The Intersection of Small Business, Tech and Our Financial Ecosystem is More Important Than Ever

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Techcrunch | Ann Marie Mehlum, Javier Saade | April 10, 2020

small businesses in the US - The Intersection of Small Business, Tech and Our Financial Ecosystem is More Important Than EverThe two of us oversaw the U.S. Small Business Administration’s capital, investment, loan and innovation programs serving America’s small businesses. The nation is rooting for our 30 million small businesses. They employ more than half of the country and create most net new jobs, and 80% of them have less than 60 days cash on hand.

The world has never experienced dislocation of labor and business activity at this scale and speed. We applaud Congress and the White House for stepping up with a $2 trillion relief package, of which, $350 billion is being injected into America’s small businesses. Another $250 billion is being contemplated and negotiated as we write this.

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Washington has been talking regularly with the financial sector, and for small business relief to be effective, banks of all sizes, fintechs, other tech companies, community banks and other capital conduits need to be involved in the solution. There is an urgent need to deploy the funds, and technology will be critical to that end.

Two encouraging developments occurred on Wednesday: 1) SBA launched a new AWS-powered gateway for a streamlined lender entry point and 2) an application for non-bank, non-insured (read: fintech) lenders was made available.

Good steps for sure, but retrofits always come with limitations at their root.

Looking back to move forward, the crisis of 2008 was in many ways a “dress rehearsal” of what we are experiencing now. While there are some similarities, the pandemic’s massive toll on virtually every sector of the economy is happening simultaneously, as evidenced by the fact that 17 million people have filed for jobless claims.

This 21st century problem requires 21st century solutions, and that requires fresh thinking, from policy-to-execution. The large part of our economy that lives at the intersection of small business and the financial system is expecting this thinking and execution.

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It must be pointed out that some constraints and limitations of implementing the CARES Act are not regulatory in nature — they are born out of legacy technologies that slow banks down. The antiquated systems of our government agencies, such as SBA’s much talked about and clunky E-Tran system, do not help either.

Government agencies, let alone their systems, were not built to deal with anything of this magnitude and urgency. But the inherent scalability, penetration, infrastructure, algorithmic capability and plumbing of financial technology should be brought to bear, and now!

The financial system has significant tech adoption lags, organizational inertia and regulatory constraints — all contributing to the chaotic nature of the programs’ implementation. The design of a potential fourth phase of relief should take this into account. While pumping more money into small businesses is a good decision, the process and its underpinning needs to be improved.

Probably more important for people to understand is that when banks secure loan guarantees, that does not immediately translate to funded loans injecting cash into small businesses.

For cash to move, a few things would help smooth the glide path from CARES Act to small businesses:

1) finalizing definitive guidance on bank notes;

2) enhancing secondary market liquidity;

3) developing a 21st century digital interface for more streamlined touch points for all stakeholders; and

4) opening the pathway to new players, including fintech companies as service providers, rails or lenders themselves.

This is important because SBA has been tasked to increase its capacity by a factor of at least 50. All of its credit programs combined put out $25 billion a year. The task at hand: $350 billion in 8-12 weeks. We know SBA has been working 24×7 — along with Treasury, FRB and other agencies — on systems, technology and execution, but there are real friction points working against solving the problem at hand.

See:  Survey finds Canadian small businesses seeing 50 percent revenue decline amid COVID-19

The use of digital constructs and 21st century technology is highly needed due to the amount of dollars, number of loans and the short window we have to deploy them. We urge the SBA, other agencies and regulators to deploy energy and resources to leverage digital finance and financial technology.

Financial technology can help streamline applications, comply with know-your-customer and anti-money laundering rules and application automation. Technology also improves origination, underwriting, loan disbursement and loan servicing, and should be leveraged. Millions of small businesses, the most vulnerable ones in fact, don’t use bank credit. Yet many use Square to accept payments, for example. Fintech now has an open door to participate — good!

We encourage regulators to fully leverage the collective capabilities of technology.

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NCFA Jan 2018 resize - The Intersection of Small Business, Tech and Our Financial Ecosystem is More Important Than Ever The National Crowdfunding & Fintech Association (NCFA Canada) is a financial innovation ecosystem that provides education, market intelligence, industry stewardship, networking and funding opportunities and services to thousands of community members and works closely with industry, government, partners and affiliates to create a vibrant and innovative fintech and funding industry in Canada. Decentralized and distributed, NCFA is engaged with global stakeholders and helps incubate projects and investment in fintech, alternative finance, crowdfunding, peer-to-peer finance, payments, digital assets and tokens, blockchain, cryptocurrency, regtech, and insurtech sectors. Join Canada's Fintech & Funding Community today FREE! Or become a contributing member and get perks. For more information, please visit: www.ncfacanada.org

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