CommonBond Raises Equity, Secures More Funding for Student Loans

  • Neuberger Berman division leads $30 million equity round
  • Lending venture secures $300 million in funding to make loans

CommonBond Inc., the student-loan venture backed by former Citigroup Inc. chief Vikram Pandit, raised equity and reached a new funding deal for loans in a sign that investors are still willing to back established online lenders.

A Neuberger Berman division led the $30 million equity injection, which values the closely held company higher than its previous fundraising round, CommonBond said Tuesday in a statement. A “leading global asset management firm” agreed to back $300 million in loans, it said. CommonBond declined to specify the valuation or identify the investor.

Venture funding for financial technology, or fintech, upstarts has waned this year as some struggle to gain traction and others cut staff amid signs their growth is slowing. The challenges escalated in May after industry pioneer LendingClub Corp. said it discovered problems with internal controls, prompting its founder to step down as chief executive officer.

“Heading into this year we knew there was going to be turbulence,” CommonBond CEO David Klein said in a phone interview. While the LendingClub’s shakeup was a surprise, “our prediction was that the strong were going to survive.”

Since his ouster as Citigroup’s CEO in 2012, Pandit has helped seed businesses looking to challenge traditional banks. In 2013, he was among investors including venture capital fund Social + Capital that plowed more than $100 million into New York-based CommonBond.

Tech Investments

CommonBond continues to see growth in loan volume and revenue, which helped it secure more funding, Klein said. While the company cut 10 people including its head of capital markets in recent weeks, it plans to use some of the new equity to hire, he said. CommonBond also will invest in technology and earmark some money to support financing arrangements, Klein said.

“Getting this round done is huge,” said Brian Hirsch, managing partner of Tribeca Venture Partners, an early CommonBond investor that also participated in the latest round. “In the fintech sector, only the best companies are getting funded right now.”

The capital raise is more modest than what CommonBond’s larger competitors were able to achieve in the past few years. SoFi, an online lender that competes with CommonBond in refinancing student loans, said in September it had lined up $1 billion in funding from a group led by SoftBank Group Corp. In December 2014, LendingClub raised about the same amount in an initial public offering.

CommonBond also announced Tuesday that it acquired Gradible, a business that helps people manage and repay student loans. Terms for the deal weren’t disclosed, though CommonBond said it will use the company’s technology to appeal to employers who want to assist student-loan repayment. Gradible co-founders Pete Wylie and Grant Biles will join CommonBond.

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