Articles by Adam Zaki
Adam is a Reporter from Long Island and graduate of Brooklyn College.
Marcus by Goldman Sachs, the prestigious investment firm’s attempt at being a conventional bank, announced that they have over $100 billion in deposits after just five years in operation. The online platform that began as an invite-only savings platform has transformed into a full-blown consumer bank, operating on the futuristic model of operating savings and CD accounts digitally.
“If you told me we would accomplish so much in just five years from launch, I would have said you were crazy,” wrote Harit Talwar in a LinkedIn post on Thursday that announced his retirement from Marcus. “It shows that nothing is impossible when you have the best people.”
In his post, Talwar praised Marcus’ desire to take risks, acting as a separate entity while having to operate within the confines and upkeep of the Goldman Sachs reputation.
“We had the audacity to think big, and it’s safe to say we proved the skeptics wrong – eight million customers, $100 billion in deposits, nearly $10 billion in card and loan balances, $1.5 billion in run rate revenue, two J.D. Power wins and partnerships with the top brands in the world including Apple, Amazon, Walmart, JetBlue, AARP, General Motors and more,” Talwar wrote.
Marcus launched in 2016 with some of the best interest rates in the banking industry. It introduced the Goldman Sachs brand to an entire new group of customers by offering up high interest rates on accounts with no fees, which was nearly unheard of at the time. Two years after launch, Marcus had over $35 billion in deposits.
Marcus’ path was almost completely different prior to its launch. The original idea prior to Marcus was a platform called Mosaic, a banking concept meant for borrowers with good credit that were looking to refinance other debt.
In his retirement post, Talwar credited the camaraderie that developed between employees as a major factor resulting in the success of Marcus. “The team has given more than perhaps in prior jobs, but maybe that is the price of building something this extraordinary at an unprecedented pace,” Talwar wrote. “Yet by sharing those experiences in the trenches, we’ve made lasting friendships and redefined what a consumer business looks like.”
The outlook for Marcus is seemingly endless. Online banking is trendier than ever, and the outlook for banking is losing the brick-and-mortar mentality.
Experts also believe that Marcus has helped Goldman Sachs’ progress into new markets. “Marcus has taken advantage of a core strategic advantage—[Goldman Sachs’] lack of a preexisting deposit customer base— to prove that digital deposit gathering at scale is possible for a large institution,” Todd Baker, Managing Principal of Broodmoar Consulting and Senior Fellow at Columbia University told deBanked.
When the company first came about, deBanked reported that Marcus may be poaching customers from a peer-to-peer lender named LendingClub. The two companies are now more alike than ever given that LendingClub is also now a bank. LendingClub, still new to the banking scene however, had only amassed $2.5B in deposits as of June 30, 2021.
It seems that Marcus may have been ahead of the curve when it comes to fintech’s place in traditional banking, racking up staggering figures across the board and showing young upstart competitors just how strong it is.
A partnership between Supervest and Alto Solutions will bring in an unprecedented opportunity for investors, as the two groups will come together to allow IRA investors a chance to put their money in MCA funding. Account holders with Alto will be able to divide their money on a fractional basis to a diverse set of investments on the Supervest interface.
“We expect these alternative investments to be very popular given the meaningful diversification they can provide to individual retirement portfolios in addition to being yield-generating and short-duration products,” Alto’s Chief Revenue Officer Tara Fung told deBanked on Tuesday. “We will continue adding to our platform so that clients have more options to invest in alternative assets that further diversify and grow their retirement portfolios.”
Alto has made a business model out of using IRA funds for unique alternative investments. Crypto investments are another option listed on their website.
Supervest is no stranger to incorporating new business ideas, either. Their business model is based on connecting investors to inaccessible classes of assets, like MCAs for example.
John Donahue, the Chief Investment Officer with Supervest, spoke with deBanked on Wednesday about the opportunity it gives IRA account holders. “It’s the opportunity for any accredited investor to now be able to access the Supervest platform of fractionalized participation in MCA deals through their self-directed IRA,” Donahue said.
MCAs can be inherently riskier than a typical lukewarm investment portfolio, but the IRA concept is basically detached from the selected risk profile therein.
“The IRA is strictly a structure,” said Donahue, when asked about the inherent risks of MCA investments with IRA money. “It really doesn’t have a connotation of conservative or aggressive nature. You can have aggressive mutual funds [in an IRA], you can have your entire investment of your IRA in the ARK New Technology fund, and while that has gone up considerably in the past few years, there’s a massive amount of volatility, it’s extremely risky, and arguably much riskier than an MCA investment.”
Donahue reiterated that only “accredited investors” would have access to these types of investments through the Supervest platform.
As the partnership between the two companies kicks off, it’ll be interesting to see if individuals are willing to put their retirement money on the line to invest in small businesses.
At least two funding companies have told deBanked off the record that they plan on opening offices in the Miami area in the new year.
It seems that South Florida, particularly Miami, is where the small business finance industry may be moving for a fresh start, and with that potentially ditching the suit and tie for flip flops and shades in the process. The social, political, and economical elements of South Florida make it a well-suited landing spot for an industry that is looking to evolve with the shifting environment.
One catalyst to the potential industry-wide migration could be the S5470B regulations that go into effect in New York on January 1. The new law will require funding companies to navigate a complex system of disclosure to any interested small business finance prospect.
There are other benefits to Florida, of course.
Jordan Fein, CEO of Greenbox Capital, whose operated his business out of Miami since 2012, prides his choice of locale on all the factors that are seemingly pushing those in New York down south. “We do not have state and city tax, we are near water and have a better lifestyle than most companies in New York, or in other areas where it gets very cold in the winter,” he said.
Fein stressed the relaxing Miami lifestyle as the reason why he has only called South Florida home to his company. “The lifestyle here is second to none. Being near the ocean, it makes it much more enjoyable to be able to go to the beach or on a boat to relax and take a load off from the busy work week. New York and other large cities seem to add more stress from [New York’s] super-fast-paced style.”
Despite his love for Miami, Fein respects New York’s ability to churn out top tier employees in the industry. “The talent pool is still among the best,” Fein said, when asked if there were any reasons he or others would ever consider maintaining a connection with the area should an exodus occur.
Fein isn’t worried about the incoming competition should offices relocate to his area. “Location of a funding company has no bearing on competition,” he said. “We all do business over the internet and the competition of funding is dependent on new companies entering the space, not on their location.”
If it is true that the industry is moving to a fully digital competitive space, the idea of a warm weather city with great tax benefits, comparatively low costs of living, and a low-stress atmosphere may be a no-brainer when it comes to finding the funding industry a much needed new home. Not to mention, the mayor of Miami also really wants small business finance companies to relocate there.
In a taped episode of deBanked TV, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told reporter Johny Fernandez that he really wants small business lenders and MCA companies to set up shop in his city.
Watch: Miami Mayor Francis Suarez talks with deBanked in March 2021“We definitely want to make sure that small business, merchants, and lenders are able to capitalize small businesses in our community,” he said. “Miami’s a very thriving small business community. One of the things that people have criticized us for is we don’t have those big massive companies. We’re actually really built on small businesses. So for us, having fluidity of capital, liquidity of capital, access to capital are enormous things in terms of scaling. And I think that’s one of the things that we’re seeing change now is because of technologies. We’re getting a tremendous amount of access to capital that we weren’t getting before.”
In the footsteps of other giant companies like Facebook and Amazon, it seems that Google has joined in on buying a tremendous piece of New York City office space, as Google’s parent company Alphabet has announced a tentative $2.1 billion deal Tuesday to purchase the building they already lease.
Under extensive renovations, Google plans on making a 1.7 million square foot community of office space by adding the former freight terminal to their New York offices— competing with some of the biggest names and workspaces in the city.
Google will remain in complete control of two other office spaces in Soho and Greenwich Village in conjunction with the new acquisition on the Hudson. The combination of these three offices will create a campus-esque environment for the tech giant. All the offices are within about a mile radius of one another.
First reported by the Wall Street Journal, the purchase is New York’s largest single office building sale since pre-pandemic days, while also being one of the biggest purchases in New York City commercial real estate history.
As smaller fintech companies are seemingly leaving the city in droves, it is the big players in the industry who are looking to stick around and ride out Manhattan’s post-pandemic and remote work woes.
It seems that Google, along with the other tech giants, are expecting a large in-person working environment to return to New York. According to CEO Sundar Pichai in an announcement on Google’s blog from August 31, the company plans on keeping remote work an option for all employees until January 10. After that, they are leaving it up to local officials to dictate if employees can be asked to return in person.
“To make sure everyone has ample time to plan, [employees will] have a 30-day heads-up before [they’re] expected back in the office,” Pichai wrote.
With Facebook’s acquisition of office space at Penn Station and Amazon’s purchase of Lord and Taylor’s former 5th Avenue landmark building, Google is late to the Manhattan real estate grab. These giants are paying top dollar for these spaces, as eight-figure real estate deals are status quo for a city that is littered with empty storefronts and a questionable future for many of its longtime tenants.
Google has a track record of building a presence in New York. An east coast presence is nothing new for the company. “Our investment in New York is a huge part of our commitment to grow and invest in U.S. facilities, offices and jobs,” wrote SVP and CFO Ruth Porat on a Google Blog back in 2018 when the lease agreement for the building was made.
Earlier this year, the company committed to a $150 million investment in New York workspaces.
Google’s new offices will serve as the main hub of their New York City offices. As the new year arrives, Google expects to see 1/5 its workforce still remote. With their new offices already functioning, the new office should complete the Google campus in 2023.
It seems that Silicon Valley’s presence may be creeping East as the finance industry continues to head South. With the price of commercial real estate sky high, the reputation for the city at a low, and a political climate that is creeping its way into business, it seems as if New York may be evolving into the East Coast Silicon Valley hub.
“Data is the future,” said Alex Shvarts, CEO of FundKite. Through his own proprietary software that he personally built, Shvarts and his team can see daily deposits from merchants that FundKite has funded while also viewing the real-time financial condition of their customers. There are no assumptions, no end-of-month scrambling to do MCA reconciliations, and there are significantly less defaults, he says.
Shvarts believes that he has a better chance of retaining clients and keeping deals in place when customers face difficulties. “When merchants are in trouble, they are being coached not to pay,” he said, hinting at third parties in the industry that lobby customers to stop payment in exchange for some kind of alleged assistance.
“Our merchants don’t go under,” Shvarts said.
The premise is that FundKite’s tech enables both themselves and the customer to keep track of how much money is going in and out in real time. That allows them to apply the precise holdback on a daily basis instead of waiting for a bank statement at the end of the month to see what the difference was.
“Our goal is to use our software to be extremely merchant friendly,” said Shvarts.
By compiling different data sets about the merchant, potential clients can be pre-approved and fully funded in less than an hour through a completely digital application process. While this process of instant pre-approval isn’t new to the industry, it’s the idea of having access to client’s banking information that is key to the software’s accuracy and success in funding packages and payment options.
The idea of end-of-month reconciliation doesn’t work for many merchants, according to Shvarts, who was speaking in reference to merchant cash advance transactions. “A month later, they could already be in the hole,” he said. “This product [where debits vary daily based upon true sales] works better for merchants, it works better for portfolios, if you’re actually reconciling and pulling what you’re supposed to, and not what you’re anticipating.”
The system is maintained in-house at the firm’s downtown Manhattan offices, with a fully temperature-controlled server room that is home to dozens of computers that host the company’s software. Backed up in the cloud as a failsafe, the system is as much of a presence in the office, both physically and virtually, as the individuals that work there.
“I’ve always had coding implanted in my mind, it’s an everyday process to make things simpler and faster,” he said. Shvarts explained that his love for coding and finance stems from a childhood passion for chess. “Chess taught me the ability to analyze moves.”
As the crypto craze roars on, NFTs are starting to stake a claim in the finance world as a legitimate option for those looking to invest or stash money in a virtual space. The sports world recently took their swing at NFTs, and here at deBanked we minted NFTs of our own early this week. It seems that NFTs have sparked the interest of the media, athletes, and art enthusiasts— but in small business finance, the conversation is only in the early stages.
“I think of it more not so much as a currency, but from what I’ve been reading, more of an investment vehicle,” said Noah Grayson, President of South End Capital, when asked what he thinks an NFT represents. “It’s a way for people to put tangible items in a digital format to get ownership from.”
Grayson says those in his industry have brought up the topic around the office, but it hasn’t made its way into any type of business practices yet. “It’s tough to see how [NFTs] would affect the lending industry at this time, cryptocurrency is something a little more probable in the long term.”
Grayson stressed how difficult small business lending can already be with dollars, and it seems as though the industry just isn’t ready to start conducting business in other types of currencies. “When you consider that many small business owners have no credit score and a large portion of those still pay for things in cash, I think it’s going to be a long time before the industry as a whole considers [crypto] an option to make loans with or compensate partners [with] as a whole,” he said.
“I’d describe it as a digital asset that can be purchased, owned, and used by an individual, giving that individual exclusive rights to the asset,” said James Webster, CEO and founder of ROK Financial when asked how he would define an NFT. “Like any other asset, the price can go up or down over time.”
Although his company has never created an NFT themselves, Webster won’t eliminate the possibility for one in the future. With the interest of the industry and his employees being focused around crypto as of late, Webster can’t keep the crypto and NFT talk out of the office.
“We have a [clever] and nimble-minded staff at ROK. NFTs and crypto like other tradable assets are always being discussed and invested in here,” said Webster. “The team has been buying crypto for years now and I don’t see that slowing down any time soon.”
Webster believes it’ll inevitably make its way into the business with positive effects. “I see it streamlining, as well as making lending and banking for that matter more efficient over time,” he said.
At Velocity Capital Group, crypto has already seeped into the business. The company began offering commission payments to brokers this past August with an immediate positive reception. Velocity Capital Group CEO Jay Avigdor attributes “speed” as the primary use-case of crypto in his business.
“The feedback has been fantastic!” Avigdor said.
With crypto on the minds of fintech gurus everywhere, it’s evident its interest comes from the ability to put the technology in practice. Until these types of things can be borrowed, used to buy goods, or seen as a means of collateral at a mainstream level, the small business finance community will continue to eye their development and evolve if necessary.
Columbia University will be launching an intensive Fintech course through the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science starting on December 8. The 24-week program advertises that students will learn the intricacies of participating and contributing in the fintech world.
According to Columbia’s website, the program will teach students about Python programming, financial libraries, machine learning algorithms, solidity smart contracts, Ethereum, blockchain, and more. The course also promises “real world experience” by completing data set related finance projects.
The workshop will be three days a week, part time, and is designed to be attended alongside a work schedule, according to Columbia’s website. The workshop will be held fully in-person and will require students to participate in projects both in and out of the classroom. “The goal is to give you a comprehensive learning experience and true insight into a “day in the life” of a fintech professional, according to the curriculum.
Part-time bootcamps through Columbia can be costly, as the standard rate sits at $13,995 before any type of scholarship or payment plans.
Columbia will also give members of the workshop full access to their wide array of career services, so that participants can find employment after the program is over.
Columbia University did not immediately return a request for comment about the course.
Dedicated Commercial Recovery combined modern tech and marketing, as the company released a live action virtual tour of their new offices via drone on Tuesday. The video showcased staff working in an upbeat, positive, one might dare say fun, environment.
The YouTube video is now the company’s most ever watched on their channel.
“We shot that video like eight times,” said Shawn Smith, Chairman and CEO of Dedicated Commercial Recovery. “It was such a cool concept, a way to showcase the new office,” he said.
Smith said the goal of the video was to show that his company’s staff was more than just debt collectors. “We want to show the outside world our culture,” said Smith. “Our team loved it.”
Filmed by Sky Candy Studios, drone marketing is an emerging concept in the world of promoting business.
Smith, who sits on several non-profit boards, wants to use the concept of drone marketing in his ventures outside of his collections company too. “I’m going to talk to the boards and associations I’m a part of, we would love to shoot events [this] way,” said Smith.
The video was also dedicated to the passing of a recent employee of Smith’s. Aubin Davis passed in mid-July and was commemorated at the conclusion of the video. “He was an industry veteran,” said Smith. “We wanted to honor him.”