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How LendingClub CEO Sanborn is bringing back investors

Scott Sanborn, LendingClub
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Scott Sanborn, LendingClub

LendingClub's new CEO Scott Sanborn said he was being groomed to eventually take over the company. Just not so soon.

Sanborn was named permanent CEO of the online lender in June, seven weeks after founder Renaud Laplanche was abruptly ousted for activities that the board deemed improper. Sanborn had just been promoted to president from head of marketing and operations in April.

"Renaud and I had talked about this eventuality and were indeed planning for it," Sanborn said on Tuesday, in an interview at the Money20/20 conference in Las Vegas. "I anticipated it would take more than a few weeks."

Whereas Laplanche, who started LendingClub in 2006, was an outspoken technology entrepreneur and industry pioneer, Sanborn is a quieter operator who was suddenly thrown into the fire.

Shares of LendingClub, which were already slumping, are down 31 percent since Laplanche's departure. More than just equity investors fleeing, Sanborn had to reckon with loss of confidence among the debt providers who supply the money for LendingClub to lend.

Rebuilding capital availability required a hefty dose of outreach to investors and also some incentives. The company offered more attractive interest rates to sweeten investor returns at the expense of profitability.

In the second quarter, LendingClub's contribution margin, the amount of revenue it gets to keep, sank to 33 percent from 46 percent a year earlier, because of incentives and a goodwill impairment. The San Francisco-based company reported an $81.4 million loss in the quarter.

The incentives rolled off in July and August, so assuming investor demand has returned, the margin should rebound.

As Sanborn looks toward not just stabilizing the company but returning to growth, he's targeting new markets.

LendingClub announced on Tuesday that it's entering the auto loan business, providing lower-cost refinancing to car owners.

LendingClub shares

Starting in California and expanding nationally next year, LendingClub aims to bring down rates to prime borrowers by about 2.5 percentage points. So a car owner paying 8 percent should be able to get down to 5.5 percent.

Initially, LendingClub will be providing the loans off its own balance sheet. By mid-2017, Sanborn said institutional investors should be able to buy the loans automatically, similar to how they provide consumer and credit-card refinancing debt.

Sanborn said the product was read to go in May, but LendingClub put the release on hold while dealing with the management shake-up luring back investors.

"We've had a bunch of people fired up and eager to get it into the market," he said.

Much of Sanborn's time has also been spent on rebuilding the management team. He's put in place a new finance chief, operating chief, general counsel and chief capital officer.

"We've had an enormous amount we've needed to accomplish in a very limited amount of time," Sanborn said.

Sanborn was as surprised as anyone to find himself and the company in this position.

Lending Club Founder and CEO Renaud Laplanche on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange watches prices December 11, 2014 in New York.
Don Emmert | AFP | Getty Images
Lending Club Founder and CEO Renaud Laplanche on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange watches prices December 11, 2014 in New York.

On May 9, LendingClub said that over the course of a review, it discovered that $22 million in near-prime loans were purchased by a single institutional investor in March and April, and the assets "failed to conform to the investor's express instructions."

Laplanche, who was aware that the loans did not meet the investor's requests, resigned, and the stock immediately lost more than one-third of its value.

The clean-up is still underway.