A fintech startup that wants to change the way lenders and consumers square bad debts has raised $10 million in financing from a group of prominent investors.
NEFT LLC in Newport Beach, Calif., has seductive propositions for both sides of the negotiating table to use the product it is developing. Debt-laden consumers would get a chance to cut deals with creditors and potentially improve their credit scores. Meanwhile, banks and credit card issuers could reduce collections costs and retain more customers.
The company aims to link borrowers, lenders and credit reporting agencies through a Web-based portal that it calls "an interactive credit report." Creditors could present consumers with offers to pay off existing debts in real time, and consumers could see the impact that doing so would have on their credit scores.
NEFT says it is in talks with several banks, credit card issuers and auto lenders to become strategic partners in a pilot program of its mPowerCredit technology. The program would help prospective customers improve their credit before applying for credit cards or auto loans.
"We allow consumers to more responsibly manage their credit and, in turn, help the creditors get paid and help the bureaus get updated with accurate information," Executive Chairman G. Christopher Imrey said in a recent interview.
His backers include former Apple Chief Executive John Sculley; Kevin Knight, formerly head of consumer credit and debit products for Visa in North America as well as the retailer Nordstrom's credit unit and bank; and ex-Morgan Stanley chief John Mack, who has invested in other fintech firms such as PeerIQ and Orchard Platform.
Sculley was recently named the vice chairman of NEFT, and Knight sits on the board, too.
More than a dozen funds participated in NEFT's capital raise, which was announced in early September.
Sculley, whose book "Moonshot!" is a how-to manual for startups, described NEFT as a "unicorn," the term for startups with the potential to reach a fairy-tale valuation of more than $1 billion.
"No other technology in today's fintech landscape has the potential to empower consumers like NEFT's mPowerCredit solution," Sculley said in the press release that named him vice chairman.
NEFT, originally named New England Funding Technologies, is the brainchild of Imrey, who previously founded Apollo Enterprise Solutions, a debt-resolution software company. In September 2013, NEFT moved to Newport Beach because of its proximity to strategic partners and key management. NEFT's online platform is expected to launch in 2016, and it is based on 44 patents obtained by Apollo dating to 2005, Imrey said.
John Ulzheimer, a credit expert and president of the Ulzheimer Group, said that simply paying off delinquent debts does not necessarily mean consumers can change their credit scores because the scores include risk factors and many other elements. There are dozens and dozens of different credit scores, including branded names like FICO and VantageScore, and they all treat information differently, he said.
"Only in certain scenarios will changing a balance from something to zero result in an improved score," Ulzheimer said.
But an interactive credit report might be beneficial to credit card issuers and other creditors that have a tough time reaching delinquent customers.
"One of the hardest things to do is to try to convince someone you're trying to collect money from to get on the phone with you and talk about it," Ulzheimer said.
Because consumers would not be charged for the service or for any payment processing, NEFT's portal would not be subject to the federal Credit Repair Organizations Act, said Emilio Cividanes, a leading privacy attorney and a partner at Venable. That 1996 law strictly regulates the advertising and practices of credit repair organizations, and not being subject to the act could vastly reduce NEFT's compliance costs and exposure to legal penalties, Imrey said.