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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024
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Priority Plus Financial Finds Lending Niche

Three years ago, brothers Brandon and Todd Avila started a lending company at a WeWork office in Newport Beach.

Business at their Priority Plus Financial LLC has been so good that it’s now up to 70 employees and $20 million in sales last year. Last month, it held a grand opening for its newest office, the entire fourth floor, 20,000 square feet, at Irvine Co.’s Pacific Arts Plaza office complex in Costa Mesa.

“At exactly three years to the day, we moved into this office,” Chief Executive Brandon Avila told the Business Journal during a visit to his office.

“We are one of the fastest-growing companies in the industry.”

The brothers are the grandchildren of Salvador and Margarita Avila, who started the well-known Avila’s El Ranchito, a chain now up to 13 restaurants throughout Southern California.

“It’s the best Mexican food restaurant anywhere,” Brandon Avila said. “They tailor make it, depending on what city you’re in.”

The pair worked in the family business as teenagers before branching out into different fields.

“I worked for my family from the time I was 13 until 23 when I jumped into mortgages,” Brandon Avila said.

Todd Avila became a fireman, saying “I had a fascination with becoming a paramedic.”

Self-Funded

After a stint selling mortgages and then medical devices, Brandon Avila in 2016 worked at GreenLink Financial, where as director of underwriting, he won Rookie of the Year award for funding $10 million in personal loans. He was nominated in 2018 for a Business Journal Innovator of the Year award.

In February 2020, a few weeks before the pandemic broke out, the brothers got together again to start a company offering unsecured loans.

“My brother and I always wanted to start a business together,” said Todd Avila, who is chief operations officer.

Brandon Avila added that entrepreneurship is “in our blood.”

They raised $95,000, including Todd Avila selling his bitcoin. The pair said they have no outside investors.

“It was something that they told us was impossible to do,” Brandon Avila said.

The pair had enough money to market online for about a month. While they don’t have a marketing background, they “knew some people” to teach them the ropes. They became experts in buying ads on Google, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

They eventually hired a chief marketing officer who used to work at the Discover credit card giant. They also bought leads from different companies, such as LendingTree.

They built their own website, employing tools such as a slide rule that instantly tells a lender how much a monthly payment will be on a loan.

“We like to call it unsecured loans, not debt consolidation because it mixes us with other companies like Freedom Debt Relief,” Brandon Avila said.

The company offers loans with fixed rates, unlike credit card firms that can change rates monthly. Their rates for loans from $5,000 to $100,000 range from 5.49% to 29.99% APR for first-time borrowers. It’s a five-minute application process and funds are in a customer’s account within 48 hours.

“Usually, our clients go to their banks and if they don’t get approved, they’ll come to us,” Todd Avila said. “It’s a second option for them. There is a lot more red tape at the big banks.”

Priority Plus has issued more than 11,000 loans to date.

“We got really lucky—God and luck,” Brandon Avila said. “It was kind of like my grandfather’s restaurant. He bought the darn thing for $3,000 in 1966. Then it ended up being an empire.”

No Texas Humidity

The pair is contemplating leasing another floor and getting into mortgages when interest rates start to decline again.

“We know the mortgage industry right now isn’t on fire like it was,” Brandon Avila said.

“When it comes back, it’ll come back strong.”

Since the mortgage industry is reeling and local companies have laid off thousands, Priority Plus has been able to hire some of those as its agents.

It plans to limit its employee count to 80 until the economy shows signs of a rebound.

“We’re going to pump the brakes for a little bit,” Brandon Avila said.

The pair intend to stay in Orange County, where they were born and raised.

“I love Orange County,” Brandon Avila said. “Everyone asks ‘why don’t you move to Texas or Florida where there is no state tax?’ I say, ‘look outside, look at the weather, look at the beach.’ Texas is great but I was there in June when it was about 105 and horrible humidity.”

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