An increasing number of banks are conceding that innovations introduced by online lenders are here to stay, particularly the seamless, fully digital customer experience. Also, online upstarts have grown to understand that unseating the incumbents may well be heavy-going, not the least because of the difficulties of profitably acquiring borrowers. The result is that both sides have opened up to the potential for partnership, viewing one another’s competitive advantages as synergistically linked. We see five types of partnership emerging.
1) Buying loans originated on an alternative lender’s platform
In this option, alternative lenders securitize loans originated on their platform to free up capital to make more loans while removing risk from their balance sheets. Banks then purchase these securitized loans as a way to diversify investments. This type of partnership is among the most prolific in the online small business lending world, with banks such as JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and SunTrust buying assets from leading online lenders. The benefits of this option include the ability to delineate the type of assets the bank wants to be exposed to, and potential for a new source of balance sheet growth. However, the downside include may include the difficulty of assessing risk, as alternative lenders are less likely to share details of proprietary underwriting technology. Moreover, the lack of historical data on alternative lenders’ performance means limited access to data on how these investments will fare in a downturn.
2) Routing declined loan applicants to an alternative lender or to an online credit marketplace
Banks decline the majority of customers who apply for a loan. This partnership option allows such banks to find a home for these loans by referring declined borrowers directly to an online lender or credit marketplace like Fundera, which may be more capable of approving the borrower in question. The advantages of this approach include the ability of the bank to provide their customers with access to a wider suite of products through a vetted solution, a reduced need to expand the bank’s credit box and increased revenue in the form of referral fees. Examples of this type of partnership are few and far between in the United States. Thus far, OnDeck has partnerships of this nature with BBVA and Opus Bank. In our view, a big reason why more banks haven’t followed suit is the loss of control over a borrower’s experience, since agreements typically require a full customer handoff to the alternative lender. In addition, regulators have become increasingly reticent to endorse such agreements, with guidance from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. being particularly restrictive.
3) Making the bank’s small business product line available through an online marketplace
Marketplace players, like Fundera, aim to empower borrowers with the tools needed to shop and compare multiple credit products from a curated network of reputable bank and non-bank lenders. They can be natural partners for traditional banks, as they can be lender agnostic, offering banks an opportunity to compete head-to-head with online lenders to acquire customers. Banks can choose to make any and all of their small business product lines (e.g. term loans, SBA loans, lines of credit, credit cards) available. Examples of this include partnerships with Celtic Bank, LiveOak and Direct Capital (a division of CIT Bank) currently have with Fundera. This option allows a bank to explore digital distribution of products within their lending portfolio, as well as the opportunity to acquire a high-intent, fully packaged borrower that comes from outside the bank’s existing footprint. In addition, this option enables banks to offer products only to the customers which meet eligibility criteria set by the bank (e.g., industry, state, credit box). The downsides of this option can be the upfront investment in technology required by banks to integrate with a marketplace lender.
4) Utilizing an alternative lender’s technology to power an online application
In this option, the alternative lender or lending-as-a-service provider powers a digital application, collecting all the application information and documentation that a bank requires to underwrite a small business loan. Capital, however, is still deployed by the bank. Examples of this partnership type include the collaboration between lending solutions provider Fundation and Regions Bank. This improves the usability of a traditional lender’s products by giving business owners the flexibility to apply online. This partnership also provides access to technology that is difficult and costly for a bank to develop. It may also reduce dependency on paper documents while reducing time to complete a loan application. The downsides of this option are that it can require deployment of significant resources for compliance and due diligence.
5) Utilizing an alternative lender’s technology to power an online application, loan underwriting and servicing
In addition to powering a digital application, the alternative lender can provide access to its proprietary technology for pricing, underwriting and servicing. As with option four, however, capital is still deployed by the bank. The example that comes closest to this type of partnership is the partnership between OnDeck and JPMorgan Chase. This option gives a bank access to underwriting technology that may be costly for them to develop on its own. By leveraging this technology, the bank may also be able to address segments of the market that would have been deemed uncreditworthy by its existing, more conventional underwriting process. Banks should only move forward with this option if they trust an alternative lender’s underwriting criteria, and the bank believes that the alternative lender can meet their compliance requirements.