Weekly Briefing No. 132 | Rebooting Commercial Real Estate Finance

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Welcome to our Memorial Day edition. In light of the upcoming holiday, we are sending you our weekly roundup on Thursday. We hope you have a great long weekend. Here’s what’s cooking on our grill:

  • The FR’s one-on-one with Cadre’s Ryan Williams
  • GreenSky’s IPO; An anti-ESG coalition
  • Deals: Bestow, Tango, First.io and Hometap
  • The NYSE gets a new boss
  • Zuckerberg rolls over EU regulators
  • A new CIA game is crowdfunded
  • Sandboxes; Learnvest; A blockchain skeptic

INTERVIEW

Rebooting commercial real estate finance.

“Today, we still look fairly institutional, but we’re increasingly moving to high-net-worth family offices and accredited investors, and then retail eventually. But we’re sequencing it, because we want our infrastructure to scale properly.” That’s a quote from Cadre’s dynamic leader, Ryan Williams, on the long-term aspiration of his high-profile investment platform focused on institutional-quality commercial real estate assets. Recently, The FR’s Gregg Schoenberg sat down with Williams to determine how much progress the company is making towards achieving its bold vision. Williams, who has been a successful entrepreneur since his teenage years, provided us with some interesting insights into that topic. He also addressed Cadre’s business model, its efforts to build a secondary marketplace and how his personal philosophy guides his vision for the company.

OPINION

When you’re in the green, the sky’s the limit.

GreenSky is a terrific fintech success story that should be watched closely as it begins its life as a public company. Run by a talented team, Greensky has built an enviable core business that provides business customers with the ability to offer home improvement, healthcare and solar loans. Plus, the company has operated nicely in the green, posting a 2017 profit of $139 million on $326 million of revenue. So, assuming the company’s business stays strong, what’s not to love? As far as we can tell, the valuation looks rich, but not crazy; however, the company is following the lead of other IPO high-fliers and employing a dual-class voting structure.

Moreover, according to the press release issued in conjunction with the IPO, GreenSky is using the net proceeds of the offering to provide a partial cash-out for investors and “current and former employees.” We get it: when you’re profitable, founders and major individual shareholders can get away this. But it begs the question: why should you be buying if others are selling on day one?

An anti-ESG coalition is launched.

This week, the Main Street Investors Coalition launched to push institutional investors to stop “playing politics with other people’s money.” Specifically, the coalition suggests that passive fund providers should think twice about supporting non-binding resolutions related to climate change and offering firearm-free investment products. We can understand the coalition's concern over the power held by a handful of institutions. But as it pertains to the coalition’s anti-ESG stance, we’re scratching our heads. There are several ETFs that include tobacco companies, firearms makers and heavy polluters. If managers want to offer products that avoid these companies as part of their investment thesis, what’s the problem? Isn’t that the free market in action?

FEATURED NEWS

Deals: Bestow, Tango, First.io and Hometap.

We’ve established our enthusiasm for life insurance disruption through our previous coverage of Fabric and Ladder. This week, it’s Bestow’s turn. The Dallas-based start-up, which boasts an enviable 4:1 employee to dog ratio (perhaps the highest in the industry), announced that it has stepped out of stealth mode and closed on a $15-million Series A. Also this week, Tango Card raised $35 million from FTV Capital. The Seattle-based company will use the capital to expand its platform that matches up businesses that want to offer rewards to employees, customers and/or partners with retailers that want to offer gift cards. Meanwhile, in the land of real estate innovation, First.io raised $5 million to boost its AI platform that enables real estate brokers to connect with prospective home sellers ahead of their peers. Finally, Boston-based Hometap, which takes equity stakes of up to 20 percent in homes for selected homeowners, announced that it closed on a $12-million Series A.

Open Source is how tech innovates.

Sponsored by FINOS, The Fintech Open Source Foundation

When it comes to financial services, technology strategy is no longer something relegated to the IT department. Today, technology developed through open collaboration has become a mission-critical way to separate leaders from also-rans. That’s where FINOS comes in. This newly launched foundation is dedicated to promoting open source software and standards within the greater financial services sector. Backed by 30 leading financial services and tech firms and an open source community of technologists, FINOS provides a trusted and independent forum for building software that can tackle the industry’s toughest challenges collaboratively. To find out more, check out its website, and better still, join the Community today — it’s open to everyone!

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The NYSE gets a new boss.

The old-school way of starting at the bottom and working your way up was given an endorsement this week with the announcement that Stacy Cunningham would take over as CEO of the New York Stock Exchange. Having started as an intern in 1994, the 43-year-old Cunningham has been toughened by her experience working on a trading floor and having to perform in pressurized, male-dominated environments. Cunningham has also done a stint working in a professional kitchen, leading us to conclude that she’s ready to endure whatever kind of heat is sent her way.

Roasted in Brussels?

Sure, well-meaning EU politicians like Guy Verhofstadt (who was previously Belgium’s prime minister for nine years) tried to grill Mark Zuckerberg during Zuckerberg’s appearance before the European Union. But as The Guardian points out, the format chosen by the European Parliament enabled Zuckerberg to easily respond to tough-talking EU politicians’ questions with an earnest-sounding, “We’ll be back to you,” which is a nice way of saying that Facebook’s coterie of lawyers will handle it from here.

Crowdfunding a CIA game.

Are you interested in teaching your kids about the valuable intelligence-gathering methods used by CIA operatives? Well, now you’re in luck. Thanks to the clever folks at Techdirt and Diegetic Games, a Kickstarter campaign aims to make a home edition game entitled CIA: Collect it All. How did this come to be? According to Techdirt, at 2017’s SXSW conference, the CIA discussed how it used games to train operatives. That led to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act to disclose more information on the games. One of the games released in response was called Collection Debt. That in turn led to the idea behind the new game, for which over $150,000 had been raised by the time the campaign ended.

Does Uber’s path to an IPO go through France?

Dara Khosrowshahi looks to be in the midst of pulling off an impressive turnaround at the once-embattled ridesharing giant. To wit, net revenues, total bookings and the company’s valuation are rising. Plus, the company’s charm offensive in Europe appears to be making progress on the back of its new plan to offer more generous health care benefits to French drivers. Also, the company is establishing a new flying car center in Paris and a new partnership with Ecole Polytechnique. WeWork, which has avoided scandals but is hemorrhaging cash, should take note here and beat Uber to the IPO punch. To that end, it may want to consider offering a selection of free Camembert at its six Paris locations.

THE TROVE

Fintech Forge’s Henrichs on sandboxes: “Does your bank have an innovation lab, Millennial council? Have you taken a field trip to the local incubator or co-working space? Even better, a scouting expedition to Silicon Valley to observe innovation at work? What your bank really needs is a simple sandbox.” That’s the straight-up advice offered by our friend Jason Henrichs. In a sharp new blog post, Henrichs goes on to make a strong case for why an internal sandbox doesn’t free innovators from the tyranny of results. Rather, it creates the framework to experiment in a way that is “solvable” and protects the core business from risk.

A note to our UK/EU readers: If you haven’t confirmed your subscription by tonight, we will be forced to Rotondo your data. Once it has been evicted, you will not receive The FR anymore.

Northwestern Mutual’s successful acquisition of LearnVest: The snark was running hot recently in the wake of Northwestern’s announcement that it was shutting down LearnVest’s financial planning effort and turning it into a financial education portal. But in the piece below, Michael Kitces argues that Northwestern got more than its money’s worth from the deal.

Blockchain ex machina?: According to Wired’s Erin Griffith, Blockchain Capital’s Jimmy Song caused a stir when he got up on stage at the recent Consensus conference and challenged the idea that decentralized networks are essentially deus ex machinas for most of the world’s problems. Song then proceeded to channel his inner Oprah, shouting, “You get a blockchain! You get a blockchain!” Clearly, Song is a funny guy who is unafraid to flout conventional blockchain wisdom. For more of his perspective, see his recent blog post below.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“We lay out our lives in a narrative we understand, like a movie, but are you enjoying making it, or are you wondering ‘Who’s watching my movie?’”

~ Donald Glover