Marcus Will Succeed Despite — Or Because of — Goldman Sachs

As reported last weekGoldman Sachs just announced the creation of a new retail lending arm to launch in October, named Marcus after one of its founders.

No one is really all that concerned about whether or not Marcus will be able to do its job— it’s Goldman Sachs after all, and has access to so much capital the thought of it has probably made other banks cry at some point—but rather, how exactly it’s going to succeed.

According to Chris O’Brien, Founder of Linchpin Partnerships, it’s already made slightly odd choices, especially considering the type of marketplace lending it’s are offering.

“Marcus, the name, it’s fun but surprising. There is definitely real differentiation here, but I was surprised at the decision to walk away from the brand,” says O’Brien, who founded Linchpin Partnerships a year and a half ago after working with the Kessler Group, citing Goldman’s steady stream of capital and strong technologies. “The name doesn’t help them to stand out; Marcus is just another name on a list for a consumer that has so many options that they’re spoiled for choice.”

Marcus is targeting a type of retail consumer that already has around 30 startups and financial institutions, such as Lending Club and Prosper, constantly vying for their attention. The goal of every last one of these companies is to lend to those who have higher credit scores and the reasonable ability to pay, or, to put it more simply, to do exactly what Lending Club is best known for doing.

“Lending Club was making money; not the net margin Goldman Sachs will be happy about but it does show the model works,” says LendingRobot’s Emmanuel Marot. Lending Club was the top player in this sphere before its rash of troubles, which culminated in the resignation of the CEO and more recently, the tepid results of it’s  second 2016 quarter. “Revenue has been decreasing for Goldman, so it’s logical to look for new revenue opportunities—and if you take banks and remove branches, you get Lending Club.”

Unlike other banks, Goldman Sachs does not have the additional expense of maintaining multiple branches, something that affords it a modest advantage; its real strength over these small, nimble startups is obviously the dragon’s hoard of resources it possesses; for startups, the beginning goal is get investors interested quickly, while Goldman, according to Marot, has the opposite problem: it needs to interest borrowers.

Following that, the real question about Marcus isn’t its ability to provide the service it’s offering, but its ability to attract people away from the competition in order to actually have consumers to service.

This is the kind of thinking that led Goldman Sachs to dub the lending arm Marcus, in the hopes that the name would evoke the feeling of a startup in its consumers as opposed to a huge banking Goliath.

However, use of this name means forgoing the brand recognition Goldman Sachs has, which “has it pros and cons with the average consumer,” as O’Brien states, but is regardless a “gold-plated brand” that these same consumers are certain will be sticking around.

“Maybe their plan is to build a brand around Marcus, which they certainly have the resources to do; it would just be time consuming,” said O’Brien, adding that Marcus’s ability to attract the kind of retail customers it wants over the more affluent customers associated with Goldman Sachs is “a real concern.”

In other words, Marcus will be a success, because it’s backed by Goldman Sachs, but, only if it’s able to pull retail consumers away from the dozens of other competitors, which it might not be able to — because it’s backed by Goldman Sachs.

To learn more about marketplace lending, join us at Bank Innovation Israel this November 1-3 in Tel Aviv. Learn more and register here.

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