Editor's note: This story was updated on April 15 at 1:50 pm EDT to include information about Funding Circle.
Even as about $215 billion in Paycheck Protetction Loans have been approved, many small-business owners are struggling to find a bank that has the capacity to even accept their applications. One result: Fintech companies are angling to win SBA approval as lenders, saying they have the technology to get loans approved and distributed quickly.
"The hope for the fintech companies, and my hope too, is that they'll be able to be approved as SBA lenders," says Jared Hecht, founder and CEO of finance marketplace Fundera.
PayPal and Intuit Quickbooks seem to have been the first to win formal government approval. On April 15, Funding Circle announced that it too had been approved. Others say they've partnered with banks to get money flowing: Kabbage, for instance, had collected about 40,000 loan applications requesting a total of $3.9 billion as of a week ago, with a goal of funding the first ones this week. While Kabbage wouldn't name its bank partner, Kabbage co-founder and COO Kathryn Petralia said the partner was already an SBA lender with the infrastructure to handle PPP loans.
Kabbage wouldn't say how much lending it planned ultimately to facilitate, although Petralia characterized it as "billions and billions."
Fundera also says it has bank partners lined up to accept the loans, although it declined to name those partners.
Even without formal approvals in place, fintechs have been busy wooing small-business customers. They've been encouraging business owners to apply for loans through them, working under the expectation they would soon win approval. Kabbage has been taking applications since April 4, just one day after banks were officially allowed to take applications for the loans. A host of others also promoted their abilities to help on their website, including Lendio and Biz2Credit.
Even if some of the fintech firms never get approval to lend directly, they could still serve as agents that bundle applications. The legislation that created the Paycheck Protection Program specifically allows banks to pay for leads. Most banks don't need leads right now--they're already overwhelmed with applications--and this could prove a challenge as fintechs try to play a bigger role.
When asked if his bank partners have committed to funding PPP loans sent through Fundera, the company's founder and CEO Jared Hecht said, "No one is obliged to do anything right now. Our job for all of our bank partners is to make sure we are finding them customers who fit the criteria." He is encouraging applicants to work with a community bank, if possible. Says Hecht: "Frankly, the highest likely path to receiving financing is for business owners to go to a bank where they have a loan."
That's little comfort to founders like Dawn Verbrigghe, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who has been able to get some guidance about paycheck protection loans from her sister, who works at a bank. But Verbrigghe, the owner of four-person website development company Jottful, couldn't apply at her sister's bank, because it was only accepting applications from existing customers. On April 6, she tried to apply at her own bank, Chase. She received an auto-reply thanking her for her interest, and saying the bank would call her back. "They had a giant message on their website that said, due to extremely high call volume, please do not call us," says Verbrigghe. "I thought, really, how are they going to call us?" Then she heard that Kabbage was accepting applications, and applied there.
"I thought that Kabbage was basically administering this program on behalf of the SBA," says Verbrigghe. Since applying, she's received two email updates from Kabbage, both requesting more information. She worries that multiple applications could trigger a fraud alert, especially if there's no good way to check up on the status of the applications. "The challenge for small-business owners is you have no idea which of these applications is going to get through."