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Don't ignore SME Lending: Alternative Lenders are here

-by Kiran Kalmadi and Durga Prasad Balmuri

The next focus in the David Fintechs Vs Goliath Banks series is on SME lending. In 2014, 28 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in America contributed to over 50% of the U.S. non-farm GDP. Yet, most of them find it very challenging to secure the capital required to either run their daily operations, or invest in business expansion; as small business lending is largely neglected in many countries.

At the same time, many banks have also seen a dip in their share of lending to small businesses over the past few years. For example, loans issued by the top, 10, U.S. banks dipped to US$44.7 billion in 2014 vis-à-vis US$72.5 billion in 2006. This could be attributed to the fact that banks find it unviable to cater to this segment due to a number of factors such as the small loan size, strict regulations, heavy paperwork, etc. These factors make lending expensive, considering the relatively low returns that they generate. In addition, banks also expect borrowers to perform well on three parameters - credit scores, collaterals, and cash flows - before extending loans; and not all SMEs can meet these criteria.

Luckily, every cloud has a silver lining and these challenges have catalyzed the growth of a new type of online non-bank lender or tech-based alternative lender. They disburse loans via online platforms using advanced, underwriting algorithms and new credit appraisal methodologies. Unlike traditional banks, these lenders refuse to depend on just the three parameters, and analyze additional parameters like bank transaction history, tax filings, credit card history, invoice volumes, etc., before disbursing loans. The insights gained from these additional data points greatly improve the chances of granting loans to SMEs. This way, platform-based companies can quickly underwrite loans of small-ticket sizes that banks find trouble servicing.

What's more, by leveraging technology, online platforms, and innovative risk assessment methodologies; most alternative lenders take only a few minutes to assess if an applicant qualifies for a loan. In other words, approval mostly happens on the same day and is ideal for most businesses that need regular financing and cannot wait for weeks every time they need funds.

Such customer-centric processes make alternative lenders like OnDeck, Kabbage, Fundation, Funding Circle, and many others; rockstars in the SME lending ecosystem. Stars who take on a lot of risks including unclear regulations and a higher probability of loans defaults. Under these circumstances, alternate lenders are reducing risks by charging higher interest rates that could reduce in the near future once they become more mainstream, secure funds at cheaper rates by partnering with banks, and establish firm roots in the lending space.

The bottom line remains that alternative lenders may turn out to be more favorable to SMEs than traditional banks. By offering a life-line to small business owners, they might soon start gnawing at the balance sheets of banks; implying that banks must come out of their comfort zone and act upon their inherent challenges faster than ever before.

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