At hypeworthy young tech companies, CEOs typically don’t talk much about profitability. Instead they push for rapid growth, with the expectation that black ink will eventually follow.
This paradigm held true for several years at OnDeck Capital, which went public in December 2014 in the midst of enormous buzz for the online lending sector. The company has lost $95 million since that offering, even as loan origination volume doubled in the two years that followed it.
But the mounting losses have frustrated investors, and on Monday OnDeck CEO Noah Breslow bowed to that new reality when he said that the New York-based small-business lender is targeting profitability in the second half of this year.
The change in course amounts to an implicit acknowledgment that OnDeck is no longer growing like a highflying tech company; its loan originations in the first quarter were up just 1% from the same period in 2016.
OnDeck lost $11.1 million in the first quarter of this year, which was its smallest loss in five quarters. The losses have been driven by a range of factors, including borrowing costs that are significantly higher than those of banks, substantial spending aimed at attracting new customers, and a large percentage of loans going bad.
In order to stop the bleeding, the company said Monday that it will embark on a new round of cost-cutting and also make it harder for borrowers to get approved for loans.
The latest expense reductions will total $25 million in annual run rate operating expenses; they follow an earlier $20 million cost-cutting plan. As a result of those two initiatives, OnDeck expects its workforce to be 27% smaller by June 30 than it was at the end of last year. The company did not divulge how many workers it plans to lay off.
OnDeck makes term loans of up to $500,000, often to small businesses that cannot qualify for bank loans and are willing to pay high interest rates in order to access needed cash.
But the company said Monday that it plans to approve fewer applicants with subpar credit profiles. And in another step aimed at reducing the company’s risks, OnDeck said that it will lend smaller sums of money.
OnDeck said Monday its net chargeoff rate rose to 14.9% in the first quarter of 2017, from 11.2% in the first quarter of 2016. Meanwhile, the provision for loan losses nearly doubled $46.2 million.
The latest moves did little to fray the nerves of OnDeck shareholders. The stock was down 9.2% in late-day trading Monday. Since debuting in December 2014 at $20, the company’s share price has fallen to below $5.
Last month, Marathon Partners Equity Management LLC, a hedge fund that owns shares in OnDeck, called on the firm’s management to shift toward a strategy aimed at achieving profitability and to explore the potential sale of the company. Marathon Partners also said that it plans to vote against the entire slate of directors, including Breslow, who are up for re-election at OnDeck’s annual meeting on Wednesday.
Breslow said during Monday’s conference call with analysts that OnDeck’s management is making decisions based on the idea that the firm will remain independent, rather than with a sale in mind. He also argued that there is no turning back on the trend, joined by many banks in recent years, of offering credit over the Internet.
“There still no question that five years from now, every single small-business loan gets made online,” Breslow said. “We think we’re on the vanguard of that trend.”