In October, small business lender BlueVine announced that it had closed a deal with Intuit to offer its line of credit product inside the software firm’s QuickBooks financing platform. The partnership allows small businesses that use QuickBooks to use their business data to quickly apply for a line of credit up to $100,000. Thousands of small businesses have already used BlueVine’s Flex Credit since it first launched in April 2016.
Alongside inbound and outbound marketing, these types of collaborations are crucial to help generate loan origination growth for BlueVine. Partnerships like the Intuit one drive 60 percent of the traffic to the company’s website, according to CEO and founder, Eyal Lifshitz. They’re also a defensible channel for BlueVine, which has focused on creating a growing volume of smaller partnerships before landing the recent Intuit collaboration.
The long tail of distribution partnerships are important for online lenders because they’re hard to replicate, while they also remove the risk of relying too heavily on a large partner whose strategy can change over time. Big headline-grabbing partnerships are important, too, because they provide credibility and volume, helping to set up similar strategic partnerships in the future.
It’s a win-win for companies partnering with online lenders. They’re frequently looking for value-added services to provide to their customers. Lending, for firms that service SMBs, is a common addition.
“Intuit is a software company, which makes their financing platform more valuable to customers,” said Lifshitz. “Partners want to distribute the best products because lending is an efficient market. I just believe we have the best product and experience.”
Founded by Lifshitz in 2013, BlueVine began as an online invoice financing lender, modernizing a very paper-intensive, back-office type of financing for small businesses. After listening to customer feedback, Lifshitz became convinced that there was something much bigger afoot.
“Customers don’t think of their needs in terms of specific financial products,” he explained. “They have a problem — cash flow — and they need help now. So for BlueVine, we started thinking about how we can help them solve that problem through innovative products and technology.” The line of credit product was launched in April of 2016 and more lending products will follow over time.
Intuit’s QuickBooks financing platform, on which partners have to date originated over $500 million in loans to SMBs, typically offers just one or two options in each lending category. This means newer fintech firms that partner with the firm must scale quickly. BlueVine joins OnDeck as the other line of credit provider. Though informal discussions started about two years ago, Intuit took eight months to conduct diligence on BlueVine.
Ultimately, what drives advantage in acquisition for firms like BlueVine is a differentiated product. But Lifshitz cautions focusing too much on acquisition costs as a sole metric of success. Instead, lenders should also consider customer retention.
“Acquisition cost has no meaning as a standalone number,” he said. “Retention is a way to differentiate as well. Too many firms in our space think only in loan units, not the total customer experience. You need to think about whether a customer really loves what the service you’re providing.”
As a software provider, Intuit has a lot of experience partnering with young upstarts. Lifshitz credits his firm’s maturing compliance process with helping to land strategic partnerships. “We raised capital last year from Citibank and they’ve helped us mature our compliance program,” he said. Having a more mature compliance program makes it easier to get distribution deals done with larger partners.
Additionally, scale is important when partnering with a company the size of Intuit. Partners need to feel that the companies they work with can deliver on the added demand they generate. There are 5 million QuickBooks users. At 100 people and growing quickly, BlueVine is ramping up.