DMN lending app

Dennis Cail created the Zirtue lending app to help people lend to their friends and families.

Growing up in public housing, Dennis Cail noticed when he was 7 years old that his neighborhood in Monroe, La., didn’t have any banks.

But it had plenty of payday lenders, check-cashing stores, and car and furniture rental companies.

It was Cail’s first experience with predatory lenders in low-income areas and it became a lasting memory that would provide a spark years later for his growing, Dallas-based friends-and-family lending app.

As a young adult, Cail joined the Navy and saw the same types of places around his base — all urging consumers to spend money on items they couldn’t afford. It hit him that he fit the demographic profile being targeted.

“It became clear that these predatory payday lenders target low-income communities, military veterans and minorities, all three of which I am a part of,” Cail said. “I made up in my mind that if and when I had the time and resources, this would be an issue that I would try to have an impact on.”

After leaving the Navy, Cail went on to get his finance MBA from Southern Methodist University and spent years working at IBM Global Services and PricewaterhouseCoopers, and even founded his first company, Uptown Financial Group.

But his desire to create a more equitable lending option stuck with him. When his sister and other family members needed to borrow money to get through difficult financial situations, he had limited success getting his cash back.

In 2018, Cail and co-founder Michael Seay turned that experience into Zirtue, a relationship-based lending platform that simplifies and formalizes loans between friends and family members.

Zirtue doesn’t make the loan. It’s a platform that enables peer-to-peer borrowing and lending.

The platform lets people lend a “financial lifeline” to friends or loved ones struggling to get from one bill to the next. Through Zirtue, informal promises become automated repayments and structured agreements, meaning lenders get their money back in time and eliminate awkwardness and uncertainty from the process.

For lenders like travel business owner Noah Houghton, the automated platform has saved relationships that would have “otherwise been forgone.”

“I’m more open to accepting requests from people I know for loans whereas before, due to some non-paybacks, I was a lot less open,” Houghton said. “I just hated the weirdness between relationships when that happened.”

Houghton said he’s now able to help friends and family members in need while taking the guessing out of lending.

Over $184 billion is loaned between friends and family across the nation annually, according to the Federal Reserve Bank.

“On the other side, there’s a person — a human that needs to be able to keep the lights on or pay a medical bill so they can get the health care service they need,” Cail said. “This is very much a relationship business and a people business.”

When people use Zirtue to borrow from friends and family, the app’s corporate partner creditors are paid directly, meaning phones stay on and day-to-day, real-life expenses continue.

Because Zirtue has no user fees, the company profits through its partnerships with creditors like AT&T, UT Southwestern Medical Center and Toyota.

Users can lend and borrow anywhere from $20 to $10,000.

By the end of 2021, Zirtue expects to see its year-over-year revenue grow 120%. Last year was Zirtue’s first formal operating year so the company didn’t have prior financial details to report. Last year, Zirtue gained almost 200,000 registered users.

Many low-income communities are made up of hard-working people who are looking for a hand up, not a handout, Cail said.

“You can’t blame people for the situations they were born into,” Cail said. “What you can do is look for ways to create fair and equitable opportunities for people to have a livable wage or create a lifestyle where fewer people are part of the working poor demographic.”

Since the company’s 2018 launch, Zirtue has attracted over $3.5 million in seed capital from investors like Capital Factory, Google, Morgan Stanley and Northwest Mutual Insurance.

Zirtue operates nationwide, with users in every state, and plans to expand into Latin America later this year.

“We have a strong focus on helping the unbanked and the under-banked get access to capital and resources they don’t have today,” Cail said. “We’re focused on purpose, partnerships and profit. That’s how we’re going to achieve the goals we’ve set for ourselves and the business.”

Recommended for you

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!