February 14, 2017 / 9:19 PM / 7 months ago

LendingClub recovery efforts hamper outlook

(Reuters) - LendingClub Corp (LC.N) reported its third straight quarterly loss on Tuesday and forecast slower-than-expected growth this year, as the online lender recovers from a scandal related to its business practices.

The San Francisco-based startup has been in recovery mode since May, when LendingClub acknowledged issues including the way it had sold loans to an investor, prompting the departure of then-Chief Executive Renaud Laplanche.

On Tuesday, LendingClub finance chief Tom Casey forecast the company will generate net revenue of $565 million to $595 million this year, below the $597 million in revenue analysts were expecting.

On a conference call with analysts, Casey said the company is starting to turn from “remediation” efforts to build back trust with investors, bank lenders and other partners that had taken a step back from doing business with LendingClub. The company is now focused on growing again, but it will take time.

LendingClub shares fell nearly 7 percent in after-hours trading.

Through most of 2016, LendingClub spent large sums of money recovering from its operational flaws. But even as its operating expenses rose by more than 50 percent last year, its loan originations grew by just 3.6 percent.

LendingClub, one of the largest companies known as peer-to-peer lenders, runs a web site where consumers can apply for loans that are funded either by individual investors or by institutions such as banks.

It was in May that the company said it had altered documentation when selling $22 million of loans. An internal probe later revealed that Laplanche and his family had taken out 32 loans on the platform in December 2009 to boost the company’s volumes just four months prior to closing a round of venture capital funding.

The probe also turned up evidence that Laplanche and former Chief Financial Officer Carrie Dolan had used some of their company shares to secure personal loans. LendingClub said the two were not required to seek approval for the loans.

LendingClub’s problems rippled through the broader marketplace lending industry, softening already weakening investor appetite and leading banks on the platforms to demand more proof that loans were solid.

To attract investors back, LendingClub added incentives for investors and recently made changes to its underwriting standards and disclosures. The incentives for investors ended in August and the majority of banks active on the platform prior to LaPlanche’s departure have now returned to buying loans on the platform, CEO Scott Sanborn said on the earnings call.

Banks accounted for 31 percent of originations in the last three months of 2016, compared to 13 percent in the third quarter, the company said. They had accounted for roughly 23 percent of originations in the fourth quarter of 2015.

As LendingClub has been recovering, competition has been heating up. New entrants like Goldman Sachs Group Inc’s (GS.N) recently launched digital lender Marcus have also entered the fray.

“This market has always been a competitive market,” Sanborn said. “The players shift, their area of focus shifts.”

For the fourth quarter, LendingClub posted a loss of 2 cents per share, excluding special items. Analysts had expected a loss of 3 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Total net operating revenue fell 3.9 percent to $129.2 million, above the average analyst expectation of $121.9 million.

Reporting by Anna Irrera in New York and Rishika Sadam in Bengaluru; Writing by Lauren Tara LaCapra; Editing by Maju Samuel and Tom Brown

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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