SoFi is said to cut 7% of staff, revamp ailing mortgage unit

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Social Finance, the lending and refinancing startup valued at more than $4 billion, is cutting about 7% of its staff, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The 100 job cuts are happening in the company's mortgage department, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. SoFi has said it plans to dramatically expand its mortgage business in 2019. As part of that effort, the company is now undertaking a wholesale restructuring of how that division operates — including a shift away from lending money directly, to acting as a broker.

SoFi has lost money for two consecutive quarters, according to documents reviewed by Bloomberg, as profits of its core lending business fell and it pushed into new product lines. This summer, the company was seeking a $1 billion revolving line of credit to fund operations and expansion. Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer Anthony Noto, who started the job this year, has said his goal is to get the company ready for an initial public offering.

The San Francisco-based startup, with about 1,400 employees, does the majority of its business in student loan refinancing. But facing higher interest rates that have weighed on U.S. lenders, it has recently been broadening its focus in an effort to expand into an all-purpose online financial services company. SoFi has told investors it will be profitable again by the end of the year.

The company first got into the mortgage space in 2014. To date, it has made more than $3 billion in mortgage loans, with half of that coming from existing members, according to the company. While that's not a small number, it pales in comparison to the billions of dollars SoFi has lent out via student loan refinancing and personal loans.

Under its new structure for its mortgage division, the company will partner with banks to provide loans, rather than lending money directly. Borrowers will still largely deal with the fintech startup throughout the process, but its revenue will come from selling leads to banks. The strategy will also help the company reduce the risk on its books, the person said.

The bulk of the staff reductions in SoFi's mortgage division will come from operations, according to the person. Employees were informed of the staffing changes earlier Friday.

"These changes put us in a better position to help even more members by offering competitive rates and a smoother digital experience," a company spokeswoman wrote in an emailed statement.

One of the reasons SoFi hasn't seen its mortgage business grow as fast as its other products is that its core demographic, millennials with student loans, often aren't ready to buy a home. Many of them are recent college graduates, or are just starting out in their careers. However, the company also sees big potential down the line for that demographic, which it calls HENRYs — High Earner, Not Rich Yet.

SoFi's restructuring comes at a difficult time for lenders, which have been struggling to generate the returns they once did as interest rates rise in the U.S. Higher rates mean fewer people have an incentive to refinance their loans, and leads to lower loan volumes overall. At the same time, with U.S. household debt at a record, the risk of losses in consumer credit are looming larger.

The result, for SoFi and others lending companies, has been to attempt to diversify into other areas, as they work to insulate themselves from further rate hikes and an economic downturn.

Bloomberg News