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On February 5, 2008, the FDIC selected 31 banks to participate in its Small-Dollar Loan Pilot Program.1 The pilot is a two-year case study designed to illustrate how banks can profitably offer affordable small-dollar loans as an alternative to high-cost financial products, such as payday loans and fee-based overdraft protection. Participating banks provide quarterly information about their small-dollar loan programs, which will be analyzed to identify and report on the most effective features for creating profitable business models for such loans.
This article summarizes the key parameters of the pilot, the proposals that participating banks described in their applications, and the first quarter 2008 results. Overall, banks in the pilot originated more than 3,100 small-dollar loans, with a principal balance of about $3.7 million in the first quarter. Eight of the banks reported on existing small-dollar loan programs, while the remaining banks reported on new programs. It is difficult to draw conclusions on the basis of only one quarter of data for mostly new programs. However, an important initial observation is that small-dollar loans have provided pilot banks with opportunities for cross-selling other products, which creates significant potential for building profitable customer relationships.
Parameters of the Pilot
To be considered for the pilot, an insured institution had to meet the following requirements:
A key goal of the pilot is to observe and encourage participating institutions to experiment with providing safe, sound, affordable, and profitable small-dollar loans. Therefore, the FDIC provided only general guidelines for banks that sought to participate. It was anticipated that programs would be generally consistent with the FDIC’s Small-Dollar Loan Guidelines, with room for some exceptions.2 The following are some of the primary features described in the Guidelines:
Small-Dollar Loan Program Proposals from Participating Banks
Banks that met the selection criteria submitted an application to the FDIC describing their existing or proposed small-dollar loan programs. The FDIC selected 31 banks, with assets ranging from $26 million to $10.4 billion, to be part of the pilot (see Table 1). The participating banks are headquartered in 17 states and have more than 560 branches located in 27 states. The banks have on average 18 branches, although the number of branches varies from 1 to 67.3
Eight of the 31 banks had small-dollar loan programs operating when they applied for the pilot, while 23 banks described new programs. Many of the banks— especially those with new programs—have already made changes based on lessons learned during the design and launch phases. However, it is useful to summarize their initial plans to track and report on the outcomes of practices as the pilot proceeds.
Loan Characteristics. At the time of application, 24 banks indicated that they would offer only closed-end credit, two indicated that they would offer both open- and closed-end credit, one indicated that it would offer only open-end credit, and four were unclear as to the type of credit they would offer. Banks in the pilot set initial maximum interest rates between 11 percent and 36 percent, with an average of 18 percent. Two-thirds of the banks planned to offer maximum interest rates in the 13 percent to 18 percent range (see Chart 1).
Fifteen banks reported that they would charge an application fee. The fees ranged from $18 to $61.50, with an average fee of $34. For banks providing APRs, the average for their small-dollar loans ranged from 14 percent to 27 percent.
Loan terms ranged from three biweekly installments (six weeks) to 36 monthly payments. As shown in Chart 2, maximum planned loan terms were fairly well distributed among banks offering 12, 24, and 36 monthly payments.
Underwriting and Program Features. At the time of application, most banks did not address the use of credit scores in underwriting, although four banks specified that minimum credit scores would be required and three indicated that there would be no minimum credit scores. Five banks indicated that they planned to underwrite small-dollar loans within 24 hours of application submission, while the other banks did not address turnaround times.
Most banks did not indicate whether deposit account relationships would be a prerequisite for consumers receiving small-dollar loans. However, nine banks indicated that they would require such a relationship. Of these banks, six indicated that direct deposit of a paycheck or another income stream would be mandatory. Moreover, four of these six banks (and two others) encouraged automatic debit for note payments.
Seventeen banks did not specify a consumer education component in their applications, while 14 banks mentioned some sort of financial literacy component. Many applications described consumer education very generally, for example, mentioning that credit counseling would be made available as needed or indicating that financial literacy materials are available in the bank branch.
A few banks provided more explicit descriptions of financial education. One application indicated that three formal financial education classes would be required for customers with very low credit scores. Another bank, which receives referrals for its small-dollar loan program from a nonprofit organization, described a comprehensive financial literacy package featuring budget evaluation, case management, financial education, and a crisis-intervention program that is a prerequisite to a consumer being referred for a small-dollar loan. Another bank indicated that it would offer a $15 rebate of the application fee to small-dollar loan applicants who completed a formal financial literacy course.
Linked Savings Programs. In launching the pilot, the FDIC indicated a particular interest in programs with automatic savings features. The FDIC plans to determine whether savings products linked to small-dollar loans will reduce customer reliance on short-term, high-cost credit over time. Sixteen banks planned to have mandatory savings elements in their small-dollar loan programs, while another 4 encouraged savings and 11 indicated no plans for linked savings accounts.
All of the savings programs indicated that the savings accounts would partially collateralize the loans and specified limits on withdrawals, generally tied to the life of the loan. Six banks indicated that some portion of the amount borrowed, ranging from 5 percent to 25 percent, would be added to the principal amount of the loan and deposited into a savings account. One bank indicated that a flat $500 would be added to the principal of each loan and deposited into a savings account. Four banks said they would require periodic deposits to savings accounts by adding some amount—$10 or $15, or 25 percent of the payment—to each scheduled loan repayment.
Five banks indicated that they would make financial contributions to the savings accounts of borrowers as follows:
Marketing and Advertising. Nine banks indicated that small-dollar loans would be offered only to their existing customers, while the remainder were undecided at the time of application or indicated that the program would be open to both existing and new customers.
Sixteen banks specified target markets for their small-dollar loan products, with some targeting multiple markets:
One bank indicated that it planned to offer seasonal small-dollar loans around holidays and during tax season.
The banks outlined a number of diverse advertising strategies in their applications for the pilot. They mentioned 66 different but related approaches, the most common of which were media advertising (11 banks) and point-of-sale displays (10 banks) (see Table 2).
Summary of First Quarter 2008 Results
First quarter 2008 results were due May 15, 2008. Of the 31 banks in the pilot, 29 submitted reports.4 Of those banks, 8 reported on programs that existed before the pilot, and 21 reported on newly developed programs. Four of the banks with new programs indicated that they did not make any small-dollar loans during the quarter, as they were finalizing aspects of their programs. The 25 banks that originated small-dollar loans during the quarter all reported that they made only closed-end loans.
Banks were asked to provide separate data points for loans of up to $1,000 and more than $1,000. This threshold is consistent with the Guidelines and was chosen for the pilot to determine whether the $1,000 level can be used as a “bright line” for a replicable small-dollar loan template (see Table 3). In addition, five of the banks with existing programs had disproportionately large programs compared with those of the other banks; therefore, results for these banks are isolated from the rest of the group in Table 3 to prevent skewing the loan volume. However, with respect to basic loan characteristics—such as interest rates, fees, and repayment terms—there is little difference between banks that made a few loans and those that originated a large volume of loans. Therefore, there is no distinction between large and small programs for the small-dollar loan term data in Table 4.
As shown in Table 3, 20 banks originated 1,523 loans of $1,000 or less with combined principal of about $1 million. Four banks originated almost 1,400 of these loans, with one particularly active bank reporting 966 loans of $1,000 or less. Excluding these large originators, the 16 banks that made small-dollar loans up to $1,000 originated eight loans on average.
For loans above $1,000, 15 banks originated 1,617 loans with combined principal of about $2.7 million. Five banks originated more than 1,500 of these loans, with one bank reporting 623 loans above $1,000.
Excluding these large originators, the ten banks that made small-dollar loans above $1,000 originated eight loans on average.
Table 4 summarizes the basic characteristics of small-dollar loans made in first quarter 2008. For banks that made loans of $1,000 or less, the average loan size was $678, the average loan term was ten months, and the average interest rate was 15.1 percent. Seven banks that originated loans of $1,000 or less reported APRs averaging 23.8 percent.
For banks that made loans above $1,000, the average loan size was $1,695, although two banks in this group reported making average loans greater than $3,000.5 The average loan term for loans in excess of $1,000 was 17 months, and the average interest rate was 15.5 percent. Four banks that originated loans in excess of $1,000 reported APRs that averaged about 16.5 percent.
Other Program Statistics. Since most of the small-dollar loan programs are new and reporting has just begun, only five banks reported delinquencies for loans made in the first quarter, ranging from 1 to 19 loans per bank.
Of the 29 banks that reported first quarter results, linked savings are mandatory for 13 programs, strongly encouraged for 8 programs, and not required for 8 programs. Thirteen banks reported that a total of 46 linked savings accounts were opened. Ten banks reported an approximate aggregate balance of $21,300 in linked savings accounts.
Three banks noted that they believed small-dollar loan customers were using fewer high-cost debt products, although these observances were mostly anecdotal.
Few banks provided profitability data for their programs, primarily because most programs are new and have a relatively low volume of loans. However, three banks indicated that they broke even on the small-dollar loan product, while two indicated that they did not. Including deposits and other accounts, five banks reported that the overall relationship with small-dollar loan customers was profitable, while two reported that it was not.
The relationship-building aspect of the small-dollar loan product could prove to be important in determining the feasibility and profitability for banks in the pilot. More than half (13) of the 25 banks that reported first quarter results indicated that customers have already migrated to other bank products from the small-dollar loan product, while only 2 banks reported no migration. Deposit accounts are the predominant products that pilot banks have opened for small-dollar customers, although other, more sophisticated products also have been provided. One bank that had an existing program indicated that many small-dollar loan customers are approved for auto loans after their initial small-dollar loan is paid and that “auto loans appear to be the next step in establishing a lending relationship with small-dollar loan customers.”
Two case studies presented in the text box highlight the profit potential for cross-selling to small-dollar loan customers.6 Armed Forces Bank has the largest and oldest program in the pilot; it reports that while the small-dollar program breaks even, the overall customer relationship is as profitable as a traditional relationship. Pinnacle Bank created a new small-dollar loan program and is not yet able to assess its profitability. However, it reports strong migration to other bank products (18 of 19 borrowers) and views the small-dollar loan as an important draw for new customers.
Although the Small-Dollar Loan Pilot Program is still in its initial stages, participating banks are already demonstrating innovative strategies in areas such as advertising and linked savings that may prove to be replicable for other banks. Banks in the pilot are well within the 36 percent maximum APR established in the FDIC’s Small-Dollar Loan Guidelines, and five banks thus far have reported using the small-dollar product as a cornerstone for profitable relationships. These early results provide some indication that banks can profitably provide affordable alternatives to high-cost, short-term credit. The FDIC will continue to explore profitability and other noteworthy features of participating bank programs as the pilot progresses.
Susan Burhouse, Senior Financial Economist Division of Insurance and Research; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rae-Ann Miller, Special Advisor to the Director Division of Insurance and Research; email@example.com.
Aileen G. Sampson, Financial Economist Division of Insurance and Research; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The authors would like to thank the following persons for their review of this article: Andrew Stirling, Special Advisor, Division of Supervision and Consumer Protection, FDIC; Robert Dixon, Senior Vice President, Lending, Armed Forces Bank; and Dennis Thomas, Director of Regulatory Compliance, Pinnacle Bank.
1More information regarding the FDIC Small-Dollar Loan Pilot Program can be found at http://www.fdic.gov/smalldollarloans.
2 The FDIC’s Small-Dollar Loan Guidelines, issued on June 19, 2007, can be found at http://www.fdic.gov/news/news/press/2007/pr07052a.html5 In this initial reporting period, to encourage innovation, there was no limit on the loan amount that could be included in the pilot. An unintended consequence of not having an upper limit was that a few banks reported several larger loans that may have skewed the average. As the result of a discussion with participating banks about what constitutes a small-dollar loan, a reporting limit of $2,500 will be imposed for future data submissions.
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