While helping a farmer harvest corn doesn’t seem like something the financial tech industry is clamoring to address, the rise of companies such as West L.A.’s Currency Capital proves online banking solutions are pushing further afield.
Currency has found success in the trillion-dollar equipment finance market, helping businesses secure $150 million in loans last year. And the company’s work is starting to bear fruit: Currency secured a “significant” but undisclosed investment from El Segundo-based private equity firm Lovell Minnick Partners last week. The transaction was Currency’s first outside institutional investment, and Chief Executive Charles Anderson said in a statement that it will help actualize the company’s goals.
Currency does not literally help farmers pick crops, but its web portal connects small and midsize business borrowers to lenders that provide financing options for, say, a new combine harvester.
“Our partnership with Lovell Minnick is further validation of the significant market opportunity we identified in 2012 to provide independent and small-business owners with fast, on-demand, and reliable financing,” said Anderson in the statement.
While Lovell Minnick is Currency’s first big backer, the private equity outfit is bullish, believing the investment has upside.
“They are hitting a real market need right now,” said John Cochran, a partner at Lovell Minnick. “A lot of traditional equipment financing players haven’t evolved in the past 20 or 30 years. Small businesses are increasingly comfortable going online, and Currency’s platform is really streamlined and efficient for borrowers.”
Among Lovell’s portfolio companies are Orlando, Fla.-based Seaside National Bank & Trust, which does commercial lending, and Pittsburgh, Pa.-based TriState Capital Holdings Inc., also a commercial lender and private bank.
Cochran and Anderson’s rosy view of Currency’s market opportunity is supported by data from the Equipment Leasing & Financing Foundation, an industry trade group in Washington, D.C. The foundation reported last year that traditional bank lending in the industry was responsible for 47 percent of loans, down from 57 percent in 2012. And while last year saw a slight dip in the total amount of equipment funding, the foundation projected borrowing would increase by about $2.2 billion between now and 2020.
The Currency deal came together over the last six to eight months, according to Cochran, who said his firm’s relationship with Anderson and Currency, cultivated through industry events, extends back further.
Cochran said Lovell Minnick typically holds investments in portfolio companies for a longer period than usual when compared with other private equity firms – five to seven years on average. Its approach is also more hands-off than other private equity players, but the firm plans to have an active relationship with Currency.
“We are not operators but we are business partners,” Cochran said. “We provide capital and are prepared to provide more capital going forward.”
Lovell also provides something else for the equipment finance startup, which has about 100 employees.
“Because we are financial services focused and because we spend a lot of time in Currency’s end market, we have a good understanding of their needs and have contacts that can help them out,” Cochran said. “Ultimately, we were selected by Charles and his team because they felt we could help develop and move the business forward.”
Kirkland & Ellis provided legal representation for Lovell Minnick. L.A.-based American Discovery Capital served as Currency’s financial adviser.
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