By Olivia Oran and Joy Wiltermuth
(Reuters/IFR) - Ousted LendingClub Corp (LC.N) CEO and co-founder Renaud Laplanche has been speaking to private equity firms and banks about financing a potential buyout of the online lender, according to people familiar with the matter.
The French entrepreneur, one of the highest-profile names in the fledgling industry, left LendingClub in May after an internal probe found the company had falsified documentation when selling $22 million of loans to an investor.
The scandal sent shock waves through a sector already dealing with investor nervousness about rising loan losses and cratered LendingClub's stock, which has lost nearly 40 percent of its value in under a month.
In the weeks following his May 9 departure, Laplanche approached firms about financing a bid to take the company private, the people said.
The talks were preliminary and may not lead to a deal, said the sources, who asked not to be named because the matter is private.
Laplanche declined to comment on his future plans. A representative for LendingClub declined to comment.
Once the industry's biggest champion, Laplanche has put the sector firmly in the regulatory spotlight. The Department of Justice is probing the circumstances leading up to his departure and the New York Department of Financial Services is separately investigating the company's business practices.
Such regulatory heat could make it difficult for Laplanche to secure funding, one of the sources said.
It is already creating worries for buyers of the company's loans, some of whom have already paused their purchases - a key source of funding for the company - because of concerns about the risks associated with them.
LendingClub said in a filing last month that a number of its largest investors had halted purchases of its loans.
On Tuesday, the company abruptly canceled its annual meeting and rescheduled it for June 28, saying it was not yet ready to provide stockholders with a complete report on the state of the company.
LendingClub also said it was cutting back its loans to riskier borrowers and raising interest rates to boost the attractiveness of its loans to investors.
The company, which went public in late 2014 with a market value of $9 billion, is now worth $1.68 billion.
The company is working with investment bank Jefferies LLC to help find investors for loan funding, as it seeks to replenish investments, Reuters reported in May.
Aside from the irregularities around the loans, LendingClub said that Laplanche had not disclosed his stake in a fund in which the company later made its own investment. He had also taken an emergency loan from one of the company's directors to help avoid a margin call that would have forced him to sell part of his stake in the company.
(Additional reporting by Mike Erman and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Matthew Lewis)