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Avant Cuts Jobs Amid Online Lending Industry’s Struggles

Offices of Chicago lending startup Avant.Offices of Chicago lending startup Avant.
Chicago lending startup Avant.

With the business climate for the once richly-funded wave of online lending startups worsening by the day, bad news continues to hit the sector.

Chicago-based Avant laid off about 60 people, or 7% of its workforce, this week, Crain’s Chicago Business reported on Friday. The online lender also delayed plans to expand into credit cards, refinanced car loans, and open operations in Australia, the paper said.

Avant confirmed the report in an emailed statement. “We made this move to align our resources with a narrowed focus on our core personal loan product,” the company said. “Streamlined focus sets us up for strong near term profitability given the challenges the market has faced. We’re at an inflection point as an industry, and we believe Avant will emerge the leader of Credit 2.0: a more refined, adaptable and sustainable business model that aligns consumer, investor and regulatory interests for good.”

As with its peers, Avant’s problem isn’t a lack of demand from potential borrowers. Instead, the company and other online lenders are having increasing difficulty raising money to lend out, as hedge funds and other investors outside the usual banking circles that backed the industry have grown wary.

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Avant focuses on lending up to $35,000 at a time in two to five years loans to consumers with low credit scores at interest rates of up to 36%. The company had grown quickly for the past few years, reaching $3.5 billion in total loan volume. But with less access to capital, business has slowed recently, and loan volume declined 27% in the first quarter from the fourth quarter, the first such quarter-to-quarter drop since Avant started in 2012.

News of the slowdown at Avant follows the crisis at its larger competitor, Lending Club, where a scandal over loan sales forced the CEO to resign this month, compounding concerns about the difficult capital-raising environment.

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Shares of Lending Club, which had already lost more than half their value since its December 2014 initial public offering, lost another 50% over the past two weeks. Priced in its initial public offering at $15 a share, Lending Club (LC) closed on Friday at $3.99.