Turn Credit Declines Into A Win-Win

The pandemic has left millions of people needing credit at a time when lending standards are tightening. The result is a lose-lose situation: consumers receive a negative credit decline experience and financial institutions miss out on a lending opportunity. How can this be turned into a win-win?

Start by deconstructing the credit decline process: Most consumers are first encouraged to apply for a loan or credit card. The application process can be invasive, requiring significant time commitment and thoughtful and accurate inputs from the applicant.

After all that, many consumers are declined with a form letter or message that has little to no advice on what actions they can take to improve their credit worthiness. It’s no wonder that credit declines receive a poor Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 50 or, often, much worse. But on the flip side, forward-looking institutions could use this opportunity to provide post-decline credit advice. This is a compelling opportunity for several reasons:

  • Improved customer satisfaction. One financial institution learned that simply offering personalized coaching, regardless of whether or not consumers used it, increased their customer satisfaction by double digits.
  • More future lending opportunities. Post-decline financial coaching can help prospective customers position themselves for future borrowing needs, even beyond the product for which they were initially declined.
  • Increased trust. Quality financial advice helps build trust. A J.D. Power study found that, of the 58% of customers who want advice from financial institutions, only 12% receive it. When consumers do receive helpful advice, more than 90% report a high level of trust in their financial institution.

Provide cost-effective, high-quality advice
Virtual coaching tools powered by artificial intelligence can help banks turn declines into opportunities. These coaches can deliver step-by-step guidance and personalized advice experiences. The added benefit is easy and consistent compliance, enabled by automation. These AI-based solutions are even more powerful when they follow coaching best practices:

  • Bite-sized simplicity. Advice is most effective when it is reinforced with small action steps to gradually nurture customers without overwhelming them. This approach helps the prospective borrower build momentum and confidence.
  • Plain language. Deliver advice in friendly, jargon-free language.
  • Behavioral nudges. Best-practice nudges help customers make progress on their action plan. These nudges emulate a human coach, providing motivational reminders and celebrating progress.
  • Gamification. A digital coach can infuse fun into the financial wellness journey with challenges and rewards like contests, badges and gifts.

Virtual financial coaching, starting with reversing credit declines, represents a huge market opportunity for banks and their customers. Learn more about the industry’s first virtual financial coach.

How One Small Player Beat Out PNC, Wells Fargo and M&T for PPP Loans

Banks took center stage in the U.S. government’s signature pandemic aid package for small businesses, the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.

But into year two of the program, a nonbank has emerged as one of the top three PPP lenders. The SBA listed Itria Ventures, a subsidiary of the online commercial lending platform Biz2Credit, on Feb. 28 as the No. 3 lender in dollar value in 2021, after JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp. Not only that, it was the No. 1 lender, of the top 15, in terms of total loans approved. Itria Ventures was the direct lender for 165,827 approved loans in 2021 worth $4.76 billion. Unless Congress extends the program, it runs through the end of March. The SBA updates PPP statistics every Monday so the ranking could change.

As of Feb. 28, the SBA approved $678.7 billion in low-interest PPP loans this year and last year. The potentially forgivable loans have created enormous opportunities for banks to connect with small businesses and allowed financial technology companies to make inroads into the commercial loan market.

But the significance of an obscure-sounding online marketplace lender surging past the likes of household names such as PNC Financial Services Group, M&T Bank Corp. and U.S. Bancorp for PPP dollar volume and loans wasn’t lost on Joel Pruis, a senior director for Cornerstone Advisors.

The PPP gave a much-better opportunity to these fintech companies to get involved and it gave them the volume,’’ he says. “Prior to this, it’s been tough for them to get any type of material volume.”

During the pandemic, small businesses such as restaurants and retail shops that rely on fintech lenders fell on tough times, hurting platforms that then experienced double-digit loan delinquencies in some cases. OnDeck, a prominent online lender valued at about $1.3 billion during its initial public offering in 2014, sold to Enova International last year for about $90 million. Online direct lender Kabbage sold most of its operations for an undisclosed sum to American Express Co. last year.

Biz2Credit received some negative press last year as a merchant cash advance lender that sued some of its New York borrowers struggling during the pandemic. But the company is moving away from merchant cash advance products because the customers of those loans are small businesses struggling the most right now, such as restaurants, says Biz2Credit CEO and co-founder Rohit Arora.

Biz2Credit, which is privately owned and doesn’t disclose financial information, pivoted last year to quickly ramp up its PPP lending platform and partnerships, hoping to capitalize on what Arora anticipated would be a huge government rescue package. It generates business through referrals from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and its relationship with payroll provider Paychex, which has strong connections with small businesses.

It also white-labelled its PPP platform to banks and other lenders to process small business loans without the hassles of the paperwork and monitoring. Among its customers are major PPP lender Portland, Maine-based Northeast Bank, the 11th largest PPP lender in terms of dollar value as of Feb. 28.

Other technology companies seeing a surge in business due to PPP include Numerated, which provides a commercial loan platform for banks. Numerated processed nearly 300,000 PPP loans for more than 100 U.S. lenders, totaling $40 billion as of March 1. Cross River Bank, a technology-focused bank in Fort Lee, New Jersey, that works with fintech companies to offer banking services, also rose in the ranks of direct PPP lenders this year. The $11.8 billion bank ranked fifth with $2.5 billion in PPP loans.

Arora says the SBA’s constantly changing documentation, error codes and program rules were a headache for a bank but fit into Biz2Credit’s area of expertise as a technology company. It provided banks with one platform for both PPP origination and loan forgiveness, simplifying the lending process. Given the amount of work involved, Pruis says banks that chose to handle PPP lending on their own platforms have had a tough time, especially in the program’s first round of the loan program. “It was brutal,’’ he says.

Arora says Biz2Credit is perfectly suited for PPP for another reason: Most of its loans go to very small businesses, many of them sole proprietorships or operations with fewer than 20 employees.

These borrowers often don’t have a business banking relationship, pushing them into the arms of online lenders or small banks.

Small businesses have been especially hard hit by the pandemic. The Federal Reserve’s Small Business Credit Survey for 2021 found that 53% of respondents in September and October of 2020 thought their revenue for the year would be down by more than 25%. Of the 83% of firms whose revenues had not returned to normal, 30% projected they would be unlikely to survive without additional government assistance.

“This recession has been brutal for small business,’’ Arora says. “It’s a much-worse recession than the last one for small business.”

Top PPP Lenders for 2021 PPP

Rank Lender Name Loans Approved Net Dollars Average Loan Size
1 JP Morgan Chase 81,430 $6,048,741,297 $74,281
2 Bank of America 87,696 $5,339,101,618 $60,882
3 Itria Ventures LLC 165,827 $4,756,975,303 $28,686
4 PNC Bank 28,633 $2,877,088,585 $100,482
5 Cross River Bank 106,086 $2,511,524,537 $23,674
6 M&T Bank 15,507 $2,044,126,456 $131,820
7 Zions Bank 16,593 $1,982,086,510 $119,453
8 U.S. Bank 35,663 $1,914,171,309 $53,674
9 Wells Fargo Bank 44,861 $1,892,379,160 $42,183
10 TD Bank 21,833 $1,863,067,115 $85,333
11 Northeast Bank 17,255 $1,855,213,143 $107,517
12 KeyBank 14,791 $1,708,999,583 $115,543
13 Citizens Bank 26,544 $1,531,712,319 $57,705
14 Customers Bank 54,576 $1,405,437,610 $25,752
15 Fifth Third Bank 14,390 $1,333,769,118 $92,687

Approvals through 2/28/2021. Source: SBA

Using Profitability to Drive Banker Behavior

There used to be a perception that bankers found it tough to innovate because they are largely left-brained, meaning they tend to be more analytical and orderly than creative right brainers. While this may have been true for the founding fathers of this industry, there’s no question that bankers have been forced into creativity to remain competitive.

It could have been happenstance, natural evolution, or the global financial crisis of 2008 — it doesn’t matter. Today’s bankers are both analytical and creative because they have had to find new, more convenient pathways to profitability and use those insights for continuous coaching.

The current economic landscape may require U.S. banks to provision for up to $318 billion in net loan losses from 2020 to 2022, the Deloitte Center for Financial Services estimates. These losses are expected to be booked in several lending categories, mainly driven by the pandemic’s domino effect on small businesses, income inequality and the astounding impact of women leaving the workforce pushing millions into extreme poverty. Additionally, net interest margins are at an all-time low. Deloitte forecasts that U.S. commercial banks won’t see revenues or net income reach pre-pandemic levels until 2022.

In the interim, bankers are still under pressure to perform and increase profitability. Strong performance is possible — economic “doom and gloom” isn’t the whole story. In fact, the second-largest bank in America is projecting loan growth in 2021, of all years, after six years of decline. These industry challenges won’t last forever. so preparation is key. One of the first steps in understanding profitability is establishing if your bank’s business model is transactional, relational or a mix of the two, then answering these questions:

  • How much does a loan pay for the use of funds? How much does a deposit receive for the use of funds?
  • How much does a loan pay for the current period and identified level of credit risk?
  • How much capital does the bank need to assign to the loan or deposit?
  • What are the appropriate fees for accounts and services used by our clients?
  • What expenses are allocated to a product to determine its profitability?

There should never be a question about why loans need to pay for funds. The cash a bank provides for a loan comes from one of three sources: capital investments, debt and borrowing or client deposits.

From there, bankers have shown incredible creativity and innovation in adopting simpler, faster ways to better understand their bank’s profitability, especially through sophisticated technologies that can break down silos by including all clients, products and transactions in a single database. By comparison, legacy databases can leave digital assets languishing in inaccessible and expensive silos. Bankers must view an entire client relationship to most accurately price the relationship.

This requires a mindset shift. Instead of thinking about credit structure — the common approach in the industry – to determine relationship pricing, think instead about the client relationship holistically and leave room to augment as necessary. Pricing models should reflect your bank’s profitability calculations, not adjusted industry average models. And clients will need a primary and secondary owner to break down silos and ensure they receive the best experience.

How does any of this drive optimal banker behavior? A cohesive, structurally sound system that allows bankers to better understand profitability via one source of the truth allows them to review deal performance every six months to improve performance. Further, a centralized database allows C-suite executives to literally see everything, forging connections between their initiatives to banker’s day-to-day actions. It creates an environment where bankers can realize opportunities through execution, accountability and coaching, when necessary.

A Look at 2020’s Remarkably Resilient Leveraged Loan Market

What happened with the leveraged lending market last year?

Not surprisingly, leveraged loan markets tracked very closely to the broader economy and enjoyed their own K-shaped recovery in the latter half of 2020. Face-to-face businesses and the energy industry faced headwinds brought about by the pandemic, while IT, health care and pockets within manufacturing managed to thrive and even grow.

Loan volume finished the year on a strong note after cratering to a four-year low during the second quarter, due to the initial shock of the spreading pandemic. Institutional loan issuance gathered steam through the summer; by the third and fourth quarters, issuance totals were in the range of 2019’s quarterly average of $77.5 billion, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Leverage Commentary and Data. Much of the demand was driven by the re-emergence and recovery of the collateralized loan obligation, or CLO, market, buoyed by investors searching for yield in the low interest rate environment.

Loans supporting buyouts and acquisitions drove the fourth-quarter tally, surging 49% from the third quarter. New buyout deals had nearly dried up amid the economic uncertainty that gripped markets in the second quarter and into the third quarter, but private equity firms clearly have regained their confidence since then. There were 33 separate leveraged buyouts priced in the loan market during the fourth quarter, a pace not seen since the third quarter of 2018. Even as merger and acquisition issuances gained pace, sponsored issuers continued to take advantage of demand with opportunistic deals.

Secondary prices fell dramatically during the initial phases of the pandemic but have also recovered to pre-pandemic levels. The average bid of the S&P/LSTA Leveraged Loan Index reached 97.17 as of Jan. 12 — its highest level since the index was at 97.29 nearly a year ago, on Jan. 26, 2020.

While default rates have increased compared to recent record lows, they ended 2020 at a modest 4.22% as measured by number of issuers. This compares over 10% during the depths of the Great Recession. Leading the charge was face-to face industries, such as retail and leisure, in addition to borrowers in the oil and gas industry.

Looking forward to 2021, analysts at Bank of America Corp., Barclays and Wells Fargo & Co. have a relatively sanguine view and are anticipating a healthy market, with a rise in overall leveraged loan issuance. Analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co. were slightly less optimistic with a prediction of a 10% decline in gross issuance, according to S&P Global.

Based on a survey of portfolio managers, technology and health care continue to lead the sectors that are expected to outperform in 2021. Given the magnitude of the shock to the system during the first half of the year, the default cycle is expected to be relatively short.

BancAlliance believes that the loan market should be able to sustain the robustness seen in the second half of 2020 performance through 2021, as businesses have successfully adapted to the new normal, in addition to the anticipation of the vaccine rollout. To start the year, we have already seeing a flurry of activity from the lower middle market, middle market and broadly syndicated loan space across a multitude of industries and transaction types, such as buyouts, dividends and repricings. We expect this energetic output to continue.

New Research Finds 4 Ways to Improve the Appraisal Experience

Accelerating appraisals has become increasingly important as lenders strive to improve efficiency in today’s high-volume environment.

Appraisals are essential for safe mortgage originations. Covid-19 underlined the potential impact of modernizing appraisal practices, and increased the adoption of digitally enabled appraisal techniques, appraisal and inspection waivers, and collateral analytics.

Banks have numerous opportunities to improve and modernize their appraisal process and provide a better consumer experience, according to recent research sponsored by ServiceLink and its EXOS Technologies division and independently produced by Javelin Strategy & Research. The research highlights several actions that lenders can take to improve their valuation processes, based on the feedback of 1,500 single-family homeowners in March who obtained either a purchase mortgage, refinance mortgage, home equity loan/line of credit for their single-family home, or who sold a single-family home, on or after January 2018.

1. Implement digital mortgage strategies that streamline appraisal workflows. One of the most-compelling opportunities to make appraisals more efficient is at the very onset of the process: scheduling the appointment. Scheduling can be complicated by the number of parties involved in an on-site inspection, including a lender, appraiser, AMC, borrower and real estate agent. Today, two-thirds of consumers schedule their appointments over the phone. This process is inefficient, especially for large lenders and their service providers, and lacks the consistency of digital alternatives.

Lenders that offer digital appraisal scheduling capabilities provide a more-predictable and consistent service experience, and reduce the back-and-forth required to coordinate schedules among appraisers, borrowers, real estate agents and home sellers. Given younger consumers’ tendency to eschew phone calls in favor of digital interactions, it’s essential that the industry embraces multiple channels to communicate, so borrowers can interact with lenders and AMCs on their own terms.

2. Increase transparency in the appraisal process. Even after an appointment is scheduled, consumers typically receive limited details about the appraiser, what to expect during the appointment and how the appraisal factors into the overall mortgage process. For example, 61% of consumers received the appraiser’s contact information before the appointment; while only 20% were provided with the appraiser’s photo and 9% were told what type of car they will drive. Providing borrowers with more information about the appraisal appointment bolsters their confidence; information gaps can contribute to a less-satisfying experience. Nearly 20% of consumers said they were not confident or only somewhat confident about their appointment, while over 30% said the same about the names of the appraiser and AMC.

3. Focus on efficiency. Overall, 38% of consumers said the duration of the overall appraisal process contributed to a longer mortgage origination process; delays among purchase mortgage and home equity borrowers were even higher.

For example, about two-thirds of appraisal appointments required the consumer to wait for the appraiser to arrive within an hours­long window or even an entire day, as opposed to giving the consumer an exact time when the appointment will take place. Given this challenge, lenders and appraisal professionals that offer more-precise appointment scheduling can improve the consumer experiences and streamline the origination process.

4. Implement processes and technology that support innovative approaches to property inspections and valuations. Covid-19 highlighted the opportunity banks have to adopt valuation products that sit between fully automated valuations and traditional appraisals, such as valuation methods that combine third-party market data and consumer-provided photos and video of subject properties. This approach still relies on a human appraiser to analyze market data and subject-property

This concept is gaining traction in the mortgage industry. In the future, it’s conceivable the approach could be expanded with the use of artificial intelligence and virtual reality technologies.

No matter the method an appraiser uses to determine a property’s value, the collateral valuations process is fundamentally an exercise in collecting and analyzing data. Partnering with an innovative AMC allows lenders to take advantage of new techniques for completing this critical market function. You can view the full white paper here.

How Nonbank Lenders’ Small Business Encroachment Threatens Community Banks

A new trend has emerged as small businesses across the U.S. seek capital to ensure their survival through the Covid-19 pandemic: a significantly more crowded and competitive market for small business lending. 

Community banks are best-equipped to meet the capital needs of small businesses due to existing relationships and the ability to offer lower interest rates. However, many banks lack the ability to deliver that capital efficiently, meaning:

  • Application approval rates are low; 
  • Customer satisfaction suffers;  
  • Both the bank and small business waste time and resources; 
  • Small businesses seek capital elsewhere — often at higher rates. 

When community banks do approve small credit requests, they almost always lose money due to the high cost of underwriting and servicing them. But the real risk to community banks is that large players like Amazon.com and Goldman Sachs Group are threatening to edge them out of the market for small business lending. At stake is nothing less than their entire small business relationships.

Over the past few years, nonbank fintechs have infiltrated both consumer and business banking, bringing convenience and digital delivery to the forefront. Owners of small businesses can easily apply for capital online and manage their finances digitally.

Yet in 2018, only 11% of small banks had a digital origination channel for small business lending. In an age of smartphones, community banks still heavily rely on manual, paper-based processes for originating, underwriting and servicing small business loans. 

It was no surprise, then, when Amazon and Goldman Sachs announced a lending partnership geared toward third-party merchants using the retail giant’s platform. Soon, invited businesses can apply for a revolving line of credit with a fixed APR. Other major companies like Apple and Alphabet’s Google have also debuted innovative fintech products for consumers —it’s only a matter of time before they make headway into the small business space.

A 2016 Well Fargo survey found that small business owners are willing to pay more for products and services that make their lives easier. It makes sense that an independent retailer that already sells on Amazon would be more inclined to work with a lender that integrates directly into the platform. If your small business lending program isn’t fully online, customers will take the path of least resistance and work with institutions that make the process easier and more seamless.

Serving small business borrowers better
The issue isn’t that small businesses lack creditworthiness as prospective customers. Rather, it’s that the process is stacked against them. Small businesses aren’t large corporations, but many banks apply the same process and requirements for small credit requests as they do for commercial loans, including collecting and reviewing sophisticated financials. This eliminates any chance of profit on small credit requests. The problem is with the bank’s process — not its borrowers.

The solution is clear cut:

  • Digitize the lending process so customers don’t have to take time out of their busy day to visit a branch or speak with a loan officer. Note that this includes more than just an online application. The ability to collect/manage documents, present loans offers, provide e-contracts and manage payments are all part of a digitally-enabled lending process.
  • Incorporate SMB-specific credit criteria that accurately assess creditworthiness more effectively, like real-time cash flow and consumer sentiment.
  • Take advantage of automation without giving up control or increasing risk. For example, client notifications, scoring and application workflow management are all easy ways to save time and cut costs.
  • Free up lending officers to spend more time with your most-profitable commercial customers.

These changes can help turn small business customers into an important, profitable part of your bank. After all, 99% of all U.S. businesses are considered “small” — so the ability to turn a profit on small business lending represents significant upside for your bank. 

With better technology and data, along with a more flexible process, community banks can sufficiently reduce the cost of extending capital to small businesses and turn a profit on every loan funded. Next, banks can market their small business loan products to existing business customers in the form of pre-approved loan offers, and even gain new business customers from competitors that push small business borrowers away. 

Think about it: small business customers already have a deposit relationship at your bank. Community banks have this advantage over the likes of Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Apple and others. But when time is limited, small businesses won’t see it that way. By rethinking your small business lending process, it’s a win for your bank’s bottom line as well as a win in customer loyalty.

Is Your Bank Ready for Loan Review 2.0?

Lending institutions face unique challenges in 2020.

Leading up to 2020, regulators and industry professionals voiced growing concerns related to the easing of underwriting, prolonged increasing of commercial real estate values, risk tolerance complacency, and how much longer the good times could continue — which the ongoing public health crisis answered.

Covid-19 propelled businesses and borrowers into a liquidity crisis like most have never experienced. Economists already have identified the start of a recession, but many lending institutions find themselves determining if — or when — the liquidity crisis has transitioned to a credit crisis

The third and fourth quarters of 2020 will be most telling. Never has a bank’s loan review function been more important.

On May 8, interagency guidance was released on credit risk review systems. The guidance was well-timed given the pandemic but wasn’t impulsive, as the regulatory agencies began their review process in October 2019. The guidance focused on two key pieces of the puzzle needed for effective credit risk systems: a solid credit administration function and independent credit review.

The guidance highlighted the importance of a loan review policy and how it should incorporate the following areas:

  • Qualifications of credit risk review personnel.
  • Independence of credit risk review personnel.
  • Frequency of reviews.
  • Scope of reviews.
  • Depth of reviews.
  • Review of findings.
  • Communication and distribution of results.

These policy areas are highlighted to help drive a successful function that provides the right level of independent challenge to the organization on issue identification, risk rating accuracy/timeliness, policy adherence, policy depth, trends, and management effectiveness. Independently reporting these observations to the board and all stakeholders provides an in-depth independent assessment to help verify the strength of internal controls and the timeliness of grading. It also provides assurance that management’s reporting and allowance levels are reasonable.

Fast forward one month to June 2020, and loan review was top of mind for these same regulatory agencies, which released “Examiner Guidance for Assessing Safety and Soundness Considering the Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Financial Institutions” (FDIC PR-72-2020). This guidance looked to address the unique challenges to consider when conducting safety and soundness assessments in these unprecedented times.

The guidance memorialized how examiners will consider the unique, evolving, and potentially long-term nature of the issues confronting institutions and exercise appropriate flexibility in their supervisory response. It speaks specifically to credit risk review (loan review) by stating the following:

Credit risk review. Examiners will recognize that the rapidly changing environment and limited operational capacity might temporarily affect an institution’s ability to meet normal expectations of loan review (such as a schedule or scope of reviews). Examiners will assess the institution’s support for any delays or reductions in scope of credit risk reviews and consider management’s plan to complete appropriate reviews within a reasonable amount of time.

Classification of credits. The assessment of each loan should be based on the fundamental characteristics affecting the collectability of that particular credit, while acknowledging that supporting documentation might be limited and cash flow projections might be highly uncertain.

Loan portfolios are a lending institution’s lifeblood. Portfolios drive earnings but also can be the largest threat to an institution’s ongoing viability. In this rapidly moving environment, it is key to have a loan review function that is up to the challenge.

Operating an effective loan review function
Large- and medium-sized financial institutions often opt to maintain an in-house loan review department. While this decision makes sense for some institutions, establishing and maintaining an effective and credible internal loan review operation can present significant challenges.

Credit department responsibilities have grown increasingly complex in recent years, not only due to regulatory demands but also because of a rapidly changing credit environment and new types of credit products. With these heightened expectations, loan review functions are being pressured by regulators and external auditors to raise the bar. Is it time to step back and assess whether your loan review function has adjusted to the changing environment and the products you offer?

Answer these questions to help take a step back and determine if your institution has a robust loan review function that not only meets the demands of the regulatory guidance but is built to meet the demands of the future as well.

Helping Customers When They Need It Most

Orvin Kimbrough intimately understands the struggles shared by low-to-moderate income consumers. Raised in low-income communities and the foster care system, he also worked at the United Way of Greater St. Louis for over a decade before joining $2.1 billion Midwest BankCentre as CEO in January 2019. “[Poverty costs] more for working people,” he says. “It’s not just the financial cost; it’s the psychological cost of signing over … the one family asset you have to the pawn shop.”

His experiences led him to challenge his team to develop a payday loan alternative that wouldn’t trap people in a never-ending debt cycle. The interest rate ranges from 18.99% to 24.99%, based on the term, amount borrowed (from $100 to $1,000) and the applicant’s credit score. Rates for a payday loan, by comparison, range in the triple digits.

The application process isn’t overly high-tech, as applicants can apply online or over the phone. The St. Louis-based bank examines the customer’s credit score and income in making the loan decision; those with a credit score below 620 must enroll in a financial education class provided by the bank.

Industry research consistently finds that many Americans don’t have money saved for an emergency — a health crisis or home repair, for example. When these small personal crises occur, cash-strapped consumers have limited options. Few banks offer small-dollar loans, dissuaded by profitability and regulatory constraints following the 2008-09 financial crisis.

If the current recession deepens, more consumers could be looking for payday loan alternatives. Regulators recently encouraged financial institutions to offer these products, issuing interagency small-dollar lending principles in May that emphasize consumers’ ability to repay. 

Everybody needs to belong to a financial institution if you’re going to be financially healthy and achieve your financial aspirations,” says Ben Morales, CEO of QCash Financial, a lending platform that helps financial institutions automate the underwriting process for small-dollar loans.

QCash connects to a bank’s core systems to automate the lending process, using data-driven models to efficiently deliver small-dollar loans. The whole process takes “six clicks and 60 seconds, and nobody has to touch it,” Morales says. QCash uses the bank’s customer data to predict ability to repay and incorporates numerous factors — including cash-flow data — into the predictive models it developed with data scientists. It doesn’t pull credit reports.

Credit bureau data doesn’t provide a full picture of the customer, says Kelly Thompson Cochran, deputy director of FinRegLab and a former regulator with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Roughly a fifth of U.S. consumers lack credit history data, she says, which focuses on certain types of credit and expenses. The data is also a lagging indicator since it’s focused on the customer’s financial history.

In contrast, cash flow data can provide tremendous value to the underwriting process. “A transaction account is giving you both a sense of inflows and outflows, and the full spectrum of the kind of recurring expenses that a consumer has,” says Cochran.

U.S. Bancorp blends cash flow data with the applicant’s credit score to underwrite its “Simple Loan” — the only small-dollar loan offered by a major U.S. bank. The entire process occurs through the bank’s online or mobile channels, and takes just seven minutes, according to Mike Shepard, U.S. Bank’s senior vice president, consumer lending product and risk strategy. Applicants need to have a checking account with the bank for at least three months, with recurring deposits, so the bank can establish a relationship and understand the customer’s spending behavior.

“We know that our customers, at any point in time, could be facing short-term, cash-flow liquidity challenges,” says Shepard. U.S. Bank wanted to create a product that was simple to understand, with a clear pricing structure and guidelines. Customers can borrow in $100 increments, from $100 to $1,000, and pay a $6 fee for every $100 borrowed. U.S. Bank lowered the fee in March to better assist customers impacted by the pandemic; prior to that the fee ranged from $12 to $15.

Since the loan is a digital product, it’s convenient for the customer and efficient for the bank.

Ultimately, the Simple Loan places U.S. Bank at the center of its customers’ financial lives, says Shepard. By offering a responsible, transparent solution, customers “have a greater perception of U.S. Bank as a result of the fact that we were able to help them out in that time of need.”

Avoiding Pitfalls of Covid-19 Modifications for Swapped Loans

Many banks are modifying commercial loans as they and their commercial borrowers grapple with the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Payment relief could include incorporating interest-only periods, principal and interest payment deferrals, and/or loan and swap maturity/amortization extensions. While modifications can provide borrowers with much-needed financial flexibility, they also risk creating unintended accounting, legal and economic consequences.

Don’t forget the swaps
Lenders need to determine whether there is a swap associated with loans when contemplating a modification. Prior to modification, lenders should coordinate efforts with their Treasury or swap desk to address these swapped loans, and ensure that loan and swap documentation are consistent regarding the terms of the modification.

Develop realistic repayment plans
Lenders need to consider how deferred obligations will be repaid when creating a temporary payment deferral plan. The lender may need to offer an interest-only period so a borrower can repay the deferred interest before principal amortization resumes, or deferred interest payments could be added to the principal balance of the loan. Lenders also should consider whether the proposed modification will be sufficient, given the severity of the borrower’s challenges. The costs associated with amending a swapped loan may convince a lender to offer a more substantive longer-term deferral, rather than repeatedly kicking the can down the road with a series of short-term fixes.

Determine whether swap amendment is necessary
The modified loan terms may necessitate an amendment of the associated swap. It may be possible to leave the swap in place without amendment if you are only adding an interest-only period, as long as the borrower is comfortable with their loan being slightly underhedged. But if you are contemplating a full payment deferral, it typically will be desirable to replace the existing swap transaction with a new forward-starting transaction commencing when the borrower is expected to resume making principal and interest payments.

Understand bank or borrower hedge accounting impact of loan modifications
Lenders often hedge the value of their fixed-rate loans or other assets through formalized hedging programs. A popular strategy has been to designate these swaps as fair value hedges using the shortcut method.

This method requires that the economic terms of the asset, such as amortization of principal and timing of interest payments, precisely match those of the hedge. A mismatch due to a loan payment deferral would cause the lender to lose the hedge’s shortcut status. The lender’s hedging program potentially could maintain hedge accounting treatment using the more cumbersome long-haul method if that mismatch scenario was contemplated in the hedge inception documentation.

Borrowers who have taken variable rate loans may have entered into swaps to gain synthetic rate protection. Restructuring  a hedge to defer payments alongside the loan’s deferred payments could jeopardize an accounting-sensitive borrower’s hedge accounting treatment. It is possible for the borrower to reapply hedge accounting under the amended terms, although the restart has additional considerations compared to a new un-amended hedge. If hedge accounting is not restarted, the derivative’s valuation changes thereafter would create earnings volatility per accounting rules. While borrowers should be responsible for their own accounting, lenders’ awareness of these potential issues will only help client relationships in these uncertain times.

Take stock of counterparty derivative exposure
As interest rates plunge to record lows, many lenders have seen their counterparty exposure climb well above initially-approved limits. Hedge modifications may further exacerbate this situation by increasing or extending counterparty credit exposure. We recommend that lenders work with their credit teams to reassess their counterparty exposure and update limits.

Accounting guidance also requires the evaluation of credit valuation adjustments to customer swap portfolios. Lenders should ensure that their assumptions about the creditworthiness of their counterparties reflect current market conditions. These adjustments could also have a material impact on swap valuations.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst
Hopefully, loan modifications will give borrowers the opportunity to regain their financial footing. However, some may face continued financial challenges after the crisis. Lenders should use the modification process to prepare for potential defaults. Loan deferments or modifications should provide for the retention of the lender’s rights to declare a default under the loan documents and any swap agreements. The lender, through consultation with its credit team, may want to take this opportunity to bolster its position through the inclusion of additional guarantors or other credit enhancements.

The economic fallout from the global pandemic continues to have a profound impact upon borrowers and lenders alike. Adopting a thoughtful approach to loan modifications, especially when the financing structure includes a swap or other hedge, may make the process a little less disruptive for all.  

Loan Growth: Curation, Credit Monitoring

SavvyMoney.pngOne community bank is using a fintech to deepen lending relationships with customers and help them monitor and improve their credit score.

Watford City, North Dakota-based First International Bank and Trust wanted to offer customers a way to proactively monitor their credit and receive monthly or incident-related alerts about any changes — without needing to use external vendors, granting external access to accounts or even paying for it. It chose to partner with SavvyMoney, which provides customers with their credit scores and reports alongside pre-qualified loan offers from within the bank’s online and mobile apps.

The fruits of the relationship were one reason the fintech was awarded the Best Solution for Loan Growth at Bank Director’s 2020 Best of FinXTech Award in May. CommonBond, a student loan refinancer, and Blend, which offers banks an online, white-label mortgage processing solution, were also finalists in the category.

In exploring how it could help customers improve their credit score and manage their finances, First International knew some customers were already using similar services through external websites. But the $3.6 billion bank wanted to convey that it had invested time and IT resources to ensure SavvyMoney’s validity, accuracy and status as a trusted partner, says Melissa Frohlich, digital banking manager. The SavvyMoney feature takes about 45 seconds to activate once a customer is logged in, and the customer experience is the same in the mobile app or website.

“From the fraud standpoint, we definitely recommend to our customers that … they use SavvyMoney because it’s free to them,” Frohlich says. “Especially with all the breaches that happen, it’s a good way for them to self-monitor their credit.”

The bank also uses the platform to share specialized credit offers along with a customers’ loan information and credit score, which it crafts using public records and extends based on internal criteria. It has launched two credit card balance transfer offers since rolling out the product two years ago. The fintech offers First International a way to “slice and dice” data to truly target customers with customized offers, as opposed to “throwing out a fishing line and hoping someone bites,” she says.

Launching the offers takes “very little” time to implement and consists of updating a term sheet, whipping up bank graphics and sending out a simple email blast. The first offer netted more than $190,000 in balance transfers — all from one email campaign.

“It was just very, very little work for us with pretty significant impact, without a ton of manpower or money that we had to put into it,” Frohlich says.

The balance transfer offer included messaging about how much customers would save with the new interest rate. If First International wanted to offer auto loan refinancing, it could input different rates based on the year of the vehicle and loan term.

First International was drawn to SavvyMoney in part because it had an existing relationship with a variety of core providers. That’s key, given that SavvyMoney connects to a bank’s core to pull in personal customer information from online and mobile banking sources. And because it would be sharing customer data, First International spent several months conducting due diligence, combing through SavvyMoney’s system and organization controlsreports and speaking with both its core and the fintech.

Frohlich says the actual implementation took about a month and was as straightforward as flipping a switch to activate the capability in customer accounts. She continues to work with her representative at SavvyMoney to add or change loan offers.

“They have probably the best integration that I’ve seen with Fiserv from a third party or a fintech, out of any other product that Fiserv doesn’t own,” she says. “The actual implementation was the best that I’ve ever taken part in.”

SavvyMoney can also integrate with the bank’s new loan platform that was slated for a March launch, a fact that Frohlich didn’t know when the bank selected either. Loan applications submitted through SavvyMoney will feed into the software’ auto decision-making.

“That will be a game changer for us, then we will heavily start doing more promotions,” she says.

Even after the bank switched cores, it has been able to keep SavvyMoney given its vendor relationships with other cores. “There have been other solutions, that now that we’re moving to a different platform, that I could consider,” Frohlich says. “But to be honest, our experience has been so great with SavvyMoney that I have no reason to look elsewhere.”