In early October, TIME Magazine released its inaugural list of the top 50 Genius Companies, and two online lending companies, CommonBond and Oportun were included. The magazine asked its global network of editors and correspondents to nominate companies that are inventing the future. They then evaluated the candidates by such factors as originality, influence, success, and ambition.
What they were looking for
A video titled How We Chose the 50 Most Genius Companies of 2018 includes snippets of interviews from founders and CEOs whose companies made the list. Viewing these gives us more insight into what the magazine saw as worthy of “genius” thought. Bob Igor, CEO of Walt Disney, talks about having “constant curiosity, constant desire for more knowledge about what is new.” Luis von Ahn, CEO of Duolingo, whose company’s goal is to give “equal access to education to everybody,” reminds us that it’s “OK to fail.” Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, says that “it’s not that taking risks is essential, it’s that being open-minded to a different way of looking at a problem is essential.” She adds: “Risk…is essential to creating a new path and making change.”
These are all revelations that the 50 companies represented have made, whether they are time-tested and proven companies or promising start-ups.
Notables on the list
The list has a good mix of both types of companies, those which are proven winners and those that are trying to make their mark by helping to better the world. Long proven household names like Apple, Disney, and Lockheed Martin are joined by newer companies that now define so much of our world, like Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, and Pinterest, and those who look to shape the future more differently than the past, like SpaceX, Slack, and Lishtot.
And then there are the two online lending standouts–Oportun and CommonBond.
Oportun and CommonBond are moving to make money more easily accessible for sectors of the population that need it. Oportun is working to make loans available to higher risk borrowers than those that have access to more traditional means of lending while CommonBond is looking to transform access to student loans.
Oportun is a Menlo Park California company that provides emergency loans for low-income consumers who can’t get a loan from a traditional bank and who don’t want to get into the vicious cycle of high fees and triple-digit interest rates of payday lenders.
Oportun began with a focus on serving the Latino community but has expanded to open borrowing to the estimated 45 million Americans who have little or no credit history. In lieu of credit scores, Oportun relies on other data to assess applicants, such as the length of time that a person has had the same job or address.
CEO Raul Vazquez says that Oportun is “committed to building a sustainable business that helps people shut out of the financial mainstream.”
Proven Track Record
To this point, the company has proven it can make a profit while providing $5.4 billion worth of loans to people who didn’t meet banks’ criteria. In so doing, the Oportun team has helped some 600,000 customers establish credit scores and open themselves to future borrowing by reporting successful payments to credit bureaus.
A CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution), Oportun issued its first securitization in June 2013, and it announced its twelfth securitization last week, issuing $275 million of three-year asset-backed bonds secured by a pool of its investment loans. Morgan Stanley and Co. LLC served as lead book-running manager, and Goldman Sachs and Co. LLC and Jefferies LLC were joint book-runners.
As of now, the company has loans available at retail locations in nine states: Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, and Utah. Online loans are also available in Idaho, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
Rates of Service
The company’s interest rates average about 35 percent, a reasonable rate for high-risk borrowers.
The Economist, Consumer Reports, and The Wall Street Journal are among the publications that have reviewed the company favorably. Oportun was even named one of the three finalists in The Wall Street Journal’s 2018 Financial Inclusion Challenge.
The team heading up the company has many notables, including Vazquez, who is the former CEO of Walmart.com. Chief Credit Officer, Patrick Kirscht, previously served as Senior VP of Risk Management for HSBC Card Services Inc., and Johnathon Coblentz, who serves as CFO and CAO, is the former CFO and Treasurer of MRU Holdings Inc. and was Vice-President of Fortress Investment Group LLC.
With the rising price of college tuition and the more than $1.5 trillion in active student loans in the United States today—more than car loans and credit card debt—the market is ripe for new players in the scholastic financial space. CommonBond has been working to put a new face on student loan refinancing since 2011.
By staying small and using technology to keep costs down, CommonBond seeks to offer borrowers refinancing rates lower than those of the federal government and private banks. The firm estimates that it saves borrowers on average $24,000 over the life of their loans.
CommonBond offers three types of loans (Undergrad, Graduate, and MBA) and repackages and refinances existing loans at lower rates.
The firm offers loan terms of five, 10, and 15 years, with amounts ranging from $5,000 to the cost of tuition. The loan cap for any borrower is $500,000. The company offers the customer a personalized rate before he or she applies. Loan origination fee is two percent, and the company charges no prepayment penalties. CommonBond’s late fees might be especially attractive to college-age students, who might not always get their payments in on time. The late fee is only the lesser of $10 or five percent of the monthly payment.
Being a father of school-age children, CommonBond is a company I could see myself using in five or six years, and I read the reviews of the company as a potential customer. The reviews aren’t all glowing, but they give me an overall feel that this is a firm I could do business with, if I so needed. Fast Company named CommonBond the Most Innovative Company in Education earlier this year, and thecollegeinvestor.com, despite thinking the rates could be more competitive, continuously puts the company on its Best Companies to Finance Your Student Loan list. CommonBond is also one of only three lenders the site recommends for finding the best student loans.
Double Bottom Line
Charitable work and philanthropy being so important in today’s world, it can’t hurt for a company to have a strong double bottom line. This is one area where CommonBond sets itself apart from others in the space. Every time a loan is funded, CommonBond covers the price of a child’s education through its “Social Promise.” The firm’s partnership with Pencils of Promise has provided schools, teachers, and technology to thousands of students in the developing world, and its commitment to social equality also distinguishes it as a true difference maker in the United States. Loans and restructuring are available to anyone with a degree from a not-for-profit American university regardless of citizenship, as long as the customer meets the other criteria.
Those of us in and around the online lending space can be heartened by the addition to these two companies to this list. We can also be heartened by the continued efforts of business founders to make funds available more easily and affordably for Americans just trying to navigate the business aspects of life. Both of these companies should be recommended to those who may benefit from their services.
Written by Paul Keenan.