“In the end, we all press zero to talk to someone.”
The conversation about what characteristics will make up tomorrow’s loan brokers is surrounded with ideas latched in fintech, social media, and more. Brokers from around North America have been showcasing these new strategies on social media or in chats with deBanked, which sparked the question — what do the funders think of all of this?
Efraim Kandinov, CEO of FundFi Merchant Funding, has a lot of ideas about how brokers should function in a constantly changing financial landscape. According to him, it’s not the style of funding or modernization of business logistics that will make tomorrow’s broker, but it’s leveraging ethics with both merchants and funders to preserve future business down the line.
“I believe more and more merchants look for the digital aspect and remove the broker because of the dishonesty that we usually uncover and want something clean without interpretation. Many issues with merchants in my opinion [stem] from being misled by the broker, promising something after to just take this deal or promising to get payments lowered and take an overleveraged position.”
Other funders think much differently, identifying a sense of community being brought about by tech, having a ‘we’re in this together’ type of mantra to hold the legacy industry up.
“There’s a sense of familiarity when dealing with my brokers,” said Amanda Schuster, CEO and President of Fundhouse LLC. “We’re your friends, we get you, we get your business.”
Schuster believes that relationships between funders, brokers and merchants alike will help them weather the storm of tech’s emergence into their industry.” We are your business and it’s just as important to us that you succeed,” she said. “I have business owners that I still speak to this day, that I funded over five years ago.”
Schuster dismissed companies like PayPal, Square, and Shopify’s takeover of small business lending, circling back to the interpersonal value that a broker provides as a face to a financial product.
“At the end of the day, business is always about the people,” she said. It’s about creating a need and filling it. You can’t do that on a website.”
When asked about the value of this happy-go-lucky community of brokers, funders and merchants, Kandinov brought up how some brokers have found ways around the ‘repeat business’ model of funding deals, thus making relationships between brokers and merchants pointless.
“I think brokers are less caring of repeat business because they have discovered a short term model of stack, stack, stack, and then put in a reverse. This front loads commission. I believe a broker has a huge advantage in creating the relationship. [This] unfortunately is starting to take a back seat to a new way to score big commissions.”
Kandinov spoke about brokers who will say anything to make a sale carelessly shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to forming a book of business. By saying whatever they need to get paid now, merchants are either going straight to the funders to big tech for their next source of funding.
“Jaded merchants then look to only speak to the funding house in the future and stay or just prefer the direct to consumer model of fintech,” said Kandinov.
Despite these feelings, Kandinov does believe that there’s a bright outlook on the future of the broker/funder relationship if some change occurs.
“[Brokers] deserve their high commissions as they do a lot of work. I think funding houses have much less overhead with the broker model, but lately with the broker behavior it is almost pushing themselves out if it continues. I do not believe fintech alone is advantageous, just in speed and clarity. It’s a byproduct of poor behavior.”
Bitty Advance hopes that an enticing in-person environment will bring people back to the office. As part of that, the company recently moved into a new space.
“We want to give our team both the flexibility of working from home and having a premier office space for collaboration,” Bitty Principal and CEO Craig Hecker told deBanked. “…making our space open and dynamic, with comfortable couches, TVs, and relaxed meeting areas was important, we are also incorporating fun things like resting areas and table tennis to promote wellness and engagement.”
The new office is immediately adjacent to Dania Pointe, a 102-acre premier mixed-use development with almost one million square feet of retail and restaurants, luxury offices, hotels, luxury apartments, and public event space.
Bitty is seeking to acquire tech talent in many areas as they expand platform offerings for their white-label application intake process, affiliate online checkout referral page, payment processing & management interface, and self-service customer portal.
“Bitty is a tech company first. All of our focus is on utilizing technology to revolutionize the MCA space,” said Hecker.
As tech companies like Square and Shopify capitalize on their respective abilities to collect loan payments from borrowers by withholding a percentage of their credit card sales, similar companies have replicated that model across the world. StoneCo, for example, which is traded on the Nasdaq but operates in Brazil, had a market cap last year of over $25 billion. More recently, however, it’s dropped to nearly $3 billion.
In Brazil, StoneCo used its wide reaching payment business to start originating small business loans that were paid back through their customers’ credit card sales. That business seemed to hold up quite well early on in the pandemic but then took a turn for the worse. According to Bloomberg, distressed businesses came up with ways to circumvent their payments. “…[B]usinesses started jumping to other payments firms, meaning Stone no longer had access to their card purchases,” it said.
“Lockdowns pressured businesses’ cash flows and several sought ways to not pay back their loans,” StoneCo CEO Thiago Piau said.
Historically, diverting sales through another payment processor to avoid this type of obligation was known as “splitting.” It’s an inherent risk to finance companies that make underwriting decisions based on the assumption that the customer is unable to exit the relationship without seriously disrupting its business.
StoneCo was hit so bad that it stopped lending altogether and a significant percentage of its customers went into default. In the company’s Q3 2021 earnings call, Chief Strategy Officer Lia Matos said that they intend to get back into lending again but with some adjustments.
“So, those improvements are, for example, the inclusion of personal guarantees from the business owners and potentially other business they may have, improve risk scoring through additional data,” said Matos.
Covid may have been less damaging to similar companies in the US like Square, for example, because Square was able to repurpose itself to a PPP lender. The incentive to move to another payments platform may have been diminished by the allure of leveraging a pre-existing relationship to secure PPP funds.
StoneCo in Brazil is an example of what can happen to a fintech lender reliant on recouping credit card sales when that relationship doesn’t stick.
To help ensure the team gets things right in the future, StoneCo recently acquired Gyra+. Described as “a data-driven SME lender, which operates under a fee-based, asset-light approach,” the company plans to gently ease back into lending.
“I think that we are not ready to provide a specific guidance in terms of scaling the credit,” said CEO Thiago Piau in November. “We are really focused toward engineering and getting the feedback of clients and all the clients’ experience that we have learned throughout this.”
Brazil has a population of 212 million people.
As big tech continues to pave the way for new avenues for providing capital for small businesses, the legacy infrastructure in place has their own ideas of how to compete in funding a digitally native business owner. While some say that the strength is in finding a niche, others disagree— claiming that the key is to expand business, avoiding a one-dimensional aspect of funding. On top of this, some commercial finance brokers even claim that an ability to handle digital assets will give them an advantage over a larger tech company, too.
“Finding the niche as far as who you’re funding, and what type of deals you’re funding, will lead to continuing growth,” said Matt Rojas, Senior Lending Officer at Ironwood Finance. While Rojas believes the strength of a smaller brokerage is the ability to service a niche client, he expressed the idea that larger companies getting into the space are going too deep too quickly—resulting in an unsustainable rate of expansion.
“I see the biggest problem with the fly-by-night brokers, these bigger MCA shops that you’re seeing entice brokers to send the clients to them,” Rojas said. “I don’t see how that will sustain long term unless they continue to meet milestones to acquire their capital. I just had a merchant [get] bought out from our firm [by another funder] for over 40K plus, [but] their cash flow could only sustain an 18K MCA max. I’ll never understand how these firms are going to operate on a larger scale unless they are bought by the big firms.”
Other people in small business lending think that the strength is to offer a variety of financial products and options to give merchants choices. “The only way to keep up with the big boys of the industry is to simply just not be a one-trick pony,” said Juan Caban, Managing Partner at Financial Lynx. “Just like they are adapting into new markets and products, we as lenders and brokers need to also enhance our offerings.”
While people like Caban are molding products based on the competitive flow of the industry, Rojas seems to believe the system will bleed the big players dry. “It’s my understanding that as a lender we don’t need to compete with each other on rates like you’re seeing,” Rojas said. “I believe they call this the cash burn stage.”
“They’re going to burn as much cash to acquire clients,” Rojas continued. Then, the dominos fall. […] It’s like a story that paints itself over and over again. The same thing will happen to these bigger firms you mentioned due to the simple fact that their underwriting process doesn’t factor NSFs, non-repayments, or defaults.”
While Rojas focused on what the bigger companies are doing, Caban spoke on what brokers can do on the fly to adjust. He expanded on the idea of using old tactics in new ways, saying that traditional sales tactics may work if implemented with a well-researched and modern spin.
“Before cold calling, research and understand who your target market is and be prepared,” Caban said. “When cold calling, no one merchant has similar needs and goals. We need to ask the right questions, learn about the business, then find customized solutions that are in line with their financial needs and goals.”
A merchant will always appreciate a broker or lender who takes an interest in their business and find solutions that are in line with their goals rather than [their own] financial interests.”
Some brokers have gone outside of the box when it comes to how they will compete in the future of small business lending, saying that traditional currencies have been won over by big tech, and it’s digital assets that will open a brand new market for the next-generation small business lender.
“Since 2008, technology has changed a lot more than just the process in which small business owners find and acquire funding,” said Nicholas Saccone, Senior Funding Advisor at Proto Financial. “As you know, cryptocurrency is becoming more and more mainstream by the day with the Fed scrambling to get control over it. Whether you believe in crypto or not, it will [change] the way we see money.”
Saccone expressed that brokers who embrace learning about digital assets will not only be able to compete with large tech lenders, but beat them out.
“PayPal, DoorDash, and Square can make it easy for companies to secure fiat currency, but as crypto becomes more mainstream, brokers will fulfill a new role as they help educate clients on the new financial system that is upon us,” Saccone said. “It will be physically impossible for large tech companies to integrate crypto into their current systems without brokers doing the dirty work.”
“Mass adoption comes from the top down,” Saccone continued. “Digital collateral tokens, such as Flexa’s AMP, will change the payment processing industry forever. Transactions will become instant and it is my belief within the next ten years, merchants will be utilizing digital assets more than fiat cash.”
Shopify Capital originated $324M in Q4 2021, bringing the full-year total to $1.39B. That figure represents a massive increase over the company’s previous originations record of $794M in 2020.
During the quarterly earnings call, Shopify CFO Amy Shapero listed Shopify Capital among the divisions that drove revenue growth for the company in 2021.
“As merchants build momentum, inventory and marketing needs to grow alongside it,” said Shopify CEO Harley Finkelstein. “And this is where Shopify Capital comes in, offering merchants the funding they need to expand their business.”
Total originations came in just shy of the numbers that rival OnDeck reported a week earlier. OnDeck originated $1.76B in funding to small businesses in 2021.
Members of New Jersey’s state legislature are trying for a fifth year in a row to advance a commercial financing APR disclosure bill. Senate Bill 819 was introduced on January 18th. Senate Majority Whip Troy Singleton (D) is the primary sponsor.
Similar to what was just introduced in the Virginia legislature, the bill is mainly aimed at “sales-based financing.”
“Sales-based financing means a transaction that is repaid by the recipient to the provider, over time and as a percentage of sales or revenue, in which the payment amount may increase or decrease according to the volume of sales made or revenue received by the recipient. ‘Sales-based financing’ includes a true-up mechanism where the financing is repaid as a fixed payment but provides for a reconciliation process that adjusts the payment to an amount that is a percentage of sales or revenue.”
DoorDash has made its way into the small business financing game. DoorDash Capital, as the financing arm is so named, claims to provide merchant cash advances to DoorDash partners against future sales orders placed through the DoorDash app.
The DoorDash website explains the product in detail.
“There is no interest rate because a merchant cash advance is not a loan,” the website says. “There is a fixed fee stated up front which will be collected together with the capital advance. Your fee will never change after you have accepted the offer.”
All of these deals are processed through Parafin, a Silicon Valley-based funder who was started by former Robinhood data scientists and engineers. They spoke to the Wall Street Journal in September about their launch and the onboarding of their first customer, Mindbody.
As a software provider with a financing arm of their business, Mindbody reportedly uses Parafin’s funds to provide financing through Mindbody Capital. When speaking to the Journal, Parafin’s Chief Executive Sahill Poddar said that Mindbody customers would pay fees between 6%-15%.
“We are categorically distinct from online lenders,” Poddar told the Journal.“We only get paid back when the [small business] makes sales.”
It’s still unclear the amount of DoorDash merchants getting financing from DoorDash Capital. From the looks of it, the program is still in its infancy.
When deBanked reached out to DoorDash for a progress report on the program, the company declined to speak. “No comment at this time,” said a DoorDash representative when asked about the progress, usage, and ideas behind DoorDash Capital.
“Our goal is to provide our partners with fair, fast and convenient financing,” the DoorDash website says. “To help partners gain access to additional capital, we partnered with Parafin, a business financing provider, to offer cash advances that you pay back automatically with your DoorDash sales. You can use the capital for inventory, payroll, rent, marketing or for your cash flow needs.”
Add Virginia to the list of states introducing initiatives to codify disclosures in commercial finance. Virginia House Bill 1027 is aimed squarely at “sales-based financing providers.”
The Virginia bill calls for an estimated APR to be disclosed on sales-based financing contracts using methods conceived in New York’s recent legislation.
As has been witnessed, however, New York’s regulators recently discovered weaknesses in their own law.
The Virginia bill is in its very early stages. It was introduced on Wednesday, January 12th by Delegate Kathy K.L. Tran (D).