James Gutierrez, founder of microlender Progreso Financiero, is leaving the company to start a firm that will work on cloud-based payments for the unbanked.
Gutierrez, who launched Progreso in 2005, also plans to start an early-stage angel investor fund to help "disruptive credit companies," Gutierrez said in an interview.
"For me as an entrepreneur, I've always had that itch,' he said of his decision to step away from Progreso. "It's a natural kind of passing of the torch, and a good time for me to move on because the company's in a really strong position."
Progreso provides credit to unbanked Hispanics who don't have or don't use a bank account. The Mountain View, Calif.-based firm provides small-dollar loans of $500 to $2,500 to those without a credit history at more than 80 sales locations across California and Texas, with plans to expand nationwide, Gutierrez said.
Progreso has appointed Dave Tomlinson as president and acting chief executive following Gutierrez's departure. Tomlinson most recently was an executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Providian Financial/Washington Mutual Card Services.
"If you're lower-income, you really have no access to credit except for payday loans," said Gutierrez, predicting that Progreso will see high double-digit or even triple-digit growth in coming years.
Progreso is likely to continue expanding into other banking products, pointing to the success of the company's prepaid card business, he added.
Gutierrez said he plans to take a short break before getting started on his new projects but expects to being working on them by May or June.
"I'm looking to build a company that leverages the emergence of smartphones among lower-income groups and provides payment [services] via mobile banking," he said. "Nobody's really built a PayPal for the underbanked."
Gutierrez said he also wants “to invest in some great entrepreneurs and help them with the small fund that would come in very early and be very active."
He did not disclose how much the fund would be investing in total but said he expected individual loans to range from $200,000 to $400,000 per company.
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