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Avoid The Pitfalls of Online Lending

Online lending, often referred to as Fintech, is becoming increasingly popular and is a major disruptor in the world of finance. The reason for this is simple, these online lenders are filling a void for small and medium sized enterprises (SME's) who have always had a hard time qualifying for SBA or traditional bank loans. Even for SME's that do qualify for a loan from the bank, Fintech companies are able to approve loans in as a little as 24 hours whereas banks can take months to make a decision and provide funding. Of course, online lending has its drawbacks, and there are other financing solutions out there that can help SME's improve the cash flow quickly. Let's dive into the world of Fintech to understand how it works and what it entails.

How do banks make funding decisions?

Traditionally bank underwriters would require vast amounts of information in order to approve an SME for a loan. They would analyze sales records, business assets, accounting statements, and pretty much anything else they could get their hands on in order to make a decision. Oftentimes the decision process is slowed down as they request more and more information. At the end of the day, the bank underwriter is only looking at what a business has done in the past, and not looking at what they can do in the future. As a result, even if they do approve an SME for a loan, the amount will only be based on historical numbers and may not be enough to support future growth. Furthermore, since it is only based on past data, startup businesses are pretty much eliminated from receiving funding from a bank.

How do online lenders improve the approval process?

Online lenders have done away with underwriters reviewing accounts, instead they're underwriters have come up with complex computer algorithms that can measure if an SME qualifies for a loan, and how much they will qualify for. They do this by requesting access to a company's online banking platform and the EDI systems of their largest customers. By providing the Fintech company with login information to these various portals, the algorithms are able to work their magic and come up with an instant decision based on the data collected from these sources. Even startups can qualify as the algorithms would have rules built in for dealing with smaller amounts of data. The algorithms are of course designed to predict future potential growth, giving an SME access to the funds that they would need to grow.

What are the drawbacks to online lending?

Like all good things in life, there is a catch to online lending. Most of these companies are funded by venture capitalists or crowd sourcing, as a result, the investors are looking for very high returns on their investment. Fintech companies are also taking on more risk as they are allowing computer algorithms to make instant financing decisions, as opposed to a bank that would use a human underwriter to review an application in great detail. The combination of these factors results in much higher interest rates than you would get from alternative financing options. At the low end, Fintech companies may offer APR's around 30% for companies with strong financials, but for startups or struggling businesses, those APR's can be well over 100%.

Furthermore, online lenders require you to authorize them to automatically withdraw funds from your bank account, a practice often associated with predatory lending. Based on the lender this can mean monthly withdrawals, weekly withdrawals, or in some cases even daily withdrawals. Furthermore, since you have provided them with access to your online banking platform, they have the ability to wipe out your account should you in anyway breach their contract.

Another common practice of online lenders is to have steep penalties for early repayment of a loan. Where a bank would allow you to repay a loan early to avoid paying interest, online lenders are expecting you to be paying their exorbitant interest rates for the entire term of your loan. Those that don't have penalties for early repayment tend to charge you all of the interest up front when you take out the loan, so even if you were to pay off the loan early, it won't save you from having to pay interest.

The other big problem with online lending is that it is entirely online. It is very difficult for you to pick up a phone and speak with someone at these large Fintech companies. Even if they do offer customer service, these companies are run by algorithms and it would be impossible for a customer service representative to offer you any actual help.

So why is online lending so popular?

By allowing computers to do the jobs that had traditionally been done by underwriters, combined with having those very same computers also withdraw funds directly from your checking account, online lenders have eliminated a lot of the expense involved with financing. They have also greatly increased the APR's for financing and have investors with very deep pockets. The combination of all these factors have allowed them to spend more money on marketing their products than traditional financing institutions have been able to do in the past. The result is that while many small business owners aren't familiar with banking alternatives, they are being bombarded with advertising from online lenders and are jumping at the opportunity to receive funding without first checking to see if they have any other options available.

So what are the alternatives to online lending?

There are alternatives to online lending that don't require you to work with a bank. Two of those alternatives are accounts receivable factoring and purchase order financing. While not every business will qualify for these services, businesses that sell to or provide a service for other businesses (B2B) do qualify. With accounts receivable factoring, businesses are able to turn their receivables into working capital without taking on any debt. Purchase order financing is a way of getting a short-term loan based on a purchase order so that you can pay your suppliers in order to fulfill your purchase orders.

Accounts Receivable Factoring

Accounts receivable factoring is a financial tool that allows you to sell your receivables to a factoring company at a discount. As a result, you are not taking on any debt because your factoring company is purchasing your receivables. Furthermore, you aren't just getting funded sooner on your receivables, but you are also outsourcing all of your collection work to your factoring company and, in the case of non-recourse factoring, getting insurance on your receivables. You also aren't taking on debt so there is no lengthy approval process. Instead your factoring company is checking out the credit worthiness of your customers, eliminating the need for you to subscribe to expensive credit agencies, and typically credit decisions can be made within half an hour of submitting a customer for credit approval. The discount for factoring your receivables can vary based on the terms of your receivables, but is very similar to a credit card processing fee.

There are many factoring companies out there, all of who offer slightly different programs and rates. Another big difference between factoring companies is with their ownership. Some factoring companies are family-owned, small businesses just like yours, others are owned and run by major national banks, credit bureaus, gas station chains, or may be subsidiaries of overseas factoring companies. If having a personal relationship with your factoring company is important to you, and it should be, then it is important that you look at who the ownership of the factoring company is.

While there are online lenders that offer "Fintech Factoring", in reality all they are doing is giving you a loan based on your outstanding receivables being used as collateral. They also do not provide you with credit checking or collections services, and it is with recourse, meaning that your receivables are not insured. Plus, they still charge you the same exorbitant APR's as other online lenders.

Purchase Order Financing

Purchase order financing is a way of securing the funds necessary to pay your suppliers when you receive a larger than normal purchase order. Purchase order financing can either be used as a stand-alone product or can be combined with factoring to help fund your business. Either way, since purchase order financing is a short-term loan, the fees involved are higher than factoring, but still much lower than fees charged by online lenders.

As a stand-alone product, purchase order financing has a rigid set of rules that can not be broken if you wish to receive funding. Common rules are that it is not available for a work-in-progress, you must have an overseas supplier, and the product must be shipped directly from your supplier in the foreign country to your customer in the US, that is it can't pass through your hands or the hands of any other third party. Typically, the way it works is that your supplier will be issued a letter of credit that they can then take to their bank and draw upon. Because it requires a bank to issue a letter of credit, it tends to be a lengthier process and could require several weeks to secure.

However, if you combine purchase order financing with accounts receivable factoring, it is a very different story since you have built a relationship with your factoring company through the factoring of your receivables. Because your factoring company will ultimately be repaid when you factor the resulting invoice, there is no need to obtain a letter of credit from a bank. Purchase order financing rules become much more relaxed and funding is often available the same day you ask for it. Purchase order financing is more expensive than accounts receivable factoring, so if you can fund a purchase order through the factoring of other receivables then that is a better way to do it. However, for very large orders, if factoring can not provide you with enough funding, then purchase order financing can be a very useful tool in order to take on large orders and grow your business.

How do I find the right form of financing my business?

Only you know what is right for your business, but just like any other important decision, it is important that you research your financing options before signing up with a company. While it may seem easy to click on an ad on a web page and get instant approval to a loan or line of credit, there is usually a reason why it is so easy and why they have enough money to bombard you with advertisements all the time. When it comes to financing your business, make sure you research all the options out there. After all, you want a financing company that will be working for you, otherwise you will wind up working for your financing company.

About DSA Factors

DSA Factors is a small, family-owned and family-run business. We have been providing accounts receivable factoring and purchase order financing for over 30 years to wide range of industries. We offer very competitive rates and the personalized service you would expect from a family-owned business. Give us a call at 773-248-9000 and one of our principals will be more than happy to speak with you about how we can help you grow your business.

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