Manu Smadja: CEO at MPOWER Financing, a Fintech Firm Facilitating Educational Loans, Shares Business Strategy

MPOWER Financing, a global education loan provider, recently secured an equity investment of $100 million. The new funding is in addition to the $60 million MPOWER raised earlier this year from Tilden Park Capital Management that also participated in the current round along with ETS Strategic Capital.

Other investors were King Street Capital Management, Drakes Landing Associates, and Pennington Alternative Income Management.

We recently connected with Manu Smadja, CEO at MPOWER Financing, which is a Public Benefit Corporation whose stated mission is “to reduce the financial barriers to international education.” The company is based in Washington, DC, with business offices in New York and Bangalore, India.

The firm was established by Manu Smadja and Michael Davis back in 2014, both of whom attended INSEAD Paris where they first met each other. Our conversation with Manu Smadja is shared below.

Crowdfund Insider: You’ve mentioned that you use your cross-border lending platform, Big Data, and global infrastructure to finance international and DACA students in North America.

How did you identify this as a key requirement, and what are some of the long-term benefits that your organization has been able to provide?

Manu Smadja: MPOWER Financing’s mission is to remove the financial barriers that many high-promise students from around the world encounter attending school overseas. International and DACA students simply do not have access to the types of programs that American students can take advantage of, including federal student loan subsidies, grants, national scholarships, etc. Additionally, they are often excluded from many private loan options available due to a lack of domestic credit history.

We apply the latest technology and processes to fulfill this mission, ensuring we’re able to help as many students as we can as seamlessly as possible. This includes looking at a variety of different data sources along with projecting future earning potential to determine an applicant’s credit risk long-term.

We also understand that funding is only part of the equation. We provide additional career guidance and resources through our Path2Success program, which helps our students prepare for the unique challenges they may face when it comes to entering the workforce. This, in turn, yields significantly better credit outcomes and lower-than-average loan default rates.

We are constantly rethinking how we use technology to transform our business. We’re currently exploring machine learning to help identify trends and patterns in customer support, which will help us better address students’ questions and challenges.

Crowdfund Insider: Your website states that people can “fund their dreams on their own.” Candidates can apply for your co-signer loans and scholarships to study in the U.S. and Canada. How does your Fintech platform make this possible?

Manu Smadja: Unlike traditional financing options available to international and DACA students (usually brick and mortar banks in the student’s home country), MPOWER loans do not require a cosigner or collateral for approval. Our approval process is also not based on credit history alone. Instead, we have built a proprietary algorithm that factors in future earning potential and analyzes disparate data sources, such as employment history and credit history domestically and abroad.

This model ensures that high-promise students have access to education without putting an undue financial burden on their families. MPOWER’s loans are approved instantly and are granted at competitive interest rates.

By amalgamating and evaluating the many factors that will contribute to their success and solvency, we make it possible for high-promise students who are left out of the traditional lending process to fund their endeavors in higher education in the U.S. and Canada.

Crowdfund Insider: You’ve noted that you’re a social benefit corporation founded by international students for international students, and you’re on a mission “to make socioeconomic mobility borderless.”

We’re now living in a world with rapid globalization and advancements in telecommunications technology, yet some processes like acquiring loans are still  being done in an inefficient manner with legacy platforms.

How can Fintech enhance this process from the perspective of learners and the organizations that provide education?

Manu Smadja: Our global financial systems have largely not kept up with the pace of innovation seen in other sectors of the consumer economy. While online applications and accessibility may be more commonplace, particularly due to the pandemic, the back-end systems that support these technologies are cumbersome and often outdated. Typically, the first option for many international students to fund their education is through traditional brick and mortar banks in their home countries. Not only can the lending process take longer, the majority of these loan providers are also still using conventional credit mechanisms to determine eligibility.

Since our founding, we have been committed to rethinking and overhauling how international students fund their education. This includes removing prohibitive barriers, such as requiring collateral or having a cosigner. Thanks to data and our proprietary algorithm, we gain a more detailed and comprehensive financial picture of each applicant to determine if they’re a good candidate for a loan.

Naturally, our model breaks down barriers to funding, while ensuring that each transaction is financially sound and does not present a credit risk to our business.

Crowdfund Insider: You’ve processed over $2 billion in loan applications. You’ve also been supporting 190+ countries of citizenship along with 350+ U.S. and Canadian schools.

How can financial technology be leveraged to expedite the loan application review process? Does your software use any A.I. or machine learning algorithms to improve the overall process?

Manu Smadja: A faster approval and processing pathway is something we strive for, but the process must be anchored by accuracy. We recently launched our Instant Offer product, enabling a student to check their eligibility in 30 seconds and apply online in less than 30 minutes. Based on the information we collect; we are able to provide a conditional loan offer in real-time.

Crowdfund Insider: What are your plans for this year and beyond? What technological improvements do you plan to incorporate into your existing platform?

Manu Smadja: In 2021, MPOWER has raised a total of $160 million including the $100 million in equity on July 13. These funds are being used to scale and automate our operations, enabling us to help more students.

While many companies would use an investment like this to expand product offerings, we want to stay true to our core offering: lending for high-promise students and tools and education to help prepare students to enter the workforce. This means investing in our team and technology.

Crowdfund Insider: Earlier this year, MPOWER partnered with Sallie Mae to expand higher education access, specifically for international and DACA students.

Please tell us about your aim to leverage these strategic partnerships to offer better services.

Manu Smadja: We are always looking for organizations to partner with, particularly when it builds the bridge between funding and a students’ dreams to pursue higher education. The partnership with Sallie Mae helps fill the gaps found in traditional lending services, offering credit-based private loan products that students can apply for with an eligible U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. When a co-signer is unavailable, MPOWER works with Sallie Mae and leverages its proprietary data and technology to underwrite high-promise international students.

We look forward to partnering with more lenders so that we can help more students fulfill their educational goals.

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