OnDeck CEO Noah Breslow Talked Tech Worker Shortage in Canada on BloombergTV

March 22, 2017
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On BloobergTV Canada, OnDeck CEO Noah Breslow explained what he thought the country could do to boost innovation. The discussion stemmed from Canada’s decision to set aside C$800 million over the next four years to carry out that objective.

Breslow said that since Canada has excellent schools, those graduates can be nurtured into forming businesses and creating business investment opportunities. He also said that vocational training towards today’s new working-style job would be beneficial as well, whether it’s jobs for people who can design the latest algorithm or people who can build systems and data centers or can rack servers together.

When asked if perhaps government intervention was not the answer to achieve this, Breslow said that there are two ends of that spectrum, and where he believed intervention could be helpful was in the formation and talent development and formation incubation stage of companies. For later-stage companies, it was probably not appropriate, he said.

Breslow also expressed his belief that a permissive immigration policy is important and that there should be less friction to bring in skilled workers to Canada.

You can watch the full video below to hear the rest:

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AI Sales Assistant Penetrating Alternative Finance Raises $34 Million in Series B Round

December 15, 2016
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digital brokersWondering how your competition always seems to be so on top of their game? They might be using an artificially intelligent sales assistant. Such technology was reported on last month when deBanked learned that it had penetrated the alternative business financing industry through at least one company named AI Assist. AI Assist is powered by Conversica, a Foster City, CA-based technology firm that announced it had raised $34 million in a Series B round on Wednesday led by Providence Strategic Growth Capital Partners L.L.C. More than 1,000 companies across technology, automotive, higher education, finance, insurance, real estate and hospitality are using Conversica.

“Conversica’s AI technology has helped IBM be smarter about engaging our prospective customers and maximizing their value as they move through our sales funnel,” Kevin Pollack, head of IBM’s Global Email Marketing Practice, is quoted as saying in a press release. “Not only have we freed up resources within the marketing team and gained immediate value in the form of qualified sales opportunities, we are also seeing how AI can help transform our entire business moving forward.”

For Roman Vinfield, who launched a merchant cash advance ISO in 2015, it changed his life. “I hadn’t heard anything like an artificial-intelligence sales assistant,” said Vinfield. “The results we got within a month of using it were unbelievable.” Within the first month, Vinfield made $35,000 in revenues by spending just $4,000 and he eventually reduced his staff of 24 to 4 people. He’s since launched AI Assist, the exclusive reseller of Conversica to the alternative finance industry.

“We’ve gone way beyond the theoretical,” Conversica CEO Alex Terry told Fortune. A demo given by Vinfield of AI Assist, demonstrated that its artificial intelligence can communicate with merchants over emails in a way that is indistinguishable from a human. According to Fortune, Terry said the sales assistant software has proven so effective for some customers that recruiters have even mistaken the software for a human and tried to make a hire. Other contacts have sent in thank-you notes and flowers, he added.

Conversica has raised more than $56 million since inception. Providence, who led the Series B round, also owns stakes in Hulu and the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network (YES Network). Conversica’s technology is only available to this industry via AI Assist.

Google To Shut Down Financial Products Comparison Site

February 23, 2016
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GoogleAnother Google product bites the dust.

The tech giant plans to shut down Google Compare on March 23rd 2016, a tool which let users compare financial products like credit cards, mortgages and insurance.

The service which has been active in the UK since 2012, was launched in the US as Google Advisor last year and allowed customers to get quotes on financial products. Despite having launched with partners like Zillow and Lending Tree for mortgage products, the service didn’t do much for the company in terms of revenue.

In its letter to partners, the company noted, “Despite people turning to Google for financial services information, the Google Compare service itself hasn’t driven the success we hoped for.”

Exponential Finance

June 15, 2014
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DailyFunder Exponential FinanceLast week, DailyFunder was a media sponsor of Exponential Finance presented by Singularity University & CNBC. It was a totally different atmosphere from some of the other events I’ve been to this year already (Transact 14, LendIt, etc.). In the upcoming July/August issue of DailyFunder magazine, I’ve got a column that summarizes the event that I think you’ll like.

Exponential Finance brought together leading experts to inform financial services leaders how technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, crowdfunding, digital currencies, and robotics are impacting business. And my mind = blown.

DailyFunder Exponential Finance

Some tweets to hold you over:

Robots are going to steal your finance job:

I also had the chance to do a Q&A with a longtime prominent U.S. Congressman. The next issue should be available in about 3 weeks.

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:

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.