|11/09/2020||Lendified announces private placement|
|08/21/2020||Lendified closes 1st tranche|
|08/18/2020||Lendified still trying to pull through|
|07/08/2020||Lendified sells JUDI.AI|
|07/06/2020||Lendified latest update|
Toronto-based Lendified has returned from the brink. The Canadian alternative small business lender has a new CEO and has resumed the origination of new loans.
In June, deBanked published a story that described the company’s impending doom after it was placed in default with its credit facilities, could no longer originate new loans, and had virtually no capital to continue its operations.
The company was since able to partially recapitalize and John Gillberry has come on as the new CEO. Gillberry is described as a “seasoned senior executive with nearly three decades of experience in areas of managing the finance and operations of special situations and venture capital backed enterprises.”
In an announcement, Gillberry expressed optimism for Lendified’s future. “I am excited about the opportunity that Lendified presents and it is uniquely positioned to take advantage of a very large and underserved market,” he said. “The credit underwriting foundation that we are starting from is distinct from any other in this market and we are pleased to be once again originating new loans to independent business owners.”
The company’s primary senior lenders have resumed financing new loans.
On June 29th, deBanked ran a story titled Canadian Small Business Lender Looks Doomed In Wake of COVID-19. It was about Lendified. Several of the company’s top executives had recently resigned and its financial situation was dismal.
“Lendified is in default in respect of credit facilities with its secured lenders,” the company disclosed at the time. “Forbearance and standstill agreements are being discussed with these senior lenders, with none indicating to date that any enforcement action is expected although each is in a position to do so, however, no formal agreements in this regard have been concluded as of the date hereof.”
Among the company’s last ditch plans to recapitalize was the raising of equity through a private placement. But that was made impossible by the Ontario Securities Commission who entered an order prohibiting any such transaction for “failing to file certain outstanding continuous disclosure documents in a timely manner.” The filing failures, of course, were due to the issues they were facing. This order just compounded them.
The Commission partially revoked the order on August 14th, paving the way for the private placement to continue. Lendified is only seeking up to $1.4M, the proceeds of which would be used to “pay, among other things, outstanding fees owed to the Company’s auditors and other service providers, public and filing fees, legacy accounts payable as well as for general working capital purposes.” The company further said that “Completion of the Private Placement will help the Company in its efforts to prepare and file the outstanding continuous disclosure documents with the applicable regulatory authorities.”
Lendified offers no guarantees that the private placement will be successful. The company sold off a subsidiary, JUDI.AI, in July.
On Thursday, Lendified’s President & Director Kevin Clark tendered his resignation effective July 3rd. He follows other board members Edward Kelterborn and Benjy Katchen whose resignations went into effect on June 25th. Company CFO Norman Tan previously resigned on June 9th and no replacement has been named.
COVID-19’s arrival came at a difficult time for Lendified. Before COVID, the company had never turned a profit or reported positive cashflow in its entire history.
“Lendified is in default in respect of credit facilities with its secured lenders. Forbearance and standstill agreements are being discussed with these senior lenders, with none indicating to date that any enforcement action is expected although each is in a position to do so,” the company said. “However, no formal agreements in this regard have been concluded as of the date hereof.”
The company expressed that it would not be able to continue operations if it was not able to finalize a forbearance on its defaults AND simultaneously obtain an immediate infusion of capital to fund its operations.
Lendified’s board of directors is presently considering selling its assets or its entire business in order to raise revenue.
A wholly owned subsidiary of Lendified, Judi.ai, an automated loan underwriting platform, is poised to cease operations as a result of a cashflow shortfall. “[Judi.ai] requires cash infusions in the amount of approximately $100,000 per month in order to maintain operations,” Lendified reported. “Its cash reserves at this time are approximately $80,000. At this time, the Company is not in a position to continue to fund the Business and there can be no assurances that it will be able to do so in the future.”
The company went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange on May 26th via a reverse merger and has since experienced a 95% drop in its share price. The company’s market cap on Monday hovered around $700,000 USD.
This week the Canadian government announced its coronavirus economic relief plans. Among them are two initiatives that aim to assist small businesses: the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA).
The first of these is a wage subsidy that will cover up to 75% of a company’s payroll. The hope being that this will postpone the overcrowding and clogging of the Canadian unemployment benefits system, known as employment insurance. However this program appears to appeal to only certain types of businesses. With subcontractors not qualifying as part of payroll, there is the fear that CERB could leave many small businesses and startups that rely on freelancers unprotected. As well as this, there is a requirement that the company’s most recent month of revenue be at least 30% less than what it was at the same time the previous year. This specification again acting as an obstacle to startups and high growth businesses.
The second is a loan program that is capped at CAN$40,000 with 0% interest for the first two and a half years, and then 5% annual interest beginning January 1, 2023. There will be an opportunity for the remainder of the loan to be forgiven if the business has repaid 75% by December 31, 2022.
According to Smarter Loans’ Vlad Sherbatov, the situation in Canada mirrors what is happening in the US with regards to PPP. “There are very little details available about how people are going to apply to get the funds,” the President and Co-Founder explained. “Nobody knows what’s actually happening and nobody knows when business owners can actually anticipate to receive any funding.”
Expressing frustration that the Canadian government chose to ignore non-bank lenders in favor of allowing Canadian banks like BMO, RBC, and TD to distribute the funds, Sherbatov noted that it is the lenders who have the technology and processes to speedily disperse capital. “We did a survey that said almost 50% of business owners said they would shut down in less that four weeks without additional help … so it’s not that it’s just fine that there is help available, it’s how fast can [business owners] get the help, because every day that goes by makes the situation worse.”
Speaking to Kevin Clark, President of Lendified, he echoed Sherbatov’s concern.
“It’s all good that the government is making these decisions, but the capital has to move and the programs have to be in effect. So announcing these things is one thing, actually practicing them and executing them is another. There’s a time lag that could potentially put companies out of business and so, for us, it’s about trying to connect with a lot of these borrowers to say, ‘What can we do to help you with payments?’ But at the same time, we don’t want deferments for a long period of time because then our revenue base is challenged. So the fintech lenders all have significant challenges at hand, because defaults that move from within the normal course of between 5 and 10%, say now to between 15 and 25%, or even higher, are significant challenges for the operations of our business.”
Also a member of the Canadian Lenders Association, Clark is involved in the CLA covid-19 working group that was launched in March. Formed with the intention to assist the government’s approach to capital distribution, Clark was disappointed with the government’s decision to exclude non-bank lenders after the group reached out to both the Ministry of Finance and the Business Development Corporation of Canada. And with no government funding operation to assist, Clark, like many lenders in Canada, is turning toward his existing customers, hoping to keep their heads above water.
“What we’re all doing independently is trying to work with our customers to give them guidance on what is going on in Ottawa. And so most of us have made website adjustments to give some education to interested parties on what’s available in terms of subsidy. We’re trying to provide support to our customers through deferments and so forth, just as every lending institution is doing these days. It’s just that I think it’s harder for us and smaller firms that don’t have the margin and the wherewithal to withstand any sort of significant timeline in this situation. So it’s a little bit of week by week for us, trying to manage our own costs and so forth and keep our customer bases as happy and healthy as we can.”
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.
Today the CLA announced the winners for its 2019 Leaders in Lending Awards. Highlighting the efforts of exceptional players within the fintech and alternative finance fields, the awards seek to “celebrate the industry and celebrate all the cool fintech things happening in Canada,” according to the CLA’s Strategic Partnerships Director Tal Schwartz.
Now in its second year, the Leaders in Lending Awards are split into two categories, with one focusing on the efforts of companies in the industry and the other on individual executives. 2019 will be the first year that the latter of these categories is incorporated. The awards will be imparted to their new owners at the Canadian Lenders Summit later this month, where a special prize will also be given to one winner from each category.
Among the winners in the first category are Borrowell, IOU Financial, and Michele Romanow’s Clearbanc. While making an appearance in the second category are David Gens of Merchant Growth, Paul Pitcher from SharpShooter Funding, Smarter Loans’ Vlad Sherbatov, and Kevin Clark from Lendified.
The criteria for the awards were based upon three tenets, these being a commitment to the “use of advanced fintech solutions” to solve challenges in the lending process, the “implementation of new or innovating lending strategies or business models,” and evidence of successful outcomes following the implementation of new fintech or a new business model.
When asked about possible expansions to the awards in the future, Schwartz was receptive to the idea of covering more ground with the prizes, saying “I definitely think we’ll expand the categories.” Mentioning that there’s a host of niches that are worth highlighting, such as blockchain, psychographic credit scoring, and credit rebuilding, which deserve their day in the sun.
“We have a mandate as a trade group to celebrate the industry,” emphasized Schwartz. And that celebration will be taking place on November 20th at the Canadian Lenders Summit in Toronto.
As the heat of the Toronto sun split the stones outside, the crowd inside the Omni King Edward’s seventeenth-floor Crystal Ballroom mingled and munched as part of deBanked’s most recent CONNECT event.
The first of its kind to be held in Toronto, the CONNECT series are half-day events that take place in both San Diego and Miami as well. Despite not being as established as the latter two, Toronto proved just as eventful, with a variety of speakers and topics broached, as well as a host of attendees from differing backgrounds making an appearance. It was par for the course for an inaugural deBanked show with the attendance figures being reminiscent of deBanked’s first ever event in the USA, a market that’s 10x the size.
The day was kicked off by entrepreneur, a dragon on the Canadian Dragons’ Den series, and co-founder of Clearbanc, Michele Romanow, whose anecdotes detailed the adventures that accompany the beginning of a startup. Regaling the audience with the story of Evandale Caviar, Romanow began with telling the room of a post-college venture that saw her working tooth and nail to secure a fishing license, studying YouTube fish gutting tutorials that were exclusively in Russian, and getting her hands dirty with the other co-founders when the time came to put their time spent online to use.
But it wasn’t all blood and glory for Romanow, as the tale shifted from one of youthful expansion to one of reflection and acceptance of the unknown. Speaking on the effect of tech giants in various fields, Romanow explained that “we have no idea of how these industries will shape out.” The likes of Uber and AirBnb never planned change the world, just to change a product and thus solve a problem, and their meteoric rises are unpredictable as a result. Iteration, rather than innovation, is what drives a company forward according to Romanow.
And this sentiment was brought further along with the following panel, which featured Vlad Sherbatov of Smarter Loans, Paul Pitcher of SharpShooter Funding, and SEO expert Paul Teitelman, speaking on the trials and novelties of the sales and marketing scene. Offering wisdom on various aspects of the field, the three men covered the need to go beyond the traditional forms of advertising, instead looking outward towards unorthodox methods of marketing; the hardships that come with the grind of a sales job; and the role that SEO can play when raising public awareness of your company; respectively.
“It’s a matter of spreading the word,” one conference goer noted when asked about the sales panel afterwards. “Businesses have to know who we are, and we’re working on that.”
Similarly, Martin Fingerhut and Adam Atlas discussed the existing legal topics of note to Canadian alternative financing companies, as well as those incoming rulings that may be worth knowing about. Covering both the English-speaking provinces and Quebec, the duo gave a comprehensive crash course on the legal landscape of the industry, highlighting laws unique to the regions. Aaron Iannello of Top Funding considered the talk to be particularly engaging, commending it for relaying information that might otherwise be unknown to American companies.
Following this, Kevin Clark, President of Lendified, took to the stage to talk about the importance of the Canadian Lenders Association (CLA). Saying that in the absence of a regulatory body, the CLA seeks to offer guidance to those companies who are looking for it. Clark asserted that “it’s a good thing for our industry to have oversight from a regularly body,” and that he looks forward to the day when one is established.
And before wrapping up the speakers for the day, Clark was joined by IOU Financial’s President, Robert Gloer, to discuss contemporary risk management. Covering everything from the next recession to the emergence of AI, the pair, which accumulatively have been in the industry for decades, offered knowledge learnt from years of experience in both the pre- and post-crash eras.
And the prophesizing of what will be the next big episode to shake the industry continued beyond the day’s scheduled agenda as many attendees continued on well into the evening at smaller networking functions offsite.
As the sun started to touchdown on the tips of Toronto’s skyscrapers, the salvo of excited conversation briefly harmonized to produce a singular axiom, that there was an abundance of opportunity in Canada.
Canadians have been slow out of the gate when it comes to mass adoption of alternative financing, but times are changing, presenting opportunities and challenges for those who focus on this growing market.
Historically, the Canadian credit market has traditionally been dominated by a few main banks; consumers or businesses that weren’t approved for funding through them didn’t have a multitude of options. The door, however, is starting to unlock, as awareness increases about financing alternatives and speed and convenience become more important, especially to younger Canadians.
Indeed, the Canada alternative finance market experienced considerable growth in 2017—the latest period for which data is available. Market volume reached $867.6 million, up 159 percent from $334.5 million in 2016, according to a report by the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance and the Ivey Business School at Western University. Balance sheet business lending makes up the largest proportion of Canadian alternative finance, accounting for 57 percent of the market; overall, this model grew 378 percent to $494 million in 2017, according to the report.
Industry participants say the growth trajectory in Canada is continuing. It’s being driven by a number of factors, including tightening credit standards by banks, growing market demand for quick and easy funding and broader awareness of alternative financing products.
To meet this growing demand, new alternative financing companies are coming to the market all the time, says Vlad Sherbatov, president and co-founder of Smarter Loans, which works with about three dozen of Canada’s top financing companies. He predicts that over time more players will enter the market—from within Canada and also from the U.S.—and that product types will continue to grow as demand and understanding of the benefits of alternative finance become more well-known. Notably, 42 percent of firms that reported volumes in Canada were primarily headquartered in the U.S., according to the Cambridge report.
To be sure, the Canadian market is much smaller than the U.S. and alternative finance isn’t ever expected to overtake it in size or scope. That’s because while the country is huge from a geographic standpoint, it’s not as densely populated as the U.S., and businesses are clustered primarily in a few key regions.
To put things in perspective, Canada has an estimated population of around 37 million compared with the U.S.’s roughly 327 million. On the business front, Canada is similar to California in terms of the size and scope of its small business market, estimates Paul Pitcher, managing partner at SharpShooter, a Toronto-based funder, who also operates First Down Funding in Annapolis, Md.
Nonetheless, alternative lenders and funders in Canada are becoming more of a force to be reckoned with by a number of measures. Indeed, a majority of Canadians now look to online lenders as a viable alternative to traditional financial institutions, according to the 2018 State of Alternative Lending in Canada, a study conducted by online comparison service Smarter Loans.
Of the 1,160 Canadians surveyed about the loan products they have recently received, only 29 percent sought funding from a traditional financial institution, such as a bank, the study found. At the same time, interest in alternative loans has been on an upward trajectory since 2013. Twenty-four percent of respondents indicated they sought their first loan with an alternative lender in 2018. Overall, nearly 54 percent of respondents submitted their first application with a non-traditional lender within the past three years, according to the report.
Like in the U.S., there’s a mix of alternative financing companies in Canada. A number of companies offer factoring and invoicing and payday loans. But there’s a growing number focused on consumer and business lending as well as merchant cash advance.
Some major players in the Canadian alternative lending or funding landscape include Fairstone Financial (formerly CitiFinancial Canada), an established non-bank lender that recently began offering online personal loans in select provinces; Lendified, an online small business lender; Thinking Capital, an online small business lender and funder; easyfinancial, the business arm of alternative financial company goeasy Ltd. that focuses on lending to non-prime consumers; OnDeck, which offers small business financing loans and lines of credit; and Progressa, which provides consolidation loans to consumers.
By comparison, the merchant cash advance space has fewer players; it is primarily dominated by Thinking Capital and less than a dozen smaller companies, although momentum in the space is increasing, industry participants say.
“The U.S. got there 10 years ago, we’re still catching up,” says Avi Bernstein, chief executive and co-founder of 2M7 Financial Solutions, a Toronto-based merchant cash advance company.
In terms of opportunities, Canada has a population that is very used to dealing with major banks and who are actively looking for alternative solutions that are faster and more convenient, says Sherbatov of Smarter Loans. This is especially true for the younger population, which is more tech-savvy and prefers to deal with finances on the go, he says.
Because the alternative financing landscape is not as developed in Canada, new and innovative products can really make a significant impact and capture market share. “We think this is one of the key reasons why there’s been such an influx of international companies, from the U.S. and U.K. for example, that are looking to enter the Canadian market,” he says.
Just recently, for example, Funding Circle announced it would establish operations in Canada during the second half of 2019. “Canada’s stable, growing economy coupled with good access to credit data and progressive regulatory environment made it the obvious choice,” said Tom Eilon, managing director of Funding Circle Canada, in a March press release announcing the expansion. “The most important factor [in coming to Canada] though was the clear need for additional funding options among Canadian SMEs,” he said.
OnDeck, meanwhile, recently solidified its existing business in Canada through the purchase of Evolocity Financial Group, a Montreal-based small business funder. The combined firm represents a significantly expanded Canadian footprint for both companies. OnDeck began doing business in Canada in 2014 and has originated more than CAD$200 million in online small business loans there since entering the market. For its part, Evolocity has provided over CAD$240 million of financing to Canadian small businesses since 2010.
“There is an enormous need among underserved Canadian small businesses to access capital quickly and easily online, supported by trusted and knowledgeable customer service experts,” Noah Breslow, OnDeck’s chairman and chief executive, said in a December 2018 press release announcing the firms’ nuptials.
There are also a number of home grown Canadian companies that are benefiting from the growth in the alternative financing market.
2M7 Financial Solutions, which focuses on merchant cash advances, is one of these companies. It was founded in 2008 to meet the growing credit needs within the small and medium-sized business market at a time when businesses were having trouble in this regard.
But only in the past few years has MCA in Canada really started picking up to the point where Bernstein, the chief executive, says the company now receives applications from about 200 to 300 companies a month, which represents more than 50 percent growth from last year.
“We’re seeing more quality businesses, more quality merchants applying and the average funding size has gone up as well,” he says.
NAVIGATING THROUGH CHALLENGES
Despite heightened growth possibilities, there are also significant headwinds facing companies that are seeking to crack the Canadian alternative financing market. For various reasons, some companies have even chosen to pull back or out of Canada and focus their efforts elsewhere. Avant, for example, which offers personal loans in the U.S., is no longer accepting new loan applications in Canada at this time, according to its website. Capify also recently exited the Canadian business it entered in 2007, even as it continues to bulk up in the U.K. and Australia.
One of the challenges alternative lenders face in Canada is distrust of change. Since Canadians are so used to dealing with only a few major financial institutions to handle all their finances, they are skeptical to change this behavior, especially when the customer experience shifts from physical branches to online apps and mobile devices, says Sherbatov of Smarter Loans. He notes that adoption of fintech products in Canada has lagged in recent years, partially because there has been a lack of awareness and trust in new financial products available.
One way Smarter Loans has been working to strengthen this trust is by launching a “Smarter Loans Quality Badge,” which acts as a certification for alternative financing companies on its platform. It is issued to select companies that meet specified quality standards, including transparency in fees, responsible lending practices, customer support and more, he says.
The Canadian Lenders Association, whose members include lenders and merchant cash advance companies, has also been working to promote the growing industry and foster safe and ethical lending practices. For example, it recently began rolling out the SMART Box pricing disclosure model and comparison tool that was introduced to small businesses in the U.S. in 2016.
Another challenge that impacts alternative lenders in the consumer space is having restricted access to alternative data sources. Because of especially strict consumer privacy laws, access is “substantially more limited” than it is in any other geography,” says Jason Mullins, president and chief executive of goeasy, a lending company based in Mississauga, Ontario, that provides consumer leasing, unsecured and secured personal loans and merchant point-of-sale financing.
From a lending perspective, goeasy focuses on the non-prime consumer—generally those with credit scores of under 700. Mullins says the market consists of roughly 7 million Canadians, about a quarter of the population of Canadians with credit scores. The non-prime consumer market is huge and has tremendous potential, he says, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
Another issue facing alternative lenders is the relative difficulty of raising loan capital from institutional lenders, says Ali Pourdad, co-founder and chief executive of Progressa, which recently reached the $100 million milestone in funded loans for underserved Canadian consumers. “The onus is on the alternative lenders to ensure they have good lending practices and are underwriting responsibly,” he says.
What’s more, household debt to income ratios in Canada are getting progressively worse, with Canadians taking on too much debt relative to what they can afford, Pourdad says. As the situation has been deteriorating over time, there is inherently more risk to originators as well as the capital that backs them. “Originators, now more than ever, have to be cautious about their lending practices and ensure their underwriting is sound and that they are being responsible,” he says.
On the small business side of alternative lending, getting the message out to would-be customers can be a challenge in Canada. In U.S. there are thousands of ISOs reaching out to businesses, whereas in Canada, most funders have a direct sales force, with a much smaller portion of their revenue coming from referral partners, says Adam Benaroch, president of CanaCap, a small business funder based in Montreal.
He predicts this will change over time as the business matures and more funders enter the space, giving ISOs the ability to offer a broader array of financing products at competitive rates. “I think we’re going to see pricing go down and more opportunities develop, and as this happens, the business is going to grow, which is exactly what has happened in the U.S,” he says.
Generally speaking, Canadian businesses are still somewhat skeptical of merchant cash advance and require considerable hand-holding to become comfortable with the idea.
“You can’t wait for them to come to you, you have to go to them and explain what the products are,” says Pitcher of SharpShooter, the MCA funding company.
While Pitcher predicts more companies will continue to enter the Canadian alternative financing market, he doesn’t think it will be completely overrun by new entrants—the market simply isn’t big enough, he says. “It’s not for everyone,” he says.