The spin factory is working extra shifts these days.
No, I’m not talking about the upcoming presidential election. Rather, I’m referring to the surprisingly quick and robust efforts on the part of financial services industry advocates to regain control of the narrative following a so-called FinTech (financial technology) poster child’s fall from grace.
LendingClub Corporation was the first peer-to-peer finance company to have an initial public offering. Given the breathtaking $8.5 billion valuation it garnered at the time of its 2014 debut on the New York Stock Exchange, it’s clear that expectations for the company, and the edgy sector of financial services it represents, were high.
Although the firms that share space in FinTech vary in their approaches to the consumer and small-business demographics they target, the two things they have in common are super-fast online processing (thanks to algorithmically based credit underwriting) and limited regulatory oversight because none are depository institutions—no savings and checking account balances are at risk. At least not yet.
Lately, these two commonalities have begun to attract negative attention for reasons I’ll discuss in a moment. At first blush though, it appears as if the LendingClub scandal involves an isolated instance of alleged impropriety on the part of some members of senior management.
Until you take a closer look.
LendingClub’s CEO Renaud Laplanche resigned after the company disclosed that it had misrepresented key characteristics of the loans that were sold to an institutional purchaser. Bulk-loan purchase agreements are specific about what constitutes a so-called eligible contract — such things as bona fide, legally enforceable documentation and the timely receipt of installment payments to the point of sale.
So the $22 million question (the value of the subject transaction) is: Why would a company the size of LendingClub allegedly jeopardize the reputation it has with customer-borrowers, institutional and retail investors that trade in its stock, and the sources on which it depends to fund the loans it originates, all for a deal that represents less than 1% of the loan volume the company booked in just the first quarter of 2016?