business cash advance
deBanked reporter Johny Fernandez visited the storefront office of Horizon Funding Group, a commercial finance brokerage located in Brooklyn. The company is owned by brothers James and John Celifarco.
The last 12 months have seen plenty of developments within the offices of CAN Capital. September witnessed the announcement of a new credit facility of $287 million with Varadero Capital. January brought news of the hiring of a new CEO. And now, completing the hat trick is CAN’s employment of John McNeill as its CFO.
Coming from years of experience in finance, with firms such as Ocwen Financial and Zume, McNeill is stepping into his role with an optimism normally reserved for those at the offset of a new business. Saying that due to recent restructuring, new hirings, and CAN’s re-evaluation of its position in the market over the previous two years, McNeill believes that the company “feels like it’s a nimble startup.” Albeit a startup that has been in the industry for over 20 years.
Founded in 1998 by a small business owner who struggled to be approved for a business loan, CAN has been cemented as a legacy figure within the alternative finance industry. Having persevered through the ’08 crash as well as other economic hiccups over the past two decades, CAN is uniquely positioned in that it has 20 years worth of experience and data, not to mention the personnel who have stuck around to become veterans as well, to guide them through the current moment of market saturation.
And it is the synergy between these two aspects of CAN, the new and the old, that initially drew McNeill to the company. The opportunity to work alongside people who have decades of experience in the market, as well as those who have only been there a few months longer than himself, led McNeill to view CAN as an anomaly, where it’s “like being the new guy, but with all of the tools of historical experience.”
This freshness tempered by lessons learned in the past is also attributed by McNeill to CAN’s CEO, Edward J. Siciliano, who’s worked in commercial financing, sales, marketing, and operations for over 30 years; and who has aimed to expand operations, both technologically and geographically, since his taking up of the role.
McNeill believes that there continues to be plenty of the market left to expand into, saying there’s “still a lot of opportunities to make money and to help secure funding for businesses across America.”
Another company has joined the TV commercial party and this one’s a little different. Atlanta-based Kabbage has chosen Puddles the Clown as their spokesman. What do you think?
Below are some of their competitor’s commercials:
Back on August 14th, the Wall Street Journal reported that OnDeck was preparing to file for an initial public offering. Since then, industry insiders have been bustling with anticipation to see the S-1 filing, the document that would reveal once and for all their true financial standing.
In between then and now, Lending Club, their rival in the business loan market, filed their S-1 on August 27th. The peer-to-peer lending world went nuts and merchant cash advance veterans such as AmeriMerchant’s David Goldin were asked to comment on BloombergTV.
And then… things quieted down. OnDeck went radio silent on August 14th, despite the SEC requiring such only after the S-1 form had actually been filed. Speculation began to build as to whether or not the WSJ report in August was a false alarm or misinformation. And with no word from the industry’s beloved charismatic superstar Noah Breslow, something seemed to be amiss.
And then the Financial Times dropped the bombshell that the registration documents had already been filed… last month… confidentially.
Admittedly, I didn’t even know a company could file confidentially, a process done offline so that it is not recorded electronically. Thanks to the JOBS Act, companies with less than a billion dollars in revenue can submit draft versions of their registration documents to the SEC, allowing the SEC to review, revise, and agree on a final version that will ultimately have to be made public. The takeaway here is that an OnDeck IPO is in the process and the registration documents will eventually be released. The law states that OnDeck must make the documents public at least 21 days prior to pitching investors.
The New Yorker walked readers through confidential registrations back when Twitter was planning their IPO, noting that it was not uncommon to choose this method, “Twitter is much like its peers: most small companies that have gone public since the passage of the JOBS Act have filed their S-1s confidentially,” the New Yorker said.
So why be secretive? The New Yorker continues to explain:
From the perspective of companies, the new rule has a couple of virtues. First, it allows companies that are thinking about going public to test the waters—they can gauge investor reaction, get feedback from the S.E.C. on their filings, and so on—before deciding if they want to go ahead with an I.P.O. If a company goes through that process publicly, and then decides to abandon the offering, its reputation gets damaged, even though it often makes sense for a company not to go public. Do it privately, and no one gets hurt.
OnDeck’s biggest critics are their competitors, naysayers convinced that they are recklessly undercutting pricing to acquire market share. Indeed FT reported that OnDeck posted annual losses of $16.8m and $24.4m in 2012 and 2013, and losses of $14.4m in the first half of 2014.
With $1.3 billion funded since 2006, an independent report cited in the registration by Oliver Wyman estimates the untapped market to be between $80 billion and $120 billion.
There’s plenty of runway left, but OnDeck has yet to turn a profit. In An Insider’s Perspective, I wrote, “What scares their competitors though, is that this strategy has been intentional. Very few if any players in the industry have had the luxury, guts, or the purse to lose money for seven years as part of a coup to conquer the market.”
If the IPO goes through, we can all place actual monetary bets on the company’s future. What a trip that will be. I expect the stadium of insiders to get loud once the public documents are released. Good luck OnDeck.
Earlier today on a large group conference call with Tom Green and Mozelle Romero of LendingClub, I learned a few more details about their business loan program. In the Q&A segment, one attendee came right out and asked if they believed their competition was merchant cash advance companies and online business lenders.
According to Green, it’s not so much other companies that they feel they are up against but more of the broad challenge of market awareness. Their struggle is about getting people to know that there are non-bank options available and to make people aware of their existence.
It’s the same challenge merchant cash advance (MCA) companies have been dealing with for more than a decade. Notably though, there are many in the MCA industry that feel the market is saturated and thus a lot of the industry’s growth has been fostered through a turf war for the same merchants. Stacking (the practice of funding merchants multiple advances or loans simultaneously) is partially spurred by a belief that there are no more untapped businesses left to fund. The acquisition costs of a brand new untouched business that is both interested and qualified is so high, that it is not a pursuit some funders and brokers can afford to take on.
At present, daily funders, which are a combination of both MCA companies and lenders that require daily payments, are funding somewhere between $3-$5 billion a year. On the call Green said he believed the potential market was far larger than that, though he discredited the $200 billion figure that some independent research had predicted. That was only because LendingClub believes the potential market is substantially higher, more like $300 billion.
$300 billion?! That’s about 100x larger than the current daily funder market combined and starkly contradicts any belief that there’s no merchants out there who haven’t already gotten funded.
LendingClub’s minimum gross sales requirement is $6,250 a month and they have an upper monthly gross threshold on applicants at $830,000 a month, though they’ve had businesses apply who do even more than that. Their sweet spot as Green put it, is the segment doing $16,000 to $416,000 gross per month.
I can’t help but notice that’s the same sweet spot that daily funders have. And we mustn’t forget, LendingClub’s target business owner has at least 660 FICO. If it’s a $300 billion market for good credit applicants, then it’s got to be even bigger for the ultra FICO-lenient companies in MCA.
What’s a business?
LendingClub only needs someone with at least 20% ownership to both apply for and guarantee the loan, an unheard of stipulation in the rest of alternative business lending. One cardinal rule in MCA has been that there needs to be at least 51% or 80% ownership signing the contract. That’s had a lot to do with the fact that most MCA agreements are not personally guaranteed and the signatory is required to have absolute authority to sell the business’s future proceeds.
Summer of Fraud
In 2013 the MCA industry experienced what many insiders dubbed the summer of fraud. Spurred by advances in technology, small businesses were applying for financing en masse while armed with pristinely produced fraudulent bank statements. Fake documents overwhelmed the industry so hard that today it is commonplace for underwriters to verify their legitimacy with the banks. This is done manually or with the help of tools such as Decision Logic or Yodlee.
Knowing this firsthand, I asked LendingClub if they also take the care to verify bank statements. In the majority of cases they do not. They rely greatly on an algorithm that detects fraudulent answers on the application but the statements themselves are not scrutinized except in very high risk situations. Considering they’re wildly less expensive than MCAs, I find it odd that they are exposed to this type of risk. Fraudulent documents are the norm and in these underwriting conditions, I would expect them to charge as much or more than MCA companies, not less.
At the same time it’s important to mention that at present, business loans on their platform are only funded by institutional investors. Retail investors can only invest in consumer loans. LendingClub has been very transparent about excluding retail investors here for the very purpose of shielding them from unevaluated and unforeseen risk. My guess is that as time goes on, they will do more to validate the bank statements which is the bread and butter of assessing the risk and health of a business.
In a FICO flexible environment, it’s possible the potential for daily funders is at least $300 billion. If true, that would mean that for the 16 years that MCA players have been around, they barely reached even 1% of their target audience. I’ve been saying it since I’ve started this blog 4 years ago, every business owner I’ve spoken to has never heard of a merchant cash advance… which means saturation is a myth.
Tom Green was right, the real competition is public awareness. 99% of the potential market is untapped. If you’re fighting with 5 other companies over the same merchant, you gotta:
You gotta keep on looking now
Keep on looking now
You’re looking for love
In all the wrong places
There’s a lot of players at the alternative lending table but there are two that have won a string of lucky hands to put them on top. Neither were the first to draw cards, nor do either of them offer something that everybody else does not. These two lenders have something in common of course, special favor with the Internet gods. Is the game rigged?
OnDeck Capital is the most celebrated alternative business lender of our time. Their daily repayment loans and fast approval times are a hit with customers. In fact, as told in their recent securitization prospectus, OnDeck has been eroding its reliance on brokers and third parties to accommodate growth through their direct channel. Direct has been good for OnDeck, very good.
LendingClub on the other hand is the big dog in consumer lending, having funded more than $5 billion since inception. Every month they shatter the previous record for volume of loans funded and they’re expected to go public within the next year. LendingClub continues to pound their distant rival Prosper in monthly loan production. Are they just better at marketing?
Curiously I can’t help but notice they have something in common, they’re both owned by Google. Google Ventures led OnDeck Capital’s series D round and Google Ventures’ Karim Faris sits on OnDeck’s board of directors. Similarly, Google owns a minority stake in LendingClub.
While neither is outright owned or controlled, It’d be surprising if Google didn’t do something to foster the success of their investments. What could a billion dollar Internet giant possibly do to give them a little push?
Stop backlinking and SEO. The game is rigged
If you reproduce a search for the same keywords, you should know that results vary depending on what kind of device you’re using (mobile vs. desktop), what zip code you’re in, what time of the day it is, whether or not you’re logged into Gmail/Google+/Youtube, and whether you’ve searched for related topics before. I performed my searches with a fresh desktop browser on a Sunday evening in NYC with all cookies, cache, and Google account sessions wiped clean.
You might not get exactly what I get and I realize that obfuscates the conspiracy I’m trying to establish here. If you do witness peculiar keyword domination though, keep an open mind that there might be more going on than good SEO and strong natural backlinking brought on by mainstream media publicity. Plenty of big businesses that dominate offline fail to rank well in the top ten results online.
Search engines say that if you’re popular, you’ll rank well. But there are plenty of cases where ranking well has made businesses popular.
Maybe, just maybe the game is rigged…
Somebody once called business loans the Cadillac of Credit products and that person is Brendan Ross, the President of Direct Lending Investments (DLI). In a newsletter he put out in September 2013, he began by saying:
Business loans are the Cadillac of credit products, with the highest yields and lowest default rates. Portfolio returns of 13-17% are the norm for successful underwriters – generally private, non-bank institutions.
He goes on to share his firm’s own investment success in these asset classes, claiming to be earning approximately 1% a month. DLI currently manages $48 million, all of which is deployed in alternative lending.
In today’s newsletter Ross admitted the goal is to “maintain unlevered, double-digit, investment returns.” With savings accounts today paying only fractions of a percent, double digits sounds too good to be true. But do you need $48 million to partake in the action?
The truth is you don’t. If you’re an ISO in the merchant cash advance industry you likely have the option to syndicate on your deals and if you’re friends with the right people you can syndicate on deals you don’t even originate.
But even then for folks who don’t have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands at their disposal to recycle into deals, you can still strive for double digit returns through peer-to-peer lenders like LendingClub or Prosper. Through investments as small as $25 a pop you can participate in 3-5 year consumer loans that pay out monthly.
I myself opened a LendingClub account early this year to understand the experience and grew comfortable enough to begin amassing a real portfolio there. You can craft a portfolio based on your yield goals but the higher paying loans have much higher levels of default.
Investing in G-rated loans with an average annual interest rate of 25% doesn’t mean you’ll get that number or that you can even comfortably expect double digit returns. But you can try… And most do.
In fact the higher yielding loans are bought up fast and furiously every time LendingClub uploads a fresh batch to the platform. They’re added at four precise times a day: 9am, 1pm, 5pm, and 9pm EST. Savvy investors call each interval feeding time and the early bird truly gets the worm. By 9:03 a.m., hundreds of newly added loans are already fully funded and off limits to late investors looking to get the good stuff.
That doesn’t mean there is nothing to invest in if you log on an hour later, but the loans with the most desirable characteristics are nowhere to be found.
The average interest rate of my own portfolio is currently 15.72% a year before taking into account defaults. Using LendingClub’s sophisticated tools, I can compare how my portfolio is likely to play out against very similar ones on their platform (Same yield range with a minimum of 500 loans). Over the course of 30 months, it suggests that defaults will probably drop my actual yield below 10%.
I have a say in how it will actually play out. For instance if loans in Nevada and Florida are likely to default substantially more than loans in other states, then perhaps I can expect different results between a D-rated loan in Florida and one in Vermont. Using both experience as a merchant cash advance underwriter and the controversial article, The Joys of Redlining as a basis, I never make loans to consumers in Florida, Nevada, or California.
Logging into the platform between feeding times, I often notice an abundance of seemingly attractive but very available loans in those specific states.
Whether that and other aspects of my strategy allow me to prevail with consistent double digit returns is to be determined but I can’t help but contrast even a substantially worse outcome against my savings account which legitimately only pays .01% a year. Not 1% and not .1%. It actually pays .01%.
My S&P mutual funds meanwhile are up more than 6.5% this year already but stocks are far more volatile. I’d also like to add that rather than compare the performances of both and decide to choose 1 over the other, consumer lending is a great way to diversify your overall investment capital. An index fund diversifies your stock holdings but there were very few options for everyday people to invest in outside of the stock market until alternative lending came along.
I still keep some cash in the savings account, but much like Brendan Ross announced in his newsletter today, I’m going full speed ahead with buying loans. In 2014, you don’t have to have $48 million in assets to make the returns that institutional investors can. There’s yield to chase out there and anyone can grab it.
About 1% of my LendingClub consumer loan portfolio bounces their very first payment. It’s discouraging stuff, especially considering these loans range between 3 and 5 years. Granted, most manage to get caught back up at least for a little while.
LendingClub, like the rest of the alternative lending industry relies on ACH debits to retrieve those monthly payments. I’ve published my feelings before on single monthly debit payment systems (they’re like roulette). Out of 30 days of the month, you’re betting on the balance being available on just 1 particular day. When I noticed that 1% of my borrowers were failing right out of the gate, it validated two practices that originated in the merchant cash advance industry, daily payments and the analysis of historical cash flow.
For all the underwriting data points that LendingClub offers its investors, I don’t get to see average daily bank balance, overdraft activity, NSF data, or anything at all related to the borrower’s bank account. Ironically, many merchant cash advance companies consider that data to be the single most important piece of assessing a deal.
The problem my 1%-ers have is not a credit problem or a stable income problem, it’s a cash flow problem. You can have 750 credit and be broke. You can have a good job with a hefty salary and be broke. You and I knew this already, which is why it’s odd that LendingClub and other p2p lenders like them still rely mainly on employment data and FICO score.
What I want to know is if the borrower is broke…
That’s something that LendingClub can’t tell me and doesn’t know. Hence a good looking borrower like the one mentioned below, missed the first payment. That led to a negotiation for a reduced monthly payment. They then failed to pay even the reduced amount.
This was a very low risk B1 note. The borrower is a nurse that has worked at their current job for 5 years. They had over 700 credit and very little revolving debt, only $5,500 (compared to some on the platform that have more than 50k!). It was a 3 year loan and it has blown up in my face.
The borrower is broke and nobody knew it.
The Missing Puzzle Pieces
This borrower may very well have done better with a change in how the deal was both underwritten and structured. With daily payments:
- The borrower will know exactly how much cash they can really spend on any given day. They don’t have to worry about trying to set aside for that one big day.
By examining their last 3 months bank transactions:
- Their payment plan will be based on more relevant data. There are 3rd party tools like yodlee that consumers could connect their bank accounts to, so at the very least LendingClub could see what’s really going on. Why business lenders consider this essential while consumer lenders completely ignore this, I don’t understand. Business lender Kabbage for example requires applicants to connect their bank accounts in the application process before they even type in their business address. It is the single most important part of their underwriting.
Picking loans on LendingClub is like trying to complete a puzzle without half the pieces. If you guessed the puzzle on the right was an ocean scene with dolphins playing because of the pretty blue border pieces, you were wrong. It’s actually a picture of a guy on a boat holding a bank statement that shows a negative $3,000 balance and 10 NSFs.