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Velocity Capital Group (VCG) Secures $15 Million Series A Financing

December 11, 2018
Article by:

Velocity Capital Group

Businesses Flourish with Adequate Funding at their Fingertips

CEDARHURST, NEW YORK—DECEMBER 10,2018​–​V​elocity Capital Group recently secured another $15 million in financing. This will strengthen their ability to provide assistance to more small businesses and organizations. While the name might be new to some, Velocity Capital Group is no stranger to the business world. Servicing small businesses for over 7 years, there have been more than 15,000 clients who’ve received the financial boost they needed due to the available funding from VCG.

CEO/Principle Jay Avigdor couldn’t be happier to reach this point. Jay started the business in a small room of his home with only a laptop, and in just a short period of time has transformed VCG into a large and highly respected financial group that services organizations with speed and dedication. With an aim to merge the finance industry with technology, VCG aims to leave funding at your fingertips. To date, VCG is making strides as one of the fastest growing finance companies in the industry.

When businesses have financial demands, their situation is urgent and must be addressed immediately. Going through a lengthy process that could end up in a loss would be a waste of time, but with ​Velocity Capital Group,​ the relationship is taken seriously from the onset. With a staff of over 20 employees, VCG strives to get you what you need when you need it. A few of the industries that ​Velocity​ takes pride in assisting include:

  • Accounting & Collection Agencies
  • Construction, Machinery, Mechanics, & Manufacturing
  • Electronic & Media/Entertainment
  • Healthcare Services & Rehab Center
  • Religious Organizations
  • Restaurants & Retail
  • Technology & Wireless
  • AND MORE!

The $15 million funding access will help VCG build solid foundations and partnerships. With Velocity’s breakdown of available funding ($5mil in series A round & a $10 million line of credit), they’re able to provide more funding for more businesses. In fact, many customers have already stated that the V​CG team is “resourceful” and “always available.” Others have even said that they “love the charity aspect” of ​Velocity,​ because they give back to aiding organizations monthly. Their attention and consistency prove that they are more than just the average financial group; they’re family! Winston Churchill said it best: “From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” Velocity Capital Group​ takes pride in giving to others so they can ultimately help others make a life.

Companies and small businesses are urged to contact V​elocity Capital Group​ today and see what financial options are available. With urgency and compassion, the knowledgeable staff of Velocity​ is ready to build your business or brand. The funding is there, the foundation is there; all it takes is one step. That one step can be the greatest decision for success in business.

Velocity Capital Group is ready and able to serve you. For additional information, visit our website at​ ​www.velocitycg.com,​ send an email to info@velocitycg.com, or call 833-VCG-FUND (833-824-3863). We’re also available on social media outlets.

In Loving Memory of Elliot J Dabah

November 17, 2020
Article by:
Elliot Dabah
Elliot Dabah & Elliot Ashkenazie

Elliot J Dabah, CEO of NYC-based Merchants Cash Partners, LLC, recently passed away. Known throughout the merchant financing industry, friends and colleagues began collecting kind words to reflect on his life to be able to share them here.

Elliot Ashkenazie, his business partner and best friend, said “Elliot Dabah would step up and help anyone in need whether that be his own employee, another ISO, or a complete stranger on the street. He didn’t keep any secrets so he would have an advantage over others, he simply paid it forward and helped the community as a whole benefit from it. Merchants Cash Partners will work tirelessly to carry on his legacy and his values.”

“Elliot Dabah was the heartbeat of the Financial District and he was an integrated part of my life, both professional and personal,” said Gigi Russo. “Not only did Elliot and I live three blocks from each other, but I first had the privilege and pleasure of meeting him while I was working for deBanked, at CONNECT San Diego. We quickly became close friends. He truly never took advantage of our tight knit friendship. His professional support was a reflection of his character— a respectable person that respected his family, friends and business associates. Elliot wanted everyone to succeed. He believed that friends and business colleagues should support one another to build a viable network.”

Elliot Dabah and Father
Elliot Dabah and his Father Jack

Tom Dool of Power Funding, said “Of all of the offices I’ve ever visited, I can honestly say that no other partner of mine compares to Merchants Cash Partners. From the moment I met both Elliots, they were inviting. I could tell right away that they had a special bond of shared enthusiasm, honesty, generosity, thoughtful, caring people.” He adds, “Elliot [Dabah] lived life with such a genuine love for people and getting to know people, discussing higher level ideas, sharing feelings. He was one of the best and I’ll never forget him.”

“Elliot was one of the most welcoming people I had the pleasure of knowing,” says Colt Kucker of Libertas Funding, “and always tried helping out whether it be a customer, myself, or anybody in need. He was a hard worker and will truly be missed by all he came across.”

Justin Friedman of Enova SMB, described Dabah, “Smart, strategic, urgent, generous and wise are a few words to describe Elliot. He was universally popular and a known professional in our industry, which isn’t common to come by. He cared about his customers and business relationships. Elliot’s presence in alternative lending was a positive one and he will be remembered for exactly that.”

Elliot Dabah

Ben Lugassy of SOS Capital states that he was “Always smiling and enthusiastic, Elliot was the embodiment of joyful. A friend with tremendous respect and gratitude, he will always be remembered and in our prayers.”

Paul Boxer of Velocity Capital Group added, “Every-time I met Elliot he had the largest smile, always happy to talk shop and discuss the industry. He was very knowledgeable and had a wealth of information, he will surely be missed.”

Ken Peng of Elevate Funding recounts that Elliot, “was always great to work with. He was always very friendly and understanding when we did review any of his files. He will be missed.”

Gigi Russo, who was instrumental in putting this tribute together, further added that Elliot “treated everyone he came into contact with as a friend.” He has “a sincere, dignified, and affable reputation that will follow him after his passing. He will surely be remembered for supporting his colleagues, clients, business acquaintances, and network. The legacy Elliot has left behind is simple: Respect one another. Support one another. Honesty and hard work are necessities of success.”

Elliot Dabah and Gigi Russo
Elliot Dabah and Gigi Russo

Part of Elliot’s legacy is the company he built. Merchants Cash Partners, despite the pandemic, was so successful this year that it outgrew its office space.

“Elliot had a revolutionary style of making this industry a community,” says his partner Ashkenazie. “He referred clients and prospects alike to small firms and national firms, expecting nothing in return.”

Coincidence would have it that a photo of Elliot at a deBanked event was often used in event marketing promotions. As to how that picture came to be used so prominently, deBanked President Sean Murray said that “Elliot embodied the community we were trying to portray. A nice young business professional who radiated positive energy. Who is part of this industry? It’s guys like Elliot. That’s what we wanted everyone to know.

“Elliot totally noticed how often we were sharing his photo,” Murray said. “He told me that he thought that was pretty cool.”

Elliot Dabah

The Funder: From Office of One to Eighteen in Under a Year

December 13, 2018
Article by:

Jay AvigdorNot even a full year in business, Velocity Capital Group announced that it has secured $15 million in financing; $5 million in a series A, plus a $10 million line of credit. The entire investment comes from a family hedge fund in California, according to Jay Avigdor, Velocity’s President and CEO. Twenty-six year old Avigdor started the company out of his home in February and now employs 18 people in an office in Cedarhurst, Long Island.

Avigdor told deBanked that he started Velocity earlier this year with $50,000 of his savings, having spent nearly five years working for Pearl Capital. Already, he said that Velocity, which finances MCA deals, has funded over $20 million. Avigdor said he started at Pearl shortly after finishing college when he was about 19. (He said he graduated early thanks to credits he used from studying abroad and because he started college at 16). At Pearl, Avigdor said he wanted to get on the phones immediately. But with only two days of training, they wouldn’t let him.

“I thought ‘screw it,’” he recalled. “I only had $16.25 to my name and I wanted [the opportunity] to make money.”

So he said he found an old yellow pages phone book, brought it to the office with his phone charger and just started making calls from his own phone. Shortly thereafter, from his own cold calling, he said he closed a $250,000 MCA deal with an auto dealer in California.

“When I went back to the office the following day, they had two computers set up for me,” Avigdor said.

While Velocity funds a variety of businesses, Avigdor said they most commonly fund medical, technology and construction companies.

Avigdor said that while Velocity uses technology for efficiency, they also have a personal touch. For instance, he said they use an automated onboarding process for brokers, yet the actual underwriting and funding calls with merchants are done on the phone. At least that’s the way it works now.

“We crawl before we walk before we run,” Avigdor said.

He said that they give 10% of the net of proceeds on each file to a charity, which changes each month. Currently, it’s The Wounded Warriors.

Avigdor said tries to follow the advice of a rich, wise man he knows, who told him: “You won’t be remembered for how much gold you had, but for how many gold bars you’ve given away.”

Kapitus CEO Speaks on Success of Rating Reaffirmation

October 6, 2020
Article by:

Kapitus WebsiteWhen lending companies faced the tightest squeeze on capital since the great recession, many ran into trouble. Kapitus, having survived 08′, met 20′ with the same discipline that helped them navigate the pandemic.

“Our whole industry was put on a credit watch downgrade, and it’s very exciting that we were upgraded, reaffirmed to the original rating,” Kapitus CEO and founder Andy Reiser said. “Most of the companies, our peers defaulted and went into what’s called rapid amortization and did not make it through to keep their securitization.”

Reiser was happy to report that Kapitus received a rating affirmation from Kroll Bond Rating Agency (KBRA) on Friday. KBRA has removed the Kapitus securities from a Watch Downgrade.

Back in March, the businesses that Kapitus and their competitors funded across the country, faced state mandated shutdowns. Many customers were suddenly unable to make the loan, MCA, or equipment payments that they had been able to make for years.

For lenders that bundled and securitized the loans they made, the value of those loans was called into question.

“WE FOCUSED ON STRONG BUSINESS PRACTICES AND KEEPING THE PORTFOLIO STRONG, AND IT PAID OFF”

On March 30, KBRA placed the ratings of 29 securitizations representing $2.1 billion from 10 SMB lending firms on a “Watch Downgrade” due to the economic downturn.

To overcome the warning, Kapitus reigned in and focused on helping their customers. Reiser cited the addition of Jeff Newman from Citigroup to manage the risk team as an example of how the firm has been focused on funding responsibly for years.

“We focused on strong business practices and keeping the portfolio strong, and it paid off,” Reiser said. “We never stopped, we were not lending at the same velocity that we did pre COVID, but we never had a day that we didn’t fund a new deal.”

Reiser said that during the pandemic’s height, the team took a lot of long nights working on new products. One was a “step renewal” that allowed clients to pay installments and build up to the full payment, to make sure they were not overwhelmed. Kapitus also offered extended periods for their healthcare loans, up to 36 months, Reiser said.

For companies like Kapitus, a questionable rating could lead to a rapid amortization event: a sudden call to liquefy the bonds and give back investor money. For some, an event like this will spell the end: most firms don’t keep hundreds of millions or even billions on hand to give back principals in a moment’s notice.

Reiser said out of the ten securities on credit watch, only one other was reaffirmed, due to a renegotiation of terms that bond investors had to agree on. Kapitus made no negation but was reaffirmed due to the success of their business practice, Reiser said.

The securitization was initially issued for $105 million in June 2018, and expanded to $160 million last December, in three classes with a senior class rating of “A.”

Reiser believes that the pandemic, like the ’08 recessions, will see some consolidation and strong companies prospering in a displaced environment.

“I think COVID will teach a lot of other players that were very aggressive in coming down to this market that it’s not so easy,” Reiser said. “I think some of the banks and the alternative lenders that were more eager to come into this market may not be so aggressive at least for a while.”

The Funders Are Coming Back

June 10, 2020
Article by:

ComebackNearly 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.

“IT’S GOOD TO SEE THAT THE OLD-SCHOOL APPROACH IS BACK AND WORKING AGAIN”

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.

“ANYONE WHO CAN WEATHER THIS STORM IS GOING TO COME OUT 10 TIMES BETTER THAN THEY DID GOING IN”

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.

“WHEN IT GOT STRESS TESTED, THE PAIN CAME BACK REAL QUICK”

“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.”

How Small Business Funders Are Reacting to the Coronavirus

March 17, 2020
Article by:

eye on your moneyIn the past week and a half it appears as if six months of panic, reaction, and preparation have taken place. With the coronavirus having transformed from a subconscious worry at the back of our minds to a global pandemic that is leading industries and nations to be reshaped, uncertainty and a lack of information may lead to further confusion and anxiety.

As such, deBanked reached out to a number of funders within the alternative finance space to gauge how they’re feeling on the pandemic and understand what measures they are taking at this time.

One such company was BFS Capital. With its headquarters in Florida, CEO Mark Ruddock explained that he and his employees are used to preparing for crises. “It’s prime hurricane land. So we have a capability to operate without a single human head in the office. We have 100% capability for all of our team to work remotely regardless of whether they have work laptops or not.”

Communication is at the heart of this ability, with offices in Toronto, Omaha, New York, Chelmsford in the UK, and outsource partners in Guatemala, BFS relies on software like Microsoft Teams and Zoom to ensure smooth contact is maintained between its employees across the world.

And this mindset has recently been further enforced with regards to company-customer relations, Ruddock explained, noting that in that wake of the coronavirus, BFS has amped up its outreach to existing customers.

“Instead of just waiting for active inbound communication from our merchants, we actually now have an active outbound calling program. We’re trying to reach out to many of our merchants and understand how their businesses are doing, understand what sort of support and help they’re looking for. We’re trying to draw from this not only information about the specific merchant, but also information about that merchant’s geography, sector, and so on. And all of that is being fed back into a real-time dashboard internally.”

Beyond BFS, merchant outreach was a trend amongst the companies deBanked talked to. With funders reporting that they have teams trained to discuss future funding options with businesses if their finances suffer from a decrease in customers.

At the same time, some funders have decided to focus their efforts on tightening underwriting and funding channels, applying a conservative approach to which industries and locations will be served.

Velocity Group USA shared an internal memo to its ISOs with deBanked which detailed some instructions to brokers. Among these was the prompt for “our ISO’s to place more focus on essential businesses.” Non-essential businesses being categorized as community and recreation centers; gyms, including yoga, spin, and barre facilities; hair and nail salons and spas; casinos, concert venues, and theaters; bars and liquor stores; sports facilities and golf courses; most retail facilities, including shopping malls.

Placing a limitation upon funding like this has been a hot topic amongst the alternative finance community within recent days. A thread on the online discussion forum DailyFunder featured speculation and arguments over who is and isn’t funding anymore.

With so much of this being hearsay and rumor, deBanked found that asking funders directly whether or not they were funding currently to be the best remedy to this uncertainty. As of the time of publication, deBanked found that LoanMe had suspended funding until April 1 and that 1st Merchant Funding suspended further funding temporarily, with Vice President of Credit Risk Dylan Edwards saying that it would be “completely irresponsible” to continue funding.

In regards to how funders have been dealing with the coronavirus in their immediate surroundings, many, such as RDM’s CEO Reuven Mirlis, have noted that their employees have been offered the option of working from home, while others have made it a mandate to work from home. BlueVine’s CCO Brad Brodigan explained that this decision was part of their Business Continuity Plan and that prior to this they took extra measures so that their office was thoroughly disinfected and that social distancing was practiced within meetings of 5+ people.

Meanwhile Velocity Group USA has brought in Pat Gugliotta, the Commissioner of the business’s local fire department, to help establish contagion prevention protocols, based upon the screening processes practiced in JFK Airport. Explaining that this includes daily interviews with every staff member in the morning which look for trends relating to where they’ve been, who they’ve been in contact with, and how they’re feeling. As well as this, employee vitals are documented, with infrared thermometers being employed to monitor temperatures. “I’m trying to mirror our program to that program because I know the program works,” Gugliotta mentioned in a call.

While this may sound extreme, it must be remembered that this is an unprecedented crisis, meaning most strategies are untested and many funders are open to exploring novel precautions and solutions.

“This is an unprecedented event, which in its own right means you have to look at it differently,” BFS’s Ruddock explained. “I think it’s the sheer scope and speed that we have to cope with here. Scope meaning that this isn’t a hurricane which hits a region for a period of time and causes economic distress, which requires rebuilding, this is something that is international. This is not something that, like a recession, creeps at you over months and weeks and sometimes even signals orders. This is something that is happening with alarming speed. So in that way, these are unprecedented times now.”

This article will continue to be updated with funders who announce and disclose to us changes in their services, so check back to stay updated. Please do reach out if you would like to discuss the status of your company and how the coronavirus is affecting your business.

deBanked CONNECT Miami Travel Advisory

January 20, 2019
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THIS EVENT IS SOLD OUT

Miami Travel Tips

Please allow yourself ample amount of time to get through airport security. There has been reports of extended security wait times following the partial government shutdown.

Please arrive to the airport early and double-check your departure gate.

Eden Roc FAQ and Parking Info

Eden Roc has limited amount of parking spots. The hotel will accommodate as many as they can in their parking garage. We encourage you to use Uber, Lyft or cab when possible.

Eden Roc overnight parking is $48*. Daily parking, no overnight, is $25* until 8 PM. After 8 PM it is $35*.


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Tech Banks: Will Fintech Dethrone Traditional Banking?

August 20, 2017
Article by:

This story appeared in deBanked’s Jul/Aug 2017 magazine issue. To receive copies in print, SUBSCRIBE FREE

On Halloween, 2014, a largely unknown, Boston-based financial institution, First Trade Union Bank, embraced high-technology, went paperless, and officially adopted a new name: Radius Bank.

Will Fintech Dethrone Traditional Banking?In reinventing itself, Radius did more than dump its dowdy moniker. It shuttered five of its six branches, re-staffed its operations with a tech-savvy team, instituted “anytime/anywhere” banking services, and offered customers free access to cash via a nationwide ATM network. And it teamed up with a fistful of financial technology companies to offer an impressive array of online lending and investment products.

Today, the bank’s management boasts that, using their personal mobile phones, some 2,700 people per week are opening up checking accounts, funneling $3 million in consumer deposits into the bank’s virtual vault. That’s a stark contrast from a decade ago when the financial institution was being rocked by the financial crisis and “we couldn’t get anybody to walk into our branches,” says Radius’s chief executive, Mike Butler.

“We tried to leave that old bank behind,” he says. “We’re a virtual retail bank now, an efficiently run organization that offers high levels of customer service and Amazon-like solutions.”

Radius Bank is not alone. At a moment when there is much discussion — and hand-wringing — over the future of seemingly outmoded, highly regulated community banks, a coterie of small but nimble banks is exploiting technology and punching above its weight. Almost overnight, this cohort is combining the skill and hard-won experience of veteran bankers with the lightning-fast, extraordinary power afforded by the Internet and technological advances. As a result, these small and modest-sized institutions are redefining how banking is done.

In addition to Radius Bank, independent banks winning recognition for their bold, innovative – and profitable — exploitation of technology, include: Live Oak Bank in Wilmington, N.C., which adroitly parlays technology to become the No. 2 lender to business and agricultural borrowers backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration; Darien Rowayton Bank in Darien, Conn., which is making a name for itself with coast-to-coast, online refinancing of student loans; and Cross River Bank in Fort Lee, N.J., which does back-end work for a passel of fintech marketplace lenders.

“THESE ARE COMPANIES THAT UNDERSTAND THE VALUE OF A BANK CHARTER”


Interestingly, there’s not much overlap. Each of the banks goes its own way. But what all the banks have in common is that each has struck out on its own, each hitting upon a technological formula for success, each experiencing superior growth.

“These are companies that understand the value of a bank charter,” says Charles Wendel, president of Financial Institutions Consulting in Miami. “They have to work under the watchful eyes of state and federal regulators. But their cost of funds is low and they can offer more attractive rates. Because they’re less likely (than nonbank fintechs) to disappear, run out of money, or get sold,” the bank expert adds, “they also have the image of stability with customers.”

These modest-sized banks are emerging as not only pacesetters for the banking industry. Along with making common cause with the fintechs — which had promised to disrupt the banking industry – they’re even beating the fintechs at their own game.

Cary Whaley
Above: Cary Whaley, First VP, ICBA

“Classically, community banks have looked to technology partners to provide technological innovation,” says Cary Whaley, first vice-president for payment and technology policy at the Independent Community Bankers of America, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group representing a broad swath of the country’s 5,800 Main Street banks. “They still do. You’re seeing more partnerships. But now you also see community banks building innovative products and services outside of that relationship. You see forward-thinking banks developing their own technology to support big ideas like marketplace lending, distributed ledger technology, and emerging payments technology.”

With its extraordinary skill at exploiting technology, Live Oak Bank – which trades on the Nasdaq and is the only public company encountered in the cohort — has become a Wall Street darling. “While several banks have adopted an online-only model, and nearly all banks are shifting more and more delivery through online channels, Live Oak was built from the ground up as a technology-based bank,” Aaron Deer, a San Francisco-based research analyst at Sandler O’Neill Partners, wrote in a recent investment note.

Driving the success of Live Oak, which operates out of a single branch in the North Carolina seacoast town and has only been in business for a decade, is the explosive growth in its SBA lending, the bank’s “core strategy,” Deer notes. Last year, Live Oak lent out $709.5 million in SBA loans in increments of up to $5 million, the federal agency reports, making it the country’s No. 2 SBA lender. It trailed only megabank Wells Fargo Bank, the third largest bank in the U.S. with $1.5 trillion in assets, which made $838.93 million in SBA-backed loans last year.

As its SBA lending has taken off, Live Oak, which qualifies as a “preferred lender” with the federal agency, boasts assets that have nearly tripled to $1.4 billion in 2016, up from $567 million two years earlier. Those are flabbergastingly fantastic growth numbers. But just as incongruously — by nipping at the heels of Wells Fargo — Live Oak has been challenging a bank more than a thousand times its asset size for dominance in SBA lending.

And, interestingly, the bank is able to book those outsized amounts of SBA loans while lending to only 15 industries out of 1,100 approved by the government agency, slightly more than 1% of the universe. That’s up from 13 industries in 2015, and Live Oak is adding two to four additional industries yearly for its SBA loan portfolio, Deer reports. Included among the industries to which the bank made an average SBA loan of $1.29 million last year: Agriculture and poultry, family entertainment, funeral services, medical and dental, self-storage, veterinary, and wine and craft-beverage.

“WHEN YOU SPECIALIZE IN SOMETHING, YOU BECOME EFFICIENT”


The bank has a team of financing specialists dedicated to each of the designated industries. Among Live Oak’s current SBA borrowers are Martin Self Storage in Summerville, S.C.; Utah Turkey Farms in Circleville, Utah; Pinballz Arcade, Austin, Tex.; and Council Brewery Company in San Diego. Steve Smits, chief credit officer at the bank, told NerdWallet: “When you specialize in something, you become efficient. Because we do it every day and we have professionals and specialists, we tend to be more responsive and quicker.”

The heady combination of technological sophistication and banking expertise has allowed the lender to slash its loan-origination time to 45 days, about half the three-month industry average for SBA loans. To speed up loan sourcing and generation, the bank developed its own in-house technology, which led to the formation of the Wilmington-based technology company nCino, which was spun off to shareholders in 2014.

Live Oak did not return calls to discuss its lending strategies, but in SEC filings bank management declared: “The technology-based platform that is pivotal to our success is dependent on the use of the nCino bank operating system” which relies on Force.com’s cloud-computing infrastructure platform, a product of Salesforce.com.

Natalia Moose, a public relations manager at nCino told deBanked in an e-mail interview: “We work with Live Oak Bank, in addition to more than 150 other financial institutions in multiple countries with assets ranging from $200 million to $2 trillion, including nine of the top 30 U.S. banks. nCino was started by bankers at Live Oak Bank who found the logistics of shuffling paperwork among loan stakeholders to be unwieldy, inefficient and time-consuming.

Above Video: The nCino community

“nCino’s bank operating system,” Moose adds, “leverages the power and security of the Salesforce platform to deliver an end-to-end banking solution. The bank operating system empowers bank employees and leaders with true insight into the bank, combining CRM (customer relationship management), deposit account opening, loan origination, workflow, enterprise content management, digital engagement portal, and instant, real-time reporting on a single secure, cloud-based platform.”

Live Oak, meanwhile, is not resting on its technological laurels. According to Deer’s report, the bank’s parent company, Live Oak Bancshares, has formed a subsidiary to inject venture capital into fintech companies. It’s already taken a small equity stake in Payrails and Finxact, “the latter of which is developing a completely new core processor to compete against the old legacy systems used by most banks,” the Sandler O’Neill analyst writes. “Quite simply,” he asserts elsewhere in his report, “the company is far beyond any other bank we cover in its technical capabilities and the growth outlook remains outstanding.”

Darien Rowayton Bank - Via Google StreetviewFive hundred and thirty-three miles due north along the Atlantic coast in southeastern Connecticut, Darien Rowayton Bank is also experiencing tremendous success as a lender using a home-grown technology platform. State-chartered by the Connecticut Department of Banking and regulated as well by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the $600 million-asset bank is winning attention in banking circles for its online student-loan refinancing.

A few years ago, DRB, as it is known, was looking to go beyond mortgage and commercial lending — “the bread and butter for most community banks,” bank president Robert Kettenmann explained to deBanked in a telephone interview – and was somewhat at a loss. The bank considered but then rejected the credit card business. Finally, DRB struck paydirt refinancing student loans. “Our chairman really seized on the opportunity,” Kettenmann says, adding: “It’s a $35 billion market.”

Thanks to the National Bank Act, it’s able to operate in all 50 states. As a regulated commercial bank with a strong deposit base, DRB can also offer low rates well below any state’s usury prohibitions.

What is most striking about DRB’s program is its nationwide targeting of upwardly mobile, affluent young professionals. According to a PowerPoint presentation obtained by deBanked, all of the bank’s super-prime borrowers, who are mainly in the 28-34 age bracket, have a college degree and a whopping 93% have graduate degrees. Average income is $194,000.

Rising PhoenixForty-eight percent of those refinancing student loans with DRB are doctors or dentists and another 22 percent are pharmacists, nurses or medical employees; only about 20% are paying off their law degrees or MBAs. The heavy concentration of refinancing in the medical field reduces economic risk in an economic downturn. Forty-three percent of the borrowers are home-owners, the rest are renters – and prime candidates for an online, DRB-financed mortgage.

(Once known as “yuppies” today this cohort is “known by the acronym ‘HENRY,’” remarks Cornelius Hurley, a Boston University banking professor and executive director of the Online Lending Institute, explaining the initials stand for “High Earners Not Rich Yet.”)

The Connecticut bank partnered with a third-party on-line vendor, Campus Door, when it commenced making student loans in 2013. In the fall of 2016, however, DRB built out its own, proprietary loan-origination system, Kettenmann reports, emphasizing that CampusDoor had been an excellent partner but that the bank wanted to exercise end-to-end control over the process. DRB employs a seven-pronged, “omni-channel” marketing approach that includes interactive marketing, affinity partnerships, digital/online advertising, direct mail, mass-media advertising, and public relations/brand awareness campaigns.

DRB’s online enrollment provides “pre-approved rates” in less than two minutes with final approval on rates in 24-48 hours. Refinancers can complete the online application at their own speed. Through May, 2017, DRB had made $2.48 billion in refinancing to 20,000 student-loan borrowers, with only ten defaults, five of which were attributed to deaths or “terminal illness.”

On Yelp! the bank has received a batch of reviews ranging from very favorable, five-star (“I had a truly wonderful experience”) to one-star (“awful” and “truly a nightmare”). Many fault the application process as laborious, describing it as “time-consuming.” But for those who have succeeded, like the reviewer who counseled “patience,” the result can be “the lowest rate with DRB…my loan payments went down $100 a month.”

Cross River BankJust about an hour’s drive south and taking its name from its proximity to New York city just over the George Washington Bridge is New Jersey-based, state-chartered Cross River Bank, which has a reputation as a partner-in-arms to fintech companies. “We’re both users and producers of technology,” declares Gilles Gade, the bank’s chief executive.

The bank provides “back-end” and infrastructure support to 17 marketplace lenders that offer a suite of lending products including personal loans, mortgages and home-equity loans. Following loan origination by a fintech company – Marlette Funding, Affirm, Upstart, loanDepot, SoFi, and Quicken Loan, among other partners — Cross River does the actual underwriting. Last year, Gade reports, the bank underwrote 1.9 million loans valued at $4-4.5 billion, about 10% of which Cross River kept on its books. The bulk of the loans are sold “back to the marketplace lenders” or to a third party. “We’ve created a high-velocity automated system,” he says.

Gade is manifestly unapologetic about the bank’s role in assisting fintechs in their competition with the banking establishment. “We’re a banking infrastructure services provider for those who want to disrupt the banking system,” he says. “Consumers expect a lot better than they’ve been getting from traditional banking services.”

Radius BankBack in Boston, Radius Bank’s chief executive reports that forging partnerships with fintechs to provide the full panoply of online banking services was no easy proposition. In its mating ritual, Radius not only had to determine that a fintech company’s offerings were sound and that it had the right characteristics – most especially “a long-term, sustainable business model” – but that its corporate culture meshed comfortably with Radius’s.

After meeting with as many as 500 fintechs and after a fair amount of trial and error, Radius formed partnerships with LevelUp, which enables customers to make mobile payments; with online lender Prosper, for refinancing consumer debt and “credit rehabilitation”; with SmarterBucks, for refinancing student loans; and with online investment firm Aspiration Partners – which allows investors to name their own fees and markets itself to a predominately middle-class audience as the firm “with a conscience.”

Radius employs advertising on social media websites and employs “psychographics” to appeal to “anyone who is zealous about using technology, not necessarily millennials,” Butler says. The data show that 65% of adults in the U.S. would prefer to use a traditional bank and have face-to-face interactions with a teller, he notes, leaving the remaining 35% as Radius’s target audience.

Christopher Tremont, executive vice-president for virtual banking, told deBanked that a typical Radius customer is 42 years old, lives in Boston, New York, Chicago “or one of the bigger cities in the West,” is a “technophile,” earns $75,000 a year, and has $100,000 in personal assets.

“COMMUNITY BANKS LOVE THAT PART OF THE BUSINESS—LENDING MONEY”


Radius’s performance since it went paperless has been stellar. The bank has seen a rapid rise in deposits, spurting to $782 million through the first quarter of 2017, up from $565 million at year-end 2014. With little fee income but ample deposits and low-cost funds, Radius realizes the bulk of its revenues – and profits — on the interest-rate spread generated from its loan portfolio.

The bank booked $43.5 million in SBA loans last year, ranking it in the top 50 banks on the SBA’s league tables, while carrying another $105 million in its commercial leasing business at the end of the first quarter this year. Loan generation is driving asset growth, which are currently at $973 billion, up more a third from $726 million in 2014, and Butler expects the bank’s assets to top $1 billion sometime this year.

“Community banks love that part of the business—lending money,” Butler says.

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