LendIt Fintech USA 2018, April 9-11 in San Francisco, was a huge success. One of the more interesting panels was on how the non-banking sector is taking over point-of-sale (POS) lending. Kim Gerhardt, director at the San Francisco office of Edgar, Dunn and Company, moderated the panel. Other panelists included Peter Kalen, Michael Garrity, Mark Lorimer, and Camilo Concha.
Kalen is founder and CEO of Flexiti Financial, a Canadian company founded in 2013 that specializes in providing easy, instant POS financing through its award-winning mobile application process.
Garrity is co-founder, CEO, and president of a platform that has enabled merchants to facilitate consumer lending since November 2010. Financeit has processed over $2.5 billion in loan applications from thousands of merchants.
Lorimer represents LendingPoint, a lending company founded in 2014 that focuses on personal loans and debt consolidation. He is chief marketing officer. LendingPoint recently acquired LoanHero, which is in the POS lending business.
Finally, Concha is founder and CEO of LendingUSA, a company that provides innovative financing solutions with a specialization in POS lending. LendingUSA was launched in 2013 and caters to consumer finance in a variety of sectors from medical, pet care, consumer goods and services, etc.
Over the years, the POS lending industry has gained scale and seen a radical change. A convergence can be witnessed in the way payments are made and fintech lending is facilitated. The opportunity in POS financing is massive, and banks seemed to have missed the ball. Traditional banks strive to serve everyone, but when it comes to POS lending, merchants have to filter their prospective customers through a narrow funnel extending loans to a comparatively small customer base.
Flexiti Financial’s Entry in POS Lending
When Peter Kalen was asked about what brought Flexiti Financial into the business, the product that it is offering, and the level of traction it has been able to create in the market among other merchants, he articulated that Flexiti’s product is somewhat similar to what Synchrony or Alliance Data System is offering. Flexiti differs in the way transactions take place and aims to reduce the time consumed in the loan application process.
Many organizations issue private label credit cards, but application processes are long and approval rates low. With its experience and vision, Flexiti Financial has successfully introduced a 100% paperless process to offer instant POS financing. Its virtual credit card application can be downloaded from the Google Play store and the Apple store.
These private label cards speed up the loan application process, bringing the process down to three minutes. This is a win-win for retailers and customers. The platform improves the online retailer’s UX by removing the friction at the front-end.
Financeit and Point of Sale Lending
Garrity also shared his views on point of sale lending. He put emphasis on the fact that personal lending is more about new transactions and focuses less on lending. Everything in POS lending, from the technology to APIs is obsessed with enabling easy sales for merchants, improving their experience, and supporting them as they try to close more business. Merchants and customers want financing options, but they do not want to indulge in complicated programs.
Another area that Financeit targets is debt consolidation. The company has delivered a platform that makes it easy for businesses to offer powerful financing options to their customers from any device.
When asked about how they excel at delivering services to customers, Garrity said they have acquired Centah Inc, a company operating in home improvement work-flow and lead management software with joint partner and investor Goldman Sachs. The company redesigned its website to create a platform that manages the process, helps businesses connect with customers, provide dispatch scheduling systems, and represent financing options to customers throughout the process. He warnes other players that if they only focus on financing and not on the transaction, they will be missing out on an important aspect of dominating this space.
LendingUSA’s Role in POS Lending
Gerhardt asked Concha about his journey into this industry. Concha shared that LendingUSA focuses on point-of-need financing, which sits at the intersection of point of sale and fintech. He believes that businesses in today’s era are not required to be good but great if they want to be successful, and they are required to be great in all aspects, namely, marketing, technology, underwriting, and risk mitigation.
Concha started with a company called 1800mysurgeon that matched cosmetic surgeons with consumers. After starting the company, he realized the need for financing as an important part of the business. He decided to create a platform to interact with both surgery and finance to enhance the merchant’s experience.
LendingPoint’s Emergence In POS Lending
LendingPoint started as a direct consumer online lender specializing in 600-700 FICO score customers. Lorimer emphasized that the company understood very early that customer experience is crucial to POS transactions. Although the players in the market now are very good at generating products that banks like to own, they do not necessarily focus on the merchandise. LendingPoint simplifies the lending process by sharing risk and administering payment plans. LendingPoint also offers merchants risk programs to extend in-house, end-to-end services.
Marketing With Established Merchants
All the banks playing in the market are working to deliver better services to customers in different ways. The biggest players historically are Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and Synchrony Financial. They all have significant relationships.
The question is whether these big banks can be a part of this game. Concha believes that banks are an important part of the ecosystem. These banks are good for purchasing loans but are constrained by reputational risks, marketing, and other issues. Lorimer added that LendingPoint also works with some established banks. Talking of the role of hard pull and soft pull in availing credit, he shared that because a hard pull impacts the credit report of the customer, it is a cause for low approval rates. Soft pulls, on the other hand, do not affect the credit score of the credit seeker leading to a higher approval rate for loans.
Garrity shared his point of view on the tie-ups with established banks and financial institutions that become balance sheet lenders. He said they are participants in securitization, originations, and selling. He believes there is clearly an opportunity for all the stakeholder businesses to grow. Online POS lending usually operates separately considering the fact that it is complicated and technology-driven. Banks are, therefore, slow followers of fintech companies.
The Technology Edge Leads to Domination
The next important aspect analyzed was whether it is the technology that enables online POS lending businesses to dominate the lending space.
Kalen believes technology is the most important element of this space. Concha believes this space is all about keeping merchants and customers happy and building long-lasting relationships with them in the process. Lorimer questions the integration of technology among banks and whether banks will be able to adapt to complex technologies. He believes banks aren’t set up to do that, but to deliver a mass homogenous customer service. Garrity, on the other hand, believes the less you see the technology, the more attractive it is; he also thinks it is better for the merchant to focus on increasing the business close rates.
Talking about data management, Lorimer believes technology definitely provides an edge to the business on the back end. The data is the source for everything and it is analyzed and configured to improve the experience. As technology enables automation and brings security, users can access everything at one place and find it already stored in the system.
Kalen agrees that technology is a boon for backend data management. He added to the discussion saying that the more established players have an edge as they have been in business for many years. They have been able to hone their skills over a period of time.
Concha also believes that technology will work for the POS lending as it is different from other businesses. There is a major role of risk, debt, and strong relationships in POS lending, and none of these can be managed properly without technology.
The Challenges of POS Lending
Technology, scale, and partnerships:
Kalen from Flexiti views POS lending as a very different business than retail lending. Getting customers and coping with technology are major challenges. Other challenges that non-bank businesses face are focusing on the scale. It is important for the business to look at the credit cycle and beware of fraudulent practices as it increases the scale of operations.
Being on the right side of the credit cycle is crucial to every lending business. The access to credit in the credit cycle determines the risk and therefore the value of the business. Businesses must prepare their strategies, keeping the future in mind.
Lorimer believes this space requires more regulation since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is not very active. Poor regulation and lack of control pose a major risk to the players in the market.
Availability of capital and credit risk:
Another challenge is the availability of capital to extend lending facilities. The fear of credit facilities drying up in a day also bothers businesses.
Kalen has realized that success does not come easy. The companies in this space need to understand that a lot of lending capital is required along with an understanding of the tricks of the trade.
Concha believes it is a 3-step learning process where the business is required to go through a testing phase, an education phase, and an adoption phase.
With LendingPoint’s recent acquisition of LoanHero, it is comparatively a new entrant in the market.
The crux of the entire discussion is that POS lenders must be specialized to survive in the market. The business has to endeavor to offer value added merchant services instead of being a one-stop shop to be successful. There is a lot of room for growth provided one understands the complexities of the trade.
Stephanie Vaughan is vice president at Block X Ventures. She is an experienced capital markets professional with a background encompassing crowdfunding, venture capital, and investment banking. She served as director of capital markets and development at StreetShares, a marketplace lender focused on providing small business loans to veteran-owned companies funded by Institutional, Regulation A and Regulation D investors. At StreetShares, she led all strategic initiatives for investor products. She also played a key role in raising the company’s $23 million Series B financing. Previously, she was a senior associate executing venture debt transactions for LunaCap Ventures and was an investment banking associate with Houlihan Lokey. A former captain in the United States Marine Corps, she served as communications and operations officer and held strategic roles assisting in re-designing the USMC Force and overseeing anti-terrorism efforts for U.S. Central Command in Afghanistan. She holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia Business School and a BA in Quantitative Economics from the United States Naval Academy.