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SAFE Banking for Cannabis Businesses Do-Over

March 18, 2021
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Cannabis MoneyA bi-partisan group of congress members plans to reintroduced the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to the House floor, legislation that would protect financial institutions from sanctions for working with marijuana companies.

Representatives Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Steve Stivers (R-OH), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), and Warren Davidson (R-OH) joined together supporting the bill, aiming to better align federal and state laws.

“Thousands of employees and businesses across this country have been forced to deal in piles of cash for far too long,” said Rep. Perlmutter. “The SAFE Banking Act is an important first step to treating cannabis businesses like legal, legitimate businesses and beginning to reform our federal cannabis laws.”

Though legal in a growing number of states and available for recreational use for over a third of Americans, weed is still a class one drug under federal law. Based on that label, federal regulations have kept firms from providing capital, banking, and other financial products to weed companies: it’s hard to scale a business when it’s cash-only.

Representatives hope to give safe harbor to firms to transact with the weed industry if they follow state regulations. The bill first went through the house in September 2019 and passing with flying colors in a 321-103 vote. Then the pandemic hit and muddled up the Senate vote, but after pro cannabis language landed in two stimulus bills, supporters are even more confident this time around.

“At a time when small businesses need all the support they can get, and after cannabis businesses specifically have been providing essential services and generating significant tax revenues for states and the federal government with little to no financial relief, it is more imperative than ever to get the SAFE Banking Act passed into law,” Aaron Smith, the CEO of the National Cannabis Industry Association said. “These businesses are contributing billions of dollars to the national economy every year and need to be treated like any other legal, regulated industry.”

MSU Spartans Presented by Rocket Mortgage

March 15, 2021
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rocket mortgage msuMarch Madness began with Mortgage madness, in line with 2021. College Basketball fans came to a boil last week when the Michigan Spartans briefly rebranded to a longer name, MSU Spartans Presented by Rocket Mortgage.

Fans immediately took to Twitter to complain, as competitors imagined if their beloved teams were also suddenly named after fintech companies. Shortly after, Michigan released a statement claiming they would not be changing their name:

STATEMENT FROM MSU ATHLETICS (MARCH 12):
Michigan State is not renaming its men’s basketball team. While this is a new extension of the partnership for Rocket Mortgage with Men’s Basketball, this is not a first-of-its-kind sponsorship for the Spartans or a new concept in professional or collegiate team partnerships.

Though as some users and news media pointed out, the suffix will still be attached to the team name everywhere at its home games: the rollback is semantics, Rocket Mortgage will still be included in the name, and the logo will appear across the stadium.

“Michigan State University is very important to our company. It is the alma mater of our Founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert, me, and many team members throughout our organization,” Rocket CEO Jay Farner said. “We are honored to contribute to the university that has prepared so many of us for success.”

Strapped for cash, the Detroit Free Press reported the Michigan athletic department is projected to lose $75 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yahoo Sports writer Jack Baer said that when sports teams take on a corporate name, like the New York Red Bulls, “the business in question actually owns the team rather than giving them millions of dollars to slap their name onto a scoreboard and promotions. In that respect, the MSU Spartans Presented by Rocket Mortgage would be something akin to a little league team getting some help from a local business.”

Rocket Co-founder, Dan Gilbert, has previously donated at least $15 Million to Michigan’s athletics program, overhauling the Breslin Center stadium. Now his Rocket Companies logo will appear everywhere throughout the building.

Some fans still poked fun after the school walked back its original announcement.

LoanMe, Liberty Tax Merger to Take on Intuit, Enova

February 22, 2021
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NextPoint Financial will combine LoanMe’s business, consumer, and mortgage lending with Liberty Tax’s tax preparation business, according to merger announced on Monday. Liberty’s “2,700+ locations in the US and Canada” will become consumer and SMB loan shops.

The new firm will also offer Merchant Cash Advances; LoanMe launched MCA funding in January and expects to fund $15 million in MCAs in 2021. Based on the acquisition prospectus, NextPoint will be a tax readiness firm, with the added suite of financial products as a value and growth builder.

Ramping up consumer, installment, and MCA lending, paired with the third-largest tax-prep business in the U.S, NextPoint expects to compete directly with Intuit, H&R Block, Enova, and Elevate.

Fintech firms are setting themselves apart from the competition as one-stop shops for everything a business needs, including MCA products. Why branch into financial services now? NextPoint found that this year alt lenders have outperformed the S&P500 three times over.

“We are a one-stop financial services destination empowering hardworking and credit-challenged consumers and small businesses,” the investor presentation reads. “To get to the next point in their financial futures.”

Intuit offers a variety of financial products, like business loans through Quickbooks Capital, alongside their popular, 60%+ market share of tax prep software. H&R began offering small $1,000 lines of credit this year, but not much more.

The team leading the new company, NextPoint Financial, will feature execs like Brent Turner as CEO, Mike Piper CFO, both keeping their previous Liberty Tax positions. Jonathan Williams, former president and founding shareholder of LoanMe, will become president of lending.

Game Stopped? Short Selling, Social Media, and Retail Investors Collided in House Hearing

February 21, 2021
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GameStopNearly a month after the GameStop (GME) stock price shot halfway to the moon, the House Committee on Financial Services gathered representatives from the trading conflict in a hearing to examine what happened.

The focus was on a struggle between big institutional money and retail, everyday investors. Armed with nothing but zero-commission investment apps, government stimulus, and with nothing to do but sit at home waiting for a pandemic to end, retail traders exploded onto the securities markets. One of the results was a dramatic rise and fall of GME at the end of January.

Vlad Tenev, the Robinhood app’s co-founder, faced the highest number of questions after the firm blocked trading of GME on January 28th. Across the videocall-octagon was Keith Gill, a r/WallStreetBets retail investor long on GME since the summer, known by some as u/DeepFuckingValue.

With his signature headband hanging in the background, sitting in a gaming chair, Gill donned an uncharacteristic suit and tie while representing himself as a stand-in for the millions of retail investors who were along for the ride.

His message: he is no expert, is not responsible for the volatility of a multi-billion dollar securities market, and after everything, he still likes the stock.

“I support retail investors right to invest in what they want when they want to,” Gill said. “I do not have clients, and I do not provide personalized investment advice for fees or commissions. I am an individual investor.”

Gill went on in his testimony to state that his posts and video appearances about GME to other investors were not trading advice and no different than talking in a bar about a stock he liked.

Before the run-up of GME, Gill had a small audience of around 500 viewers. After GME started gaining ground, Gills’s online popularity exploded alongside the Reddit stock betting forum r/WallStreetBets.

Gill gained hundreds of thousands of followers, while WSB saw a rise of 8 million members in just one week. In the end, his positions in the stock earned him $22 million, as he shared with his extended family over the holidays, “we’re millionaires.” Many were not as lucky, and some have looked toward social influencers like Gill as speculators and market manipulators.

The Congressional Committee were light on their interrogation of Gill, acknowledging the importance of protecting retail investor rights. In challenging Tenev of Robinhood, Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters set the tone, stating: “The market volatility around GameStop has highlighted how many people believe the cards are stacked against them.”

Waters asked numerous yes or no questions to Robinhood’s Tenev, who could only respond with drawn-out statements. Overall, the fintech founder was apologetic but still insisted Robinhood did nothing wrong and does not answer to hedge funds.

“Look, I’m sorry for what happened, and I apologize. I’m not going to say Robinhood hasn’t made mistakes in the past,” Tenev said. “We’re going to learn from this and make sure it doesn’t make the same mistake in the future.”

At the height of the trading frenzy Thursday, January 28th, Robinhood suddenly restricted the purchase of GME and other “meme” stocks and only allowed selling. Demand plummeted because, despite problems in the past, Robinhood is still a favorite in the r/WallStreetBets community. Prices roller coasted downward. From a high of $468/share, the GME price dropped down to trading in the $40 range in the month that followed.

Tenev was explaining his financial responsibilities to clearinghouses as a brokerage firm.

On the morning of January 28th, Robinhood suddenly received an email from a subsidiary of the DTCC, holder of all U.S. traded securities. It asked for an increase of $3 billion to ensure Robinhood could back the explosion of GME trading, an astronomical price. Robinhood complied by shutting down buying, offering sell-only, bringing the insurance price down to more than $700 million. The firm also reached out to existing investors to raise billions in capital, yet Tenev still insists there was never a liquidity problem.

Representing traditional, “smart money” investors was Ken Griffin of Chicago hedge-fund Citadel LLC and market-maker Citadel Securities, known for its short-selling positions. Alongside was Gabe Plotkin, the founder of Melvin Capital, a hedge fund with many short positions in GME, lost $6 billion in just 20 trading days. During the crazy trading week, Melvin was offered $2.7 billion in new investment from Citidel funds after losing 30% of its value.

Citadel is also a prime market maker for Robinhood, completing many of the app’s trades. Some, including those house members lobbing questions, saw a firm that self describes its mission as “to democratize investing,” cut out the poor and give to the rich. It looked like a collaboration between a major investor making up for losses due to app trading while retail investors were left out.

Chair member Blaine Luetkemeyer, a Republican from Missouri, expressed his concern that GME had been an over shorted stock and that “naked shorting” drove the price down.

“You have stated in your testimony that you had no intention of manipulating the stock,” he said. “If you’re short selling your stock 140%, for me from the outside, that looks like what you’re doing.”

Both Citidel and Melvin Capital representatives said there was no collusion to drive the price down, no over shorting, and no buy-out when the short positions failed.

The end of Gills’ testimony, read in front of a “hang in there” cat poster summed up the hearing well.

“It’s alarming how little we know about the inner-workings of the market, and I am thankful that this Committee is examining what happened,” He wrote. “I’m as bullish as I’ve ever been on a potential turnaround. In short, I like the stock.”

The New Largest Merchant Cash Advance in History: $90 million +

September 9, 2020
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The largest merchant cash advance in history (at $40 million), first publicly disclosed in 2018, has been outdone. On Tuesday, the Receiver in the Par Funding SEC case revealed that its largest customer had outstanding purchased receivables of $91.3 million. The customer is an office and cleaning supply company based on Long Island. The amount is now the largest known merchant cash advance deal in history.

Par’s second largest customer had outstanding purchased receivables of $35 million.

Par’s total receivables are estimated to be $420 million. $228.8 million of it stems from just 10 customers including the two referenced above, according to a recently filed report.

How NYC Fintech Women is Keeping its Community Going in a Pandemic

May 23, 2020
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NYC Fintech WomenHow does a community of people continue to support each other and network in a pandemic? What is lost when in-person meet ups are replaced by stop-start Zoom conversations? Do geographical limits even exist anymore when everyone is bound to their homes? These are the questions that NYC Fintech Women are dealing with now.

Founded in 2017, NYC Fintech Women is an organization of roughly 5,000 members that aims to provide its members with the opportunity to build a web of connections that might otherwise be out of reach. Open to both men and women, the group revolved around regular gatherings that afforded the chance to rub shoulders with both those entrenched in fintech as well as figures from institutional finance. Ranging from mid-tier employees all the way up to executives, the organization encompasses a broad section of those working in the intersection of finance and technology.

Born out of the frustration that Founder Michelle Tran felt when trying to locate fintech people at New York events which largely catered to institutional and traditional finance, the plan for the organization was two-pronged: get all these fintech types together for easier communication while also creating an environment that will allow women to “build their own board.”

Described by Tran as part of Fintech Women’s ethos, the idea is that you’ll have to build your own team if you’re going to get anywhere. “You really need to build your own personal board in order for any type of career advancement,” Tran explained over a call. “So making sure you’re pulling in the right leaders, the right support systems that are also diverse, and the best way to do that is to have a strong network of people at your fingertips.”

And it’s this ethos as well as the social aspects of community that have been challenged by the pandemic. But determined not to let covid-19 get the best of what the organization has become in the past three years, the group has been forced to adapt.

Like the rest of us, telecommunication is being brought in to replace what once came naturally. Slack will offer the chance to chat as a large group, smaller coffee chats will replace the opportunities to talk amongst peers, and a mentoring program launched in January is in the process of being turned fully virtual. And as well as these developments, the decision to expand beyond New York, a move that’s been on Tran’s mind for a while, is now looking more likely as events go online, removing the barriers that come with location.

“It’s a bit harder to just meet somebody, but we’re going to facilitate a number of different platforms in order to do that,” Tran said. “That’s one of the things that we continue to say is really important, and I think that’s what a lot of people miss too, as we’re all sitting alone in our home or with our families. We missed that engagement that we have with others, so we’re finding ways to do that.”

Robinhood Goes Down Three Times in One Week, And The Timing Couldn’t Be Worse

March 10, 2020
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robinhoodThe free stock trading app Robinhood has gone down three times in the last week, causing angst and legal challenges from customers at a time when the US stock market is tanking. Stemming from uncertainty instilled by the coronavirus as well as worries over Saudi-Russia oil relations, the Dow Jones Index Average had dropped by 2,013 points at market close; the S&P 500 by 7.6%; and the Nasdaq by 7.29%.

Robinhood’s first outage was on Monday, March 2. Lasting only a few minutes, the loss of service coincided with the biggest one-day point gain of the Dow in history. The second came the next day, lasting two hours after the Federal Reserve announced a cut of 0.5% to interest rates.

The Sarasota-based tech giant’s co-CEOs released a statement that Tuesday on the company’s blog placing blame for the outages on their overstressed infrastructure. They claimed that their servers struggled with an “unprecedented load” that led to a “‘thundering herd’ effect—triggering a failure of our DNS system.”

The company has yet to release a statement explaining the third service blackout today, which took place during a period that saw the stock exchange pause trading for 15 minutes to prevent a freefall.

In response, Robinhood customers are threatening legal action. Numerous Twitter accounts have popped up under the name ‘Robinhood Class Action,’ or as some variation of this, with the largest of these having over 7,500 followers at the time this article was published. Travis Taaffe of Florida filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday on behalf of himself and other traders, claiming that Robinhood was negligent and in breach of contract by failing to “provide a functioning platform” for traders, rendering them unable to move stocks.

Having 10 million customers, the company could be facing a lot of claims. As of last week, Robinhood has been offering its Gold members three months of the subscription for free. The price of this would amount to $15 dollars altogether; and the second cost of the subscription, 5% yearly interest on borrowing above $1,000, will not be waived as part of this compensation. Robinhood has described this offer as a “first step.”

United Capital Source Placed $199M In Deals In 2019

January 5, 2020
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Jared WeitzUnited Capital Source, a commercial finance brokerage based in New York, placed 3,883 deals in 2019 for a grand funding total of $199.3 million. Company CEO Jared Weitz said on LinkedIn of the milestone, “Our employees all saw growth (again) this year both professionally and personally. As we come into 2020 we are going into our 10th year of business!!!!! I cannot wait to see what these next year(s) hold for us. I’m so thankful for our Funding Partners and most of all our wonderful staff.”

Weitz is scheduled to speak at deBanked CONNECT MIAMI on January 16th at the Loews Hotel on a panel discussion about how to make money in 2020.