STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
For many small businesses and new businesses, getting a loan or a big cash advance is tough. Banks and other traditional lenders are often leery of those without years of financial statements and credit scores, but at least one lender is using a different way to assess credit worthiness.
NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports.
WENDY KAUFMAN, BYLINE: Jeffry Grossman is an acupuncturist in Bellingham, Washington. He's also a small businessman. He creates media marketing materials for other acupuncturists, hoping to expand their practice. Over the years, Grossman's borrowed money from family and from bank lines of credit, but recently, he needed a quick infusion of extra cash. He turned to a company called Kabbage, spelled with a K.
JEFFREY GROSSMAN: I got wind of Kabbage, I don't know where, right. And then, all of a sudden, I'm online. I check it out. And I'm like, oh, this looks interesting.
KAUFMAN: Interesting, but the application also made him skeptical.
GROSSMAN: They wanted all this information about QuickBooks and UPS accounts and all of this stuff.
KAUFMAN: Detailed accounting data, UPS accounts? What's going on here?
KATHRYN PETRALIA: We're effectively building a financial statement.
KAUFMAN: Kathryn Petralia is a co-founder of Kabbage, which provides financing to small businesses - such as online merchants - that banks typically don't lend to. Petralia says Kabbage uses real time and verifiable data, from things like UPS shipments, eBay and PayPal accounts, to assess credit-worthiness.
PETRALIA: We can see historical data and current data and we can see tomorrow's data, and we are looking at information that could be as detailed as what people are actually buying from you.
KAUFMAN: And, she says, that can be more useful than static financial documents that banks and other traditional lenders typically rely on.
PETRALIA: If you see that the customer's business is changing over time, they're selling different products, they are changing the price points, transaction volume is going up or going down, you get a lot more visibility and insight into that business than a pure financial statement's going to give you.
KAUFMAN: To be clear, small businesses that get money from Kabbage give that company permission to view their online accounts.
Christine Pratt is a senior financial services analyst at Aite Group. She thinks Kabbage's use of this real time transaction data is smart. She also likes the fact that Kabbage looks at those companies' social media pages.
CHRISTINE PRATT: Are customers saying that you are doing a good job? Are consumers complaining about you?
KAUFMAN: Kabbage looks at a small business' Twitter account and its Facebook page. Kabbage says it knows the information there isn't foolproof, but says it can add insight into how a company is relating to its customers, and, at the margins, it can be helpful. Analyst Pratt puts it this way.
PRATT: They use that information to be able to look ahead, to see whether or not your business not only is doing very well right now, but can also sustain that business and grow.
KAUFMAN: Pratt says the use of social and real time data is growing. Some traditional lenders are starting to embrace it, and Amazon is quietly mining its own data to find retailers it wants to make loans to.
Back in Bellingham, Washington, small businessman Jeffrey Grossman decided to take the plunge and gave Kabbage access to some of his online accounts. The result...
GROSSMAN: I think we were funded, probably, within, like, minutes.
KAUFMAN: But Grossman has words of caution to would-be borrowers: The company's fees can be steep.
GROSSMAN: I don't want to say you're doing business with the devil, but, like, sometimes when you're a small business and you really, you know, if the banks aren't able to give you the money and if you need some cash flow, you kind of have to bite the bullet and do it.
KAUFMAN: Grossman says the funds he got - he was approved for up to $25,000 - have helped him grow his business, and for that, he remains grateful.
Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.