Entrepreneurship has its up and downs, but things were definitely looking up for Selfie On a Stick owners Jacqueline Verdier and Dominic Suszanski in 2014. On a vacation to Asia that spring, the pair spotted locals using a stick-like device to hold their cell phones at the perfect angle to snap selfies — those ubiquitous self-portraits that live on Facebook and Instagram. It didn’t take them long to realize that using these sticks produced a higher quality photo than sticking out an arm and fumbling to get a shot.
Back in New York, Verdier and Suszanksi quickly designed a prototype and launched their product in July 2014 by holding pop-up events in the city. Even they were surprised at how quickly the device caught on, and when shopping channel QVC picked it up as a featured item, demand soared. At that point, they faced what many people would consider a dream dilemma — they didn’t have enough cash on hand to purchase materials to fill the orders.
Like any businesswoman, Verdier turned to her bank, JPMorgan Chase, and applied for a loan. But Selfie on a Stick was too new, and the company’s financial track record was too short.
“They turned me down cold,” Verdier says. “As did several other traditional banks. We were living the American dream, but we couldn’t get a loan. Finally, a friend of mine who works in finance suggested we try OnDeck.”
OnDeck is a financial technology, or fintech, company that specializes in business loans. Potential customers fill out an online application and within a day or two, OnDeck approves (or denies) the loan. OnDeck is one of a growing number of fintech lending companies, some of which also provide personal loans. Some companies use a peer-to-peer funding platform, where investors can choose loans in which they wish to invest. Since OnDeck does not use this model, the loans come from the company directly.
Although the fintech industry often sounds like the Wild West of finance, providing loans to people and businesses that regular banks won’t touch, companies like OnDeck do have their own sets of standards.
“They turned us down, too,” recalls Verdier. “They said, ‘It sounds good, but you have to be in business for a year.’ So we waited a month and reapplied. We were approved in 24 hours and received the money in 48.”
In an interview with Verdier just before Christmas, she told ABF Journal that business was booming as people bought Selfie on a Stick products as stocking stuffers and corporate promotional items. The company has expanded and offers several different models, including a Bluetooth operated selfie stick. She described her transaction with OnDeck as “pretty painless.”
Painless Online Loans
Chase would like to offer customers like Verdier an equally smooth experience. In December, Chase’s Jamie Dimon announced that the bank would be partnering with OnDeck to create a new product which would enable small business customers to enjoy a seamless online process.
“We had several options,” said a Chase spokesman. “We could buy, build or partner. We decided to pursue a partner. We selected OnDeck because of the quality of its management team and its ability to meet our standards. This will be a product designed and built for Chase for our business customers. We are funding these loans from our balance sheet.”
OnDeck has been providing loans for small businesses for eight years, using its own proprietary technology to evaluate the probable success of applicants. James Hobson, OnDeck’s CFO, has an MBA from Harvard Business School, but he came to OnDeck from the technology world.
Hobson explains that OnDeck founders Mitch Jacobs and Noah Breslow “looked at the process of what a small business had to go through to get a loan. Just the off-line process that built a stack of paper was a challenge, and very time consuming for small business owners who don’t have teams of accountants to do this.”
Small businesses were also “stuck between a consumer credit score and a FICO score” during the evaluation process, he adds, which did not always reflect the state of the business. “We wanted to build a credit score that focuses on the health of the small business.”
Using what the company calls the “OnDeck Score” to screen lenders, the company has loaned more than $3 billion in the past eight years.
Now the company will be using its technology to develop a similar scoring tool for Chase.
Chase Branded Online Product
“What we’re doing with Chase is building a new lending product that will deliver online loans to Chase business clients,” says Hobson. “We’re combining the traditional relationship that Chase has with its customers and bringing in our analytics and lending experience so Chase will be able to offer same day or next day loans to their customers.”
Chase’s spokesman agrees. “This product will combine our underwriting standards using the technology of OnDeck. This is an opportunity to bring that speed to meet the small business needs of our customers.”
Chase plans to unroll the new product quietly to a select group of current customers before making it available to the larger public.
Although Chase was the first major bank to officially partner with a fintech lender to develop a product, they are not alone in reaching out to online lenders and utilizing the technology.
Citigroup has teamed up with Lending Club, a peer-to-peer lending site that pundits predicted last fall would be Chase’s choice for a partner before the bank decided to team with OnDeck. Citi has been preparing to enter fintech territory for a year. Last February, it hired Matt Swann, head of Amazon Payments, as chief of technology. In August, Carey Kolaja, a decade-long PayPal employee who was second-in-command of its consumer products division, joined Citi FinTech, a new unit of Citi focused on improving mobile banking experiences.
Citi’s FinTech division has been hosting meetups where “local developers and financial leaders come together to foster FinTech development and innovation within their communities,” according to the Citibank website. Recaps of the events are posted on the site. So far, the bank has not pulled the trigger on a fintech lending product, and Citi has been mum about any progress.
A Link to Fundation
Regions Bank chose a different route when it announced a partnership with fintech lender Fundation last October. Instead of dealing with a new product, Regions customers can simply visit the bank’s website and click on a link to access Fundation’s online application.
Commenting on the relationship in a news release, Joe DiNicolantonio, head of Regions Business Banking, explains, “Small businesses continue to drive growth throughout the economy, and in order to meet their ever-evolving needs and desire to utilize online and digital processes, the financial services industry must provide innovative solutions that offer flexibility, speed and capital access in a responsible manner.”
DiNicolantonio points to a 2014 Joint Small Business Credit Survey, a collaboration among the Federal Reserve Banks of New York, Atlanta, Cleveland and Philadelphia, released last February that said 20% of small business owners in the U.S. are already turning to online lenders to meet their credit needs. He adds, “This unique agreement with Fundation allows Regions Bank to expand loan product offerings and method of delivery for small businesses while also cultivating long-term revenue and loan growth opportunities.”
Wells Fargo has had a toe in the fintech waters for almost five years. A Wells Fargo unit that processes credit-card payments for merchants developed an arrangement with CAN Capital. Wells Fargo customers who were declined a bank loan were referred to the online lender.
Meanwhile, all eyes are on Chase, waiting to see the new product and how the relationship will play out. Although OnDeck is providing the technology, it will bear only the JPMorgan Chase imprint.
“This is a product built and designed for the Chase business customer,” said the bank’s spokesperson. “Our goal is to make Chase the easiest bank to work with.”
Verdier and Dominic would like that. Maybe the next time they need capital to expand Selfie on a Stick or another new product, they won’t have to look further than their own bank.