Highly Experienced Executive Team Offers Flexible Financing Options to Small Businesses
New York City – November 2, 2017 – 6th Avenue Capital, LLC (“6th Avenue Capital”), a leading provider of small business financing solutions, announced today its securement of a $60 million commitment from a large institutional investor. The investor made their commitment based on 6th Avenue Capital’s industry-leading underwriting, compliance standards and processes. 6th Avenue Capital will draw from this commitment to offer merchant cash advances to small businesses through its nationwide network of Independent Sales Organizations (“ISOs”) and other strategic partnerships, such as banks and small business associations.
6th Avenue Capital launched formal operations in 2016 to help finance small businesses that are often ineligible for funding due to traditional underwriting criteria. 6th Avenue Capital evaluates each application for funding individually and keeps the merchant’s short and long-term needs in mind including, most importantly, what they can afford. 6th Avenue Capital also understands that small businesses may need funding quickly. The company’s data-driven underwriting processes, expertise and technology can give the merchant secure and equitable approvals of qualified requests and funding within hours.
Leading the team, CEO Christine Chang oversees all strategic aspects of 6th Avenue Capital. She also serves as COO to sister company Nexlend Capital Management, LLC. She brings more than 20 years experience in institutional asset management, including alternative lending. Previously, Chang served as Chief Compliance Officer at Alternative Investment Management, LLC, COO at New York Private Bank & Trust and Vice President at Credit Suisse. She serves on the board of Blueprint Capital Advisors, LLC and Bottomless Closet, a not-for-profit empowering economic self-sufficiency in disadvantaged NYC women.
“Our mission at 6th Avenue Capital is to help small businesses grow, and we continue to expand our existing network of ISO and strategic partners to ensure these businesses have access to capital in hours,” said Chang. “Our leadership team of financial industry experts has extensive experience navigating multiple economic cycles. We know how to serve merchants and how to deliver quickly while meeting the highest operational standards for our investors.”
COO Darren Schulman joined the team in March 2017. Schulman is a 20-year veteran of the alternative finance and banking industries. He is responsible for oversight of 6th Avenue Capital’s origination, underwriting, operations and collections, as well as strategic initiatives. Schulman served previously as COO at Capify (formerly AmeriMerchant), a global small business financing company, and President and CFO at MRS Associates, a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) company specializing in collections. In addition, Schulman was an Executive Vice President at MTB Bank.
“We form strong relationships with the merchant and consider it essential for our underwriters to speak to every merchant, on every deal, regardless of its size,” said Schulman. “We also make our underwriters available for discussions with ISOs whenever necessary. We are proud to offer competitive volume-based commissions, buyback rates and white label solutions.”
About 6th Avenue Capital, LLC
6th Avenue Capital is changing the small business financing landscape by offering a data-driven underwriting process and fast access to capital. The company employs a unique blend of industry experts and is committed to the highest operating standards, high touch merchant service, including a policy of direct merchant access to underwriters. 6th Avenue Capital is a sister company of Nexlend Capital Management, LLC, a fintech investment management firm founded in 2014 and focused on marketplace lending (consumer loans). For more information, visit www.6thavenuecapital.com.
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Last year belonged to the brokers in alternative finance — with a phone and a few leads pulled up online, anyone could sell a loan. With seemingly no barriers to entry, alternative lending attracted auto and insurance salesmen fleeing their jobs to cash in on the gold rush in an economy which was coming out of the shadows of distrust for big banks. And it found quick ascension to grow into a trillion dollar market.
But a year on, as the dust has settled, we asked industry veterans what it means to remain successful in this business and what is the key to sustainability — is it in going for the ISO/broker channel to find deals or originating your own.
Here’s what they had to say
Don’t Break the Broker
Tom Abramov of MFS Global voted for the ISO/broker channel and said that that’s how the company strictly does deals, working with brokers who have a track record as a part of their recruitment system. The six year old company that started as an broker shop now focuses only on funding with products that are a mix of merchant cash advances and lines of credit.
“We don’t look at FICO scores or SIC codes, we only look at cash flows of businesses,” said Abramov. “I want to see if I give a someone a dollar whether they can turn it into two.”
Abramov added that his firm offers brokers 20 percent commission and their default rates are sub 5 percent.
The advantages of scoring deals through a broker channel can be alluring. It involves no overhead, no staff that needs compensation, motivation and incentives, and makes use of the existing broker-merchant relationships.
Jordan Feinstein of NuLook Capital said that his firm works with brokers exclusively and the model has helped them respond to merchants faster. “We do not have a sales team speaking to merchants directly, that’s in conflict with our model,” said Feinstein. “We decided that the best way to grow is to build relationships to avoid the overhead, compliance, training and manpower that a sales team would require,” he said.
Building a Hybrid Model
There are some others who want to make the best of both the models and work with brokers while originating and funding their own deals. Forward Financing which uses a hybrid model has strategic partnerships with some brokers while still originating their own deals. “We have a hybrid model because our goal is to have a program for any type of business and work with companies across the spectrum of risk,” said Justin Bakes, CEO of Forward Financing. “While our priority is to self originate, it is essential to create and maintain partnerships in this business,” he said.
The Original Origination
While the allure of a lean business is certainly attractive, there are some who are in the industry to build a bigger business and create value by making it robust — Jared Weitz of United Capital Source is one of them. “There is a big market for both analytical process as well as sales process. It’s important to go after your strength,” said Jared Weitz, founder and CEO of United Capital Source. “When you originate and fund your own deals, you’re in a rewarding position and in control of how merchants get treated.”
Speaking of the industry in general, these experts agreed that the business was undergoing a change with new entrants coming in and experimenting with better services and technologies.
“Last year was the year of brokers but we are still missing the education with merchants. Some brokers are interested while some are not,” said Abramov.
“I notice a clear difference between the old and the new in terms of technology and pricing model,” said Bakes.
“New funders are coming in with different products and terms with increased competition in the ISO market,” said Feinstein.
“Marketing is getting more expensive and only the ones who can afford to pay can play,” said Weitz.
Novopayment has raised $19 million in Series A financing, led by Fuel Venture Capital and IDC Ventures. The company, which offers digital banking, payment, and card solutions, is planning to grow and expand within current and further US markets while focusing on countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
CEO and Co-founder Anabel Perez stated, “We define a digital payment as the simple transfer of value from one payment account to another using a digital service such as a mobile device, POS, or computer.”
With the new funding, NovoPayment plans to continue increasing capabilities, introduce new features and functionalities, heighten security, and capitalize on US market opportunities. To accelerate their expansion of current offices in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and headquarters in Miami, they are adding over 100 new engineers, business development, and product experts to their team. Austin and San Francisco are the first two spots where the branching out will begin.
“Austin and San Francisco are huge hubs for tech innovation and we want to expand there to ensure we attract the best talent for our operations,” Perez discussed. “As we grow in those markets, we’ll assess if we need more boots on the ground in additional states.”
NovoPayment currently holds a strong placement in the LAC region and works with several US clients and partners. This places the company in the right position to broaden in these markets they already have successful track records in.
“Based on our ongoing discussions with clients, we have special insight into the challenges and technology gaps these markets face, and realize the potential to further connect the Americas with a common banking infrastructure. We will be growing our product offerings to enable new data and money flow solutions to account for the increasingly globalized, cloud-based world of financial services,” Perez explained.
As Miami is the “Latin America capital of the US,” NovoPayment holds an advantage as a native of South Florida with the tech scene gravitating towards this region. Miami has served as a gateway to other markets.
“Unlike other companies that are now playing catch up and rushing to the LatAm market, we have a strong foothold and reputation in 14 markets across the Americas,” said Perez. “Establishing those relationships, and understanding the nuances of each market, requires regional expertise that takes time to build.”
The Canadian Lenders Assocation (CLA) received 124 nominations for these awards from leaders in lending across the country. The CLA’s goal is to support access to credit in the Canadian marketplace and champion the companies and entrepreneurs who are leading innovations in this industry.
The Top 25 ﬁnalists in this report represent various innovations in the borrower’s journey from innovations in artiﬁcial intelligence powered credit modelling to breakthroughs in consumer identity management using blockchain technologies. These ﬁnalists also represent solutions for a wide spectrum of borrower maturity and needs, ranging from consumer credit rebuilding all the way to senior debt placements for global technology ventures.
CEO of myBrokerBee | Ontario
After a career in commercial ﬁnance and being CEO of Transpor, Mark Co-founded myBrokerBee a mortgage broker platform that provides transparency to private lenders and their clients.
CEO of Ario Platform | Ontario
Through his experience as Product lead at Interac and Blackberry, Avinash has helped bring together an accomplished and talented group of experts in Data Science, Machine Learning, Security, Software Development to successfully develop this banking services software platform Ario.
CEO of Trust Science | Alberta
Evan is the founder and CEO of Trust Science, a leader in organizing alternative credit data. As a saas founder and CEO, Evan has done over 500mm in startup exits.
President of Lendified | Ontario
Kevin is a recognized leader in the ﬁnancial services industry with over 30 years of experience. Kevin has helped create the voice of Canada’s SME lending ecosystem through his leadership of Lendiﬁed and the CLA.
VP of Cox Automotive | Ontario
Jerome established Nextgear Capital in Canada to become the largest specialty ﬁnance company in the automotive sector. Jerome is a Globe & Mail 40 under 40 winner and previously lead RBC’s international wealth management, private banking and asset servicing business.
CEO of Innovative Assessmer | Israel
Saul is a licensed organizational psychologist and psychometrician, and a former lecturer in psychology at the University of Haifa. Saul is a global leader in the use of psychometric data for credit scoring and ﬁnancial inclusion.
CEO of Merchant Growth | BC
David is the Founder and CEO of Merchant Growth, which grew from its humble beginnings in his apartment to ofﬁces in both Toronto and Vancouver. David now leads one of Canada’s largest online small business ﬁnance companies.
COO of CMI | Ontario
Nominated for the 2018 Mortgage Broker of the Year, Bryan Jaskolka is an expert in Canadian mortgage ﬁnancing with a particular focus on the alternative lending space and mortgage investing.
CEO of Flexiti | Ontario
Peter is a leader in Canada’s retail ﬁnancing market. Before founding Flexiti, Peter was in senior leadership positions at Citi, PC Financial, and Sears Canada. Flexiti was recently named #7 on the Deloitte Fast50.
CEO of Flinks | Quebec
Yves-Gabriel Leboeuf is the co-founder and CEO of Flinks. Under his leadership, Flinks has become a Canadian leader in banking data enablement.
CEO of Corl | Ontario
Derek, also known as the “the quant from Canada” is the founder of the data-driven venture ﬁrm, Corl. Corl is one of Canada’s leaders in the use revenue-share ﬁnancing models.
CEO of Boss Insights | Ontario
Keren Moynihan is co-founder and CEO of Boss Insights, a company that uses big data and AI to accelerate lending from months to minutes. With a Joint JD/MBA, Keren has a diverse background as a commercial banker, wealth manager and former founder of an impact startup.
CEO of Goeasy | Ontario
Jason is President and CEO of goeasy, a publicly listed consumer lender. Jason has lead the company to become one of the largest and most innovative lenders in the country.
CEO of SharpShooter Funding | Ontario
After founding First Down Funding, an alternative lending ﬁrm for SMEs in Baltimore, Paul expanded his business to Canada through the subsidiary Sharpshooter Funding.
|Brendan Playford & Cate Rung
Co-Founders of Pngme | USA
Cate, ex-Uber and Brendan, a blockchain and agro-ﬁnance entrepreneur are the co-founders of Pngme, an alternative lending platform for ﬁnancial institutions in emerging markets who serve Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises.
CEO of Paybright | Ontario
Wayne is the President and CEO of PayBright. Wayne is also a director of IOU Financial Inc and of HBC. Previously, Wayne was a Principal at TorQuest Partners, one of Canada’s leading private equity ﬁrms, and a management consultant with Bain & Company in the UK, the US, and Canada.
CEO of Ledn | Ontario
Adam is a pioneer and thought leader in the digital asset backed lending space. Ledn is focused on building innovative ﬁnancial products in the emerging digital asset space, with a focused mission to help people save more in bitcoin.
CEO of LoanConnect | Ontario
Adam has played a pivotal role in building one of the largest online markets in Canada for unsecured loans.
CEO of BFS Capital | Ontario
Mark is an experienced international CEO with two successful exits and over 20 years of experience at the helm of VC backed technology and ﬁntech startups. In 2019 Mark announced BFS Capital’s expansion to Canada with a new 50 engineer data science hub in the heart of Toronto.
President of Smarter Loans | Ontario
Vlad Co-founded Smarter Loans in 2016 with the goal of helping Canadians make smarter ﬁnancial decisions. Since then, Vlad has grown the platform into one of the go-to resources for Canadian borrowers.
CEO of FundThrough | Ontario
Steven is the Co-Founder & CEO of FundThrough, an invoice funding service that helps business owners eliminate “the wait” associated with payment terms by giving them the power and ﬂexibility to get their invoices paid when they want, with one click, and in as little as 24 hours.
CEO of Turnkey Lender| Singapore
Dmitry, CEO and Co-founder of TurnKey Lender, holds a PhD in Artiﬁcial Intelligence. Dmitry was recently named SFA’s Fintech Leader of the year.
CEO of Ondeck Canada | Quebec
Neil brieﬂy practiced law before becoming President and CEO of Optimal Group Inc. where he grew the company from a start-up to a leading NASDAQ-listed self-checkout and payments company. Neil later co-founded Evolocity, which in 2019 became OnDeck Canada.
CEO of Refresh | BC
Michael has led Refresh Financial’s rapid growth since its founding in 2013, including a recent ranking of number 40 on Deloitte’s Fast 500.
It takes seven minutes for Kabbage to approve a small-business loan. “The reason there’s so little lag time,” says Sam Taussig, head of global policy at the Atlanta-based financial technology firm, “is that it’s all automated. Our marginal cost for loans is very low,” he explains, “because everything involving the intake of information – your name and address, know-your-customer, anti-money-laundering and anti-terrorism checks, analyzing three years of income statements, cash-flow analysis – is one-hundred-percent automated. There are no people involved unless red flags go off.”
One salient testament to Kabbage’s automation: Fully $1 billion of the $5 billion in loans that it has made to 145,000 discrete borrowers since it opened its portals in 2011 were made between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Now compare that hair-trigger response time and 24-hour service for a small business loan of $1,000-$250,000 with what occurs at a typical bank. “Corporate credit underwriting requires 28 separate tasks to arrive at a decision,” William Phelan, president, and co‐founder of PayNet—a top provider of small-business credit data and analysis – testified recently to a Congressional subcommittee. “These 28 tasks involve (among other things): collecting information for the credit application, reviewing the financial information, data entry and calculations, industry analysis, evaluation of borrower capability, capacity (to repay), and valuation of collateral.”
A “time-series analysis,” the Skokie (Ill.)-based executive went on, found that it takes two-to-three weeks – and often as many as eight weeks—to complete the loan approval process. For this “single credit decision,” Phelan added, the services of three bank departments – relationship manager, credit analyst, and credit committee – are required.
The cost of such a labor-intensive operation? PayNet analysts reckoned that banks incur $4,000-$6,000 in underwriting expenses for each credit application. Phelan said, moreover, that credit underwriting typically includes a subsequent loan review, which consumes two days of effort and costs the bank an additional $1,000. “With these costs,” Phelan told lawmakers, “banks are unable to turn a profit unless the loan size exceeds $500,000.”
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the country’s very biggest banks — Bank of America, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo—have been the financial institutions most likely to shut down lending to small businesses. “While small business lending declined at all banks beginning in 2008,” NBER’s September, 2017 report announces, “the four largest banks” which the report dubs the ‘Top Four’—“cut back significantly relative to the rest of the banking sector.”
NBER reports further that by 2010—the “trough” of the financial crisis—the annual flow of loan originations from the Top Four stood at just 41% of its 2006 level, which compared with 66% of the pre-crisis level for all other banks. Moreover, small-business lending at the “Top Four” banks remained suppressed for several years afterward, “hovering” at roughly 50% of its pre crisis level through 2014. By contrast, such lending at the rest of the country’s banks eventually bounced back to nearly 80% of the pre-crisis level by 2014.
That pullback—by all banks—continues, says Kenneth Singleton, an economics professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Echoing Phelan’s testimony, Singleton told deBanked in an interview: “Given the high underwriting costs, banks just chose not to make loans under $250,000,” which are the bread-and-butter of small-business loans. In so doing, he adds, banks “have created a vacuum for fintechs.”
All of which helps explain why Kabbage and other fintechs making small business loans are maintaining a strong growth trajectory. As a Federal Reserve report issued in June notes, the five most prominent fintech lenders to small businesses—OnDeck, Kabbage, Credibly, Square Capital, and PayPal—are on track to grow by an estimated 21.5 percent annually through 2021.
Their outsized growth is just one piece—albeit a major one—of fintech’s larger tapestry. Depending on how you define “financial technology,” there are anywhere from 1,400 to 2,000 fintechs operating in the U.S., experts say. Fintech companies are now engaged in online payments, consumer lending, savings and investment vehicles, insurance, and myriad other forms of financial services.
Fintechs’ advocates—a loose confederacy that includes not only industry practitioners but also investors, analysts, academics, and sympathetic government officials—assert that the U.S. fintech industry is nonetheless being blunted from realizing its full potential. If fintechs were allowed to “do their thing,” (as they said in the sixties) this cohort argues, a supercharged industry would bring “financial inclusion” to “unbanked” and “underbanked” populations in the U.S. By “democratizing access to capital,” as Kabbage’s Taussig puts it, harnessing technology would also re-energize the country’s small businesses, which creates the majority of net new jobs in the U.S., according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
But standing in the way of both innovation and more robust economic growth, this cohort asserts, is a breathtakingly complex—and restrictive—regulatory system that dates back to the Civil War. “I do think we’re victims of our own success in that we’ve got a pretty good financial system and a pretty good regulatory structure where most people can make payments and the vast majority of people can get credit.” says Jo Ann Barefoot, chief executive at Barefoot Innovation Group in Washington, D.C. and a former senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School. But because of that “there’s been more inertia and slower adoption of new technology,” she adds. “People in the U.S. are still going to bank branches more than people in the rest of the world.”
Barefoot adds: “There are five agencies directly overseeing financial services at the Federal level and another two dozen federal agencies” providing some measure of additional, if not duplicative oversight, over financial services. “But there’s no fintech licensing at the national level,” she says. And because each state also has a bank regulator, she notes, “if you’re a fintech innovator, you have to go state by state and spend millions of dollars and take years” to comply with a spool of red tape pertaining to nonbanks.
At the federal level, the current system— which includes the Federal Reserve, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)—developed over time in a piecemeal fashion, largely through legislative responses to economic panics, shocks and emergencies. “For historical reasons,” Barefoot remarks, “we have a lot of agencies” regulating financial services.
For exhibit A, look no further than the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created amidst the shambles of the 2008-2009 financial crisis by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. Built ostensibly to preserve safety and soundness, the agencies have constructed a moat around the banking system.
Karen Shaw Petrou, managing partner at Federal Financial Analytics, a Washington, D.C. consultancy, is a banking policy expert who frequently provides testimony to Congress and regulatory agencies. She wrote recently that the country’s banking sector has been protected from the kind of technological disruption that has upended a whole bevy of industries.
“The only reason Amazon and its ilk may not do to banking, brokers and insurers what they did to retailers—and are about to do to grocers and pharmacies,” she observed recently in a blog—“is the regulatory structure of each of these businesses. If and how it changes are the most critical strategic factors now facing finance.”
Cornelius Hurley, a Boston University law professor and executive director of the Online Lending Policy Institute, is especially critical of the 50-state, dual banking system. State bank regulators oversee 75 percent of the country’s banks and are the primary regulators of nonbank financial technology companies. “The U.S. is falling behind other countries that are much less balkanized,” Hurley says. “Our federal system of government has served us well in many areas in our becoming a leading civil society. It’s given us NOW (Negotiable Order of Withdrawal) accounts, money-market accounts, automatic teller machines, and interstate banking. But now it’s outlived its usefulness and has become an impediment.”
Take Kabbage, which actually avoids a lot of regulatory rigmarole by virtue of its partnership with Celtic Bank, a Utah-chartered industrial bank. The association with a regulated state bank essentially provides Kabbage with a passport to conduct business across state lines. Nonetheless, Kabbage has multiple, incessant, and confusing dealings with its bank overseers in the 50 states.
“Where the states get involved,” says Taussig, “is on brokering, solicitation, disclosure and privacy. We run into varying degrees of state legislative issues that make it hard to do business. Right now we’re plagued by what’s been happening with national technology actors on cybersecurity breaches and breach disclosures. We are required to notify customers. But some states require that we do it in as few as 36 hours, and in others it’s a couple of months. We’ve lobbied for a national breach law of four days,” he adds, which would “make it easier for everyone operating across the country.”
Then there’s the meaning of “What is a broker?’” says Taussig, who as a regulatory compliance expert at Kabbage sees his role as something of an emissary and educator to regulators and politicians, the news media, and the public. “The definitions haven’t been updated since the 1950s and now we have wildly different interpretations of brokering and solicitation,” he says. “The landscape has changed with e-commerce and each state has a different perspective of what’s kosher on the Internet.”
Washington State is a good example. It’s one of a handful of jurisdictions in which regulators confine nonbank fintechs to making consumer loans. In a kabuki dance, fintech companies apply for a consumer-lending license and then ask for a special dispensation to do small-business lending.
And let’s not forget New Mexico, Nevada and Vermont where a physical “brick-and-mortar” presence is required for a lender to do business. Digital companies, Taussig says, would have to seek a waiver from regulators in those states. “Many companies spend a lot of money on billable hours for local lawyers to comply with policies and procedures,” Taussig reports, “and it doesn’t serve to protect customers. It’s really just revenue extraction.”
All such restraints put fintechs at a disadvantage to traditional financial institutions, which by virtue of a bank charter, enjoy laws guaranteeing parity between state-chartered and federally chartered national banks. The banks are therefore able to traverse state lines seamlessly to take deposits, make loans, and engage in other lines of business. In addition, fintechs’ cost of funds is far higher than banks, which pay depositors a meager interest rate. And banks have access to the Fed discount window, while their depositors’ savings and checking accounts are insured up to $200,000.
The result is a higher cost of funds for fintechs, which principally depend on venture capital, private equity, securitization and debt financing as well as retained earnings. And that translates into steeper charges for small business borrowers. A fintech customer can easily pay an interest rate on a loan or line of credit that’s three to four times higher than, say, a bank loan backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Kabbage, for example, reports that its average loan of roughly $10,000 typically carries an interest rate of 35%-36%. It’s credits are, of course, riskier than the banks’. The company does not report figures on loans denied, Taussig told deBanked, but Stanford’s Singleton says that the fintech industry’s denial rate is roughly 50 percent for small business loans. “Fintechs have higher costs of capital and they’re also facing moderate default rates,” notes Singleton. “They’re not enormous, but fintechs are dealing with a different segment. Small businesses have much more variability in cash flows, so lending could be riskier than larger, established companies.”
Even so, venture capitalists continue to pour money into fintech start-ups. “I’ve gone to several conferences,” Singleton says, “and everywhere I turn I’m meeting people from a new fintech company. One of the striking things about this space,” he adds, “is that there are lot of aspiring start-ups attacking very specific, very narrow issues. Not all will survive, but someone will probably acquire them.”
Contrast that to the world of banking. Many banks are wholeheartedly embracing technology by collaborating with fintechs, acquiring start-ups with promising technology, or developing in-house solutions. Among the most impressive are super-regionals Fifth Third Bank ($142.2 billion), Regions Financial Corp. ($123.5 billion), and BBVA Compass ($69.6 billion), notes Miami-based bank consultant Charles Wendel. But many banks are content to cater to familiar customers and remain complacent. One result is that there’s been a steady diminution in the number of U.S. banks.
Over the past ten years, fully one-third of the country’s banks were swallowed whole in an acquisition, disappeared in a merger, failed, or otherwise closed their doors. There were 5,670 federally insured banks at the end of 2017, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., a 2,863-bank, 33.5% decrease from the 8,533 commercial banks operating in the U.S. in 2007.
It does appear that, to paraphrase an old expression, many banks “are going out of style.” In recent years there have been more banking industry deaths than births. Sixty-three banks have failed since 2013 through June while only 14 de novo banks have been launched. In Texas, which is known for having the most banks of any state in the country, only one newly minted bank debuted since 2009. (The Bank of Austin is the new kid on the Texas block, opening in a city known as a hotbed of technology with its “Silicon Hills.”)
One reason there’s so little enthusiasm among venture capitalists and other financial backers for investing in de novo banks is that regulators are known to be austere. “If you’re a company in the U.S.,” says Matt Burton, a founder of data analytics firm Orchard Platform Markets (which was recently acquired by Kabbage), “and you tell regulators that you want to grow by 100 percent a year – which is the scale you must grow at to get venture-capital funding – regulators will freak out. Bank regulators are very, very strict. That’s why you never hear about new banks achieving any sort of scale.”
But while bank regulators “are moving sluggishly compared to the rest of the world” in adapting to the fintech revolution, says Singleton, there are numerous signs that the status quo may be in for a surprising jolt. The Treasury Department is about to issue (possibly by the time this story is published) a major report recommending an across-the-board overhaul in the regulatory stance toward all nonbank financials, including fintechs. According to a report in The American Banker, Craig Phillips, counselor to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, told a trade group that the report would address regulatory shortcomings and especially “regulatory asymmetries” between fintech firms and regulated financial institutions.
Christopher Cole, senior regulatory counsel at the Independent Community Bankers Association—a Washington, D.C. trade association representing the country’s Main Street bankers—told deBanked that, among other things, the Treasury report would likely recommend “regulatory sandboxes.” (A regulatory sandbox allows businesses to experiment with innovative products, services, and business models in the marketplace, usually for a specified period of time.)
That’s an idea that fintech proponents have been drumming enthusiastically since it was pioneered in the U.K. a few years ago, and it’s something that the independent bankers’ lobby, whose member banks are among the most threatened by fintech small-business lenders, says it too can support. Treasury’s Phillips “has said in the past that he’d like to see a level playing field,” the ICBA’s Cole says. “So if (regulators) are going to allow a sandbox, any company could be involved, including a community bank. We agree with him, of course, because we’d like to take advantage of that.”
In March, 2018, Arizona became the first state to establish a regulatory sandbox when the governor signed a law directing that state’s attorney general (and not the state’s banking regulator) to oversee the program. The agency will begin taking applications in August with approval in 90 days, says Paul Watkins, civil litigation chief in the AG’s office. Watkins told deBanked that he’s been most surprised so far by “the degree of enthusiasm” from overseas companies. With the advent of the sandbox, he adds, “Landlocked Arizona has become a port state.”
The OCC, which is part of the Treasury Department, may also revive its plan to issue a national bank charter to fintechs, sources say (EDITOR’S NOTE: This had not yet been implemented before this story went to print. The OCC is now accepting such applications) – a hugely controversial proposal that was put on ice last year (and some thought left for dead) when former Commissioner Thomas J. Curry’s tenure ended last spring. At his departure, the fintech bank charter faced a lawsuit filed by both the New York State Banking Department and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors. (Since then, the lawsuit was tossed out by the courts on the ground that the case was not “ripe” – that is, it was too soon for plaintiffs to show injury).
Taussig, the regulatory expert at Kabbage, reports that the Comptroller of the Currency, Robert J. Otting, has promised “a thumbs-up or thumbs-down” decision by the end of July or early August on issuing fintechs a national bank charter. He counts himself as “hopeful” that OCC’s decision will see both of the regulator’s thumbs pointing north.
The Conference of State Bank Supervisors, meanwhile, has extended an olive branch to the fintech community in the form of “Vision 2020.” CSBS touts the program as “an initiative to modernize state regulation of non-bank financial companies.” As part of Vision 2020, CSBS formed a 21-member “Fintech Industry Advisory Panel” with a recognizable roster of industry stalwarts: small business lenders Kabbage and OnDeck Capital are on board, as are consumer lenders like Funding Circle, LendUp and SoFi Lending Corp. The panel also boasts such heavyweights in payments as Amazon and Microsoft.
Working closely with the fintech industry is a “key component” of Vision 2020, Margaret Liu, deputy general counsel at CSBS, told deBanked in a recent telephone interview. CSBS and the fintech industry are “having a dialogue,” she says, “and we’re asking industry to work together (with us) and bring us a handful of top recommendations on what states can do to improve regulation of nonbanks in licensing, regulations, and examinations.
“We want to know,” she added, ‘What the main friction points are so that we can find a path forward. We want to hear their concerns and talk about pain points. We want them to know the states are not deaf and blind to their concerns.”
Former Chief Operating Officer also appointed to company’s Board of Directors along with Chief Executive Officer Christine Chang
New York City – April 26, 2018 – 6th Avenue Capital, LLC (“6th Avenue Capital”), a leading provider of choice for alternative small business funding, announced today the promotion of Darren Schulman to President, effective immediately. In his new position, Schulman has oversight over originations, underwriting, operations, collections and strategic initiatives. He previously served as Chief Operating Officer, and will continue to report directly to Chief Executive Officer Christine Chang.
The company also announced today that Chang and Schulman have been appointed to the company’s Board of Directors.
“We are extremely fortunate to have a well-respected industry expert and innovator like Darren on our leadership team,” said Chang. “He’s made immeasurable contributions to our strategic direction and growth since joining us last year. I am confident Darren will continue to play a critical role in guiding our business forward in his new position as President.”
Schulman brings two decades of experience in small business financing and additional experience in banking to his new position. He joined 6th Avenue Capital in March 2017. Previously, Schulman served as COO at Capify (formerly AmeriMerchant), a global small business financing company, and President and CFO at MRS Associates, a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) company specializing in collections. In addition, Schulman was an Executive Vice President at MTB Bank.
“6th Avenue Capital is made up of exceptional individuals who are focused daily on advancing the capital needs of small businesses. I am honored by the promotion and delighted to be joining the Board with Christine,” said Schulman. “Together we will continue to set a strategic course for our company and build on the momentum we’ve established over the past year helping small businesses across the country grow.”
For more information on these updates, or if you’re interested in discussing partnership opportunities with 6th Avenue Capital as an ISO, please contact Marc Seidel at bizsuccess@6thAveCap.com. You can also use that same email address to schedule time to meet with members of the team at the National Association of Equipment Leasing Brokers (NAELB) conference in Las Vegas from April 26 to 28.
About 6th Avenue Capital, LLC
6th Avenue Capital is changing the small business funding landscape by offering a data-driven underwriting process and fast access to capital with variable payment options. 6th Avenue Capital employs a unique blend of industry experts who are committed to the highest operating standards, including high touch service and a policy of direct merchant access to underwriters. For more information, visit www.6thavenuecapital.com or email bizsuccess@6thAveCap.com.
BOSTON – One of the oldest lenders in the nation had a hand in developing technology intended to enable banks to win back the small business loan market from alternative lenders.
A tech incubator at Boston-based Eastern Bank, founded in 1818, has spun off Numerated Growth Technologies Inc., a startup that developed an online platform designed to identify and contact small businesses eligible for loans of up to $100,000.
Numerated Growth, which was founded in March, developed its tech in Eastern Labs and has generated about $100 million of volume since 2015. The model, which features real-time approval, is based on the tact banks first took with pre-approved credit cards in the 1990s, Numerated CEO Dan O’Malley told deBanked.
“We’re just taking the same rules and applying them here,” he said. “And by the way, that’s what customers want.”
Numerated Growth, which employs 26 workers, came out of stealth mode in May with a $9 million seed funding.
O’Malley, Eastern Bank’s former chief digital officer, said Numerated is now selling the platform to other banks but declined to disclose the specific number. The cost per bank depends on the number of loans being processed, he said.
The average business loan is $40,000 and they can be approved and funded within five minutes of the business completing the online agreement.
Numerated Growth’s real-time platform could be considered loan origination software on steroids. But such software essentially enables a bank to enter an applicant’s information into a digitized system to assist in the approval process. Alternative lending startups have been improving on that model for several years. Competitors in that space include nCino Inc., Decision Lender (Teledata Communications), PerfectLO and defi solutions, LoanCirrus.
But loan origination software is very crowded and startups are constantly launching to reduce the time it takes to approve a loan without increasing the number of defaults.
“Banks need to do things that are counter to each other,” David O’Connell, a senior analyst for the Boston-based Aite Group LLC, told deBanked. “There’s a need to do a fast money transaction, but doing it diligently without making any bad loans.”
Combining the marketing and approval process is a credible approach because it keeps them on the same page in terms of targeting the most likely prospects. As a result, the number of “false positives” is lower, O’Connell said.
Instead of developing their own small business loan platforms, some banks are referring borderline borrowers to alternative lenders. But that can cause problems for the bank if the customer service doesn’t measure up to the bank’s standards and customers associate shoddy service with the entity that referred them, O’Connell said.
The best option is to develop in house. “Banks need to go as deep into the alternative lending market as they can with their own infrastructure and brand,” he said.
Because of its low value compared with other types of bank business, small business loan origination is one of the last remaining areas of banking to be targeted with innovation. “There’s not a huge price point,” said Kevin Tweddle, executive vice president for innovation and technology at the Independent Community Bankers of America.
Loan origination startups are trying to make such deals worth the bother. Yet the best tools tend to be developed by banking industry people because they understand the regulatory restrictions and integration factors, he said.
The goal of loan tech tools is two-pronged: make the approval process more efficient and make it convenient for borrowers. And so far, no software developer has risen above all the others to capture majority market share, Tweddle told deBanked.
“It’s just too early; there’s too many of them still coming out,” he said. “We’re in the early innings of a nine-inning game.”
Banks can’t afford to ignore the demand for alternative lending tools.
In May, the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation reported that the alternative finance market slowed but continued to grow during 2016 in the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. The market’s value reached $35.2 billion — a 23 percent increase compared with 2015.
More than 200,000 businesses used online alternative funding sources during 2016. In the United States, marketplace and peer-to-peer consumer lending accounted for the largest share of market volume with $21 billion in the U.S. last year, a 17 percent increase. Balance sheet business lending was the second-largest model in the U.S. with $6 billion originated, the report found.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, marketplace and peer-to-peer business lending was the largest alternative finance segment with $188.5 million last year, a 239 percent rise versus 2015.
The same principles fueling the car-sharing business are being applied to peer-to-peer lending. As a result, adoption is growing as people view the credibility of peer lenders on an equal level of traditional experts, said David Wong, senior director of the innovation and acceleration lab at the Chicago-based CME Group Inc.
“Whether P2P markets reach or exceed the size of the incumbent market platforms (ala Uber and Airbnb), or not, they are driving rapid innovation and new dimensions of competition across industries,” he said.
Industry observers agree that small business loans haven’t seen enough innovation from the banking industry because of its size compared with commercial lending and real estate deals. As a result, it has a long way to go to shorten the time it takes for approvals and improving the customer experience, O’Connell said.
“Banks that fail to embrace automation for their commercial lending lines of business will lose the valuable relationships, loan outstandings, and fee-based income abundant in the commercial and industrial market,” he said.
After the 2009 global financial crisis, bank regulations tightened and data sets were required to be available and analytics-ready, providing another compelling need for commercial loan origination systems, O’Connell said.
No dominant players have emerged because neither traditional banks nor alternative lenders have figured out the best approach that satisfies both the lender and the customer, O’Connell said.
“Businesses don’t want money right away but they do want a quick and easy process,” he said. “My data tells me that in addition to providing underwhelming turnaround time, no particular lender has an edge over another. Nobody has it right.”
At Numerated Growth, O’Malley said the “initial wake-up call” signaling that a change was needed came in 2013 when Eastern Bank noticed solid small business customers paying off loans from alternative lenders such as On Deck Capital Inc. and LendingClub Corp. The pattern suggested that there was an unmet customer need.
Numerated Growth’s platform is designed to enable banks to proactively aggregate the data they need to identify prospective borrowers instead of requiring business owners to collect the data and present it to banks, O’Malley said.
“We’re making the banks do the work,” he said. “The same process that transformed the credit card industry will transform the financial products industry.”
As alternative lending gains global traction, a growing number of U.S-based alternative lenders are exploring international growth, with large companies like OnDeck, Kabbage and SoFi leading the way.
Some alternative lenders have begun their expedition closer to home by extending their reach into Canada. Others are traveling farther beyond to parts of Europe and Australia, for example, while others are eying eventual growth in Asia.
Propelling the opportunity is the fact that a number of international banks are still unprepared to offer online lending on their own and thus are more amenable to partnerships with U.S.-based alternative lenders, according to Rashmi Singh, senior manager in the wealth management practice at EY.
It also helps that the options for local partners are somewhat limited. “There are not a lot of digital lenders [outside the U.S.] at the same level as some of the folks here,” Singh says.
To be sure, international expansion requires extensive time, money and regulatory know-how, and some U.S. alternative lenders may never reach the critical scale to be able to compete effectively. Nonetheless, as globalization proliferates, industry observers expect that additional forward-thinking companies will push beyond the limits of their current geographical borders.
“The question is not if, but when (and where) U.S. fintech companies will expand internationally,” contends Ryan Metcalf, chief of staff and director of international markets at Affirm, a San Francisco-based fintech that has partnered with Cross River Bank of Fort Lee, New Jersey, to allow shoppers pay for purchases over time with simple-interest loans.
Affirm—which works with more than 900 retailers and recently announced that it had processed its 1 millionth consumer installment loan—has focused on domestic growth so far, but the company is now considering a number of options for international expansion, Metcalf says.
SIZING UP THE MARKET
Certainly, there are numerous opportunities for homegrown lenders to expand internationally given the healthy growth alternative lending is experiencing in other parts of the world. Each market, of course, has its nuances and individual growth patterns.
Europe, for instance, has seen substantial growth over the past few years, with the U.K. leading the way in alternative finance. It has four times higher volumes in aggregate than the rest of Continental Europe, according to a 2016 report from KPMG and TWINO, one of the largest marketplace lending platforms in Europe. (P2P consumer lending is the largest component of alternative online lending in Europe, capturing 72 percent of the total in the first through third quarters of 2016, according to the report.)
After the U.K., France, Germany and the Netherlands are the top three countries for online alternative finance by market volume in Europe, according to a September 2016 report by the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance.
Asian markets, meanwhile, show significant promise for alternative finance players to make their mark due to the sizeable population of digitally savvy consumers who are still largely underbanked. China is by far the largest market for alternative lending in Asia. It’s also the world’s largest online alternative finance market by transaction volume, registering $101.7 billion in 2015, according to the March 2016 Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance report. This constitutes almost 99 percent of the total volume in the Asia-Pacific region, the research shows. To date, most of the growth in China specifically has been from local firms, but that could change as the market there continues to develop.
Although there are many possible international markets to explore, U.S. lenders have to tread carefully before planting roots elsewhere, observers say. Some smaller U.S. lenders may find domestic expansion easier and more cost-effective because of the time, regulatory and financial commitment that goes along with exploring international markets. It’s a lot easier, for instance, to expand from New York to California, than it is to build out internationally.
“Why take on all the added costs and regulatory pressures, when you haven’t fully explored your home market, unless the business that you’re in deems it necessary,” says Mark Abrams, partner with Trade Finance Global, a London-based international corporate finance house, specializing in crossborder trade.
“It doesn’t make sense to start as a U.S. lender, do a few loans and then jump over to the U.K,” he contends.
What’s more, foreign banks looking for alternative lending partners typically prefer to work with larger, more established players. Even though new players’ technology may be ahead of the curve, the banks still want a longer track record. “It’s reputational for these banks,” says Singh of EY.
MANY CHALLENGES TO INTERNATIONAL EXPANSION
Several alternative lenders say they see significant growth opportunities by expanding internationally. At the same time, however, they are mindful of the substantial headwinds they face.
Regulation is among the biggest, if not the biggest, challenge. A lot of firms in the U.S. have invested a lot of time and money to get up to speed on U.S. regulations. When they look to Europe or to Canada or Mexico or elsewhere, there are different regulations. “If you’re speaking to folks in three continents, now you are looking at regulations times three,” says Singh of EY.
Certainly there’s a time commitment involved; it can take six to eight months for a U.S. lender to get their U.S.–based platforms compliant with regulations in another country, she says.
What’s more, regulatory barriers can vary greatly country to country, notes Metcalf of Affirm. Take Canada for example where very low barriers to entry exist with some provincial exceptions. In the U.K., on the other hand, it can take eight months or more to receive a lending license, he says.
That’s why it’s so important for online lenders to make strategic decisions about where they want to invest their time and resources—even if they have sound technology that’s easily adaptable outside the U.S. “The minute you throw in cross-border regulations, it gets very complicated,” Singh says.
Understanding the local culture of the market you’re trying to tap is also crucial, according to Rob Young, senior vice president of international at OnDeck, where he oversees all aspects of the company’s non-U.S. expansion efforts.
Within the past several years, OnDeck has begun offering small business loans to customers in Canada and Australia. Frequently Canada is a first step for U.S. companies that want to expand internationally because of the shared language and similarities between the economies, Young explains.
After the Canadian operation was successfully underway, the opportunity arose for the online lender to expand to Australia—which shares several similarities with the Canadian market. OnDeck doesn’t break out how much of its overall loan portfolio comes from these two markets, but it has announced publicly that it’s delivered more than CAD$50 million in financing to Canadian small businesses since 2014.
“So far we’re very satisfied with the performance,” Young says, referring to its expansion into both Canada and Australia.
Young notes that while a U.S.-based alternative lender can leverage certain things like technology from a central location within its home country, having dedicated teams on the ground in local markets is also critical. Marketing and pricing all have to be competitive with the needs of the local market, he says.
In Canada and Australia, for example, OnDeck has found that the “personal element” is really important. Young says customers there expect to interact with sales representatives who have ties to the community, understand the local market and can relate to the issues small businesses there are facing.
“I don’t think you can establish that rapport if you are trying to serve them with a sales team overseas,” he says.
U.S.-based alternative lenders also need to be careful to create products that fit the culture and needs of a particular market. For instance, alternative players that focus on luxury asset-based lending would want to look at countries with high concentrations of wealth. “It doesn’t make sense to grow to a country where there’s very little wealth because you’re not going to have much success,” says Abrams, of Trade Finance Global.
Even knowing the market well doesn’t guarantee results, which Lending Technologies, a white label technology provider for the MCA space, has discovered first hand.
Markus Schneider, the company’s chief executive, is originally from Switzerland and he knows the market there well, so he set out to fill a void he saw for an MCA-like product. However, Lending Technologies, which has offices in New York and Zurich, has hit some roadblocks along the way.
“It’s a very different mind-set there. People are more risk-adverse,” Schneider says.
The company already has a Swiss distribution partner in place, but has had trouble finding a lender willing to underwrite the funds. Schneider would also be willing to work with a U.S. lender that wants to partner with Lending Technologies to provide MCA services to merchants in his home country.
“We’re going to do this. It’s just a matter of time,” he says. “There’s a tremendously underserved segment of the market there.”
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT
To be successful internationally, U.S. companies also have to be willing to shift gears as needed when things aren’t working out as expected.
Take Kabbage, for example. The small business lender expanded into the U.K. in 2013, two years after its U.S. debut. But the company found that having its own small business lending business in the U.K. was too challenging for regulatory and capital reasons. It no longer offers new loans from this platform.
Instead, the funding company decided that a better global strategy was to license its technology to financial institutions in international markets a less capital-intensive, yet economically sound way of doing business.
Kabbage—which recently announced the establishment of its European headquarters in Ireland—has licensing arrangements with Santander in the U.K., Kikka Capital in Australia, Scotiabank in Canada and Mexico and ING in Spain. The company plans to launch operations in several additional countries this year where banks use Kabbage’s technology to offer online loans to their clients, says Pete Steger, head of business development at Kabbage.
“We are partnering with local experts. That’s our strategy,” Steger says.
Funding Circle has also made changes to its international strategy. Earlier this year, the company—which got its start in the U.K.—announced that it would stop issuing new loans in Spain. The Spanish version of the company’s website says that it continues to monitor ongoing loans so investors receive monthly payments for the projects they have invested in.
A spokeswoman for Funding Circle said the company continues “to look at new geographies, but we have no immediate plans for expansion and are focused on building a successful business here in the U.S., U.K., Germany and the Netherlands.” She declined to comment further.
Without divulging too many details, a handful of U.S.-based alternative financiers say they continue to look at additional markets outside their home turf.
For its part, SoFi has announced plans to expand to Australia and Canada this year. The company’s chief executive has also talked about European and Asian expansion in the future.
On the international front, Affirm is currently evaluating markets that make the most sense for its business model, Metcalf says. Affirm is also looking at possible acquisitions in developed markets such as the U.K. and Sweden as well as considering “serious investment” in new distribution models in southeast Asia, Mexico and Brazil, he says.
LendingClub, meanwhile, last November announced a significant partnership with National Bank of Canada and its U.S. subsidiary Credigy. The agreement provides for Credigy to invest up to $1.3 billion over the subsequent twelve months. A spokeswoman for LendingClub said the company has nothing to share about plans for international expansion.
As for OnDeck, Young says the company is exploring a number of options; it’s a matter of finding markets where gaps exist in small business lending and where potential customers have a willingness to borrow online.
“We want to be the preferred choice for small businesses. It’s not necessarily defined geographically,” Young says. “We review markets all the time. There are a number of markets that are interesting to us.”
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