A well-known player in the student loan scene is promoting a new program that will raise the eyebrows of more than a few MBA borrowers.
Juno uses collective bargaining to negotiate better terms for private student loans. Four years after launching with about 700 MBA students from elite business schools, Juno reached an impressive milestone last week: more than 100,000 students and parents are now using their combined buying power through Juno to secure the lowest interest rates available.
Now that its business model is stronger than ever, the company is introducing a low-rate guarantee program that is negotiated for its core MBA clients. For any Juno member who finds a lower interest rate than their partner lender Earnest, Earnest will match the lower interest rate AND Juno will pay the borrower 1% of the loan amount as cashback.
USE THE POWER OF MORE THAN 100,000 BORROWS
“This is a negotiated agreement that doesn’t exist anywhere else, and most people have said it’s impossible,” said Pedro Russell, head of strategy and business development Poets & Quanta. “Nobody else can say definitively that they can offer the most affordable option for you and your family – and guarantee it.”
Juno is not a direct lender for student loans. Rather, it invites banks, credit unions, and fintech lenders to bid for the opportunity to serve Juno’s borrower groups, using collective bargaining to get borrowers the lowest interest rates and fees.
“We made a very important decision in year one, which was the promise to never become a direct lender,” said Chris Abkarians, co-founder and CEO of Juno P&Q. “Because the moment you do that, you lose the flexibility to introduce people to another lender who might be able to offer lower interest rates. That is our ultimate goal: to ensure that we are always able to honestly guide people to what we believe to be the most beneficial source of funding.”
Since its inception four years ago, Juno has extended its collective bargaining model to graduates of all programs — including law and medical schools — at all nonprofit colleges in the United States and approximately 150 schools outside the United States. It also offers undergraduate, DACA and international student offerings along with loan refinance and parent loans. To date, it has secured more than $460 million in loans for its users with interest rates that are, on average, 1.6% lower than they would otherwise have received. (Read more from Poets & Quanta‘ Coverage of Juno here.)
THE ORIGIN STORY OF JUNO
Juno, then known as LeverEdge, was founded by Abkarians and Nikhil Agarwal in the summer of 2018 as the two prepared to launch the MBA program at Harvard Business School.
The idea grew out of a WhatsApp conversation between a group of incoming HBS students, who compared their credit history and other metrics to the loan rates they were getting. They wondered: What would happen if they pooled their purchasing power to get the same bulk discount on student loans that other groups of students get to buy laptops, for example?
With a core group of 75 HBS students, they approached several lenders looking for a flat rate — and they were turned down by nearly all of them. However, Anthony Noto, now CEO of SoFi and former COO of Twitter, returned their cold Linked-In message: Interesting idea, he told them. Increase the number to 500 and we’ll talk.
Abkarians and Agarwal reached out to MBAs at nine other business schools using Facebook and other social channels. The number rose to almost 700, and they went back to the lenders. They landed on one that saved each student an average of $10,000 in interest and fees compared to federal student loan rates at the time.
HOW IT WORKS
Juno uses its user count to negotiate volume-based discounts with credit agencies. It is free for potential borrowers to join, and the more borrowers who sign up, the better their leverage.
“We don’t accept payment information, but we get paid when someone actually completes a loan using the products we negotiate,” says Abkarians. “But (borrowers) only use it when it’s actually the cheapest product they can get.”
Juno collects certain member information to classify borrowers into negotiation segments. For example, they ask borrowers for estimated credit scores, specific financial information, amount of credit needed, educational goals, etc. to build a group portfolio that they can use to approach lenders.
Each spring, it launches a new round of competitive offers, reaching dozens of lenders and informing them of the size and portfolio of borrower groups. It prompts them to submit terms for the different groups, Juno evaluates each offer and, where possible, negotiates better terms to select the lender that offers the best terms.
“In our tender, we set out very clearly the standardized conditions that are best on the market and that they would have to meet,” says Abkarians. “We don’t let anyone react if they’re going to charge a fee — whether it’s an initial fee, prepayment penalties, or application fees.”
This approach is new to the market and allows Juno to expand its reach beyond traditional student loan lenders. Too many people, Abkarians says, learn about important financial products through a Google search — whether it’s for a low-rate mortgage or a student loan. This means that the company that appears first in search results is not necessarily the company with the best product. Rather, it is the company with the highest marketing and advertising budget, and these marketing costs are almost always passed on to the customer.
Juno is working to circumvent this. It can reach out to companies that have never competed in the student loan market before and offer them a group of borrowers that they don’t have to pay a marketer for, Abkarians.
Juno’s new cash-back guarantee was a goal the company’s founders have been working toward since their first month in business, Abkarians tells P&Q. It’s a signal to students that Juno believes in their service, while also building user confidence in what they’re doing.
“It only took us four years to get here because we needed to reach a scale that would convince our lending partners,” says Abkarians. “Part of what interests you when you run a business is, ‘Can I hold my head up high and know that the product I’m bringing to market is one that I would have no hesitation in using myself?’ The structure is now such that the answer to that is ‘yes’ and I feel really good about it.”
What’s next, the company is now finalizing a stronger guarantee for its undergraduate students while also working to attract even more borrowers to its model. Abkarians is confident that the Juno model would also work for financial products outside of student loans.
For Russell, offering the guarantee is a bit more philosophical. “I think it shows the power of community both from a consumer perspective and in a business setting. I think what I’m most proud of being a part of Juno is working to build a strong community that has actually had a significant impact on one of the most opaque consumer financial markets in existence.”
Russell will begin his own MBA at MIT Sloan this fall. While he’s actually secured a full scholarship, he’ll use Juno’s bargaining power if he needs a loan for additional expenses. Juno also helps students lower their loan amounts by offering scholarship databases and even two scholarships of its own.
Russell’s MBA journey is a little unorthodox, he says P&Q. He got his first job at 14, entering community college and bartending nights and weekends to pay for college. For his final semester, he had to take out a private loan with an interest rate of 15%.
“I’ve studied finance and I know that a 1% interest rate differential can affect the entire $15,000-$20,000 line,” he says. “We can take millions and millions of dollars out of the pockets of student lenders and put them back into the hands of consumers. I think we can change the world with this company.”
Students and parents can register for Juno free of charge and without obligation at joinjuno.com.
LEARN MORE ABOUT JUNO AND FUNDING YOUR MBA AT OUR FUNDING HUB
AND DON’T MISS BEST STRATEGIES FOR MBA STUDENT LOANS AND HOW TWO HBS STUDENTS HAVE CHANGED THE STUDENT LOAN MARKET