It’s the end of an era. Marcus, an online consumer lending venture launched in 2016 by Goldman Sachs, is winding down its lending business. Rumors of the shift circulated around the media last month but last week Goldman Sachs made it official.
“We started a process to cease offering new loans on the Marcus platform,” said Goldman CEO David Solomon. “We will likely allow the book to roll down naturally, although we are considering other alternatives.”
Solomon attributed the move to the firm reorganizing itself but elaborated further when pressed.
“…we tried to do too much too quickly,” Solomon said. “And of course, in the environment that we are in, it’s hard to go back when we started in that strategy 6 years ago. We obviously built the deposit business, the loan business, and we talked about a much broader platform and I think we came to the conclusion that there were some changes.”
Solomon added that in trying to do too much, it was affecting their execution and he conceded that they didn’t have “all the talent we had needed to execute the way we wanted.”
Left unsaid about Goldman’s original motivations was a desire to compete with LendingClub, who had blazed a massive trail with peer-to-peer lending and showed the world a market of potential untapped opportunity. The two firms went head-to-head against each other for consumers and LendingClub eventually ditched peers as a source of financing and later became a bank itself. The final destination for both companies brings closure to the twenty-teens where growth of an online lending business at any cost was all the rage.
Coincidentally, The Federal Reserve is now investigating Goldman Sachs’ use of appropriate safeguards in its Marcus lending division, according to the WSJ.
The Marcus online savings account product is reportedly remaining active.
It’s halfway into the first month of the new year and the expectations for 2023 are buzzing. Fintech and alternative finance executives have different views on what’s to come. Here’s what they had to say:
Nick Chandi (CEO & CO-Founder at Forward AI): “Adopting real-time payments (RTPs) will be critical in 2023 as SMBs continue to grow. RTP transactions are set to grow 300% globally over the next five years, potentially becoming the new standard for banks, FinTech’s, and businesses to move money. The implementation of real-time payments allows SMBs to manage their cash flow better, settle transactions in real-time, hold cash for longer, and make due payments instantly.”
Bruno Raschio (President at East Capital): “Predictions include negative growth in the equities markets as earnings estimates lower, the S&P to remain below 4,000 by the end of the year, as well as stagnant growth in real estate prices. Even a 10-20% in price reductions in real estate prices as interest rates continue to rise, closing in on 30-year highs.”
Gregg Templeton (Founder at TRAM Funding): “I predict that embedded finance will really take root this year. Both B2B and B2C will be looking for ways to embed banking and financial services directly into their user experience.”
Tyson Rose (Head of Partnerships at BlockApps): “My top three predictions for the financial world as we enter 2023 are as follows. Lenders will outsource more of their business processes and adopt new technologies to drive down costs wherever possible. Smaller lenders will enter the direct ABL and factoring market. Banks and FIs will focus on building fintech solutions to take greater market share in the transportation and supply chain financing industries.”
Sharmylla Siew (Senior Underwriter at Lending Valley): “We predict a number of funders to tighten up their guidelines during the recession and the continuous spread of the regulations state by state with less funding being outputted by hybrid funders.”
Alicia Josshua (ERC Specialist & Field Underwriter at Symmetry Financial Group): “Small businesses are leaning more towards alternative financing because of the flexibility. This financing niche allows for quick turnarounds in approvals and fundings within a week. Big banks have scaled back on lending such as lines of credit [and there’s a] longer approval process such as 4-8 weeks. The alternative financing space is not being affected and makes a great outlook for businesses.”
Andy Parker (CEO at The LCF Group): “2023 will be a challenging year for both small businesses and funders. Increasing borrowing costs, increased compliance and regulatory costs, and more frequent defaults for funders will lead to more expensive funding and tougher qualifications for small business borrowers.”
Ever heard of financing in vitro fertilization? LendingPoint offers financing opportunities for IVF to help women trying to get pregnant. On average IVF can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000. That’s not cheap. LendingPoint is widely known in the consumer lending space but the range of why borrowers are looking for financing is wide.
“We have some really impactful financing opportunities where we’re financing IVF programs for women to get pregnant, which is probably some of the most lovely stories that we get to hear and an impact that we get to do on someone’s life,” said Amanda Flashner, Chief Experience Officer at LendingPoint.
Different treatments have different price points and different needs. LendingPoint partners with many merchants so that they can offer their own customers what they need at the point of sale. Other types include medical, dental, and home improvement businesses, for example.
Flashner was recently appointed Chief Experience Officer (CXO) which is a new executive position for the company altogether. Advocating on behalf of their customers, she is responsible for their beginning-to-end experience, making sure it’s personalized to the customer centricity that they’re building.
“It’s a really exciting time. I like to say our customers have always been the heart of our company and they are, and our CEO (Tom Burnside) has been an incredible advocate for the customer experience practice that I helped build here from the ground up at LendingPoint, but now our customers really have a seat at that table, helping make big decisions on their behalf, so that’s really exciting.”
CXO is not commonly heard of like CFO or COO but Flashner said she does see this role becoming more important in an executive committee of other companies.
Happy New Year! deBanked CONNECT MIAMI is now only 2 and a half weeks away. Hosted at the Miami Beach Convention Center in South Beach on January 19th, this event will set the industry’s course for 2023.
There’s an old saying about it being easy to lend money, the hard part is getting it back. The implied lesson is that lenders need to be selective with who they lend money to, lest they be overrun with defaults. But perhaps the hard part is not entirely about whether or not the lender lends to the right borrowers but also about implementing a system that makes getting the money back from the people they believe are good candidates in a frictionless manner. Because more often than not, failing to make a payment is not actually caused by a shortage of funds.
“Two thirds [of the time it’s] non-monetary related reasons,” said Michael Pupil, VP of Sales at Lexop, to deBanked, “So like credit cards expiring, accounts switching over or they haven’t switched it into the right account, or the PAP [Pre-authorized Payment] expires, a wrong email address or a wrong mailing address, because they move; A ton of different reasons.”
For a company founded in 2016 and doing business throughout the US and Canada, this statistic was an ‘ah-ha’ moment to Lexop. Lexop’s goal is to improve the past-due payment process for lenders or any business that bills its customers. To do this, it communicates with customers by email and text message and provides a frictionless pathway to payment.
“We are payment gateway agnostic,” said Pupil, “and I think that’s the first place to start. Because how an organization collects those funds today doesn’t change. And I think that’s important from a stability and an ease of use standpoint for each customer that we work with.”
It’s also a white-label system so customers would never know that Lexop was involved in the process. There’s no phone call from a collections department or scary letter in the mail.
“The most important mission for Lexop, when we work with our customers, is to never make a customer’s customer feel like they are delinquent or late or ostracized like that, that emotional feeling of being late on a bill, if we can reduce that by a discreet easy tool to just kind of let it flow the way that they want when they want on the device that they want, I think they will appreciate that offer from their lender,” Pupil said.
It might seem intuitive, fine tuning the process for past-due customers to make payments, but Pupil shared that he’s seen a lot of tech and fintech players over the last decade focus the bulk of their efforts on the frontend of the user experience, to improve the application process or to make a loan in the most efficient way possible.
“That gap is again, is on the backend,” he said. “And when you say you’re investing all this money on developing security for an app or 3d technology or meeting customers in the metaverse and then you send a piece of paper to collect on the money, like it just doesn’t make sense. And there’s a gap there.”
Presumably, Lexop’s customers would already have some kind of process in place for borrowers that are past-due and so Lexop focuses on improving the outcomes for them in a manner consistent with their existing brand experiences.
“There is an easier, better way of just coordinating the technology stack as a whole to align the experience that you’re setting at the beginning of the customer journey to also include the backend and the continued management of that journey for the client,” Pupil said.
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.”
It’s the kind of person I’d probably share a beer with after a long day of brokering deals. They understood the business pretty well, spoke articulately, and had a good head on their shoulders. Problem was they said they couldn’t do any physical activities because they were in fact a computer program the whole time. It turns out my chat buddy was named ChatGPT, an AI developed by OpenAI that was co-founded by Elon Musk. It is capable of giving well thought out answers to complex questions and scenarios. I didn’t believe it would hold up in a specific niche but I was wrong. Below are some of my interactions with it:
I started off by being cute and asking about backdooring a deal
I asked it how it might stand out from the crowd on a forum like DailyFunder
I asked what it would do if it were a merchant who kept getting called by the same broker
I asked about a broker competing against an AI as smart as the one I was talking to
It leans towards wanting to backdoor a deal, albeit delicately since it might upset the broker
I asked what I should do to prevent people from finding out my secret 😉
Somehow, Blueacorn (who?) and Womply (who?) Became the Faces of Fintech in Congressional Investigative Report on PPP FraudDecember 5, 2022
According to a newly published congressional committee investigative report, fintechs facilitated PPP fraud. How this happened is laid out in 130 pages of detail that seemingly puts the brunt of the blame on Blueacorn, a purported fintech that was paid $1 billion in SBA processing fees for its role in facilitating PPP loans.
Of course everyone knows Blueacorn because they… oh wait, they probably don’t because up until April 2020 Blueacorn did not even exist. According to the report, the CEO and co-founder of Blueacorn was in the business of selling cell phone accessories until he founded Blueacorn for the singular purpose of facilitating PPP loans. This highly technologically advanced company consisted of “off-the-shelf fraud screening software” and a “single direct employee who assisted with processing PPP applications,” according to the report. In the eyes of investigators, this apparently qualifies as a fintech.
As 1.7 million loan applications poured in to Blueacorn, the company then relied on an affiliated company that hired friends and family members that had little to no experience and got virtually no training to process the loans. Inevitably, fraud piled up, bad things happened, wrongdoing may have occurred, and Blueacorn was somehow paid a billion dollars for its work. The real villain of this mess? Fintech obviously!
A fintech is how investigators cast Womply, an online reputation management company that helped people manage their reviews online. Womply had no ties to lending or fintech until it suddenly became a PPP loan broker in April 2020.
“Womply entered into referral agent agreements with ten lenders or platforms and ultimately referred approximately 7,000 PPP loans totaling $360 million in taxpayer dollars while acting as a referral agent,” the report says. That was just in 2020 when it earned only $3 million in fees. Encouraged by its early successes, Womply went on to generate $2 billion in fees for its role in facilitating PPP loans. Ultimately, as a company with no background in lending or finance, investigators were shocked to discover what had taken place along the way.
The end result of this report?
ProPublica: Fintechs Made “Massive Profits” on PPP Loans and Sometimes Engaged in Fraud, House Committee Report Finds
Select Subcommittee Press Release: New Select Subcommittee Report Reveals How Fintech Companies Facilitated Fraud In The Paycheck Protection Program
NBC News: Executives at ‘fintechs’ made hundreds of millions handing out PPP Covid cash, report says
NY Post: Tech firms defrauded feds by brokering shady PPP loans to collect fees: report
It would be fair to chastise bad actions and bad actors exposed in the report, but to take a multi-billion dollar industry that has been built up over a decade and have it defined by a cell phone accessory store owner and an online reputation management company hardly seems fair. The committee that published its report should change the title and nearly all mentions of fintech throughout. By the report’s own weak logic, the United States Congress could also be characterized as a fintech.