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Expert offers insights on trends and opportunities in student lending space

Student loan debt is weighing down Americans of all generations, but a college education is still prized as the ticket to opportunity. So will the debt continue to climb? Where will students turn for funding?

We interviewed Vince Passione, founder and CEO of LendKey, a lending-as-a-service platform specializing in student lending, to gain his perspective on the state of student lending and how the space is evolving for both consumers and lenders.

We’ve all seen the headlines about U.S. student loan debt now accounting for $1.4 trillion. The majority of these loans are government-funded, but do you see this shifting?

There are many factors at play here. Tuition is rising rapidly and will soon outpace the current level of governmental support available to students searching for loans. Meanwhile, today’s geopolitical climate signals that the current levels of federal funding will also decrease.

With these two confounding trends, the need for competitively priced private financing and refinancing options will increase. The student loan industry will shift toward private lenders such as credit unions and banks in order for students to continue to obtain the funds they need for tuition and other college expenses. The key to helping this transition happen is for banks and credit unions to adopt the user-friendly technology platforms that appeal to these prospective student borrowers.

Your end-to-end cloud-based technology platform enables lenders to get into the student loan space. How does this work and what must lenders consider as they underwrite and manage a student loan portfolio?

Our turnkey platform is unique, in that it lets lenders control underwriting and pricing, unlike the “disruptive” model utilized by many other technology companies in the industry. Most community banks and credit unions lack the in-house resources to develop, implement and maintain an online lending platform. At the same time, millennials and young borrowers continue to prefer the online interface rather than engaging with a brick-and-mortar establishment. We’re committed to partnering with banks and credit unions to allow them to offer private consumer loans, such as student loans, and support them with our technology (loan application and decisioning) and people (customer service agents and loan processors).

A strong grasp on the technology and support aspects of online lending platforms alone is merely the foundation for a successful program. As the student lending asset classes are highly regulated, and the regulations are constantly changing, lenders must look to partner with a firm that has a concrete understanding of the regulation, risk and customer service to translate the information to prospective borrowers.

I’ve heard you use the phrase “HENRY.” Can you explain what this is and why these individuals are so lucrative for lenders?

HENRY stands for “High Earners, Not Rich Yet” and is a term that can be applied to many millennials and young people in today’s economy. This demographic is typically college graduates with well-paying jobs, but have not yet established themselves financially or accrued enough wealth to subsidize larger purchases like cars, homes, renovations and advanced degrees. This is also why they are so lucrative for lenders.

HENRYs have just entered their prime borrowing years and are consumers who will easily be able to pay back loans for cars, homes and renovations. But for most of this demographic, their first experience with a financial service product will be a student loan. It is important to get in on the ground floor with these borrowers through student lending to establish a trusted relationship that will result in repeat loans and referrals.

You’ve done a great deal of research on millennials and how they are managing student loans. Can you share some of your key learnings? Do you believe Generation Z will behave and manage student debt similarly?

It’s no secret that millennials are more apprehensive of student loans than previous generations. As Gen Z begins to enter college, many are plagued with stigmas set forward by the poor experiences millennials experienced with student loans, making them wary of debt. According to a study, 63 percent of the students said they would “possibly” take on student debt, down from 71 percent in 2016.

Gen Z is better prepared by seeing the preceding generation grapple with loan issues. Many are making smarter decisions on schools and programs, and are attentive when it comes to monitoring for updates in regulation. As this generation continues to go through the typical collegiate years, the geopolitical climate, as well as rising tuition costs, will increase the need for competitively priced private financing options for Gen Zers.

Finally, what trends or predictions do you see occurring in the student lending space over the next five years?

The need for student loans continues to exist and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon, but lenders are only recently opening their eyes to the opportunity that this massive market presents. With the impending drop in federal funding, more FinTech companies will continue to pop up to address this need.

This spike in disruption also poses a threat to banks and credit unions, however. With more FinTechs available to help shoulder the burden of student lending, banking and credit union executives must be more judicious when vetting technology partners to ensure they’re working with a partner that meets their regulatory standards, supports their current and prospective clients, and lets them retain the control they wish to keep in-house.