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Here's Why SoFi's Long-Awaited Bank Charter Will Make the Business Better

By Bram Berkowitz - Jan 22, 2022 at 8:25AM

Key Points

  • SoFi's stock price shot up following the news about the bank charter.
  • The bank charter will allow SoFi to hold deposits and use them to fund loans.
  • It will also add regulatory clarity and set up a better framework for holding loans on the balance sheet.

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Regulators have granted SoFi conditional approval on its application to become a bank.

After a difficult few months for the stock, SoFi (SOFI -3.33%) shareholders got some welcome news recently when regulators approved the company's application to become a bank. Now, SoFi will be able to complete its previously announced acquisition of Golden Pacific Bancorp and become a bank holding company.

SoFi plans to capitalize the bank with $750 million, and the bank will have $5.3 billion of assets once the deal with Golden Pacific closes, which is expected to happen in February. Following the news of the bank charter, SoFi's stock shot up.

Here's why SoFi's long-awaited bank charter will improve the company's operations.

One person showing a chart to another.

Image source: Getty Images.

Streamlining operations

Despite competing in the banking space, many fintech companies start as tech companies and do not have a formal banking license -- they are not easy to obtain. So, most fintechs tend to partner with licensed banks to do things like hold the deposits they gather from their members (unlicensed banks can't hold deposits on their balance sheet) and originate loans for them in some cases. This typically involves some kind of revenue share. Additionally, because banks can't use deposits to fund loan originations, they have to use higher-cost funding.

One of the main benefits of the bank charter will be enabling SoFi to lower its interest expense, which is the interest SoFi pays on the debt it uses to fund assets such as loans. According to its recent regulatory filing, the company's current funding sources for originations include securitization debt and funding from warehouse facilities. SoFi pays interest on this funding of nearly 4% and 1.6%, respectively. This funding is also not as reliable in certain market conditions. Currently, most savings and checking accounts pay out very little interest, and even a lot of high-yield savings accounts pay much less interest than these higher-cost sources.

With the bank charter, SoFi will be able to transfer all of the deposits in its cash management SoFi Money product that it currently sends to a partner bank back into SoFi to hold. SoFi Money accounts topped 1.16 million at the end of the third quarter, so they should offer a decent source of funding that will also grow in the future. This will significantly lower SoFi's cost of funding loan originations, or it can maintain both sources if it needs them to grow.

Additionally, having a bank charter will make it easier for SoFi to hold loans on its balance sheet, whether that means holding loans for longer periods or to completion. Most fintech consumer lenders sell loans they originate right away to an investor or bank for a fee. But when you hold a loan on the balance sheet, you can collect interest payments every month, and that loan ends up being more profitable over its life, as long as it doesn't go into default.

With a bank charter, SoFi will have more clarity from a regulatory perspective on its operations. It is also another signal to investors that SoFi is a trustworthy lender. While the company has a good reputation, given that it has been originating loans for several years now, I think investors see it as a good sign that a fintech company is willing to take some risk on its balance sheet, although I am not yet sure how long SoFi plans to hold its loans.

In its first presentation, management showed the impact of the bank charter on earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA). While the numbers have likely changed, as this presentation is now roughly a year old, I think this is illustrative of how helpful the bank charter can be.

Adjusted EBITDA with and without bank charter.

SoFi January 2021 investor presentation.

Hitting a key milestone

While the bank charter has been long anticipated, there was some question over it, given some of the regulatory uncertainty in the banking arena in Washington over the past few months. It is also no easy feat for any fintech to obtain a bank charter. The charter will make the deposits that SoFi gathers much more valuable and greatly help the unit economics in its lending division. Ultimately, expect revenue and EBITDA to be higher this year and going forward with the bank charter now secured.

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