merchant financing

Is Alternative Lending a Game of Thrones?

April 8, 2014
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Funding KingsIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…

This blog has been many things over the years, all of it relative to who the reader was. It has encouraged and deterred, informed and confused, made people laugh or stoked their anger. The merchant cash advance industry it spoke of had been small. Annual funding volume was a billion or two or three, a blip of a blip on nobody’s radar. There was a sense of unity, a shared objective amongst competitors. They were guided by one dictum, “grow, but don’t rock the boat.”

But opportunity enticed everyone, the good, the bad, and the unexpected, and it brought a relatively peaceful chapter to an end. Winter is coming, Eddard Stark would likely say of the uncertainty that hangs in the air. Merchant cash advance has become a spoke in the alternative lending wheel that is spinning forward uncontrollably. Non-bank financing has become a worldwide phenomenon virtually overnight, setting the stage for the lords of funding to play a game of thrones. Investors with bottomless pockets are emptying them, government agencies are assessing the landscape or crafting responses, and journalists stand ready to shape public opinion.

This is a transformational moment in human history, perhaps bigger than what Facebook did for social media. Individuals are taking control of the monetary supply. Strangers pay each other in bitcoins, neighbors are bypassing banks for loans and lending to each other instead, and businesses are rising and falling with the funding they get from other private businesses. Winter is coming for traditional banking. The realm calls for a new king.

Wonga’s epic rise is being countered by both regulatory and religious resistance, and the man who dared the world to lend algorithmically has admitted defeat. Peer-to-peer lenders have encountered massive regulatory setbacks on their road to stardom and merchant cash advance companies are currently engaged in a civil war over best practices. Winter is coming indeed.



The Kings


funding battleLending Club
In what is perhaps their first step towards an IPO this year, Lending Club is reducing transparency over its loan volume. Up until April 3rd, anyone could see how many loans they issued on a daily basis. Now this information will only be available quarterly. Peter Renton in his Lend Academy blog shared his belief that the move was entirely tied to the impending IPO. “Without this daily loan volume information their stock price will be less volatile and they will be able to “manage the message” with Wall Street every quarter,” Renton wrote.

OnDeck Capital
OnDeck Capital is also in contention for an IPO this year. A year ago a company executive hinted that becoming a public company would not be on the agenda for consideration until 2015, yet I am hearing rumors that they may make a late 2014 go at it. Such rumors hold weight in light of reports that they are cleaning up their ISO channel. Insiders on DailyFunder are saying that resellers with abnormally high default rates are in jeopardy of being cut off.

OnDeck Capital is unique in that outsiders chastise them for their rates being too high while insiders argue their rates are too low to be profitable. It’s a classic example of how tough the court of public opinion can be on a lender even if they are not getting rich off their loans.

Kabbage
Kabbage came and conquered the entire online space before anyone had a chance to blink. PayPal, ebay, Amazon, Etsy, Yahoo, Square, they claimed those territories for themselves and then launched an attack into the brick and mortar space. Kabbage’s secret value is their patents. They are a serious player on a serious path.

CAN Capital
CAN Capital’s greatest weakness is their lifespan. They’ve managed to stay on top after 16 years in the business but that makes them old enough to be Kabbage’s grandfather by today’s tech standards. As a pre-dot com era business, it’s impossible to argue against their sustainability. If anyone has alternative lending figured out for both the good times and the bad, it’s CAN Capital.



The Lords


The Government
alternative lenders fightPeer-to-peer lending has already been under strong scrutiny from the Federal Government. Lending Club and Prosper are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission these days, but they may never be free of oversight. Just two months ago, the Federal Reserve published a report on trends in peer-to-peer business lending. They hinted at further regulation.

As small business owners are increasingly turning to this alternative source of money to fund their businesses, policy makers may wish to keep a close eye on both levels and terms of such lending. Because such loans require less paperwork than traditional loans, they may be considered relatively attractive. However, given the relatively higher rate paid on such loans, it may be in the best interest of the business owner to pursue more formal options. More research is required to understand the long-term impact of such loans on the longevity of the firm and more education to potential borrowers is likely in order.
– a 2014 Federal Reserve study

The Merchants
Once upon a time nobody talked about alternative lending online except for the companies offering it. Merchants didn’t talk about it with each other or there were too few businesses to give rise to centralized discussions. Today, merchants communicate and compare notes:

Merchants discuss PayPal’s working Capital program: http://community.ebay.com/t5/PayPal/PayPal-Working-Capital-Loan-DONT-SIGN-UP/td-p/17630207

Merchants discuss Square’s merchant cash advance program: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/forum/welcome-to-the-forum/square-to-offer-small-business-loans-at-exorbitant-interest-rates/

Merchants discuss Kabbage: http://community.ebay.com/t5/Part-time-eBay-Sellers/Kabbage-quot-loans-quot/td-p/3002329

OnDeck Capital’s 30+ Yelp Reviews: http://www.yelp.com/not_recommended_reviews/FOndxpkaBRP6LVIlOv6Dfw

Potential Lending Club borrowers make their cases: http://www.lendacademy.com/forum/index.php?board=3.0

The Machines
Are computers better predictors of performance than humans? Some people think so. This debate will play a pivotal role in the future of alternative lending.

The Media
Public opinion will be at their mercy.



The Vulnerabilities


funding battleCommissions
The bigger alternative lending gets, the juicier the stories become. Just last week, Patrick Clark of BusinessWeek dove head first into the reseller model, revealing insider commissions, the truth about buy rates, and the alleged antiquated practice of enlisting a broker to secure funding. On trial was a documented 17% commission, an example I believed to be an extreme case. For a long time commissions ranged between 5% and 10% on average. But there are some big names paying up to 12 points and others boasting of 14. All were topped by the mass solicitation I received a few days ago that promised a 20% commission. These kind of figures if they continue will become an easy target for journalists looking to portray the industry in a negative light.

Stacking
There is a raging civil war within the merchant cash advance community specifically over stacking. This is the instance that a merchant sells their future revenues to two or more parties at the same time, leading to multiple daily deductions from their sales. This debate is bound to spill out into the mainstream if it cannot be resolved on its own.

Technology
Some funding companies intend to license their automated underwriting technology to banks, potentially handing the keys of alternative lending’s greatest asset (speed) to traditional bankers. It is unlikely that banks would engage in some of the high risk deals that alternative lenders target but they could recapture the top credit tier borrowers that have been flocking away from them.

Also at stake here is the sustainability of algorithmic underwriting. There are critics that believe computers appear to make great decisions during good economic periods but suffer during downturns. Do the technology based funding companies have enough data to weather a future economic storm?


So many things are happening at once, that it’s impossible to know what fate awaits the realm. Will there be a new king or will alternative lending fall apart like a house of cards?

For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted.
-Frank Underwood

May the best man win.

Merchant Cash Advance Syndication: Crowdfunding?

March 28, 2014
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merchant cash advance syndicationYou might not have known this, but one of the most lucrative opportunities in merchant cash advance is the ability to participate in deals. It’s a phenomenon Paul A. Rianda, Esq addressed in DailyFunder’s March/April issue with his piece, So You Want to Participate?

Syndication is industry jargon of course. You probably know the concept by its sexier pop culture name, crowdfunding. For all the shadowy rumors and misinformation that circulates out there about merchant cash advance companies, they’re similar to the trendy financial tech companies that have become darlings of the mainstream media.

Did you know that many merchant cash advances are crowdfunded? To date, no online marketplace has been able to gain traction in the public domain aside from perhaps FundersCloud, so crowdfunding in this industry happens almost entirely behind the scenes. There is so much crowdfunding taking place that it’s becoming something of a novelty for one party to bear 100% of the risk in a merchant cash advance transaction. Big broker shops chip in their own funds as do underwriters, account reps, specialty finance firms, hedge funds, lenders, and even friends and family members of the aforementioned.

Merchant cash advance companies find themselves playing the role of servicer quite often, which is coincidentally the model that Lending Club is built on. A $25,000 advance to an auto repair shop could be collectively funded by 10 parties, but serviced by only 1. Each participant is referred to as a syndicate. This is not quite the same system as peer-to-peer lending because syndicates are not random strangers. Syndication is typically only open to businesses, and most often ones that are familiar with the transaction such as the company brokering the deal itself.

In the immediate aftermath of the ’08-’09 financial crisis, some merchant cash advance companies became very mistrusting of brokers and deal pipelines were going nowhere. Underwriters had a list of solid rebuttals for deals they weren’t comfortable with. “If you want us to approve this deal so bad, why don’t you fund it yourself!,” underwriters would say. Such language was intended to put a broker’s objections over a declined deal to bed. But with all the money being spent to originate these deals, it wasn’t long until brokers stumbled upon a solution to put anxious merchant cash advance companies at ease. “Fund it myself? I’d love to, but I just can’t put up ALL of the cash.

And so some brokers started off by reinvesting their commissions into the deals they made happen. That earned them a nice return, which in turn got reinvested into additional deals. Fast forward a few years later and deals are being parceled out by the truckload to brokers, underwriters, investors, lenders, and friends. There’s a lot of money to be made in commissions but anybody who’s anybody in this business has a syndication portfolio. The appetite for it is heavy. Wealthy individuals and investors spend their days cold calling merchant cash advance companies, brokers, and even me, trying to get their money into these deals. They know the ROI is high and they want in.

crowdfundingThat’s the interesting twist about crowdfunding in the merchant cash advance industry. You can’t get in on it unless you know somebody. There are no online exchanges for anonymous investors to sign up and pay in. It requires back door meetings, contracts, and typically advice from sound legal counsel. A certain level of business acumen and financial prowess are needed to be considered. These transactions are fraught with risk.

In Lending Club’s peer-to-peer model, investors can participate in a “note” with an investment as small as $25. This is a world apart from merchant cash advance where it is commonplace to contribute a minimum of $500 per deal but can range up to well over $100,000.

Lending Club defines diversification as the possession of more than 100 notes. At $25 a pop, an investor would only need to spend $2,500. With merchant cash advance, 100 deals could be $50,000 or $10,000,000. By that measure, syndication is crowdfunding at the grownup’s table, a table that doesn’t care about sexy labels to appease silicon valley, only yield.

Strange merchant cash advance jargon keeps the industry shrouded in mystery. Did you know that split-funding and split-processing are terms often used interchangeably? Or that they have a different meaning than splitting? Or that the split refers to something else entirely?

Do you know what a holdback is or a withhold? How about a stack, a 2nd, a grasshopper, an ISO, an ACH deal, a junk, a reup, a batch, a residual, a purchase price, a factor rate, or a UCC lead?

Paul Rianda did a great job detailing the risks of syndication, but there is one thing he left unsaid, and that’s if you’re going to participate in merchant cash advances, you better be able to keep up with the conversation.

At face value, syndication is nothing more than crowdfunding. But if your reup blows up because some random UCC hunting ISO stacked an ACH on top of your split while junking him hard and upping the factor with a shorter turn, you just might curse the hopper that ignored your holdback and did a 2nd. And on that note, perhaps it’s better that the industry refrain from adopting mainstream terminology. We wouldn’t want everybody to think this business is easy. Because it’s not.

One factor to consider is the actual product being crowdfunded. In equity crowfunding, participants pool funds together to buy shares of a business. In crowdlending, participants pool funds together to make a loan. But in merchant cash advance syndication, participants pool capital to purchase future revenues of a business. An assessment is made to predict the pace of future income and a discounted price is paid to the business owner upfront. That purchase price is commonly known as the advance amount.

Syndication has more in common with equity crowdfunding than crowdlending. If you buy future revenues and the business fails, then your purchase becomes worthless. There is typically no recourse against the business owner personally unless they purposely interfere with the revenue stream and breach the agreement. Sound a bit complicated? It is, but crowdfunding in this space is prevalent nonetheless. To get in on it, you need to know someone, and to do it intelligently, you better know what the risks are.

If you want to sit at the grownup’s table and syndicate, consult with an attorney first. There’s a reason this industry hasn’t adopted sexy labels. It isn’t like anything else.

General Solicitation or Crowdfunding?

Fund it and Ask Questions Later

March 25, 2014
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foaming at the mouthEver since OnDeck Capital stopped doing verbal landlord references, the underwriting landscape of alternative lending has changed dramatically. Kabbage will supposedly fund applicants in just 7 minutes. Everybody’s under the gun to streamline their process, fund deals faster, and produce record breaking numbers month after month.

And why shouldn’t they? Investors are practically foaming at the mouth to get in on any and all kinds of alternative lending. Even Lending Club has thrown in the towel by no longer allowing investors to ask applicants questions. Prior to March 19th, applicants on Lending Club’s platform had the option to answer standardized questions about themselves and their purpose for seeking out a loan. This was set up to help investors feel more informed and comfortable. Once the loan was posted, prospective investors could ask the applicant additional questions of their own to help them decide if it was a deal they wanted to participate in. For example, “what are the interest rates on the credit cards you claim you want to consolidate?” That’s a fair question to ask someone seeking a debt consolidation loan.

Lending Club did away with the Q&A in the name of privacy but conceded in their blog that people are funding deals so fast that no one cares what applicants have to say.

We know that in the past some investors enjoyed reading these descriptions and answers, but as the platform has grown, fewer and fewer investors are using this approach to inform their decisions. Fewer than 3% of investors currently ask questions and only 13% of posted loans have answers provided by borrowers. Furthermore, loans are currently funding in as little as a few hours – well before borrower answers and descriptions can be reviewed and posted.

Loans are being fully funded by institutional investors and mom & pop investors before the applicant can even finish filling out the questionnaire.

raging bullThe demand to invest outpaces the amount of loans that Lending Club can originate. In a call I had with Lending Club today as a potential investor, I was told that businesses were not even allowed to invest on their platform at this time because they’ll take up all the loans and leave nothing for the average mom & pop investors, the ones which have made their peer-to-peer fame possible.

In the Lend Academy blog forum, mom & pop investors debated the usefulness of the Q&A system. Some argued that responses from applicants allowed them to weed out folks with poor spelling and grammar. Others believed that a poorly worded response was better than someone who didn’t respond at all because it showed that they actually cared about the loan they were applying for.

There were folks that analyzed the applicants language on a scientific level, with one going so far as to cite this study: Peer-to-Peer Lending The Relationship Between Language Features, Trustworthiness, and Persuasion Success.

I am reminded of my underwriting days conducting merchant interviews prior to a final decision. There were applicants that looked good on paper that came across as completely clueless about their business over the phone. Like beyond clueless. And then there were applicants that looked ugly on paper that really impressed me with their command of business subject matter. What shocked me were the former and it’s a testament to how tricky business lending is. Those phone calls impacted my final decision all the time.

But in today’s world where funders are dealing in kilos of cash instead of nickels and dimes, there’s a growing impatience over non-automated things like interacting with the applicant. Fund the deal and ask questions later!

FUND!!!The vast majority of merchant cash advance companies still conduct applicant phone interviews and there’s a part of me that hopes that never changes. As investors grow restless for new pools of loans or advances to participate in, I fear there will be more underwriting sacrifices to satisfy that demand.

It was only a year ago that I laughed at my friend in commercial banking when he told me a small business loan application begins with lunch and a few rounds of golf. “It’s about relationships,” he said. That couldn’t be less true in peer-to-peer lending where the goal is to know as little as possible about where the money is going. I see that mentality creeping into merchant cash advance as well. Sure, there are folks that point to thousands of data points aggregated through online sources but it only takes a 5 minute phone call to determine that an applicant is completely full of crap.

Maybe Jeremy Brown of RapidAdvance was on to something. When Will the Bubble Burst?

Join the discussion about this on DailyFunder.

Kabbage Has Leverage With Patents

March 23, 2014
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kabbage PatentsIf you’re planning on introducing new technology to the merchant cash advance or alternative business lending space, you might want to start filing a patent, or else end up violating someone elses.

I’ve brought up Kabbage and patents before, but another one of theirs caught my attention. In their invention named, Method and Apparatus to Evaluate and Provide Funds in Online Environments, they claim the right to an automated application, scoring, approval, and funding model for online businesses.

Will their claim interfere with what the rest of the industry is already doing or has set their sights on?

Kabbage CEO Rob Frohwein is no amateur to the intellectual property game. With more than 30 patents to his name, Intellectual Asset Magazine once referred to him as one of the world’s top intellectual property strategists. That makes Kabbage a rather dangerous foe in the booming world of alternative lending.

The above referenced patent is summarized as:

(a) receiving mandatory information about a user and storing the mandatory information in an electronic computer database; (b) allowing a user to choose whether to enter optional information about the user, and upon receiving the optional information, storing the optional personal information in the electronic computer database; (c) computing a score using the mandatory information and optional information if provided; and (d) determining whether to approve a transfer of funds using the score, and upon approval initiating an electronic transfer of funds from a cash server to an account associated with the user, (e) wherein upon the user entering the optional information the user receives an incentive.

If you read through the entire description of the patent and scan through the photos, you’ll notice they included an option for applicants to submit additional data that could reward them with a higher approval. Such data includes sharing all their LinkedIn and Facebook friends with Kabbage, which Kabbage says it will use to systematically evaluate, determine the ones that are business owners, and solicit them.

Additionally, it outlines how such optional data could be used in their assessment of the applicant:

TABLE III
site metric significance
FACEBOOK user has more friends favorable
FACEBOOK user has less friends unfavorable
FACEBOOK fan page existsf or user favorable
FACEBOOK no fan page for user unfavorable
FACEBOOK more people like user’s fan page favorable
FACEBOOK less people like user’s fan page unfavorable
FACEBOOK more people comment on user’s fan page favorable
FACEBOOK less people comment on user’s fan page unfavorable
FACEBOOK new articles posted more frequently on user’s favorable fan page
FACEBOOK new articles posted less frequently on user’s unfavorable fan page
TWITTER user has more followers favorable
TWITTER user has less followers unfavorable
TWITTER user’s followers have more followers favorable
TWITTER user’s followers have less followers unfavorable
LINKEDIN user’s company has more employees favorable
LINKEDIN user’s company has less employees unfavorable
LINKEDIN user’s profile has more views favorable
LINKEDIN user’s profile has less views unfavorable

In their filing they also submitted what they believe to be the definition of a merchant cash advance.

A merchant account advance is an advance by an advancing party that uses a seller’s merchant account in order to receive payments by the seller for the amount advanced. For example, a seller uses their merchant account to receive payments by credit card (e.g., VISA, MASTERCARD). Once payments are processed the amounts go directly into the seller’s merchant account. When a merchant account advance (or “merchant cash advance”) is made, when a payment is processed, instead of it going directly into the seller’s account the payment may go directly into an account of the advancing party. There are alternative ways to implement merchant cash advance, including a simple advance against future receivables, but when these receivables are received they still go into the existing payment account.

That last line totally acknowledges the ACH payment phenomenon. Hopefully they didn’t file for a patent on that too. Then there might really be trouble.

Whether or not your inventions or technology is patentable or conflicts with a Kabbage held patent would best be determined by consulting with an attorney. Let this be a reminder or notice though that the battle taking place in alternative lending is happening on many levels. As the industry matures, patents could become an Ace in the hole.

Lending Club Threatens The Status Quo

March 20, 2014
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3 billion pound gorillaIn late 2013, consumer peer-to-peer lender Lending Club announced their plans to start offering small business loans. That caused a stir in the merchant cash advance world for a few weeks, but the hype died down. The general consensus was that there would be little to no overlap between the applicants each target.

To this day, I continue to doubt that the overlap will be anything less than substantial. Nik Milanovic of Funding Circle would probably disagree with me. The main argument has been that Lending Club will only target small business owners with good credit, which assumes that businesses with anything less are the only users of merchant cash advances. Not to give anyone’s figures away, but I have seen data to suggest that a large segment of merchant cash advance users have FICO scores in excess of 660. Somewhere along the line we convinced ourselves that merchant cash advances were for businesses with really bad credit. That was never the purpose it was intended for, though it’s true that many applicants have low scores.

Historically, merchant cash advances were for businesses that posed a cash flow risk to banks. Split-processing eliminated that risk by withholding a percentage of card sales automatically through the payment company processing the business’s transactions. Funders today that rely on bank debits for repayment don’t have that safeguard, but they make up for the risk they take by doing something banks don’t do, require payments to be made daily instead of monthly. This allows businesses to manage their cash flow throughout the month and enables the funder to compound their earnings daily. It’s a phenomenon I wrote about in the March/April issue of DailyFunder (Razzle Dazzle Debits & Splits: Daily is the Secret Sauce)

According to the Wall Street Journal, Lending Club will require a minimum of 2 years in business and participation will initially only be open to institutional investors.

Lending Club’s website states that they will recoup funds on a monthly basis via ACH and that interest rates range from 5.9% APR to 29.9% APR + an origination fee. Terms range from 1 to 5 years and there are no early payment penalties.

TechCrunch openly pegs CAN Capital and OnDeck Capital as chief rivals for Lending Club in the space. CAN has enjoyed frontrunner status in the industry since 1998 and while they have been tested in the last 2 years, they haven’t come up against something like this.

In the same Wall Street Journal story, Lending Club’s CEO, Renaud Laplanche lays out who his competitors are with his quote, “The rates provide an alternative to short-term lenders and cash-advance companies that sometimes charge more than the equivalent of 50% annually.”

But will the impact be felt right away? In Laplanche’s interview with Fortune, he claims that it’s very likely they’ll focus on the 750+ FICO segment first, where institutional investors will be comfortable. But make no mistake about it, that will change quick, especially with a probable IPO in the next 8 months.

Is Lending Club really all that big? To draw a comparison, RapidAdvance got a $100 million enterprise valuation when they got bought out by Rockbridge Growth Equity about 6 months ago. Lending Club on the other hand was valued at around $2.3 billion at that time. It took OnDeck Capital 7 years to fund $1 Billion in loans. Lending Club is funding a billion dollars in loans every 3 and a half months. Granted, they’ve all been consumer loans, but let’s not kid ourselves about their capabilities.

Lending Club is funding more consumer loans than the entire merchant cash advance industry is doing combined. Thanks to the peer-to-peer model, they have infinity capital at their disposal. We can pretend that no one with good credit ever applied for a merchant cash advance or we can acknowledge the 3 billion pound gorilla in the room.

Lending Club and other peer-to-peer lenders that follow them will disrupt the alternative business lending status quo.

Previous articles on this subject:
Will Peer-to-Peer Lending Burn the Alternative Lending Market?

Lending Club Business Loans are Here

Peer-to-Peer Lending will Meet MCA Financing

Merchant Cash Advance Term Used Before Congress

Merchant Cash Advance and Crowdlending

Are Loan Underwriting Algorithms Limited?

March 15, 2014
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As news of OnDeck Capital’s $1 billion milestone spread yesterday,

I couldn’t help but reflect on a major detail revealed about their operation a week prior in American Banker. OnDeck’s underwriting system is not as fully automated as they would have us believe. For the last few years its been said that their success is related to their advanced underwriting algorithm which analyzes thousands of factors. We were reminded of such recently in a Bloomberg interview:

The video has since been taken down

Such capabilities have been received with both awe and skepticism. Do factors like social media activity really make a difference in how loans perform? OnDeck’s CEO, Noah Breslow has openly acknowledged that many of their algorithm’s innovative factors carry little to no weight. Things like credit history, cash flow, and profitability still have a major impact in approval.

American Banker revealed that 30% of all loan decisions at OnDeck are human made. That’s a shockingly high percentage for a company that has 56 employees with backgrounds in math, statistics, computer science, and engineering. Furthermore, as human involvement is reserved for the larger deals, 30% of all loan decisions could easily be 50% of all actual dollars loaned. That would seem to prove that computer automated underwriting is a far greater challenge than anyone could have been led to believe.

With 7 years in business and a tech savvy board of directors that would make most billionaires blush, one has to wonder why so much human involvement is still necessary.

More than a year ago, UK payday lender Wonga almost acquired OnDeck but the deal fell apart in the late stages. Wonga’s CEO is a strong believer that human involvement in underwriting leads to poor decisions not better ones. As was quoted in The Guardian,

Asking for a loan from a financial institution had traditionally involved making a strong first impression – putting on a suit to see the bank manager – then rigorous questioning, checking your documents and references, before the institution made an evaluation of your trustworthiness. In a way, it was exactly the same as an interview, but instead of a job being at stake it was cash.

Damelin found this system old-fashioned and flawed. “The idea of doing peer-to-peer lending is insane,” he says. “We are quite poor at judging other people and ourselves – you get to know that in your life, both with personal relationships and in business. You realise that we’re not as good as we think we are at that stuff, and that goes for almost everybody. I certainly thought I was much better at it.”

That begs the question if that mentality can be applied to (1) lending in the US as opposed to the UK and (2) to businesses as opposed to consumers.

Fast growing merchant cash advance provider Yellowstone Capital hasn’t fully subscribed to the theory that automation is better. In an ISO&Agent interview, Managing Partner Isaac Stern said, “A computer-generated algorithm is no substitute for human analysis when brokering big loans. There are companies making decisions about merchants without ever speaking to them. You cut out a lot of important information.”

Peter Renton, the founder of both Lend Academy and the LendIt Conference shared with me that, “it is very true that [business lending] requires an entirely different skill set when it comes to measuring risk.”

Declined loanI think a lot of this explains why peer-to-peer lenders like Lending Club were able to get very big very quickly. Pre-packaged factors like FICO score can still largely predict consumer loan performance. That helped them scale because FICO is widely understood and believed to be reliable. Future business performance on the other hand is a mystery. The stock market is a great example of that unknown. Expectations of future performance change every nano-second.

All one thousand variables examined by a computer could confidently signal a lender to approve a loan to a restaurant. But 30 days later when a brand new competing restaurant opens up across the street, all that analysis goes out the window. Loan performance may be nothing like you possibly expected.

Is it any surprise that OnDeck isn’t fully automated? In my opinion, no. But when 30% of all loan approvals are human based, that should be a strong indication that computers can’t go all the way.

Wonga’s Damelin might have it backwards. Humans might be better judges of people than any algorithm could aspire to be. An algorithm creates scalability though. OnDeck would not have broken the $1 billion mark without one. It could just be about allowing a computer to do as much of the human work as possible without delivering significantly worse loan performance results. If you can at least get close to the performance that your best and brightest human underwriters could produce, that may be considered success.

Is There Cause for Alarm?

March 8, 2014
Article by:

CNN 3/7/14

Brick and mortar chain stores died this week, after a long illness. Born along Main Street, raised in shopping malls across post-World War II America, the traditional store enjoyed decades of good health, wealth and steady growth. But in recent years its fortunes have declined. Survived by Amazon.com and online outfits too numerous to list.

– CNN 3/7/14

Just a day after Jeremy Brown’s new CEO Corner post appeared on DailyFunder with an overt bubble warning, CNN’s Chris Isidore alluded that the era of brick & mortar retail may be drawing to a close. In Isidore’s brief sensational article, he fingers an overabundance of retail space, a weak economy, and the Internet as the culprits behind Main Street‘s decline.

In the broad alternative business lending industry, the sentiment is quite the opposite. Small business demand for working capital is surging and no one is predicting anything less than stellar growth for the foreseeable future. But is the growth real?

Jeremy Brown is the CEO of Bethesda, MD-based RapidAdvance and he explains the growth may not be what it appears to be on the surface. Some cash providers are overpaying commissions, stretching out terms longer than what their risk tolerance supports, and are growing by funding businesses that have already been funded by someone else (a practice known as stacking).

If the industry collectively booked 50,000 deals in 2013 and increased that to 100,000 deals in 2014, you’d have 100% growth, or at least it would appear that way on the surface. What if the additional 50,000 deals funded this year were not new clients but rather additional advances and loans made to existing clients? It’s a lot easier to give all of your clients money twice instead of acquiring new ones.

This all begs the question, is demand for non-bank financing really growing by leaps and bounds? Or does it just appear that way because those that have already utilized it are demanding more of it?

Brown left his readers with this conclusion, “There will be a rebalancing at some point. And it will not be pretty.”

Chime in with your thoughts about this on DailyFunder.
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When Will the Bubble Burst? by Jeremy Brown will also appear in the next print issue of DailyFunder. If you haven’t subscribed to the magazine already, you can do so HERE.

Hello Square Capital

March 1, 2014
Article by:

We’ve seen copies of this notice posted on a few websites now:

square capital

Square, the well-known micro-merchant processor with celebrity CEO Jack Dorsey is debuting a merchant cash advance program. Truthfully, I’m not surprised in the slightest. Come on in Square, the water’s fine!

What is still interesting to this day is the realization that so many small business owners have never even heard of the concept. You can check out comments by people on the mr. money mustache forum regarding Square Capital here.

Sell my future credit card sales? What the HECK?!

It’s a 16 year old industry now my friends. One of these days it’d be nice if people just knew this product existed. That seems to be the hardest part…

Arsenal

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