Meet the Online Social Lending Community That Leaves No Borrower Behind
Domestically, 26 million Americans are “credit invisible” or have no credit history with one of the three nationwide credit bureaus, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That translates to one in ten Americans with no credit history. “A limited credit history can create real barriers for consumers looking to access the credit that is often so essential to meaningful opportunity – to get an education, start a business, or buy a house,” says Richard Cordray, CFPB director. “Some of the most economically vulnerable consumers are more likely to be credit invisible.”
For these consumers, the options are incredibly limited. “You don’t want to get a payday loan, but no one is going to give you a credit card, so what are you going to do?” says Woodward. That’s where Puddle comes in as a valuable resource to so many users.
Typically ranging in age from 22 to 35, Puddle borrowers tend to have a credit score below 650. “Puddle is a network of borrowers for borrowers. It’s a community of people trying to move ahead and build their reputation, status and credit. That’s why they participate,” says Woodward. “This is a tool so that people who are cut out from the system can participate.”
But when it comes to lending circles in the U.S., and particularly online, Woodward and his team faced a number of unique challenges. For one, lending money to friends, never mind strangers you’ve never met online, can seem risky to consumers. Woodward likens Puddle to a kind of Airbnb-meets-Reddit for lending. “Puddle becomes a place where people form an entirely new community,” he says. Users choose who they let into their puddle based on available borrowing history, what people report they’ve borrowed for, and whether they share similar beliefs and values.
Take, for example, Adolfo Celis, service coordinator for an IT consulting firm based in Houston, TX. Like most early users, when Celis joined Puddle in 2014, he was skeptical, starting by just putting $10 in the pot, which gave him access to $50 in borrowing money, or five times the amount he put in. What surprised Celis most was just how social the lending and borrowing experience is on Puddle. “It’s cool seeing what some people are lending for,” says Celis, who now has around 30 people in his puddle and can borrow up to $500 when needed. “Puddle is very social,” he says. “You have to say what you are using these funds for.”
That transparency is part of the secret sauce that makes Puddle work so well. To date, less than 1 percent of users have withdrawn all the money they put in, according to Woodward. “It’s engaging,” he says. “It’s like playing this game in building relationships.”
And relationships are a cornerstone not just to the Puddle community itself, but to the founders’ plans for its growth and future. Joining the FinLab community showed Woodward not only how massive the need was in the market Puddle serves, but also that there is a burgeoning community of startups and resources, namely under the CFSI umbrella, working hard to help this very same demographic.
Until joining FinLab, “I had never heard about financial inclusion initiatives. I had also never heard about the bottom 60 percent,” says Woodward. “We very quickly learned that the people we served were the people CFSI served. More than anything, we felt like we finally began to understand our user.”