Renaud Laplanche left Lending Club under a cloud of suspicion. Now the pioneering CEO is back in the game with the launch of a new online lending venture that will compete head to head with the firm he co-founded 11 years ago.
Upgrade Inc. began offering personal loans on Thursday. The company plans to add credit monitoring and credit education features that will be aimed at differentiating Upgrade from a broad swath of competitors.
In other words, the company’s elevator pitch is Credit Karma plus Lending Club.
Laplanche’s latest venture illustrates just how much the online lending industry has changed since the French-born securities lawyer founded Lending Club in 2006.
In the company’s early days, the idea was to enable individuals to lend money to each other over Facebook. Over time, hedge funds and other institutional investors became interested in funding the loans, which allowed consumers to refinance credit card debt at lower rates, and the industry shifted away from its peer-to-peer roots.
Today, Lending Club still sells some of its loans to everyday investors, but Upgrade has not announced plans to do so.
The new firm, which is less than half a mile from Lending Club’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco, will offer whole loans for sale to institutional investors, according to the press release that announced Upgrade’s launch.
The company also said that it is working with the investment bank Jefferies on a capital markets strategy that is expected include a plan to securitize loans. Jefferies was on the periphery of the scandal that led to Laplanche’s ouster from Lending Club — the firm bought a loan after Lending Club provided falsified information — which makes its involvement in his new venture notable.
Goldman Sachs launched an online consumer lending platform last fall, and the banking giant has the advantage of a more stable base of funding than the startups it is competing against. For its own part, Lending Club lost $146 million last year, though the red ink was partly a result of fallout from Laplanche’s unexpected departure.
Upgrade is planning to lend to a broad cross-section of U.S. consumers, especially those who carry substantial credit card balances. The firm’s loans will range in size from $2,000 to $50,000. They will carry annual percentage rates of 5.66% to 35.97%.
The company, which started operating eight months ago, has more than 70 employees in San Francisco and Phoenix. Last month it raised $60 million in equity and convertible notes.
One of the firm’s funders is Union Square Ventures, which also invested in Lending Club during Laplanche’s tenure.
Laplanche resigned as Lending Club’s CEO in May 2016, shortly after the company’s board discovered the falsified loan information. The board also took issue with the CEO’s failure to disclose his interest in a third-party fund in which the company was considering making an investment.
“We are thrilled to be backing Renaud again, after having worked alongside him at Lending Club for many years,” Fred Wilson, managing partner at Union Square Ventures, said in the press release. “We trust his judgment and integrity, and we think he’s assembled a fantastic team at Upgrade.”
Time will tell if Laplanche’s new job represents an upgrade.