What is the problem you are trying to solve?
Individuals taking loans have no leverage to negotiate their rates. At the same time, lenders spend considerable resources marketing to potential borrowers.
What is your solution?
We use group buying power to negotiate down student loan interest rates. We attract a large number of students to sign up, offering them a low interest rate loan if we are successful in negotiating with the lenders. Organizations that have the student’s best interest at their heart help us by telling their student members about us and what we do. Once we have a critical mass of students, we ask lenders to compete for making an exclusive offer to the students in the group. Then, we compare all the offers we receive, select the one that will save students the most money and share it with the students. At that point, students can decide whether they like the loan that was negotiated and apply directly to the lender to obtain the negotiated deal.
Who is the team behind LeverEdge?
We (Chris and Nikhil) are currently running LeverEdge. We have a ton of support from the Harvard Innovation Lab Venture Incubator Program, the Harvard Law School Transactional Law Clinic, and the Rock Incubator Program. We are further supported by a network of advisors who are experts in relevant industries and a venture capital firm that has made a small investment in us. UpWork has been a blessing as well.
What was the inspiration behind LeverEdge?
A few students in Israel were able to get a discounted interest rate on their student loan when they approached the bank as a group and asked for it. Chris and I decided that we wanted to try this in the United States.
How did you get started?
In the summer before joining HBS, inspired by the students in Israel, we posted in the admitted students GroupMe chat about what we wanted to do and asked whether students were interested in joining us. When more than 50 people responded, we knew we had a struck a pain point for students.
So we eagerly walked into local bank branches, pitched our proposal, and quickly got … nowhere. Branch managers ultimately did not have the ability to make decisions on interest rates, nor were they able to elevate our request to someone who could.
Not ready to give up, we decided to contact more senior decision makers, and cold-emailed the CEOs of banks, fintech companies, and credit unions with the same proposal. To our surprise, many of them replied! Problem was, they wanted way more people involved.
So, we tapped every contact we knew, steadily growing the pool to over 700 people across 10 MBA programs! The original members were extremely helpful in spreading the word about our initiative.
With the larger volume in potential loans, we were able to run a competitive bidding process with multiple lenders, negotiate rates and terms, and select a partner who drove down borrowing costs for the vast majority of people in our group.
Ultimately, 400+ students took over $25M in loans through the negotiated deal and saved over $3.3M compared to the federal loan options available.
Encouraged by the success of our summer experience, we are currently expanding our initiative to cover hundreds of graduate programs across the United States including business, law, medicine, pharma, and dental programs. You can learn more on our website, https://leveredge.org.
Nikhil Agarwal (MBA ’20) is originally from India and graduated from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2012. Prior to HBS, he worked at Boeing as an engineer for six years. In parallel, his academic pursuits included data mining and digital marketing topics. Ask Nikhil how many bolts are required to separate an engine from an airplane (if you never want to fly again).
Chris Abkarians (MBA ’20) graduated from Duke University in 2012. Prior to HBS, he worked at Netflix, managing over $2B content deal negotiations. He was responsible for creating the metric by which viewership and value are measured across the company and helped launch the TV catalog in dozens of countries. Prior to Netflix, Chris worked in management consulting. If you don’t like what’s on Netflix, it’s not his fault.