Exclusive Interview With deBanked Founder, Sean Murray
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Exclusive Interview With deBanked Founder, Sean Murray

Merchant Cash Advance industry veteran, Sean Murray has been an influential part in funding over $100 million to small businesses through sales and underwriting efforts. As a Senior Account Executive at Bizfi (part of the Merchant Cash and Capital family), he grew one of the largest residual portfolios in the history of the company and become a well-respected expert in the industry. After his time at Bizfi, Murray founded Raharney Capital, providing advertising and consulting within the alternative lending industry, and also deBanked – the most popular magazine and resource in the industry where Murray also serves as the Editor-in-Chief. Excel Capital Management recently sat down with Mr. Murray to explore his vast knowledge of the Merchant Cash Advance and alternative finance industry and discuss the future of the business.

Excel: Tell us a little more about your background and what made you get into the alternative finance industry.

Sean: I got into this industry almost immediately after college. That was 10 years ago. A friend of mine told me there was an opportunity to work at a fun financial startup. The job description entailed evaluating small businesses for working capital, ones that had mainly been declined already for a bank loan. Given that I double-majored in Accounting and Finance, I was definitely intrigued and took the job.

You’ve been in this niche industry for quite some time. Over the years, how have you seen the industry change and grow?

Sean: In the beginning, the worst part for the small business owners I spoke to was that approval terms were tied entirely to their average monthly credit card processing volume. That meant if cash sales were 90% of their business, we couldn’t consider that, even if that cash was showing up in their bank statements and being declared on their tax return. Over time, funding providers became more creative and flexible. They found ways to better service clients without making it impossibly hard to qualify.

Excel: Did you ever expect the industry to become as popular and as competitive as it is?

Sean: Yes and no. Given that I started before the Great Recession, there was already a big need for non-bank alternatives. The industry already existed and was growing. It wasn’t a byproduct of an economic downturn, it just became more visible during one. People think that when the economy fully heals, that banks will start lending again and the non-bank alternatives will disappear. The truth is that banks never serviced this segment of small businesses. It was and remains to be too expensive, risky, and time consuming for them to underwrite a $20,000 business loan. Sure, they’ll issue you a business credit card, but that’s based on your personal credit, is personally guaranteed, and more often than not the limit is too low. So no, I am not surprised that the industry has become so popular but I am surprised the product mix available to business owners has diversified as much as it has. It’s truly incredible.

In the latest issue of your publication, deBanked, you provide a few predictions on the future of the industry. You specifically mention the fact that it is an election year and touch base on the current state of the stock market. Can you elaborate on these topics and how they relate to the industry?  Also, speaking of the election, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has stated that he will impose nationwide interest rate caps that would, in the long run, hurt marketplace lenders. What are your thoughts on this?

Sean: I think what I was trying to say was that a new President sets the regulatory and legislative “tone.” This year we have a colorful group of candidates, many of whom have big ideas on how to grow the economy. Bernie Sanders in particular has made some pretty controversial statements, one being that he is in favor of a 15% federal interest rate cap on consumer loans. I think many people when they hear that, assume that would mean that a lender that normally offered a borrower a 28% interest rate loan would instead offer a 15% interest rate loan to comply with the cap. That’s not what would happen at all. Instead the lender would just decline the application. In effect, a huge portion of the population would not be able to get a loan from anywhere, not even non-bank alternatives. You know the saying, “it takes money to make money?” That goes hand in hand  with the “rich get richer while the poor get poorer.” Borrowing can be used as leverage to grow and in essence become richer. It takes money to make money. If you’re locked out from borrowing, supposedly for your own good, how do you become richer if your risk profile makes it legally impossible to take money and make money? That’s obviously a larger debate but it all feeds back into the upcoming election and who will be running the country. What will their economic views be? And will that “tone” positively or negatively affect small businesses? Nobody likes the uncertainty in the meantime.

As for the stock market, the connections are easy. Declining stocks increases the allure of investing on peer-to-peer platforms where the returns are perceived as both steady and rather lucrative. It can be hard to stomach a 10% loss in your investment portfolio in a matter of weeks like the stock market did in the beginning of this year. Investors, even small retail investors are going to consider alternatives like this industry. A declining stock market also chips away at wealth and this can affect consumer buying behavior which would impact small businesses. It’s all related at the end of the day.

Excel: Along the same lines, what are your the thoughts on the alternative finance industry being regulated? Do you see this happening anytime soon? If so, how will these regulations affect business?

Sean: I think regulation, if any, will focus on disclosure and transparency. If this is indeed where it goes, I just hope the outcome is intelligent, well thought out and logical. It’s early days right now though so it’s hard to speculate. In business-to-business transactions such as the kind your company engages in, I’m a big believer in the invisible hand. It’s commercial finance, not consumer finance. Some of these businesses might be really small, but we’re still for the most part talking about corporations entering into contracts with other corporations. I think regulations should focus on consumer lending, where there is a much lower presumption of sophistication.

Excel: Moving forward, what impact do you believe the collaboration between OnDeck and Chase will have on the industry as whole?

Sean: From what I know about the partnership and from what I know about banks, I believe Chase is probably using this as an opportunity to fast track their online loan underwriting process while they figure out a longer term technological strategy. You have to remember, it’s not uncommon for banks to be using really old systems. I believe some are still using or have just moved away from Windows XP recently. That’s a 15 year old operating system. Between that, constant bank mergers where the acquired banks are using completely different systems, regulations, and the sheer size from a human resources perspective, all make it nearly impossible to catch up, let alone implement a modern underwriting platform that measures 10,000 data points with connections through all sorts of APIs. The easy solution for now is to use a company that can reliably provide that capability and I think it’s great that OnDeck’s platform instills a level of confidence that a famous bank like Chase would attach their brand to. I think OnDeck and others will score more of these partnerships and there is potentially a play for one to be ultimately acquired by a bank just for the technology.

Excel: As this industry continues to grow and more people are entering the market, what is one piece of advice you can share about the do’s and dont’s of our marketplace?

Sean: Do be responsible and act with integrity at all times. Don’t think you are too small or insignificant to make a difference. If you only help fund one small business and they hire new people as a result, there’s a chain reaction that occurs that affects the entire local economy. It’s a beautiful thing to play a role in that.

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