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10/02/2020Kapitus securitization rating affirmed
04/22/2020Kapitus surveyed SMBs on PPP
12/20/2019Kapitus closes $160M securitization
10/29/2019DrChrono partners with Kapitus



Stories

Kapitus CEO Speaks on Success of Rating Reaffirmation

October 6, 2020
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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.”

Kapitus Rolls Out Fully Automated Funding Process

April 2, 2019
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Kapitus_Logo_notag_lgNew York, NYKapitus, a leading provider of alternative financing to small and midsize businesses, announces the roll-out of auto-checkout – a fully automated funding process for qualified deals. The new process allows for not only a faster, more streamlined experience for its partners; but it also provides more flexible financing options, by providing multiple offers at once. At the same time, the new process provides merchants with secure and quick access to funds for their business.

Unlike competing models where only an “option of approval” or “conditional approval” is provided at the time of checkout, Kapitus is able to determine approval eligibility with only an application and bank statements without the need for multiple upfront stipulations to confirm bank information, ownership and identity. Utilizing proprietary machine learning models – eligible deals can be closed without any additional documentation.

“This is a true turning-point for us from a technology perspective and we’re very excited about it,” said Andrew Reiser, Chief Executive Officer at Kapitus. “With this new automated process, we’re able to provide our partners an extremely simple process with an exceptionally quick time-to-funding. At the same time, merchants are provided with a more seamless experience with enhanced security”

Major features in the roll-out include:

  • True auto-check functionality with full approval at time of checkout
  • Progress tracking and customizable notifications to follow merchants through the checkout process
  • Intuitive user interface with precise, easy-to-understand instructions for both merchants and partners
  • Simple, seamless secure checkout functionality for merchants

“This is the first of many technology advancements we will be rolling out over the next year,” adds Arun Narayan, Chief Product Officer. “We are committed to creating exceptional experiences for both our partners and merchants. Incorporating the right technology is paramount in building out the right environment and the best experience for all of our audiences.”

ABOUT Kapitus
Founded in 2006 and headquartered in NYC, Kapitus is one of the most reliable and respected names in small business financing. As both a direct lender and a marketplace built with a trusted network of lending partners, Kapitus is able to provide small businesses the financing they need, when and how it is needed. With one application business owners can save time and money, while eliminating the stress that comes with applying to different lenders. At Kapitus, we believe that business owners should be able to focus on running their business, while we take care of the financing. Learn more at https://kapitus.com

CONTACT: Bernadette Abel
Kapitus
babel@kapitus.com
646-722-1484

Why Strategic Funding Rebranded as Kapitus

January 15, 2019
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Kapitus WebsiteToday, Strategic Funding announced the launch of a new brand identity, including a name change. Strategic Funding will now be called Kapitus.

“We had a name that was very well respected,” said Kapitus founder and CEO Andy Reiser. “Everybody loved our name, quite frankly. They loved it so much, they all copied it. You can’t trademark ‘Strategic Funding.’ It’s too generic.”

Kapitus, spelled this way, is not a word in any language, which makes it easier to trademark.

“We wanted to separate ourselves in a way that is clearly identifiable,” Reiser said. “It’s an easy one-word name [that] symbolizes stability and strength. It’s ‘capital from us,’ if you want to break it down.”

Reiser said that the company has been relatively quiet over the last three years, but they have been advancing all along, and they are particularly proud of their brand new ISO portal. According to Reiser, the new portal helps ISOs better understand their book at Kapitus and allows brokers to generate a contract quickly without having to call them. The company has an in-house marketing team, but well over 50% of its business comes from the ISO channel.

Kapitus provides a variety of financial products, including equipment financing (they have an in house equipment leasing division) and factoring (they have a small internal factoring group). They also offer business loans, lines of credit and MCA deals. But the company’s largest portion of its business – more than 15% – comes from its Helix Healthcare Financing product, which finances healthcare practitioners like doctors, dentists and veterinarians.

Unlike other funders of healthcare practitioners that may offer financing terms up to 18 months, Kapitus offers terms of up to 10 years as long as the merchant satisfies its requirements. The company also funds a considerable number of healthcare-related businesses, like medical equipment providers. Otherwise, Reiser said that Kapitus has a diversified mix of merchants, from restaurants to manufacturers.  

Reiser said that about 15% of Kapitus’s business consists of deals above $150,000 for which they have a seperate team. They do deals as high as $750,000.

When operating under the Strategic Funding name, there was a payment servicing division of the company, called Colonial Servicing. That entity will remain, but will be woven into the new Kapitus name.       

Founded in 2006, Kapitus employs 240 people divided among three offices. The headquarters is in New York and there is an office with about 30 people in Arlington, VA, and a Dallas-area office with about 35 people working in collections and customer service.

Strategic Funding Source Announces Launch of New Brand Identity; Unites its Funding Arm and Servicing Arm Under the name Kapitus

January 15, 2019
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Change reflects new strategy, expansion of product portfolio, technology advancements and a renewed commitment to provide financing to more businesses

New York, NY – January 15, 2019 – Strategic Funding Source, a veteran of the small and medium-sized business alternative lending space, today announced the launch of a new corporate brand identity, including a new name. As part of this rebrand, the funding division and servicing division will be united under the name Kapitus. The unification of these two divisions will allow for an improved experience for both clients and partners.

Since its inception in 2006, Strategic Funding Source has provided over $2 billion to almost 40,000 businesses in hundreds of industries across the U.S. Over the past two years, the organization has been proactively building out its executive team, bringing in a wealth of experience to transform its risk model, underwriting processes, lending capacity and product line, technology capabilities and customer experience.

With these and other planned advancements, the company required a new brand that better reflected the company’s commitment to be a reliable source of capital to all small and mid-sized business owners.

“The small business lending landscape is consolidating around a few strong and reputable companies. Over the last several years, Kapitus has experienced tremendous growth both in its product offerings to small and medium-sized businesses and in the total number of businesses it serves” said Andy Reiser, CEO of Kapitus. “We chose a name and identity that represents our strength and stability as well as our promise to be a responsible and fair source of capital to small and medium-sized businesses nationwide.”

Along with the name change there will be a new logo, tagline (“Let’s Grow Together”) and domain name (kapitus.com). The rebrand is the first step in the company’s strategy to grow its own financing product line, add to its marketplace of 3rd party lenders and create a foundation for new partnership opportunities. The new brand also represents the company’s commitment to keep the human touch throughout the financing process, while improving customer experience through technology to aid the decisioning process and improve speed to funding.

“This is an exciting change for us,” added Reiser. “This new branding builds upon our history and pays allegiance to our standing as a leader in a fast-evolving industry, opening the door for future opportunities for us, our clients and our partners.”

About Kapitus
Founded in 2006 and headquartered in NYC, Kapitus is one of the most reliable and respected names in small business financing. As both a direct lender and a marketplace built with a trusted network of lending partners, Kapitus is able to provide small businesses the financing they need, when and how it is needed. With one application business owners can save time and money, while eliminating the stress that comes with applying to different lenders. At Kapitus, we believe that business owners should be able to focus on running their business, while we take care of the financing. To learn more, visit www.kapitus.com.

Immigrating From Cuba With “Nothing in my pockets,” to a CEO Funding $12 Million a Month

December 15, 2020
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Frank Ebanks“Work hard, don’t ask questions, and good things will happen to you,” Frank Ebanks described his keys to success in the MCA world. “Being Positive, working hard, and keeping my eyes open: If I hadn’t been looking for opportunities at 2 am in the morning on Craigslist, I would have never known about this industry, but it’s huge, it’s such a big industry.”

Ebanks started what would become Spartan Capital shortly after seeing an ad calling for startup investors in an industry Ebanks had never heard of, called Merchant Cash Advance.

It was around 2016. Ebanks was up late in the NYU university library, putting himself through an MBA while working as a reactor operator at the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester.

Despite the job security Ebanks enjoyed, he said he wasn’t happy with his career, wasn’t getting the satisfaction he wanted. He had already made it a long way— starting before the millennium as a Cuban immigrant, immigrating to the Dominican Republic in 1998 and then Florida in 2002 with empty pockets. Shortly after arriving, Ebanks enlisted.

“I spent some time in the army; I wanted to put in some time,” Ebanks said. “I said: ‘I’m a new immigrant, what’s the best thing that I could do to reward these opportunities?’ To serve in the army, give the country a couple years, and payback in advance for this opportunity that I knew I was going to have.”

Ebanks said he learned early on to take every opportunity seriously. He served for two years and then became an engineer and contractor for the army, working on the Patriot Missile defense system. He went through college at NJIT, graduating in 2009, and following in his father’s footsteps to become an electrical engineer.

After working with South Jerseys PSE&G, Ebanks took the opportunity to work full time shifts at the the nuclear power plant, and by 2016 he was pursuing an MBA and looking for ways to grow what he called “my empire.” Used to investing in small businesses already, discovering MCA fit right within his world.

“$10,000 LATER, WE HAD A COMPANY”

“I’ve always been active, throughout my professional career I had businesses in real estate, I owned several businesses such as laundromats, a lot of retail cell phone stores and things like that,” Ebanks said. “So at one or two am in the morning, I’m working on how to build my empire. I was on Craigslist looking for opportunities, seeing what’s out there, and somebody wanted an investment, to partner up and start a company in a new industry.”

He took a meeting and learned a ton. Although he did not end up going into business with that person, he was hooked on the concept.

“I looked at that ad, and $10,000 later, we had a company,” Ebanks said.

Spartan CapitalHe learned what he needed and ended up opening his own MCA business shortly after in New Jersey, finding he loved setting up syndicated MCA deals.

“I did some research, opened an office in New Jersey, secured a manager to run the operation, and we started brokering deals and learning about syndication.”

He worked with SFS Capital, now called Kapitus. He fell in love with the immediate gratification feedback of making deals, seeing returns on account receivables, and watching renewals come in. The business grew, but things were not always a straight climb to success.

“There was a point where things were not going well and I had to start a new company, find new parters and investors with a funding direct-only focus, and moved into my basement- my wife was unhappy with that. I started hiring people, processors, underwriters, and ISO managers in my basement,” Ebanks said. “At one point, she said, ‘Okay, this is enough. Ten strangers are coming into my house every day, you’ve got to get an office,’ so we secured an office in New York. And that’s when things took off in 2017.”

At that point, Ebanks had shifted his business model from securing deals to funding them all his own, using capital he raised. Ebanks said that being a broker partnered with Kapitus was great, but he wanted to grow and run his business entirely. The best way to do that was through ISO management, Ebanks said. Ebanks let the direct sales team phase out and he hired ISO managers, learning the ISO business as he went.

“DON’T SETTLE, LOOK FOR GROWTH, AND INVEST YOUR MONEY”

“So fast forward now: We have over five ISO managers, and we’re funding about $12 million a month,” Ebanks said. “It’s been a phenomenal journey and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life; I’m not shy to share how exciting every day is to me, and how other than my family and my kids and God, this is the most important thing my life.”

For brokers looking to get started in the industry, Ebanks has this advice to share: Don’t settle.

“Don’t settle, look for growth, and invest your money,” Ebanks said. “I always invested everything I could, 95%, every penny on the business. It matters especially at the beginning, the more you invest, don’t let it sit.”

That investment should go toward your business, your staff, and hiring. Ebanks said the more you invest, the bigger the bag, the more your firm would grow, and your employees will grow with you. Helping employees will mean they will eventually leave, but in Ebanks’ experience treating employees right creates partners.

“Some of them now are partners, and the employee-employer relationship is always more partnership,” Ebanks said. “Some of them own their own companies now, and we help each other out. If they have a big deal, they say: ‘Frank do you want to take $50,000 out of this deal?’ I say yea I trust you. I’ve known you for years.”

Now that he’s on track to grow with recurring customers, seeing some merchants come back to renew twenty times since 2016, Ebanks sees a possible bright future for Spartan Capital: becoming a chartered online bank.

“It is an alternative lending space but to offer the best products to people,” Ebanks said. “I think at the end of the day, and we need all the resources we can get, the next chapter is to apply and secure an online bank charter, it’s the future of the fintech industry.

“Why do people like doing business with us versus a bank? Some of them can do business with banks, but they choose to use us because they have direct access to us after 6 pm, they could call us Saturday, they can call us on a Sunday,” Ebanks said. “A great relationship that they can never get from a bank. I want to bring what we do in MCA to the banking industry to serve people that want banking products, but I want to give them that MCA experience.”

Fintech Vets Make Move to Yardline Capital

December 11, 2020
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yardline capitalAfter Yardline Capital burst into the growth capital space for e-commerce sellers, two fintech vets have recently announced a move to the company.

Seth Broman, formerly Senior Vice President of Business Development at Kapitus, announced he had become Chief Revenue Officer of Yardline Capital.

Dennis Chin, formerly in capital markets for OnDeck, announced on LinkedIn that he had become Head of Strategic Initiatives for Yardline Capital.

On LinkedIn, Broman wrote, “Over the last 14 years, I have seen SMB lending and alternative financing grow and adapt time and time again. Innovation and technology have transformed the industry and continue to do so daily. I have seen firsthand billions and billions of dollars propel SMBs and along with the growth of those companies, the industry itself continues to evolve. With that, I’m very excited to share with my friends, family, colleagues and network that I have joined Tomo Matsuo and Ari Horowitz to build Yardline – providing value-added capital solutions for ecommerce sellers to work smarter & grow faster.”

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December 19, 2019
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The FTC Wants To Police Small Business Finance

October 22, 2019
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This story appeared in deBanked’s Sept/Oct 2019 magazine issue. To receive copies in print, SUBSCRIBE FREE

FTC PoliceOn May 23, the Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation into unfair or deceptive practices in the small business financing industry, including by merchant cash advance providers.

The agency is looking into, among other things, whether both financial technology companies and merchant cash advance firms are making misrepresentations in their marketing and advertising to small businesses, whether they employ brokers and lead-generators who make false and misleading claims, and whether they engage in legal chicanery and misconduct in structuring contracts and debt-servicing.

Evan Zullow, senior attorney at the FTC’s consumer protection division, told deBanked that the FTC is, moreover, investigating whether fintechs and MCAs employ “problematic,” “egregious” and “abusive” tactics in collecting debts. He cited such bullying actions as “making false threats of the consequences of not paying a debt,” as well as pressuring debtors with warnings that they could face jail time, that authorities would be notified of their “criminal” behavior, contacting third-parties like employers, colleagues, or family members, and even issuing physical threats.

“Broadly,” Zullow said in a telephone interview, “our work and authority reaches the full life cycle of the financing arrangement.” He added: “We’re looking closely at the conduct (of firms) in this industry and, if there’s unlawful conduct, we’ll take law enforcement action.”

“IF THERE’S UNLAWFUL CONDUCT, WE’LL TAKE LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTION”

Zullow declined to identify any targets of the FTC inquiry. “I can’t comment on nonpublic investigative work,” he said.

cojsThe FTC investigation is one of several regulatory, legislative and law enforcement actions facing the merchant cash advance industry, which was triggered by a Bloomberg exposé last winter alleging sharp practices by some MCA firms.

The Bloomberg series told of high-cost financings, of MCA firms’ draining debtors’ bank accounts, and of controversial collections practices in which debtors signed contracts that included “confessions of judgment.”

The FTC long ago outlawed the use of COJs in consumer loan contracts and several states have banned their use in commercial transactions. In September, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation prohibiting the use of COJs in New York State courts for out-of-state residents. And there is a bipartisan bill pending in the U.S. Senate authored by Florida Republican Marco Rubio and Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown to outlaw COJs nationwide.

Mark Dabertin, a senior attorney at Pepper Hamilton, described the FTC’s investigation of small business financing as a “significant development.” But he also said that the agency’s “expansive reading of the FTC Act arguably presents the bigger news.” Writing in a legal memorandum to clients, Dabertin added: “It opens the door to introducing federal consumer protection laws into all manner of business-to-business conduct.”

“IT OPENS THE DOOR TO INTRODUCING FEDERAL CONSUMER PROTECTION LAWS INTO ALL MANNER OF BUSINESS-TO-BUSINESS CONDUCT”

FTC attorney Zullow told deBanked, “We don’t think it’s new or that we’re in uncharted waters.”

The FTC inquiry into alternative small business financing is not the only investigation into the MCA industry. Citing unnamed sources, The Washington Post reported in June that the Manhattan district attorney is pursuing a criminal investigation of “a group of cash advance executives” and that the New York State attorney general’s office is conducting a separate civil probe.

ftc COMMISSIONER rohit chopra
FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra

The FTC’s investigation follows hard on the heels of a May 8 forum on small business financing. Labeled “Strictly Business,” the proceedings commenced with a brief address by FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra, who paid homage to the vital role that small business plays in the U.S. economy. “Hard work and the creativity of entrepreneurs and new small businesses helped us grow,” he said.

But he expressed concern that entrepreneurship and small business formation in the U.S. was in decline. According to census data analyzed by the Kaufmann Foundation and the Brookings Institution, the commissioner noted, the number of new companies as a share of U.S. businesses has declined by 44 percent from 1978 to 2012.

“It’s getting harder and harder for entrepreneurs to launch new businesses,” Chopra declared. “Since the 1980s, new business formation began its long steady decline. A decade ago births of new firms started to be eclipsed by deaths of firms.”

Chopra singled out one-sided, unjust contracts as a particularly concerning phenomenon. “One of the most powerful weapons wielded by firms over new businesses is the take-it-or-leave-it contract,” he said, adding: “Contracts are ways that we put promises on paper. When it comes to commerce, arm’s length dealing codified through contracts is a prerequisite for prosperity. “But when a market structure requires small businesses to be dependent on a small set of dominant firms — or firms that don’t engage in scrupulous business practices — these incumbents can impose contract terms that cement dominance, extract rents, and make it harder for new businesses to emerge and thrive.”

Watch a recording of the FTC panels below

As the panel discussions unfolded, representatives of the financial technology industry (Kabbage, Square Capital and the Electronic Transactions Association) as well as executives in the merchant cash advance industry (Kapitus, Everest Business Financing, and United Capital Source) sought to emphasize the beneficial role that alternative commercial financiers were playing in fostering the growth of small businesses by filling a void left by banks.

The fintechs went first. In general, they stressed the speed and convenience of their loans and lines of credit, and the pioneering innovations in technology that allowed them to do deeper dives into companies seeking credit, and to tailor their products to the borrower’s needs. Panelists cited the “SMART Box” devised by Kabbage and OnDeck as examples of transparency. (Accompanying those companies’ loan offers, the SMART Box is modeled on the uniform terms contained in credit card offerings, which are mandated by the Truth in Lending Act. TILA does not pertain to commercial debt transactions.)

FTC paneSam Taussig, head of global policy at Kabbage, explained that his company typically provides loans to borrowers with five to seven employees — “truly Main Street American small businesses” — that are seeking out “project-based financing” or “working capital.”

“The average small business according to our research only has about 27 days of cash flow on hand,” Taussig told the fintech panel, FTC moderators and audience members. “So if you as a small business owner need to seize an opportunity to expand your revenue or (have) a one-off event — such as the freezer in your ice cream store breaks — it’s very difficult to access that capital quickly to get back to business or grow your business.”

Taussig contrasted the purpose of a commercial loan with consumer loans taken out to consolidate existing debt or purchase a consumer product that’s “a depreciating asset.” Fintechs, which typically supply lightning-quick loans to entrepreneurs to purchase equipment, meet payrolls, or build inventory, should be judged by a different standard.

A florist needs to purchase roses and carnations for Mother’s Day, an ice-cream store must replenish inventory over the summer, an Irish pub has to stock up on beer and add bartenders at St. Patrick’s Day.

The session was a snapshot of not just the fintech industry but of the state of small business. Lewis Goodwin, the head of banking services at Square Capital, noted that small businesses account for 48% of the U.S. workforce. Yet, he said, Square’s surveys show that 70% of them “are not able to get what they want” when they seek financing.

Square, he said, has made 700,000 loans for $4.5 billion in just the past few years, the platform’s average loan is between $6,000 and $7,000, and it never charges borrowers more than 15% of a business’s daily receipts. The No. 1 alternative for small businesses in need of capital is “friends and family,” Goodwin said, “and that’s a tough bank to go back to.”

florist owner waving goodbyePanelist Gwendy Brown, vice-president of research and policy at the Opportunity Fund, a non-profit microfinance organization, provided the fintechs with their most rocky moment when she declared that small businesses turning up at her fund were typically paying an annual percentage rate of 94 percent for fintech loans. And while most small business owners were knowledgeable about their businesses — the florists “know flowers in and out,” for example — they are often bewildered by the “landscape” of financial product offerings.

“Sophistication as a business owner,” Brown said, “does not necessarily equate into sophistication in being able to assess finance options.”

Panelist Claire Kramer Mills, vice-president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, reported that the country’s banks have made a dramatic exit from small business lending over the past ten years. A graphic would show that bank loans of more than $1 million have risen dramatically over the past decade but, she said, “When you look at the small loans, they’ve remained relatively flat and are not back to pre-crisis levels.”

Mills also said that 50% of small businesses in the Federal Reserve’s surveys “tell us that they have a funding shortfall of some sort or another. It’s more stark when you look at women-owned business, black or African-American owned businesses, and Latino-owned businesses.”

On the merchant cash advance panel there was less opportunity to dazzle the regulators and audience members with accounts of state-of-the-art technology and the ability to aggregate mountains of data to make online loans in as few as seven minutes, as Kabbage’s Taussig noted the fintech is wont to do.

merchant cash advance panel ftcInstead, industry panelists endeavored to explain to an audience — which included skeptical regulators, journalists, lawyers and critics — the precarious, high-risk nature of an MCA or factoring product, how it differs from a loan, and the upside to a merchant opting for a cash advance. (To their credit, one attendee told deBanked, the audience also included members of the MCA industry interested in compliance with federal law.)

A merchant cash advance is “a purchase of future receipts,” Kate Fisher, an attorney at Hudson Cook in Baltimore, explained. “The business promises to deliver a percentage of its revenue only to the extent as that revenue is created. If sales go down,” she explained, “then the business has a contractual right to pay less. If sales go up, the business may have to pay more.”

As for the major difference between a loan and a merchant cash advance: the borrower promises to repay the lender for the loan, Fisher noted, but for a cash advance “there’s no absolute obligation to repay.”

Scott Crockett, chief executive at Everest Business Funding, related two anecdotes, both involving cash advances to seasonal businesses. In the first instance, a summer resort in Georgia relied on Everest’s cash advances to tide it over during the off-season.

When the resort owner didn’t call back after two seasonal advances, Crockett said, Everest wanted to know the reason. The answer? The resort had been sold to Marriott Corporation. Thanking Everest, Crockett said, the former resort-owners reported that without the MCA, he would likely have sold off a share of his business to a private equity fund or an investor.

By providing a cash advance Everest acted “more like a temporary equity partner,” Crockett remarked.

In the second instance, a restaurant in the Florida Keys that relied on a cash advance from Everest to get through the slow summer season was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. “Thank God no one was hurt,” Crockett said, “but the business owner didn’t owe us anything. We had purchased future revenues that never materialized.”

The outsized risk borne by the MCA industry is not confined entirely to the firm making the advance, asserted Jared Weitz, chief executive at United Capital Service, a consultancy and broker based in Great Neck, N.Y. It also extends to the broker. Weitz reported that a big difference between the MCA industry and other funding sources, such as a bank loan backed by the Small Business Administration, is that ”you are responsible to give that commission back if that merchant does not perform or goes into an actual default up to 90 days in.

“I think that’s important,” Weitz added, “because on (both) the broker side and on the funding side, we really are taking a ride with the merchant to make sure that the business succeeds.”

NO APRFTC’s panel moderators prodded the MCA firms to describe a typical factor rate. Jesse Carlson, senior vice-president and general counsel at Kapitus, asserted that the factor rate can vary, but did not provide a rate.

“Our average financing is approximately $50,000, it’s approximately 11-12 months,” he said. “On a $50,000 funding we would be purchasing $65,000 of future revenue of that business.”

The FTC moderator asked how that financing arrangement compared with a “typical” annual percentage rate for a small business financing loan and whether businesses “understand the difference.”

Carlson replied: “There is no interest rate and there is no APR. There is no set repayment period, so there is no term.” He added: “We provide (the) total cost in a very clear disclosure on the first page of all of our contracts.”

Ami Kassar, founder and chief executive of Multifunding, a loan broker that does 70% of its work with the Small Business Administration, emerged as the panelist most critical of the MCA industry. If a small business owner takes an advance of $50,000, Kassar said, the advance is “often quoted as a factor rate of 20%. The merchant thinks about that as a 20% rate. But on a six-month payback, it’s closer to 60-65%.”

He asserted that small businesses would do better to borrow the same amount of money using an SBA loan, pay 8 1/4 percent and take 10 years to pay back. It would take more effort and the wait might be longer, but “the impact on their cash flow is dramatic” — $600 per month versus $600 a day, he said — “compared to some of these other solutions.”

Kassar warned about “enticing” offers from MCA firms on the Internet, particularly for a business owner in a bind. “If you jump on that train and take a short-term amortization, oftentimes the cash flow pressure that creates forces you into a cycle of short-term renewals. As your situation gets tougher and tougher, you get into situations of stacking and stacking.”

On a final panel on, among other matters, whether there is uniformity in the commercial funding business, panelists described a massive muddle of financial products.

“THEY’RE TELLING US THAT IT’S VERY DIFFICULT TO FIND EVEN SOME BASIC INFORMATION”

Barbara Lipman: project manager in the division of community affairs with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, said that the central bank rounded up small businesses to do some mystery shopping. The cohort — small businesses that employ fewer than 20 employees and had less than $2 million in revenues — pretended to shop for credit online.

As they sought out information about costs and terms and what the application process was like, she said, “They’re telling us that it’s very difficult to find even some basic information. Some of the lenders are very explicit about costs and fees. Others however require a visitor to go to the website to enter business and personal information before finding even the basics about the products.” That experience, Lipman said, was “problematic.”

She also said that, once they were identified as prospective borrowers on the Internet, the Fed’s shoppers were barraged with a ceaseless spate of online credit offers.

John Arensmeyer, chief executive at Small Business Majority, an advocacy organization, called for greater consistency and transparency in the marketplace. “We hear all the time, ‘Gee, why do we need to worry about this? These are business people,’” he said. “The reality is that unless a business is large enough to have a controller or head of accounting, they are no more sophisticated than the average consumer.

“Even about the question of whether a merchant cash advance is a loan or not,” Arensmeyer added. “To the average small business owner everything is a loan. These legal distinctions are meaningless. It’s pretty much the Wild West.”

ftc office washington dcIn the aftermath of the forum, the question now is: What is the FTC likely to do?

Zullow, the FTC attorney, referred deBanked to several recent cases — including actions against Avant and SoFi — in which the agency sanctioned online lenders that engaged in unfair or deceptive practices, or misrepresented their products to consumers.

These included a $3.85 million settlement in April, 2019, with Avant, an online lending company. The FTC had charged that the fintech had made “unauthorized charges on consumers’ accounts” and “unlawfully required consumers to consent to automatic payments from their bank accounts,” the agency said in a statement.

In the settlement with SoFi, the FTC alleged that the online lender, “made prominent false statements about loan refinancing savings in television, print, and internet advertisements.” Under the final order, “SoFi is prohibited from misrepresenting to consumers how much money consumers will save,” according to an FTC press release.

But these are traditional actions against consumer lenders. A more relevant FTC action, says Pepper Hamilton attorney Dabertin, was the FTC’s “Operation Main Street,” a major enforcement action taken in July, 2018 when the agency joined forces with a dozen law enforcement partners to bring civil and criminal charges against 24 alleged scam artists charged with bilking U.S. small businesses for more than $290 million.

In the multi-pronged campaign, which Zullow also cited, the FTC collaborated with two U.S. attorneys’ offices, the attorneys general of eight states, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Better Business Bureau. According to the FTC, the strike force took action against six types of fraudulent schemes, including:

  • Unordered merchandise scams in which the defendants charged consumers for toner, light bulbs, cleaner and other office supplies that they never ordered;
  • Imposter scams in which the defendants use deceptive tactics, such as claiming an affiliation with a government or private entity, to trick consumers into paying for corporate materials, filings, registrations, or fees;
  • Scams involving unsolicited faxes or robocalls offering business loans and vacation packages.

“THIS IS A WAKE-UP CALL”

If there remains any question about whether the FTC believes itself constrained from acting on behalf of small businesses as well as consumers, consider the closing remarks at the May forum made by Andrew Smith, director of the agency’s bureau of consumer protection.

“(O)ur organic statute, the FTC Act, allows us to address unfair and deceptive practices even with respect to businesses,” Smith declared, “And I want to make clear that we believe strongly in the importance of small businesses to the economy, the importance of loans and financing to the economy.

Smith asserted that the agency could be casting a wide net. “The FTC Act gives us broad authority to stop deceptive and unfair practices by nonbank lenders, marketers, brokers, ISOs, servicers, lead generators and collectors.”

As fintechs and MCAs, in particular, await forthcoming actions by the commission, their membership should take pains to comport themselves ethically and responsibly, counsels Hudson Cook attorney Fisher. “I don’t think businesses should be nervous,” she says, “but they should be motivated to improve compliance with the law.”

She recommends that companies make certain that they have a robust vendor-management policy in place, and that they review contracts with ISOs. Companies should also ensure that they have the ability to audit ISOs and monitor any complaints. “Take them seriously and respond,” Fisher says.

Companies would also do well to review advertising on their websites to ascertain that claims are not deceptive, and see to it that customer service and collections are “done in a way that is fair and not deceptive,” she says, adding of the FTC investigation: “This is a wake-up call.”



Found on DailyFunder:

11-30-2020

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