“Matt Johnner, BankLabs Aiming to Further Disrupt Commercial Lending Space”
Matt Johnner is no stranger to taking on challenges. He worked as a drilling fluid engineer in the oil and gas industry in such far-flung locales as Nigeria, Yemen and Dubai before entering the business world as a top-level software developer for the famous Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot at Perot Systems.
From there, the 50-year-old New York native gained a vast amount of experience by leapfrogging across several startup and small-stage companies, eventually working for Texas tech giant Morton Myerson. So, when he got the call from Mike Montgomery to join the financing company Radius Group in 2013, he jumped at the chance to start a journey that led to the founding of BankLabs in 2016, where he serves as president to this day.
BankLabs is a multi-product company that helps banks compete with “disruptive fintechs” and large international banks by automating lending. Their products help banks work on loans together when they’re too large for just one bank to handle, thus minimizing the concentration risk while replacing the inefficient, traditional process for handling loans.
The impressive results include being picked as one of just 10 companies from across the United States and 29 other countries to be part of the 2021 FIS Fintech Accelerator at The Venture Center in Little Rock. Johnner hopes participation in the accelerator will help his team grow Banklab’s Participate program.
“We started with a product called Construct, which automated construction lending, and now Participate is a balance-sheet management tool for banks used to sell off pieces of loans they already have and sell them at a premium to increase loan profit and reduce concentration risk,” he explained. “We think this can also create a whole new digital-lending channel and allow merchants to make loans to other merchants.”
Johnner posits an example in which a lumber yard has a small-to-medium size business client that buys $500,000 worth of lumber each year.
“That client needs lower financing costs than a credit card’s 21 percent. We see a day where Participate facilitates a loan between the lumber yard and a carpentry business at a much lower rate, say 5 percent,” said Johnner. “And we execute on our mission to help banks and be a friendly fintech and allow the banks in our universe or our partner’s universe like FIS to put the loans on bank balance sheets in our network.
“We see a day where the lumber yards, mills and manufacturers are getting loans from their suppliers and the suppliers are keeping loyal customers, maybe making a little bit of money on the loan, and then the loan goes on the bank’s balance sheet. It’s a version of buy now, pay later. We’ll see. Most people think we’re a little crazy, but we always think that’s a good thing.”
Participate follows the success of BankLabs’ Construct program, which aimed to create big changes in the annual $1.3 trillion construction loans marketplace. Construct’s +Pay feature automated the construction payment stream for builders, general contractors, banks, title companies or disbursement agents that pay subcontractors.
Builders and banks benefit from the resulting faster process that eliminated paper with electronic lien waivers and invoices, while builders got automated 1099 reporting and project accounting. Subcontractors receive same-day pay through its ACH feature, and all told, this makes +Pay and Construct the world’s first cloud-based, vertically integrated construction-funding platform.
Those innovative approaches have paid off with more than 100 bank clients such as CenterState, a $45 billion Florida-based bank; the $15 billion Plains Capital Bank based in Dallas; as well as smaller banks including the $500 million Valliance Bank in Oklahoma and north Texas. BankLabs’ work with CenterState increased its construction loan portfolio by 567 percent. Altogether, it has managed $37 billion worth of construction loans across 57,000 projects.
While Johnner is based at the firm’s offices in Dallas, it proudly counts Little Rock as its headquarters, building on the tradition of other giants including Systematics and Alltel. The company currently has 30 employees but is looking to add 16 more staffers in the next six to nine months in the fields of software engineers, sales and customer-satisfaction specialists.
“Our goal is to differentiate the financial institutions that are not happy with the status quo from those that are resistant to change,” Johnner said. “Our clients want new ways to do things that leverage their strengths. We’re at a huge transition point and have a huge runway ahead of us and that’s only possible through great team.”