Designing with Flexibility in Finance

If you’ve ever applied for a loan for anything, you know it can be a fairly invasive process. To actually get an offer or commitment from a financial institution, you’ll have to give up quite a bit of personal and sensitive information that you wouldn’t share with anyone under normal circumstances. This is true even with the most innovative of products. To adequately underwrite a business loan, especially one for $500,000, you can only automate certain things.

As a designer, I can’t change the fundamentals of lending as a whole so I have to look for the things I can influence. Mainly, that boils down to how Able’s process makes you feel as you go through it. It’s a big challenge, but it’s worth fighting for. And for me personally, it’s why I stay excited about working at Able. Our team has the opportunity to undo decades worth of lending processes that have been left largely unchanged and replace them with a well-choreographed experience that surprises our borrowers. That stack of papers that business owners have had to fill out in the past is our biggest enemy. We want to eliminate the feeling that you’ve taken on a second job to get money for your business.

When you’re applying for most business loans, it feels like there will be serious consequences if you mess up. For that reason, our product team has embraced Flexibility as one of our core values. We’ve baked this into our product in many ways but I’d like to highlight a couple.

Dynamic Loan Offers

One of the biggest manifestations of our flexibility value is our Dynamic Proposal. Traditionally, when you receive a loan proposal, it is a rigid offer that outlines the amount, rate and term determined during underwriting. We’ve flipped this on its head. When you get a pre-approval or firm proposal from Able, you are able to tailor the offer to suit your business’s individual growth goals and comfort level. We allow you to change each of the above variables to give you as much control as possible.

In addition to these standard variables, our unique Backer lending model allows you to take this one step further. With our Dynamic Proposal, you can change the percentage of Backer funds contributed which dramatically affects the interest rate and affordability of the loan. Try it for yourself here.

Our Dynamic Proposal has gotten some attention as of late! Check it out in Forbes alongside some other exciting news.

Dynamic Backer Contributions

Unlike traditional lenders, Able has two sets of customers: Borrowers and Backers. We feel strongly that Backers are also entitled to a flexible product experience. When a Backer is invited to back a loan through Able, we want them to walk away feeling like they got everything out of the opportunity they could have.

From our experience, Backers have varying motivations for participating in an Able loan, but they’re largely along these lines:

  • Getting a solid return on their money
  • Having the opportunity to provide substantive support for an entrepreneur they love
  • Using their personal funds to choose small businesses over corporate equivalents

Knowing that each Backer brings a different set of expectations to each loan, we’ve put Backers in control of their own terms.

Once a business has passed through our loan underwriting, they begin the process of raising funds on Able, otherwise known as ‘Backer Recruitment’. Able is different from Crowdfunding in that you raise large capital amounts from a small group of people rather than small amounts from a large group of people.

To that end, each business is expected to select their closest supporters to become Backers. For each Backer they invite to participate in their loan, they can set guardrails for the requested loan amount and the preferred interest rate (from 2% up to Able’s interest rate).

When an invitation is sent to a Backer requesting them to participate in a loan, they are then able to configure the exact contribution and see the expected return on their money change in real time.

On other platforms like Kickstarter, there are set contribution amounts with predefined rewards. Our product provides a wide range of expected returns so a flexible approach is dramatically more effective for communicating the value of backing a business.

This new version of Backer Recruit has just launched this month. With these changes, we are testing the hypothesis that potential Backers will be motivated to participate and that businesses will fund more quickly on Able by providing a more flexible experience for all parties.

Embracing this value of flexibility has changed how we make product decisions and approach conversations with our customers. In our observed demos with customers, it’s evident that this approach is one that is fairly novel in our industry.