The embedded lending we deserve

Lending is as old as money and Embedded lending is the meme of the day. In this post, I unpack my thinking and thesis on where embedded lending needs to end up. But first, always start with the basics.

What are the fundamental building blocks?

The core components of a lending business are Demand, Supply, Underwriting/pricing, Loan servicing, Payments and money management, and Legal and compliance.

Demand and supply: In our economic model capital is the grease that drives the entire economy – it is one of the required inputs for the economic machine. The need for access to capital is the demand side of the lending business. To satisfy this demand for capital, you need a supply of capital to lend to the borrower.

Underwriting: The demand for capital and the supply of capital makes a market and the clearing price for this market is the price of the capital i.e the interest rate. This price is set by the underwriting function. Its core role is to set the amount if any should the borrower be able to obtain (loan amount) and at what price (interest rate).

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One interface to rule them all | The next frontier in fintech? Part 2

In the last post, we explored what drives an economy (spending) and the levers that a government can use to restart the economy after a crisis (monetary and fiscal). Since 2008 monetary policy has paid the dominant role, but in 2020 fiscal policy is finally making a comeback. Fiscal policy has a direct impact on consumers’ lives as the main objective is to get cash into consumers’ hands so that spending continues unabated.

Fiscal Policy Goals

How to get cash to citizens?

It is logistically impossible for a government entity to show up at every citizen’s doorstep with a truckload of physical cash. Besides the obvious problem of logistics, there are also problems with confirming identities and physical record-keeping. Especially when governments are handing out money, they want to be very particular that only their citizens are getting the cash and there are no cases of freeloading (via fraud, etc). Direct transfers are a politically charged issue – there are always allegations of a slippery slope, nanny state, and communism that get thrown around! You have to get this part right.

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Neither a borrower nor a lender be | A tour through Upstart’s S1

Upstart Holdings, an online lender recently filed their S1. This is the first blog post that I have collaborated on. It was too good to pass up collaborating with another Rohit :). Y’all are in for a treat, it’s a 2-Rohit’s-for-the-price of one analysis!

What is Upstart?

Upstart is an online consumer lender and a lending technology provider. Their core differentiation is that they use Artificial Intelligence for lending decisions. Upstart claims that this results in automated disbursals, higher approval rates, better risk-adjusted performance, and reduced fraud. Their main customer interface is via its website http://www.upstart.com and through bank partners. Currently, their cloud lending platform is available only in the US. Software is eating the world, but in a financial services business, the product is always money. Upstart is an online lender first. They have operated a lending platform for years and now pivoting to providing a SaaS (ish) platform for banks.

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End of the Line | Lessons from the fall of AT&T

Book review time! Some lessons learned from reading the End of the Line: The Rise and Fall of AT&T by Leslie Cauley . How I got to this book is an interesting story in itself. I’m a huge Twitter consumer (I read a lot, but barely tweet) and Post_M is one of my favorite accounts on Twitter. She tweeted a video of a talk with Liberty Media’s CEO John Malone, which I watched and started going through the rabbit hole of more John Malone talks on Youtube and one of the videos recommended this book. The cable industry was never on my list of things that cared about, but thanks to Twitter and Youtube and a book recommendation – I learned a lot! The internet is truly a wonderful place.

Jedi or Empire | Buy Now Pay Later competitive dynamics

We’ve been taking a journey through the BNPL space, we looked at the history, the product, and the go-to-market. I’d like to close the series with a view on the competition and where I think the industry is headed. Warning speculative discussions and opinions ahead.

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To market to market | How do BNPL players go-to-market?

Continuing the deep dive on the BNPL players, the next thing I wanted to look at is their go-to-market strategies. How do they get their customers? Links to Part 1 and Part 2. A word of caution, all the research and numbers are from an outside in perspective and based on publicly available information. There is a possibility that I’m completely wrong in my analysis!

My simple mental model for go to market is,

  • Who is the target customer? Are there many target customers?
  • What is the narrow sub-segment of target customers?
  • What is the value proposition and positioning for this customer?
  • What are the channels that are used to reach out to this customer? Is there a low-cost acquisition channel in the mix?
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What’s in a name – A deep dive into the BNPL product offering

Part two of the deep dive into the Buy now pay later (BNPL) market. In part one we dug deeper into the core product and its history. In this post, I dig deeper into the value proposition of the product.

A common misconception about this market is that it exists only to serve only the needs of the consumer. It exists only to make consumption easy. This is wrong. This a two-sided platform product. This product exists to help both sides of the transaction – merchants, who sell items and the consumers who purchase them. The fundamental axiom in use here is that extending credit greases consumption. Consumption for consumers is revenue for merchants. By offering various credit constructs and financing options to your customers you are enabling them to buy more of your products. This increases your revenues as a merchant. There is immense value in this product as a conversion tool.

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The song remains the same, a look at the Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) players

Affirm filed for an IPO last week. I’ve wanted to do a deep dive into the BNPL segment and Affirm’s filing is the inspiration that I’ve been waiting for!

Let us start at the very beginning. Once humans came together in groups, the concept of lending aka credit has been willed into existence. The very earliest example of lending dates back to over 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, 2,000 BCE, where farmers bought seeds on credit and repaid the debt after the harvest. Pre-industrial revolution most economies were rural. Lending was like having a tab at your corner store. All underwriting was social and very few folks wanted to risk being cut off from the local economy by defaulting on their debt. All credit was local.

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Old ideas, new packaging – is embedded finance worth the hype?

Sooner or later, everything old is new again

– Stephen King

The thesis expressed today is that financial services are no longer a separate vertical component in consumers’ life. Consumers are going to be better served where they already hang out. So the natural extension for business with a large number of customers is to start offering financial services to their user base. In this model, financial services transition from a vertical component to a horizontal capability that all businesses will offer to their users. Hence the popularity of the term embedded finance.

Is this thesis valid? I’ve been thinking about this for a few years and this post is an attempt to work out a mental model and answer this question.

Short answer – this thesis is wrong. Long answer- it’s nuanced.

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Adventures in underwriting, competitive advantage edition

Every business will eventually have to get into the financing business. Financing is a fancy word for lending and it has been around since the dawn of civilization. In this post, I will attempt to describe a simplified mental model for lending.

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Credit: Scott Adams

What is lending at its core?

Lending is a contractual relationship between two parties. One of them has something that the other needs. The lender, who has the thing and the borrower, who wants the thing. Since the dawn of mankind, the thing to want is productive assets. You start with borrowing a plow, borrowing some land, borrowing some seeds – you get the idea. As mankind progressed and the next abstraction of money came into being, money is the asset that everybody wants. Money is the path to get to productive assets. The lender of money wants to get compensated for giving his asset to the borrower. He is giving up the use of the asset and needs an incentive to compensate for the lost opportunity cost – this is the interest. Every contractual relationship has to have a time frame specified. In lending, this construct is described by the repayment term i.e over what period of time does the lender get their money back.

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