If I were to offer you the choice between a free DVD with a retail value of $20 or a free $20 bill, which one would you take?
Unless the DVD was something you were going to buy anyway or unless it was a rare item that is hard to find, you’d probably accept the cash. I would too, and that’s because I can turn around and exchange the $20 for anything I want. This isn’t to say that someone wouldn’t accept a DVD and give you something of value in return. You could probably do this but it would be a hassle compared to buying something with cash. Cash is the ultimate liquid asset. It has the same numerical value to all that evaluate it and it is acceptable everywhere.
If this is the case, then why do governments set limits on transactions that only involve cash vs. transactions that involve cash in exchange for a good or service? The reference I’m making here is to usury. Many states govern the interest that can be charged on a loan. This is done to protect borrowers but in doing so, they end up hurting them.
A manufacturer spends $100 to create a commercial refrigerator, but they sell it to a business for $1,000. That’s equates to a fee of 900%. Once the business books it as inventory, they will attempt to sell that refrigerator to a consumer for an even higher price to make a profit. While it’s a nice windfall for the manufacturer, it’s capitalism at its finest.
But what if the manufacturer lent the business $100 cash in exchange for $1,000 back? Does that change the transaction significantly? In our example above, the manufacturer gave the business an item worth $100 and got $1,000 cash in exchange. The business hopes to sell that item for more and turn a profit but a couple things could happen:
- Consumers might not be willing to pay more than $1,000 or anything at all for that model/make/color
- The refrigerator could get damaged and lose its value
If these scenarios were to occur, the business may try to liquidate the inventory for a lesser amount and take a loss, but doing that might not be easy. The refrigerator might have to be inspected and appraised before a buyer is confident to make the purchase. This problem doesn’t happen with cash. People don’t go out and appraise the value of a $100 bill to determine if it’s worth more or less than $100. The other possibility is that the business can’t liquidate it at all and they end up losing the entire $1,000 they spent.
What’s interesting is that if the business had accepted a $100 bill in exchange for paying $1,000 at a later date, that $100 bill wouldn’t have the real risk (discounting hyper-inflation) of becoming worthless tomorrow or becoming the object of a difficult liquidation.
So when faced with choices again… would you rather take a refrigerator someone spent $100 to make and try to sell it for more than $1,000 or would you rather someone give you $100 cash and you do whatever you want to try to turn that into more than a thousand bucks? On the one hand you have a refrigerator which might have a decent retail market and on the other hand you have cold hard cash that you can do anything with to try and make the necessary profit. You might choose refrigerator but you might choose the cash especially if you had a rock solid idea for that hundred bucks.
If you’re an expert in your trade, you might be able to build your own higher-quality refrigerator for the same cost of $100 and be able to sell it for $2,000. Sure beats buying a crappy lower quality one and struggling to sell it for more than a thousand doesn’t it? Then you could pay the $1,000 owed and walk away with $1,000 in profit.
Sounds awesome except some states might deem the transaction illegal because to give a business $100 cash in exchange for $1,000 over a certain time period is usurious and predatory to the borrower. But selling a refrigerator valued at $100 to a business for $1,000 is okay, even if the business is never able to sell it.
In the eyes of a state, it is okay for a business to pay a 900% markup for an illiquid asset but it is dangerous to pay a 900% markup for the most liquid asset of all. I don’t understand it. If the idea is to prevent lenders from poaching borrowers or borrowers from making bad business decisions, then why is it okay for someone to sell a product for a lot more than they paid for it? Is a manufacturer selling a $100 refrigerator to a business for $1,000 usurious?
Perhaps your answer would be that a business owner wouldn’t engage in such a transaction if he/she didn’t believe it could be sold for more, either because there is an established retail market or because of sufficient market research. That is a weak defense because businesses get stuck with inventory they can’t sell all the time. Whether the market changed or it was just a bad business decision, Americans attitude towards speculation on a good or service is one of total acceptance. But give a man a dollar and he can’t be trusted to earn back more than a few cents on it. A legislator might evaluate these potential returns on a $1 investment like this:
Turn it into $1.05? sure!
Turn it into $1.15 maybe…
Turn it into $2.00? Let’s make laws to prevent people from thinking that way!
In many states, if you borrow a dollar so you can make three but it cost you a dollar in interest to make this happen, it’s illegal. But if you pay a dollar for an old banana peel with the hope of selling it for $3, that’s a business transaction.
I could rehash examples over and over, but where I’m going with this is that there are things like credit history and risk criteria that prevent people from borrowing a dollar at a relatively low rate. Naturally, the more risky the borrower, the higher the cost. After a certain level though, the law intervenes. If the amount of risk warrants a very high rate of interest, more than what is allowed by law, the government would rather the borrower get nothing than allow the transactions to go through. It’s a very sad position the government takes on its citizens, that the borrower is not capable of generating the return they believe or that that they lack the intelligence to know what they’re engaging in and therefore the transaction should be stopped altogether. In a utopian society, saving people from themselves might seem fair and just, but in reality there are millions of people and businesses with less than stellar credit, disqualifying them from borrowing at all because to compensate for risk would require a rate of interest disallowed by law.
At this time last year, 53% of Americans had credit scores of 700 or better. 700 is that magic threshold and it means that 47% of Americans are going to have a hard time obtaining credit or won’t be able to get it at all. When the laws were written to protect borrowers, I highly doubt the legislators understood they would be locking out almost half the country.
It’s ironic then that in times of financial crisis, government points the finger at banks for keeping credit tight, when it is nearly impossibly to free it up because of how regulated it is.
Credit has been screwy the last few years because government intervention is wreaking havoc on the market. The maximum allowable interest rate on an SBA 7(a) loan maturing in less than 7 years is the Prime Rate + 2.25%. That would be 5.5% annually. FICO states that the odds of a borrower becoming delinquent on their loan (90 days or more behind) range from 15% to 87% if their score is less than 700.
How can you expect to make money if you can only charge a maximum of 5.5% when 47% of all Americans have a 15 to 87% chance of going delinquent or defaulting? You can’t and that’s why the Small Business Administration exists. In order to manipulate banks into making wildly unprofitable loans to businesses, the Federal Government via the SBA guarantees up to 85% of the losses banks are stuck with. It’s a bandaid solution to the broken market that usury laws create.
The SBA also empowers banks to crush private sector competition since many non-bank financial institutions do not participate in the SBA program and therefore need to charge vastly higher rates to compensate for risk.
But even the SBA has strict criteria on default coverage. Many borrowers do not meet the SBA’s criteria, leaving the bank unable to lend to them.
It is no surprise then that the end result of continued credit market dysfunction has led to non-bank financial institutions getting creative. If you can’t loan a man a buck in return for two, then buy 2 bucks worth of his future success in exchange for a buck today. That was the original basis behind Merchant Cash Advance financing and the concept is rooted in factoring. Americans accept the buy/sell arrangement in business no matter how much risk each party is taking and so if we start treating cash as an asset, of which there is nothing more liquid, then we’ve finally cured the disconnect of money versus product/service.
For those with heavy debt, critics point fingers at the lenders, disregarding the cash the borrower got as a seemingly empty asset with no value that disappeared over night, a trick they’ll conclude was all part of the lender’s plan to saddle the borrower with evil debt and interest charges.
Somewhere along the line, a few people stopped thinking about how they could turn a dollar into two and started thinking how they could use the dollar to pay for something they already got while worrying about the dollar and interest owed on it at a later date. As this psychology has taken root in our culture, people have painfully learned that the ability to borrow runs out and the reality of owing a lot of money interferes with the comfort of living the way they did before. Lenders have taken losses and legislators have enacted laws to prevent people from hurting themselves. It all comes back full circle as we wonder now why banks aren’t lending and people can’t get credit.
There are many solutions, some temporary, some long-term, some will help a little, and some will help a lot. All of the debates, arguments, and finger pointing don’t change the fact that no matter how much progress we make, there are people out there that are wondering how they can borrow a dollar today to pay for something they already got. Businesses borrow to pay for past due rent, pay off inventory, taxes, payroll, and equipment. There are instances when a cash infusion is appropriate because the business will bounce back and there are instances when a loan will prop an insolvent business up for a short while, only for it to finally fail because the profitability or cash-flow problems were never fixed.
In America we all understand the trading of goods and services for money, but when money is traded for money, we get confused. If you are willing to pay $1,000 for a refrigerator it cost someone else $100 to make with the belief that you could resell it for $2,000, then there is no reason why the manufacturer shouldn’t be able to borrow $100 and go direct to the consumer themselves. The $900 interest fee is justified. Let’s not forget that a competing lender will charge less to try and steal the borrower away. The market will takeover until the perfect balance is met between risk and reward. When we legislate away this natural process we cause dysfunction, creating the needs for bandaids like government guarantees to force a market into existence while disrupting all of the other ones.
Undo the regulations and inspire the masses to turn a dollar into two, a hundred, or a thousand! The possibilities are endless with cash. If you can’t think of a way to turn a healthy profit with the most liquid asset on Earth, then chances are your luck won’t be much better with selling refrigerators or anything else.
May 3, 1:00am: I underestimated how easy it would be to make frequent updates. Wednesday was fantastic. I uploaded a couple dozen photos and updates all at once earlier today over on DailyFunder. As soon as the show was over, I found myself on Bourbon Street at the Discover party followed by the Priority Payments party. Both were a great time.
Photos and updates from the ETA
May 1, 1:00am: Great start to the show this evening. Merchant Cash Advance providers and alternative business lenders continue to have a very strong presence in the payments industry. The booths I saw include: RetailCapital, NextWave Funding, Merchant Cash Group, On Deck Capital, Capital Access Network, Strategic Funding Source, American Finance Solutions, Swift Capital, MotherFund, and Principis Capital. GRP Funding and Paramount Merchant Funding are also on the exhibitor list but I didn’t spot their booths yet. That’s pretty substantial and it omits the major presence of Merchant Cash Advance companies that aren’t exhibiting. I bumped into Merchant Cash and Capital and walked the floor a bit with David Rubin of Capital Stack.
I met the guys behind Super G Funding which lends money against residuals. They’re great guys and they have such a unique role in the industry.
I think every funder I spoke with was quick to mention that they do 12 month deals and either offer direct debit repayment or will have it soon. The ACH train has disrupted the split-funding market pretty severely though many funders continue to do big numbers via split.
Nobody seemed to have an appetite for low FICO score deals (500s and below) except for Merchant Cash Group and Capital Stack which target the higher risk market intentionally. And when I say “don’t have an appetite for,” I literally mean when asking a funder if they do below 500 credit, the answer is some version of “HECK NO!!”
Overall tone, and perhaps its because opening night included open bar, but it was very optimistic. Most funders seemed intent on expanding and are eager to service as much business as possible. I definitely get that sense that there is a real focus these days on the bigger fish ISOs ($1 million+ in referral business a month). When newbie brokers enter the space, funders spend an enormous amount of resources developing them and many times they just don’t pan out. Either the brokers don’t have the capacity to do more than a handful of deals, or they just don’t “get it.”
If you’re a mom and pop ISO and you have just 1 or 2 deals a month, it’s more difficult these days to get time and attention from a funder. Capital is flooding into the industry and everybody wants partners that can produce volume. From a resource standpoint, the “1 and done” reps are not an efficient use of time.
Big ISOs have a lot of negotiating power at their disposal these days. In the last 7 years, it was good to be an ISO, then hard to be an ISO and now it’s good again. Many things in MCA have a weird way of going full circle. Hope to see you on Wednesday.
Apr 30, 1:00am: Merchant Processing Resource will be publishing updates as often as we can from the ETA Expo in New Orleans. I am very excited to be down here. Earlier today I had the opportunity to eat beignets at Cafe Du Monde, visit the French Market District, and take a ride on the Natchez Steamboat on the Mississippi River. But starting Tuesday, it’s all business. A schedule of events can be found on the ETA’s website.
You can follow along with everyone else in town on twitter using #ETAExpo2013 or #ETAExpo13
and of course via the DailyFunder Merchant Cash Advance iPhone App.
Some pre-conference tweets:
ETA Expo 2013 on Twitter
Storified by Sean M· Mon, Apr 29 2013 22:21:50
Here’s to learning, networking, and having fun!
– Merchant Processing Resource
Startup. Some people like the term and some people hate it. It doesn’t even mean the same thing to everyone. To some, the mega giant Groupon is a startup and they’ve been in business for almost 4 years and earned $638 million in revenue last quarter. To others, a startup is simply an idea for a business that hasn’t gotten off the ground yet. And to the Merchant Cash Advance industry, startups are people who don’t qualify for funding but manage to come storming through the front gates demanding loans while waving around business plans. There’s a real dilemma in this country. Millions of people aspire to go into business for themselves and very few have any idea what to do. I get exhausted just thinking about this because for many years, I’ve been trying to tackle what you’d think would be a simpler problem, funding people that ALREADY have a business.
It’s finally gotten much easier for existing businesses to obtain capital, so much so that I started to warn the lenders in a recent article about getting too aggressive with their programs. But all that aside, these lenders have been plagued with an ongoing problem for years, a problem that has caused marketing costs to skyrocket, and have made loans for everyone more expensive. That problem is startups. It’s not that startups aren’t appreciated, it’s just that imagine opening a hair salon and seeing there’s a line of a thousand people waiting outside the door to get in. At first, you’d probably think “wow! we’re going to need to hire 50 more stylists to satisfy all this demand,” but then you find out that 900 of the people waiting were men that were completely bald. It’s awesome that they were interested to come out and get a perm, but without hair, there’s nothing for the stylists to do. The business ends up spending a lot of time and money telling folks with no hair that a mohawk will not be possible, causing the price of haircuts to go up for everyone else.
Some lenders are so inundated with startups that they stop marketing altogether. Others try to board up their pay-per-click ads with specific instructions for startups to STAY AWAY. It doesn’t reflect very well on the brand to do this, but if bald guys were overrunning a hair salon, the poor stylists would have to do something so they weren’t driven out of business. I’m not making fun of startups per se, I’ve been a part of 3 startups, including my own. I’ve been in the position where I was unsure of what to do first, especially since I never knew anyone that funded people whose businesses weren’t already up and running. Yes, I was the guy who knew tons about business lending and I had no idea how to raise capital for a business that hadn’t yet started.
Oh I knew how to set the gears in motion: perform market research, talk to potential customers about what they want, draw up a plan, incorporate, get the necessary permits, draw up an operating agreement, pay for legal advice, and set aside a large enough cash cushion to pay for at least 3 months expenses in case nothing went as planned. I had enough experience to know what I needed to be ready, but I guess I was still shocked the day I went to a bank to finally open a business account. With my account, the bank granted me a substantial unsecured line of credit. I’m fortunate to have an excellent credit score and that definitely played a role, but try to understand that I walked into the bank with no job and no income. I told them I was starting a business, wanted to open a bank account, and had all my business document ducks in a row and within 2 minutes I was approved for a line. This is after I’ve been hearing for years that no banks were lending, businesses with excellent credit couldn’t get money, and startups had no place to go.
Keep in mind though that I didn’t just walk into the bank and tell them all my good ideas and sum it up by asking for money. Heck, I didn’t even ask for money at all, though it was really nice to have it. I went in showing I meant business and walked out with something that everyone said is impossible to get in this country. I’ll admit there’s a few caveats. I live in New York City, have a decent net worth, have great credit, and have a background in business financing. So I’m not going to pretend that what worked for me is what’s going to work for everyone else.
I’ve always wanted to help the people I couldn’t. So I’ve been wracking my brain for some time as to what to do if a hair salon had 900 bald customers waiting on line. Do you help them regrow their hair first?
I totally believe in the old fashioned way of raising money, which means making sure you have enough of your own money saved up and taking every measure possible to be ready to launch before looking elsewhere for help. I realized though that many people don’t have the capital to get them as far as opening day, some don’t have strong enough credit to be confident that a bank line would ever be possible, and others just have a dream of something they want to do but have no money to even put their idea to the test. I’d say they were out of luck, but new friends of mine were telling me that’s not exactly right.
Crowdfunding – Get familiar
I recently spoke with Rachael Alford, a crowdfunding consultant who told me that you didn’t need to approach startup capital the old fashioned way. A bank? What’s that? The exact conversation between us is available online and I learned that folks with a serious idea can actually raise money just on the IDEA alone. Crowdfunding means raising money from other people so a lot of effort is required to make it work for you. When you go to a bank, the bank is forced to acknowledge that you applied and then decide to either approve or reject your application. With crowdfunding, your campaign to raise money can be outright ignored. It’s not a “hi, please approve me, bye” experience. Rachael said, “the problem is, people think it is as easy as making a page (on Kickstarter, GoFundMe etc.) and then they can just tweet or share the funding request and that is it.”
Driving interest to your crowdfunding campaign to raise money is kind of like a test to sell your product on opening day. If you can’t get anyone interested in your campaign, how in the heck are you going to get them interested to buy your product once it’s done? It should be mentioned that crowdfunding doesn’t necessarily require you pay back the money raised with interest like a loan. Some campaigns can be donation based. Others can be in return for a prototype of the product. Rachael shared this example with me to better explain: “Say Joe has an idea that may or may not cure XYZ disease but he needs to buy a super xyz widget before he can prove his hypothesis. No one will loan him the $10,000 he needs to see if it can work. With crowdfunding, he can’t offer (as a reward) to cure backers who pledge $1,000 or more. He should offer what he has: limited edition t-shirts that read: I’m a hero, I helped Joe Smith try to cure XYZ. Get the point? If it’s a food start up don’t offer to cater a wedding, offer to name a brick, booth etc.”
So having the idea is a starting point but you have to sell that dream HARD to get people to invest in it. Fortunately, it’s easier than making appointments with scary Silicon Valley venture capitalists and having to sweat out a presentation and then being told at the end that your idea is terrible.
P2P Lending – Have you really not tried this yet?
On the flip side of raising capital is peer to peer lending. This type of financing has been around for quite some time. Websites like Prosper.com allow people to post loan requests so that individuals can collectively contribute to the amount wanted. Unlike crowdfunding, peer to peer lending is… lending. You can’t offer to name bricks after your peers instead of paying them back. In the case of Prosper.com, they act as the loan servicer but they also determine based on your credit rating the interest rate that your peers will have to charge. Prosper.com works for personal loans and for startup loans, but the key again here is that you can’t post a request and walk away. Instead you to have to rally people to your cause. Prosper.com sums it up with this tip on their website: “Asking your friends and family to invest in your listing and give you a recommendation will increase your chances of having your listing fully funded.”
Selling on Ebay or Amazon makes you official already
A third option for startups is Kabbage. Though they are technically a Merchant Cash Advance financing provider for established businesses, they specifically fund people with ebay and Amazon stores. I find that many people that want a shot at starting their own retail business have already tested out their skills on ebay or Amazon. What they may not know is that Kabbage sees these sellers as businesses already and that they need not feel like a startup at all!
There is no sleep-while-you-get-funded method of raising capital
Alas, raising money for a startup means work. Whether that work means being ready to cut the tape at the grand opening before applying for a loan or furiously banging the social media drum to mobilize people to your cause to invest. To the entrepreneurs that read this, I hope you’re a little bit more informed about where to start. To the lenders, the good news is that startup financing does exist, we just need to guide these people to the right places.
Perhaps there is an opportunity for lenders to set up peer to peer lending or crowdfunding campaigns on behalf of all the serious startups that call in. They could top it off by contributing the first 10% of capital needed to help them generate buzz to raise the rest. Let the market decide if the business plans are viable. If successful, then you can consult them through their grand opening and up through the point that they become eligible for a merchant loan. I would think a fee for this service would be reasonable. Everybody wins.
We need not struggle!