The CEO and Co-Founder of LendStreet talks financial health with a new approach to debt settlement
The debt settlement space has not had a great reputation. But there are situations where it truly is the best option for consumers who are in over their heads financially. But for consumers going through the debt settlement process it can be long multi-year road to go down where your credit remains in bad shape.
Our next guest on the Lend Academy Podcast is looking to change that. Jerry Nemorin is the CEO and Co-Founder of LendStreet. They are pioneering a new way for consumers to deal with debt settlement that gets them back on their feet much more quickly. This session was recorded at LendIt Fintech USA 2019 in San Francisco (you can watch the video of this interview here).
In this podcast you will learn:
The origins of LendStreet.
Why Jerry believed deeply that this product needed to exist.
How he was first able to prove his thesis that this population would repay.
How the debt settlement space works and why it has had a bad reputation.
The typical customer who works with LendStreet.
The interest rate range they charge and why they don’t do risk based pricing.
Why many marketplace lenders are not happy with debt settlement companies.
The impact on consumers credit credit score for those in the LendStreet program.
How LendStreet makes money.
The size of the problem in the U.S. today.
Who backed their Series A they closed last year.
How they are funding these loans.
What the future holds for LendStreet over the next 12 to 24 months.
How they are engaging regulators to make sure they understand what they are doing.
Welcome to the Lend Academy Podcast, Episode No.
195. This is your host, Peter Renton, Founder of Lend Academy and Co-Founder of
the LendIt Fintech Conference.
Peter Renton: So welcome to a special
LendIt Fintech edition of the Lend Academy podcast. We are here live at LendIt
Fintech USA 2019 and I am joined by Jerry Nemorin from LendStreet, he is the
CEO and Co-Founder of LendStreet.
Wecome to the podcast, Jerry.
Jerry Nemorin: Thank you for having me.
Peter: Okay, so let’s just get
started, we’ve known each other now for many years, you’re a bit of a venture
into the fintech space these days. Why don’t you give us a little bit of
background (Peter laughs)…give us a little bit of background about yourself and
sort of how the arch of your career has gone.
Jerry: Well, personally, I’m originally
from Haiti, I grew up in Haiti and moved to the States when I was very young
and studied at the University of Florida, studied finance at the University of
Florida and then did my MBA at the University of Virginia, the newly minted
national champions. Finance was something for me, it was always a subject that
I was really passionate about and interested in.
After the credit crisis, I was working at Bank of America Merrill
Lynch in their Leveraged Financial Sponsors Group and the idea for LendStreet
really stemmed from the things we were doing on Wall Street helping major
businesses restructure their debt and giving them a path to being financially
viable and sustainable. As a very early lender on Prosper, I thought the idea
of creating a debt restructuring platform that not only allowed the consumer to
get a pathway to financial health, but also give the creditor a way to recover
more capital which didn’t exist then.
I mean, you and I had this conversation before where, you know, we
started off with Prosper and Lending Club focusing primarily on debt
consolidation, but there were really no sophisticated debt restructuring
platform that was focused on the consumers that when they experience a
financial shock, how do you help them rebuild, how do you help them get back on
path and that didn’t exist at that time.
Peter: Right, right. So then, you
know, you started this company and it was many years ago now and you’re stuck
at it which many wouldn’t…..tell us how it’s going because we first met, I
think, it was like 2013 at a meet-up here in San Francisco and you know, you’ve
stuck at it so tell us a little bit about those early days and how the journey
Jerry: Yeah, you know, I think
you’re right, many wouldn’t have stuck through it, but for me it’s as personal
as it is professional.
Jerry: I think most entrepreneurs
will tell you, you don’t do it, you don’t take the risk of being an
entrepreneur for the sake of really hitting it big as we know the odds are
against you, right, nine out of ten companies will fail.
Jerry: But for me, this was a
product that I believed really truly needs to exist. You know, it’s easy for
consumers when they’re financially healthy, there are so many products out
there that we’re trying to give, you know….and, quite frankly, our industry
have helped increase access, but we haven’t had a product that actually think
about the holistic health of the system, not just the consumer, but how we’re
impacting the financial system.
Are we adding more risk, are we, you know, are we making it safer,
are we helping reduce the cost of capital broadly? So to me this was a product
that my family could have used back in the days and so deeply believe that it
needs to exist, no matter what I have to make sure that I gave myself a chance
to see it through.
So starting off was really difficult. Imagine telling investors
that you want to create a product that helps people in financial distress, who
are delinquent, who are distressed and you’re going to give them a loan so they
can pay off their debt so it’s just an oxymoron in many ways.
Peter: Right, right.
Jerry: You know, selling
innovation is hard, right, selling innovation to people who cannot empathize
with the problem is even harder and so our journey was much, much harder than
most. We had to prove a lot more to make sure that the thesis that we had which
is that consumers who are financially distressed, if you’re able to right size
their debt, get them into a payment plan that makes sense, they will perform
and perform like they were prime or near-prime at that and that was always the
If you can match the capacity with the intent, you can make it
happen so it took us a bit to get off because that was something that not most
people would really identify with, but we’re able to show the data, it came now
to the numbers.
Jerry: We’re able to show the
data, prove out that, you know, there was a group of clients, if you take the
winds of consumers are inherently good, they want to make payments, these are
Jerry: …..they’re our lives,
but if you take the notion that people are inherently good and they want to
make good on their debt, that when they experience a financial shock it’s a
matter of bridging that capacity with the intent, that we’d create a product that
truly, you know, make a significant impact in the lives of these individuals,
but also create a product that helps creditors improve their recovery. Ideally,
by improving the recovery for creditors, you ultimately make the system safer
and you make the system less passive and that’s been sort of the focus with
LendStreet and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.
Peter: Right. So early days, I
want to go back, we talked about this a while ago and a couple of years ago, I
think, but when you were talking about those early days you first raised money
and you loaned that money out and you basically….I remember you said at that
time, if I’m proven wrong and this doesn’t work then I close up shop and go
home. So you lent out that first cohort, so tell us a little bit that and how
Jerry: Yeah, so we raised
capital, really friends and family, and just to prove out that at the end of
the day the thesis was they would be paid. If they didn’t pay within a
structure that was market-based, not just that they’ll be paying, but for me it
had to be a market-based solution. So for the risk that, you know, that we were
taking, that we were recovering a certain amount of capital and a profit, that
would make sense to attract additional capital to scale because I don’t think
you can do real social impact without market-based solutions.
Jerry: And so the first cohort we
did and performed incredibly well, we actually supplied ourselves, we had less
than 5% default from that first cohort, that scale certainly didn’t hold up
that way, but it was a metric. The thing that we were measuring is if we’re
able to lend to those consumers, will they repay, and that was a question we’ve
got consistently, you know, through the process. Will they repay, will they repay
Our belief was that these are consumers, we call them recovering
prime, so these are consumers who, historically, have been bad credit,
experienced a financial shock and, you know, they’ve proven in the past their
ability and willingness to pay. It’s a matter of in this moment they can no
longer make those same level of payments and so if we can restructure that debt
and restructure the payment to what they can actually afford, will they be
paid? That was the big pieces, that was the, you know, I’d like to believe it’s
the billion dollar thesis that I had (Peter laughs.)
Peter: Maybe one day.
Jerry: Maybe one day, right, but
that thing just didn’t play out, it played out where, you know, we had…..the
default rates that we had were controlled enough, were low enough that we could
create a product that could be scaled and could attract, you know, capital,
given the rate of returns.
Peter: Yes, so you’ve got sort of
mid-single digit to pulverize to a population that looks at first glance like
they did subprime, definitely subprime.
Jerry: Yeah, that’s exactly
Peter: So then, maybe I want to
sort of talk a little bit about how your product works, but before we get to
that maybe you could explain a little bit about the debt settlement industry.
It certainly hasn’t got a great reputation in some areas, some of it is, I
think, earned, that reputation, but, obviously, there’s good and bad players. Tell
us a little bit about your approach to the debt settlement space.
Jerry: Yeah, so prior to starting
LendStreet, I didn’t have a consumer background, nor did I have a debt
settlement background. The concept for LendStreet was based on a project that I
worked on in banking where in 2008/2009, world was coming to an end and market
was crashing and we covered private equity-owned companies so naturally, they
are heavily indebted.
One of the companies we covered came to us and said, hey, you
know, we’d like to figure out how do we take advantage of this market
dislocation? We believe in our ability to be sustainable, to be viable going
forward, but we think the market is in a different place and we’d like to take
advantage of it. So the MD that I worked with at that time said, look, why
don’t you get capital from your private equity sponsor, take that capital, buy
back your own debt and effectively, de-lever the company significantly, I think
de-lever it by a turn or a turn and a half.
And so what that did for that company was that it lowered their
debt, it lowered their interest servicing so it created cash flow for that
company, made it more viable, more sustainable and, oh by the way, created
equity, right, equity value for the private equity.
So it was a “win win win” idea and I watched that and I
said, well, if we can do that for major businesses and as a lender on Prosper
at that time, I was lending $25 at a pop at Prosper, I might be one of the few
people who didn’t lose money, didn’t make any money, but I didn’t lose any
money (Peter laughs), this was 2008.
I thought, if you look at the loans that are being originated on
Prosper, a lot of it was to consumers who were looking for debt consolidation
and were 560/580 at that time, you know, 80% of the loans were at 580 at that
time. And so I thought, if we could create a product, similar to what we just
did for this major business which is a debt restructuring platform that focuses
on helping consumers who have this delinquent debt, help them negotiate it with
their creditors, give them the loan to pay off that debt so the creditor, at
this point, is able to recover more capital, the consumer gets a new loan that
can help them rebuild their credit and our investors get a rate of return that
is market, that makes sense for the risk that they’re taking. So that was sort
of the aha moment, this can be a “win win win” business model.
Jerry: And so started doing
research into what is out there, does this exist, who else is out there doing
it, what are the options that are available to consumers when they face these
financial difficulties. And so during my research, you know, I read about
credit counseling, I read about debt settlement and I read about bankruptcy and
this was 2008 and so prior to 2008, debt settlement was able to get paid their
fee even when they hadn’t delivered the service.
So, naturally, you have an industry that attracts a lot of people
who necessarily didn’t have the best intentions, in terms of serving the
customer, right. And so debt settlement had a really, really bad….if you look
back 2007/2006/2005 research on debt settlement, it had a really, really bad
reputation. There are some reputable folks doing it, but, you know, like any
other industry, it only takes one to spoil it.
Peter: Right, right.
Jerry: And so I thought, you know,
debt settlement is a needed product. Let’s be honest, consumers face financial
difficulties, they need a solution that helps them get back on path and debt
settlement allows them to do that without having to do the legal bankruptcy
Jerry: Unfortunately, though, it
didn’t have the scrupulous actors that was necessary to make this a significant
industry and a significant business. So what does debt settlement do? The
typical debt settlement…..in the past, they used to get their fees up front
so they didn’t have (inaudible) sent in to deliver the service. In 2008, the
FTC passed a new regulation that they can only get paid when they deliver the
And so the way the debt settlement model works is that consumers
will enroll, they’ll start making payments into a saving account so that they
can eventually settle their debt. On average, it’s about $25,000 to $30,000 of
unsecured debt across six creditors and so they’re making these monthly
payments into the savings account so that they can save enough to eventually
settle them one at a time.
Jerry: And so I thought, here you
have a consumer who’s demonstrated a willingness, because they could have
easily just walked away from this debt, but demonstrated a willingness to pay
and, oh by the way, you also have demonstrated the capacity to pay because
they’re making these monthly payments into these savings accounts.
I thought, if we want to solve this debt settlement issue which is
a lack of trust amongst the creditors, a lack of trust to the consumers because
the service was not necessarily being delivered and certainly a lack of trust
among regulators. The only way you do that is to create a product that actually
is a “win win win” value proposition across the board and so that
gave rise to LendStreet.
Peter: So maybe talk us through
an example of a customer you have, I mean, is it credit card debt they’re
doing, is it personal loan debts or is it a combo so tell us about that and
then how the process works with you guys.
Jerry: Yeah, so it’s typically a
combination. Our average consumer will come in with about $30,000 of debt,
$25,000 to $30,000. It’s across multiple credit cards and some unsecured
installment. The way the process will work is we partner with settlement
companies. The customer would have been in their program, they’ve already made
several payments, they will reach out to this customer and say, hey, you’ve
been in our program, rather than, you know, make these monthly payments over 48
months and still getting collection calls and potentially lawsuit threats,
because you’ve demonstrated the ability and willingness to pay, we can
potentially get you a loan to pay off your debt, just to negotiate and to do
all of them at once.
And so the customer then says, sure, you mean, I can go from being
in this program for 48 months, getting collection calls, lawsuit threats and so
forth to now getting a consolidation loan that is less than what I originally
owed, but at an interest rate……our interest rates are 14.95 to 18.95…at
an interest rate that is not….I think it’s reflective of who they are, but
it’s not reflective of the credit score because, you know…….
Jerry:….it’s less than (cross
talking), 560 FICO, they’re in the subprime and so they would expect 22 to 30%
interest rate so we’re pricing them where we believe they are as an individual,
not where they are as a credit score person.
Jerry: So that’s the loan
product. So the consumer submits an application, we underwrite them, we approve
them, the settlement companies go out and do the negotiation, we fund the
settlement and the customer now has one loan, all of their accounts are
settled, the delinquent ones are settled, we pay it off and they’re making one
payment to us, we report to the bureaus so it helps them rebuild their credit
and so forth.
Peter: So when they come to you,
has the debt been already negotiated (cross talking).
Jerry: No, it’s delinquent at
that time, it’s delinquent, it’s not negotiated yet so we have to do an
estimation of what that settlement will be and we’re providing them a loan, a
line of credit that allows then to go out and do the negotiation and draw on
Peter: Okay, so one of the knocks
you will hear in the industry is that some of the platforms, the Lending Clubs
and Prospers and Marlettes, whatever, they don’t want their debts to be settled….they
want their debts to paid in full, they don’t want it to be settled down. What
are your conversations like when you talk to those….to organizations like
that, how does that go, what do you tell them?
Jerry: I’m no different, I want
my debt to be paid (laughs) because we’re lending, right, so for me, we’re
taking risk in lending to these consumers. So, similarly, we make sure we’re
looking for consumers that truly have a hardship and what I think the
industry….we’ve had these conversations for months with folks in the industry
is, I’m not here to help anyone defraud the creditors.
Jerry: I don’t believe that’s the
right solution. In our average, each guy, right, when you look at our
customers, some of our customers who have 75% DTI. These are
consumers…..yeah, they can’t live on that, there is no question about it,
they can’t, it’s not sustainable. And so, you know, the way….obviously whenever
you lend you’re going to have delinquencies, you’re going to have defaults.
Unfortunately, what we’ve seen in the past, and I’m not saying
that….you know, they don’t have good reasons to be mad about the settlement
companies and things like that, but I think there’s a belief that some
companies are particularly targeting their customers. I don’t know if that’s
the case, I think what happened is customers who are going into consolidation
loans were really trying to outrun a situation.
Jerry: Right, the problem is that
trying to outrun a situation did not necessarily resolve that situation.
Peter: No, it just delays it.
Jerry: It just delays it.
Jerry: And that’s what we were
seeing. These consumers, you know, with 50,60,75 DTI, you know, they get a
loan, either they pay off that original credit card or they don’t, right, but
even if they pay it off they now have access to this credit card where they go
back and swipe.
Jerry: And, unfortunately, for
the majority, I mean, our customers are middle income so these aren’t the high
earners or anything of that nature. So I do agree with the industry that there
has to be a come upon agreement that says, these are the parameters. If the
consumers look like this and they come to you, let’s work out a way that’ll
work to make sure that this customer gets back on path……
Jerry: ….and vice versa. I
think for settlement companies, if this customer looks this, we’re not going to
service them because, you know, they have the means, they have the ability to
Jerry: …..you know, they don’t
need our service, right. And I think that’s where both industries need to
acknowledge, the need for each other and the need to balance the service that
each one of them provide such that it’s a healthy and viable ecosystem.
Peter: Right, right, now that
makes sense. So maybe you could tell us a little bit about what happens when,
you know, your customers come into your program and I presume they continue to
make payments on the loan, what happens to their credit score?
Jerry: Yeah, so what we’re seeing
now is that consumers who have been in our program, typically their credit
scores improve by 80 points within 12 months and over 100 points within 18
months and that’s largely….my belief is that that’s largely due to the fact
that we’re able to clean up their credit. So first and foremost, they no longer
have the delinquencies showing up in their credit report; secondly, they have a
lower amount of debt.
We’ve been able to restructure their debt such that their DTI’s
now are below the 70’s, it’s now closer to a 45/50% and so we’ve made them
better customers, better credit profile and that’s what’s allowed them to
become…..and they’re making monthly payments and those payments are being
reported back to the bureaus which we know is a key component of credit scores.
So I think that’s why we see the benefit and one anecdotal thing
too, what we’re seeing is these are consumers again on average 50 plus years
old and so a good chunk of them have homes so they’ll go out and refi their homes,
take capital, pay off our loan and for us, that’s an exciting moment. We were
able to take this customer who was on the point of financial distress, help
them rebuild their credit and now they’re making savvy financial decisions to
improve their financial health long term.
Peter: You mentioned your
pricing, you said like 14.95 to 18.95, so how do you decide who gets what
price? Is there a risk-based pricing component to this or not?
Jerry: There isn’t, we’re flat
fee, we’re state-by-state so some of that is driven by state regulation. We
have to be mindful of APR caps in certain states, origination caps in certain
states and so forth.
Peter: So, basically, someone
comes into your program it’s a binary decision, you either get a loan… (cross
Jerry: That’s right.
Peter: Okay, okay, that makes
sense. So then what is your revenue model then? Are you taking origination fee,
are you taking, you know, a fee on the backend, how do you get paid?
Jerry: Yeah, it’s a combination.
You know, we get a portion of the debt settlement fee for helping accelerate
their revenue because normally they would have monetized that customer over
36/48/60 months and we’re helping accelerate that to 6 to 9 months. So in some
ways, if you think about it, it’s almost factoring their fees and we’re taking
the dropout, delinquency default rate, you know, default risk.
Peter: So you’re taking on the
Jerry: We’re taking the default
risk so, you know, they give us a portion of their fee as a result of providing
that service. We get an origination fee for the consumer and on loans that are
on our balance sheet, we get a sliver of the entry spread and those that we
sell we get a sliver of the servicing fee.
Peter: Right, right, okay. Okay
then, so give us a sense of the scale you’re at today, how many loans are you
Jerry: Well, first, I think this
is an industry where we’re talking about the 71 million consumers and $680
Billion of distressed that are in the US so what we’ve done is not even
remotely close to scale. I wouldn’t even call it scale, I don’t even think
about……we are not even a pin drop in this problem because when we think
about it, the thing that I’m most proud of is our entry into the space have
created multiple new companies that are doing similar things to us.
Unfortunately, we have more competitors than we would like, but
that’s business. Whenever there’s a good product, good service, you know, a need
for it, there’s going to be competitors. We’re excited about the fact that what
we’ve seen is settlement entities have grown, the debt settlement space itself
has grown significantly.
We’re starting to see delinquencies rise in the credit card space
so we know that means there’s going to be a significant amount of defaults and
delinquencies so we’ve been building ourselves for scale, for true scale. I
think what we’ve done today has been great and we’ve made an impact, but we’re
not even close to what I would call real scale.
Peter: Right, right. I know you
raised a Series A last year and also significant debt capital from really some
of the marquee names in the financial health space so tell us a little bit
about who’s backing you and about that process.
Jerry: Yeah, you know, our
Mission is to deliver financial health and our Vision is to create a just
financial system so we want to be the catalyst, we want to be the…..you know,
the way I think about it, we want to be the lab that creates the solutions that
help consumers get access to products that were previously inaccessible.
We want to create solutions that help consumers improve their
financial health, get them back on path, we want to be, in a way, the think
tank where we can come up with the better solutions, where there’s
non-transparency, we want to improve transparency; where there’s predatory
pricing, we want to eliminate the predatory pricing, or not eliminate, but at
least create a better product that gives the consumer a different choice.
Jerry: And so as a result, we’ve
been able to, you know, attract some of the more mission-aligned, but also
mindful of the need for market-based solutions to attack these problems. So we
have Prudential as one of our investors, we have Radicle Impact, Candide which
is a combination of some of the Pritzker family funding, we’ve got CFSI which
is a big backer of ours, we’re part of the JP Morgan Chase/CFSI Fin Lab.
So, you know, yeah, we’ve been fortunate enough that people who
are recognizing that what we’re doing is adding significant value not only to
the consumers, but also creating real value economically that this is a viable
business and deserves to be funded and given a path to scale.
Peter: Right, right. So we’re almost
out of time, but maybe just a couple of more questions before you go. So are
you open to outside investors, or just using your funding line that you’ve got,
Jerry: Yeah, we’re using what we
have, but we’re in the business of renting money (laughs). Unfortunately,
you’re always raising when you’re in our business so you’re always talking to
more folks, you’re always creating a pipeline, you’re always making sure you
know what’s out there, what the pricing is and then what are the opportunities
going forward. I mean, it wouldn’t be prudent of me to not have those
conversations and always be talking to various investors because as we scale,
we need more access to more capital because that is effectively our product.
Peter: Right, right. Okay so then
give us a sort of look down the road, where are you hoping to go like 12
months/24 months down the road, what are hoping the future holds for
Jerry: Yeah, 12 months, I’m
hoping we do several things. One is that we finally get the lenders to
recognize the need for such a product and the ability for our product to
provide a quicker recovery, a much better recovery than the typical process
which is charge off the debt, package it together and sell it off. So, ideally, we get a few major creditors to
be partners such that we can help restructure the consumers who are currently
in a delinquency mode. So that’s one piece.
On the consumer side, you know, while we created a product that’s
incredibly consumer-friendly, we haven’t done nearly enough to create the
engagement that we want and to create the impact that we want which is
ultimately being able to take the consumer from a point of financial distress and
giving them a path to being financially secure and not ever be needing our
solution. So we need to do a whole lot more work in that area to create better
engagement, better tools, better solutions for the consumers.
And then, lastly, I think, you know, what we’ve been doing for the
last few years has been building for scale and so now to actually go out and
scale this business in the way that we know we can and knowing the needs that’s
Peter: Right. Okay, on that note,
we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you very much, Jerry, it was great to have
you on the show.
Jerry: Likewise, thank you,
thanks for having me. Are you open for questions?
Peter: Sure. (cross talking)
Jerry: Anybody who’d like to ask questions,
just raise your hand, please.
Question 1: Jerry, congrats for
building a fantastic business, it’s doing good for consumers so
congratulations. But you’re in the industry, obviously, that’s kind of have
somewhat of a sullied reputation, you’re one of the sort of shining stars
Talk to us a little bit about sort of your strategy or techniques
or ways that you envision down the road helping giving buoyancy to the industry
and maybe engaging the regulators to, you know, bring to light some of the
positives that you’re doing so people can see exactly that the model that you
have is really designed to help consumers, you know, and do some good in the
Jerry: Absolutely. So the
question is, you know, obviously we’ve built something that’s been impactful,
but how do you both engage regulators to make sure that they understand what
you’ve built and how it’s impacting the consumers as well as building a
broader, you know, rent amongst consumers or, you know, people in the industry
to understand our business, understand what we’re doing.
You know, I think it comes down to one thing. First and foremost
is creating a product that actually delivers a service at a price point that
makes sense and that’s been our focus. First and foremost, our product has to
be good and we’ve done that. It’s consumer-friendly and at the heart of what
we’ve done and everything we’re doing is the consumers and that’s all we think
How does it impact their cash flow, how does it make sure that
they’re actually getting better. And so I think, because that’s been part of
our DNA from day one, it’s allowed us to have many conversations with the CFPB,
it’s allowed us to have conversations amongst the regulators and we’re open
book because we’re very much aligned with their vision of a better financial system
that service the broader population.
And so we’ve been able to have those conversations and continue to
have those conversations, but to your point, you know, we have to do a better
job as an organization to start tooting our own horn a little bit, we don’t do
that as well and really get our story out there and let people know what we’re
doing and how we’re doing it and the impact we’re having among consumers.
Peter: Okay, thank you very much.
Thanks again, Jerry.
Jerry: Thank you, thanks, Peter.
Peter: See you.[/expand]
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Peter Renton is the chairman and co-founder of Fintech Nexus, the world’s first and largest digital media and events company focused on fintech. Peter has been writing about fintech since 2010 and he is the author and creator of the Fintech One-on-One Podcast, the first and longest-running fintech interview series. Peter has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The New York Times, CNBC, CNN, Fortune, NPR, Fox Business News, the Financial Times, and dozens of other publications.