|10/18/2021||Merchant Growth secures C$4.1M equity cap|
|07/19/2021||Merchant Growth acquires Company Capital|
|02/16/2021||Merchant Growth launches LOC product|
|09/24/2020||Merchant Growth hires Kevin Clark as CRO|
|12/03/2019||Merchant Growth Partners w/ goeasy Ltd|
This month Merchant Growth, the Vancouver-based alternative finance company, announced its partnership with goeasy Ltd. that will see Merchant Growth’s services being offered in goeasy branches throughout Canada. Beginning with British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan in 2019, Merchant Growth aims to have expanded to the remaining provinces in the first quarter of 2020.
Under the partnership, goeasy will receive compensation from Merchant Growth for all loans made through them while Merchant Growth will provide the capital.
“goeasy is a unique Canadian success and they’ve done that by being disciplined managers, by putting their customers first, and by building a great reputation for themselves in the industry,” said David Gens, Merchant Growth’s President and CEO. “And what we see in them is an ideal partner in that they have the market reach in terms of brand recognition and locations around the country.”
It is the latter of these factors that make the deal stand out. Given the industry’s standard of digital applications, goeasy and Merchant Growth’s return to brick and mortar branches that offer live human managers, clerks, and even physical paper, marks a turn back towards more historical methods of doing business.
Gens commented on this, stating that “there’s something to be said for face-to-face interactions and for that reason I don’t think you’re ever going to go down to having no bank branches … Having a physical location where you can chat with people about your financial needs is something that will always exist as far as I can see.”
Merchant Advance Capital, which trumpets itself as Canada’s fastest and most transparent small business financier, is rebranding as Merchant Growth.
The company has offices in Vancouver, BC and Toronto, ON and was founded in 2009.
“I founded our company out of my apartment 10 years ago,” David Gens is quoted as saying in a company announcement. Gens is the company’s president & CEO. “Back then our mission was simply to provide credit to small businesses, and we did that by providing one product, called a ‘merchant advance’. Today, we offer a comprehensive suite of financing solutions delivered with unparalleled convenience. In doing so, our mission has expanded to allowing business owners to achieve unconstrained growth, while reducing the administrative stress of running a business. As we’ve transformed our focus from one credit product to this far-reaching mission, we felt the need for our name to reflect this. We are Merchant Growth.”
Gens has been an oft-quoted source in deBanked over the years. His company closed on a $30 million debt facility last year with Comvest Credit Partners.
Shopify released a treasure trove of data from customer surveys collected in the past three years. The firm reached a milestone of 1 million businesses using their platforms this year. The data Shopify gathered paints an accurate portrait of a dramatically going-digital world.
“2020 has accelerated the industry by a decade, permanently altering the way entrepreneurs start, run, and grow businesses, as well as how consumers choose to shop and pay,” President of Shopify, Harley Finkelstein, said in an introduction. “Consider this report your crystal ball into the future of this industry.”
Finkelstein put forth five key predictions based on the trends Shopify found in the data. Be prepared, Finkelstein warns, for a new generation of retailers and consumers to forever change the world of commerce.
Key prediction one: Young consumers will change the business landscape as eCommerce charges ahead. Shopify predicts that younger shoppers changing their habits due to the pandemic will likely shop this way from now on. 67% of shoppers under 35 shifted to shopping online, compared to 57% of the 35-55 bracket.
Overall, 84% shopped online this year, compared to 65% in person. 53% of those that shopped online did so because they wanted to avoid crowds, 46% of consumers felt uncomfortable shopping in person.
Key two: Physical retail is transforming, giving local businesses new advantages. Consumer reports showed 62% of people prefer contactless purchases for in-store purchasing in 2020, an increase of 122% during the pandemic. Go figure. 94% of the point-of-sale retail lost in the first six weeks of shutdowns was replaced with online sales.
Key three: Consumers want to shop independently but are not. Businesses will adapt to make it easier to buy from a small business. Half of the consumers look for independent business owners, while 65% say they support small businesses. It turns out that only 29% of consumers shopped at a small business during the pandemic, giving ground to findings that small business is having trouble adapting to online-only commerce compared to larger chains.
Independent retailers need to make customers put their money where their mouth is. Shopify said that fast and free shipping could help. 59% of online shoppers say free delivery would improve their online shopping. 75% of merchants who generated sales in March through September did so with free shipping options on their site.
Key Four: Consumers will vote with their wallets. 53% prefer environmentally sustainable products, and 49% want the retailer to donate proceeds to charity when they make a purchase. The fourth of consumers that did buy local this year did so to support their community and local economy and create jobs.
Finally, our favorite, Key Five: Modern financial solutions will disrupt business and consumer banking finance and lending. Shopify found evidence for growth in their merchant financial platforms. 24% that applied for financing agreed with the 36% that faced problems from COVID-19 by stating: “My bank or financial institution does understand the needs of my business.”
The quality of user experience plays a massive factor for merchants; accordingly, 48% say “a good online bank or mobile app experience” is a top-three feature, while 62% of marketplace sellers say the same.
The findings conclude that explaining the trends was shared to encourage businesses to use the info to adapt and change, as they have been the past year.
NEW YORK, New York., May 29, 2020 — CFG Merchant Solutions (“CFGMS”), a leading financier of small and medium-sized enterprises (“SMEs”), announced today that the company is building upon its partnership with Arena Investors, LP (“Arena”), in conjunction with Ceteris Portfolio Services (“Ceteris), an Arena servicing affiliate, in servicing and providing liquidity to Platinum Rapid Funding’s (“PRF”) merchant portfolio. CFGMS has been a leading capital provider to SMEs and an originator of advances to growing merchants, providing in excess of $400 million merchant cash advances since 2015. Arena has been CFGMS’s primary capital partner since 2016.
CFGMS and Arena are determined to prioritize the needs of PRF’s existing customers in the wake of the COVID-19 crises and its resulting impact on small businesses across the country.
“Arena is pleased to continue its partnership with CFGMS and its senior management team consisting of CEO, Andrew Coon, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel, Robert Martini, and President, William Gallagher. Together, we remain deeply committed to serving the needs of PRF’s existing customers, particularly for ongoing financing and liquidity needs in an environment when even much larger businesses struggle to attract capital,” said Victor Dupont, who leads Arena’s investments in the financing of the SME sector. “We welcome further involvement with PRF’s customers and their affiliated ISOs and are committed to working collaboratively with all throughout the COVID-19 crises and beyond”.
“Arena and its affiliates have built a reputation as a group that combines uniquely flexible capital with broad-based expertise in servicing, resolutions, and SME finance,” said Coon. “So, while we excel at sourcing, originations, and underwriting, we felt that they brought a critical level of IP and know-how that is uniquely suited to benefit all parties in today’s environment. Combining forces to offer a broader set of servicing solutions to the MCA market segment made complete sense.”
Jonathan Pike, CEO of Ceteris, added: “Ceteris is excited to work with CFGMS and Arena by offering best-in-class servicing strategies and assisting merchants in a difficult economic environment.”
The Small Business Association (“SBA”) estimates that traditional banks still reject approximately 90 percent of SME loan applications. Since 2015, CFGMS has emerged as a proven platform that leverages sales partner relationships, analytics, and proprietary underwriting to provide SMEs with a straightforward and streamlined access to critical funding. The company addresses the fundamental capital needs of SME owners across a broad credit spectrum and through every stage of a business’s life cycle.
SMEs across a wide variety of industries that include restaurants, retail stores, salons, spas, dry cleaners, auto body shops, and professional offices. All of these businesses, and more, rely on CFGMS to secure the necessary capital they need to grow.
For questions or funding solutions, please contact:
– William Gallagher
– (646) 880-3817
– Ryan Banda
– (856) 545-8322
Headquartered in New York, NY, CFGMS specializes in providing financing to support the growth and development of underserved small-to-medium sized businesses that lack access to traditional bank funding. Founded in 2010, CFGMS’s affiliated company, CapFlow Funding Group, provides factoring, purchase order finance, and asset-based lending solutions. CFGMS and CapFlow have together provided over $1 billion in liquidity solutions to their SME clients. For more information please visit www.cfgmerchantsolutions.com
About Arena Investors, LP
Arena Investors is a privately held, SEC-registered, global alternative investment firm which combines mandate flexibility, proprietary sourcing and systems-plus-servicing to enable solutions for those seeking capital. The firm was founded in 2015 and is headquartered in NewYork with additional offices in Jacksonville, London, and San Francisco. For more information, please visit www.arenaco.com.
About Ceteris Portfolio Services
Ceteris is a nationally licensed servicing company providing debt recovery solutions and other related services for consumers and commercial businesses across a broad range of financial assets. Ceteris provides first- and third-party revenue cycle management, business process outsourcing and portfolio backup servicing to heavily regulated, high volume industries including banking, automotive finance, credit card, equipment leasing, medical, telecommunications, utilities, retail and other industries. For more information please visit www.ceterisholdco.com.
TBF Financial buys $100 million of charged-off loans, leases and merchant cash advances from fintechs, banks, lessorsJanuary 14, 2020
DEERFIELD, IL, Jan. 14, 2020 – Commercial debt sales by fintech lenders, equipment leasing companies and banks are on the rise, with major companies striking deals to sell non-performing loans, leases and merchant cash advances after charge-off, reports Brett Boehm, CEO of TBF Financial.
TBF closed transactions in December totaling $100 million. The three largest deals were with a leading e-commerce company that acquired and liquidated a merchant cash advance business; a captive leasing company that provides financing for transportation equipment and other assets; and one of the 20 largest banks in the nation.
“One reason for the rise in commercial debt selling is the tremendous growth of online alternative lenders,” he explains. “As their business originations have increased, so have the number of accounts that eventually default. By selling commercial debt at charge-off instead of spending years trying to collect it, they can put that money back into making loans and merchant cash advances where they generate a much better return.”
“Other lenders and lessors also recognize that it is more productive to concentrate on their core business rather than chase collections past charge-off,” he adds. “Selling commercial debt provides immediate cash and allows collections personnel to focus on accounts that are more likely to be recovered, earlier in the past-due cycle.”
While the December deals may additionally reflect the eagerness of companies to bring in cash before year’s end, Boehm says prospective deals in the pipeline remain high in January, and he anticipates a busy first quarter 2020.
About TBF Financial
TBF Financial is the leading purchaser of non-performing equipment leases, commercial bank loans, online small business loans and merchant cash advances in the U.S. Founded in 1998, the company buys commercial accounts up to four years old from the date of last payment. This includes equipment leases, loans and lines of credit that have personal guarantees, no personal guarantees, are secured, unsecured, pre-agency, post-agency, pre-litigation, and reduced to judgment. For more information, visit tbfgroup.com or contact Brett Boehm, CEO at email@example.com, 847-267-0660 or via LinkedIn.
Carla Young Harrington
Susan Carol Creative for TBF Financial
Last year, when Kevin Frederick struck out on his own to form his own catering company in Annapolis, the veteran caterer knew that he’d need a food trailer for his business to succeed.
He reckoned that he had a good case for a $50,000 small-business loan. The Annapolis-based entrepreneur boasted stellar personal credit, $30,000 in the bank, and a track record that included 35 years of experience in his chosen profession. More impressively, his newly minted company—Chesapeake Celebrations Catering—was on a trajectory to haul in $350,000 in revenues over just eight months of operations in 2018. And, after paying himself a salary, he cleared $60,000 in pre-tax profit.
But Frederick’s business-credit profile was so thin that no bank or business funder would talk to him. So woeful was his lack of business credit, Frederick reports, that his only financing option was paying a broker a $2,000 finder’s fee for a high-interest loan.
Luckily, he says, everything changed when he discovered Nav, an online, credit-data aggregator and financial matchmaker.
Based in Utah, Nav had him spiff up his business credit with Dun & Bradstreet, a top rating agency and a Nav business partner. This was accomplished with a bankcard issued to Frederick’s business by megabank J.P. Morgan Chase. Soon afterward, he says, Nav steered him to Kapitus (formerly Strategic Funding Source), a New York-based lender and merchant cash advance firm that provided some $23,000 in funding.
“They led me in the right direction,” Frederick says of Nav. “A lady there (at Nav) helped me with my credit, warning me that the credit card I’d been using had an effect on my personal credit. Then she led me to Kapitus, all probably within a week.”
Now, Frederick has his food trailer. He reports that its total cost—$14,000 for the trailer, which came “with a concession window, mill-finished walls, and flooring” plus $43,000 in renovations—amounted to $57,000. Equipped with a full kitchen—including refrigeration, sinks, ovens, and a stove—the food trailer can be towed to weddings, reunions, and the myriad parties he caters in the Delmarva Peninsula. In addition, Frederick can also park the trailer at fairgrounds and serve seafood, barbeque, and other viands to the lucrative festival market.
Meanwhile, the caterer’s funders are happy to have him as their new customer. The people at Kapitus, to whom he is making daily payments (not counting weekends and holidays), are especially grateful. “Nav provides a valuable service,” says Seth Broman, vice-president of business development at Kapitus. “They know how to turn coal into diamonds,”
Nav does not charge small businesses for its services. As it gathers data from credit reporting services with which it has partnerships—Experian, TransUnion, Dun and Bradstreet, Equifax—and employs additional metrics, such as cashflow gleaned from an entrepreneur’s bank accounts, Nav earns fees from credit card issuers, lenders and MCA firms.
The company has close ties to financial technology companies that include Kabbage and OnDeck, and also collaborates with MCA funders such as National Funding, Rapid Finance, FundBox, and Kapitus. “We give lenders and funders better-qualified merchants at a lower cost of client acquisition,” says Caton Hanson, Nav’s general counsel and co-founder, adding: “They don’t have to spend as much money on leads.”
As banks have increasingly shunned small-business lending in the decade since the financial crisis, and as the economy has snapped back with a prolonged recovery, alternative funders—particularly unlicensed companies offering lightly regulated, high-cost merchant cash advances (MCAs)—have been piling into the business.
And service companies like Nav—which is funded by nearly $100 million in venture capital and which reports aiding more than 500,000 small businesses since it was founded in 2012—are thriving alongside the booming alternative-funding industry.
Over the past five years, the MCA industry’s financings have been growing by 20% annually, according to 2016 projections by Bryant Park Capital, a Manhattan-based, boutique investment bank. BPC’s specialty finance division handles mergers and acquisitions as well as debt-and-equity capital raising across multiple industries and is one of the few Wall Street firms with an MCA-industry practice. By BPC’s estimates, the MCA industry will have more than doubled its small business funding to $19.2 billion by year- end 2019, up from $8.6 billion in 2014.
Bankrolled by a broad assortment of hedge funds, private equity firms, family offices, and assorted multimillionaire and billionaire investors on the qui vive for outsized returns on their liquid assets, the MCA industry promises a 20%-80% profit rate, reports David Roitblat, president of Better Accounting Solutions, a New York accountancy specializing in the MCA industry. Based on doing the books for some 30 MCA firms, Roitblat reports that the range in profit margins depends on the terms of contracts and a funder’s underwriting skills.
The numerical size and growth of the MCA industry is hard to ascertain, reports Sean Murray, editor of deBanked (this publication), which tracks trends in the industry and sponsors several major conferences. “So much is anecdotal,” Murray says.
Even so, the evidence that MCA companies are proliferating—and prospering—is undeniable. Over the past two years, deBanked’s events, which experience substantial attendance from the MCA industry, have consistently sold out, requiring the events to be moved to larger venues. In Miami, attendance in January this year topped 400-plus attendees, Murray reports, roughly double the crowd that packed the Gale Hotel in 2018.
Similarly, the May, 2019, Broker Fair in New York at the Roosevelt Hotel drew more than 700 participants compared with the sellout crowd of roughly 400 last year in Brooklyn. (Despite ample notice that this year’s Broker Fair at the Roosevelt was sold out and advance tickets were required, as many as 40-50 latecomers sought entry and, unfortunately, had to be turned away.)
The upsurge of capital and the swelling number of entrants into the MCA business has all the earmarks of a gold rush. “Everybody and his brother is trying to get a piece of the action,” asserts Roitblat, the New York accountant.
And there are two ways to hit paydirt in a gold rush. One way is to prospect for gold. But another way is to sell picks and shovels, tents, food, and supplies to the prospectors. “If you can find a way to service the gold rush, you can make a lot of money,” says Kathryn Rudie Harrigan, a management professor and business-strategy expert at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business. “It’s like profiteering in wartime.”
As Professor Harrigan suggests, cashing in on the gold rush by servicing it has parallels across multiple industries. Consider the case of Charles River Laboratories, which has capitalized on the rapid development of the biotechnology industry over the past few decades.
As scientists searched for biologics to battle diseases like cancer and AIDS, the Boston-area company began producing experimental animals known as “transgenic mice.” Informally known as “smart mice,” Charles River’s test animals are specially designed to carry human genes, aiding investigators in their understanding of gene function and genetic responses to diseases and therapeutic interventions. (The smart mouse’s antibodies can also be harvested. “Seven out of the eleven monoclonal antibody drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration between 2006 and 2011,” according to biotechnology.com, “were derived from transgenic mice.”)
In the MCA version of the gold rush, a bevy of law and accounting firms, debt-collection agencies and credit-approval firms, among other service providers, have either sprung to life to undergird the new breed of alternative funder or added expertise to suit the industry’s wants and needs. (This cohort has been joined, moreover, by a superstructure of Washington, D.C.-based trade associations and lobbyists that have been growing like expansion teams in a professional sports league. But their story will have to wait for another day.)
Rather than being exploitative, supporting companies serve as a vital mainstay in an industry’s ecosystem, notes Alfred Watkins, a former World Bank economist and Washington, D.C.-based consultant: “A gold miner can’t mine,” he says, “unless he has a tent and a pickaxe.”
And in the high-risk, high-reward MCA industry, which can have significant default rates depending on the risk model, many funders can’t fund if they don’t have reliable debt collection. Many of the bigger companies, says Paul Boxer, who works on the funding side of the industry, have the capability of collecting on their own. But for many others—particularly the smaller players in the industry—it’s necessary to hire an outside firm.
One of the more widely known collectors for the MCA industry is Kearns, Brinen & Monaghan where Mark LeFevre is president and chief executive. The Dover (Del.)- based firm, LeFevre says, first added MCA funders to its client roster in 2012; but it has only been since 2014 that “business really took off.”
LeFevre won’t say just how many MCA firms have contracted with him, but he estimates that his firm has scaled up its staff 35%-40% over the past five years to meet the additional MCA workload. The industry, LeFevre adds, “is one of the top-growth industries I’ve seen in the 36 years that I’ve been in business.”
He also says, “People in the MCA industry know a lot about where to put money, but collections are not one of their strong points. They need to get a professional. It gives them the free time to make more money while we go in behind them and collect.”
If repeated dunning fails to elicit a satisfactory response, KBM has several collection strategies that strengthen its hand. The big three, LeFevre says, are “negotiation, identifying assets, and litigation.” He adds: “We have a huge database of attorneys who do nothing but file suit on commercial debt internationally. Then we can enforce a judgment. You don’t want someone who just makes a few phone calls.”
Because business has become so competitive, LeFevre says, he won’t discuss his fee schedule. As to KBM’s success rate, he says no tidy figure is available either, but asserts: “Our checks sent to our clients are more than most agencies because of our proprietary collection process.”
Jordan Fein, chief executive at Greenbox Capital in Miami and a KBM client told deBanked: “We work with them. They’re organized and communicate well and they know to collect. They’re on the expensive side, though. I’ve got other agencies that I use that are cheaper.”
Debt-collection firm Merel Corp, a spinoff from the Tamir Law Group in New York, might be a lower-cost alternative. Formed in just the past 18 months to service the growing MCA industry, Merel typically takes 15%-25% of whatever “obligation” it can collect, says Levi Ainsworth, co-chief operating officer.
A successful collection, Ainsworth asserts, really begins with the underwriting process and attention to detail by the funders. “Instead of coming in at the end,” he says, “we try to prevent problems at the start of the process.”
For an MCA firm dealing with an excessive number of defaults, Merel sometimes places one of its employees with the funder to handle “pre-defaults,” for which it charges a lower fee. The collections firm has also built a reputation for not relying on a “confession of judgment.” Now that COJs have been outlawed for out-of-state collections in New York State, Merel’s skills could be more in demand.
Better Accounting Solutions, which has its offices on Wall Street, is another service-provider promising to lighten the workload of MCA firms by providing back-office support. The company is headed by Roitblat, a 36-year- old former rabbinical student turned tax-and-accounting entrepreneur. Since he founded the company with two part-time employees in 2011, it’s ballooned to some 70 employees.
Roitblat does not have all of his firm’s eggs in one MCA basket. His firm handles tax, accounting and bookkeeping work for law firms, the fashion industry, restaurants and architectural firms. Even so, he says, thirty MCA clients— or more than half his clientele—rely on the firm’s expertise, three of whom were just added in June. His best month was January, 2018, when six funders contracted for his services. “Growth in the MCA industry has been explosive,” he says.
MCA accounting work has its own vagaries and oddities. For example, because of the industry’s high default rate, Roitblat notes, a 10%-slice of every merchant’s payment is funneled into a “default reserve account.” And when an actual default occurs, credits are moved from the receivables account to the default reserve account.
Roitblat takes pride that his firm’s MCA work has passed audits from respected accounting firms like Friedman, Cohen, Taubman and Marcum LLP. Moreover, he has helped clients uncover internal fraud and, in one instance, spotted costly flaws in a business model. An early MCA client, Roitblat says, had no idea that “he was losing close to $100,000 a month by spending on Google ads.”
Better Accounting also keeps its rates low. The firm typically assigns a junior accountant to handle clients’ accounts while a senior manager oversees his or her work. “He (Roitblat) does a fantastic job,” says David Lax, managing partner of Orange Advance, a Lakewood (N.J.)-based MCA firm. “They understand the MCA business. And even if your business is small, they can set up the infrastructure and do the work more economically and efficiently than you can. You’d have to create the position of comptroller or senior-level accountant,” Lax adds, “to equal their work.”
Top-notch competence and low rates, Lax says, are not the only reasons he often refers Roitblat’s firm to fellow MCA companies. “The only thing better than their work,” he says, “is the people themselves.”
Whether it’s oil and gas, banking and real estate, construction, health care or high-technology—you name it—lawyers have an important role across nearly every industry. So too with the MCA industry where, as has been shown, there is an especially high demand for attorneys skilled at winning debt-collection cases.
To hear Greenbox’s Fein tell it, a skilled lawyer handling debt collection can write his or her own ticket. A talented attorney, he says, not only retrieves lost money and prevents losses, but enables the funder to “offer the product cheaper than the competition.
“We use a ton of attorneys in 35 states in the U.S. and in Canada,” Fein adds, “and you have no idea how many attorneys we go through until we find a good one.”
Until recently, much of the MCA industry’s success has resulted from a hands-off, laissez faire legal and regulatory environment—particularly the legal interpretation that a merchant cash advance is not a loan. The industry has also benefited from the fact that most credit regulation focused on consumer credit and not on business and commercial financings.
But now, as the MCA industry is maturing and showing up on the radar screens of state legislatures, Congress, regulatory agencies, and the courts, there is heightening demand for legal counsel. In just the past 12 months, California passed a truth-in-lending statute requiring MCA firms not only to clearly state their terms, but to translate the short-term funding costs of MCAs into an annual percentage rate. The state of New York, as has been noted, passed legislation restricting the use of COJs.
Moreover, notes Mark Dabertin, special counsel at Pepper Hamilton, a top national law firm based in Philadelphia, the state of New Jersey is contemplating licensing MCA practitioners. The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently determined in Anderson v. Koch that, because of a “call provision” in a funding contract, a merchant cash advance was actually a loan.
And, Dabertin warns, the Federal Trade Commission, which has the authority to treat a merchant cash advance as a consumer transaction—replete with the full panoply of consumer disclosures and protections—is training its gunsights on the industry. “On May 23,” Dabertin reports in a memo to clients, “the FTC launched an investigation into potentially unfair or deceptive practices in the small business financing industry, including by merchant cash advance providers.”
These pressures from government and the courts will only make doing business more costly and drive up the industry’s barriers to entry. Failing to stay legal, moreover, could not only result in punitive court judgments, but render an MCA firm vulnerable to legal action by their investors.
“It’s inevitable that the industry will evolve,” Dabertin says, and firms in the industry will have to self-police. “They will need to hire counsel and a compliance staff,” he adds. “You can’t just do it by the seat of your pants.”
Authored by Josh Herndon of Global Legal Law Firm
It seems that we are constantly being bombarded by news of the growing industrial hemp and cannabidiol (more commonly known as “CBD”) industries. Indeed, industrial hemp (and products derived therefrom, such as CBD) is now legal, and these industries have experienced substantial growth that is expected to continue into the foreseeable future. As such, the businesses in these industries seem to be ideal candidates for merchant cash advances (an “MCA”, or “MCAs”), as such businesses seem more than capable of repaying an MCA.
However, businesses in the industrial hemp and CBD industries are still subject to federal law, and their ability to sell their product can be impacted by enforcement of federal law by federal agencies. MCA funders partnered with such businesses may be harmed by if those businesses are unable to generate the sales needed to repay MCAs. Nevertheless, the possibility of an enforcement action by a federal agency doesn’t mean that all activities in which a business in the industrial hemp and CBD industries could engage would be a violation of federal law. Indeed, there are industrial hemp-related and CBD-related business- activities that likely would not violate federal law.
In sum, MCA funders considering MCAs to businesses in the industrial hemp and CBD industries need to be aware of all risks associated with such MCAs before making an informed decision about whether to make such MCAs.
Background Regarding The Industrial Hemp And CBD Industries.
A fast-growing, sustainable and inexpensively produced plant, industrial hemp is a variety of cannabis sativa L. that contains less than 0.3 percent plant chemical delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (more commonly known as “THC”). Unlike marijuana (which, like industrial hemp, is derived from cannabis), which is cultivated to yield psychoactive THC, industrial hemp yields more than 25,000 oil and fibrous products that are embraced by farmers as a hedge against lower-value soy, cotton and alfalfa crops.
Industrial hemp was legalized late last year pursuant to the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (also commonly known as the “Farm Bill”). Related thereto, production of industrial hemp skyrocketed in 2018, with 112,000 acres licensed for cultivation, 3,546 cultivation licenses issued, 78,176 total acres cultivated, and 40 universities conducting research.
Numerous products are derived from industrial hemp including CBD, which is an oil-based product that has uses as a nutritional supplement and food additive In fact, seventy-eight percent of all industrial hemp grown in 2018 was for CBD. The market for CBD has exploded, and is expected to continue exploding. According to the Brightfield Group, industrial hemp-based CBD sales hit $170 million in 2016, and it is anticipated that a 55% compound annual growth rate over the five years thereafter will cause the market for industrial hemp-based CBD to crack the billion-dollar mark.
In addition to legalizing industrial hemp, the Farm Bill also guarantees that industrial hemp and industrial hemp-derived products can be imported, exported and transported from state to state like any other crops. The Farm Bill also allows industrial hemp businesses to access insurance and banking.
The FDA And Its Role With Respect To The Industrial Hemp And CBD Industries.
Although the Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp, industrial hemp and CBD businesses do not have carte blanche to take whatever actions they want with respect to their products. That is because the United States Food and Drug Administration (the “FDA”) is responsible for protecting and promoting public health through controlling and supervising food safety, tobacco products, dietary supplements, prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs, cosmetics, animal foods and feed and veterinary products.
The FDA has stressed that although industrial hemp is no longer an illegal substance under federal law, it will continue to regulate cannabis products under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the “FD&C Act”) and Section 351 of the Public Health Service Act. That means that any cannabis product (such as CBD) that is marketed with a claim of therapeutic benefit, regardless of whether it is hemp-derived, must be approved by the FDA before it can be sold. In fact, the FDA has specifically cited deceptive marketing practices as one of its chief concerns, and it has clearly established that selling unapproved products with a therapeutic claim is unlawful.
The FDA has also confirmed that the addition of CBD to food products and dietary supplements is unlawful, even if the CBD is derived from industrial hemp. The FDA’s rationale is that CBD is an active ingredient in FDA-approved drugs, and its addition to the food supply and dietary supplements is illegal under the FD&C Act.
Recent FDA Actions Involving The Industrial Hemp And CBD Industries, And The Impact On Those Industries.
The FDA recently, and dramatically, showed how it will exercise its authority over industrial hemp and CBD products on March 28, 2019, when it (along with the Federal Trade Commission) issued warning letters to three businesses who sell CBD products alleging false, unfounded, unsubstantiated, and egregious health claims about (without sufficient evidence or FDA approval) their products’ ability to limit, treat or cure. The three businesses had advertised a range of CBD-containing supplements, and boasted the ability of those supplements to effectively treat diseases (including cancer, Alzheimer’s and fibromyalgia) and “neuropsychiatric disorders” in both humans and animals. The FDA threatened the three businesses with product seizures, injunctions and sales proceeds reimbursement.
The above actions by the FDA understandably sent shockwaves through the industrial hemp industry, and those actions underscore the risks faced by industrial hemp and CBD companies. For instance, virtually all CBD products that make health and wellness claims, or are deemed a food or drug, are potentially subject to scrutiny from the FDA because such products are mostly sold over the internet and enter the “stream of interstate commerce”. However, it is such health and wellness applications, and food and beverage infusion, that makes CBD and other oil-based hemp derived products attractive to the consumers who are the target market of CBD companies. As such, industrial hemp companies that sell CBD products almost inevitably invite FDA scrutiny as a result of their efforts to market their products to their customers, and potentially imperil their ability to sell their products to those customers.
A Cautionary Tale For MCA Funders.
Although the industrial hemp and CBD industries seem to be ideal markets for MCA as a result of their past and anticipated future growth, the recent actions of the FDA described above highlight the very real perils faced by businesses in those industries. At first glance, businesses in those industries seem to be ideal candidates for repaying MCAs because of what appears to be bountiful future sales. However, product seizures and/or injunctions ordered by the FDA obviously could prevent businesses in those industries from selling their product and generating receivables from such sales. An MCA funder partnered with such a business would obviously be harmed if the business couldn’t generate the receivables needed to repay an MCA.
Fortunately, there are circumstances under which businesses in the industrial hemp and CBD industries can likely operate without fear of an enforcement action by the FDA. For instance, the FDA allows cannabis and cannabis-derived products to be introduced into interstate commerce where it approves such products (such as with the FDA’s approval of Epidiolex, a seizure medication containing CBD, in 2018). Moreover, the FDA has identified three lawful hemp derivatives (including hulled hemp seeds, hemp seed protein, and hemp seed oil) that can be marketed legally as long as they are not promoted with a therapeutic claim.
Based on the above, the circumstances under which an MCA funder should, or should not, make an MCA to a business in the industrial hemp and CBD industries can be very confusing. MCA funders need an insight into the industrial hemp and CBD industries, and the very real risks faced by those industries as described above, before making MCAs to businesses in those industries.
Fortunately, competent legal counsel versed in the MCA industry, as well as the industrial hemp and CBD industries, can provide such insight, and legal advice related thereto. As a practical matter, an MCA funder should not make an MCA to a business in the industrial hemp or CBD industries without first getting advice from such legal counsel so that the MCA funder can fully understand the risks involved in making such an MCA, and the circumstances in which such an MCA should, or should not, be made.
Mr. Herndon is an attorney at the Global Legal Law Firm, whose attorneys are well recognized as top industry experts. Mr. Herndon works in the compliance field helping electronic payment processing companies avoid getting fined, arrested, violate rules, or get sued from internal or external threats. Mr. Herndon is also involved in litigation in the payments space, including defending and pursuing electronic payments companies.
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