SoFi’s rise in personal loans offsets weaker volume elsewhere
Online lender SoFi Technologies saw its quarterly personal loan originations surge, as record consumer demand offset weakness in its home loan and student loan businesses.
The San Francisco-based company originated more than $2 billion in personal loans between January and March, a 151% increase from the $805.7 million it originated in the year-ago quarter. CEO Anthony Noto said he expects demand will continue to rise amid rising interest rates, which could prompt people to convert credit card loans and other adjustable-rate debt into fixed-rate personal loans.
“Our product is really conducive to that, and we’re serving that demand,” Noto said Tuesday during the company’s first-quarter earnings conference call.
The higher demand for personal loans mirrored what other consumer lenders reported in the first quarter.
At LendingClub, another San Francisco-based digital lender, unsecured personal loans grew to nearly $2.1 billion in the first quarter. That was a sharp increase from $147 million in the year-ago quarter, when the company began refocusing on growing its customer base after tightening its lending faucet early in the pandemic.
And while personal loan balances at Discover Financial Services declined 1% on strong customer repayment activity, new lending rose by “strong double digits,” executives said on a recent conference call.
At SoFi, the rise in personal loans contrasted with the trend in home loan origination, which fell 58% year over year to $312.4 million.
Noto attributed the decline in part to “growing pains” related to switching to a new outside fulfillment partner – after SoFi’s former partner encountered issues last year that impacted its ability to meet loan demand.
That move came on top of the “extra challenge” of SoFi shifting its focus to housing loans after the refinancing boom that peaked last year.
SoFi hasn’t “put the pedal to the metal” on home lending because it wants to make sure it successfully clears its existing backlog first, Noto said.
“There are definitely challenges and we underperformed for the quarter,” Noto said. “I am confident that the team has the right plan and will prevail as the year progresses.”
In the first quarter, student loan originations declined slightly to $983.8 million on sustained demand, down 2% from $1 billion a year earlier held down through a federal moratorium on student loan payments and talks of loan forgiveness.
President Biden is reportedly considering writing off at least $10,000 per borrower, though the relief may be targeted on an income basis and could therefore shut out many SoFi customers. SoFi’s student borrowers have a weighted average income of $170,000.
Noto said he expects Biden to extend the moratorium for the rest of the year. He also predicted that forgiveness of up to $10,000 would be “great for our business.”
“There’s a cohort of people who’ve waited and waited and waited for student loan forgiveness, and they haven’t refinanced,” Noto said. Some higher-income individuals who could be SoFi customers are also among those holding off on refinancing until the Biden administration makes a decision, hoping the government’s moves will be widespread rather than targeted on the basis of income will be made.
Loan forgiveness would reduce the amount of student debt available to private lenders like SoFi to refinance. But Noto said a decision by the Biden administration would still trigger a major wave of refinancing because there was “nothing left to wait.”
He gave an example of a prospective SoFi customer with $70,000 in credit who would be able to refinance the $60,000 that was not originated.
“The number of people who will refinance will be orders of magnitude greater than in the past,” Noto said. “Because there’s really no reason to wait any longer, especially when interest rates are rising and there probably won’t be a second wave of forgiveness.”
SoFi reported a net loss of $110.4 million in the first quarter, an improvement from the net loss of $177.6 million a year earlier.