Shopify originated $277 million in merchant cash advances in 2018, according to their quarterly earnings reports. That figure already places them among the largest small business funding providers nationwide.
Below is a look of how they stack up thus far:
|Company Name||2018 Originations||2017||2016||2015||2014|
|Funding Circle (USA only)||$500,000,000|
*Asterisks signify that the figure is the editor’s estimate
Davron Karimov, a 22-year-old MCA broker, went from $10k in debt to collecting $200k a year in commissions. It took less than three years, and Karimov shared his journey on his personal, sometimes chaotic, yet always informative YouTube channel.
The Staten Island native said he first started at a Long Island City shop and quickly made some early deals, eventually leaving to start his own firm, FunderHunt, and recently opened an office in Miami.
But do the YouTube videos help him make deals? Of course they do, Karimov says, and he not only gets deals through his video platform but he also get questions from other MCA brokers who reach out for help.
“Of course, we get people all the time calling in, people that have questions, people in the industry need help with their merchants,” Karimov says. “I started around 2018, and there was no info on YouTube about business funding, a huge void online. I stepped up and thought I could be the one to supply info.”
Nearly three years later, Karimov has built an expanding business while helping others through the struggles of being a broker and CEO in the MCA world. In the last year alone, the pandemic caused applications to explode, Karimov says.
“It’s been better than ever; I’ve never seen so many applications in March and April; they were just soaring,” Karimov says. “And then I’ve never seen so many applications get denied because of the industry at the time everything was shutting down.”
It was a time to capitalize if your shop was strong enough to survive what Karimov called the “dark ages” for MCA. If you survived, you get to reap the reward of a capital-deprived market, he says.
“The whole crisis took out so many funders that were just not good, they probably were supposed to go out of business a long time ago, but this accelerated it,” Karimov says. “It took out all the bad funders and replaced them with people that are solid, fast, and have everyone’s best interest at heart, from the merchant to whoever the ISO is.”
According to Karimov, 2020 solidified who is a real player in the game. Launching a new office himself, Davron says he enjoys sunny days in Miami while it is twenty degrees in-between blizzards in New York. Though snow wasn’t the reason he moved, but instead the funding environment.
“Everyone has been warm and welcoming [in Miami], the government knows what this is, and that’s what we do. We try to educate them: not a lot of people know here about this; it’s like it’s a secret,” Karimov says. “If you go to New York, it’s like everybody knows, there are so many shops there. But here, it’s kind of rare to see someone that knows what a cash advance is.”
Compared to New York’s increasingly restrictive funding ecosystem, the Florida space is open to growth. That’s exactly the environment Karimov hopes to profit from, expanding his business in any way that will be geared toward helping businesses.
“I’m not a huge fan of diversification,” Karimov says. “I like doing one thing. But we opened up an office in Miami; we’re bringing experienced people in and trying to fund deals as fast as possible. We’re maybe looking to develop into offering a debit card, whatever is in the business’s best interest.”
After five years in finance, Peter Ribeiro decided to strike out on his own and start US Business Funding in 2008, providing equipment leasing and financing for businesses. But when the housing market collapsed four months later, Ribeiro saw a second major business opportunity emerge. Earlier that year, he had purchased a $250,000 home in southern California that appraised for $355,000 at the time he bought it. Within seven months, the home’s value plummeted to $95,000. “I told myself I knew the area really well, so I might as well start buying some properties.”
At that point, Ribeiro’s fledgling company still wasn’t generating much revenue. “I thought, ‘Man, I just can’t get a lot of loans done right now. I only have three or four employees.’ That’s how I got into the real estate industry.” Twelve years later and at the height of a global pandemic, Ribeiro is simultaneously running two thriving ventures —US Business Funding, and a portfolio of hundreds of rental properties he now owns.
At a time when fintech startups and other industry innovators are looking for investors, alternative lending execs like Ribeiro are instead choosing to put their money in real estate to beef up their investment portfolios. Although some execs shy away from talking publicly about their real estate dealings, citing the fact that they don’t want too much exposure, the consensus is that there’s a lot of money to be made in buying, selling and renting property – if you know what you’re doing.
“I think real estate is lucrative because when you look at the history of investments, there are two or three ways to really make money: You can put your money in the stock market, or you can put it in bonds. And the other one guaranteed to go up in value is real estate,” Ribeiro says.
To Ribeiro, real estate offers a few major advantages: It’s a tangible asset. You can leverage it as it appreciates in value. Deductions make it so you pay very little in taxes. And it offers significant cash flow. “It’s the best investment you can make,” he says.
What makes real estate an especially good fit for alternative lending and fintech execs is that they possess the skills, resources and financial literacy to succeed at it.
“Real estate is a long-term gain,” Ribeiro says. “The industry we’re in is a cash-flow cow. People who are doing well are printing money. But what can you do with that money? You can put it in the stock market, but you won’t control much. Then you pay capital gains on it.”
Attorney Paul Rianda, who represents both cash advance clients and real estate investors, says it makes sense that real estate investing appeals to alternative lenders – especially amidst the uncertainty of COVID-19.
“If you’re a cash advance guy and COVID happened, then you’re not doing very well,” he says. “If you diversified your assets by doing real estate and cash advance, you’re able to weather these downturns a lot more easily than you would otherwise.”
Rianda has not yet counseled any of his own cash advance clients on real estate matters. But based on his insights from working with both areas, he says real estate would be a logical move for MCA executives, and he’s seen some of his clients in the bankcard industry buy up properties.
“One of my clients had a portfolio of merchants and sold it for a few million, then flipped over to real estate. So it’s a means (to an end),” Rianda says.
Ribeiro has relied on a simple strategy to steadily build his portfolio of residential properties: Buy. Fix. Leverage. Repeat.
“I feel like the portfolio is doubling every couple of years. It’s just a snowball effect,” he says.
After Ribeiro buys a home, he waits about six months before he has it appraised and fixes it up in the meantime.
“If you go to the bank within the first six months of purchasing it, they’re going to give you the actual market value of whatever you purchased the house for,” he says. “If you wait six months, they’ll reappraise the home and give its true market value, which could be another 40, 50 or 60 percent. And so now you’re going to have a lot more equity in the house, and you’re going to get a lot more money when you leverage that home to go buy the next one.”
Ribeiro says he sees lots of people making the mistake of buying a home, and then going to the bank a week or two later for a loan.
Constantly maintaining a positive cash flow is Ribeiro’s number one rule of real estate investing. “Your best friend is depreciation,” he says.
Depreciation refers to one of the key tax benefits of real estate. Since owning a rental property is technically a type of business because it generates income, the property is considered a business asset. The IRS allows you to deduct the cost of acquiring that asset – the property – over the span of its useful life. For residential properties, the IRS sets a standard depreciation period of 27.5 years.
So if you buy a $100,000 property with a $20,000 land value, $80,000 of the asset is considered depreciable. Over the course of 27.5 years, you can take an annual deduction of just over $2,900 a year.
The trick, Ribeiro says, is to stick to lower-priced properties with an 80/20 home-to-land value. Most of his properties are single- and multifamily homes between southern California and Las Vegas.
Like Ribeiro, Rianda’s investor clients concentrate on one geographic area to find the best properties. “They look at the area for a long time, understand the area,” he says. “In my neighborhood, three blocks can make a 50 percent difference in the price of a house. You need to focus on a particular geographic area and do a lot of transactions in it.”
Small portfolio, big impact
“For me, it’s just a really good second income stream and a way to have a secure return of 4.5% to 6.5% a year,” he says.
Growing up, Weitz got a feel for real estate by watching his uncles invest in multifamily properties. At one point, Weitz’s uncle owned 15 different multifamily homes, and Weitz would help do the maintenance on them.
Eight years ago, Weitz invested in his first two-family home and has fixed and flipped eight properties since then. He currently owns two two-family homes and invests primarily in multifamily homes in Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens. Over the next five years, he plans to pick up at least two more four- or eight-family properties. Working with a small portfolio of residences in his home state has allowed Weitz to have full control over managing his properties and to turn a good profit.
“I think for me, it just offers more liquidity,” he says. “It’s an asset I can sell and liquidate at any time. That’s really important for me.”
Ideally, Weitz would like for his investment to build generational wealth that he can pass down to his son. With many people in the U.S. unable to qualify for mortgages, Weitz sees real estate investing as an opportunity to help the economy by giving renters a place to live and put down roots. “Depending on the neighborhood, you can put yourself in a situation where you have good renters for 20 to 30 years. They want to raise their families and have their kids grow up there,” he says.
Litigation among the pitfalls
Even though Ribeiro has had success with his business model, he cautions that there’s considerable risk involved with real estate.
“I love the industry. It’s a passion. It’s beyond my wildest dreams of the size of the portfolio and how well it performs,” he says. “But don’t think it’s all cupcakes and unicorns. There’s a lot to the madness. That’s why not everyone can replicate the model.”
“Professional litigators” and multiple lawsuits from renters are a major downfall that Ribeiro points to. He sees at least one substantial suit each year and tries to settle outside of court whenever possible.
As an attorney, Rianda says his real estate clients call on him not just for the purchase of the property, but for various issues that occur during the ownership period.
Here’s one scenario: A property owner has a tenant who isn’t paying rent, so the property owner sues the tenant. But while the lawsuit proceedings are under way, the tenant declares bankruptcy, which puts a stall on further litigation.
“There are people who understand the system and can make it difficult for you to get them out (of the property),” Rianda says, adding that it’s important to have legal counsel readily available. “You need someone who has really done this a lot and knows how the system works to get that person out of the rental property as quickly as possible.”
To minimize liability, Ribeiro has divided his properties into about 10 different business entities – each with a separate umbrella insurance policy.
Rianda sees his own real estate investor clients follow this strategy by grouping multiple homes under the name of an LLC. “If you personally own all these various assets, there’s the potential that if something catastrophic happened at one, it could bleed into all your other properties and potentially put them at risk,” he says.
Ribeiro’s real estate investments and finance company both serve as full-time occupations for him. Some years, he’ll focus more on one area than on the other, depending on market conditions. He spent more time on real estate between 2008 and 2013; then his business needs flip-flopped when real estate prices started going back up. This past year, he’s directed more attention to the finance company because of COVID, which necessitated some operational changes and a need to help clients who had been trying to get PPP loans. But he’s also started investing in commercial real estate, which has taken a hit because of companies forgoing office space to save overhead costs while employees work remotely.
Ribeiro expects to start seeing more mortgage defaults on lower-level homes in 2021 and 2022, after forbearance periods are over. And he’s been leveraging his assets to start buying more properties around the second quarter of the new year. “I think it will be a good time to start buying heavy again,” he says.
An attractive investment vehicle
With the pandemic weakening business portfolios, secondary investment options might sound like just what the doctor ordered.
When COVID first hit, some of Rianda’s clients started pursuing other investments like personal protective equipment (PPE). Most of his cash advance clients closed up shop for a few months.
“As time goes on, I’m starting to see my clients go back into their lending,” Rianda says.
Even as clients start to recoup their business, Rianda sees the wisdom in other investments and says cash advance executives are well suited for real estate. “It’s just a way that people who have been successful and spin off a lot of cash for their businesses see as a safe way to diversify their income,” Rianda says. “It’s something I find that people who are doing well in their business do, regardless of what business they’re in. So cash advance guys are just following the things people have done for years.”
Ribeiro cautions that people who get into real estate should look at it as a 10-year investment minimum, and not just a two- or three-month stint.
“It’s not a lottery ticket, and it’s not an overnight race,” Ribeiro says. “This is a long-term gain. But it’s a very lucrative gain from a cash-flow perspective and a tax perspective. I don’t think there’s a more attractive vehicle than real estate.”
Nearly three months on from the beginning of the United States’ lockdown, the alternative finance industry is starting to feel a recovery. As states look to ease lockdowns, businesses seek to start back up, and offices are reopening, an element of normalcy, if it can be called that, appears to be returning. deBanked reached out to a number of businesses in the industry to find out how they were plotting their recovery, as well as what they thought of the future for the space and the American economy.
One such company was Everest Business Funding. After experiencing a strong start to 2020 in January and February, covid-19 and the economic shutdown that accompanied it came as a shock to Everest, CEO Scott Crocket explained.
“It’s difficult to imagine an exogenous event outside of our control that could more squarely impact an industry like this,” Crockett stated. “I mean, after all, we provide capital to small and medium-sized businesses all across the United States, all 50 states, every type of small business you can imagine. And we’re cruising along, we had a record 2019, we’re off to a great start with January, February, even the beginning of March … and we really saw it come on in the third week of March, the week that started with Monday the 16th. It started as a kind of a trickle in, but by the end of the week it was more of a tidal wave in terms of the number of small businesses in our portfolio that were calling in looking for some type of relief as a result of what was happening.”
Crockett said that they paused all new funding the following week, out of concern for the company’s ability to generate business while there was a national economic shutdown in place. Since then however, Everest has been slowly getting back to what it was, with employees now returning to the office in waves and discussions being had over when exactly to start funding again, be it late June or early July.
Another firm that halted its funding operations was the New York-based PIRS Capital. Similarly, it was mid-March when the pressure was first felt, and PIRS didn’t return to funding until May 15th. PIRS COO Andrew Mallinger chalked this up to the company’s lack of reliance on automated underwriting processes, saying that although “the industry was leaning towards automatic funding and all these models and 20-second approvals, we weren’t fully invested in that yet. So it was good to see that the old-school approach is back and working again, interfacing with these brokers and really understanding their deals and what they’re bringing to the table.”
Mallinger is also confident going into the rest of 2020. Saying that while the company is maintaining a cautiously optimistic outlook, PIRS is working off the assumption that there will eventually be growth this year and that it is set to continue working from home for however long that may be, on the basis that New York may be one of the last states to return to offices.
Also looking forward is Velocity Group USA’s Trace Feinstein, who believes there will tough times ahead for many in the industry, but who also holds that there are opportunities for those who can make it through.
“Anyone who can weather this storm is going to come out 10 times better than they did going in.” The Chief Syndication Officer said in a call. “It’s an adjustment for our economy, it’s an adjustment for our country, and I think it’s an adjustment for our industry on top of that. So there’s a lot of different changes and things are going to be happening, but I think it’s going to be very good for the ones who make it out of it.”
Feinstein, who said that most of Velocity’s workers are back in its offices, noted that it approached underwriting during the pandemic with thoroughness. Daily underwriting meetings entailed going through each state, looking at what was happening there with infection rates, and discussing how various industries could be affected.
Reporting that applications following the lockdown were actually cleaner than before, with average credit scores going up to be between 650 and 750, Feinstein explained that he pushed underwriters to rely on common sense rather than overthinking their decisions and to treat these deals like they would any MCA application.
And while many funders have struggled through the lockdown period, another part of the industry, collection agencies, have been doing well after an initially tough stretch.
Shawn Smith of Minneapolis’ Dedicated Commercial Recovery has claimed to have grown the company’s portfolio by 100% in 60 days despite a particularly trying period in mid-April. Explaining that the company was two weeks away from having to bring in strict measures to keep things going, Dedicated began getting calls again just in time, with its clients mostly phoning in about MCA deals.
Looking ahead, Smith is anticipating a busy summer and fall as businesses, funders, and the courts come back, but he is worried about a second wave and the alternative finance industry not putting in the precautions needed to stave off the economic impacts this next time around.
“Anyone can lend out a lot of money or put out a lot of money on the street, but your ability to get it back is going to be very important, and you want the fire extinguisher in place before the house is on fire … what you’re seeing in the MCA industry is because it’s just not as aged as the equipment leasing and banking industries … the MCA companies just didn’t have 20-30 year veterans in collections and legal … we’re so concerned with how to write more deals and get more money out there, and not about how to get it back and not about having strong enough underwriting standards and things like that. So when it got stress tested, the pain came back real quick.”
Likewise, Kearns Brinen & Monaghan’s Mark LeFevre claimed that after having a rocky road during the earlier stages of the pandemic and switching to a “plan B” for the year, the collections company is optimistic about going forward. Having weathered what may be the worst stretch without having had to furlough or lay-off anyone, KBM now has brought most of its workers back after a reworking of the office space. A pre-return fumigation, sneeze guards, and temperature-taking upon re-entry to the office building have all been employed after KBM’s employees asked to return to the workplace.
“The industry is changing literally day to day,” explained the President and CEO. “Some of the laws that are passed by the House and by the Senate are changing quicker than I’ve ever seen. I’ve just never seen it before. But I think it’s for the better and we’re starting to see the comeback of the economy, the stock market, employment. The unemployment numbers are really good and, in my opinion, [the numbers will] continue to go down from what we’re seeing in our industry.”
In Part 2, we’re going to focus on 3 major areas:
(1) What is Factoring and How Does it Work?
(2) What Are the Costs?
(3) How Do You Qualify?
We’re also going to touch on HOW TO find factoring funders.
What is Factoring and How Does it Work?
Factoring actually dates back to 2000 BC but got going in the US during the 1600s when colonists sought “advance payments” on tobacco, cotton, etc., shipped across the Atlantic to England. Today, it’s a TRILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY worldwide, involving commercial banks, asset-based lenders, Fintech companies, and private hedge funds all over the world. And a million years later the purpose of factoring is the same; speed up cash flow by leveraging receivables, while waiting to get paid.
In a nutshell, much like an MCA, factoring is an advance against “future invoice proceeds.”
However, unlike an MCA where the advance is largely based on bank statements, with factoring, advances are based on the number of confirmed invoices the merchant has outstanding with their approved B2B customers. The invoice(s), which is the asset, serves as COLLATERAL.
So, while an MCA funder “looks backwards” at bank statements to help determine eligible amount, the factoring funder “looks forward” to determine eligible amount based on approved invoices.
Factoring advance rates typically range from 70% to 90% of the invoice face value, and are based on volume, industry type, etc.
There are two major elements required for factoring to work. The first is the merchant must be doing business with a credit-worthy B2B customer. Approval isn’t based on the financial strength of the merchant, but on their customer, i.e. the company paying the bill.
The second major element is that, in addition to being credit-worthy, the customer must agree to send invoice payments DIRECTLY to the funder. This provides the funder with an assurance of payment and substantially reduces the risk of re-payment or default.
So, unlike an MCA where payment is on a daily or weekly basis, the factoring advance has NO PAYMENTS, and actually pays itself off once the invoice has been paid. The funder then deducts the advance along with their fee and wires the balance to the merchant.
With no payments and invoice proceeds automatically paying off the advance, I refer to this as a “SELF LIQUIDATING LOAN”. It’s also “ELASTIC”, which means the more confirmed invoices the merchant has outstanding, the more funding they are eligible to draw. It’s like having a revolving LOC with no payments………of course unless the customer doesn’t pay, right? Good question!
So, here’s the answer: There’s actually two types of factoring; (1) RECOURSE FACTORING, which means if a customer doesn’t pay the invoice, the Merchant is financially responsible for the advance, and (2) NON-RECOURSE FACTORING, which means they’re not.
Here’s the process in a nutshell: Merchant submits app and doc checklist for preliminary underwriting approval. Funder issues term sheet, and if accepted by Merchant, underwriting and due diligence is completed. A closing and funding docs package are submitted to the merchant, and upon execution, the funder is prepared to start confirming and funding invoices.
How long does it take from start to finish? Depends on how much hair there is on the file. A clean file can take as little as 5 to 7 business days. A file with a lot of hair can take much longer. We actually had a $13 million file funded in 48 hours! That guy was pretty happy and so was I. It was an acquisition with a deadline. So, here’s what to tell your merchants with regards to timing: “funding is not calendar-related, but event related”. In other words, once the required events are completed then funding can occur.”
What Are the Costs?
There are several major factors that determine cost, rate, terms. volume, invoice size and funding frequency, industry type, risk, etc. Every funder has their own respective rate and fee schedule. Some charge application/due diligence fees while others don’t. Some charge origination and/or admin fees, while others don’t.
Some funders base their pricing on APR, with rates as low as Prime + 3 to 5%, while others have all-in rates typically ranging from 1.5% to 3% per month. After the first 30 days, monthly rates are typically broken down in 10 or 15 day increments (pro-rating). As a result, the ACTUAL COST of factoring in dollars and cents, is based on the amount of time the advance is outstanding, from the funding date to the date the invoice payment is received by the funder.
Here’s an alternative perspective on cost: Factoring is like “renting money on a daily basis,” where the funder essentially takes “equity in the transaction” versus equity in the business. Comparing the bottom-line cost with the bottom-line benefits is the key. But at the end of the day, “the highest price you pay for money is the price you pay for the LACK of it”.
Just like with MCAs, make sure you understand the rate structure, terms, and fees charged by your factoring funder, and how to calculate the cost in dollars and cents as well.
How Do You Qualify?
Factoring approvals have 3 components: The first is the merchant. Again, every funder has their own approval criteria and document checklist. Some require minimal info, while others ask for EVERYTHING including a pint of blood. While most only require one month bank, approval is not based on deposits, or how well they manage their account. Remember their primary focus is on assessing the quality of the receivables, determining if they have sufficient gross profit margins, ensure they are in good standing, and address any “deal killers”, i.e. tax liens, judgments, or UCC filings in first position, which is where they need to be, in most cases. (We actually have funding partners who will factor in second and third positions)
The second factoring approval is the merchant’s customer(s), typically referred to as the debtor. This is determined by the funder who looks at things like D&B, PAYDEX Scores, and other proprietary industry databases. In some instances, a lack of secondary financial/credit information on the customer can be offset through their payment history with the merchant. In other instances, the funder may require bank and trade references if no history exists. Candidly speaking, best practices by the merchant says they should already be doing the same thing; i.e. credit qualifying their customers, whether they need funding or not, unless it’s a large, well established company or government agency. The fact is, extending terms to someone you don’t know can be risky because ‘all businesses may not be good businesses.’ Let’s face it, it’s all about getting paid, right?
Ever heard this horror story; “I need an MCA because I got burned by one of my customers who strung me out and never paid me!” Too bad. They should have picked up that $100 bill off the street! Just kidding!
The third factoring approval is on the deal itself, i.e. the purchase order or contract the merchant has with the debtor. There are over 15 different things the funder will look at to identify existing or potential funding issues. Here’s an example. I recently got a referral for a client who had 63 different purchase orders going to 63 different locations for the same large customer, but BEFORE he started shipping, half the orders had already passed the CANCELLATION DATE! What do you think the chances are of the deal being approved for funding? Don’t know yet. Will let you know when I get to part 3 of the series. Keep your fingers crossed and so will I.
Typical things the funder looks at are payment terms, default clauses, customer signature, offset clauses, just to name a few. If you’d like a complete list, just shoot me over an email.
How to Find Funders
Finding factoring funders is easy. Just google FACTORING and you’ll get a whole bunch. What’s NOT so easy is determining the “best fit” for YOUR merchant because one size does not fit all. Over the years, some of the biggest horror stories I’ve heard from both funders and clients was a relationship that went bad because it was not the best fit. But remember this; “just because you picked the wrong spouse doesn’t mean getting married is a bad idea.” Determining the best fit is one of the key functions for your factoring brokerage business.
Some funders you will find specialize by industry, i.e. transportation, medical, staffing, construction, while others don’t. Some can move quickly while others take two weeks. Some are more flexible than others. Some focus on A-credit Merchants and have the lower rates, while others work with start-ups. Always find out UPFRONT their approval criteria and constraints. Shoot over an email and I’ll send our list of the Top 10 Questions to Ask Before Selecting a Factoring Funder.
The first thing small business owners think about when deciding to take on funding to grow their business is the ten-year, 3% bank loan that was the standard ten to twenty years ago. The application and approval process was much slower, and if a borrower didn’t fit the mold that mainstream lenders were looking for, approval was difficult. Today, the business loan landscape has changed, and alternative financing methods have captured much of the market. Small business owners who can’t get approved by the banks have access to the funding they need to grow and expand their businesses.
The technology that these alternative lenders use has made small business lending more accessible. Applications are online, underwriting techniques are fine-tuned and often times quicker, and borrowers get personalized offers and service.
More money is going out and more business owners are getting approved.
Changes in loan accessibility
Increased loan accessibility has resulted in more loans, but what does this mean for small business owners? And what are the risks to small business funders?
While alternative lending has opened up more doors for small business owners, as both the industry as a whole and individual lenders move faster, so increases the risk of people taking advantage of the system. Twenty years ago, fewer lenders meant that business owners had fewer options, but on the flip side, it meant that lenders didn’t need to worry as much about dishonest borrowing practices.
Increased competition pushes more lenders to approve more loans faster than ever. After all, if one lender won’t, another may, and the competition is just a Google search away. Unfortunately, this has also resulted in more opportunities for both borrowers and salespeople to take advantage of the system, and one of the largest risks to small business funders and small business owners alike is loan stacking.
What is loan stacking?
Loan stacking is used to refer to borrowers who take out multiple loans from multiple sources within a short window of time without thinking of their business’s long term health, due to the speed and efficiency that the funding occurs in, most business owners do not think twice as it becomes easy to obtain funding. Typically this situation occurs when a borrower can’t get approved for the total amount of money they need, or when a borrower is promised better rates at a future date by accepting the first offer from an overeager salesperson. The biggest red flag for all small business owners is when a promise is made without it being put in writing. If the funder or lender is not willing to put future promises on paper then steer clear of any future funding dealings.
Who is the culprit?
While some small business owners that cannot qualify for the full amount of cash they need may instead obtain multiple smaller loans to satisfy their requirements, others have more malicious intentions. Some borrowers take on funding for their business intending to use those funds for non-business related expenses. Whether it’s to go on vacation, pay down debt, or make a large purchase, this type of loan stacker may not fully understand the consequences of taking on more debt than their business can comfortably handle. During the funding verification calls, prior to funding, any mention of outside use for the funding can have a lasting effect on future funding relations.
An owner whose business is about to go under is another common offender. These borrowers make the decision to accept multiple funded deals, knowing that their business is at the end of its life, take the cash, close their bank accounts, and often declare bankruptcy, leaving the lender with no way to collect.
Finally, a small business owner may choose to lie to the lender about the purpose of the loan, thus convincing the lender to approve them for additional funding. A business loan to help with a larger long term project, like opening a new location that will bring increase revenue. But, when a borrower lies to a lender to get additional funding and thereby stacks loans on top of loans, this can become an issue.
While the borrower is often the offender, this isn’t always the case. Some brokers and salespeople prey on potential borrowers by employing aggressive and unethical sales tactics. “Baiting the borrower with a promise of a better rate down the line, but more importantly offering terms of approval that are unrealistic is a recipe for disaster. It is perfectly fine for any funder or lender to customize approvals to gain long term business relations, but to purposely or viciously offer unrealistic terms in the future, creates a need for a “Small Business Funding Code of Ethics”. Long term funding relationships are created with trust, transparency, and willingness to meet halfway. With the right Code of Ethics in place, the entire Small Business Funding industry can shine above all other financing,” explains Paul Pitcher, managing Partner at First Down Funding and SharpShooter Funding. Often these borrowers have just taken on a loan, probably for less than they had originally wanted, and the prospect of additional funds is quite appealing. The problem is that this often leaves the borrower overstretched, putting all parties at risk.
Understand the risks & signs
Business owners who stack loans are not only affecting the lenders they obtain funding from but are putting both their personal and business finances at risk. “Every business owner must analyze their 30, 60, and 90-day cash flow in order to better serve the purpose and total cost of capital for all rounds of funding” explains Pitcher.
Chances are if a lender doesn’t approve a business owner for the full amount they wanted, it’s because their finances can’t handle more and the lender did not want to put the business in a difficult position. After all, it is in the best interest of the lender for the small business to succeed.
In many cases, a business owner could be personally liable for their debt. However, aggressive brokers looking to quickly cash in on loans commissions put lenders at risk as well. Therefore, funders need to be wary of both deceptive business owners and lenders.
When it comes to prevention, most lenders benefit from a three-pronged approach; a strong underwriting system, helpful consumer education, and open communication with the competition. “The most important part of funding deals day-to-day is the strength and volume of business and personal references. When the inner circle of the business owner vouches for them positively, 99% of the time, the deal can fund cleanly and perform,” explains Pitcher.
A strong underwriting system and a solid set of procedures can help lenders make sure they don’t unknowingly enter into a cycle of loan stacking. Experience plays an important role, but if you have a strong understanding of what you’re looking for and perform the appropriate amount of due diligence, you should be able to prevent the majority of loan stacking. Nevertheless, most small business funders already have such systems in place and yet loan stacking is continuously growing problem.
An informed applicant becomes a great borrower. Dealing with a frustrated business owner who can’t get approved for the full amount they want, is never fun. But, educating them about why they can only qualify for a certain amount is a key component in preventing loan stacking and ensuring a borrower isn’t taken advantage of. “The first impression a funder gets from an owner, a hand-signed and dated application, and the organizational skills needed to send over prepared financials and bank statements, can say a whole lot about the business owner’s interests, intentions, and overall health. The more rushed we feel, the less likely we will want to work with that said business,” explains Pitcher.
Finally, chatting with your competition might not seem like a great idea, but maintaining open lines of communication with those in your industry can help spot loan stacking schemes before they get out of hand. Trade shows and other industry events are a good place to network and meet other industry stakeholders.
Running a small business takes time, persistence, passion, and money. This is why small business owners need funders to be on their side of the court.
Educating and providing borrowers with useful information at the right time can help reduce the risk of loan stacking and helps to maintain healthy accounts.
It’s nearly impossible to teach fiscal responsibility to most consumers, according to researchers at universities and nonprofit agencies. But alternative small-business funders and brokers often manage to steer clients toward financial prudence, and imparting pecuniary knowledge can become part of a consultative approach to selling.
Still, nobody says it’s easy to convince the public or merchants to handle cash, credit and debt wisely and responsibly. Consider the consumer research cited by Mariel Beasley, principal at the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University and co-director of the Common Cents Lab, which works to improve the financial behavior of low- and moderate-income households.
“For the last 30 years in the U.S. there has been a huge emphasis on increasing financial education, financial literacy,” Beasley says. But it hasn’t really worked. “Content-based financial education classes only accounted for .1 percent variation in financial behavior,” she continues. “We like to joke that it’s not zero but it’s very, very close.” And that’s the average. Online and classroom financial education influences lower-income people even less.
The problem stems from trying to teach financial responsibility too late in life, says Noah Grayson, president and founder of Norwalk, Conn.-based South End Capital. He advocates introducing young people to finance at the same time they’re learning history, algebra and other standard subjects in school.
Yet Grayson and others contend that it’s never too late for motivated entrepreneurs to pick up the basics. Even novice small-business owners tend to possess a little more financial acumen than the average person, they say. That makes entrepreneurs easier to teach than the general public but still in need of coaching in the basics of handling money.
Take the example of a shopkeeper who grabs an offer of $50,000 with no idea how he’ll use the funds to grow the business or how he’ll pay the money back, suggests Cheryl Tibbs, general manager of One Stop Commercial Capital, Douglasville, Ga. “The easy access to credit blinds a lot of merchants,” she notes.
Entrepreneurs often make bad decisions simply because they don’t have a background in business, according to Jared Weitz, CEO of New York based United Capital Source. “Many of the people who come to us are trying their hardest,” he observes.
Weitz offers the example of his own close relative who’s a veterinarian. That profession attracts some of the brainiest high-school valedictorians but doesn’t mean they know business. “He’s the best doctor ever and he’s not a great businessman because he doesn’t think about those things first. What he thinks about is helping people. That’s why he got into his profession.”
Entrepreneurs often devote themselves to a vision that isn’t businesses-oriented. “They start a business because they have a great idea or a great product, and that’s what excites them,” Grayson says. “They jump in with both feet and don’t think much about the business side.” The business side isn’t as much fun.
Merchants also attend to so many aspects of an enterprise—everything from sales, production and distribution to hiring, payroll and training—that they can’t afford to devote too much time to any single facet, notes Joe Fiorella, principal at Kansas City, Mo.-based Central Funding. Business owners respond to what’s most urgent, not necessarily what’s most important.
For whatever reason, some business owners spiral downward into financial ruin, bouncing checks, stacking merchant cash advances and continually seeking yet another merchant cash advance to bail them out of a precarious situation, says Jeremy Brown, chairman of Bethesda, Md.-based Rapid Advance.
Weitz advises sitting down with those clients and coming to an understanding of the situation. In some cases, enough cash might be coming in but the incoming autopayments aren’t timed to cover the outgoing autopayments, he says by way of example.
Informing clients of such problems makes a demonstrable difference. “We can see that it works because we have clients renewing with us,” says Weitz. “We’re able to swim them upstream to different products” as their finances gradually improve, he says.
The products in that stream begin with relatively higher-cost vehicles like merchant cash advances and proceed to other less-expensive instruments with better terms, says Brown. Those include term loans, Small Business Administration loans, equipment leasing, receivables factoring and, ultimately the goal for any well-capitalized small business—a relationship with the local bank.
Failing to consider those options and instead simply abetting stackers to make a quick buck can give the industry a “black eye,” and it benefits none of the parties involved, Tibbs observes. But merchants deserve as much blame as funders and brokers, she maintains.
Prospective clients who stack MCAs, don’t care about their credit rating and simply want to staunch their financial bleeding probably account for 35 percent to 40 percent of the applicants Tibbs encounters, she says.
Just the same, alt-funders continue to urge clients to hire accountants, consult attorneys, employ helpful software, shore up credit ratings, keep tabs on cash flow, calculate margins, improve distribution chains and outline plans for growth. It’s what helps the industry rise above the “get-money quick” image that it’s outgrowing, Weitz, says. Many funders and brokers consider providing financial advice an essential aspect of consultative selling. It’s an approach that begins with making sure applicants understand the debt they’re taking on, the terms of the payback and how their businesses will benefit from the influx of capital. It continues with a commitment to helping clients not just with funding but also with other types of business consultation.
“It’s not so much selling as building a rapport with clients—serving as a strategic advisor or financial resource for them, identifying their needs and directing them to the right loan product to meet those needs,” says Grayson. “They should feel they can call you about anything specific to their business, not just their loan requests.” He also cautions against providing information the client will not absorb or will find offensive.
Justin Bakes, CEO of Boston-based Forward Financing also advocates consultative selling. “It’s all about questions and getting information on what’s driving the business owner,” he says. “It’s a process.”
Consultative sales hinges on knowing the customer, agrees Jason Solomon, Forward Financing vice president of sales. “Businesses are never similar in the mind of the business owner,” he notes. “To effectively structure a program best-suited to the merchant’s long-time business needs and set a proper path forward to better and better financial products, you need to know who the business owner is and what his long term goals are.”
“It’s taking an approach of actually being a consultant as opposed to a $7 an hour order taker,” Tibbs says of consultative selling. “I like to teach new reps to think of it as if you were a doctor. Doctors ask questions to arrive at a final diagnosis. So if you’re asking your prospective customer questions about their business, about their cash flow, about their intentions of how they’re planning to get back on track.”
Learning about the clients’ business helps brokers recommend the least-expensive funding instrument, Tibbs says. “I really hate to see someone with a 700 credit score come in to get a merchant cash advance,” she maintains. The consultative approach requires knowing the funding products, knowing how to listen to the customer and combining those two elements to make an informed decision on which product to recommend, she notes.
Consultative sales can greatly benefit clients, Weitz maintains. If a pizzeria proprietor asks for an expensive $50,000 cash advance to buy a new oven, a responsible broker may find the applicant qualifies for an equipment loan with single-digit interest and monthly payments over a five-year period that puts less pressure on daily cash flow.
It’s also about pointing out errors. Brokers and funders see common mistakes when they look at tax returns and financial records, says Brown. “The biggest issue is that small-business owners—because they work so hard— make a profit of X amount of money and then take that out of the business,” he notes. Instead, he advises reinvesting a portion of those funds so that they can build equity in the business and avoid the need to seek outside capital at high rates.
Another common error occurs when entrepreneurs take a short-term approach to their businesses instead of making longer-term plans, Brown says. That longer-term vision includes learning what it takes to improve their businesses enough to qualify for lower-cost financing.
Sometimes, small merchants also make the mistake of blending their personal finances and their business dealings. Some do it out of necessity because they’re launching an enterprise on their personal credit cards, and others act of ignorance. “They don’t necessarily know they’re doing something wrong,” Grayson observes. “There are tax ramifications.”
Some just don’t look at their businesses objectively. Take the example of a company that approached Central Funding for capital to buy inventory in Asia. Fiorella studied the numbers and then informed the merchant that it wasn’t a money problem—it was a margins problem. “You could sell three times what you’re wanting to buy, and you still won’t get to where you want to be,” he reports telling the potential customer.
Consultative selling also means establishing a long-term relationship. Forward Financing uses technology to keep in contact with clients regularly, not just when clients need capital, Bakes notes. That cultivates long-lasting relationships and shows the company cares. As the relationship matures it becomes easier to maintain because the customers want to talk to the company. “They’re running to pick up the phone.”
The conversations that don’t hinge on funding usually center on Forward Financing learning more about the customer’s business, says Solomon. That include the client’s needs and how they’ve used the capital they’ve received.
“We have our own internal cadence and guidelines for when we reach out and how often and what happens,” says Solomon. Customer relationship management technology provides triggers when it’s time for the sales team or the account-servicing team to contact clients by phone or email.
Do small-business owners take advice on their finances? Some need a steady infusion of capital at increasingly higher cost and simply won’t heed the best tips, says Solomon. “It’s certainly a mix,” he says. “Not everybody is going to listen.”
Paradoxically, the business owners most open to advice already have the best-run companies, says Fiorella. Those who are closed to counseling often need it the most, he declares.
Moreover, not everybody is taking the consultative approach. “New brokers are so excited to get a commission check they throw the consultative approach out the window,” Tibbs says.
Yet many alt-funders bring consultative experience from other professions into their work with providing funds to small business. Tibbs, for example, previously helped home buyers find the best mortgage.
Consultative selling came naturally to Central Funding because the company started as a business and analytics consultancy called Blue Sea Services and then transformed itself into an alternative funding firm, says Fiorella. Central Funding reviews clients’ financial statements and operations between rounds of funding, he notes.
Consultations with borrowers reach an especially deep level at PledgeCap, a Long Island-based asset-based lender, because clients who default have to forfeit the valuables they put up as collateral—anything from a yacht to a bulldozer—says Gene Ayzenberg, PledgeCap’s chief operating officer. Conversations cover the value of the assets and the risk of losing them as well as the reasons for seeking capital, he notes.
No matter how salespeople arrive at their belief in the consultative approach, they last much longer in the business than their competitors who are merely seeking a quick payoff, Tibbs says. Others contend that it’s clearly the best way to operate these days.
“The consultative approach is the only one that works,” says Weitz. “Today, everything is about the customer experience. People are making more-educated, better informed decisions.” What’s more, with the consultative approach clients just keep getting smarter, he adds.
The days of the hard sell have ended, Grayson agrees. Customers have access to information on the internet, and brokers and funders can prosper by helping customers, he says. “Our compensation doesn’t vary much depending upon which product we put a client in so we can dig deeper into what will fit the client without thinking about what the economic benefit will be to us.”
Even though the public has become familiar with alternative financing in general, most haven’t learned the nuances. That’s where consultative selling can help by outlining the differing products now available for businesses with nearly any type of credit-worthiness. “It’s for everybody,” Weitz says of today’s alternative small business funding, “not just a bank turn-down.”
The below chart ranks several companies in the non-bank small business financing space by revenue over the last 5 years. The data is primarily drawn from reports submitted to the Inc. 5000 list, public earnings statements, or published media reports. It is not comprehensive. Companies for which no data is publicly available are excluded. Want to add your figures? Email Sean@debanked.com
|Global Lending Services||$232,200,000||$125,700,000|
|Bankers Healthcare Group||$220,300,000||$160,300,000||$93,825,129|
|Envision Capital Group||$32,700,000|
|Expansion Capital Group||$31,300,300||$23,400,000|
|1 Global Capital||bankruptcy||$22,600,000|
|Channel Partners Capital||$23,000,000||$14,500,000||$2,207,927||$4,013,608|
|United Capital Source||$9,735,350||$8,465,260||$3,917,193|
|US Business Funding||$14,800,000||$9,100,000||$5,794,936|
|Seek Business Capital||$8,800,000|
|Funding Merchant Source||$7,500,000|
|Shore Funding Solutions||$5,000,000||$4,300,000|
|Eagle Business Credit||$3,600,000||$2,600,000|
|Swift Capital||acquired by PayPal||$88,600,000||$51,400,000||$27,540,900|
|Blue Bridge Financial||$6,569,714||$5,470,564|
|Fast Capital 360||$6,264,924|
|Priority Funding Solutions||$2,599,931|
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