“$100,000, we can make that work,” said Ryan Metcalf, head of Public Policy Affairs at Funding Circle. “But we can help a lot more small business if it was $50,000.”
Metcalf was referring to a recent change in the minimum loan amount in the Main Street Lending Program (MSLP.) Just recently, the Federal Reserve lowered the minimum loan amount for the MSLP for a third time, to $100,000. The change was intended to broaden the underused Cares Act aid facility but it might not be enough.
Though changing the program days before, at a press briefing Thursday Fed chair Jerome Powell said SMB aid projects like PPP and the MSLP were up to the gridlocked House and Senate.
“The Fed cannot grant money to particular beneficiaries; we can only create programs or facilities to make loans that will be repaid,” Powell said. “Elected officials have the power to tax and spend, and to make decisions about where we as the society should direct our collective resources.”
Despite Powell’s talk of inaction in the face of an undecided congress, Metcalf said the Fed’s actions have proved that changes can be made to existing programs. Metcalf has been fighting for changes to MSLP for months on behalf of the small business lending community, he says.
In July, Metcalf, in partnership with the Innovative Lending Platform Association and Marketplace Lending Association, wrote a letter to the fed to argue for changes to the MSLP.
The letter argued that the Cares Act made non-depository finech lenders eligible to participate in PPP lending. Though these lenders saved millions of jobs, they were not allowed to lend through the MSLP facility.
Even if they could, the minimum loan size was still too large for “main street” American businesses that needed capital. The letter advocated for a lower minimum of $50,000, allow lenders that were approved for PPP to lend in the MSLP, and create a Special Purpose Vehicle for fintechs.
Metcalf said the Fed has only responded, “that is not under consideration.”
So far, 400 borrowers have taken out $3.7 billion in loans, of the $600 billion allocated. The program offers Fed backed five-year loans with differed principal and interest payments and minimal rates. With the facility’s deadline approaching Dec 31 and no changes in sight, Metcalf said the program’s vultures are circling.
If new aid, revisions, or at least an extension is not passed by when the government is funded Dec 11, Metcalf said the program might be finished.
Back in September, Powell testified before Congress that lowering the minimum any further wouldn’t change the adoption rate.
“We have very little demand below a million, as I told the chair a while back,” Powell said. “We’re not seeing demand for very small loans. And that’s really because the nature of the facility and the things you’ve got to do to qualify, it tends to be larger sized businesses.”
Mnuchin has consistently argued that grant programs like PPP would most benefit smaller firms. Metcalf said this was only the case because the MSLP facility has left out smaller firms and alternative lenders that need the capital.
“My response to that was no, there’s been no uptick in your program because the requirements of the program are not attractive enough to make it workable,” Metcalf said. “Don’t scrap the entire program altogether; look at the proposal that we sent you back in July and work with us on amending the facility.”
A number of small businesses—including those in the merchant cash advance industry—faced with little or no way to make money for months—have pivoted to selling personal protective equipment.
It’s no wonder businesses across the U.S. have shifted gears. With the pandemic raging, and consumers and businesses trying to return to some sort of normalcy, there’s high demand for these products, causing even businesses that previously had no connection to them to spring into action.
“It’s not my forte; I had to pivot just to make sure I could stay afloat before things turned around,” says John DiCanio, founding partner of Direct Merchant Funding in Bethpage, N.Y.
This past spring, at a time when everything in the MCA business stopped, he heard from a merchant in the medical supply field that masks were becoming very important. The merchant connected him to a contact in Hong Kong from whom he was able to buy hospital-grade and non-medical grade masks and sell them to local hospitals, local businesses and others.
DiCanio says he did it for a short time only—two months—which was enough to tide him over under his
regular business started coming back. Mask-making is still a big business and a lot of people are still doing it, but he prefers to stick to merchant cash advance, which he’s been doing for around 15 years. He says business has picked up enough that he no longer has the need to do anything on the side—and he hopes it stays that way.
Many funding industry participants are still selling these types of products, but it’s somewhat of a hush-hush business. Not everyone wants to talk about it for any number of reasons, including embarrassment and fear of looking weak to customers and business connections. Even so, small businesses that pivoted say they are doing the best they can to stay afloat—and there’s no shame in that.
Kat Rosati, founder of Apparel Booster in Riverside, Calif., a product development agency for luxury and socially conscious brands, began hand-sewing masks to help support her business that had been hit-hard by the pandemic.
She has manufacturing partners all over the world, and production was at a standstill for her various products. She couldn’t import fabric needed for the company’s various projects and a lot of production partners were forced to close. Luckily, she had a connection to a fabric mill in Pennsylvania that focuses on antimicrobial products that was willing to provide her with material.
She hired temporary workers to help her make masks, which she’s producing at a rate of about 150 a week. She sells them to consumers and small businesses. The revenue has helped defray overhead expenses, among other things. “It hasn’t been super profitable, but it’s definitely helped keep the business alive,” she says.
She had to furlough her four-person team because she can’t afford to pay them without regular client work coming in. Her husband, who works in the restaurant industry, was also furloughed. So whatever money she can bring in, helps. “I’m watching small business owners around me that haven’t made any kind of pivot close left and right,” she says. “The fact that I can keep mine alive makes it worth it for me.”
To be sure, small businesses pivot for all sorts of reasons, and it’s not always because they are struggling. Francis Perdue, a publicist and business consultant in Birmingham, Ala., began selling PPE products including gloves, kn95 masks, surgical masks, customizable cloth masks, child and adult-sized shields, suits, gowns and the Xenon Fever Defense machine which uses AI technology to measure skin temperature and detect potential fever. She says she saw a need for these types of products in local schools as well as in hospitals and clinics in predominantly black neighborhoods. She is still consulting, but doing this as a side gig while the need persists.
Another example is MORGAN Li, a retail and hospitality manufacturer in Chicago Heights, Ill. The company identified the need and opportunity to help businesses remain open or reopen to customers while abiding by new recommendations to support public health. Thus, the company began producing customized social distancing materials including sneeze guards, safety shields, signage and floor graphics for various businesses to remind employees and customers to comply with social distancing requirements, according to a spokeswoman.
More recently, Andy Rosenband, the company’s chief executive, saw another opportunity to help communities prepare for another critical stage—reopening schools. He created a line of personal protective equipment that specifically addresses the challenge of social distancing in schools to keep students, teachers and staff safe.
For some small businesses, the shift is likely to be a permanent one.
JB Herrera, founder of Perceptive Insights a San Diego-based small and medium business consulting and mentoring company, says his firm was growing, but PPE products offer the ability to create a broader impact and are likely to be more profitable than merely a consulting business.
He has clients in China and back in December when things were starting to get bad there, he realized that the problem could spread massively to the U.S., and if it did, 80 percent or more of businesses would be negatively impacted, in his estimation. Using his business expertise regarding supply chains and pre-existing and new contacts, his company shifted gears to introduce in March a line of FDA-registered products designed to create and maintain safe environments. The products include commercial and personal cleaning solutions, masks, light technology disinfectants, air filtration, and personal sanitizing kits.
Even before the pandemic, the PPE market was worth several billion, he says, and that’s likely to grow exponentially over the next five to 10 years. So much so, that he expects the new business line to represent 90 percent of his revenue for the next three years—at least.
“Even after the spike goes away, it’s still going to be a profitable business in its own right,” he says.
On Thursday, NYC taxi drivers shut down the Brooklyn Bridge to formally protest the financing costs tied to their taxi medallions, the certificate that allows them to operate in the five boroughs. Tensions over “Medallion loans” have been bubbling over since last year when it was revealed that many borrowers had signed a Confession of Judgment to obtain their loan, which basically waived their right to settle any disputes with their lender in court should they be unable to make the payments. Since then, COVID has completely devastated an already suffering industry…
“Before it was good, we could make $100-$150 a day,” said Mohammad Ashref, a local Brooklyn taxi driver in a video interview with deBanked reporter Johny Fernandez. “Now it’s very hard to survive, we work very hard to make 60, 70, or $80 a day, but what can I do? I have to make a living. We have no other choice.”
Ashref technically drives a green cab, different from the yellow cabs that were protesting on the bridge in that they’re not permitted to accept street-hails throughout most of Manhattan. Green taxis also operate through a permit rather than a medallion, a still relatively new concept that was first rolled out in 2013 to facilitate ride-hailing in the outer boroughs where yellow cabs did not spend much time.
In the interview with Fernandez, Ashref pointed out that the success of the taxi business is intertwined with the restaurant industry. Many riders in the boroughs depend on cabs to take them to restaurants or night clubs, but with the complete ban on indoor dining still in effect within city limits, that need has mostly dried up.
According to the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission, yellow and green cabs were making as little as $314 and $210 a week respectively during the peak period of the shutdowns. In a 40 hour week, these amount to a fraction of the $15/hour local minimum wage and that’s even before factoring in driver costs like a vehicle lease, loan payments, insurance, and more.
deBanked has been exploring several areas of the New York City economy over the last few months. For instance in July, reporter Johny Fernandez looked into how the pandemic was affecting a street performer in Times Square that was dressed as Batman.
“The business now is slow,” Batman said. “There’s so few people at this moment […] At this moment I see people scared, they don’t want pictures…”
Batman, like others in New York City, was hopeful that a return to normalcy was just around the corner.
The five buroughs of New York City are still quiet. Restaurants remain closed to inside dining; gyms still await their regulars to return (beefcakes deflating with inactivity), and in-person schooling has been pushed back once again, while the districts take an extra week to prepare.
Through it all, business owners are losing money. Some have had enough.
Il Bacco, an Italian restaurant in Queens, is leading the charge. The restaurant recently filed a $3 billion class-action lawsuit against New York, signed by more than 300 restaurants. Il Bacco is a three-story eatery in Little Neck, 500 feet from the Nassau county border where restaurants can open to 50% capacity.
Another group of restaurants met separately at a rally in Staten Island to speak out against the inaction of lawmakers and to formally propose a separate lawsuit to force the reopening of restaurants.
On behalf of Bocelli, Joyce’s Tavern, and the Independent Restaurant Owners Association Rescue- (IROAR) papers were filed in Richmond County, calling for the emergency opening of restaurants throughout NYC at 50% capacity. IROAR was started last week as a confederation of 14 disgruntled restaurants. More recently the association has grown to 180 members.
Tina Maria, daughter of the owner at Il Bacco, also started an online petition with more than 5,000 signatures at writing.
On Sept 9th, shopping malls can open to 50% capacity and Casinos to 25% capacity, but restaurants like Il Bacco still struggle to make up for six months of decreased activity.
In speaking at the rally on Tuesday, Bob Deluca owner of Delucas Italian Restaurant said he and his workers have put in hundreds of hours of work a week just to see government officials keep his business from opening. Now he said, enough is enough.
“We’re being discriminated against, we’re being bullied,” Deluca said. “My mother told me to always stand up to bullies and stand up for people in need who are being bullied. Right here, this is our knockout punch.”
Deluca dropped the lawsuit on the podium, punctuating his frustration. He said he never wanted it to come to this, but it has come to it. Deluca reacted to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s comment from two weeks ago, stating restaurants were for the middle class and wealthy people.
“We are workers, it’s not a luxurious lifestyle, we are barely middle class,” Deluca said. “What about the waiters, the busboys, what about the dishwashers the bartenders, and the cooks. To say restaurants are for the middle class and wealthy is the most ignorant statement I’ve ever heard.”
Next week, lawmakers will finally be back from vacation, arguing over the next stimulus package. There are various proposals, and the two competing Republican and Democrat offerings are nearly a trillion dollars apart.
It’s the Senate GOP HEALs act vs. the House Democrats HEROs act. But in between, what may be getting the most support? Standalone bipartisan bills that focus on extending and forgiving PPP loans.
Ryan Metcalf, head of the office of Government affairs and Social Impact for Funding Circle, has been following conversations on The Hill closely.
“Up until Monday, Pelosi said they weren’t even going to even put a bill forward for a new stimulus,” Metcalf said. “But then yesterday [Tuesday] Secretary Mnuchin said he was open to doing a standalone PPP loan. It’s the one that has the most bipartisan support; they can’t meet anywhere else than PPP.”
Funding Circle is one of the world’s largest online lenders, with about $10 billion in global loans to date. Metcalf said Funding Circle mostly offers US loans in the $25,000 to $500,000 range, and as a funder for PPP, offered more loans in just eight days in August than half of their total business in July. His company had to cut off funding requests, locking out some customers that needed help, simply because the deadline had ended.
“When PPP ended on August 8th, the narrative was that PPP had died out, and there was no interest in it, but that is a complete fallacy,” Metcalf said. “We were processing loans for the smallest of small businesses- 10-15 employees- well under $50,000 loans, the people still needed help.”
Steve Denis, Executive Director of the Small Business Finance Associaton (SBFA), has also been engaged in the process. He has been petitioning members of Congress on behalf of what he calls truly small business, those under 10 employees or nonemployers that still need help.
“‘Real’ small businesses: ones with under ten employees that are really grinding, like small hair salons, retail stores, and mechanics don’t really have traditional banking relationships,” Denis said.
SBA data from July found that most of the loans made (66.8%) were in the $50k range and to very small businesses, but the largest amount of capital went towards firms that applied for a $350k-$1M sized loan.
Denis said that the higher dollar amount PPP loans were more profitable for banks to make, so disproportionate funding went toward bigger businesses with pre-established finance connections. This disparity is backed up by research. Studies, like one from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), found that firms with stronger connections to banks were more likely to be approved for PPP funds.
“The way fees are structured: there’s an incentive for big banks to prioritize bigger deals at [commission] rates like 3% or 5%,” Denis Said. “They’d rather make that on a $500,000 deal than on a $40,000 deal.”
Denis said the SBFA was lobbying for Congress to create a prioritized amount of money authorized only for smaller loans, under $100,000-$150,000, to focus on those really small businesses with less than five employees.
Like Metcalf, Denis sees the most likely outcome is an extension of PPP- at least until the end of the federal fiscal year budget in September. If the Fed cannot agree on a budget, the government will go into shutdown- and this year would be the worst time to shut down.
“The only thing that motivates Congress to move big legislation like this are deadlines; there’s a big deadline coming up,” Denis said. “At the end of September, the fiscal year runs out and there needs to be a budget agreement.”
Metcalf said that the next round of PPP programs need to make sure businesses can get their first loan if they haven’t already, and streamline the loan forgiveness process to keep the SBA from getting overwhelmed.
“We need a forgiveness bill that streamlines the process; lenders will not have the resources to process forgiveness, a first PPP and second PPP as it is,” Metcalf said. “In my call with the SBA two weeks ago, they said for processing new 7(a) lender applications and all the other business they do to resume their normal business we’re looking at six months.”
The PPP proposal that Metcalf likes the best is called the Paycheck Protection Small Business Forgiveness Act, which stipulates a one-page forgiveness form for all loans made under $150,000. Metcalf said he saw support from a bipartisan group of over 90 members of Congress.
Another opportunity is the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program- offering long term loans to businesses with less than 500 employees that need financial help. Both Denis and Metcalf encouraged business owners to check out the program, which offers loans directly from the government without the need to prove forgiveness.
In the end, Denis said he was interested in the Republican “Skinny Bill” that is a cheaper breakdown of the GOP HEALS Act, but he said it is all up in the air.
“This is just me guessing,” Denis said. “I have talked to these people every day, but even members of Congress on Capitol Hill have no clue what’s going to happen.”
$79,000. That’s the average loan size reported in Round Two of the PPP so far. The figure is about a third of the average size approved in Round 1. Some of that is by the SBA’s design. On April 29th, the SBA disabled submission access to all lenders whose assets exceed $1 billion to prioritize small lenders and their small business customers.
Though the pause button for big lenders was only in effect for eight hours that day, it was recognition that the playing field had not been level in the first round. JPMorgan Chase, the largest lender in round 1, for example, had an average PPP loan size of $515,304 in that round.
It’s a competitive process for limited dollars. 5,400 direct PPP lenders have already participated in the second round. More than 80% of those have less than $1 billion in assets. Senator Marco Rubio, a champion of PPP, called the latest figures released by the SBA as “all good news.”
Square Capital, meanwhile, has taken small to the extreme. Their average PPP loan approval as of April 29th was just $16,000, according to stats published by Square Capital head Jackie Reses on twitter. But only 2,711 of the 38,000+ approved had received the funds so far.
Still, that average is significantly smaller than the average loan size of $73,000 approved by Ready Capital in Round 1, a non-bank lender that got widespread attention for approving more PPP loans than any other lender in the country. Those record-breaking numbers, however, led to delays in borrowers receiving their funds to the point where as of April 30th, the responsibility of funding those loans had reportedly transferred to Customers Bank.
OnDeck has also played a role in the PPP, though only as an agent despite being approved by the SBA to lend. That news, which was revealed last week in the company’s quarterly earnings call, is likely due to the company’s current predicament brought on by government-mandated shutdowns.
Small Business Group Advocates For Community Anchor Loan Program (CAP) In Wake Of PPP Wind Down and Possible RefreshApril 17, 2020
At last tally, more than 800,000 small business PPP applications have gone unfunded since the program reached its limit, many of which are genuine mom-and-pop shops that employ less than 25 people.
Congress is considering another round of additional PPP funding but Americans may be worrying that such funds will once again go into the hands of some of America’s largest chains. (44.5% of the $349B PPP funds went toward loans over $1 million)
Outspoken successful businessman Mark Cuban has proposed a solution, a lottery system next time around to improve the chances that smaller businesses get their share of the pie. While the public debates the merits of such an approach, one organization (the SBFA) is calling for something much more direct, a targeted fix via a Community Anchor Loan Program (CAP) that would appropriate $10 billion for businesses that were PPP-eligible for loans under $75,000 but did not receive funds.
Deployment of this capital under CAP can and should be administered by non-bank alternative lenders with proven success with this particular small business market, they say.
The proposal also calls for 25% of the funds to specifically be allocated for minority, women, and veteran-owned and agricultural businesses.
In a letter the SBFA submitted to Congress earlier this week, the organization said:
“Women and minority-owned businesses are historically smaller and employ fewer people and, in some communities, are under-banked without the established relationships required to secure a PPP loan. Small farms and agricultural businesses are important to communities and often have trouble qualifying for traditional financing.”
The Small Business Finance Association is a non-profit advocacy organization whose mission “is to take a leadership role in ensuring that small businesses have access to the capital they need to grow and thrive.”
Over a month into a nationwide lockdown and it can prove hard to remember what things were like before this. The ease of going to a restaurant and sitting in, the buzz of attending a packed concert, or even the unappreciated experience of not having to maintain six feet between yourself and whoever is beside you.
As well as these small joys, for many small business owners the prospect of growth is a memory, as the latest Federal Reserve Small Business Credit Survey highlights. Released in March, the report is a summary of how small business owners acted and felt towards credit in 2019, as well as how they viewed their future in 2020.
While that’s certainly a grim reminder, the report featured an interesting question which appears prescient in the wake of the impacts of covid-19. “What actions would your business take in response to a 2-month revenue loss” was put to the 5,514 respondents, which were composed of owners of businesses that employed between 1 and 499 employees (coincidentally the same range for PPP loan eligibility). And the answers highlight the extent of the trouble which many small business owners currently find themselves in.
33% said they would lay off employees, 34% reported that they would rely on debt, and just 37% stated that they would reduce salaries of the owner(s) or employees. As well as these hypothetical decisions, 17% of respondents said they would shut down and 47% noted that they would use the owner’s personal funds to ride out the storm, worrying numbers given the current situation.
And while these responses prove eerie in light of what was to come, other answers reflect the optimism that 2019 yielded. 69% of firms expected revenue to increase in 2020, 44% expected their number of employees to grow, and 56% reported revenue growth on from 2018.
Outdated as the report is, it acts as an artifact of sorts: reminding the industry of what can come before the fall, and how even when things are good, many businesses are a few steps removed from serious trouble.