‘Now is the Time’ for Debt-Collection Disruptor January to Scale for Growth

How the fintech company plans to compassionately help those in debt and provide data insights to lenders through new products and hires

Written by Taylor Rose
Published on Jan. 22, 2024
‘Now is the Time’ for Debt-Collection Disruptor January to Scale for Growth
January
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When Jake Cahan founded a fintech company, the early years were driven by what he calls a ‘blind fanaticism.’ He believed that the company’s core identity — as a compassionate, data-driven collections platform — would show the financial industry that they could achieve superior performance, compliance and efficiency compared to the status quo. 

Or he hoped, at least. 

“We didn’t know for sure,” said Cahan, founder and CEO of January. “Like many founders, I underestimated the challenge and time it would take to build a company of scale.” 

Cahan and the small-yet-passionate team at January — then called Debtsy — found that the process of bringing in big financial players as adopters was slower than they expected. Selling high-risk services to heavily regulated institutions means slow validation, with banks and large lenders often hesitant to test the waters that January offers.

“Our earliest believers were credit unions,” said Cahan. “They were excited by the prospect of delivering better experiences for their financially struggling members. As we slowly proved that our product worked, we convinced larger and larger institutions to work with us.”

 

WHAT DOES JANUARY DO?

January is a fintech company that helps borrowers who have fallen behind on their loans, while modernizing the collection process for the creditor companies. The company stands out by helping borrowers resolve their debt with dignity and by helping creditors achieve superior performance, compliance and efficiency outcomes in a data-driven manner. 

 

Today, the team’s work has paid off — literally. The company announced a successful round of $12 million in series B funding in December 2023. 

“We’re fortunate to be in a position — particularly in startup land today — where our traction, macro tailwinds and team enable us to focus on how we can grow fast and thoughtfully,” commented Cahan. “Now, we engage with millions of consumers and work with leading credit unions, fintech lenders, debt buyers, banks and more.”

 

January
January 

 

Preparing for Growth 

The new momentum of the team is exciting and puts January in a position to scale throughout 2024 and beyond. 

“Despite a slower start in the early years, our earned trust — incredibly hard-fought — and momentum positions us to launch many more products with our existing clients and act as a deterrent to industry newcomers,” said Cahan. “We’re now poised to leverage our accelerating growth.”

The next stage of growth will require the company to bring on new talent on the product and engineering side. At present, the company has less than 100 employees and many teams tend to be small and nimble. Each hiring decision that the company makes is chosen very carefully. 

Enterprise Account Executive Oussama Hamouti, who has been with the company for nearly two years, is continuously impressed by the company’s approach to growth. 

“I’ve grown to truly appreciate how this leadership team tackles company growth and scaling sustainably,” he said.

“At a time like this in the market where most companies had to scale back on growth due to overspending and inflated valuations, I’ve seen January stay aligned with growing where it’s necessary while keeping teams lean as much as possible.”

“We focused on doing much more with much less,” added Cahan. “The frugality helped us achieve some amazing results, such as being able to handle 150 times more capacity — in terms of debts per collector — than a collector at a traditional agency. This accomplishment is industry leading.” 
 

“We focused on doing much more with much less, which helped us handle 150 times more capacity than a collector at a traditional agency. This accomplishment is industry leading.”

 

Now, the company’s small teams need support. The absence of key personnel, like engineers or salespeople, led to incurring costs, according to Cahan. 

“Without having bandwidth for individuals to reflect on how to grow the company, we spend too much time focused on operating the business,” he explained. “Inadvertently, we risk prioritizing reactive fires over material innovations. Failure to sufficiently innovate introduces existential risk to our business, if unchecked.” 

The next step for the leadership team at January will be to walk the line between frugality and the need for additional team members.

 

RESOURCES FOR PROFESSIONAL GROWTH

Hamouti commended January for the resources it provides to support his work. Things like opportunities to travel and attend industry conferences are critical for sales professionals like Hamouti. “That in itself has been beyond valuable, as it’s allowed me to sharpen my skill sets in person, network with industry leaders, and stay up to date with market trends,” he added. “Throughout the year, we’ll also send folks from other teams to attend conferences, network and learn about what’s current in our industry.” 

Hamouti also noted that everyone is provided an annual education stipend to spend on programs and events to help them professionally grow. “Each team also has their own book club where they get together every week or two to discuss a few chapters and how they can apply their learning to our business,” he added. 

 

Timing is Everything 

Like all fintech companies, the teams at January have to pay close attention to the tide of the economy. Unlike other fintech companies, January’s position as a self-described social impact company means its ability to track the economy has immediate and personal impacts on their users. 

Talent Acquisition Manager Bianca Johnson shared about how seriously the team takes their work, considering 76.4 percent of all families in the United States are carrying some form of debt, according to the 2019 Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. 

“At January, we understand the significance of these numbers,” said Johnson. “Our service is not just necessary — it’s a vital resource for individuals looking to manage and overcome the challenges posed by debt.” 

She added, “We strive to assist the financially disadvantaged in overcoming debt, prioritizing respect and understanding. Embedding this commitment into our product and core business model resonates with our consumers, who trust us for our distinctive and compassionate service.”

 

“We strive to assist the financially disadvantaged in overcoming debt, prioritizing respect and understanding.”

 

Johnson is hoping to hire more technical talent to support the company’s growth schedule. 

“As we strategically pursue growth, the primary focus will be on expanding our engineering and product departments,” said Johnson. “Our longstanding goal has been to enhance our core product offering in preparation for new product offerings, and to achieve that, we are actively seeking additional technical talent to join us.”

The timeline for bringing in new team members is not just in support of the company’s growth; also has a critical tie to economic predictions for the upcoming year. 

“By working with larger financial institutions and delivering value earlier in the delinquency stage, we have the opportunity to make an impact on millions of Americans this upcoming year,” said Hamouti. “There isn’t a better time for us to accelerate our growth — our industry’s biggest challenge is rooted in bad data. The industry is in need of innovative solutions that keep lenders, borrowers, regulators and the economy satisfied.” 

 

January
January 

 

Hamouti and others on the January team carefully watch economic trends to see what is most impactful for their clients right now. 

“The macro trends I typically keep an eye on are delinquency rates and consumer spending — and both have been rising,” said Hamouti, noting the influence of inflation. “These trends tell me what my clients and prospects are seeing in their business and give me an understanding of how consumers are handling their bills.” 

“It really drives home the fact that most consumers want and need to pay off debt, but need better financial arrangements to make it happen,” said Hamouti. “January provides flexible payment plans and settlement offers — something a lot of lenders don’t offer today — to help consumers chip away at debt without the guilt and shame they may have felt in the past.” 

 

A NEEDED SOLUTION

The teams at January are focused on scaling for growth. Here are a few stats that CEO Jake Cahan pointed to when asked why the company’s work is vital for the marketplace in 2024. 

  • Savings rates have dropped by 54% over the last two years.
  • Delinquencies have increased by 35% over the last two years.
  • Provisions for credit losses have continued to rise, with 11 of the 20 largest depository institutions increasing their provisions. 
  • NY Fed data shows that credit card balances grew $48 billion in Q3, marking the eighth quarter of consecutive year-over-year increases.
  • 59.5% of consumers prefer debt collection communications to be sent via email, reflecting the digital-first trend also evidenced by the fact that 90% of consumers use some form of digital payment. 

 

“Consumers and lenders face a financially dire situation,” said Cahan. “It’s only getting worse.” 

Cahan went on to discuss key indicators like declining savings, rising delinquencies and growing provisions for credit losses.

“These types of trends force lenders to rethink how they can scale their businesses when borrowers struggle to pay back their outstanding loans,” added Cahan. “Without an effective, humane and scalable solution, lenders jeopardize their margins, reputations and overall efficiency and compliance.”

To Cahan, the Series B funding combined with customer satisfaction are indications that it’s time to lean into scaling as a company. 

 “We believe that now is the time to accelerate our growth,” concluded Cahan.
 

Read MoreThe Future Is Now: The Fintech Trends 6 Leaders Are Keeping an Eye On

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by January.

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