Is Marketplace Lending Right for Your Small Business?

The Hartford

Are you having a difficult time securing a loan for your small business? Then, perhaps it’s time to think beyond traditional banks and explore marketplace lending. With marketplace lending, business owners who normally don’t qualify for loans can connect with thousands of potential investors simply by applying to an online platform. In this episode, Gene Marks and Lendio CEO, Brock Blake, discuss how small business owners can utilize marketplace lending to find their ideal loan product or program.

Executive Summary

0:29—Today’s Topic: How Do I Use Marketplace Lending to Finance My Small Business?

1:03—If you are looking for some alternatives to traditional bank financing, there are many online marketplaces that are specifically designed to connect small business owners with a suitable lender or lending company.

4:10—In order to foster a long term relationship, a legitimate lending marketplace will do everything in its power to match you with the right lender.

6:37—Keep in mind that you will need to disclose personal information regarding your credit history and financial situation when you apply to both the lending marketplace and your prospective investors.

7:52—Due to the sheer volume of loan products and programs available on its platform, small business owners are more likely to get approved for a loan through a lending marketplace than at a bank.

9:26—A reputable lending marketplace will never charge a business owner for its services. These platforms typically receive payment from the lender once the loan closes.

10:03—While many banks still require a lot of paperwork to apply for a loan, technological advances in the online lending marketplace have made the entire application process faster and more efficient than ever.

18:11—The restrictions of this pandemic have changed the way that business owners interact with their banks; banks that are unable to evolve with their client base will not be able to stay competitive.

21:13—When researching online lenders, find one that treats its customers well and can effectively price risk. Don’t base your decision entirely on interest rates.

24:02—There are three steps every business owner must take before proceeding with a loan: they must educate themselves on the details of the loan; they should have a clear understanding of all their available loan options; and they must perform a ROI (Return On Investment) calculation.

26:44—Despite the economic upheaval caused by the pandemic, loan approval rates are starting to pick up again.

Links

Transcript

The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only and solely those of the podcast participants, contributors and guests and do not constitute an endorsement by or necessarily represent the views of the Hartford or its affiliates.

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Gene: Hello, everybody, this is Gene Marks and welcome back to the Small Biz Ahead podcast from the Hartford. Very glad that you can join us and today we have a very, very special guest on with me. Brock Blake, who’s the CEO and founder of Lendio at lendio.com, a company that I’ve long been a fan of. Lendio is a small business loan marketplace in the United States. Small business owners utilize Lendio’s free online service to find financing by browsing multiple loan products from a network of lenders. And Brock, you’ve been CEO and founder. How long have you been doing this?

Brock: Well, we founded the company in 2011, so we’re coming up on our 10 year anniversary.

Gene: Oh, you’re getting old.

Brock: I know, right?

Gene: First of all, tell me a little bit about Lendio. I mean, I gave the overall description about it being a finance and loan marketplace. What exactly does that mean?

Brock: Yeah, well, first of all, thanks for having me on, Gene. I love what you’re doing for small business owners. Big fan of yours, and the Hartford as well. So, Lendio is the largest marketplace in the United States for small business loans. So if you think of the way you use Yelp for restaurants or you might use Expedia for hotels, you go and you comparison shop and look for kind of the best option. We provide that type of service to business owners to help them comparison shop loan products from over a couple of hundred lenders in the United States. So you come to Lendio. It’s a free application. You sign up. We do a soft pull on credit and we pull bank data, we pull a bunch of other data, and we use that to match you up to several of our lenders. We send the application off to the lender base. They’ll underwrite it and then send back to us an offer.

Brock: And then we present those offers to that business owner in a way they can comparison shop the rate, the term, the payment amount, whatnot. Choose the product that is the best fit for them and their situation. It’s across every type of business loan product. So we have lines of credit and SBA loans and working capital loans and equipment loans and commercial real estate loans and all of the above. And at Lendio, we say it’s our passion. It’s fueling the American dream, meaning that you’ve got these millions of small business owners that have this idea to grow or start or expand their business, but they need the capital to do it. We help make that easy for them and we’ve done it. We’ve now funded over $10 billion of loans, a couple, probably 250,000 businesses that we’ve now helped to secure financing. And so, that’s a little bit about what we do.

Gene: Sure. So if I get a loan through Lendio though, at some point you hand me off to the bank or the financial services company and I’m just dealing directly with them or am I always going to be making my payments or having a relationship with Lendio?

Brock: Yeah. Great question. So, while you’re deciding which loan… We’re not leeches, you’re not going to sign up with us and then all of a sudden your cell phone’s going to get bombarded by a bunch of people calling you and trying to pitch you and whatnot. I hate that experience. It’s horrible. And there are a lot of players that do that. What we do is, we hand hold that business owner through our technology and our team to guide you through the process and you’re only going to interact with the lender once you choose the product that you fit the best and then we help you get the deal funded. But the actual loan and the servicing and everything, once the loan is funded, it’s done through the lender, not through Lendio.

Gene: Got it. So, is it insulting to call you a broker of loans? Or do you consider that-

Brock: I’ll take a little bit of offense to that. No, I’m just kidding. I guess you could say, we like to call it a marketplace, but yeah. At the end of the day, we’re putting the two together. We’re not the lender ourselves.

Gene: Got it. And what do you do if a business owner… I mean, Brock, we are all very untrusting, cynical people, look at your service and be like, “Ah, he’s probably just pushing us to lenders that they have a relationship with or getting a kickback or some type of commission.” Or whatever, but how do you respond to that when a customer brings up that issue?

Brock: Yeah, that’s a fair question. So, first off, the thing I would have you do is just Google Lendio reviews. We have over 10,000 five-star reviews, we’re rated across every site, pretty much 4.9 out of five. And so, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can go and see what other people have to say about the experience. But secondly, we also understand that our goal is to build a long-term relationship with that business owner. And if it’s a one and done, we help you get a loan and then you move on, our brand is not going to grow and you’re not going to ever come back. You’re not going to tell people that. And we’re trying to build a long-term, sustainable business. The model only works if we have a customer come back to us and get second, third, fourth, and fifth loan.

Brock: So all of our technology, our matching algorithm really is built off of, what is the loan that the borrower’s most likely to choose? Meaning if you had 10 options, which loan product out of the 10 is going to be the best choice for you? And we optimize around that. And how we do that is we say, let’s say, you’re a restaurant in Arizona. We look at the other 500 restaurants in Arizona that we’ve funded. Maybe it’s 500, maybe it’s 1,000, maybe it’s 10,000.

Brock: And we said, when presented the choice, which lenders did they choose the most frequently? Not which ones did they get approved by? Because that’s a different metric. Which ones did they choose most frequently? And then those get rated the highest and part of our matching algorithm is built around that. So anyways, our whole approach is, take good care of that business owner and you’ll earn their trust. And they’ll come back to you again and again and again, because once they realize that the marketplace experience is so much easier than going out and applying to banks on your own, if you take good care of them, they’ll come back to you.

Gene: Okay. Got it. How do you guys protect against fraud from the small business owner? I mean, just submitting that information.

Brock: Yeah. So there is a few things that we do. We work in tandem with our lender. No one wants to be able to have fraud happening, right? And the nice thing about working with Lendio is, it’s another layer. We are pulling credit on the borrower. We’re pulling bank data directly from the bank account. We’re pulling Google data. We’re doing other… They call it KYC or know your customer fraud checks. We do that before we even match it up to a lender. And then the lender then goes through and does a second round of deeper and additional checks. And so, we’re both incentivized to be able to prevent fraud and reduce that. And so, it’s just a part of our process. And we’re very, very proud of the numbers. In other words, the cases of fraud dramatically decreased through Lendio than if they’re going direct to the lender.

Gene: Got it.

Brock: Because of those additional layers.

Gene: If I’m applying for a loan through Lendio, do you think I have a greater chance of getting that loan than if I were doing this on my own?

Brock: No question. We’ll increase your chances three to five times to if you’re doing it on your own. And the reason why is this, a lot of times, business owners think a bank is a bank is a bank. They all are the same. They all have the same loan products. Now, if I’ve banked with this bank for 10 years, if anyone’s going to give me a loan, it’s going to be my bank. What they don’t realize is that there’s a lot of loan products and banks usually focus on one or two. They may say, we’re really good at equipment, or we’re really good at SBA, or we’re only going to do credit cards, whatever. And so, you go and apply for a loan at your bank. They offer credit cards, you’re looking for an equipment loan. They decline you. And you think, well, man, if that bank’s not going to give me a loan, no one will.

Gene: Right.

Brock: The reality is, it’s like you went to a Chinese restaurant asking for a hamburger. You just went to the wrong place. And so, when Lendio, when we have 100 lenders on our platform, and we’re looking at every loan product across every geography and every industry, and every situation. The chances of us finding lenders that fit what you’re looking for or maybe a loan product you’d never even considered, that you didn’t even think about, but we got you approved for, because of the marketplace and the various lenders and loan products we have.

Gene: And who pays for this? Is this a cost that’s assumed by the bank for connecting them to a customer?

Brock: No, it’s free for the business owner and there’s no hidden anything. You’re never going to be paying Lendio. We get paid by the lender when a loan closes. So, we have every incentive to help you find, regardless of the lender, finding the right loan product and we get paid, if you get funded. And if there’s not a product that you’re happy with, then that’s fine. We’re going to do our best to try and get you the product that fits you the best.

Gene: So Brock, tell me, I mean, you’ve been doing this since 2011, so it’s a long time. How has the loan application and the financing environment changed since then? When I was applying for a loan in 2011 versus 2020, what’s the difference?

Brock: It’s significantly different. Wow, there’s been so much innovation over the last decade. First off, I mean, when you were applying for a loan back then, you were definitely going to be doing that through a paper-based application, in a branch.

Gene: You must think back at those years like it’s ancient history, right?

Brock: No question. And you were definitely going to be doing it through a bank. I mean, there were very few online lenders or anything like that. Since then, since 2011, we’ve had the rise of non-bank lenders, where there’s a lot of technology, there’s online applications, there’s automated underwriting. It’s a lot more efficient. It’s a lot easier. There’s a lot more lenders. Lenders are figuring out new ways to underwrite, leveraging new data. And so there are a lot more options for a borrower to choose from. And we’re at this point where most lenders, financial institutions… There’s still quite a few banks and credit unions that don’t accept an application online today.

Brock: I mean, it’s like they’re dinosaurs, it’s unbelievable. And it’s sad, honestly. Fortunately PPP and everything that’s happened with that. There’s a lot more urgency to be able to offer online loan application than there has been before and we’re excited about that opportunity.

Brock: But that’s kind of where we stand today. Most people, you can apply online. You can underwrite. You’re going to be able to underwrite the loan pretty efficiently. They’re going to be able to get back to you within a couple of days. Back then, it probably would have been three, four weeks before you’re able to get an answer on whether or not you were approved. It would go through loan committees and very human, manual based underwriting. A lot more of that is leveraging.

Brock: Nowadays, they can go and they can pull six months of bank data. They can analyze your cash flows. They can pull your credit card statements. They can pull credit. They can do all these things and they can use computers to analyze all that data and determine whether or not you’re qualified for the loan, which is great. Where this will go in a few years though, is you it’ll be… And one of the things that we’re working on is, we want to turn it to a scenario where the business owner actually doesn’t have to go and apply.

Brock: And what do I mean by that? If I’m a business owner and there was this overlaid, that’s always kind of monitoring my cashflow, that’s monitoring my credit, that’s monitoring in my invoices or other things that are key components. And it just always told me how much of a loan I am eligible for.

Gene: Right.

Brock: And so, today it might be I’m eligible for $10,000 and in 3 months, my revenue goes up and all of a sudden it says I’m eligible for $200,000. And it goes up and down and fluctuates with you as to help your business. So that when you need it, you could just say, I’m ready for a loan, accept it. And I don’t have to go and apply and fill out a paper based appli- I don’t fill out an application. It’s just kind of there. And I like to call it, always on. That’s where I anticipate this will go. And some of the things that we’re doing at Lendio are definitely kind of headed in that direction. And hopefully we’ll be able to create an experience for that business owner, where it becomes less of a headache and less of a hassle and less of this anxiety. And more of, this is just a tool for me to help me grow my business.

Gene: I mean, that kind of exists now already, when you have an existing banking relationship. I mean, if you have a working line of credit, you submit to your bank, here’s my receivables, my cash, my inventory levels. And based on a formula, the bank says, yeah, we’ll make this line of credit available for you. And it’s variable and it’ll change depending on the levels of those assets. So, is what you’re saying is that the data collection and the data access will be such that even if I don’t have a relationship with a financial services company, they will know enough about me to say, “Hey, Gene. We can offer you this amount of line of credit today, just immediately.” Right?

Brock: Yeah. Exactly. What you’re describing today. Just let me insert this real quick.

Gene: Yeah.

Brock: You still have to apply and you still have to do… They are doing periodic checks.

Gene: Yes, they are.

Brock: And so they’re saying, once a quarter, you have to submit to me an update.

Gene: Yes.

Brock: And you go, and you compile all that data and you send it in to them and they review it and they do the calculations and then they determine, okay, yeah, we’re going to maintain the line of credit. But what if you never had to submit? What if you never actually had to apply? What if it was just there? Because it’s always in the background, reviewing the data and doing the calculations and increasing and decreasing your capital available based on that data.

Gene: Yeah. What’s creepy about that is that, that means by definition, that I’ve got to give access to my data, to people outside of my world. Right? I mean, if I have a relationship with a banker, okay, I get it. And I’ll share my data with my banker because we’re kind of in bed together. But I think what you’re saying though, is that there’ll be people that I have no relationship with, that will somehow have access to my data so that they can offer this kind of financing to me. How are they going to have access to my data do you think?

Brock: Yeah. So let me clarify that. Now, in every scenario, you as the business owner have to be able to consent to be able to share any data that you share on all these loan applications. So there’s not going to be kind of bots out there that always have access to your financials or anything like that. You have a trusted relationship with your bank. You might have a trusted relationship with your counting provider. You have a trusted relationship…

Gene: Lendio. But with Lendio.

Brock: With Lendio, right?

Gene: I mean, if I have a trust issue with you and I say, listen, we’ve had a relationship before. Yeah, you can have access to my data. And based on your community and your channel of bankers, let me know what financing is out there. I’m open to any offers, right?

Brock: Right. Yep, exactly.

Gene: Got it. So, you mentioned before about how the banks are so… Some of them were just in the dark ages and PPP definitely, Paycheck Protection Program definitely pushed. It really did push a lot of bankers into the 19th century when it comes to dealing with online applications and all of that. All of this that you’re saying right now, are you seeing more of a trend of the smaller bankers finally getting it and moving up the technology food chain?

Brock: Well, yeah, PPP…

Gene: It’s got to be frustrating for you.

Brock: It is frustrating. I feel more for the business owner than anything, but banks have been talking about going digital for, how long? Decades. And it takes a worldwide pandemic where the business owner can’t leave their house and has no interest in going into the bank branch to finally push financial institutions to say, well, maybe I should offer this online.

Gene: Unbelievable.

Brock: And so, it is a little bit sad. Regardless of the reason why they’re finally doing it, they are finally doing it. They’re realizing… A lot of these smaller community banks, their expertise is not technology.

Gene: Right.

Brock: They’re not great at that. And so, they’re going and looking for off the shelf tools and technology that all will allow them to offer loans online. And there’s a big market to help those financial institutions with that. And the winner will be the business owner. The winner will be the financial institution as well. It’s just going to take them a little bit of a process. It’s going to take a little bit of investment to get there, but at least we’re getting there.

Gene: Yeah. What do you think, Brock, is going to happen to the banking industry going forward? I mean, you’ve got Sam’s Club offering bank accounts. Facebook is talking about doing that. Just, obviously there’s digital currencies that are out there, like Facebook’s Libra and obviously Bitcoin. You have, I don’t know, I’m thinking like your Capital One bank is now… You can get a cup of coffee and they have coffee shops with… And you can also open up a checking account.

Brock: Yeah.

Gene: I mean, do you think that banks will continue to have branches in the future? And how do you think small businesses will be banking five, seven years from now?

Brock: It is becoming a connected world, right? Where you’re connecting, wherever you live… Direct what I’m saying hypothetically live, online. Where you spend your time, is it in your email? Is it on your phone? Is it in Facebook? Is it in your counting tools? Or whatever. And wherever you spend your time is being connected to not only your social network, but your financial tools and networks. And I think some banks who do not embrace that technology evolution will likely be swallowed up by other larger players. And there’ll be consolidation in the industry. I think that the branch is not something… Usually, when I speak in front of an audience, I ask them, by the raise of hand, how many people have been inside their bank branch in the last 30 days? And the number of people that raise their hand is just a small handful in every scenario.

Gene: Sure.

Brock: No one wants to go into the branch. And so, how you build a relationship in other ways without actually requiring someone to go into the branch? And there’s other ways to build a relationship. Now, whether it’s through texting or whether it’s through Zoom or whether it’s through other ways. I think that a lot’s happening right now where you could, maybe you’ve got a relationship with your banker, is all done through texting and you can interact, I want to deposit this or I want to do that or. There’s just a lot more that we could do with technology and the financial system than what has been done in the past that was done in person. And so I’m not exactly sure what that will look like in seven years, but I do know that the amount of innovation in financial services and FinTech right now is really mind blowing. And it will be a very connected world. I mean, for me, that’s exciting. For others, it may be completely scary and they think, that’s going to be horrible, but it’s fun to think about.

Gene: What are your thoughts on online lenders Brock? There are companies out there that provide these short-term, even long-term loans, to small businesses, but at sometimes exorbitant interest rates. Do you think that they are a good resource for small businesses? Or do you think there are better options?

Brock: Well, listen. There are great online lenders and there are horrible online lenders. And there are great financial banks and there are horrible banks. And so, I wouldn’t put the category of online lenders into good or bad because there are both. Nor would I do the same thing with banks, because there are both. And I wouldn’t also say that just because a financial institution has high rates, that it is bad. It could be bad. It could be the worst thing ever. But let me give you an example. We’ve raised a lot of venture capital at Lendio. There is no loan that I could get out there that is going to be more expensive to me than the amount of, when I look at cost of capital, than raising venture capital.

Gene: Sure.

Brock: They’re taking ownership of my business. And when you look at it on that standpoint, it’s very expensive money. The more important question is, how does that lender treat the customer? And are they really pricing risk? What I mean by that. When a business owner goes to apply for a loan, there’s three things that they have to be able to kind of account for; their credit score, their cashflow and their collateral. If you can check the box on all three of those, then in the lenders eyes, you represent low risk and you’re going to have a low rate.

Gene: Right.

Brock: Now, if you only checked two of the three boxes, then in any lenders eyes, you’re going to be medium risk and medium rate. And if you only check one of those boxes, you’re going to be a higher risk. And it’s going to be a higher rate.

Brock: Some of the times people say, “Well, the high rate lenders are bad.” Well, they’re not bad. They’re pricing risk. And they’re providing an option to the business owner that they may not have otherwise had. Now, if you got rid of all the high rate lenders, now the only people that are getting a loan are low risk customers that maybe not need it. And that’s where we were 15, 20 years ago. There are some scenarios where the business owner… The high rate loan may be the best loan, the ROI decision you could’ve made, because I needed $5,000 to get this equipment. My revenue is going to increase by $10,000 a month. It’s a no brainer. That was worth the high risk. So it’s more about, the business owner needs to be educated on the details of the loan, one.

Brock: They need to, two, have choice. They need to be able to say, what are all the best options that I can have out there, so I can choose really the best option that that is out there and let the market price the risk. And then three, you need to be able to make a good ROI decision on it. So, if you’re doing this because you’re in a bad spot and a lender’s out there taking advantage of you. First of all, that’s a bad lender. But that’s a bad decision because you’re going to put yourself in a debt spiral. But if you can do an ROI calculation and say, okay, this is the best loan I have available for my risk profile. And I did my ROI calculation and actually, it’s really positive. That could be a very good decision for you to take that loan, pay it down, improve your credit profile, get to a medium risk profile, taking a loan, pay it down, and then get to a low risk profile. Does that make sense?

Gene: Yeah.

Brock: It’s all taken in context.

Gene: I have a client actually that, he was going to open up a coffee shop, right in downtown Philadelphia. It was a really great location. And he had to put down something like $10,000 or $15,000 to secure the shop. To secure the lease. And he just did not have the cash. And he got the money from an online lender because they have quick approval rates. And the annual interest rate was crazy. It was 50% or some crazy number like that. But he only needed it in a very short term… I mean, he turned around and paid it down within a few weeks, but he just needed the cash right away. And so, he paid a little bit of a higher fee, but it wasn’t 50% annualized. It was only for a few weeks. And that made total sense for him to do. And I think that, that kind of dovetails in with what you were saying.

Brock: Yeah. And I’m not trying to be an advocate for these… And not all online lenders have high rates by the way, but I’m not trying to be an advocate for it. I’m just saying that I don’t think it’s fair to kind of pigeonhole in every one of them to say they’re bad or high rate is bad. It could be. It could be horrible. But it also could be a really, really good business decision, just like raising venture capital could be. And again, those three things, make sure you educate yourself, make sure you have choice, that you’re looking at all the options of trying to get the best loan product available. And then three, make sure you do an ROI decision. If you do those things and you’re going into it with eyes wide open, it could be a really good decision.

Gene: All right. So Brock, we’re running out of time. But before I let you go, we’re recording this right now. We’re in the very beginning of December. We have a dark winter ahead for a lot of small businesses, as cases are rising. Congress is banding about stimulus bills. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but you’re running a business, a retail shop or restaurants. You’re looking at a few tough months. Give me some thoughts on the financing environment and where you would consider going to get some help to make it through until the springtime.

Brock: Well, I just feel for that business owner right now. I mean, it is a very difficult time and have a lot of empathy for what they’re going through or sympathy, I guess I would say. I would first and foremost hope that, in Washington, that they will quit playing politics. That it’s not red and blue and fighting over this or that, that goes in the CMOs package and say, these business owners are in a very difficult spot and it’s been months since PPP has been shut down. And they’ve gone through their two and a half months of capital with PPP and we need to get another stimulus package passed.

Gene: Right.

Brock: And that’s kind of, we’re advocating for that. Business owners need it. And there’s discussions today, but there’s been discussions for months and there’s just so much political agenda that’s pushing it off and it’s selfish, in my opinion. But anyways, I really hope that another round of the Paycheck Protection Program will be passed. And that’s first and foremost. Secondly, there are lenders now, during the pandemic, when the pandemic hit in March, the lender community really stopped lending. The reason why they did that is because they could not price risk. The rug was pulled out from under them. Now since March, till now, while it’s a new world, at least it’s a stable world. In other words, I can look at from March to now and review six to seven months of bank statements and cashflow. And I can know the stability of this business. Now, the revenue might be 50% what it was last year at this time, but at least it’s a stable 50% and I can underwrite it.

Gene: Sure.

Brock: So, the actual loan market, as far as lenders back in the market lending and being active is quite good. And we’re seeing positive trends of approval rates and loan options that are available to businesses. Now, there are certain industries that are… It’s going to be hard. If you’re in the hotel business or the theater business, it’s going to be hard. But if you have cashflow, you could still be able to get qualified for loans. I guess, if you’re in a tough spot, then I think I do believe that there will be another round of PPP and they might really be able to look at some bridge options to be able to say, okay, well, I’m going to take some money now and with the hopes of getting a PPP loan. But if you’re going to do that, make sure that you are considering that if the PPP net around never gets passed, that you still can support that financing. But there are quite a few options available, much better than there were four or five months ago.

Gene: Brock Blake is the CEO and founder of Lendio. Lendio is a small business loan marketplace in the U.S. Where small business owners utilize Lendio’s free online services to find financing by browsing multiple loan products from a network of lenders. Brock, thank you so much. I would love to have you back and talk to you. Sometime in the future, we’ll do another assessment of the financing marketplace and get some more advice from you, but thank you so much for joining us.

Brock: My pleasure. Thanks for having me on, Gene.

Gene: Sure thing. This is Gene Marks and this has been the Small Biz Ahead podcast from the Hartford. If you need more advice and help on running your small business, there’s lots of content and great, great information at smallbizahead.com. Thank you very much for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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