Fast growth, dating services come between Sofi and bank license: CEO

(Reuters) - Online lender Social Finance Inc is unlikely to seek a banking license because its fast growth and involvement in unorthodox activities like dating services would make it hard to win approval from regulators, according to its chief executive.

“It’s not a viable solution for us to be a bank,” CEO Mike Cagney said on a conference call hosted by Goldman Sachs analysts on Tuesday.

Known as SoFi, the company is growing at a pace the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation would view as too fast, Cagney said. Entities that want to become banks need FDIC approval since it provides deposit insurance.

SoFi has doubled its business every year and expects to continue that trend in its core lending business over the next two years. “That’s a growth trajectory that the FDIC traditionally hasn’t been comfortable with,” Cagney said.

FDIC spokesman David Barr declined to comment.

SoFi started out as a company that refinances student loans. But more recently it has been diving into a variety of financial services businesses, ranging from mortgages to an in-house hedge fund. Since it caters to younger consumers, it also has marketing tactics that are not commonly found at traditional brick-and-mortar lenders.

For instance, it hosts cocktail parties and singles meetups for its customers and is working on a meeting and dating app. Those types of activities are “critical to brand,” but “wouldn’t be functional within a bank holding company,” Cagney said.

SoFi underwrites about $1 billion per month in loans, making it the largest non-bank unsecured lender in the United States, he said. The company has touted the idea of a “bankless world,” but still wants to offer products like deposit accounts and credit and debit cards that might eventually require it to get a bank license.

The idea of becoming an industrial loan corporation, which was used in the past by companies like General Electric Co’s GE Capital, is attractive, Cagney said. But he added that a more likely option would be a partnership with another financial firm that could provide “functional transactional capability” while SoFi controlled “the user experience.”

He mentioned Serve, a prepaid debit card offered by American Express Co, as one example.

In an emailed statement to Reuters after the call, Cagney said SoFi evaluates the question of whether to become a bank holding company “regularly” as it considers ways to become a full-service financial services firm.

(This version of the story corrects dateline and third paragraph to reflect that the FDIC does not issue licenses. The FDIC provides insurance.)

Reporting by Dan Freed; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra, Dan Grebler and Bernard Orr