For alternative lenders and funders, 2021 is starting out with a question mark and will lead (hopefully) to a resounding exclamation point of recovery.
Many industry participants waved goodbye to 2020 with relief, and are welcoming a bounce-back in 2021, despite some trepidation about potential bumps along the way and how long a full recovery will take. While things started to improve somewhat toward the latter half of 2020 after grinding to a halt earlier in the year, the pandemic is still raging, with economic growth highly dependent on the immunization trajectory. Then there’s the incoming Democratic administration and the possibility of new rule- making, along with January’s runoff elections in Georgia that could change the balance of power in the Senate, and thus impact the new president’s law- making abilities.
Beyond these macro-issues, the funding industry is also dealing with its own uncertainties. Small business lenders and funders have been hit particularly hard, with underwriting decidedly more difficult in this environment. Some industry players have been forced to find alternative revenue streams in order to ride things out. Not only that, but there are scores of small businesses still reeling from pandemic-induced shutdowns and lighter foot traffic, with some gloomy estimates about their ability to bounce back. Many alternative players are weighing diminished returns against a widely-held bullish outlook for the industry long-term. Many are simply hoping they can hunker down and stick it out long enough and to avoid additional carnage and consolidation that’s widely expected over the short-term.
Ultimately things will get better, but it’s unclear precisely when, says Scott Stewart, chief executive of the Innovative Lending Platform Association. “It’s going to be a bumpy ride for the next year to figure out who is going to be able to survive,” he says.
Here’s a deeper dive into how industry participants see 2021 shaping up in terms of the challenges, competition, M&A, regulation, changing business model, expansion opportunities and more.
SPECIFIC CHALLENGES FOR SMALL BUSINESS FINANCERS
Companies that focus on consumer financing haven’t struggled quite as much amid the pandemic as their small business brethren, and they could continue to see demand grow in 2021. Even amid high unemployment rates, many consumers still need loans for home repairs or as a stop-gap to pay necessary expenses, helping to mitigate the impact on firms that focus on personal loans.
Small business financers, however, got pummeled in 2020 and the situation remains precarious, especially given the prognosis for small companies broadly. Consider that 163,735 Yelp-listed businesses closed from the beginning of the pandemic through Aug. 31—at least 97,966 of them permanently. Further underscoring how dire the situation is for small businesses, 48 percent of owners feared not earning enough revenue in December to keep their businesses afloat, according to a recent poll by Alignable, an online referral network for small businesses. What’s more, 50 percent of retail establishments and 47 percent of B2B firms could close permanently, according to the poll of 9,204 small business owners.
A SHRINKING COMPETITIVE LANDSCAPE
For many lenders and funders, the latter part of 2020 proved more successful for originations, though business is still a far cry from before the pandemic. A number of players who suspended or reduced business operations for a period of time during the first wave of the pandemic have dipped their toes back in and are in the process of trying to adapt to the new normal. For some, though, the challenges may prove too great, industry observers say. Given that many brokers and funders that were on the fringe have been hurt by the pandemic, more shake- out can be expected, says Lou Pizzileo, a certified public accountant who advises and audits alternative finance companies for Grassi in Jericho. N.Y.
And, with fewer competitors, there will be more of a need for those who are left to pick up the slack, says Peter Renton, founder of Lend Academy. Beyond being a lifeline for many alternative financers, PPP loans helped open the eyes of many small businesses who hadn’t previously considered working with anyone but a bank. In the beginning, when it was so difficult for small businesses to get these funds, they looked beyond banks for options and some found their way to online providers. This could be a boon for the industry going forward since alternative providers are now on the radar screen of more small businesses, says Moshe Kazimirsky, vice president of strategic partnerships and business development at Become.
He predicts that larger, stronger players will gradually ease some of their lending and funding criteria early on in 2021, but no one is expecting a quick revival, with some predicting it could be well into 2022 before the industry is on truly stable footing. “I think it’s going to be a very slow recovery,” Kazimirsky says.
In 2020, the industry saw bellwethers like Kabbage and OnDeck get swallowed up, and with so many businesses pinched, there are likely to be more bargains ahead from M&A standpoint, Pizzileo says. “The damage from Covid is palpable; we just haven’t seen the real impact of it yet,” he says.
No matter what product you are providing, if you’re a smaller player who can’t find your way, you’re going to have a hard time staying in business,” says Stewart of the Innovative Lending Platform Association. “There will be some collateral damage going into next year,” he predicts.
In terms of likely buyers, Renton says he expects other fintechs to step in, and possibly even mid-size community banks snap up some alternative providers. If you can buy something for “a song” it’s compelling, he says. “I expect to see a few more offers that are too good to refuse,” he says.
CHANGING BUSINESS MODELS
Pizzileo, the CPA, predicts there will be ongoing opportunities in the year ahead for well-positioned, strong businesses with available capital. In some cases, however, this may require tinkering with their existing ways of doing business.
Before the crisis, some lenders applied the same or very similar lending model across industries. “That is going the way of the dinosaur. That’s not going to be a successful model going forward,” Renton says. Lenders will focus more on having a differentiated model for the businesses they serve. “I think the crisis created this necessity to treat each industry on its own merits and create a model that has some level of independence, he says.
The year ahead is also likely to be one in which e-commerce lending continues to thrive. According to the third quarter 2020 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. retail e-commerce stood at $209.5 billion, up 36.7% year over-year. E-commerce accounted for 14.3% of total retail sales in Q3. Because it’s such a high-growth area, and many businesses that didn’t have this vertical before are moving in this direction and more lenders are focusing on it and growing that part of their business, says Kazimirsky of Become.
It will also be interesting to watch how lenders and funders continue to reshape themselves. Sofi, for instance, is continuing to pursue its goal of receiving a national bank charter. Other lenders and funders may also seek to reinvent themselves as they attempt to stay afloat and compete more effectively.
“Monoline lenders that rely on a single product will have more difficulty supporting customers in the wake of Covid,” says Gina Taylor Cotter, senior vice president and general manager of global business financing at American Express, which purchased Kabbage in 2020. “Small businesses need multi-product solutions to not only access working capital, but also real-time insights to help them be more prudent with their cash flow and accept contactless payments safely to encourage more business,” she says.
CHANGES IN RISK MODELING
Another pandemic-driven change is that lenders have had to tweak their risk modeling. Everyone understands the economy is not in the greatest spot, but their challenge in 2021 will be developing a way to assess future losses in the absence of a baseline, says Rutger van Faassen, head of product and market strategy for the benchmarking and omnichannel research group at Informa Financial Intelligence.
Consumer behaviors have changed, for instance. So even though the pandemic will end, it’s too soon to say what the structural impacts on an industry will be and how that affects the desirability of lending to especially hard-hit businesses, such as restaurants, cruise lines and fitness centers. “Clearly the behavior that everyone is showing right now is because of the pandemic. The question is: how will people behave once the pandemic ends,” he says.
“In the meantime, a lot of lenders will have to do more in-the-moment decision-making, until we get to a point when we’re truly in a new normal, when they can start recalibrating models for the longer-term,” he says.
OPPORTUNITIES TO HELP SMALL BUSINESSES
One certainty in the year ahead is the need to help existing small businesses with their recovery, says Cotter of American Express. “Small businesses represent 99 percent of all jobs, two-thirds of new jobs and half of the non-farm GDP in America. Our country’s success depends on small businesses, and financial institutions have a great opportunity to meet their needs to recover and return to positions of growth in 2021,” she says.
How to make this happen is something many alternative financers will grapple with in 2021. Another opportunity may exist in providing funding solutions to new businesses or those that have pivoted as a result of the pandemic. Cotter points to the inaugural American Express Entrepreneurial Spirit Trendex, which found 76% of businesses have already pivoted their business this year and 73% expect to do it again next year. “New-business applications have reached record heights as entrepreneurs pivot and adapt, indicating a surge of new ventures that will require financial solutions to build their business,” Cotter says.
Several regulatory issues hang in the balance in 2021, including state-based disclosure laws, expected rules on third-party data aggregation and demographic data collection, and the status of a special purpose charter for fintechs, says Ryan Metcalf, head of U.S. public policy, regulatory affairs and social impact at Funding Circle. With a new administration coming in, the regulatory environment could become more favorable for measures that stalled during Trump’s tenure.
Armen Meyer, vice president of LendingClub and an active member of the Marketplace Lending Association, says he’s hoping to see a bill pass in 2021 that requires more transparency for small business lending. He would also like to see more states follow the lead of California and Virginia and make the 36% interest rate standard of Congress’s Military Lending Act, which covers active- duty service members (including those on active Guard or active Reserve duty) and covered dependents, the law of the land. “We’re calling for this to be expanded to everybody,” he says.
Meanwhile, our neighbors to the North have their own challenges and opportunities for the year ahead. The alternative financing industry in Canada originated out of the 2008 recession when banks restricted their credit box and wouldn’t lend to certain groups. While conditions are very different now, “this period of economic uncertainty is going to be an incredible fertile period of time for fintechs to come up with new and interesting and creative credit products just like they did entering the last financial crisis,” says Tal Schwartz, head of policy at the Canadian Lenders Association.
Open banking continues to be on the Canadian docket for 2021 and how the framework shapes up is of utmost interest to fintech lenders in Canada. Schwartz says he’s also hopeful that alternative players in Canada will have a role to play in subsequent government- initiated lending programs. He’s also expecting to see more growth in the e-commerce area, particularly when it comes to extending credit to e-commerce companies and in financing solutions at checkout for online shopping.
DeBanked’s Top 10 most read stories of 2020 all involved the Payment Protection Program (PPP). It was by far the hottest topic in small business financial services for the year. As a result, we consolidated our most read stories into FIVE categories and this is what our readers consumed most in 2020!
The Payroll Protection Program saga boiled down to one major question early on in the pandemic: Who, if anybody, would be able to lend the money out on the government’s behalf? PPP Lender Requirements was the most read story on deBanked in 2020, followed by the world being curious to find out who was the biggest PPP lender. On April 22, deBanked was the first to spread the story that Ready Capital (Knight Capital‘s parent company) was the largest PPP lender in the US for Round 1.
2. NY’s Disclosure Bill
The biggest non-PPP story of the year was a bill passed in New York that was signed by the governor at Midnight on Christmas Eve. SB 5470, which some have dubbed “The Small Business Truth in Lending Act,” is slated to completely overhaul the non-bank small business lending market in the state. The bill was passed by the legislature in July.
It’s difficult to overstate how much of a rollercoaster it was for the stalwart fintech lender in 2020. OnDeck started the year with optimism, announcing a NASCAR sponsorship in March just as the company’s stock suddenly plummeted by 30%. By the time summer rolled around, the company was no longer engaged in non-PPP lending activities and was battling in a fight for its life with its creditors. In July, OnDeck was acquired by Enova, which led to shareholder lawsuits over the terms and disclosures tied to the deal. Somehow, by year-end, OnDeck managed to pull itself back together, thanks to its new parent company. It successfully originated $148M worth of loans in Q3.
Wow, just wow.
The impact of Covid was a close 4th on deBanked’s top read list. In March, deBanked published a writeup of How Small Business Funders [Were] Reacting, an interesting glimpse into the pandemic as it was just unfolding. At that time, attitudes ranged from confidence in being prepared to being convinced it was time to shut everything down. One notable takeaway from the commentary is that nobody surmised that the situation would persist for the entire rest of the year.
Capify CEO David Goldin made an early bold prediction, however. “I would not be surprised if we learn in the next few weeks that the President of the United States has it,” he said in an interview with deBanked in mid-March. President Trump was diagnosed with Covid-19 less than six months later on October 6th.
Three scandals were a near-tie for views in 2020 so we’re revisiting them all here.
Brendan Ross & Direct Lending Investments – Brendan Ross, the former CEO of a very popular fintech lending hedge fund, was indicted on August 11th. Federal officials including the SEC, say that Ross defrauded investors while managing more than $1 billion in assets. Ross’s “unwinding” began in 2019 when he suddenly resigned from the firm and wrongdoing was alleged.
Jonathan Braun – Jon Braun, made infamous by a Bloomberg Businessweek profile, checked into FCI Otisville earlier this year after having been sentenced the previous May for drug related offenses. Braun resurfaced in the news this summer when the FTC announced civil charges against him for alleged acts related to a company named Richmond Capital Group, LLC. The New York State Attorney General filed its own charges against Braun and affiliates at the same time.
Par Funding – A financial services firm based in Philadelphia generated major headlines this year after the SEC filed a lawsuit against the company that ultimately resulted in it being placed in receivership. A series of stunts and accidents got the SEC’s case off to a rocky start, but the likelihood of Par ever restarting its business has diminished to almost nothing.
LendIt Fintech distributed a marketing flyer via email yesterday to its subscribers and it got us thinking about how much online fintech news people are consuming, especially in this era of 2020.
LendIt reported 65,000+ monthly page views for its LendIt Fintech News and that it had 800,000+ podcast downloads.
Meanwhile, deBanked and DailyFunder combined are recording 311,000+ in average monthly page views. Visitors are also spending 7,300 hours on our sites combined each month on average.
These figures are enormous. Thanks for reading!
During the election, we heard candidates on both sides to toss around the phrase “small businesses are the backbone of the American economy.” A staple of exhausted political rhetoric, made trite despite its truth because for many politicians it’s a talking point, not a platform. We must move from rhetoric to action. To do so, America’s political leaders need a real understanding of what small businesses need—and what they don’t.
The struggle between understanding and posturing is on display right now in Albany. While small business owners struggle to open their doors, the legislature passed a so-called “truth in lending for small business” bill that claims to provide more disclosure to business owners seeking financing. Led by Senator Kevin Thomas and Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski the bill is currently pending before Governor Cuomo. The legislators recently authored an op-ed that further demonstrates their failure to recognize that the innocuously named bill is rife with faults and lacks a competent grasp of small business issues. The critical blind spots in the bill’s design threatens billions of dollars in capital leaving New York—a failing small businesses owners can scarcely afford at such a difficult time.
Yet, rather than incentivizing finance providers to stay in New York, the legislature is focused on complex disclosures that lack real meaning or understanding to small business owners. Senator Thomas opined on the Senate floor “… the reason I introduced this bill is because people don’t use standard terminology.” Interestingly, this bill creates several new terms and metrics that would be required to be disclosed that have never been used before in finance. Terms like “double-dipping” and new confusing metrics that even the CFPB under President Obama labeled as “confusing and misleading” to consumers. This bill’s fatal flaw is that it has confused information volume with transparency, somethings a recent study proved would harm small business owners.
Even Senator Thomas acknowledged the legislation’s myriad of problems while still encouraging its passage. In his colloquy with Senator George Borrello on the Senate floor, right before he called New York small business owners “unsophisticated,” he mentioned how his bill had “many issues” that he “hoped” would be worked out before implementation. Hope is not a strategy and it won’t help small business owners obtain the financing they need to stay in businesses. Advancing legislation that would limit options for entrepreneurs working to stay in businesses during a pandemic that has crippled the New York economy represents a reprehensible failure of leadership.
Minority-owned businesses have faced a disproportionate economic impact from the pandemic. According to the Fed, Black-owned businesses have declined by 41% since February, compared to only 17% of white owned businesses. Further, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the federal government’s signature relief program for small businesses, has left significant coverage gaps: these loans reached only 20% of eligible firms in states with the highest densities of minority-owned firms, and in counties with the densest minority-owned business activity, coverage rates were typically lower than 20%. Specific to New York, only 7% of firms in the Bronx and 11% in Queens received PPP loans. Moreover, less than 10% of minority-owned businesses have a traditional banking relationship—something that was initially required to have access to the PPP.
The lack of cogency and lazy approach to this legislation is a disservice to the hard-working entrepreneurs who continue to open their businesses while facing daily economic uncertainty. Governor Cuomo has worked tirelessly to continue to provide economic relief to both businesses and consumers—removing billions in financing for small businesses will only hinder this effort. New York can do better.
Small Business Finance Association
The Canadian Lenders Association released its 2021 Leaders in Lending awards. The association is the voice of Canada’s lending ecosystem and represents more than 100 companies in commercial and consumer lending.
All CLA members are vetted and accredited based on their corporate standards
and values. Their role is to support the highest level of lending in Canada,
servicing a wide spectrum of business and consumer borrowers’ growth requirements.
2021 Award Winners:
Lending Woman of the Year
|Tiffany Kaminsky | Co-Founder of Symend
Tiffany Kaminsky is the co-founder of Symend, a fintech that uses analytics and behavioural science to create individualized debt recovery programs. The startup, which has offices in Calgary, Toronto and Denver, received USD $52 million in funding earlier this year and plans to hire up to 200 more roles in 2021.
|Nicole Benson | CEO of Valeyo
Nicole Benson is the President & CEO of Valeyo, a business solutions provider to financial institutions in Canada. Nicole drives every facet of business forward, with a focus on growing, evolving, and innovating Valeyo’s suite of solutions to meet the changing needs of its clients and the financial services industry.
|Andrea Fiederer | CMO of goeasy
Andrea Fiederer is EVP & CMO of goeasy, a leader in non-prime financial services with over 2000 employees. Andrea is responsible for goeasy’s overall marketing and brand strategy for both the easyhome and easyfinancial business units.
|Elena Ionenko | Co-Founder of Turnkey Lender
Elena Ionenko is the Co-Founder of Turnkey Lender, a loan origination platform. Under Elena’s leadership, the company has entered 50+ local markets, raised over $3.5 million in venture capital and launched regional offices all over the globe.
|Minal Shankar | CEO of Easly
Minal is the CEO of Easly, a SR&ED financing firm. This year Minal has doubled Easly’s capital under management & customer base. Prior to leading Easly, Minal was an investment manager for the VC firm Northgate Capital and an associate in the Technology Investment Banking group at J.P. Morgan Chase. Minal holds an MBA from the NYU Stern School of Business.
Fintech Innovator the Year
Flinks is a data company that empowers businesses to connect their users with the financial services they want.
REPAY is a leading provider of vertically-integrated payment solutions.
VoPay seamlessly connects you to the banking ecosystem enabling anyone to offer efficient and simple bank account payment processing.
FundMore.ai is an automated underwriting system that uses machine learning to streamline the Pre-Funding process for loans.
Provenir offers a suite of risk analytics tools for lenders to make adjudication faster and simpler.
Executive of the Year
|Jason Mullins | CEO of goeasy
Jason Mullins is the President & CEO of goeasy, a leader in non-prime financial services with over 2000 employees. Since joining goeasy in 2010, Jason has helped the company scale to $1 billion in market capitalization with compound earnings growth of 28%. Jason is a recipient of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 Award.
|Wayne Pommen | CEO of PayBright
Wayne Pommen is the CEO and Founder of PayBright, a Canadian leader in the BNPL space. His firm has partnered with 7,000 domestic and international retailers, and has approved over $1 billion in consumer credit. This year PayBright was acquired by Affirm in a $340 million transaction.
|Lawrence Krimker | CEO of Simply Group
At just 33 years of age, Lawrence Krimker has built Simply Group into a category leader in home equipment financing. This year his firm acquired competitors Dealnet & SNAP Financial in transactions that totalled over $750 million and brought his firm to $1.45 billion in assets under management.
|Andrew Graham | CEO of Borrowell
Andrew Graham is the CEO and Co-Founder of Borrowell, Canada’s first fintech to provide free credit monitoring. This year Andrew launched Borrowell Boost to help the 53% of Canadians living paycheck to paycheck meet their bill payments.
|Maria Soklis | President of Cox Automotive
In the 6 years that Maria Soklis has led Cox Automotive Canada, the company has become a category leader in software and financing solutions for consumers and dealers across the country. Maria has also left her mark with initiatives that promote diverse and inclusive workplaces, and this year signed the BlackNorth Initiative CEO Pledge.
Emerging Lending Platform of the Year
Moselle is a digital platform that simplifies the importing workflow for small medium business owners.
Moves is a financial services platform for independent “gig” workers.
VendorLender is Canada’s first POS lender for dealers in the equipment finance space.
Lendle is Canada’s first interest free credit provider.
goPeer helps everyday Canadians to achieve financial freedom through Peer-to-Peer Lending
Small Business Lending Platform of the Year
Merchant Growth is a leading Canadian financial technology company that specializes in small business financing. Over the past decade, Merchant Growth has supported Canadian businesses with hundreds of millions of dollars in growth financing.
Launched this year, Loop builds credit & payment products specifically for online merchants. The company is operated by the LendingLoop team that popularized P2P lending in Canada.
Thinking Capital is one of Canada’s best known fintech lenders to the small business sector. This year the firm has forged relationships with multiple Credit Unions and hit $1 billion in loans deployed.
Since its launch in 2015, OnDeck Canada has
Canadian based Clearbanc is the world’s largest e-commerce funder. Their data-driven approach takes the bias out of decision making. Clearbanc has funded 8x more female founders than traditional VC.
Consumer Lending Platform of the Year
Flexiti is a leader in point of sale financing for retailers and has been named one of Canada’s fastest growing companies two years straight.
CHICC is one of the country’s leading rental & homeimprovement financing companies.
Marble uses fintech to empower Canadians to improve their credit score, manage debt, and budget to achieve financial goals.
PayBright is one of Canada’s leading buy now, pay later providers. This year the firm was acquired by BNPL giant, Affirm for $340 million.
Canada’s leading alternative financial services provider servicing non-prime Canadians through its easyhome and easyfinancial divisions.
Auto Lending Platform of the Year
GoTo Loans is a fintech lender focused on helping consumers access the equity from their vehicle and the leading provider in Canada for automotive repair loans.
|Auto Capital Canada
AutoCapital Canada is a national auto finance company that works with dealer partners to help clients finance the purchase of new and used vehicles. This year the firm acquired competitor Rifco.
The Western Canada based lender is a leader in non-prime lending to the auto sector.
Canada Drives is a leader in fintech auto lending. This year the firm hit over 400 employees and 1 million transactions, servicing consumers across Canada, the US, and the UK.
Clutch aims to bring speed and convenience to used car sales by taking the experience completely online. The fintech raised a $7 million round this year from Real Ventures.
Technology Lending Platform of the Year
Launched only five years ago, BDC’s Tech Group has become a leader in lending to Canadian technology entrepreneurs.
TIMIA is a specialty finance company that provides growth capital to technology companies in exchange for payments based on monthly revenue.
Flow Capital Corp. is a diversified alternative asset investor, specializing in providing minimally dilutive capital to high-growth businesses.
Venbridge is a Canadian finance company offering non-dilutive venture debt, SR&ED financing, and tax credit consulting services.
SVB has lead the technology lending movement for 35 years. The firm opened their first Canadian office last year.
After Yardline Capital burst into the growth capital space for e-commerce sellers, two fintech vets have recently announced a move to the company.
Seth Broman, formerly Senior Vice President of Business Development at Kapitus, announced he had become Chief Revenue Officer of Yardline Capital.
Dennis Chin, formerly in capital markets for OnDeck, announced on LinkedIn that he had become Head of Strategic Initiatives for Yardline Capital.
On LinkedIn, Broman wrote, “Over the last 14 years, I have seen SMB lending and alternative financing grow and adapt time and time again. Innovation and technology have transformed the industry and continue to do so daily. I have seen firsthand billions and billions of dollars propel SMBs and along with the growth of those companies, the industry itself continues to evolve. With that, I’m very excited to share with my friends, family, colleagues and network that I have joined Tomo Matsuo and Ari Horowitz to build Yardline – providing value-added capital solutions for ecommerce sellers to work smarter & grow faster.”
Coming to you from the heart of Dallas, Texas is a digital payroll startup, Gig Wage, that received a $7.5 million Series A funding round just last month. The founder, CEO, and writer of The Sport of Sales, Craig J. Lewis, talked about his goal to make it easier for 1099 gig workers to get paid.
Lewis made $10 million in payroll tech sales before going on to lead a firm that has seen 30% month-to-month growth this year, during a pandemic no less.
“We help businesses pay independent contractors, but because we’re so tech-centric, it’s evolved beyond just payroll,” Lewis said. “What we ended up building was financial infrastructure for the modern workforce. We help businesses get money from their customers to their contractors as fast and as flexibly as possible.”
The way Gig Wage does this, Lewis said, is by offering an online platform for the hybridization of payroll, payments, and banking from a single login. Businesses can manage their payroll needs for 1099 workers, then shift to payment needs quickly, through direct to debit, all major cards, bank transfers, and accounts receivables.
“One of the only- the only platform in the world actually that has embedded banking into payroll and payments, which is what kind of allows for this speed and flexibility that we offer,” Lewis said. “We’re like B to B to C: We help the businesses with technology and operational excellence, and because independent contractors are separate from the workplace, we provide tools for them.”
Lewis has years of experience in the payroll space- starting as a salesman for ADP small business payroll products back in 2008. Realizing he had a passion for payroll tech and getting customers the best services possible, Lewis went on to learn anything he could about the industry. Selling $10 million in software while moving across the country, Lewis landed in Silicon Valley, where he studied what it took to start a company.
“I was just awed how they thought about technology and products and company building,” Lewis said. “And I vowed to bring that to the payroll industry.”
Lews joined a startup, learned the Silicon Valley way of creating a company through an African American tech acceleration program. In 2014, Lewis founded Gig Wage to do something disruptive in the payroll space.
As Gig Wage attests, disruption is what the 1099 gig industry needs at the very least. Lewis believed the gig economy was going to keep growing when Gig Wage started. As he watched, the gig economy ballooned into a $2 trillion industry with an estimated 65-75 million person workforce. These workers suffer from an outdated payroll system, losing an estimated 2-20% of their income to flaws in the payments system Gig Wage found.
“With the maturation of Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Doordash, Grubhub, Upwork, all of these kinds of gig economy freelancer companies, we had great growth going into 2020,” Lewis said. “In Q1, we were set up to raise our series A, and then March happened, and the terms got pulled off the table.”
But when the dust settled after those first shutdown weeks, Gig Wage looked at the damage and found the skyrocketing unemployment rates and furloughs had only accelerated their growth as a company.
“The gig economy was right there waiting on the workforce to provide opportunities to earn, and we were positioned perfectly to help people compete for that talent and pay people in a modern way,” Lewis said. “The pandemic has been a huge growth accelerant for us, and we think those tailwinds will only continue.”
Those winds of success came during a time of protest. Amplified in the pandemic’s backdrop, the country was waking up to the unequal disenfranchisement black people faced. Only 1% of black founder entrepreneurs ever receive VC funding, and Lewis said he is proud to have raised a significant round, given that unfair stat.
“With so much controversy and negative energy around black people in general,” Lewis said. “I think putting this positive story out there and showing this black excellence, black tech, I think it’s super important, and it’s been something that I’ve embraced. We’ve been able to be a part of putting something extremely powerful and positive into the market.”
America is finally waking up to realize something Lewis said was obvious, that black people matter, even though it can be controversial to say so. He hopes his success can help others but affirms the funding round was no charity drive.
“This is a great opportunity for us to be clear about the fact that like hey, we’ve been working on this, we’ve built a good business and a good technology,” Lewis said. “This is a big business opportunity for our investors and us. It wasn’t charity, right: This isn’t like, oh he’s black, give him some money.”
The successful funding round shows confidence in the Gig Wage platform from Green Dot, which will allow Gig Wage to offer bank accounts and debit services to independent contractors. Green Dot is one of the only fintechs with a national banking license, Lewis said, and Gig Wage is joining the Banking-as-a-Service direction that the fintech industry is headed.
Beyond payroll, Lewis can’t wait to offer other financial products to businesses as the company grows.
“When you think about the gig economy, it’s important that people get paid fast and flexibly: You’ve got to have the cash to be able to do that,” Lewis said. “We see some unique opportunities to get involved in the lending space down the line as well as we continue to build out our technologies.”
“As Canadians stayed home longer, adoption of fintech products has accelerated dramatically,” the report says, accelerating trends that had already been developing for years. The data is based on survey results submitted by nearly 2,600 fintech lending customers.
While there are dozens of important takeaways, respondents indirectly signaled how valuable it is to be among the brands that are found first by borrowers.
That’s because loan applicants said that they researched fewer lenders than ever before (35% only researched 1 or 2 lenders before applying) and they spent less time researching lenders than ever before (31% said they spent less than 1 hour researching). Furthermore, 51% of respondents said that they only applied with a single provider.
This approach worked. Of those that got approved, 89% of respondents said that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their loan provider.
The trend should signal to lenders that borrowers may simply come to expect a satisfactory experience regardless of where they apply and that there is tremendous value in simply being the first 1-2 lenders that a prospective borrower considers.
And hint hint, it pays to be easily discoverable online. Fifty eight percent of respondents said they discovered their loan provider through online search.