Diego. We quickly became close friends. He truly never took advantage of our tight knit friendship. His professional support was a reflection of his character— a respectable person that respected his family, friends and business associates. Elliot wanted everyone to succeed. He believed that friends and business colleagues should support one another to build a viable network.”
Tom Dool of Power Funding, said “Of all of the offices I’ve ever visited, I can honestly say that no other partner of mine compares to Merchants Cash Partners. From the moment I met both Elliots, they were inviting. I could tell right away that they had a special bond of shared enthusiasm, honesty, generosity, thoughtful, caring people.” He adds, “Elliot [Dabah] lived life with such a genuine love for people and getting to know people, discussing higher level ideas, sharing feelings. He was one of the best and I’ll never forget him.”
“Elliot was one of the most welcoming people I had the pleasure of knowing,” says Colt Kucker of Libertas Funding, “and always tried helping out whether it be a customer, myself, or anybody in need. He was a hard worker and will truly be missed by all he came across.”
Justin Friedman of Enova SMB, described Dabah, “Smart, strategic, urgent, generous and wise are a few words to describe Elliot. He was universally popular and a known professional in our industry, which isn’t common to come by. He cared about his customers and business relationships. Elliot’s presence in alternative lending was a positive one and he will be remembered for exactly that.”
Ben Lugassy of SOS Capital states that he was “Always smiling and enthusiastic, Elliot was the embodiment of joyful. A friend with tremendous respect and gratitude, he will always be remembered and in our prayers.”
Paul Boxer of Velocity Capital Group added, “Every-time I met Elliot he had the largest smile, always happy to talk shop and discuss the industry. He was very knowledgeable and had a wealth of information, he will surely be missed.”
Ken Peng of Elevate Funding recounts that Elliot, “was always great to work with. He was always very friendly and understanding when we did review any of his files. He will be missed.”
Gigi Russo, who was instrumental in putting this tribute together, further added that Elliot “treated everyone he came into contact with as a friend.” He has “a sincere, dignified, and affable reputation that will follow him after his passing. He will surely be remembered for supporting his colleagues, clients, business acquaintances, and network. The legacy Elliot has left behind is simple: Respect one another. Support one another. Honesty and hard work are necessities of success.”
Part of Elliot’s legacy is the company he built. Merchants Cash Partners, despite the pandemic, was so successful this year that it outgrew its office space.
“Elliot had a revolutionary style of making this industry a community,” says his partner Ashkenazie. “He referred clients and prospects alike to small firms and national firms, expecting nothing in return.”
Coincidence would have it that a photo of Elliot at a deBanked event was often used in event marketing promotions. As to how that picture came to be used so prominently, deBanked President Sean Murray said that “Elliot embodied the community we were trying to portray. A nice young business professional who radiated positive energy. Who is part of this industry? It’s guys like Elliot. That’s what we wanted everyone to know.
“Elliot totally noticed how often we were sharing his photo,” Murray said. “He told me that he thought that was pretty cool.”
DeBanked Magazine recently posted the “Underwriter’s Song” to highlight an entire industry’s yearning for simpler times, claiming it was the MCA soundtrack for 2020. But I disagree and nominate a different song. You see, growing up in the south with a close-knit family gave way to a childhood filled with generations worth of entertainment. Many of my summers and holiday vacations were spent with the Turner Classic Movie channel playing in the background, and songs from the Oldies Country station on the radio. I tell you this to explain how I am reminded of a song I’ve heard countless times before, and is more applicable today than ever before. That song is “If We Make It Through to December” by the venerable Merle Haggard, a tune whose message resonates with not only the merchant cash advance industry, but our entire country.
The Expectations and Reality
Way back in March and April, the consensus appeared to be an expected return to “normal” by June, while areas hit hardest by COVID-19 would return by July. Yet here we are, teeter-tottering on the fence of moving forward. Now, our country is faced with the possibility of a second wave of shutdowns, rising crime, riots, a fourth stimulus, and funders whose workforce remains remote or have yet to resume funding. The proverbial “goal post” has moved yet again, and with it the expectations of many of us in the industry. Over the past few weeks, I had the opportunity to speak with a number of our referral partners to gauge their thoughts on the current state of our industry. A common theme in our discussions was the desire for validation. Not just as a business owner, but as an employer. They wanted to be reassured that they were taking the best steps forward and not alone in their decision making. To help those seeking the same validation, here is what the majority had to say:
- Yes, all had to terminate or furlough staff on various levels.
- Yes, all adjusted marketing budgets.
- Yes, all are struggling with managing remote employees.
- Yes, all are finding it harder to place files.
- Yes, all are seeing interruptions in relationships with funders and merchants alike.
- Yes, all are competing against the Government’s low-cost products.
- Yes, all are having files killed in late stages of funding or having offers adjusted.
- Yes, all are struggling to predict what comes next.
- Yes, all are managing unrealistic expectations from clients.
- Yes, all are having merchants walk away from fair and just offers.
- Yes, all are struggling to remain motivated.
- And yes, all of you are doing the best you can!
The New Normal
The Word Cloud below describes the state of the MCA industry using our partners’ own words. I find that the overall thoughts are best visualized by taking a step back to see which stand out the most. Our conversation was focused on the industry as a whole, then a discussion specific to Elevate Funding and how we’ve pivoted during these unprecedented times. As you can see, some of the keywords that stand out the most are; merchants, PPP, offers, funders, and marketing.
Much of the conversations focused around merchants and their new funding expectations. Each partner I spoke with agreed the demand for money is there, but the willingness to move forward on offers was very low. This reluctance is driven in part by low cost expectations based on PPP and SBA product rates, as well as uncertainty over increased debt in an unstable market. We’re also seeing a change in merchant demographics, where the mid-sized small businesses who previously did not qualify for SBA loans, now have access to these products. As a result, the remaining merchants whose best option is an MCA are now located on the opposite extreme ends of the spectrum; either those who did not qualify for PPP or SBA EIDL, and the large-scale businesses whose lines were revoked by their bank. Our response as a company has been to adjust our offers to better suit merchant’s expectations, and to shift from underwriting a business owner’s activity to underwriting the consumers’ activity. Monitoring government restrictions down to a county level countrywide and understanding consumer trends has enabled us to further mitigate risk during a time of uncertainty, and not only fund deals, but fund deals that will perform.
Meanwhile, our industry is seeing credit profiles and business profiles that have never applied in our space before, as a decreasing number of providers are available to service current merchants. During our conversations, some expressed a concern over lack of A-paper funders. Many of whom have either paused funding or entirely moved over to servicing PPP products. Another concern was the mental toll of having deals fall apart at the eleventh hour due to fast changing qualifications, variations in merchant revenue, or funders deciding to pause funding at inopportune times. These factors combined with the increasingly common “bait-and-switch” technique of funders providing a large offer, only to change to a much lower offer in the final stages of funding, has left many broker shops and ISOs feeling very discouraged.
The Path Upward and Onward
The conversations were not entirely negative, as new marketing opportunities have opened up with the goliaths of the industry such as Kabbage, OnDeck, Lendio, and Square shifting their marketing dollars towards PPP and SBA products. Many folks are finding their advertising dollars across marketing platforms are stretching further, particularly with search engine optimization. While this opens up an increased likelihood of fraud and in applicants who fall below qualifications, it has enabled many shops to operate on an even playing field with inbound marketing. Many small funders, including Elevate Funding, have already created new products to cater to lower revenue merchants and those directly affected by COVID-19. We’ve already received tremendous response on this change from partners and merchants alike. As merchants slowly shift back towards alternative financing solutions once the government runs out of money for its loan products, we remain optimistic there will be increased opportunities in terms of both volume and quality.
While the Word Cloud highlighted a number of topics, it also highlighted important topics that were not discussed; Expectations, Renewals, Commission, Aggression, and Repositioning.
Expectations in particular, is of note as it is different from opinions. Everyone has an opinion, but there is a tremendous sense of uncertainty going forward and it’s very difficult to create expectations or goals when forecasting is not possible. Many companies are doing away with forecasting models altogether, and switching to a dashboard for production goals and expectations based on real time data.
The drastic change we’re seeing now should demonstrate the importance of renewals and customer retention. Neither of which were brought up during all of my partner discussions. Over time, the industry has moved away from a “residual mindset” to seeking instant gratification of new fundings in the quest for market share supremacy. As funders, we have to ask ourselves; Are we inadvertently throwing out the baby with the bathwater with new deal bonus structures and monthly promotional campaigns to drive new deal growth? Or perhaps, renewals were scarce in discussions because when funders said when funding stopped, they meant all funding? While I can’t speak to each funder’s operations, Elevate has continued to fund throughout the pandemic with established merchants and renewals being a saving grace to drive our momentum forward. In my opinion, client retention has never been more important during an ever-changing landscape.
I was shocked to see commission taking a backseat to approvals and banks during our discussion. But the focus has seemingly move towards approvals and conversions, which will in turn lead to commissions returning. Which brings me to Aggression and Repositioning. The state of our industry is a timid one, and it’s neither the fault of the funders or the merchants. Many experts will tell you that our space was overdue for a market correction of sorts, because many were far too aggressive for far too long. This aggression gave way to bad habits such as lowered underwriting standards and lack of consideration for merchant ability to repay. More and more funders are shifting back to “normal” guidelines, providing fair and just offers. This is an encouraging sign that we are finding our way back to sustainable positive growth. But it will take time for the industry to fully reposition itself. Something that is being delayed by products from the PPP, SBA, and the hope for a third round of stimulus.
But hope is on the horizon. While the pessimists will look at that word as a form of denial, I challenge all of you to take a glass half-full approach. Hope is the confident expectation of good. The change and adjustments we’re experiencing now are what life is all about, and will ultimately lend way to better things. If you’re in need of a little dose of hope, or want a sounding board to know you’re not alone through this, feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com.
Stay safe, be well, and do not lose hope.
Like never before, the ways in which people and data are employed are overlapping more in a post-covid economy. Nearly three months of slow-down and, in some cases, complete economic shutdown have forced brokers and funders alike to view businesses differently than before. New documents, metrics, and terms are being incorporated into underwriting with the belief that it will provide a much more comprehensive picture of each business applying for funding.
Broker Fair Virtual took the chance to explore these new perspectives in The Aftermath, a panel featuring Moshe Kazimirsky, VP of Strategic Partnerships and Business Development at Become; Heather Francis, CEO of Elevate Funding; and David Snitkof, Head of Analytics at Ocrolus. Here, the industry experts discussed what the future of data and people may look like, what the new things that funders are looking out for are, and how the coronavirus has changed consumer and merchant behavior.
First up was Heather Francis, who gave a run down of how Elevate has adapted to the constantly shifting environment created by covid-19. “There were slim pickings on what we could fund,” Francis noted of the early lockdown period. Explaining that many businesses didn’t fit their criteria in the early days of lockdown, Elevate began the process of including new metrics and lenses through which to ascertain if businesses were financially viable.
National, state, and local restrictions became a daily check-in, rather than monthly; with one person being assigned to cover changes in local and even county regulations. As well as this, Francis explained that the company shifted its focus from underwriting the business owner’s activity to underwriting the consumers’ activity. This meant that foot traffic was constantly reviewed via FourSquare, trends that showed which industries were seeing upticks and downturns were monitored, and what customers in varying geographies were comfortable with was gauged.
“There are some areas in our country that were not heavily impacted,” Francis explained, commenting on the discrepancies between locations, particularly for bars and restaurants. “I know some of us have our optics on what’s going on in our daily lives, and a lot of people in our space are located in New York or California, and these were the very heavily regulated areas where everything was shut down and there was not much to do. Here in Florida, it was easier, with open-seating dining.”
David Snitkof echoed Francis’s points, saying that “the old way of businesses underwriting credit is no longer sufficient … If you were to only look at people’s repayment histories, their credit profiles, and things like that, you wouldn’t get all the data you need to make the right decision. Generally there’s this idea that the past is prologue and the greatest predictor of future results is past behavior, and this type of pandemic makes that no longer the case … we need to think beyond the traditional data sets that people have used to underwrite credit.”
According to Snitkof, the old models for underwriting and funding have been overturned, with funders adhering to three principals going forward as they chart new methods: more data, more time, more detail. This means incorporating more data and analytics than before, pushing for more data-driven strategies; requesting information and data from merchants that cover longer periods of time, with the hope of gaining further insight into the pattern of the business; and upping the thoroughness with which each merchant is scrutinized, recording more information that is unique to their industry, location, and business management.
“Lenders will realize that in order to make a credit decision, we need to have access to very deep, detailed, and wide time-framed data of our customers; and we need to be able to process it in an automated and efficient way,” Snitkof asserted.
Still, while it looks like data is due to play a larger role in the future, Heather Francis took care to mention that important data is currently missing from their metrics. Credit and delinquency reporting are on hold, just as rent is paused for many tenants; meaning that in two or three months, many funders could be in for a surprise when they realize their merchant is having trouble.
Speaking on the Paycheck Protection Program as well as the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, both Snitkof and Francis expressed that while it is good to see deposits for the government programs, questions must be asked regarding them. They can’t be viewed as revenue, since they do not reflect a business’s ability to generate revenue, said Snitkof, but rather they offer a chance to view how a company manages its cash-flow, with how they spread out PPP and EIDL funds being a key insight.
Looking forward, the panelists noted that the experiences of economic shutdown; PPP; EIDL; and how many business owners’ banks supported, or did not support, them could lead to a shift in how non-banks are viewed.
“It’s definitely a time and place for us to really highlight how our industry is placed to assist small businesses,” Francis stated. “We should really take this opportunity to expand on what we can do and how we can help. I think it’s our moment to shine because a lot of banks have pulled back on what they’re able to do in this time.”
This pulling back by banks became clear during the peak of the PPP application period, when many business owners complained of a lack of or poor communication between themselves and the bank they applied to. Highlighting the importance of the customer experience, Snitkof pointed out that this aspect of alternative finance may only become more important as time goes on.
“We have this golden age of customer service. Customers are going to demand good funding, on the right terms, with full transparency, with good speed of decisioning, with a good relationship, and if they can get that from someone who is not a bank, but is an alternative finance provider, then that’s a great funding scenario for them.”
More generally though, the panel ended on a note of ambiguity over the future, with the speakers agreeing that what comes next will be uncertain and challenging, as Francis reminded the audience of what 2020 has in store: a presidential election and a possible second wave of the novel coronavirus.
But there may also be opportunity for those who are there to take it, according to Snitkof, who finished off by saying that “the silver lining of what we’ve just been through as a country, as a world, as an industry, is that all those things that were good enough, they were on pause. So it’s given people the time and space to reimagine what they could do and actually look at the capabilities that we’ve available to us and say ‘maybe we can provide a great personalized customer experience to every small business and customer out there. Maybe we can be more automated and data-driven in our decisions. Maybe we can actually extend better terms on financing to people because we’re able to determine risk better, and optimize our market spend and cost of capital better.’ One of the good things about a disruption is it takes away a lot of the stuff that was good enough; a lot of those sacred cows are now ready to be disrupted and maybe in a few years we’ll see rapid innovation along those lines.”
elevate funding, expansion capital group, kalamata capital group, knight capital funding, lg funding, mulligan funding, nextwave funding, pearl capital, rapidfinance, rdm capital funding, , bfs capital, principis capital - no new originations, quicksilver capital...
elevate funding, expansion capital group, kalamata capital group, knight capital funding, lg funding, mulligan funding, nextwave funding, pearl capital, rapidfinance, rdm capital funding, , bfs capital, principis capital - no new originations, quicksilver capital, the smarter merchant ...
elevate funding, expansion capital group, kalamata capital group, lg funding, mulligan funding, nextwave funding, pearl capital, rapidfinance, rdm capital funding, , , bfs capital, principis capital - no new originations, knight capital f...