In an era where blockchain is transforming the financial landscape, loans against cryptoassets will emerge as an essential financial service allowing investors to retain ownership of their cryptocurrencies along with offering them much needed liquidity. In fact, this is already happening.
SALT Lending’s co-founder, Blake Cohen, started working on blockchain technology in 2014. Shawn Owen joined with Cohen and spent the next year surveying the evolving blockchain landscape. The blockchain universe lacked a host of products and services required to support the growing sector, but their Eureka moment came when they saw there was no lending product that allowed blockchain assets to be collateralized for lending in fiat currencies.
Cohen is now the chief business development officer. His background in real estate coupled with a family history in hard money lending helped him realize the problem of liquidity in the crypto world. After spending a few months conducting a thorough feasibility study where he evaluated the technology barriers, regulatory hurdles, and market size of the crypto market, he realized there was a massive business opportunity. He and Owen incorporated SALT Lending in June 2016 and launched its operations in June 2017.
The company is based in Denver, Colorado. The one year between incorporation and launch was spent building the technology and in business development. The platform enables cryptocurrency owners to take a loan using their cryptocurrency as collateral thereby safeguarding their investments, which can be reclaimed at any time after the repayment of the loan. This allows them to monetize their blockchain investments without having to sell them off. Salt facilitates liquidity for borrowers, but they still get to enjoy the upside (or downside) in the price of their original investments.
The platform went public at the Consensus conference held in New York in 2017 and received an overwhelming response. It started official disbursement of loans in December 2017.
Funding Crypto Lending
Initially, SALT Lending was funded through family and friends and raised an amount in the region of $1 million. Last year, it went on with a membership sale denominated in utility tokens – SALT. The same was considered as a revenue event and not a fundraising initiative. The sale of tokens is still going on. In the discounted round, it had raised an amount of $42 million.
The thought process behind issuance of membership tokens was that ICO is a misleading term and usually confused with IPOs (Initial Public Offering). Membership tokens offered by the company will bring the interested population to the company’s platform without requiring it to spend huge amounts of money on marketing. The idea seems corollary to an IPO, but the difference is that IPOs create shareholders in the company whereas only a small percentage of ICOs are securities giving contributors ownership rights. The majority of ICOs generate utility tokens that are to be utilized in the business ecosystem of the company.
How the SALT Lending Platform Works
The biggest driver behind the platform is its in-house technology. The automated platform operates on Ethereum-based smart contracts that facilitate crypto loans backed by blockchain assets as collateral. Membership, premier, and enterprise versions of products offered by the company allow investors to receive loans in USD or any other currency depending upon selection of the package.
The blockchain assets of borrowers are secured by the company’s proprietary custodian technology. The proprietary multi-signature wallet regularly monitors the blockchain assets from origination till release thereby reducing the risk. The multiple signer features provide borrower and lender with a private key along with a third-party custodian; this ensures that there can be no misappropriation of the collateral.
With a view to minimize the default risk, SALT Oracle Wallet regularly tracks the value of collateral assets and generates alerts in case of a drop in value below a certain specified limit, which will further trigger liquidation of the collateral. Each loan originates with an LTV of about 60%. In case of a drop in valuation, the system will automatically liquidate a certain portion of the collateral to reach the original LTV, but only after notifying the borrower.
Products offered by the company facilitate borrowers with a maximum of 36 month term loans with interest rates ranging from 10% to 20% depending upon the LTV. Very few companies are offering loans with such favorable conditions. The first product offered by the company was in the form of fiat loans backed by crypto assets.
At present, SALT Lending is working with over 70 full-time employees, has processed 17,000 loan requests, and has 12,000 active SALT members. To date, it has originated loans worth $40 million.
The customer base is widely distributed across different segments. The company also serves small investors who are keen to invest in cryptocurrency and do not want to sell their assets for temporary liquidity issues. The purpose of loans may vary from customer to customer. Some may use a loan to repay student loans, rent a home, or invest in other assets, while corporate lenders may require a loan to expand their business and introduce additional revenue streams.
SALT Lending’s Future Plans
Lending against crypto assets is still an immature market and no complete set of solutions is currently available. Regular adoption of technological updates in the blockchain and fintech world is helping the company to fully automate each aspect of the operations and scale the business to new and emerging markets.
Custody of blockchain assets is one of the main issues that needs to be addressed. No platform or solution provider is providing a user-friendly experience in this respect. According to Cohen, this year will bring a drastic change in custodial architecture, and SALT Lending will be at the forefront of this progress.
Borrowers under the cryptocurrency mechanism have no issue with respect to the comparatively high interest rate because the appreciation in value of the underlying asset is expected to indemnify the high finance charges. Sale of such underlying assets results in high amount of capital gains and, therefore, borrowing against these assets provides a more tax efficient solution for crypto investors.
The industry at present is in price discovery mode. Economic pricing policies, daily reviews, and revisions in terms of lending will help SALT Lending establish a long-term market.
Different industries and asset classes are moving to the blockchain technology. SALT Lending is on its way to creating a platform that will bring together the crypto and fiat worlds where crypto assets can be used in the normal course of business.
One target for the company is to analyze and understand the needs of its customer base and respond accordingly. One such need is to make available lines of credit backed by a crypto portfolio. The company is also continually looking to partner with investors who will bring capital to meet the ever-increasing demand for loans in the industry.
Written by Heena Dhir.