How Vantage West is Optimizing its Portfolio to Withstand Economic Cycles
Vantage West, a $2.7B credit union based in Tucson, Arizona, knew that both member preferences and changing economic conditions required a shift in its fintech partnership strategy. Consumers wanted a more seamless digital banking experience, and COVID post-stimulus payments were dwindling, causing consumers to rely more heavily on short-term cash flow support like personal loans.
To deliver an Amazon-like personal loan experience and grow membership, Vantage West began its fintech partner search.
Finding a long-term strategic partner
As the executive team began its partner evaluation, one of the key criteria was finding a partner that aligned with Vantage West’s values.
Jeremy Pinard, Chief Lending Officer at the credit union, explained the goal of all of Vantage West’s partnerships is intended to advance the organization and free up employee time to allow them to focus on high-value work, such as helping members resolve a financial issue.
Pinard also explained that Vantage West was interested in finding a partner that leveraged AI and data to improve credit decisioning accuracy, with an end goal of automatically deciding 70-80 percent of consumer loans.
“Data-driven decisions are a must in this lending era. Part of our lending strategy is building that capability out and having the data to make the best decisions for our members,” said Jeremy Pinard.
Pinard and the rest of the leadership team learned that Upstart provided an end-to-end digital experience for personal loans while also delivering a new, qualified member in the process. With the Upstart Referral Network, qualified personal loan applicants on Upstart.com who met Vantage West’s credit parameters in Arizona could automatically be matched with a personal loan from the credit union. These applicants would seamlessly transition into a Vantage West-branded, online experience from application through closing and same-day funding.
In order to gain buy-in, Pinard explained that gaining cross-functional approval across the credit union was critical, especially finance, along with setting a designated ‘owner’ of the partnership.
“You can’t set it and forget it with strategic partnerships. You need constant communication, monitoring and oversight between you and your partner,” he explained.
“If you don’t get buy-in from the C-suite all the way to the individual contributor level, the partnership will be a challenge. What I’ve learned is to be transparent and over-communicate to ensure the partnership aligns with key values,” said Pinard.
Adjusting program levers
At the beginning of the Upstart partnership, Pinard explained that their team took a ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach and worked alongside their dedicated Upstart account manager to set the appropriate guardrails for income, losses and rates. These levers have added some much needed flexibility in the wake of uncertain economic conditions, including rising interest rates, recent bank failures in March 2023 and whatever the future may bring.
“Recent events with SVB and liquidity show that if you don’t have levers to pull and you’re just a mortgage shop, you’re hurting. The partnership has allowed for optionality to shift originations and create risk-adjusted returns, geographic diversification and for us to become a better lender for near-prime borrowers.”
Chief Lending Officer
As a credit union very geographically concentrated in the Tucson market, the Upstart Referral Network has provided a way for Vantage West to diversify its geography outside of Arizona and grow members outside of its branch network.
Six months since its go-live, Vantage West has gained over 1,400 new members
With Upstart, Vantage West has quickly scaled its personal loan portfolio taking advantage of the high yield and short duration features of this off ering. “We are now bringing on partners like Upstart to drive volume we would never have access to,” explained Pinard. Vantage West has originated over $18M in personal loan volume and increased its returns by 250 bps to keep up with changing economic conditions.
Prior to Upstart, the credit union was not lending heavily to near-prime borrowers, but thanks to improved credit decisioning enabled by AI, Vantage West is now able to lend deeper down the credit spectrum without increasing losses. “That’s what I love about our partnership – we have Upstart’s experience and partnership to dip into that near prime category so we can learn as an organization and build that capability,” Pinard said. Pinard underscored that understanding risk appetite was key in building the partnership, and six months in, loss performance has performed better than the original 5 percent target.
That’s what I love about the partnership – we have Upstart’s experience and partnership to dip into that near prime category so we can learn as an organization and build that capability.”
Chief Lending Officer
Creating portfolio optionality for future success
Moving forward, the Vantage West leadership team is prioritizing both organizational automation and adoption of artificial intelligence. By automating manual tasks, the team can deploy a more robust balance sheet while cutting its expenses.
Pinard and team view the Upstart partnership as an integral piece of their goal to use AI and more data points to improve credit decisioning and ultimately create a better digital experience. Moving forward, the partnership will allow them to have continued optionality as market conditions change and also provide the revenue to invest back into better experiences for their members.
“Lending is the revenue we use to invest into improving the digital member experience. Optimizing our portfolio to withstand the economic cycles that we go through and creating optionality is key.”
Chief Lending Officer