Articles by Anaya Vance
With the year coming to an end, it’s time to analyze what direction the industry is going in. Some professionals in the industry are feeling optimistic despite macroeconomic pressures and there’s a reason for that.
Gerald Watson, Founder and President of The Watson Group, said with the latest Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC), his company has been on a steady incline. The tax credit was designed for companies affected by Covid in 2020-21 as a refund against payroll taxes they’ve already paid and that’s where Watson comes in because it can take a while for business owners to actually receive those funds, as long as 6-12 months, he said. With the help of funding partners, Watson can make an advance to business owners on the ERTC upfront. Watson’s core business has always been factoring but when he saw this opportunity, he went for it.
“I think maybe looking ahead as we get into 2023 next year, I think the industry is going to be continuing to look for ways to expand its product base, and I think it’s likely that we’ll see more and more maybe of your larger lenders moving into things like some form of factoring, for example,” said Watson.
On the fintech side, CRO at Encapture Tyler Barron says he’s noticed a shift this year regarding certain lines of business but that their product has historically performed well regardless, even if the deal sizes get a bit smaller. Encapture is a platform that sells automated programs to financial service companies – primarily big banks – and they’ve noticed large, regional, and community banks investing more in technology, specifically ones that help them automate and cut costs.
“What we’ve kind of seen over the past year is, there’s definitely been a pullback, as it relates to certain lines of business, like anything related to mortgage this past year has completely dried up,” said Barron. “But we are still seeing financial institutions, both fintechs, large banks, regional banks, and community banks invest in technology.”
Back at Broker Fair in late October, Pooja Nene, Broker Relationships Manager at Balboa Capital, told deBanked that she thought the industry was going in a good direction.
“I think with a lot of issues that we’ve had since 2020 our industry’s been holding up really well and there’s a ton of opportunities out there to get involved in different types of financing…” said Nene.
Overall, the demand for the products should continue.
“One thing about our industry is that people always need money; good times bad times, high interest rates, low interest rates,” said Gerald Watson. “There’s always going to be a demand for what we do.”
2022 has been a rough year for many fintech employees. The year started out with just a few layoffs but had an exponential increase totaling in at 219,959 layoffs from 1,405 tech companies.
Financial services company Plaid, for example, recently announced plans to lay off 20% of employees, which is about 260 staff members.
“Today, I’m announcing the most difficult change we have had to make at Plaid to date,” wrote Plaid CEO Zachary Perret in a Dec. 7th website post. “I made the hard decision to reduce the size of our team, and in doing so, to say goodbye to approximately 260 talented Plaids.”
Perret alluded to over-hiring as a result of the surge in business during covid. They are not alone. Companies including Klarna, Coinbase, Kabbage, and Amazon have laid off substantial amounts of staff. January started off low with 631 employee layoffs and that later increased to over 6,000 in February. November tallied 59,785 layoffs, weighing in with the highest number of employees laid off compared to any other month this year.
Forty-Six percent of women make up the workforce in the financial services industry with only 6% of them being CEOs. Reshaping the narrative of men dominating the finance world, women in various components of the industry are making their mark. Sarah Kelly, Lindsey Rohan, and Heather Francis are three women that particularly stand out in the commercial finance industry.
Equipped at Birth
Born into equipment finance, Sarah Kelly got her start by working for the family business at KLC Financial. After a decade of becoming an expert in the trade, she spent some time in the medical equipment finance side of the industry before finally landing at Dedicated Financial GBC, where she is now the Director of Servicing. Dedicated has been experiencing growth, according to Kelly, as the company just hired five new employees in the last couple of weeks.
“I have a lot of confidence in the leadership team and was excited that they were open to having a woman on the team,” said Kelly. “They’ve welcomed me in wholeheartedly, they always ask for my opinion, I’m always willing to give it and I feel like we’ve really all connected to make Dedicated a great company.”
Kelly believes that women should support one another to do better. Even a little friendly competition to push each other to be their best selves doesn’t hurt.
“I believe that we can really show other women that you can be whatever you want to be in this industry, that there’s no limit, there really aren’t,” said Kelly. “I feel like some people think that there might be just because they are a woman but there really is no limit and we just need to get that word out there to them…”
Practicing the Laws of Finance
Finance wasn’t exactly the plan for Lindsey Rohan after law school. Working for a law firm in Long Island she dabbled in real estate closings, but with having two small children at the time, balancing work and motherhood were always at odds. Determined to have her own practice, she started Pollack Cooper & Fisher, P.C. where she worked as a real estate attorney for 8 years. She hadn’t ever foreseen commercial finance as her next career path, but a call from a family friend led her to join a merchant cash advance company.
“It actually became quite a good fit because it’s a lot of multitasking, a lot of looking at all the various aspects of a corporation and its life, and how you can protect it,” said Rohan, Deputy General Counsel at Basepoint Capital.
Handling the legal infrastructure of the company, building out departments to make sure there are checks and balances, and making sure all the collections teams abide by the regulations are routine in Rohan’s schedule. Having much success in her position, a notable point in her career has been about building the Alternative Finance Bar Association. The AFBA was created to facilitate the exchange of information with attorney members concerning alternative finance.
“What’s interesting about this is that while the industry itself is male dominated, most of the dominant attorneys in the space are women,” said Rohan. “Some of the largest originators, the General Counsel are women. The leading compliance and regulatory firm, the two attorneys that lead the group that handle commercial business are both women. And that’s an interesting dynamic.”
Working in a predominately male-led industry can have its challenges but Rohan claimed she never found it to be anything that’s held her back. Acknowledging at conferences that only about 10% of attendees are women while the rest are men, she does not believe it has had a negative impact on growth. Rohan agrees it’s important to support women in every endeavor and to not shy away from positions in this industry.
“Just do it, just jump in,” said Rohan. “Don’t hesitate, you’re in control. The amount that you learn is the amount that you allow yourself to be exposed to.”
Funding with Francis
Graduating with a degree in Health Promotion and Education, Heather Francis took a left turn into finance. Working for a private equity firm, she managed portfolios as well as oversaw many others. That position became her crash course into the industry, fueling her relationship into the financial services world and eventually encouraging her to start her own company in 2015, Elevate Funding. As CEO and Founder, Francis has had to do it all.
“I think owning my own business is accomplishment in itself, as well as being a mom and a wife,” said Francis.
Without dwelling on the industry being predominately male, Francis believes it has opened many doors for her. The women in the field are a “close knit group” propping each other up and sharing information, she explained. She believes it is important to support everyone that demonstrates drive and attitude to better themselves. That can be providing pathways, being a soundboard, introducing people, and simply giving out words of confirmation.
“I’ve always seen that the boys have a club, so do the girls, it’s never been anything that’s been a worry to me, or I’ve been like, ‘I’m being held back because of being a woman in finance,’” said Francis.
As a Board member of the SBFA, Francis helps solve problems in the industry and contributes ideas. And with rapid change surrounding the business, she has a hopeful disposition on where it’s heading as we enter a new economic phase. Experiencing the recession back in 09’, Francis saw the industry grow exponentially between 2009 and 2011.
“Traditional finance pulls back when times are hard, and we’re able to be a little bit more nimble and move around to adjust for it, but still keep funding,” said Francis.
Bonded through finance, women are navigating throughout the industry with strong personalities, outspoken voices, and confidence. Born into the field or pivoting their way in, they seem to be embedded into every aspect. While being a team player to everyone, these women continue to push their career forward with hard work, sticking to core values, and knowing who they are.
“So ideally, the best-case scenario for a business owner is always to try and get approved by a bank, it gives them more flexibility, you’re able to build that relationship with the bank,” said Juan Caban, Managing Partner at Financial Lynx.
It’s an old adage that the bank is the best option, but given their historically tough criteria and reputation for sluggishness, the feasibility has long been a question. Caban, however, said that obtaining a bank line of credit is not as daunting as it sounds. Qualifying businesses (TIB 2+ years, 700+ FICO, and favorable industry) can obtain a pre-approval in 24 hours, approval in 7-10 days, and funding in another 2-3 weeks, making the entire process last about 3-4 weeks overall, according to Caban. And brokers can earn a one-time fee of up to 5% as well, he added.
“Bankers tend to be a little old fashioned oftentimes, now some of that’s changing in how they evolve,” said Patrick Reily, co-founder at Uplinq. “We’re dealing with some really interesting progressive banks in the last five years that are thinking about ‘how do we do better and how do we change things,’ but the reality is that they tend to move more slowly.”
Reily’s company, Uplinq, empowers lenders like banks, credit unions, or other financial institutions to approve and manage risks on loans they would have otherwise declined.
“Some of the companies we work for, they’re able to increase the number of people they lend to by 5 to 15 fold,” Reily said. “Think about that. That’s a huge difference.”
Technology, it appears, is widening the approval window, which means business owners shouldn’t count out options they previously thought impossible.
Caban of Financial Lynx, echoed same, explaining that business owners should explore all potential avenues.
“We pride ourselves in knowing the trends and products in banking and can be a great asset for Brokers/ISOs,” Caban said.
“I think it’s smart always to look broadly and understand what your options are, who is best capable to serve you,” said Reily.
Working in alternative finance goes beyond sitting at a desk, making phone calls, and closing deals. Social media, networking, and staying up to date on industry current events are just as necessary, if not crucial as a financial professional.
While some may doubt social media’s importance when it comes to finance, it holds more value than one may give it credit for. LinkedIn was recently ranked as the #1 platform for financial services followed by Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, Instagram & Facebook. A business social media presence allows potential clients to see the success and growth of a company, remain updated on exciting news, and be constantly reminded of their existence.
“Us keeping our content up and our exposure up is vitally important in social media,” said David Kirk, National Sales Manager at ACH Works. “And not just LinkedIn, but also the blogs and the forums on the different channels.”
“I think the importance of being able to market on social media and being able to show other companies about yourself is huge,” said Josh Feinberg, President at Everlasting Capital. “And the reason why I think it’s huge is because it shows that you’re a real company with real goals, real values, and it shows the outside world you’re a real company.”
Feinberg added that businesses should use social media to support other people and businesses as well and not just talk about themselves all the time.
“I definitely think as an industry as a whole you have to work together and be able to shout out other companies and being able to show support because being able to get to the next level isn’t just a single-handed thing,” said Feinberg. “It definitely takes a team and sometimes that includes other people outside of your own company and really helping other companies grow alongside with you.”
Networking with other colleagues is an essential part of being an active member in the finance community. Forming genuine connections with people around the country can result in partnerships, a broader clientele, or just another ally in the field.
“As far as networking goes, I think it’s the most important thing you can do. You need to know what’s going on in the industry, around the industry, not only for yourself but also for your clients to be able to deliver a better product to the end user,” said Tony Cimino, Director of Partnerships at ROK Financial, during a brief interview at this past Broker Fair. “And that’s what we’re all here for anyways is to actually get deals done.”
“We do a lot of emails and phone calls but when it comes to that face-to-face interaction, it’s a totally different story,” said Brooke Brown, ISO Manager at Lendini, during Broker Fair. “It changes the game, and it just adds a completely different feel to the relationship, so I really look forward to these types of events.”
And one can’t forget the news itself to stay updated either.
“I go to AltFinance,” said Kirk of ACH Works. “I go to the Third Party Payment Processors Association, I get their newsletter, I regularly go to Daily Funder.”
The insurtech company, Cover Genius raised $70 M in Series D funding led by Dawn Capital. Participants also included investors from New York-based Atlas Merchant Capital and existing investors including GSquared and King River Capital. The funding will be used to continue growth expansion for new global insurance distribution platform, XCover.
“XCover is our award-winning global distribution platform for any line of insurance or warranty, with an API for instant claims payments that holds an industry-leading Net Promoter Score (NPS) of +65,” said Angus McDonald CEO and Co-Founder of Cover Genius. “We work with our partners to co-create solutions that embed protection that’s licensed or authorized in over 60 countries and all 50 US states.”
This platform makes it simple for digital companies to offer tailored insurance policies directly to their customers and is trusted by some of the world’s largest companies including Booking Holdings (owner of Priceline, Kayak and Booking.com), Intuit, Hopper, Skyscanner, Ryanair, Turkish Airlines, Descartes ShipRush, Zip and SeatGeek. It’s also available at Amazon, Flipkart, eBay, Wayfair, and SE Asia’s largest company, Shopee.
At the moment, Cover Genius is entirely focused on growth and expansion.
“We are a fast-growing, global market leader and this latest funding round will help us as we enter our next growth phase,” said McDonald.
National Funding did more than just survive the pandemic. Already in 2022 the company upsized its credit facility, invested in Finova Capital, closed on a $125M ABS, and now more recently is going full force into automated lending.
The new initiative that aims to build off of National Funding’s 20 years of experience will be led by Rob Rosenblatt, a seasoned fintech veteran that previously worked for American Express, Chase, Citi, Kabbage, and Behalf.
National Funding will still do business as it has previously but Rosenblatt said that his separate division, formally organized as Business Loan Center, LLC, will differ in that it will be fully digital to the point that borrowers won’t have to engage with a human being if they don’t want to when accessing capital. The self-serve automated experience that takes a customer from application to approval in a matter of minutes is admittedly not a new concept in that of itself, Rosenblatt concedes, but he believes National Funding is equipped to do it better than the rest.
“…what we hope to do that’s unique is, first of all, leverage all of the learnings that National Funding has because they’ve been in business for over 20 years,” Rosenblatt said. “Number two is create a superior technological experience which will help with speed and user experience because we’re brand new, so we won’t in any way be beholden to systems of the past. Third is really be aggressive in our use of alternative data.”
Rosenblatt also emphasized that they will create a “world class user experience” and he expressed his belief that there is more than ample room for a new player to enter this market.
“Dave Gilbert, the founder of National Funding, and Joe Gaudio, who’s the president and COO, they became in the course of our conversations very firmly convinced that there’s a huge opportunity to better serve large swaths of the small business universe that maybe today aren’t quite being served fully by the suite of products that are out there,” Rosenblatt said.
Times Square this weekend was filled with representatives of the alternative finance and fintech industry for this year’s Broker Fair.
“There’s just lots of opportunities to network, I mean there’s certainly breakout sessions and things like that, I think many people are excited about those, but I think everybody’s here to network,” said Mike Mroszak, Vice President of Strategic Partnership at Dedicated Financial GBC. “…there’s ample opportunities to do that, the trade show room here is always packed with people, which is not always the case in every conference, so that’s a little bit unique to Broker Fair.”
Funder, brokers, and lenders flooded the sponsor showcase room to talk business and give out swag.
“The best tchotchke is the Lendini tchotchke. Okay, what it is, it’s just a little tool kit, very practical, very handy,” said Michael O’Hare, President at Cashyew Leads. “…the funniest one is actually from FinTap and basically, it’s a button and it says, funded, kind of based off of what Staples says, that was easy, instead it says funded.”
Speakers included Jay Shaw from OnDeck discussing what makes a successful sales team and Keynote speaker Kaplan Mobray inspiring attendees to be excellent. Mobray even surprised the audience with a quick clarinet show. Other sessions that took place include: Bad Deals, The Great Debate, Building America, Equipping the Dream Behind the Scenes, Successful Sales Team (Panel), The State of Real Estate, Truck and Equipment Financing 101, and legal panels surrounding litigation alternatives and the new disclosure laws.
Platinum sponsors Lendini, Rapid Finance, and National Funding also took the stage in between sessions.
deBanked CONNECT Miami was also announced for January 19th, 2023, at the Miami Beach Convention Center. With reoccurring faces at this year’s event, attendees, sponsors and speakers are very excited to reconvene once again in Miami.
“It’s been a good time, not my first actually, my second, but I’m looking to do a lot more and definitely the Miami one in January,” said Charles Wolff, VP of Loan Originations at Financial Lynx.