Miami, FL – Greenbox Capital is happy to announce that they have recently renegotiated their credit facility, lowering their interest rate and doubling their funding capacity in the US, Puerto Rico, and Canada.
The journey to this success has not been a straight shot. Just over one year ago, Greenbox Capital suffered internal theft. Some individuals on their staff were back-dooring deals, looking to make a quick buck, and leaving Greenbox to suffer the consequences.
In March of 2017, deBanked reported this internal theft that had dated back to October of 2016. Greenbox launched an investigation, hiring a private investigator and bringing these offenders to justice.
In the midst of this unfortunate circumstance, Greenbox resolved to take a stand for deal security, striving to become the safest funding company to do business with. They’ve executed a strategic network security assessment and have transitioned their controls to that of a banking institution. This assessment was completed in conjunction with the release of their proprietary software, “The Box,” which reduces human interaction with deals, increasing security of merchant sensitive information and security of broker deals.
With the release of The Box in February of 2017, Greenbox has been funding deals faster (and more safely) than ever before, with funding in as little as 24 hours. With some strategic restructuring of the company, i.e., being particularly selective in their hiring process, terminating brokers who create disadvantages for others by manipulating the system, and the release of The Box, Greenbox’s performance has improved exponentially and their credit facility has increased their limits to allow for them to reach their potential in the industry.
Greenbox CEO, Jordan Fein, asserts, “When you reach your potential, you naturally become more attractive and we’re becoming more attractive every day!” With so many positive changes made at every level of the business, 2018 looks bright for Greenbox Capital.
In April of this year, Threadgill’s – a legendary Austin music venue and beer joint that, in the 1960s, famously launched the career of blues singer Janis Joplin — turned off the lights and pulled the plug on its sound stage.
A converted gasoline station, Threadgill’s had been a rollicking music scene since 1933 when musician and bootlegger Kenneth Threadgill secured the first liquor license in Texas after Prohibition. His juke box was crammed with Jimmie Rodgers songs and Threadgill himself famously sang and yodeled Rodgers’ tunes.
For generations of students at the University of Texas, Threadgill’s was a rite of passage.
“The first time I went to Threadgill’s was in the fall of 1968, when I was a freshman at UT,” recalls Perry Raybuck, a songwriter-folksinger and retired government worker who, as a member of the Southwest Regional Folk Alliance, played the stage in 2018. “It was the beginning of an education for me,” he adds. “I had been a Beatles and rock n’ roll kid and it opened me up to different music styles. I became a convert.”
In 1981, Threadgill’s was taken over by another acclaimed club owner, Eddie Wilson, who previously had been the proprietor of the Armadillo, a fabled music venue. Wilson began to actually pay musicians – Threadgill had compensated them mainly with free cold beer – and installed a circular stage.
It was Threadgill’s and an assortment of funky clubs and stages with names like the Soap Creek Saloon and Liberty Lunch helped put Austin on the map as “The Live Music Capital of the World.” The city remains home to the widely acclaimed television program “Austin City Limits” on PBS and the internationally renowned South by Southwest festival, which was canceled this year amid fears of a “superspread” of the coronavirus.
“Live music,” says Laura Huffman, chief executive at the Austin Chamber of Commerce, “is why people come here. It is a central component of Austin’s cultural and economic life.”
Omar Lozano, director of music marketing for Visit Austin, the city’s main tourism organization, says: “We have close to 250 places in the greater Austin region where you can hear live-music, although it’s closer to 50-70 on any given night. During South by Southwest, no stone is left unturned — everything becomes a stage: parking garages, grocery stores, housing co-ops. There are also four or five stages at the Airport, which helps liven up the mood.”
But that identity is being put to the test. So far this year, Austin has lost a raft of live music venues. Among those joining Threadgill’s in honky-tonk heaven since the pandemic struck are Barracuda, Plush, Scratchhouse, Shady Grove, and Botticelli, all of which provided niche audiences to both established musicians and up-and-coming acts.
The roller-coaster ride of government mandated shutdowns followed by a limited re-opening in the spring and another shutdown since July fourth is making life miserable and untenable for both club owners and already hardpressed musicians and artists, says Marcia Ball, a piano player and blues singer.
Ball, who was named by the Texas Legislature as “2018 Texas State Musician” and whose musical style was once described by the Boston Globe as “mixing Louisiana swamp rock and smoldering Texas blues,” told deBanked: “There was already a limited amount of opportunity for musicians to perform and monetize their work in Austin, so it has always been necessary to travel to make a living. But we still depend on a thriving local scene, and we’re losing that when key venues like Threadgill’s disappear.”
Adds Graham Williams, a prominent Texas promoter of touring bands: “These venues and bars are vital to the music ecosystem. Local bands and cover bands need hangouts, even if people are not buying tickets. They’re places to play every night of week.”
While unheralded outside the Austin scene, the local music joints were often a port-of-call for out-of-town promoters and nightclub owners checking out Austin talent – “most notably Barracuda (which) had super-popular acts and was like a hipster garage venue,” says promoter Williams. “A lot of touring bands played there on their way up.”
A July study by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston found that the city’s live music industry is in desperate straits. Sixty-two percent of live music spots and 55% of the bar-and-restaurant businesses reported to researchers that that they can endure for no more than four months, making them the most vulnerable of 16 industries surveyed.
And the situation has become “even more ominous” since the report was published, explains Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston and a lead researcher on the Hobby study. “That survey finished polling two hours before all bars and restaurants closed back down,” he says. “Everything people were saying was when bars were at 50% capacity. That’s a best-case scenario.”
Austin’s experience amid the Covid-19 pandemic mirrors what is occurring nationwide as bars, nightclubs and music halls in myriad cities and towns experience similar trauma. In Seattle, Steven Severin is co-owner of three nightclubs – Neumos, Barboza and recently opened Life on Mars – all in trendy Capitol Hill, the hub of the city’s club and live-music scene. He reports that he is barely holding on thanks to some help from the city and a sympathetic landlord who is “a big music advocate.”
“He knocked down the rent a little bit,” Severin says of his landlord, but the situation is dire. “We just had a fifth venue, Re bar, close at the end of August,” he says. “It was a punch in the gut. This could be me.”
The Bitter End in Greenwich Village is also keeping its head above water despite not opening its doors since March. The nightclub has a storied past: owner Paul Rizzo recounts that it is where pop singer Neil Diamond got his start and where “everyone from Curtis Mayfield to Randy Newman” has performed since its opening in 1961. But the club is silent now since the pandemic overwhelmed the city’s hospitals and made New York the epicenter of sickness and suffering during the spring. So far the club is getting help from a landlord’s forbearance and loyal musicians.
Peter Yarrow (the “Peter” in the bygone trio Peter, Paul and Mary), donated a streamed concert to patrons who contributed to a fundraiser that raised more than $50,000. And grateful local musicians also put on a benefit directing people to a Go Fund Me page on the Internet that raised another $16,000. “We’re a major venue for local musicians,” Rizzo says. “We should pull through.”
It’s in their self-interest for artists to do whatever they can to keep the doors open at a club like The Bitter End. “These days because of the last two decades of declining record sales — live music is the bread and butter of a musician’s income,” says journalist Edna Gundersen, a recently retired, 28-year-veteran of USA Today. “That’s true whether it’s a local entertainer or an international superstar.” (Gundersen earned the reputation as Bob Dylan’s favorite journalist; it was she who scored his only interview after he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2018, publishing his eccentric musings in the The Telegraph of London and breaking the news that he would indeed accept the prize.)
“Touring has been crushed,” Gundersen adds, “and festivals have been canceled. So people doing the circuit and clubs are gone for all intents and purposes. Streaming — while initially up — is down because people aren’t listening to music in the gym or in their cars. Physical record sales are also down because people aren’t going to stores. All of this is just killing musicians.”
The Paycheck Protection Program, the multi-billion, multi-tranche aid package for small business which Congress authorized as part of the CARES Act in March, has provided some funding for the live-music and entertainment industry. But because of the PPP’s requirements that only 40% of the funds can be spent on rent, mortgage and utilities, which are major expenses for nightclubs and music venues, the program has largely been a disappointment.
Hoping to win attention and assistance for their plight from the federal government — “We’re the first to close and the last to reopen,” Severin says — live-music entrepreneurs like himself and Rizzo and more than 2,800 club-owners and promoters across the country have banded together to form the National Independent Venue Association.
Their membership includes independent proprietors (no corporate members allowed) of saloons, cabarets and concert halls as well as theaters, opera houses and auditoriums from every state plus the District of Columbia. To help plead their case with Congress, the organization hired powerhouse law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the largest Washington, D.C. lobbying firm by revenue.
NIVA also blanketed Congressional offices with two million letters, e mails and correspondence generated from hordes of fans and performers. Among the many scriveners are a slew of boldface names: Mavis Staples, Lady Gaga, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel, Earth Wind & Fire, and Leon Bridges. Comedians Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Jeff Foxworthy have also penned notes to lawmakers championing NIVA’s cause.
Their message: without federal funding, 90% of independent stages will go under over the next few months. “The heartbreak of watching venues close is that once a building is boarded up, it’s not going to be a music venue any more,” warns Audrey Fix Schaefer, communications director at NIVA. “They operate on thin business margins to begin with and they’re too hard to develop.” For touring acts, each city stage is “an integral part of the music ecosystem,” Schaefer explains. “When artists finally do get back on the tour bus, they might have to skip the next five cities and go on to the sixth.”
Thanks to the bi-partisan efforts of Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), NIVA’s campaign has gotten traction. The unlikely couple have teamed up to author a rescue bill, known as the Save Our Stages Act. If enacted, it would establish a $10 billion grant program for live venue operators, promoters, producers, and talent representatives.
The legislation would provide grants up to $12 million for live entertainment venues to defray most business expenses incurred since March, including payroll and employees’ health insurance, rent, utilities, mortgage, personal protection equipment, and payments to independent contractors.
NIVA’s chief argument for the legislation is coldly economic rather than sentimentally cultural. The organization cites a 2008 study by the University of Chicago that spending by music patrons produces a “multiplier effect” for the broader economy. For every dollar spent by a concert-goer at a live performance, the Chicago study determined, $12 in downstream economic activity occurs.
Explains Scott Plusquellec, nightlife business advocate for the City of Seattle: “You buy a ticket to a show and the direct economic impact of that purchase is that it pays the artist, bartender and the club itself as well as the band, advertisers, and promoters. The indirect economic impact,” he adds, “is that after you bought the ticket, you went to a barber shop or a hair salon to look good that night. You might also have dinner, go to a bar for a drink and tip the bartender. That’s the whole the idea of a ‘multiplier.’”
In Austin, that economic logic is an article of faith with city burghers, asserts Lozano of Visit Austin, who reports that live music in the capital city is roughly a $2 billion industry. To promote live music, the tourism bureau sponsors such endeavors as “Hire an Austin Musician.” That program, Lozano says, “sends musicians around the U.S. to represent us during marketing season.” In another promotional campaign, Visit Austin arranged for singer-songwriter Julian Acosta to play a gig at travel agents’ offices in London when Norwegian Air inaugurated direct flights between London and Austin in 2018. “The U.K. is one of our best markets,” he reports.
Even so, efforts by the business community and the City of Austin have failed to stanch much of the industry’s bleeding. According to its website, the city has disbursed $23.7 million in loans and grants to small businesses and individuals, but slightly less than $1 million of that has gone to live-music and performance venues, entertainment and nightlife, and live-music production and studios.
In late September, The city of Austin’s Economic Development Department released a slide show breaking down how the $981,842 in industry grants and loans – of which $484,776 was provided by the federal government under the CARES Act – were awarded. Most top recipients appeared to be well known nightclubs and entertainment venues downtown or close to the city’s inner core.
The Continental Club on South Congress – a key fixture in the hip “SoCo” strip just over the Colorado River from downtown – appeared to do best. It picked up $79,919 from two programs: $40,000 in the CARES-backed small business grants program, and $34,919 from the city’s Creative Space Disaster Relief Program. Other clubs receiving $40,000 in the small business grants program included Stubbs, The Belmont, Cheer Up Charlies and the White Horse. (For a full list go to: http://www.austintexas.gov/edims/document.cfm?id=347299)
Joe Ables, owner of the Saxon Pub, a major Austin venue for jazz – blues singer Ball hailed it as one of several important Austin clubs “that sustains creative endeavor, especially for songwriters” – was vexed that his grant application was denied by the city “with no explanation.” Ables also voiced dissatisfaction that the city paid the Better Business Bureau a 5% administration fee to handle $1.14 million in relief funds, including determining which applicants were approved. “What would they know about live music,” he says.
Even for clubs that received city largesse, it hasn’t been nearly enough to sustain them. The North Door, which got $15,240, closed for good on September 11 (an ominous day — the anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.)
Meanwhile, enough clubs and venues were left out in the cold that club owner Stephen Sternschein could tell deBanked just before the slide show was released: “I’ve heard talk of a $21 million grant program but most people I know haven’t seen a dollar of that.”
Sternschein is managing partner of Heard Presents, an independent promoter and operator of a triad of downtown clubs that includes the spacious Empire Garage, which features hip hop and urban jazz, and has space for 1000 music-goers. A member of NIVA, Sternschein describes efforts by both the state and local governments as “woefully inadequate.” Says he: “People are looking to the federal government for answers.”
The diminution of places for musicians to ply their trade is a double edged sword. If Austin loses its luster as a hot music town, it puts the city’s overall economy in jeopardy. Explains Jones, the Rice political scientist: “The difficulty for Austin is that it could lose its comparative advantage. Unlike restaurants, movie theaters or sports events, which people can find just as easily in other cities, the Austin music scene draws capital and revenue from across the country.
“You can go out to dinner in Waco,” he observes, referring to the mid sized Texas city between Austin and Dallas best known as home to Baylor University and its “Bears” football team, fervent Baptist religiosity, and unremarkable night life. “Music brings in revenue to Austin and to Texas that wouldn’t otherwise come here.”
In addition, Jones says, the large presence of “artists, creative types, and freelancers” helps make Austin a strong selling point for “brain industries” to attract talent from the East and West Coasts. “It supports the technology industry by making it easier to recruit employees to live there,” he says. “Austin is an alternative to Silicon Valley. People who are progressive might be hesitant to come to conservative, red-state Texas from California but they’ll come to Austin because it’s culturally cool.”
Austin, which embraces the slogan “Keep Austin Weird,” is on the verge of becoming just like every place else in Texas. Should it relinquish its flavor and charm, it could discourage many of the assorted business groups and professionals from keeping Austin on their dance card as a popular destination for meetings, conferences and get-away trips.
Howard Freidman, managing director at Bluechip Jets, a broker of private luxury aircraft, had an earlier career as a technology industry executive. Partly drawn by his previous experiences with the city, Freidman moved to Austin earlier this year. “It had the same coolness and weirdness of New Orleans — but also with the professionalism of a tech city,” he says.
“Whenever we’d come here,” Freidman adds, “the music was always integral to the Austin scene. Even when you’d go to private parties you’d end up downtown at the club scene on Sixth Street. Austin was always a place everybody liked going to.”But as Austin has steadily been morphing into more of a high-technology center than a live-music town, it’s experiencing a silent exodus of musicians and artists who are being gentrified out of their apartments and Craftsman duplexes. Displacing them are software engineers, website designers and the like, their sleek BMWs and black, tinted-glass SUVs glistening in the parking lots of steel-and-glass corporate centers.
Many of the technology firms – including such needy companies as Samsung, Intel, Rackspace, Facebook, and Apple – have each received tax breaks, grants and subsidies worth tens of millions of dollars from a variety of local jurisdictions. Not only have the city of Austin and Travis Country been beneficent, but adjacent county governments and the state of Texas have provided abundant support. A 2014 study by the Workers Defense Project, in collaboration with UT’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, reported that the state of Texas showers big business with $1.9 billion annually in state benefits. Most recently, officials with Travis County and a local school district granted Tesla more than $60 million in tax rebates to build a massive “gigafactory” southeast of town near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
To house the burgeoning cohort of “knowledge workers,” there are condominium conversions, tear-downs, high-rises and other forms of frenetic real estate development which, in their train, bring higher property taxes, steeper rents, and unaffordable housing.
Add in some of the country’s most snarled traffic, dirtier air, and a growing homeless population, and members of the artistic community are increasingly decamping for smaller satellite towns like Lockhart and San Marcos. Others in the diaspora are abandoning Texas altogether for more hospitable locales like Fayetteville Ark., Asheville, N.C., or Olympia, Wash. “Whatever made anybody think this would be a better town with a million people,” laments blues singer Ball. “This was a perfect town with 350,000. Now we’ve got Silicon Hills, Barton Springs are cloudy, and drinking water’s going to be scarce. Why is this supposed to be better?”
The drop-off in live music and the belt-tightening by musicians is causing third-party pain for people like veteran Austin journalist and publicist Lynne Margolis, whose national credits include stories for Rolling Stone online, and radio spots for NPR. “The public relations aspect of my work has dropped away because artists can’t afford to pay,” she says, “and music journalism is falling by the wayside. It’s hard not to feel to like a double dinosaur.”
Led by bars, restaurants and music venues, on many days the solemn departure of small establishments has the business news sections of Austin newspapers reading more like the obituary page. One hardy survivor is Giddy Ups – a throwback honky-tonk on the town’s outskirts that advertises itself as “the biggest little stage in Austin” – promising “just about everything,” says owner Nancy Morgan, including “country, blues, rock, bluegrass, and soul.” For the past 20 years Giddy Ups has developed a devoted following of musicians and patrons while fending off hyper modernity.
“It has an untouched, back-to-the-seventies, cosmic cowboy vibe,” says local musician Ethan Ford, a guitarist and bass player whose trio, The Slyfoot Family, has graced its stage. “It’s a time capsule,” Ford adds.
Morgan declined to disclose her annual receipts but in 2019, she reports paying out $188,000 in wages to employees, $72,000 to musicians, and $185,000 in combined sales taxes to the city of Austin and to the state. Despite her status as a taxpayer, employer and entrepreneur, she has received no state aid and is disqualified from receiving city pandemic assistance programs, meager as they may be, because she’s located in an extra-territorial jurisdiction.“
Nancy still bartends most nights and does all of the booking,” says Ford. “Her knowledge of the Austin music scene could fill a couple of books. I know a decent fistful of Austin venue owners and she’s about the only one that hasn’t given up, been forced out, or just retired. She’s a dynamo.”
Unless the cavalry arrives for Morgan and other holdouts, though, their musical days may be numbered.
Editors Note: Threadgill’s didn’t make it. The venue “has closed for good, the property has sold, and the building will eventually be torn down,” according to information disseminated for its Last Call Music Series. Its November 1st grand finale show featured Gary P. Nunn, Dale Watson, Whitney Rose, William Beckman, and Jamie Lin Wilson.
The building will be replaced with apartments.
Note from the Editor: In early February, I asked one of our regular journalists, Paul Sweeney, to look into the economy and the presidential race to size up the coming election season. As he was wrapping up his interviews over the span of a month, things took a startling turn, and COVID-19 came to the forefront and changed everything. This story is an amalgamation of reporting that started one way and quickly morphed into another. In light of how fast the situation is changing, we are publishing it now rather than waiting until early April to release it in print.
Chris Hurn, who heads an Orlando-area financial firm in Florida that specializes in small business lending, says he is witnessing fear and desperation among business owners whose stores, shops and enterprises have been thrown into a tailspin by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve been overwhelmed with telephone calls and e-mails,” says Hurn, chief executive at Fountainhead Commercial Capital, a non-bank Small Business Administration lender which boasts more than $250 million in originations last year. “I’ve fielded over 300 inquiries from borrowers about these loans in just the last few days,” he added. “People are telling me that they’re being harmed and don’t know how they’ll make payroll. The SBA needs to act.”
What Hurn is experiencing in Florida is not just an isolated incident. Thousands of small businesses are under siege nationwide as Americans’ have gone into isolation in response to the pandemic, helping precipitate a full-blown economic crisis. As of March 17, the coronavirus – also known as Covid-19 – had leapfrogged across the globe since appearing in China in December, 2019, infecting people in 100 countries. There are now some 272,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases worldwide and close to 11,300 deaths, according to data compiled by scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
In the U.S., the number of cases has cleared 19,000 as of March 20, the death toll has climbed above 230, and coronavirus cases have been recorded in all 50 states. The Center for Disease Control reports that the number of cases are growing at 25-30% per day. But experts warn that, because of a lack of testing, the actual number of cases is certainly higher.
The outbreak is drawing comparisons to the worldwide influenza pandemic of 1918. Popularly known as the “Spanish Flu,” that virus may have claimed as many as 100 million lives, according to estimates by the World Health Organization. Medical officials say that persons 70 and older and those with underlying medical conditions, such as a weakened immune system, are most at risk in the current pandemic.
“What makes this disease so lethal,” says Rachel Scott, a family physician in Austin, Texas and the author of “Muscle and Blood,” a pathbreaking study of occupational diseases, “is that people in the vulnerable population who come down with the virus are prone to contract severe acute respiratory distress syndrome. In ARDS, the virus destroys the sacs in the lungs, preventing oxygen from being delivered into the blood stream. By the time people with severe ARDS are hospitalized and treated with a ventilator, it may already be too late.”
To blunt the accelerated pace of contagion, governors and mayors are putting restrictions on citizens by curbing gatherings and monitoring interactions. Governors in 44 states have forced restaurants and bars to close shop in an unprecedented regulation of U.S. citizens. Meanwhile, millions of Americans self-quarantined and self-isolated and re-examined how they interact socially, commercially and professionally. Increasingly draconian controls to moderate the trajectory of the outbreak are not only turning cityscapes into ghost towns from coast-to-coast but throwing a giant monkey wrench into the U.S. economy.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has reportedly warned Congressional leaders that the unemployment rate could spike to 20%.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has gone Mnuchin one better amid reports that 1.2 Americans had filed for unemployment insurance. In an interview on MSNBC Thursday, Reich said he feared that the unemployment rate is likely to hit that 20% mark in the next two weeks. “Eighty percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck,” he declared ominously. “We’re in a national emergency.”
The pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis is also casting a giant shadow over the 2020 presidential election. “It’s a black swan event that wasn’t anticipated by any of the candidates, and the reverberations for the election are going to be huge,” said Richard Murray, a political scientist and elections expert at the University of Houston.
For the past 50 years, political analysts have generally agreed, the condition of the U.S. economy was a key predictor – if not the key predictor – to the outcome of presidential elections. President Jimmy Carter, for example, had the bad fortune to preside over a problematic economy marked by oil-price shocks and energy shortages, mile-long queues at gasoline stations, and sky-high interest rates. There was even a new word — “stagflation” – coined for the phenomenon of stagnant growth and runaway inflation, recalls David Prindle, a government professor and expert on voting behavior at the University of Texas at Austin.
There were, of course, additional negative complications to Carter’s presidency. Most notable was the “Hostage Crisis” in which Iranian students attacked the U.S. Embassy in Teheran in the fall of 1979, held 44 American diplomats and aides captive for more than a year, and made Carter look hapless and helpless. Nonetheless, Ronald Reagan, a former governor of California and longtime matinee idol, hammered Carter mercilessly on the economy, demanding: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
Answering that question sent Carter packing to his Georgia peanut business. “In 1980, as in every election, there were multiple causes,” says Prindle, “but the deciding factor was the economy.”
A healthy economy can serve as a mighty bulwark against opponents in a president’s bid for a second term. In the mid-1990s, an expanding economy and relentlessly buoyant stock prices – a Dow Jones Industrial Average so robust in the mid-1990’s that Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan famously admonished investors for their “irrational exuberance” – allowed Bill Clinton to sail to re-election. (The good times also buffered Clinton during the ensuing sex scandal involving White House intern Monica Lewinsky.)
As the election year of 2020 dawned, a decently performing economy seemed to be serving President Donald Trump’s cause. Before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic in early March, the U.S. economy was coming off 10 full years of job growth and the unemployment rate had sunk to 3.5 percent, its lowest level in 50 years. Wages were also rising by nearly 4 percent per annum, noted Aparna Mathur, a labor economist at the business-backed American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. “The economy is not spectacular,” she said, “but everything is moving in the right direction.”
Since then, however, the economy has been slammed as an alarmed country reacted to the pandemic. The NBA and NHL closed down their basketball and hockey seasons. Major League Baseball called a halt to spring training. The NCAA initially declared that “March Madness” would proceed and that hoopsters would perform before empty arenas, but then it pulled the plug. Even professional golf, an outdoor sport, hung up its cleats, announcing that The Masters, played at Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Course in April and the crown jewel of professional golf, would be postponed indefinitely.
Almost overnight, colleges and universities shut down classrooms, emptied their dorms, and opted for online coursework. Some 33 million schoolchildren in 41 states have ceased attending school. Hundreds of companies, including Amazon and Microsoft in Seattle, a city hit hard by the coronavirus, are requiring their employees to “telecommute” by working at home on their laptops.
The CDC at first advised Americans not to cluster in groups of more than 25 people, then cut that figure to 10. Americans are being prodded to engage in “social-distancing” by avoiding shaking hands and separating themselves from others by a separation of three-to-six feet from others. San Francisco has gone still further, grounding cable cars, closing down clubs and bars and restaurants and effectively putting the city on lockdown.
The city of Boston called off its iconic St. Patrick’s Day parade, Broadway theaters dimmed their lights, and Starbucks forbade customers to sit down in its coffee shops. Major events like South by Southwest, the music and cultural festival in Austin, Texas, was canceled, depriving Texas’s capital city of some $350 million in economic activity.
Jilting the festival cuts deeper than the losses to airlines, hotels, bars, restaurants, and music venues, notes Alfred Watkins, a Washington, D.C.-based economist and chairman of the Global Solutions Summit, an international consulting firm. “You have all of these people in Austin who are running events and they’re hiring caterers for sandwiches and refreshments,” he said. “You have independent contractors like videographers and photographers, sound-equipment suppliers, Uber and Lyft drivers, hairstylists, and even freelance entertainment journalists — all of whom are no longer making money. For these entrepreneurs,” he added, “losing this event is a little like retailers missing out on the Christmas season. It’s when they make their money.”
The airline, travel, leisure, and tourism industries are in free-fall. Major cruise lines suspended bookings and cut short voyages after horrific reports of coronavirus outbreaks among passengers trapped at sea, temporarily putting a $38 billion industry in dry dock.
The conventions industry, which has come to a standstill after wholesale cancellations, remains a vastly under-appreciated sector of the U.S. economy, argues George Brennan, former executive vice-president of marketing at Arlington (Va.)-based Interstate Hotels and Resorts, the world’s largest independent hotel management company.
These mass gatherings are an unheralded engine of growth, he says, packing a bigger economic wallop than they get credit for. “Conventions typically draw anywhere from 2,000 to 25,000 people,” he said. “They run 6,000 to 8,000 attendees on average, and most can only be accommodated by the top 10-20 U.S. cities, which include Chicago, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Atlanta, New Orleans and Orlando.
“Conventions are often multi-dimensional,” he added. “Attendees usually spend three to five days in town. They often shop at clothing stores and other retailers. They’ll take in sporting events or, if they’re in New York, a Broadway play. They’ll go to attractions like the San Diego Zoo, or spend an afternoon on a golf course in Florida or California.”
Conventions generate a tremendous amount of commerce and revenues for vendors and exhibitors. As an example, Brennan cites his former employer, the hospitality industry. “At hotel conventions,” he said, “you’ll see people there selling curtains and sheets, soaps and towels.”
In addition, many trade groups – Brennan cites the National Association of Civil Engineers and the American Medical Association as examples – count on the annual convention as an important component of their organization’s annual revenues. “When you pay to attend,” he says, “a significant portion goes back to the association. The convention often covers the yearly salary for a group’s staff.”
Amid the dramatic behavioral changes, the stock market registered several days of panic-selling in March, capped by a record, single-day plunge on March 16: The Dow Jones index plummeted 2,997 points, the third-worst percentage loss in history. After flirting with the level at which the Dow was reading on Inauguration Day Jan. 20, 2017, the market continued see-sawing this week, herky-jerkying between mini-rallies and skids.
Hoping to prevent a coronavirus recession, the U.S. Senate adopted by an overwhelming, 90-8 bipartisan vote a $100 billion bill sent by the Democraticac-led House that expands free testing for the coronavirus, provides for paid sick leave and medical leave for some workers, and an emergency unemployment insurance and food assistance programs. The bill was signed late Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, Congress was taking up a monumental $1 trillion economic rescue plan proposed by the White House on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) that included a bailout for the hotel and airline industries, help for small businesses, and $500 billion in direct cash payments to Americans households.
“We’re looking at sending checks to Americans immediately,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a Rose Garden press conference at the White House on St. Patrick’s Day. By immediately, he added, “I’m talking about the next two weeks.”
The Trump Administration’s proposed help for small businesses has a strong supporter in Karen G. Mills, former SBA administrator and senior fellow at Harvard Business School. During her tenure in the Obama Administration, Mills was a troubleshooter in several crises including the Great Recession and Hurricane Sandy. “In a worst-case scenario with this virus contagion, getting loans to people through banks is not going to be fast enough,” she told deBanked just before the White House drew up its rescue plan. “They’ll need direct loans to people and other aid. If we lose our small business economy, it will be catastrophic.”
So how will the pandemic and the state of the economy play out politically in the November, 2020 general election between President Trump and former Vice President Joseph Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee? The result remains shrouded in the fog of the future, of course, but the election’s contours are coming into focus.
Having seen him through numerous scandals, impeachment, and a trial in the U.S. Senate, Trump’s political and electoral following has been put to the test. Yet his backers remain unshakably loyal in a way not seen in 80 years, observed the University of Houston’s Murray. “More people are dug in now than at any time since the 1930s,” he says, as roughly 43% of the electorate is firmly lodged in Trump’s camp. “Trump’s support has been remarkably stable.”
The business community is a key demographic in the pro-Trump cohort, notes Ray Keating, chief economist at the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, a Washington, D.C. advocacy group claiming 100,000 members. “We have not polled our membership,” Keating says, “but when you look at the data they overwhelmingly vote Republican. We find that support for Donald Trump is clear and substantial.”
Richard Yukes, a Las Vegas-based oilman and longtime entrepreneur who votes his pocketbook, will be pulling the lever for Trump in the November election. The reason? Trump not only presided over a robust economy for the past several years, Yukes says, but the president slashed Obama-era regulations imposed on his industry. “Government regulation and bureaucratic regulation often get mishandled and misdirected by federal bureaucrats and Trump is for less regulation,” Yukes says. “I think America works best with less regulation.”
The owner and operator of oil wells in Wyoming, Yukes benefited handsomely last year when Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency relaxed rules governing methane leaks. The oilman reckons that complying with the regulations had been costing him an extra $1,500 per well each year.
No matter how well the economy has performed in the past three years, however, the pandemic economy promises to be a “game-changer,” says political scientist Murray, and history shows that voters are likely to take stern measure of the incumbent president’s performance during any a crisis.
Trump’s initial response to the coronavirus reminds Murray of Woodrow Wilson’s reaction to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 while World War I was still raging. “As the U.S. was approaching climactic battles in Europe, President Wilson suppressed the news of the flu and the story didn’t get out though eventually people knew about it,” Murray says.
Wilson’s deceit hurt Democratic candidates who were battered in the 1918 midterm elections, just a few days before the November 11 armistice. Two years later, after Wilson had a stroke, the Democratic presidential candidate got crushed in the 1920 election by Warren G. Harding, a Republican senator from Ohio.
After war and influenza, Americans voted enthusiastically for Harding’s promise of “normalcy.”
President and owner of 1 West Finance in New York City. He founded it in May of 2017 in New York City. The company is a team of seven.
I was at World Business Lenders for 6 years. That’s where I learned this business and figured out how things worked. Then I left WBL and started 1 West Finance. At WBL, I worked in business development…And I think I was in a good space there to get experience to start my own shop.
I get up around 7:00, usually will take my kids to school. I’ll have one cup of coffee, then pick up a cup of coffee for my train ride. On the train, I answer any overnight emails and follow up on whatever outstanding deals I’m working on. So usually I’ll be pinging funders to say “What’s going on with this? What’s going on with that? What’s next, what’s next, what’s next?” Then I buy another coffee when I get to Penn Station. I get to the office by 9:15 / 9:30.
Two times a week at a minimum, will bring in all the guys into the conference room. We will go through the pipeline…Who needs my help? Or who needs the sales manager’s help on a certain deal?…Things tend to move really well after that meeting.
Because of the nature of our relationships, we get a lot of clients that haven’t done this type of financing before. And there’s always some level of sticker shock that the client experiences when you tell them, “I’m going to give you $100,000 and you’re going to pay me $130,000 or $135,000.” And they’re like “Oh my goodness. How is that possible?” “And by the way,” we say, “I’m going to take the payments daily or weekly.”
For clients who haven’t experienced this before, getting over this initial sticker shock is a challenge.
How do you respond to this shock?
I usually say “Hey, listen, we are not a bank.” I say “we fund clients everyday and clients fall into two buckets.” Either they have already gone to the banks and have been told “No.” Or, they can get the money from the bank but they just don’t have the time, because the bank is going to take 40 days or 60 days. And they need the money today or tomorrow.
So I say “If you think you have the 60 days and you can go to the bank, you should go to the bank. Don’t take this money. But if the bank says ‘No’ or you can’t wait, then I’m the next stop.”
Some of his favorite funders:
OnDeck – “by far, my favorite”
Green Peak Capital
Average monthly volume funded:
$1 million. We made $50,000. That was this year.
His funding process:
A deal first goes to two processors [we have]. They make sure everything is there. No pages missing. They’ll make a decision – is this a good deal for OnDeck or is this a better deal for InAdvance or Fundworks? They’ll actually make the submission, update the CRM, and once the approvals come back, if it meets what the client needs, then the deal goes round robin around the sales team…We try to keep it very fair. And all my guys can close. They’ve all been in business for at least 5 years.
I’m a husband and the father of three and a half year-old identical twin boys. I work a lot and my kids are generally asleep before I get home. So weekends are dedicated to my wife and kids. I try to put the phone away and spend some quality time with them.
For brokers, funding partnerships are critical to success. But making the most of these connections can be elusive.
“Transparency, efficiency and a thorough scrubbing on the front end can help the whole process,” says William Gallagher, president of CFG Merchant Solutions, an alternative funder with offices in Rutherford, N.J. and Manhattan.
Gallagher recently moderated an “Underwriting 101” panel at Broker Fair 2018, which deBanked hosted in May. The panel featured a handful of representatives from different funding companies discussing various hot-button items including striking the proper balance between technology and human underwriting, trade secrets of the submission process and stacking. Here are some major takeaways from that discussion and from follow-up conversations deBanked had with panel participants.
Each funder has slightly different processes and requirements. Brokers need to understand the different nuances of each firm so they know how to properly prepare merchants and send relevant information, funders say.
Many brokers sign up with funders without delving deeper into what the different funders are really looking for, says Jordan Fein, chief executive of Greenbox Capital in Miami Gardens, Fla., that provides funding to small businesses.
For example, there are a growing number of companies that rely more heavily on advanced technology for their underwriting, while others have more human intervention. Brokers need to know from the start what the funder’s underwriting process is like—the nitty gritty of what each funder is looking for—so they can more effectively send files to the appropriate funder.
“They will look poor in front of the merchant if they don’t really know the process,” Fein says.
Certainly, it’s a different ballgame for brokers when dealing with funders that are more human based versus more automated, says Taariq Lewis, chief executive and co-founder of Aquila Services Inc., a San Francisco-based company that offers merchants bank account cash flow analysis as well as funding that ranges from 70 days to 100 business days.
At Aquila, the process is meant to be totally automated so that brokers spend more time winning deals faster, with better data to do so. This means, however, that some of the underwriting requirements differ from some other industry players. Aquila’s most important requirement is that a merchant’s business is generally healthy and shows a positive history of sales deposits. Other funders require documents and background explanations, whereas Aquila strives to be completely data-driven, Lewis says. These types of distinctions can be important when submitting deals, funders say.
Stacking is another example of a key difference among funders that brokers need to understand. It’s a controversial practice; some funders are open to stacking, while others will only take up to a second or third position; a number of funders shy away from the practice completely. Brokers shouldn’t waste their time sending deals if there’s no chance a funder will take it; they have to do their research upfront, funders say.
Most times, brokers “don’t invest enough time to understand the process,” Fein says.
Some brokers may feel competitive pressure to sign up with as many funders as possible, but it can easily become unwieldy if the list is too long, funders say. Better, they say, to deal with only a handful of funders and truly understand what each of them is looking for.
“There are brokers that deal with 20 [funders], but I don’t think it’s a good, efficient practice,” says Rory Marks, co-founder and managing partner of Central Diligence Group, a New York funder that provides working capital for small businesses.
He suggests brokers select funders that are easy to work with and responsive to their phone calls and emails. Not all funders will pick up the phone to speak with brokers who have questions, but he believes his type of service is paramount, he says. “It’s something we do all the time,” he says.
He also recommends brokers consider a funder’s speed and efficiency of funding as well as document requirements and their individual specialties. There are plenty of funders to choose from, so brokers shouldn’t feel they have to work with those that are more difficult, he says.
To prevent a broker’s list from becoming too unwieldy, Gallagher of CFG Merchant Solutions suggests brokers have two to three go-to funders in each category of paper from the highest quality down to the lowest. Having a few options in each bucket allows greater flexibility in case one funder changes its parameters for deals, he says.
Brokers “sometimes just shotgun things and throw things against the wall and hope they stick,” Gallagher says. Instead, he and other funders advocate a more precise approach –proactively deciding where to send files based on what they know about the merchant and research they’ve done on prospective funders.
It used to be that when sending files to funders, brokers would provide some background on the company in the body of the email. This was helpful because even a few sentences can help funders gain some perspective about the company and better understand their funding needs, says Fein of Greenbox Capital.
These days, however, Fein says he’s getting more emails from brokers that simply request the maximum funding offer, without providing important details about the business. The financials on ABC importing company aren’t necessarily going to tell the whole story because funders won’t know what products they import and why the business is so successful and needs money to grow. Providing these types of details could help sway the underwriting process in a merchant’s favor. Brokers don’t have to say a lot, but funders appreciate having some meaty details. “A few sentences go a long way,” Fein says.
Many brokers make the mistake of overpromising what they can get for merchants and how long the process could take, funders say. Both can cause significant angst between merchants and brokers and between brokers and funders.
If a company is doing $15k in sales volume and asking for $50k in funding, the broker should know off the bat, the merchant is not going to get what he wants, says Marks of Central Diligence Group. By managing merchant’s expectations, brokers are doing their clients—and themselves—a favor. Why waste time on deals that won’t fund because they are fighting an uphill battle? Brokers shouldn’t knowingly put themselves in the position of having to backtrack later, Marks says.
Instead, explain to the merchant ahead of time he’s likely to receive a smaller amount than he’d hoped for. To show him why, walk the merchant through a general cash flow analysis using data from the past three to four months, says Gallagher of CFG Merchant Solutions. This will help merchants understand the process better, and it can help raise a broker’s conversion rate, he says.
“It’s about setting realistic expectations,” Marks says.
Sometimes brokers take only a cursory look at a merchant’s financials, and because of this, they overlook important details that can delay, significantly alter, or sink the underwriting process, funders say.
Heather Francis, founder and chief executive of Elevate Funding in Gainesville, Fla., offers the hypothetical example of a merchant who has total deposits of $80k in his bank account. On its face, it may look like a solid deal and the broker may make certain assurances to the merchant. But if it comes out during underwriting that most of the deposits are transfers from a personal savings account as opposed to sales, there can be trouble. Based on the situation, the merchant may only be eligible for $30k, but yet the owner is expecting to receive $80k based on his discussions with the broker. Now you have an unhappy merchant, a frustrated broker and a funder who may be blamed by the merchant, even though it’s really the broker who should have dug deeper in the first place and then managed the merchant’s expectations accordingly. “We see that a lot,” says Francis.
To get the most favorable deals for merchants, some brokers only present the rosiest of information in the hopes that the funder won’t discover anything’s amiss. Several panelists expressed frustration with brokers who purposely withhold information, saying it puts deals at risk and makes the process much less efficient for everyone.
Marks of Central Diligence Group offers the hypothetical example of a merchant whose sales volume dipped in two of the past six months. To push the deal through, a broker might submit only four months of data, hoping the funder doesn’t ask about the other two months. Some funders might accept only four statements, but other shops will want to see six. If a funder then asks for six, the broker’s omission creates unnecessary friction, he says.
Funders say it’s better to be upfront and disclose relevant information such as sales dips or some other type of temporary setback that weighs a merchant’s financials. Kept hidden, even small details could easily become game-changers—or deal-breakers—a losing proposition for merchants, brokers and funders alike.
“If we have the full story upfront and we’re going in eyes wide open, we can look at the file in a little bit of a different way,” says Gallagher of CFG Merchant Solutions.
Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s too hard for a commercial finance broker to make a buck in exchange for honest work these days. One ISO in lower Manhattan is seeing more opportunity than ever before. Chad Otar, a managing partner of Excel Capital Management, sat down with deBanked to make his case for a bright future.
“As long as there’s small businesses, there’s always going to be opportunity,” Otar said. “Business owners are always going to need money.” Ironically, his own company that he cofounded in 2013 with hometown friend Nathan Abadi, was formed without any outside debt. Bootstrapped even to this day and even as they’re expanding, they’ve seen firsthand what other businesses around the country have to go through to get ahead.
“We’ve always believed in the products that we’ve sold,” said Otar, who brokers merchant cash advances, business loans, SBA loans, factoring products and more. They want every deal to help their clients whether it’s big or small, explaining further that even he himself has to feel comfortable with what the merchant wants. When asked about size, Otar said the largest SBA loan they got done was for $4.9 million.
But when questioned if more merchants were moving towards factoring and other traditional products, he explained that some merchants just don’t want to deal with the hassle of something that might be overly invasive or a process that might take a long time. They just want to get funded quickly, he said. And that’s where they come in.
Otar and Abadi’s optimism is not just anecdotal. The two partners, who previously renewed one year leases for their small office on Maiden Lane, saw enough runway to recently sign a five year lease for a 2,700 sq ft. office on Greenwich Street, staying within the bounds of the city’s financial district. Between full time employees and contractors, they currently house about fifteen people in their new office.
Though the partners live in Brooklyn, they, like many other companies in the industry, believe a Manhattan headquarters makes the most sense. “Everything is here,” Otar said. It’s easier to recruit new hires, he explained. And they indeed have immediate hiring plans now that they’ve got the space for it, both in sales and operationally.
This new up-and-coming generation of business owners is very comfortable with the Internet and technology, Otar added, speeding up the process and allowing they and the funding partners they work with to do more deals together. One example offered was a small business owner who gave a guided tour of his establishment to an underwriter using FaceTime on his phone. Normally, the process would’ve been delayed by a few days because of the time it takes to hire a third party to perform a site inspection.
Some funding partners offer DocuSign so that merchants don’t even have to spend time printing and signing documents anymore, he said, qualifying that however by adding that while some merchants love it, others hate it and feel more comfortable doing things the old fashioned way. He acknowledged that was likely due to the generational gap that still exists.
When asked if the setbacks and gloom that had begun to envelop the consumer lending side of fintech, was also affecting the commercial side, Otar said he didn’t see it. Funders are still very aggressive with approvals and terms, he said. While paperwork required for approval is declining overall, he described one obstacle that he hadn’t really dealt with in previous years, UCC filings that are accidentally left active even when the agreements are satisfied in full.
Underwriters doing due diligence might interpret active UCCs to mean that outstanding obligations still exist. Absent a formal termination of the UCC, an underwriter may request that merchants provide documents from the secured party to support that a termination should’ve been filed. This in itself is not a burdensome task but Otar said he has seen merchants who have used alternative financing products continuously over the last eight years or so, who are then challenged to produce satisfaction letters from dozens of companies, some of whom the merchant may only vaguely remember.
But he is not discouraged when new challenges come up. “We’ve been constantly learning,” he said. And when asked what their secret to success has been up until this point, “It’s hard work and dedication,” he responded.
Many of the newcomers are fleeing hard times in the mortgage or payday loan businesses. Others are abandoning jobs selling insurance, car warranties or search-engine optimization.
“You have wandering souls trying to find their place in this industry, whether it be as a company or on their own,” said Amanda Kingsley, CEO of Sendto, a Florida-based company that assists new brokers.
Though exact counts appear difficult to obtain, Kingsley professed amazement at the volume of new entrants. “I’m swamped,” she said. “It’s crazy.”
Some of the new brokers discovered alternative financing in December, when OnDeck Capital’s initial public stock offering raised $200 million and valued the company at $1.3 billion. The Lending Club IPO that raised $1 billion the same month also raised public awareness of alternative loans.
Mesmerized with those whopping figures, salespeople from other businesses began committing themselves to a new career in alternative finance. In a business with virtually no barriers to entry, it’s easy to get started. To call themselves brokers, they just need a phone, someplace to sit and a list of leads they can buy online.
Virtually all of the entrants are pursuing dreams of lucrative paydays. Many even expect to make a fast buck with minimum effort.
If only it were that simple. Too often, the untutored new players are making mistakes simply because they don’t know any better, industry veterans maintained.
“A lot of people think you can just walk in and be successful,” said the sales manager of an established New York-based brokerage who asked for anonymity. “They don’t know what it takes to run a company. They don’t know what it takes to get a deal done.”
Worst of all – either unknowingly or with evil intent – new brokers are stacking deals. In other words, inexperienced salespeople pile second or third loans or advances on top of original positions. It’s an approach that clearly violates the industry’s standards, observers agreed.
In fact, virtually all contracts for a first loan or advance prohibit the merchant from taking on another similar obligation, noted Paul Rianda, an Irvine, Calif.-based attorney who specializes in payments and financing.
“I can’t remember one agreement I’ve seen that didn’t have that provision in it,” Rianda said.
Violating that stipulation could provide grounds for a lawsuit, and litigation is underway, according to David Goldin, president and CEO of New York-based AmeriMerchant and president of the North American Merchant Advance Association (NAMAA).
Bigger funders would sue smaller funders because the latter appear more likely to take on riskier, more problematic multiple-position deals, said Jared Weitz, CEO at United Capital Source LLC, a New York-based broker.
Plaintiffs have a case to make because stacking harms the broker and funder of the first position by increasing the risk that the merchant won’t meet the resulting financial obligations, Weitz said. “The guys going out 18 and 24 months to make this a more bankable product are being hurt by the people coming in and stacking those three-month high-rate loans,” he noted.
Deducting fees for more than one advance also impedes cash flow, adding another risk factor, Weitz said.
To further complicate matters, the company offering the second or even third deal sometimes moves the merchant’s transaction services to another processor, Rianda said. That forces the firms that made the first advance to approach the new processor to stake a claim to card receipts, he noted.
So the companies with the original deal suffer from the effects of stacking, but the practice’s shortcomings will haunt the stackers, too, observers maintained.
“It’s not a model that’s going to allow them to succeed,” a broker who asked to remain anonymous said of stackers’ long-term prospects.
Many hardly give a thought to staying power, according to Weitz. “A lot of people entering this space think it’s about fast money and not longevity,” he said.
Longevity requires that brokers build relationships with merchants, a process stacking undermines because too much credit can drive merchants out of business or merely prop up merchants already doomed to fail, sources said.
Yet stacking has become so widespread that it constitutes a business plan for some brokerage shops, said a broker who asked that his name and company not appear in the article.
It can begin when brokers buy lists of Uniform Commercial Code filings to find out what merchants have already taken out term loans or advances, said Zach Ramirez, vice president of sales and operations at Orange, Calif.- based Core Financial Inc.
The brokers then contact those merchants, many of whom are already over-extended financially, to offer additional credit or advances, Ramirez said.
Inexperienced brokers often resort to stacking because they don’t know how to generate leads that can bring alternative lending vehicles to merchants who weren’t aware of them.
Referrals from accountants or other business owners who deal with merchants can provide some of those greenfield prospects, Ramirez noted.
And leads aren’t the only area of cluelessness among newcomers, a broker who requested anonymity maintained.
“They don’t know why a bank declines a deal or approves a deal,” he said. “They don’t know what’s the basis for a good deal.”
To teach new brokers those basics of alternative business financing, the industry should establish standard policies and technology, according to Kingsley.
A credential, perhaps something similar to the Certified Payments Professional designation created by the Electronic Transactions Association, sources said. To earn the credential, candidates would pass an exam to show they’ve mastered the basics of the business, they proposed.
NAMAA is considering such a credential, said Goldin, the trade group’s president. It’s the kind of self-regulation that could forestall federal oversight, industry sources agreed.
But that might not matter, according to Tom McGovern, a vice president at Cypress Associates LLC, a New York-based advisory firm that raises capital for alternative lenders and merchant cash advance companies.
After all, McGovern noted, Barney Frank, former Democratic U.S. representative from Massachusetts and co-author of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, has gone on record as saying that piece of legislation focuses on consumers and does not govern business-to-business dealings like loans or advances to merchants.
That lack of regulation over B2B deals seems likely to continue, “especially in the world we’re in now with a Republican Congress,” said a broker who asked to remain nameless.
However, some members of the industry would welcome federal regulation as a way of barring incompetent or unscrupulous brokers. An agency patterned after the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, know as FINRA, could do the job, suggested a broker who requested anonymity.
Whether a government regulator or an industry- supported association should police the market, problems could remain stubbornly in place, some said.
Many doubt an association could build the consensus required for united action on some issues – stacking in particular.
For one thing, cleaning up the business could reduce profits for brokerages that profit from stacking, noted a broker who asked that his name not appear in the article.
“Everybody wants to make money,” he said. “Everybody’s out for themselves.”
Another barrier to agreement arises because some brokerages fear cooperation could expose their trade secrets, said Sendto’s Kingsley.
Moreover, unscrupulous brokers want to keep their employees uninformed of the industry’s potential for big profits, Kingsley said. That way they suppress compensation for an underclass of prequalifiers who work the early stages of deals, she noted.
Prequalifiers earn from $150 to $500 a week, depending upon the location, and don’t qualify for benefits like health insurance, Kingsley said. Once they realize what a tiny portion of the profits they’re receiving, brokers terminate the prequalifiers and many go on to become brokers themselves, she observed.
Closers who take over from prequalifiers to wrap up the sale can earn up to 50% or occasionally even 60% of a brokerage house’s commission – if the closer originates the deal and sees it through to completion unassisted, Kingsley said.
Eventually, closers realize they could keep all of the commission if they strike out on their own and become brokers, she noted.
In a way, the progression from prequalifier to broker or closer represents a market correction. And many seasoned industry participants believe market forces will also work out other problems the influx of new brokers is causing.
A large number of the new brokers simply won’t last long because they don’t understand the industry, they’re stacking deals and they’re signing up merchants that won’t stay in business.
Meanwhile, funders are beginning to perform background checks on brokers to make sure they’re dealing with reputable people, sources said.
Some funders protect themselves by simply declining to do business with new brokers, according to observers.
And many new brokers are learning the industry with the help of experienced brokerages that act as mentors and conduits and call themselves super brokers, super ISOs, broker consultants or syndicators.
“So what I’m saying is, ‘Guys, let’s not compete. Let’s grow parallel together,’ ” Weitz said of United Capital Source’s relationships with new brokers. The company began working with new brokers in October 2014.
In such relationships new brokers get advice from the more seasoned brokers. The older brokers can also provide the newcomers with services that include accounting, marketing and reporting, he said.
New brokers can also benefit from the customer relationship management platform that United Capital Source developed, Weitz said.
The new brokers also capitalize on the older brokers’ relationships with funders. Established brokers have earned better rates and terms because of reputation and volume, Weitz noted. Companies like his also know which lenders work more quickly and thus capture more deals, he added.
Older brokers can also steer new brokers away from newer funders that offer shorter terms and demand higher rates, Weitz said. Of the 30 to 40 companies that call themselves funders, only eight or 10 deserve the name, he contended.
The less-respectable funders place only a small amount of money in a few deals, he said.
Newer brokers become aware of their need for help from more experienced brokers when they see how many sales they’re failing to close, Weitz said.
The new brokers also come to realize that the puzzle of running a brokerage office has a lot more pieces than they may have thought, said Kingsley.
The percentage of the commission that the older broker charges can vary, according to Weitz.
“If someone needs a lot of hand holding and a lot more resources, they would get a different structure,” he said.
While Weitz said his company plans to acquire only about 10% of its volume through new brokers, Sendto specializes in helping newcomers. Sendto’s Kingsley described the company as “a turnkey solution that provides training and placement of deals. It’s for new brokers or sales offices that do not have what they need to be part of this industry.”
There’s room for entrants because not all merchants know about alternative business financing, said McGovern.
The market can even seem like it doesn’t have enough brokers in the estimation of experienced players skillful enough to find the many merchants who haven’t been introduced to the industry, said Ramirez of Core Financial.
And the big banks don’t really want the business because the deals aren’t big enough to interest them, McGovern said.
But the potential profits look promising to outsiders disillusioned with sales jobs in other industries.
Some experienced brokers even prefer to hire salespeople from outside the alternative financing industry, noted Kingsley. That way, they avoid employees who have picked up bad habits at other brokerage houses, she said.
Long-time members of the industry sometimes enjoy belittling new entrants who can seem clueless about the business they’re trying to master, noted Ramirez of Core Financial. But he recalled the time not so long ago that he himself had a lot to learn.
And regardless of how unsophisticated they may seem, new players have a role, McGovern said.
“They are performing a service,” he maintained. “They’re like the missionaries of the industry going out to untapped areas of the market – of which there are many – and drumming up business.”
To Kingsley, brokers in general – old and new – are beginning to earn the respect they deserve.
“A lot of people are afraid of the word ‘broker,’ ” she said. “I feel that 2015 is the year of the broker, and people should embrace what a broker can actually do. It’s a great thing.”
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