Investors pour money into Frank, a TurboTax for student loan applications – TechCrunch
Venture capitalists have been trying to make money in the higher education market for years.
It’s a rich target for the clutch of investors who are proud (in their best times) to invest in companies that can improve society, and who are working to fix broken systems, and a new startup, Franc, is the latest attempt to bring lasting change to the industry.
At this point, no one would say that higher education in America is not broken. The debt accumulated by the millennial generation and their descendants is simply crippling, and more and more a degree (professional or academic) is no longer the guarantee of the success it once was.
Still, the benefits outweigh the risks of not becoming bona fide, so millions of students humble themselves every year at the altar of admissions officials and two- and four-year-old institutions. .
What many of these students don’t know is that they are leaving thousands of dollars on the table.
Much of the money venture capitalists have committed to startups in this space is focused on new ways of lending money, but Frank, who just raised $ 10 million in funding, is borrowing. a different path.
Rather than loaning money to students, Frank seeks to make the loan application process easier. The company, founded by Charlie Javice, a 25-year-old former banker and University of Pennsylvania graduate, is like a TurboTax for college loan applications.
It is backed by a handful of interesting investors, including Aleph, the US-Israel investment fund which is also investing in a new insurance company; Lemonade and WeWork; Reach the capital; Tusk Ventures from former Uber defender Bradley Tusk; and slow businesses. Marc Rowan, co-founder of Apollo Global Management, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, led the most recent investment.
“You have to change course before people get into debt,” Javice tells me.
This is Franks’ mission. The company launched a pilot program for low-income students at a few high schools in the Bronx in March.
“I’ve spent a lot of time on the banking side trying to figure out how to lend money more responsibly, and make the banks don’t care,” Javice said elsewhere. “It always came down to the one thing that was, there was no ally for the students.”
The company’s technology automates much of the application process for the Free Federal Student Aid Application Form, which is the gateway to getting the federal government to help pay for college education.
It is important to note that almost everyone is entitled to some form of student aid.
A 2016 NerdWallet study found that students left $ 2.7 billion in free federal Pell grants on the table by not filling out FAFSA information.
Initially, Javice solved the problem by focusing on improving credit scores in order to lower the cost of student loans. “Blind, stupid monkeys might do a better job of credit scoring than banks,” Javice tells me.
But ultimately, this startup clashed with regulators who insisted the new company should be regulated as a credit rating agency.
The critical factor, says Javice, is that lenders have no incentive to help their client. They earn more money when they can charge more interest on the payments, and the government has inflated the cost of education by donating money to institutions that then channel those funds to facilities and departments. athletics which in turn require higher tuition fees to maintain their upkeep, says Javice.
“Most schools want to maximize their income,” she says.
Frank earns money by providing premium services. It’s free for people to use the service to facilitate the FAFSA application process, but for a flat fee of $ 500, students can access a call-for-help process that can allow them to try out ‘get more money if they’ve accepted a lower loan package – and a review feature that allows an expert to verify the information students provide on their FAFSA forms.
And Frank’s services apply to more than four-year colleges.
“We have beauticians, cooking schools, truck driving schools,” who are eligible for these grants, Javice said. “During the summer, 40 percent of our base goes to these vocational or technical colleges.”
About 63% of Frank’s clients are young women, 83% are between the ages of 17 and 24, and almost half will be the first people in their family to attend college. The company also helps veterans, who, after years of military service, often cannot access the benefits they are supposed to receive under the GI Bill because the process is so obscure and complicated, Javice said.
The company has 18 full-time employees, 10 in Israel and 8 in the United States, and has a support team of students who have taken advantage of the company’s services.
Currently, Frank will be handling the FAFSA application process anywhere and partnering with New York, Texas, and Pennsylvania to manage state aid programs. Ultimately, the company would also like to help students manage the loan repayment process.
“Charlie and his team at Frank are creating a fair financial service and solving a legitimate need – giving US students access to higher education,” Frank’s new lead investor Rowan said in a statement. .