I don’t know Ami Kassar personally, but I read the articles in his NY Times blog, a column dedicated to chastising merchant cash advance companies. In it he yearns for the glory days of 10 year loans at 8% interest for local mom and pop shops. Having been a broker for 3 years myself, believe me when I say I wish rates were lower and terms were longer. It’d be an easier sell. But having also been a very senior underwriter and risk manager, I know exactly why the terms are what they are.
The below post was intended to be a comment on Ami’s latest post, Assessing a Kevin O’Leary Investment on Shark Tank, but it shattered the 1,500 character limit so I’m posting it here. As it was intended to be a comment and not its own post, I did not expand or delve into as much as I wanted.
We get it. You don’t think expensive capital is right or moral and in a perfect world where small businesses have perfect credit and a 0% likelihood of delinquency or default, there probably wouldn’t be a merchant cash advance industry.
Unfortunately, the reality is that many small businesses are high risk borrowers for one reason or another. This isn’t because a bank says so but because there is substantial data that shows there is a high likelihood of delinquency or default. Almost all of the small businesses that existed in my neighborhood 25 years ago are gone. They were replaced by new businesses, which were replaced by new businesses, which were replaced by new businesses. To say that a store with 2 years in business and 700 credit in my neighborhood is a safe long term investment would be a huge mistake. Residents tired of eating the same food, local bars lost their cool factor, the CD store got replaced by digital downloading, the supermarket got replaced by one that only sold organic food, and Blockbuster Video is gone. The Exxon became Shell which turned into Gulf which got torn down and rebuilt as a bank. New extensions to a mall 3 miles away damaged 40+ retail businesses on Main Street. A failed health inspection killed a restaurant, bad Yelp reviews killed the bowling alley, and the 78 year old master tailor didn’t relate to the new generation of residents. A flood closed a clothing store for 2 months, a fire killed a coffee shop, and a hurricane wiped away a strip mall.
Shall I keep going? Partners had a falling out, a son ran his father’s cafe into the ground, development killed a farm stand, and increasing rent put a barbershop over the edge.
I’m not knocking small business, just acknowledging that it’s one of the toughest things in this country to manage. God bless the people that try and especially the ones that last decades.
You know what else happens with a lot of small businesses? They declare losses for tax purposes and make organizing financial documents secondary to all else. To a lender, there is a layer of risk built upon a mountain of risk.
You cited IOU Central as a shining example of rate fairness, but failed to acknowledge that they are wildly unprofitable and have teetered on the brink of insolvency for a year. IOU Central is a publicly traded company and I mean them no disrespect, but check out their books. Lending isn’t supposed to be charity.
SBA loans and defaults are synonymous with each other. It’s great for businesses, but the poor economics of them fall on the taxpayers.
There is this belief that merchant cash advance companies are predatory, but the rates they charge are what the market has priced as sustainable for both parties. There’s more than a hundred funding companies offering the same product. You want to know why the competition hasn’t dropped rates to 10% APR yet? It’s because they’d all be out of business. Rates have come down a little bit, but there is only so far they can drop. Small business is risky business.
As a broker out on the street shaking the wary hands of shop owners, I understand your frustration with the high cost. Believe me, the merchant cash advance companies wish they could lower the prices too. Some have done so at their own peril and closed up shop. Others are on their way to that point now. Would you rather only a tiny fraction of small businesses get non-bank financing at a rate in line with your comfort level and let the rest burn? Small businesses of all credit types and financial standings for years have cried, “HEY, WHAT ABOUT US?!” and in response, private companies made access to capital possible. Often times the money is expensive, very expensive. You are concerned that small business owners are making a mistake when they enter into these agreements yet you admittedly lock them into these deals yourself. It seems as though some of your clients would rather have the opportunity to do something positive with expensive money than have no opportunity at all.
I can think of few things tougher than running a small business. The way my old neighborhood looks today is proof of that. I barely recognize the place. You know what wasn’t around 25 years ago? Merchant cash advance companies. Who knows what would’ve happened if they all had access to capital despite a less than stellar credit rating. Some of those stores may have grew, evolved with the changing times, or become franchises. Things might’ve been different. We all want lower rates, sincerely we do. Competition will drive it down as far as it can go and there’s plenty of that today. Once we hit the floor, if we’re not there already, you will have to ask yourself this question. Are you living in a perfect world or the real one? Let the small businesses decide if the opportunity they’re given is one they want to take.
WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED TO THE MERCHANT PROCESSING RESOURCE?
We’ve had a lot of design changes implemented to our site in the last year. We hope this is the last one. Thank you for your patience!
Bottom line: Our previous web host sucked (Webs.com). Their dns servers were always down late at night and on weekends for “maintenance.” Their site building tools would crash 90% of the time and their technology is so old that it was impossible to do pretty much anything other than post a blog.
So we found new hosting and prepared ourselves to move the site in its original format but Webs.com disabled our access to FTP, making it impossible to retrieve our files. It appears they did this to discourage us from leaving them. That was the last straw.
So without FTP access, we were stuck with figuring out how to move thousands and thousands of pages. Not to mention, we figured out that Webs was hosting many files remotely, so we wouldn’t have been able to access most of our content anyway.
We got creative and reverted back to primitive programming on the OS X unix terminal, using curl –O commands against our sitemap to download our site through http into individual files.
So now we have the raw data, but the CSS stylesheets are gone. That means the pages are up but they’re styled like it’s 1994. Ugly, ugly, ugly.
In the next week (that’s what we say but it will probably take longer), we intend to repost that content into our wordpress theme. The old files will probably be given a 301 redirect to prevent ’404 File not found’ errors for indexed urls.
deBanked has big plans for the rest of 2011 and 2012, especially with the amount of traffic we were getting while using the old, useless format.
In the meantime, you can forward all questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Update 8/24 All old articles have been republished to the site in a readable format. Their dates/timestamps are still wrong but the original urls are intact.
We check our site’s inbox once a day and usually receive some compliments, feedback, or industry secrets. But over the last two days, more than 15 people e-mailed us this link: The End of Credit Cards is Coming. This was followed by a barrage of comments such as “Does this mean the end of the Merchant Cash Advance industry as well?” or “It looks like your site topics are going to be obsolete.”
If any industry is poised to take a hit as a result of this “payment evolution”, it’s likely to be the manufacturers of plastic and magnetic strips. (The companies that make the cool shiny holograms on the back may also suffer.) If you actually READ through the article, it discusses an industry progression towards contactless payments. A contactless payment is still an electronic payment and it involves the same networks and banks. Saying the declined use of physical rectangular plastic cards will result in the end of the electronic payments industry as whole is like saying that the less frequent use of flutes and banjos will result in the end of music.
All sarcasm aside, this progression towards contactless payments indicates the merchant processing industry is on the verge of an explosive rebirth. Here’s why:
Equipment Sales and Leases
New technology to accept contactless payments will be required. If plastic cards are slowly phased out, retailers will have absolutely no choice but to purchase or lease equipment to accept contactless payments. (Sales and Leasing boom)
Increased Interchange profits for banks
The growth of contactless payments will likely cause Visa and MasterCard to increase certain interchange categories. They will rationalize this by providing proof that contactless security costs more.
New Payment Networks
Every merchant needs to accept both Visa and MasterCard branded cards in order to survive. In some regions of the country, it’s also important to accept American Express. Though American Express charges merchants more, they can’t afford not to have it. That being said, the above referenced article mentions the formation of a new super power payment network called ISIS to rival the current players. ISIS was formed by AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Discover and Barclays Bank. Since ISIS is indepedent from the other payment networks, they will be able to create their own “interchange” and cost structure. I am inclined to believe that costs will not be lower than what’s commonplace in the current marketplace.
Increased Electronic Payments Usage
For the past 4 years, we’ve been lectured repeatedly by the government, teachers, and financial experts that credit cards are bad. During that same time period, we’ve also celebrated the importance and efficiency that phones/smart phones have brought into our lives. Blackberries, iPhones, Droids, texting, apps, skype, and wireless internet are the bread and butter of our daily lives. So what is the public inclined to infer with phones capable of making electronic payments?
- Credit Cards Payments Bad
- Smart Phone Payments Good
As long as Smart Phone is Good, consumers don’t need to feel guilty over their usage of credit. I’m sure we’ve all seen the debt counseling talk shows where they take an out of control spending housewife and force her to cut up her credit cards. She cries a little, acknowledges her problem, and then in a symbolic gesture of triumph, cuts up her cards. The entire charade portrays the plastic card as the perpetrator of the woman’s debt problems. One thing I don’t expect to see any time soon is a woman being lectured by a debt counselor to smash her iPhone with a hammer to stop her out of control spending. “In order to conquer your debt, I want you to go home and burn all 5 of the Droids on your family plan.”
BECOME DEBT FREE
Join the thousands of people who are breaking their scissors on their phones, buying new scissors, and then smashing their phones with a hammer. Say “Forget it to Credit” because there’s no app for your spending problems!
Those rectangular plastic cards may be on their way out but contactless payments are going to bring billions to the merchant processing industry. Happy processing!