Fig Loans, building a bridge from bad to good credit
Fig works with non-profits to provide credit building products that bridge families from income volatility to financial stability.
I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
I am over 18 years of age
My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States
Where are you making a difference?
Texas: Houston 77001-77598, Dallas 75001-76217, San Antonio 78006-78299, Austin 78613-78799 | Missouri: St. Louis, 63101-63199
Focus Areas (required)
Business & Social Enterprise
Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.
Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)
1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.
We cold called 50 nonprofits to learn more about how payday loans affect low income communities. We wanted to learn from financial coaches with first-hand experience working with payday loan customers. Luckily, United Way of Greater Houston took our call and invited us to work with them to create a better personal loan for consumers and communities. On March 18th, 2015, we presented our vision for the original Fig loan to 80 Houston based financial coaches and they loved it! We were asked repeatedly when it would be available because they already had clients in mind! This is the type of demand that entrepreneurs dream of and the first time we felt Fig’s potential to change the way low income Americans experience financial services.
2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
Today’s credit system is a Catch22. Consumers need to get credit to build credit but can’t get credit unless they have good credit. 108M Americans can’t access credit and use payday loans. The typical payday loan is $400 at 600% APR. Payday loans also trap consumers in debt with hidden fees, rigid payment plans, and aggressive collections. Without a market-based alternative, 108M Americans will continue to live on the fringe.
3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
Our non-profit partners identified predatory, high interest debt as the largest barrier to their clients’ financial success. Fig addresses this problem by providing emergency credit that is 70% cheaper and a path to access mainstream credit. Our approach combines cash flow-based underwriting, machine learning enabled operations, and consumer-centric product design to set clients on a path to mainstream credit.
Our three products are the Fig Loan, Fig Credit Builder, and Fig 36. All products are online, report to the credit bureaus and accept ITIN holders. The Fig Loan was designed with the United Way to replace predatory payday loans as a source of emergency credit. The Fig Credit Builder is modelled after the LISC Twin Accounts. It functions like a savings account that builds credit. Fig36 is a turnkey lending-as-a-service program that addresses the pain points from operating a loan program by providing our software, compliance, underwriting, customer service and credit reporting to non-profits free of charge. Our partners setup robust loan programs, clients borrow at sub-36% APRs and Fig uses the pooled data to build even better future products.
4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.
Sarah is United Way client. She had a bill of $1,400 and didn’t have the money to pay for it. She was turned down for a loan by her employer and her credit union. It took her 20 minutes to get $500 from a payday lender, thinking she could pay it back in two weeks’ time. “But then it was our rent due and we had a car thing come up, I just didn’t have the money.”
To pay off the first loan, she borrowed from another company, and fell into the debt cycle. She eventually defaulted on the loan. “I worked at Costco on Sundays, and now I walk dogs for extra money. Fifteen months after taking out my first loan, I’m still chipping away at the last one.”
Fortunately, a financial coach recommended Sarah to Fig. We refinanced her to a Fig Loan at 20% the cost of her original. Sarah now has a credit builder loan with Fig. In the past 9 months, Sarah has added 73 points to her credit score!
5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?
Anyone who can’t access mainstream credit; most often LMI borrowers. When our customers need short term credit, the only financial institutions available are fringe banking services like title, pawn or payday loans. Imagine working at Chase Bank, getting paid by Chase Bank, and then getting turned down by Chase Bank for credit. For this reason, the Fig Loan targets responsible borrowers living paycheck to paycheck, wanting to build credit towards a better future.
5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:
6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?
We have three types of competitors: (1) incumbent lenders, (2) non-scalable solutions, (3) alternative solutions. Non-scalable solutions include nonprofit and employer solutions. Alternative solutions are products like Oportun and LendUp.
Fig competes with incumbents and alternatives via mission alignment and underwriting technology. We are the only lender that partners directly with non-profits. Fig is also the only company with end-to-end proprietary software. The result, our acquisition cost is a fraction of competitors and our model outperforms competitors 100x our size.
7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?
We have funded 4700 loans to date in Texas and Missouri, totaling over $1.8M. We measure impact in two ways: predatory loan interest + fees saved and customer credit score improvement. According to the Pew Charitable Trust, “on the average payday loan size of $375, borrowers pay about $520 in interest”. Using this metric, we have saved customers $2.4M to date. For credit score improvement, we conducted a study with TransUnion that found our borrowers increased their credit score on average 47 points in their first year with Fig! We are in the process of completing a deeper integration with TransUnion to provide credit score simulation and live tracking for our customers and non-profit partners. A higher credit score improves access to more affordable traditional and digital credit products, allowing workers to spend less on financial services and keep more of their income.
8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?
We plan to enter 5 states in 2018. Increasing our markets allows us to attract larger partners, from non-profits to operations to channel partners. We are also pursuing a CDFI certification this year, which will allow us to partner more closely with banks looking for community reinvestment activities. Fig36 takes our impact to the next level because it empowers existing organizations. Non-profits, churches, employers, and community groups all have resources and want to create lending programs, but the nuts and bolts of operating a lender are a nightmare. Fig36 solves that problem!
8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?
Large Scale Partnerships
Industry Standards (labels, certification, awards, etc.)
9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?
Fig covers operating expenses from interest on our loan products. We have also raised $2.6M in equity funding to grow the company. Our investors include Techstars, Village Capital, and even a non-profit!
The company plans to be cash flow positive by May 2019. Demonstrating the viability of our business and underwriting model is critical for long-term sustainability. Fig is positioned for this milestone as our core technologies improve operational efficiency and we operate lean at a team of 6.
10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?
The team is full-time and consists of 2 data scientists, 1 analyst and 3 developers. The founders are both developers with backgrounds in analytics and finance. John previously worked at Oliver Wyman in consumer finance as well as Bridgewater in risk management. Jeff taught customer behavior models and specialized in consumer products at the Boston Consulting Group. All Fig software is written in-house. The next hires in order will be compliance officer, customer service, analyst and developer.
Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)
Hispanic, Latino/a, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)
Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani)
Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)
No, I do not identify with an underrepresented community
How did you hear about this challenge?
Recommended by others
Fig Tech Inc.
Program Design Clarity
Fig provides emergency loans and credit reporting for clients. Fig also provides a turnkey loan solution for community organizations that want to setup their own loan programs. Our activities are delivered online, we are licensed in the states of Texas, Missouri and Illinois. Our team of 6 works full time to write the software, serve clients and create the analytics that allow us to better identify and serve good borrowers.
Approach to financial wellbeing: does your project focus on creating financial wellbeing through innovating on any of the following?
education / literacy
Innovation type: Please select which of the following types of innovation best characterize your work
Product innovation (Introduction of a good or service or improvements made to existing products)
Process innovation (execution of a new or considerably improved production or delivery method)
Institutional innovation (Creation or changes in organizational structures, the setting up of new types of financial intermediaries, or to changes in the legal and supervisory framework)
Partnerships in detail: tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.
To have the largest impact, we need the best understanding of the problem and our partners give us that expertise at the community level. As we grow our turnkey lending software, partners naturally turn from information providers into customers. Our primary partner groups are umbrella non-profits (United Way), service non-profits (Urban League), churches, community colleges and employers. We chose community organizations because they work directly with our end users.
If you won the Unlocking ₵hange Challenge, how would you invest the prize money of $50,000?
Bring Fig36 to rural communities. Additionally, we would develop our credit score simulation tool in partnership with TransUnion. This tool ties our analytics to end-user credit score, empowering service providers and clients to take control of their credit score.
Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions has the project received?
Techstars Seattle (2016)
Village Capital US Fintech Winner (2016)
Certified B Corporation (2017-Present)
Wharton Magazine Watchlist (2018)
B Lab Best in the World for Customers (2018) https://www.figloans.com/blog/posts/fig-best-for-customers
New York Times Visionaries (2018) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/24/business/inventing-new-ways-to-solve-old-problems.html