Clearco, the international small business funding company led by celebrity CEO Michele Romanow, announced it was laying off 125 employees on Friday. Romanow shared the news on social media in an overall gloomy message about the business’ state of affairs. For one, the company says that Clearco is currently “considering strategic options” for its international operations.
In a letter from Romanow and Executive Chairman Andrew D’Souza, they state:
The short answer is the current macroeconomic environment looks very different today than in 2021. We have rising interest rates not seen since the mid-90s, the highest inflation in four decades, one of the biggest swings in European currency since the founding of the Euro, all compounded with a slowdown in e-commerce growth that’s been well documented and continued supply chain issues for companies of all sizes.
We were building to match the growth of the economy and now face significant headwinds that simply didn’t exist six months ago. We grew our headcount too quickly in anticipation of continued economic growth and that decision rests on us alone.
After assessing the current market conditions and uncertainty we’re seeing across the e-commerce sector, this was the most prudent action to take and was necessary to:
1. Ensure we’re able to support as many founders as possible, today and in the future, in their growth journey and;
2. To come out of this economic downturn a sustainable and profitable company.
Shopify Capital originated $416.4M in funding to small businesses in Q2, the company announced. That was spread across the US, Canada, and the UK. The figure represented a large increase over the $346.7M in Q1.
Although its funding business grew, the overall parent company announced that it was laying off 10% of its employees. The CEO explained that this was a correction to its expectations that pandemic-driven e-commerce sales would continue to soar for a long time, but that they have instead slowed.
The DailyFunder.com domain was registered ten years and 1 month ago. Formed two years after the debut of deBanked, DailyFunder went on to become the most active small business finance community in North America. The forum has generated more than 160,000 posts and has more than 12,000 members. It has regularly surpassed two million page views per year.
“There is no doubt that the DF has impacted the trajectory of the industry over the last decade,” said Sean Murray, who founded it. “The site receives thousands of visitors per day. In the early years it ushered in an era of broker commission transparency.”
Murray recalled a time when sales agents were not always aware that there were even commissions being paid at all.
“There were reps who thought that they had to charge merchants a separate fee in order to earn anything at all,” Murray said. “And their bosses were taking 50% of that. When I would bring up commissions, they’d be like ‘wait, the funders are paying my boss for these deals too?’ and I’d be like ‘how do you not know this?’ Widespread communication via the forum eliminated a lot of the secrets.”
One of the most popular categories on the forum in more recent times has been the Deal Bin, where brokers try to find placement for deals. It’s recorded more than 41,000 posts.
“Ten years is a lifetime as far as I’m concerned,” Murray said. “Love it or hate it, everybody knows the DF. If you’re a lender or funder, your brokers are lurking on there whether they admit it or not.”
First it was restaurants. Now it’s the Dashers. DoorDash recently launched a limited trial of a new program, cash advances to delivery people. It’s a bit altruistic, however, because it is technically an interest-free 30-day loan with no fees at all.
According to the website, loans are paid back either through a percentage of future Dasher earnings or by placing a debit card on file. Loan amounts are determined by a Dasher’s revenue history. Credit is not a factor.
“Dashers who receive an email or see details in app about this pilot are qualified to participate in this pilot,” the site says. Preliminary reviews online by Dashers that have purportedly tried it, claim loan amounts can go as low as $50.
Eligibility is discoverable through the app. “Check your Dasher app to apply for a cash advance,” the site says. “Select how much cash you want and choose your repayment method.” Payments begin 7 days after funding.
DoorDash launched its other program, its merchant cash advance program via DoorDash Capital, late last year.
Recently, I had the pleasure of someone telling me that they were happy to be getting in on the MCA industry while it’s still very new. While I appreciated the irony given that it’s an industry that’s been around for more than 20 years, it prompted me to take a walk down memory lane to understand why someone might truly believe that. On the one hand, industry insiders long ago predicted that the product would prompt new regulations. They were right, but they were just 17 years off, literally. In 2022, new regulations that were imagined in 2005 are FINALLY starting to become reality. Maybe it is still all very new indeed?
But more ironic than that is how certain some people were that the industry had already matured 15 years ago, that it had peaked in 2007. The story was that MCA was some legacy product borne out of the dot com bubble of 2001 that never had a sustainable future and that 2009 and beyond would usher in the era of in-person sales for what would remain of those that didn’t change careers. Computers didn’t even factor into the vision.
Apparently, change and adoption can be slow, but certain products, if they’re meeting a need, have staying power. Below is a few quotes I pulled from the earlier years from various places. I hope you enjoy them:
“The merchant cash advance industry is growing at an astonishing clip.” – October, 2005
“The merchant cash advance industry only has a max of two years left.” – June, 2007
“Once our splits are compatible with First Data, then that means we win. We’ll have conquered the merchant cash advance space.” – July, 2007
“The merchant cash advance space is just a fad.” – August, 2007
“I think the [merchant cash advance] boat has come and gone and I missed it.” – August, 2007
“The cash advance business is going through the tech bubble phase.” – November, 2007
“The merchant cash advance industry has grown too large…” – February, 2008
“Cash advance is clearly a growing trend in the payments industry. But, down the road, will cash advance reach a saturation point at which the value proposition to ISOs and MLSs is no longer a winning proposition?” – February, 2008
“Gone are the days of call centers, phone/fax blasts and mailings and in are the days of meeting and greeting merchants face to face.” – March, 2009
“[Merchant cash advances] are definitely not going to grow like people had hoped, and it’ll be very rare that you’ll find a company like mine really making its money or building its future around this product.” – November, 2009
The deBanked happy hour scheduled for July 28th in NYC has hit its registration limit.
Missed out? Register for Broker Fair 2022 taking place on October 24 at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square. This is one event that small business finance brokers won’t want to miss!
“I can tell you that in the US that originators are starting to adjust their underwriting policies,” said David Goldin, CEO of Capify and Head of Originations at Lender Capital Partners, “I don’t know about pricing. I haven’t heard that yet.”
Goldin, who has been a small business finance chief executive for 20 years, believes that the economy, inflation, and interest rates are front-and-center issues that the industry should be thinking about right now. In the UK, one region that Capify operates in, Goldin said that several small business finance executives there are already talking about raising margin and doing shorter term deals to prepare for the increased risk.
“Some originators are smart enough to be proactive and others are saying, ‘oh we’ll just watch it.’ So it’s either going to take trickling down through the economy globally or defaults to go up for these adjustment to happen,” he said.
During the Great Recession of ’08/’09, Goldin was right in the thick of it as the CEO of AmeriMerchant, one of the first MCA companies in the US. He explained that there’s a notable difference between now versus then.
“One of the things that didn’t exist back then, someone doing a second [position] was like unheard of in 2008,” he said. “Now, what is it now? first, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th? 6, 7, 8, 9. It’s like a horse race. Ten horses in the race in some cases. […] You have to be careful, right? You have to make sure you’re covering your margin by charging enough and going shorter.”
But in a competitive environment where nobody wants to reveal their cards or risk losing business, not every funder is keen to start making changes right now. Goldin said that many funding companies will wait to see if their competitors start tightening up first especially if they’re driven by their ISOs and brokers. The downside of becoming more conservative is that brokers might just decide to take all of their business elsewhere.
But a looming recession isn’t all bad. “There are some positives,” he said. “The positives are the banks do tighten up. It’s just a question of when not if. So, you may get applicants that come to alternative financing that may have never taken or considered these types of products because they got bank financing.”
Complicating the landscape now, however, is that funding companies are wrangling with new state regulations. Goldin is aware of several originators that have temporarily paused business in Virginia, for example, where a disclosure requirement went into effect just last week. The soon-to-be implemented New York and California laws are also causing rumblings about funding suspensions respectively. In each of those states it was “sales-based financing” products that were specifically targeted, a trend that looks sure to continue as states like Maryland, Connecticut, and others are determined to reintroduce disclosure legislation next year.
“I think more and more originators will eventually get away from the MCA model,” Goldin said, “and go more towards the business loan model by partnering with a bank. I think you’re going to see more companies trying to implement bank programs to become full business loans and not deal with all the nuances of a state by state and MCA program.”
Goldin’s point of view, wisdom, and predictions are aggressively sobering. Only three months ago, industry sources were telling deBanked that their outlook for 2022 was optimistic and that the end of covid-era government stimulus suggested that there would be growth for non-bank finance companies. Suddenly the tone has shifted, the stock market has plummeted, and interest rates are rising.
“I think if you resurveyed originators now, I think you’d get a different response than you did eight weeks ago or even four weeks ago,” Goldin said. “I can tell you right now that capital providers are asking their originators about how they’re making adjusments in this environment…”
Indeed, deBanked did speak with several players just last week and did notice that the general sentiment had shifted to one of concern and caution.
“I think funders should be thinking about redundancy,” Goldin said. “More than ever the best time to raise capital is when you don’t need it. And I don’t know if [funding sources] will pull lines, yes if defaults go up, but they may not be as inclined to enter into new relationships in this environment.” Because of that, now might be the last best opportunity to secure additional credit sources even they’re not necessarily needed, he suggested.
With that, he said that funders should be thinking about tightening up the bottom of their credit profile, increasing their margins, doing shorter term deals, looking for more mature businesses, and working with businesses with higher credit scores.
“I think that those that don’t make credit adjustments, raise margin, and go shorter are going to have their you-know-what handed to them,” he said. “I’ve seen this movie too many times. It doesn’t have to be called a recession. […] It’s all about affordability to repay, and the more debt [the customers] have, and the more their margins are squeezed, or the more their sales go down. That’s when problems begin. You’re less likely to have a problem if you’re only out six months instead of eighteen months. I’ve used this saying a million times: ‘When the ships are too far out to sea and it’s a tidal wave, you can’t get them back.'”
On July 1st, Virginia’s “sales-based financing” disclosure law quietly went into effect. The Delegate from Virginia that introduced it in the first place, Kathy Tran, marked the occasion by retweeting a caucus announcement that it was live. Elsewhere, it was hardly mentioned. It was even absent from the Official Code of Virginia where it was supposed to be ceremoniously entered on July 1st. The State insists that its omission is just a glitch.
“There have been significant technical difficulties during the 2022 code upload process,” reads a notice on the Virginia State Law Portal. “Due to these difficulties, the portal does not currently reflect the changes to enacted law. The Division of Legislative Automated Systems and the publisher are working diligently to resolve these issues as quickly as possible. Once the data is obtained from the publisher in the correct format, the standard quality check of the entire body of law that went into effect July 1 will be conducted.”
The law focuses primarily on disclosures. Sounds simple enough, but in the preceding weeks the draft disclosure form was met with some resistance by potentially covered parties because of how little time there was to integrate it into their systems and processes. Regardless, at least one small business funding company told deBanked off the record that ambiguous language and terms in the law had led to the decision to cease doing business in the State of Virginia, at least for now. Their focus is shifting toward compliance with the upcoming California and New York disclosure laws where the population pools are larger and the soon-to-be enacted requirements are seemingly more complex. Utah too will soon implement its own version of a disclosure law.
For commercial finance brokers, the defining elements of the Virginia law are that commissions earned will have to be disclosed to customers and that they’ll have to register their businesses with the State to even continue doing business there.