Lufax, an online lending marketplace and one of China’s largest fintech companies, plans on going public by the end of the month on the New York Stock Exchange. Lufax is one of the multiple Chinese fintech companies grappling for a public offering amidst increasing tension between U.S. and Chinese markets.
Offering an online shopping mall for financial products, Lufax connects borrowers to various lending products supplied by traditional and alternative investors alike. Lufax was one of the largest, if not the largest P2P lender in China just two years ago before a major crackdown on the P2P industry forced the company to revamp completely.
Lufax plans to issue 175 million shares that will be priced from $11.5 to $13.5 each, according to a prospectus with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last week. This would net the company around $2.36 billion.
The IPO would give the company around a $30 billion in valuation, lower than the $39.4 billion valuation it received in 2019 from a major backer Ping An Insurance Group.
Lufax reported more than $1 billion of profit in the six months up to June 30th, according to the filing. Last year, the firm’s assets dropped by 6.1% after a 30% reduction in transaction volumes. This was a cut of nearly all P2P transactions, in compliance with regulation from the Chinese government.
After the P2P industry grew unchecked for a decade, fraud concerns bloomed into outrage as hundreds of platforms covering hundreds of billions of dollars defaulted. According to Mckinsey, from 2013 to 2015, fintech firms offering P2P products exploded from 800 to more than 2,500 companies. More than 1,000 of these firms began to default on their debt, ballooning to an outstanding loan value of $218 billion in 2018.
In response to protests, outrage, and stadiums of helpless borrowers trying to gain their funds back from Ponzi schemes, the Chinese government cracked down hard on fraudulent firms. According to Reuters, regulators placed every P2P firm on death row, stating in 2019 that the industry had two years to switch to “small loans.” The shutdowns have cost Chinese investors $115 billion, according to Guo Shuquing, China Banking Regulatory Commission.
Pivoting away from these shutdowns, Lufax and many firms like Alibaba funded Ant Group are switching to lending marketplaces. Lufax works with 50 lending providers that hold $53 billion in assets as of June. Lufax believes that there are trillions of dollars in the untapped alternative finance market in China.
After three years of litigation, in August, the Colorado “true lender” case settled with an agreement between the fintech lenders, bank partners, and the state regulators. Along with lending restrictions above a 36% APR, the fintech lenders will have to maintain a state lending license and comply with other regulatory practices.
The decision has been called unfair regulation and a bad precedent for other similar regulatory disputes across the country.
But James Paris, the CEO of Avant, sees the decision as a victory for fintech lenders. Paris said the decision was an excellent framework for fintech/bank partnerships across the nation and a sign that regulators are finally taking the benefits of alternative finance seriously.
“For us, the case also involved being able to continue to provide these good credit products to deserving customers who maybe weren’t being served as well through some of the legacy providers,” Paris said.
Paris called back to the Madden vs. Midland Funding case in the US Court of Appeals Second Circuit decided in 2015. That case called into question if loans made in fintech bank partnerships in the state of New York were valid at the time of origination. Regulators charged that though national banks can create loans higher than state regulations allow, fintech partners buying those loans to take advantage of higher rates were skirting state regulations.
“The ruling was essentially that the loan would not continue to be valid,” Paris said. “Because the individual state in question, which was New York’s local usury law, would apply because it was no longer a national bank that held that loan after it had been sold.”
The decision called into question loans made in the fintech space. Paris said that the Colorado true lender Case was not about whether the banks were even making loans. Instead, fintech lenders were called the true originators and therefore didn’t have a license that allowed them to make loans at higher rates than the state allowed.
Paris said the decision showed confidence that fintech bank partnerships were not exporting rates, and that by limiting lending to under 36%, regulators were protecting bank fintech partnerships and consumers.
“All of the lending Avant does is under 36%, and that’s been the case for years,” Paris said. “In the space where we do play, from 9% to just under 35%, through our partnership with WebBank, we are confident in running a portfolio extremely focused on regulatory compliance.”
Colorado went from not allowing partnerships at all, to working with fintech companies to developing a set of terms that allowed partnerships to function, Paris said. He added that Avant’s products have always been to customers below nonprime credit, from 550 to 680 Fico scores, serviced by up to 36% APRs.
Paris said he does not know about customers outside of this range, or how they are affected by limiting APR to 36%, but he cited a study done by economist Dr. Michael Turner. Turner is the CEO and founder of the Policy and Economic Research Council (PERC), a non-profit research center.
The study compared lending after the Madden case in New York with how customers can be served after the Colorado true lender case. In the credit market Avant serves, Turner found that customers are better off with access to regulated fintech loans, as opposed to not having access at all.
The study looked at the average borrower credit score, APR, and loan size of Avant and WebBank borrowers, and found that if WebBank loans through Avant were prohibited, borrowers would be forced to access other means of credit, through much higher rates.
“Should WebBank loans be prohibited in Colorado, then we can reasonably expect that some non-trivial portion of the WebBank loan borrower population, as well as prospective future borrowers, will be forced to meet their credit needs with higher cost products,” Turner wrote. “This outcome is financially detrimental for this borrower population, most of whom have no access to more affordable mainstream alternatives.”
Given this data, Paris is happy to comply with the regulation. Without the framework Colorado has provided, Paris said borrowers would be worse off. Paris hopes that this decision will precede other state frameworks because what fintech bank partnerships need the most are consistent regulatory practices.
“I’m hopeful that to the extent there are ongoing concerns around bank models across other states, that this type of safe harbor model that Colorado helped develop is something that others could look to as a precedent or a model. Because I think the more that we can have consistency across the relevant jurisdictions, the better.”
Square Capital’s lead executive, Jacqueline Reses, is leaving the company. Square announced on October 2, that her resignation would be effective as of October 31. Reses is largely responsible for developing Square’s robust lending business, one that effectively made the company one of the largest non-bank small business lenders in the country.
It’s time to hang up my boots and say goodbye to my good friends at @Square. To the people I’ve worked with: everything I love about Square is related to you. It is my privilege and honor to have been along for the ride with you.
— Jackie Reses (@jackiereses) October 2, 2020
I shared my thoughts with Squares today because the place is so special! I thought I would share. pic.twitter.com/tXAE0dZhK9
— Jackie Reses (@jackiereses) October 2, 2020
Chief Product Officer Michele Tucci said the platform uses 50,000 data points of mobile phone activity to predict a prospective borrower’s debt capabilities. CredoLab serves the 1.7 billion “credit-invisible” customers across the globe that may have some credit history, but not enough for a score, let alone a prime score.
“We do this in real-time: in less than a second a lender anywhere in the world, receives a credit score from Credolab,” Tucci said. “We don’t know the identity of the user; it’s only known to the bank or the lender, not to Credolab.”
CredoLab anonymously collects thousands of mobile data points, uses that data to create behavioral models, and then derives a credit score. The data can be anything- from the type of apps a user downloads, to the number of calendar events created- even the amount of texts the user sends. Is the user a gambler, a gamer, does the user use a work email during the week, and how many calendar events they schedule- all go into the predictive model.
“Some of these micro behavioral patterns could be the type of files being downloaded. Is it mostly music, or is it PDFs- or the percentage of photos taken in the week prior to the loan application that are selfies,” Tucci said. “So these are all indications that we collect and find a correlation we compare and analyze about 1.3 million micro behavioral patterns.”
Tucci said the CredoLab platform offers unmatched speed and predictability for customers’ future credit habits. He said Credolab helps lenders save money because they can better predict how their borrowers will act. Borrowers benefit by the program: Tucci argued that if lenders can better expect how they will be repaid, they tend to lend more.
The team built the platform for the world’s risk managers, whom Tucci knows constantly worry about the health of their transactions.
“Our CEO and founder Peter Bartek has more than 20 years of experience managing risk,” Tucci said. “So he feels the pain of the CROs out there, and our solution is built to address the very specific needs of chief risk officers.”
To explain the CredoLab platform’s accuracy, Tucci used a data metric called the Gini coefficient, a number between 0 and 1 that identifies to which category a request belongs. In this case, the GINI is used to classify borrowers as creditworthy or unworthy based on their mobile data.
“Zero is like flipping a coin; you have a 50/50 chance of getting the decision right. Basically no predictability,” Tucci said. “A GINI of one is like my wife; she’s always right. You know exactly what outcome to expect every single time.”
CredoLab’s platform has a predictive power of 0.6. Tucci cited World Bank economist David Mckenzie, who found for each decimal increase in GINI, there is a 1% cost savings from a risk point of view.
When Prashant Fuloria joined Fundbox as Chief Operations Officer in 2016, the San Franciscan firm was a three-year-old startup with less than eighty employees. By the time Fuloria moved into the office of CEO this July, the small business credit and invoice financing company had grown exponentially, with more than $430 million in raised capital to date and triple the number of employees.
At the height of the pandemic, many firms halted funding or shuttered their doors for good. Meanwhile Fundbox kept lending, and outperformed the market, Fuloria said.
“It’s become very clear to us that we have greatly outperformed the market,” Fuloria said. “In terms of delivering value to customers, and also in terms of our business performance.”
In the toughest weeks of the pandemic, he said that Fundbox’s loan delinquency rose to 8-9%, up from a “low single-digit number” pre-pandemic. In comparison, the industry standard according to Fuloria, was a delinquency rate of 30-40%, including from larger firms and more traditional lenders like big banks.
“I think we’ve performed extremely well during COVID; the numbers just validate the investment we’ve made, especially in data,” Fuloria said. “That puts us in a very good position because a number of folks have exited the market and the need, the demand has not gone away.”
The number one thing you can do to perform well in a recession is to have a strong business going into it, Fuloria explained. Fundbox attributes part of its strength to its data. Nearly a fourth of Fundbox’s capital goes toward data assets, Fuloria said.
“If you add it all up, we’ve invested a little over $100 million in our data asset,” Fuloria said. “It’s a big investment for anybody- particularly a big investment for a mid-sized company.”
Fuloria said this money goes toward collecting customer information, which is processed by in-house tech and a talented team of engineers who can turn data into valuable information for serving SMBs.
“Small businesses,” Fuloria said, “they have the complexity of enterprises but the scale of consumers.”
Coming from twenty years of tech and product managerial experience at firms like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, Fuloria knows a thing or two about scale. He said he found his roots at Google, working when it was just a small team- by the time he left six and a half years later, Google had 35,000 employees.
When it came to joining Fundbox in 2016, Fuloria said he was attracted by the company’s mission, the talented team there, and how in just three years, the small firm had demonstrated how it could help SMBs.
“Fundbox as a company said ‘We are a financial services platform that is powering the small business economy with new credit and payment solutions,'” Fuloria said. “And that mission was very strong: it made sense to me, and it resonated with me.”
“Our news is really about improving and enhancing our platform to use real-time business data to uncover and align qualifications for small business owners to the best financing options available to them,” said Nav CEO Greg Ott about a recent announcement.
Nav is a small business information service that connects borrowers to lenders across the entire finance industry, from SBA loans, major credit cards, to nonbank lenders, and more. This new enhancement streamlines the finance process for both sides of the transaction, Ott explained.
“Historically, the model is inverted disproportionately against the small business owner, in that they can’t see what they’re qualified for until after they apply,” Ott said. “By using real-time business analysis and dynamic financing profiles, Nav is the only place that can show them what they can qualify for before they apply.”
Nav is also adding a new service team that connects to small businesses through the digital platform, offering a more personalized experience; someone will be on the line to help borrowers find their way. The platform uses cash flow, revenue, credit, and behavioral data to match SMBs with loan offers.
Nav is expanding its service because Ott said this year, many businesses could not find financing at all. Nav began helping customers find lenders for PPP loans, facilitating 70k applications in all and built an online community of 18k businesses going through the process this year alone.
Ott said it became clear during the rounds of PPP and government stimulus that banks gave preferential treatment to some of their customers and left out small businesses.
“Many banking options aren’t available to the vast majority of small businesses,” Ott said. “The traditional financial system is not always available or not the best option for a small business owner. Small business owners know this in spades, It’s just now that in the growth of this fintech ecosystem that it’s becoming clear how big that addressable market is.”
Last month, the Colorado Attorney General’s office announced a settlement with Avant and Marlette Funding, setting a precedent for how “true lender” cases will be handled. The fintech lenders and their partners are free to lend in the state, subject to a lot of restrictions, as long as they stick below the 36% APR level.
Some touted the decision as a safeguard for fintech bank partnerships. Still, many, like those represented in the Online Lenders Alliance (OLA)- saw misplaced regulation that harms borrowers more than it helps.
Mary Jackson, CEO of OLA, said that while well-meaning, the 36% rule arbitrarily limits the ability for non-prime credit customers to get a loan at all. The limit draws an arbitrary line in the sand, based on an outdated centuries-old lending system, and doesn’t describe loans that last shorter than a year very well, Jackson said.
“What it did was drive out all the lenders,” Jackson said. “Non-prime consumers have fewer choices. They have to go and be subject to fraud or more unscrupulous lenders, or they have to go back to overdraft as another option.”
Jackson represents a group of lenders that offer online services, which regularly partner with banks to provide loans nationwide at higher APR rates than some states allow. Jackson said these are not fintech “rent-a-bank” cases to skirt state regulations, but natural partnerships that enable larger institutions to gain the tech and talent of leading tech companies to reach a greater customer base.
“Big banks cannot keep up with the technology that fintech providers have developed,” Jackson said. “A key US bank has a lot of data scientists that they employ, but if you’re a regional or smaller bank, you don’t have that capability: it’s nearly impossible to drive an IT team as a banker.”
Jackson said that when her firm Cash America, that offered storefront cash advances, was bought by online lender CashNetUSA, she saw the differences between in-person transactions and the IT teams necessary for online lending. “It’s like two different worlds, two different ways of looking at something.”
“Our lenders are sophisticated like Enova, Elevate, CURO, Access Financial,” Jackson said. “These are companies that employ hundreds of data scientists that compete for jobs with Google in Chicago and a small regional bank can’t keep up.”
Fintech talent is helping to reach the 42% of Americans that have non-prime credit scores- FICO scores below 680, according to the Domestic Policy Caucus.
Jackson said these customers, many of whom can pay for loans, have almost no options. Jackson sees many of her partner companies offering a “pathway to prime” service, empowering customers to rehabilitate their credit.
“Most of these people are non-banking customers, these folks have damaged or thin file credit,” Jackson said. “Most banks don’t service that customer, except for overdraft- a 35$ fee for lack of money in their account- I think bankers want to be able to offer longer-term installment loans.”
Jackson said research backs up her claims, pointing to a 2018 US Treasury report that discussed how banks would have to rely on fintech partnerships to innovate and drive product change. That’s what is finally happening, Jackson said.
She also pointed to a 2017 study into the effects of the 2006 Military Lending Act. The act intended to protect military families from lending products with an APR above 36%. The study out of West Point found that the limit only hurt military members, some of which lost their security clearances when their credit fell too low.
“We find virtually no statistically or economically significant evidence of any adverse effects of payday lending access on credit and labor outcomes. In a few cases, we find suggestive evidence of the positive impacts of access. For example, our second survey suggests that a 1 standard deviation increase in the fraction of time spent in a payday loan access state decreases the probability of being involuntarily separated from the Army by 10%”
Not only was there no harm done, but the paper argues on behalf of payday lending as a healthy way to maintain the credit necessary to keep a military job.
She sees similarities in the legal fight over the creation of interstate credit card laws in the 50s and 60s, saying it used to be the case that consumers had to use a texas-based or California based card. The country had to decide how interstate credit worked then, and with the induction of new technology to loans today, the same question is being asked.
The majority of Jackson’s clients offer products above the 36% limit, in the 100 to 175% APR range. She said that looks high, but consumers are looking at it on a monthly basis, and most of them pay it off early.
“These fintech partnerships allow the bank to offer one rate to everybody across the United States,” Jackson said. “We feel that really adds more democracy to credit, making sure that those who’ve been left out of banking have a shot at it.”
LendingClub’s Q2 financials revealed that the company loaned $325.8M for the quarter, down 90% year-over-year. The company also recorded a net loss of $78.5M.
“In the current challenging environment, we have remained focused on the things we can control and are successfully executing against our strategic priorities,” CEO Scott Sanborn commented. “We are pleased with our ability to maintain strong levels of liquidity, are encouraged by the payment behavior of our members and the resilience of the loan portfolio and remain focused on the acquisition of Radius Bank.”
The company had $338M in the bank at quarter-end, up from the $244M in the bank at year-end 2019.