Articles by Sean Murray
As the FTC contemplates how to “wipe out” entire industries, federal courts around the country have recently ruled that the regulator can’t accomplish such a goal under Section 13(b) of the FTC act. That’s the statute the FTC relied on to bring its most recent actions against merchant cash advance companies. It might not have bite.
Under 13(b), the FTC is empowered to bring a lawsuit to obtain an injunction against unlawful activity that is currently occurring or is about to occur. It’s powerful, but very limited. However, for the last several decades, the FTC, with the help of federal courts, has interpreted the statute to mean that it can also force the defendants to “disgorge” with illegally obtained funds.
That’s how the FTC wiped out Scott Tucker and his payday lending empire. In a lawsuit the FTC brought against his companies under 13(b) in 2012, the Court entered a judgment of $1.3 billion against him.
Not so fast, modern legal analysis says. Tucker’s case is being brought before the Supreme Court of the United States to settle once and for all what 13(b) allows for and what it doesn’t.
The momentum does not weigh in the FTC’s favor.
On September 30, the Third Circuit ruled in FTC v AbbVie that the FTC is not entitled to seek disgorgement under 13(b). The Seventh Circuit arrived at a similar conclusion last year in FTC v Credit Bureau Center.
In an interview with NBC, FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra said in August “We’ve started suing some [merchant cash advance companies] and I’m looking for a systemic solution that makes sure they can all be wiped out before they do more damage.”
As the FTC attempts to be more proactive in the area of small business finance, it will be important to monitor what the Supreme Court ultimately decides it can actually accomplish.
LendingClub is finally ending the “peer-to-peer” aspect of its platform for good. Earlier today, the company announced that it would cease offering and selling Member Payment Dependent Notes effective December 31st.
“Ceasing the Retail Notes program will allow LendingClub to redeploy capital and improve platform efficiency, enabling the company to help even more members as LendingClub progresses towards closing the Merger and becoming a bank holding company,” the company said in an official statement. “All Retail Notes outstanding as of the date the Retail Note program is ceased will be unaffected by the cessation of the program. Accordingly, with respect to such outstanding Retail Notes, LendingClub will continue servicing the corresponding member loans and information regarding such Retail Notes will remain viewable in the applicable Retail Note investor accounts.”
LendingClub rose to fame with its peer-to-peer model nearly a decade ago, but using retail investors to fund loans has been eroding over time. ‘Peers’ Are Almost Gone From Lending Club’s Funding Mix was the title of a February 2019 deBanked story that highlighted this trend, for example.
Meanwhile, the focus on Radius Bank is a reminder that the announcement made nearly 8 months ago is still a work-in-progress.
“In connection with and in furtherance of the Merger, LendingClub has been in regular contact with federal banking regulators and, on September 25, 2020, filed an FR Y-3 application with the Federal Reserve to become a bank holding company,” the company said. “LendingClub plans to offer a full suite of products as a bank. This includes a high-yield savings account that will be initially exclusively available to its existing retail investors and will offer a compelling interest rate, as well as other products that take advantage of the marketplace to allow its customers to both pay less when borrowing and earn more when saving.”
Radius Bank was the subject of a major deBanked Magazine story in 2017 titled Tech Banks: Will Fintech Dethrone Traditional Banking?
Newly revealed in court documents filed on Friday is that the recent FTC lawsuit against Yellowstone Capital culminated after a 2-year inquiry. What may have been a surprise to the Yellowstone defendants is how the FTC brought its case or that it ultimately even decided to bring one at all. A motion to dismiss has been filed.
Specifically, counsel for Yellowstone references in its papers that in the preceding years, Yellowstone had already complied with FTC discovery requests that amounted to the production of “24,000 pages of documents, more than 1,400 audio recordings, and responses to numerous interrogatories and follow-up inquiries.”
Following that, the FTC filed suit on August 3, 2020, alleging Misrepresentations Regarding Collateral and Personal Guarantees, Misrepresentations Regarding Financing Amount, and Unfair Unauthorized Withdrawals. In it, it relies heavily on alleged materials dating as far back as five years ago to make its case.
This is fatal to the FTC’s suit, the defendants contend, because the FTC laid out its claims under a very specific statute of the FTC Act, Section 13(b), which can only be brought in federal court if they believe a defendant “is violating, or is about to violate” this area of the law. Past conduct, they say, even if it were true, is not applicable. No acts in 2020 or even from 2019 are alleged with any particularity, nor is it said that any might be happening or will happen.
Some of the purported web pages, ads, or contracts that the FTC refers to no longer exist, have long since been replaced, were taken out of context, or could not even be identified as to where or whom they even originated from, defendants say.
Defendants make further arguments for dismissal, one of which takes issue with alleged quotes or comments made by anonymous merchant customers. “The Complaint does not indicate, for instance, if these unidentified customers had breached their MCA agreements or otherwise incurred additional fees beyond the Purchased Amount that were due and owing to Yellowstone under their respective agreements.”
Deprived of all context and specifics, the complaint is loaded with elements that look bad but fall well short of the necessary legal burden, defendants essentially argue.
“The FTC has overextended itself in this litigation,” defendants say in their papers.
They further raise concern that it arises from a possible personal agenda rather than a legally-founded one. Reference is made to an NBC interview in which FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra told the interviewer that “We’ve started suing some [merchant cash advance companies] and I’m looking for a systemic solution that makes sure they can all be wiped out before they do more damage.”
Chopra had also issued an official statement regarding Yellowstone in which he expounded almost entirely on legal questions that were not even raised in the lawsuit itself but create the impression that they are.
Yellowstone has asked for a stay of discovery pending the outcome of the motion to dismiss.
Andrew Dale Ledbetter, a veteran securities attorney who once co-authored a book called How Wall Street Rips You Off – and what you can do to defend yourself, now stands accused of ripping investors off.
Ledbetter was criminally charged on Tuesday by the US Attorney’s office in South Florida for his alleged role in the 1 Global Capital Securities fraud case. Ledbetter was formally accused of Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud and Securities Fraud. He was simultaneously hit with civil charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Both agencies say that Ledbetter reaped nearly $3 million in referral fees from 1 Global Capital in exchange for raising nearly $100 million from investors, mostly retirees, all while making knowingly false statements and misrepresentations about the investments. For instance, they say that he knew the investments were securities but claimed they weren’t anyway. Similar circumstances brought down Florida attorney Jan Douglas Atlas last year. Ledbetter had been compensating Atlas on the side as part of the alleged scheme.
Ledbetter is the 4th individual to be criminally charged in connection with the 1 Global Capital case. The other three: Atlas, Alan G. Heide, and Steven Schwartz, have all already pled guilty.
After OnDeck announced its planned merger with Enova, it was sued nine different times (See here and here) by shareholders that accused the company’s Board of Directors that they had failed to disclose material information about the deal.
OnDeck formally responded on Monday, September 28th, wherein they disclosed that plaintiffs in all of those actions had agreed to dismiss their claims in light of the release of this supplemental information:
The Company and Enova believe that the claims asserted in the Actions are without merit and that no supplemental disclosures are required under applicable law. However, in an effort to put the claims that were or could have been asserted to rest, to avoid nuisance, minimize costs and avoid potential transaction delays, and without admitting any liability or wrongdoing, the Company has determined to voluntarily supplement the Proxy Statement/Prospectus as described in this Current Report on Form 8-K to address claims asserted in the Actions, and the plaintiffs in the Actions have agreed to voluntarily dismiss the Actions in light of, among other things, this supplemental disclosure. Nothing in this Current Report on Form 8-K shall be deemed an admission of the legal necessity or materiality of any of the disclosures set forth herein. To the contrary, the Company and the other defendants specifically deny all allegations in the Actions that any additional disclosure was or is required and expressly maintain that, to the extent applicable, they have complied with their respective legal obligations.
OnDeck first re-explained its background situation leading up to the Enova deal:
Starting in April 2020, OnDeck management commenced a review of potential financing options to secure additional liquidity and potentially replace the Corporate Line Facility and began contacting potential sources of alternative financing, including mezzanine debt. OnDeck contacted, or was contacted by, more than ten potential sources of mezzanine or alternative financing, and received pricing indications from four sources. The interest rates offered by those alternative financing sources ranged from 1-month LIBOR plus 900 basis points to 1,700 basis points (in addition to an upfront fee) and all but one required a significantly dilutive equity component. The one proposal that did not include an equity component was at an interest rate of 1-month LIBOR plus 1,400 basis points to 1,700 basis points. Based on the initial term sheets proposed, OnDeck engaged in negotiations with each of the four potential sources of alternative financing. As these negotiations progressed and COVID-19’s impact on the macro economy and OnDeck’s loan portfolio intensified, two of the four potential sources of alternative financing ceased to actively participate in negotiations. Discussions with the final two potential sources of alternative financing remained ongoing through the time that OnDeck and Enova entered into the merger agreement. Throughout the Process, OnDeck management reported the status of such negotiations on a frequent and ongoing basis to the OnDeck Board for its deliberation in the context of OnDeck’s standalone plan, and the OnDeck Board considered the significant uncertainty of being able to reach agreement on alternative financing in its decision to enter into the merger agreement.
Of particular contention in the deal were OnDeck’s financial projections, prepared to estimate OnDeck’s trajectory as an independent entity. Shareholders complained that there were two sets of books and that they only got to see one. The other set, dubbed Scenario 1, had been used to shop OnDeck around to other suitors. OnDeck published both sets in their supplemental materials on Monday.
The difference is stark. Originally disclosed to shareholders was a projected cumulative net loss of $20.4 million through the end of 2024. The other set of projections, Scenario 1, state a cumulative net income of $33.5 million over the same time period, a difference of over $50 million.
The original predicted a 2021 net loss of $19.4 million while Scenario 1 predicted a net income of $14.3 million.
One reason offered for selecting the less optimistic of the two is that OnDeck’s management determined that loan originations were trending below both sets of projections as of July 12th. OnDeck announced the Enova deal about two weeks later.
Shareholders will cast their votes on the merger on October 7th. OnDeck’s Board “unanimously recommends” that they vote in favor of the proposed merger with Enova.
Jared Weitz, the CEO of United Capital Source, recently sat down (virtually) for an interview with me to discuss the state of small business finance. During it, Weitz makes an alarming prediction, that pandemic related events will lead to 50% of all restaurants permanently closing. You can watch our full talk below:
On Thursday, NYC taxi drivers shut down the Brooklyn Bridge to formally protest the financing costs tied to their taxi medallions, the certificate that allows them to operate in the five boroughs. Tensions over “Medallion loans” have been bubbling over since last year when it was revealed that many borrowers had signed a Confession of Judgment to obtain their loan, which basically waived their right to settle any disputes with their lender in court should they be unable to make the payments. Since then, COVID has completely devastated an already suffering industry…
“Before it was good, we could make $100-$150 a day,” said Mohammad Ashref, a local Brooklyn taxi driver in a video interview with deBanked reporter Johny Fernandez. “Now it’s very hard to survive, we work very hard to make 60, 70, or $80 a day, but what can I do? I have to make a living. We have no other choice.”
Ashref technically drives a green cab, different from the yellow cabs that were protesting on the bridge in that they’re not permitted to accept street-hails throughout most of Manhattan. Green taxis also operate through a permit rather than a medallion, a still relatively new concept that was first rolled out in 2013 to facilitate ride-hailing in the outer boroughs where yellow cabs did not spend much time.
In the interview with Fernandez, Ashref pointed out that the success of the taxi business is intertwined with the restaurant industry. Many riders in the boroughs depend on cabs to take them to restaurants or night clubs, but with the complete ban on indoor dining still in effect within city limits, that need has mostly dried up.
According to the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission, yellow and green cabs were making as little as $314 and $210 a week respectively during the peak period of the shutdowns. In a 40 hour week, these amount to a fraction of the $15/hour local minimum wage and that’s even before factoring in driver costs like a vehicle lease, loan payments, insurance, and more.
deBanked has been exploring several areas of the New York City economy over the last few months. For instance in July, reporter Johny Fernandez looked into how the pandemic was affecting a street performer in Times Square that was dressed as Batman.
“The business now is slow,” Batman said. “There’s so few people at this moment […] At this moment I see people scared, they don’t want pictures…”
Batman, like others in New York City, was hopeful that a return to normalcy was just around the corner.
I recently caught up with Peter Ribeiro, CEO of US Business Funding, based in Santa Ana, California. US Business Funding is quite well known on social media for their company culture.
I asked Ribeiro about what 2020 has been like as a broker in this wild year of 2020 and you can watch it in full below:
Chris Hurn, the CEO of Fountainhead, a national non-bank direct commercial lender based in Lake Mary-FL, recently told deBanked in an interview what his company has experienced in 2020. The company was recently ranked 1,502 on the Inc. 5000 list.
Watch the interview below:
OnDeck Directors Sued in Class Action For Allegedly Withholding “Material Information” From Shareholders To Make Enova Deal HappenSeptember 8, 2020
An OnDeck shareholder is asking the Delaware Court of Chancery to halt the sale of the company to Enova until OnDeck discloses allegedly material information that would appear to put the landmark deal in an entirely new light.
On September 4, Conrad Doaty filed a class action lawsuit against Noah Breslow, Daniel S. Henson, Chandra Dhandapani, Bruce P. Nolop, Manolo Sánchez, Jane J. Thompson, Ronald F. Verni, and Neil E. Wolfson for breaching their fiduciary duties owed to the public shareholders of OnDeck.
According to Doaty, the Enova offer of $90 million ($82 million stock, $8 million in cash) was not even the best bid that OnDeck received but he alleges that OnDeck’s directors and executives took it because they were individually offered “exorbitant personal compensation” including “millions of dollars in severance packages, accelerated stock options, performance awards, golden parachutes and other deal devices to sweeten the offer.”
Doaty makes reference to other bids for OnDeck with specifics including two all-cash offers, one that valued OnDeck at between $100 million and $125 million and one that valued it at between $80 million and $110 million. He says that no explanation for their rejection was disclosed.
Doaty also alleges that OnDeck relied on two sets of financial projections to evaluate a sale of the company, one for all prospective bidders (that projected a quick economic recovery) and another set that was used only for Enova (that projected a slow economic recovery). Doaty’s point is that Enova’s valuation was based on less optimistic data and that OnDeck did not publicly disclose to shareholders the more optimistic version that all the other prospective buyers of the company got to see.
“Most significantly, is that it is not pressing time to sell,” Doaty says. “The company was not facing imminent financial collapse or financial ruin.” He continues by pointing out that the company had $150 million of cash on hand and that it had successfully navigated workouts with its creditors over issues caused by the pandemic.
“Yet as a result of the frantic and unreasonable timing of the sale, the consideration offered for OnDeck is woefully inadequate.”
In addition to “exorbitant personal compensation” promised to the Board members, Doaty argues that a cheap price benefits parties who sat on both sides of the transaction, namely Dimensional Fund Advisors LP, BlackRock, Inc., and Renaissance Technologies, LLC, all of whom are said to hold greater than 5% beneficial ownership interest in both OnDeck and Enova. None of them are named as defendants.
“…even if the exchange ratio is unfair,” Doaty argues, “those institutional investors will still benefit from seeing their positions in Enova benefitted. Non-insider stockholders, on the other hand, will not be parties to the benefit.”
The law firm representing the plaintiff in Delaware is Cooch and Taylor, P.A.
Case ID #: 2020-0763 in the Delaware Court of Chancery.
As an aside, deBanked mused two days prior to the filing of this lawsuit that the sales price of OnDeck was so low that early OnDeck shareholders stand to recover less of their investment as a result of this deal than investors in a rival company that was placed in a court-ordered receivership by the SEC.
I‘ve heard of SaaS, but now there’s LaaS, Lending as a Service. I recently spoke with Timothy Li, CEO of Alchemy, a fintech infrastructure company that offers that and more. You can check it out below!
Buried deep in the bowels of the salacious news articles coming out about Par Funding, the small business funding company that was raided by the FBI and forced into a court-ordered receivership, is that Par Funding investors probably stand to recover more of their funds than early shareholders of OnDeck.
That’s the early indication based upon a report prepared by DSI, a consulting firm hired by Par’s Receiver. As of the 4th quarter of 2019, Par Funding purportedly had $420 million in MCA receivables and $21.7 million in cash while claiming that only $365 million was still owed to investors.
Could be worse?
At the heart of this case is just how solid Par’s receivables are. The SEC claims that hundreds of millions may be lost but isn’t entirely sure how much. As evidence, they point to more than 2,000 lawsuits Par has filed since inception against defaulted customers and assert the unlikelihood that Par and affiliated individuals could have reasonably claimed to have had a 1% or 2% default rate.
Par in its defense has said that the SEC has made “no attempt to address the successful recovery rate of Par Funding’s litigation or, more fundamentally, how this litigation correlates to a cash over cash default rate.”
Par has made several references to a cash-over-cash default rate in its court papers. In an August 9 filing, attorneys for Par say that the company’s cash-over-cash default rate is “perhaps the best in the industry.”
But even if it is, deBanked spoke with some accountants knowledgeable about these products that said that a cash-over-cash calculation would not normally be a formula one would use to express meaningful portfolio performance. They spoke generally as they did not have knowledge about Par’s books or personal methodologies.
And absent such knowledge of how Par calculated it, Par insists in its papers that it has the right to show that it did not misrepresent the default rate (and that it should have had that opportunity before being placed in receivership in the first place).
It doesn’t help that the SEC has made contradicting arguments about defaults. While implying that 50% of the money is in default ($300 million of $600 million funded is allegedly tied up in lawsuits, they say) they simultaneously state in their Amended Complaint that an analysis of these lawsuits reveals that Par’s “default rate is as high as 10%.”
One has to wonder, if that’s true, if a forced-receivership over such a company was warranted because the SEC thought that their default rate might be as high as… 10%.
A rival alternative business lender, OnDeck, had reported a default rate of 5% in 2013, 18 months before going public at a $1.3 billion valuation. At the time, company CEO Noah Breslow told Forbes that a 5% default rate was “on a par with banks.” [sic]
On OnDeck’s June 30, 2020 balance sheet, the company set an allowance for credit losses at $173.6M against $901.1M in receivables, approximately 19%. That, of course, reflects the impact of COVID, which Par also argues it has had to contend with and that this should be considered in the big picture.
Safely secure from any raids, executives for OnDeck gathered on a conference call in late July to announce that they had been acquired by Enova at a share price of $1.38 that locked in a loss of more than 90% from their IPO ($20). After delving into the details, an analyst for Morgan Stanley offered a bit of praise. “Congratulations on the deal, guys,” he said before pivoting to a mundane question about the impact of economic stimulus on portfolio performance.
That same week, agents for the FBI were preparing to move in on the offices of Par Funding while the SEC filed a civil complaint under seal (and botched it.) Since then narratives have emerged about Par that include guns, jets, houses, data breaches, and alleged verbal exchanges. It’s a lot to take in.
But in the end it remains to be determined how much of Par’s purported $420M in MCA receivables can be collected. Even if for argument’s sake only $42 million were to be recovered (10%), an investor who put $1 into Par in 2014 and $1 into OnDeck stock in 2014 may somehow walk away a lot better by having bet on Par.
At some point in this century, small business finance companies will be expected to comply with Section 1071 of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that was passed in 2010.
In the wake of the ’08-’09 financial crisis (remember that?!), lawmakers passed the above act that has become colloquially known as Dodd-Frank. Section 1071 gave the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau the authority and the mandate to collect data from small business lenders (and similar companies).
The costs, risks, and challenges with rolling out this law have been discussed on deBanked for 5 years, yet little progress has been made to finally implement it. But it’s starting to move along and the CFPB would now like to know how expensive it will be for businesses to comply.
If you are engaged in small business finance, you should seriously consider submitting a response to their survey. The CFPB is specifically cataloging responses from merchant cash advance companies, fintech lenders, and equipment financiers.
In 2017, Ethan Senturia, the founder of a defunct online lending company, published a tell-all book about his startup’s rise and fall. He called it Unwound. It’s the fall that stood out. Senturia’s poorly modeled business had been heavily financed by an up-and-coming online lending hedge fund manager named Brendan Ross.
I first encountered Ross in 2014 on the alternative finance conference circuit. Ross’s major theory was that small businesses overpay for credit and that the padded cost served as a hedge against defaults and economic downturns.
“The asset class works even when the collection process doesn’t,” Ross said during a Short Term Business Lending panel at a conference in May 2014. “The model works with no legal recovery.”
As an editor, I helped secure a lengthy interview with Ross that Fall. In it, he placed a special emphasis on building “trust.” It’s a word he used seventeen times over the course of the recorded conversation. “Everything is about trust and eliminating the need for it whenever possible,” he proclaimed.
Ross stressed that his fund invested in the underlying loans of online lenders, not in the online lenders themselves. “I need to be the owner of the loan. I need it sold to me in a way that is completely clean.”
Ross would eventually connect with Senturia at Dealstruck, an online small business lender whose philosophy seemed to contradict Ross’s mantra of small businesses overpaying for credit. Dealstruck, it would turn out, had a tendency to have them underpay…
Senturia told the New York Times that year that Dealstruck’s mission was “not about disintermediating the banks but the very high-yield lenders.”
It’s a concept that failed pretty miserably. Senturia recalled in his book that “We had taken to the time-honored Silicon Valley tradition of not making money. Fintech lenders had made a bad habit of covering out-of-pocket costs, waiving fees, and reducing prices to uphold the perception that borrowers loved owing money to us, but hated owing money to our predecessors.”
As the loans underperformed, Senturia became aware that the hedge fund backing them, Ross’s Direct Lending Investments, might also be doomed. Senturia recalled an exchange with Ross in 2016 in which Ross allegedly said of their mutually assured destruction, “I am like, literally staring over the edge. My life is over.”
One would expect that in light of that conversation being made public through a book, that investors would question Ross’s report that his fund delivered a double digit annual return (10.61%) the same year his life was over.
Some actually did question it. deBanked received tidbits of information in the ensuing years, always seemingly off the record, that something was not right at Ross’s fund. There was little to go off other than the unlikelihood of his consistently stable stellar returns. Ross had been an especially popular investment manager with the peer-to-peer lending crowd and a regular face and speaker at fintech events. CNBC also had him on their network several times as a featured expert.
All told, Ross managed to amass nearly $1 billion worth of capital under management before his demise.
In 2019, Ross suddenly resigned. His fund, Direct Lending Investments, LLC, was then charged by the SEC with running a “multi-year fraud that resulted in approximately $11 million in over-charges of management and performance fees to its private funds, as well as the inflation of the private funds’ returns.”
Yesterday, the FBI arrested Ross at his residence outside Los Angeles. A grand jury indicted him “with 10 counts of wire fraud based on a scheme he executed between late 2013 and early 2019 to defraud investors…” An announcement made by the US Attorney’s Office in Central California revealed that the charges had been under seal for approximately two weeks prior.
The SEC simultaneously filed civil charges against him.
No reference is made to Dealstruck in any of it. The Dealstruck brand was later sold to another company that has no connection to Ross or Senturia where it is still in use to this day. Instead, the SEC and US Attorney focus on Ross’s actions allegedly undertaken with another online lender named Quarterspot. Quartersport stopped originating loans in January of this year.
Ross allegedly directed the online lender to make “rebate” payments on more than 1,000 delinquent loans to create the impression that they were current. Quarterspot has not been accused of any civil or criminal wrongdoing.
The SEC included in its complaint that Ross expressed concern about the scale of loan delinquencies.
“…more loans are going late each month than I can afford and still have normal returns, so that the can we are kicking down the road is growing in size,” he wrote in an email. It was dated February 8, 2015.
It’s a sentiment that seems to disprove his early premise that “the asset class works even when the collection process doesn’t.”
Ross is innocent until proven guilty, but an excerpt of an interview with him in 2014 is now somewhat ironic.
“I [understand] that people end up sometimes in the [industry] who have had colorful careers in the securities space. It doesn’t make it impossible for me to work with them,” he said. “But if they had been in the big house for white collar crime, then that is probably a non-starter.”
I recently spoke with Christopher Pepe, Head of ISO Relations at World Business Lenders. Pepe explained why WBL’s practice of securing loans against real estate has enabled their business to keep lending and to do deals unsecured lenders and MCA providers are not equipped to handle.
You can watch the full interview here:
While the news media, regulatory agencies, and law enforcement are high-fiving each other over the course of events in the Par Funding saga (a lawsuit, a receivership, an asset freeze, and an arrest), there lies a major problem: The SEC already suffered a major defeat.
On July 28th, rumors of a vague legal “victory” for Par Funding circulated on the DailyFunder forum. The context of this win was unknowable because the case at issue was still under seal and nobody was supposed to be aware of it.
Cue Bloomberg News…
In December 2018, Bloomberg Businessweek published a scandalous story about a Philadelphia-based company named Par Funding. And then not a whole lot happened… that is until Bloomberg Law and Courthousenews.com published a lengthy SEC lawsuit less than two years later that alleged Par along with several entities and individuals had engaged in the unlawful sale of unregistered securities.
At the courthouse in South Florida, those documents were sealed. The public was not supposed to know about them and deBanked could not authenticate the contents of the purported lawsuit through those means. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the mixup happened when a court clerk briefly unsealed it “by mistake” thus alerting a suspiciously narrow set of news media to the contents. deBanked was the first to publicly point this out.
In court papers, some of the defendants said that they learned of the lawsuit that had been filed under seal on July 24th from “news reports.” Bloomberg Law published a summary of the lawsuit on its website in the afternoon of July 27th.
“It is fortuitous that the Complaint was initially published before it was sealed,” an attorney representing several of the defendants wrote in its court papers. “Otherwise, [The SEC] would have likely accomplished its stealth imposition of so-called temporary’ relief, that would have led to the unnecessary destruction of a legitimate business.”
The day after this, on July 28th, a team of FBI agents raided Par Funding’s Philadelphia offices as well as the home of at least one individual. Rumors about the office raid landed on the DailyFunder forum just hours later, along with links to the inadvertently public SEC lawsuit now circulating on the web.
The New York Post caught wind of the story and published a photo of an arrest that had taken place fifteen years ago, creating confusion about what, if anything, was happening. Nobody, was in fact, arrested.
The SEC lawsuit was finally unsealed on July 31st, along with the revelation that Par Funding and other entities had been placed in a limited receivership pursuant to a Court order issued just days earlier. The receivership order was a massive blow to the SEC. It failed to obtain the most important element of its objective, that is to have the court-ordered right to “to manage, control, operate and maintain the Receivership Estates.” The SEC specifically requested this in its motion papers but was denied this demand and others by the judge who leaned in favor of granting the Receiver document and asset preservation powers rather than complete control of the companies.
The language of the Court order was interpreted differently by the Receiver, who immediately fired all of the company’s employees, locked them out of the office, and then suspended all of the company’s operations which even prevented the inbound flow of cash to the company (of which in the matter of days amounted to nearly $7 million). The SEC did successfully secure an asset freeze order.
In court papers, Par Funding’s attorneys wrote that: “The Receiver’s and SEC’s actions are ruining a business with excellent fundamentals and a strong financial base and essentially putting it into an ineffective liquidation causing huge financial losses. In taking this course of action against a fully operational business, the key fact that has been lost by the SEC, is that their actions are going to unilaterally lead to massive investor defaults.”
The Receiver, in turn, tried to fire Par Funding’s attorneys from representing Par. Par’s attorneys say that the Receiver has communicated to them that it is his view “that he controls all the companies.”
“The SEC is simply trying to drive counsel out of this case, as an adjunct to all the other draconian relief that they insist must be employed to ‘protect the investors,'” Par’s attorneys told the Court. “Due Process is of no regard to the SEC.”
As lawyers on all sides in this mess assert what is best for “investors,” seemingly lost is the collateral damage that is likely to be thrust on Par’s customers. The Philadelphia Inquirer has repeated the SEC’s contention that Par made loans with up to 400% interest. Bloomberg News has called Par a “lending company” whose alleged top executive is a “cash-advance tycoon.”
A review of some of Par’s contracts, however, indicate that they often entered into “recourse factoring” arrangements. “This is a factoring agreement with Recourse,” is a statement that is displayed prominently on the first page of the sample of contracts obtained by deBanked.
Parallels between the business practices of Par Funding and a former competitor, 1 Global Capital, have been raised at several junctures in the SEC litigation thus far. But some sources told deBanked that in recent times, Par has been offering a unique product, one that is likely to create disastrous ripple effects for hundreds or perhaps thousands of small businesses as a result of the Receiver’s actions (even if well-intentioned).
Par offered what’s known as a “Reverse Consolidation,” industry insiders told deBanked. In these instances Par would provide small businesses with weekly injections of capital that were just enough to cover the weekly payments that these small businesses owed to other creditors.
One might understand a consolidation as a circumstance in which a creditor pays off all the outstanding debts of a borrower so that the borrower can focus on a relationship with a single lender. In a “reverse” consolidation, the consolidating lender makes the daily, weekly, or monthly payments to the borrower’s other creditors as they become due rather than all at once. Once the other creditors have been satisfied, the borrower’s only remaining debt (theoretically) is to the consolidating lender.
Par does not appear to have offered loans but sources told deBanked that Par would provide regular weekly capital injections to businesses that could not afford its financial obligations otherwise. Par, in essence, would keep those businesses afloat by making their payments.
That all begs the question, what is going to happen to the numerous businesses when Par breaches its end of the contract by failing to provide the weekly injections?
As the Receiver makes controversial attempts to assert the control it wished it had gotten (but didn’t), the press dazzled the public on Friday with the announcement that an executive at Par Funding had been arrested on something entirely unrelated, an illegal gun possession charge. The FBI discovered the weapons while executing a search warrant on July 28th but waited until August 7th to make the arrest.
It remains to be seen what the 1,200 investors will recover in this case or what will become of the Receiver in the battle for control, but sources tell deBanked that the authorities are all fighting over the wrong thing.
They should all be asking “what’s going to happen to the small businesses when their weekly capital injection doesn’t come in the middle of a pandemic?”
Enova CEO David Fisher kicked off his company’s 2nd quarter earnings call on Tuesday and one could tell from the pitch in his voice that he was excited. And why shouldn’t he be? Despite the catastrophe that gripped the nation over the months of April, May and June, Enova still manages to report a consolidated net PROFIT of $48 million.
But that’s not even it. After a long introduction about a major acquisition, a rather familiar voice is asked to deliver some prepared remarks.
“Thanks David, I am equally excited…”
It’s Noah Breslow, the CEO of OnDeck. Less than an hour earlier it was revealed that Enova had bought 100% of OnDeck’s outstanding shares for $90 million in a deal paid for almost entirely with stock. And now suddenly he’s here on this call talking about how great it is that the companies are combining forces.
“Following an extensive review of our strategic options, we believe this is the right path forward for our customers, employees, and shareholders,” Breslow says.
That OnDeck has been acquired is no surprise. The devastating impact of COVID in Q1 reveals weaknesses in the company’s business model and the share price drops by 80% from the period of February to July. This all while two of their competitors in the small business lending space, Square and PayPal, experience enormous gains of more than 40%.
In May, Forbes reported grim news, that OnDeck is being shopped around in “what amounts to a fire sale.”
The rumor creates further despair in an industry that is preoccupied with survival. If this can happen to OnDeck, then…?
The truth is, OnDeck’s momentum had stalled long before COVID. The company walked away from a sale to Wonga in 2012 that had valued them at $250 million and they went on to have a successful IPO in 2014 at a value of $1.32 billion on the selling point that they were a tech company.
But by mid-February of this year, the company’s market cap is down to less than $250 million, turning the clock backwards by about eight years. After losing the partnership with Chase in 2019, OnDeck seemed to have lost its swagger and direction. They planned to pursue a bank charter and do a stock buyback. Then the news pretty much stops.
COVID happens and it hits them hard. The company stopped lending entirely, although they still recorded originations of $66 million in Q2.
As a standalone entity, OnDeck’s upside had greatly diminished. Getting back to where it was pre-COVID may not have been an entirely enticing prospect for investors. Its market cap recently plummeted to less than $50 million and so by the time the Enova price of $90 million is announced, it sounds almost generous. (Knight Capital sold for $27.8M in November).
Enova says that the acquisition increases their concentration in small business lending from 15% to 60%. That puts consumer lending, their historical core business, now in the minority. This is not by accident. On the earnings call, Enova executives say that they believe that “there will be strong demand for capital from small businesses as the economy begins to open back up.” They even believe the opportunity is better than the consumer lending market right now, particularly from a regulatory perspective, they say. Therefore it makes sense to “double down or triple down” on the small business side, they contend.
Enova’s small business lending business was largely spared by COVID. Unlike OnDeck’s brutal Q1, Enova had reported something “very much manageable” thanks to not having “large exposures to entertainment, hospitality and restaurants.”
“Our portfolio has been extremely stable,” Enova says on the call. With the acquisition of OnDeck, the company appears to be gearing up for the opportunity they believe awaits in small business lending right around the corner.
I recently spoke with Lending Valley CEO Chad Otar, who told us that not only is his funding company still working remotely, but that he’ll probably never return to an office ever again. Watch below:
New York State Legislature Passes Law That Requires APR Disclosure On Small Business Finance Contracts (Even If They’re Not Loans)July 24, 2020
Factoring companies and merchant cash advance providers may be in for a rude awakening in New York. The legislature there, in a matter of days, has rammed through a new law that requires APRs and other uniform disclosures be presented on commercial finance contracts… even if the agreements are not loans and even if one cannot be mathematically ascertained.
The law also makes New York’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) the overseer and regulatory authority of all such finance agreements. DFS can impose penalties for violations of the law, the language says.
The bill was passed through so quickly that unusual jargon remained in the final version, increasing the likelihood that there will be confusion during the roll-out. One such issue raised is the requirement that a capital provider disclose whether or not there is any “double dipping” going on in the transaction. The term led to a rather interesting debate on the Senate Floor where Senator George Borrello expounded that double dipping might be well understood at a party where potato chips are available but that it did not formally exist in finance and made little sense to have it written into law.
Senator Kevin Thomas, the senate sponsor of the bill, admitted that there was opposition to the “technicalities” of it by some industry groups like the Small Business Finance Association and that PayPal was one such particular company that had opposed it on that basis. Senator Borrello raised the concern that a similar law had already been passed in California and that even with all of their best minds, the state regulatory authorities had been unable to come up with a mutually agreed upon way to calculate APR for products in which there is no absolute time-frame. Thomas, acknowledging that, hoped that DFS would be able to come up with their own math.
APR as defined under Federal “Regulation Z”, which the New York law points to for its definition, does not permit any room for imprecision. The issue calls to mind a consent order that an online consumer lender (LendUp) entered into with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2016 after the agency accused the lender of understating its APR by only 1/10th of 1%. The penalty to LendUp was $1.8 million.
Providers of small business loans, MCAs, factoring and other types of commercial financing in New York would probably be well advised to consult an attorney for a legal analysis and plan of action for compliance with this law. The governor still needs to sign the bill and New York’s DFS still has to prepare for its new oversight role.
Passage of the law was celebrated by Funding Circle on social media and retweeted by Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski who sponsored the bill. The Responsible Business Lending Coalition simultaneously published a statement.