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American Express acquiring small business lender Kabbage

Rob Frohwein, CEO of Kabbage

Adam Jeffery | CNBC

As small businesses continue to feel the pressure from Covid-19-related restrictions, American Express announced Monday that it has agreed to acquire small business lender Kabbage, ranked No. 24 on this year’s CNBC Disruptor 50 list.

Kabbage, headquartered in Atlanta, is a data and technology company providing small businesses with a suite of financial products including Kabbage Payments, which helps small businesses get paid and access the money they earn faster. Kabbage Funding provides access to flexible lines of credit in minutes. To date, Kabbage has provided more than 220,000 U.S. small businesses access to over $9 billion in working capital.

“For several years, American Express has been expanding beyond our industry-leading commercial card products to offer our business customers a growing set of payment and working capital solutions,” said Anna Marrs, president of Global Commercial Services at American Express, in a statement. “This acquisition accelerates our plans to offer U.S. small businesses an easy and efficient way to manage their payments and cash flow digitally in one place, which is more critical than ever in today’s environment.”

Kabbage says that a small business can apply and be approved for a credit line of up to $250,000 in three steps — and in under 10 minutes — using its machine learning algorithms. Speed of access to capital has never been more critical for small businesses than during the lockdowns caused by coronavirus.

In April, the Treasury Department approved nonbank fintech companies like Kabbage to participate directly in the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which allowed companies to apply for 10 weeks worth of funding to pay their employees and soften the initial blow caused by the pandemic. Last week, the Small Business Administration opened the forgiveness portal for those PPP loans as congressional leaders continued to negotiate a new stimulus deal.

“This is an excellent deal, pairing one of the premier fintech entities, Kabbage, with a large player who has had a long commitment to helping small businesses get capital,” Karen Mills, Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School and former Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, told CNBC. “Kabbage will be able to access Amex’s customers and low-cost funds while Amex will benefit from a tech-savvy team that knows how to give small businesses a seamless experience.”

Because of its involvement in the PPP program, Kabbage has doled out significantly more money than in the past, despite having done so in much smaller increments. By the end of the program’s extension in early August, Kabbage became the second-largest PPP lender in the country with nearly 300,000 approved applications that amounted to over $7 billion in small business funding, according to the company.

In more normal times, Kabbage would underwrite a loan, charging a rate that accounts for the risk associated with a particular small business and its industry. The PPP loans, by contrast, are virtually risk-free for Kabbage, since they’re backed by the government. Each brings with it a low fee paid to the lender.

“We are thrilled with this outcome,” Kabbage CEO and co-founder Rob Frohwein told CNBC, adding that the deal is “great for investors and employees, but also amazing for the small businesses for which Kabbage and American Express share a passion and purpose.”

“Together, we will endeavor to revive a sector integral to our economy and its recovery,” Frohwein said.

The acquisition is expected to close later this year, subject to customary closing conditions. Kabbage’s pre-existing loan portfolio is not included in the purchase agreement.

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