As Treasury Weighs Risk of Online Lenders, One Puts Skin in Game

LendingClub Corp. and other companies fueling the booming online loan industry have drawn unwanted comparisons to the mortgage market before the 2008 financial crisis because they don’t keep the debt they originate.

One of the fastest growing of the new crop of so-called marketplace lenders is looking to change that.

Marlette Funding LLC is set to announce Friday that it has raised $75 million from investors including a fund affiliated with the Invus Group, a private-equity firm, and Navient Corp. The money will mainly be used to keep a portion of the loans Marlette originates through its website, MyBestEgg.com.

Having “skin in the game” is a key part of Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Meiler’s strategy. He’s banking on the policy to get ahead of regulations that could be coming for online lenders. The U.S. Treasury Department said Thursday that it was seeking public comment on the industry and will study, among other questions, whether the companies that run marketplaces should keep some of the debt they arrange on their own balance sheets.

“As people look at the last financial services crisis, the thing that people rightly say is, ‘Wasn’t this caused by people not having skin in the game?’” Meiler said in an interview, referring to how mortgage brokers would originate loans then sell them off to investors.

While the shift at Marlette may be preemptive, there’s another logic to it. The policy will boost returns because the company will earn interest, as well as the fees it already charges for originating and servicing loans. BestEgg offers installment loans for up to $35,000 that people use to consolidate credit-card debt.

Attracting Money

Putting up some capital will also align interests better with the institutional investors that fund the loans -- and hopefully attract more money, said Meiler. Marlette has originated almost $1 billion of debt since BestEgg began operations in March 2014.

That represents a fraction of other online platforms. LendingClub, the largest in the U.S., lined up more than $1.6 billion in debt in the first quarter alone. Prosper Marketplace Inc., the second-biggest, helped originate more than $900 million of loans in the three months ended June 30.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE