In the Press – American Banker – Line Between Banks and Marketplace Lenders Thinner than You Think

shutterstock_364452773In our current age of fintech startups, banks are often seen as the adversary of newer companies. The story goes that banking is outdated and slow and needs to be disrupted by marketplace lending innovators.

A perception has spread that banks are in one box, and alternative online lenders are in another. It suggests that a bank cannot be one of these newer disruptors, and vice versa. But there’s no good rationale backing this up. The line between banks and marketplace lenders is a myth.

Alternative lending is widely regarded as one of the more innovative developments since the financial crisis — and ensuing slowdown — created a mammoth shift in banks’ ability to provide credit.

With credit from traditional sources harder to find, more and more borrowers are turning to alternative lenders, and interest in the sector is booming. Alternative lenders now account for nearly $10 billion of the $600 billion small business lending market. The $1 trillion student loan market, which has traditionally offered few options for people to refinance their educational debt, is starting to open up to alternative lending. Next-generation lenders are now offering data-driven, flexible and lower-cost refinancing options for student loan debt.

But traditional financial institutions are increasingly doing more than just partnering with marketplace and other alternative lenders; they are the alternative. While it is true that this phenomenon is a response to the emergence of nonbanks offering bank-like services, depository institutions are increasingly entering the alternative lending space, as both collaborators and direct providers.

Institutions like Darien Rowayton Bank and Discover Financial Services in Illinois provide similar services, benefits and innovations that are the signature of next-generation lenders. Banks will underwrite and service marketplace loans themselves, as well as sell loans through securitizations. At DRB, for example, we branched out of our community bank origins in Connecticut to begin offering student loan refinancing and personal loan products that fall into the same category as marketplace lending products. Discover has rolled out personal loans offered via their website, not out of bank locations or through card services.

Meanwhile, depository institutions of all sizes have engaged in partnerships with marketplace lending startups that can make it hard to distinguish between the different parties collaborating. On a large scale there is the well-publicized deal between JPMorgan Chase and OnDeck. But even some credit unions are increasingly looking like marketplace lenders. For example, Cornerstone Community Credit Union in Des Moines, Iowa, announced earlier this year that they had partnered with the online marketplace lender LendingPoint to provide loan products for members who struggle to qualify for traditional financing.
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