Services like Hotels.com and Expedia helped change how customers look for the best deals on hotels and airfare, in fact, services that compare pricing and deals continue to pop up, and it shouldn't come as a surprise. People will go to great lengths to find the best deals and services that aggregate deals take out the usual time sink.
But what about if you're looking for a loan? Then your options are a bit more limited. That's where LendingTree comes in, and they've been doing it since 1996! LendingTree helps you shop and compare loan offers on everything from home loans to student loans and personal loans.
We had the chance to talk with the founder and CEO of LendingTree about their service, their history, and what's in store for the company. Check it out below!
Care to introduce yourself and your role with LendingTree?
I’m Doug Lebda, founder and CEO of LendingTree. I started the company back in 1996 during the early stages of the internet, and have seen the ups and downs of both the dot-com and finance industries.
What inspired the creation of LendingTree?
Before business school, I was an accountant in Pittsburgh. When I tried to purchase a $55,000 condo, the banks gave me the runaround, never offering me the rates that were advertised in essentially a rate table in the newspaper and in branch windows. I felt very disempowered with the process and didn’t understand why I had to do so much work to find the best deal. Roughly about the same time, I was working with, believe it or not, natural gas energy derivatives traders in accounting and saw how efficient a market could be.
I kind of asked myself the famous entrepreneurial question of why can’t mortgages be like this for consumers where you can actually comparison shop for money. Money should be treated as a commodity. Then, in my first year at Darden, I had the privilege of hearing Jim Collins speak about entrepreneurship and management.
One story that struck a chord with me was when he explained how many of the best businesses were started by someone wanting to solve a problem. In L.L. Bean’s case, the founder began making boots to keep feet dry in wet conditions. He said, “Wet feet, make boots”. That’s when I gave myself one year, my affordable loss, to see if I could simplify the mortgage process while empowering both businesses and consumers.
For those not familiar, what is LendingTree in just a couple sentences?
LendingTree is an online loan marketplace where consumers can shop and compare customized loan offers from several different lenders. You can think of us like an Expedia for loans and credit products. Additionally, our My LendingTree platform provides account holders with a free monthly credit score, insight into their score, along with alerts when we see an opportunity to save you money – based on a proprietary algorithm and real-time offer data from our network of over 450 lenders.
What kind of services can people compare using your service?
Consumers can compare and shop across all loan types – from mortgages, refinance and home equity loans to personal loans, auto loans, student loans small business loans and credit cards.
LendingTree is listed in the Top 10 of Fortune's fastest growing companies, would you say that is due in part to your ability to pivot and reimagine yourself after changes in the market? (such as the recession/housing bubble bursting)
Yes, in part. Diversification absolutely contributed to our success, growing our product offering and helping consumers compare more financial products. But the primary factor in our growth has been the increasing shift from offline to online. When we first launched, banks weren’t really ready for us. This is really the first time in our 20-year history that lenders have the automation and the technology to really scale online originations.
On the consumer side, the beauty of our business today is that while we’ve built a great brand, a lot of consumers are just now waking up to the fact that they can get real value by shopping for money, that they can actually save money by comparing multiple offers side by side.
What about small business loans? That's a newer addition to your platform, correct?
Correct, we launched small business loans about two years ago, but in the last 6 months we’ve seen impressive traction. Small businesses struggle with applying, qualifying for and obtaining small business loans, an issue we were excited to address head on.
Many times, business owners don’t have the time to fill out paperwork or availability to shop around for loans. We’re taking a concierge-like approach since businesses, and small business lenders, vary so widely.
So where are we at as far as "access to credit" is concerned? Is it finally leveling out?
It absolutely is. Leading up to the financial crisis in 2007/2008, the pendulum swung too far in one direction, leading to irresponsible borrowing and loan defaults. Post 2008, the pendulum swung too far in the opposite direction, making it difficult for even highly qualified borrowers to gain access to credit. We’re now seeing lenders with an appetite to lend and consumers who want to borrow responsibly.
Anything exciting coming to LendingTree in the near future that you can talk about?
We’re always exploring and testing new opportunities and products. We’ve just recently launched a completely new credit card shopping experience, with more features, search options and content to make card comparison shopping easier and more helpful than ever.
We’re also continually rolling out new alerts and savings recommendations through My LendingTree, taking the guesswork and hassle out of loan shopping by serving up only the offers that can make a real difference in your financial life.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some of our questions! Is there anything you'd like to close with?
Thank you, as well. I’d say that after our 20-year history, we’re in a very exciting era for FinTech, where banks are no longer the only option for financing. For consumers who are looking for loans, credit cards or any financial service, remember that you’re in the driver’s seat and you don’t have to take the first offer that comes around. Compare all your options, ask questions, negotiate fees and choose the offer that’s right for you. At the end of the day, it’s your transaction and your money
As access to credit continues to level out, finding who will provide you with the best rates and deals is an important step when securing a loan. With LendingTree, you can do that quickly and easily. WIth the addition of small business loans into their platform, the service can really be used by almost anyone.
We'd like to thank Doug for taking the time to answer some of our questions. Find out more about LendingTree here.