2015 was a very slow year for tech IPOs, and pundits seem split on whether or not 2016 will see much improvement. But we at least know which company will be first to take its shot.
Elevate Credit, a Texas-based provider of online credit solutions to non-prime consumers, on Monday said that it plans to offer 3.6 million shares at between $20 and $22 per share. It’s the first company to set an IPO range so far this year, and likely will attempt to price before the end of January. For context, the first IPOs on 2015 priced on January 16, while the first tech IPO didn’t occur until Box (BOX) went public on January 23.
At the middle of its price range, the company would have an initial market cap of approximately $638 million and full-diluted valuation of nearly $730 million.
Elevate was formed in 2014 as a spin-out from Think Finance, which had been founded in 2001 to provide analytics and tech services to “lenders looking to meet the needs of Americans underserved by today’s traditional banking system.” Elevate represented Think’s branded consumer lending products group, including Rise (installment loans in the U.S.), Elastic (open-end lines of credit in the U.S.) and Sunny (installment loans in the UK). It is led by former Think Finance CEO Ken Rees, who previously founded CashWorks, which was bought by GE Money Services in 2004.
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The company reports a $20 million net loss on $300 million in revenue for the first nine months of 2015, compared to a $44 million net loss on $180 million in revenue for the year-earlier period. Elevate also today disclosed preliminary fourth quarter data, showing that it broke even on around $134 million in revenue. This compares to an $11 million net loss on $94 million in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2014.
The numbers are promising, but Elevate will have to answer two major questions before its IPO.
The first revolves around Victory Park Management, a private equity affiliate that is the sole source of debt financing for all Rise and Sunny loans. There is no indication that VPM is in any sort of trouble―and it recently amended its credit facility with Elevate in order to accommodate increased loan volume—but investors may balk at backing a financial services business that relies so heavily on a single debt provider.
Second, Elevate may need to get some investors comfortable with a tech-enabled business model that shares certain elements of brick-and-mortar payday lending. In particular, Elevate charges very high interest rates in certain markets. For example, the APR on a Rise loan in Idaho can total 365%. Same for a Rise loan in Elevate’s home state of Texas. The company says it is different from payday lenders in that its loans don’t contain balloon payments and that repayment can help borrowers improve their credit scores. At the same time, however, its listed IPO risk factors includes promised new rules on payday lending from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The company also says that the introduction of new rate caps by state legislatures could “make it difficult or impossible to offer [Rise] at acceptable margins.”
If the IPO prices, Elevate plans to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under ticker symbol ELVT, with UBS, Jefferies and Stifel serving as lead underwriters. Shareholders include Sequoia Capital (27.4% pre-IPO stake) and Technology Crossover Ventures (22.43%). TCV has “indicated an intent” to purchase $7.5 million of Elevate’s common stock at the IPO price, while Victory Park Capital plans to purchase up to $2.5 million worth.