Is there enough room in the marketplace for yet another online consumer lender?
Despite the sector's recent struggles, Lending Club founder and online-lending pioneer Renaud Laplanche apparently believes there is.
Laplanche is listed as president of Credify Finance on a Nevada corporate filing. A separate Delaware filing states that the firm was established on May 31, barely three weeks after Laplanche stepped down amid a scandal at San Francisco-based Lending Club.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on Laplanche's new company Wednesday. The Journal reported that Credify plans to start offering credit to consumers next year, citing anonymous sources familiar with the firm's plans.
Laplanche left Lending Club in May after the company's board found that certain information related to the sale of a loan had been falsified. The board also took issue with Laplanche's failure to disclose his interest in a third-party fund in which the company was considering making an investment. A short time later, Lending Club disclosed that it had received a grand jury subpoena from the Justice Department.
Lending Club made its reputation refinancing credit card debt, but it is unclear if Laplanche is looking to fill a similar niche or one he thinks has been overlooked by today's crop of online lenders. He declined to comment Wednesday.
Starting a new company would give the French-born securities lawyer a chance to revive his reputation, and deliver a comeuppance to those who forced him out at the company he founded in 2006 and took public eight years later. The Journal reported that Laplanche is working with two former capital-markets executives from Lending Club, both of whom also left the company in the midst of the scandal.
Still, Credify is likely to face more skepticism from investors than Lending Club did early this decade, when Laplanche was the booming industry's celebrated face.
Laplanche is re-entering the sector at a time when even the most-established online lenders are struggling. Lending Club has been hiking interest rates amid a rise in chargeoffs rates and rival Prosper Marketplace has reported steep losses this year as both funding and loan demand have dried up. Prosper's CEO Aaron Vermut recently announced plans to step down.
The field is getting more crowded as well. Goldman Sachs, for example, recently launched an online consumer-lending platform, and as a bank it has the advantage of a more stable base of funding.
"Online lenders have yet to prove that they can achieve adequate profitability," analysts at Moody's Investors Service wrote last month in a research note. "Rapid growth exacerbates the volatility of online lenders' performance, which is untested through the cycle, and increases their vulnerability to their confidence-sensitive funding base."