LendingClub Drops as FTC Calls `No Hidden Fees' Slogan Deceptive

(Bloomberg) -- LendingClub Corp., once the Wall Street darling of online lenders, tumbled to a record low after U.S. regulators accused it of misleading consumers with hidden fees and charging borrowers even when they paid off loans.

The Federal Trade Commission said in a complaint Wednesday that LendingClub’s conduct, at times flagged by its own compliance department as problematic, violated federal law protecting consumers from unfair and deceptive practices. The shares fell 14 percent to $2.80 at 1:19 p.m. in New York. The stock is down 32 percent this year, and more than 80 percent from the initial public offering.

“Many consumers are forced to pay overdraft fees, while other consumers are unable to pay other bills because they do not have access to the money that defendant improperly withdrew,” the agency said in the lawsuit filed in San Francisco.

LendingClub, based in San Francisco, said it’s “disappointed” with the FTC’s lawsuit.

The case is a yet another setback for the company and Chief Executive Officer Scott Sanborn. Once heralded as an innovative firm that would disrupt lending, the venture sold shares to the public in 2014 and soon soared to a more-than $10 billion market valuation. But it has struggled with a series of scandals in recent years. In 2016, its founder and then-CEO, Renaud Laplanche, resigned amid an internal probe into a botched loan sale.

Peer-to-peer or marketplace loan platforms such as LendingClub act as intermediaries, matching online borrowers with investors. In 2016, the company said employees had falsified information on some loans and that Laplanche had failed to disclose his interests in a fund that LendingClub was considering investing in.

“In our decade-plus history we have helped more than 2 million people access low-cost credit and have co-founded two associations that raised the bar for transparency,” the company said in a statement on the FTC case. The “allegations cannot be reconciled with this longstanding record of consumer satisfaction that’s reflected in every available objective metric.”

According to the FTC, LendingClub promised borrowers “no hidden fees” even though it deducted hundreds or even thousands of dollars in hidden up-front fees from loans. The company also falsely told loan applicants that “Investors Have Backed Your Loan” while knowing that many of them would never get a loan, a practice that delayed applicants from seeking loans elsewhere, according to the agency.

In some cases, LendingClub also withdrew double payments from consumers’ accounts and charged those who paid off their loans, costing consumers overdraft fees, the FTC said.

“This case demonstrates the importance to consumers of having truthful information from lenders, including online marketplace lenders,” said Reilly Dolan, acting director of the FTC’s consumer-protection unit. “Stopping this kind of conduct will help consumers make informed choices about loan offers.”

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