P2P Start-ups: Finding an Opportunity in the Midst of a Lingering Recession

The global recession or what has come to be known as the ‘great recession’ –in direct reference to the 1930s era Great Depression-has been with us unbelievably for the last 3 and a half years. It doesn’t seem like it does it? Many had predicted that it would turn out to be a ‘W’ or maybe a ‘U shaped or even a ‘double dip’ recovery by now, with most commentators assuming that we would most likely have seen its tail end with a year or two. Most- if not all of them- have been proved embarrassingly wrong! Countries such as the UK, US, Spain, Ireland, Hungary, Portugal –the list goes one and on and on and on- are still counting the cost of the recession in terms of lost jobs, productivity and in some cases, sovereign default! Recovery it seems, whatever alphabet sounds sexy, W or U shaped –is still yet to be seen in many cases.

Looking at the effects of the recession from the microfinance industry perspective however is what makes very interesting reading. Microfinance as such, is an industry that is curiously not correlated directly to the mainstream financial markets. Continue reading

The Rise and Rise of the European Micro Lending Internet Platform Market

Is there enough space for all of us and just how easy is it to set up shop?

In a span of just under 3 years, 3 new micro credit platforms have taken shape in the European micro lending P2P context:  MyC4, Babyloan and the soon to be launched myAzimia.org (Azimia means to borrow and lend in swahili). These platforms are all aligned to a specific domestic market thanks to the way such businesses are regulated in Europe ; Myc4 is based in Denmark, Babyloan in France and myAzimia in the UK.

These are platforms all with varying business and revenue models but all with one key objective; to channel the capital of private and institutional investors in Europe to small businesses based in a emerging economies in sub saharan Africa and Asia. In achieving this objective, these young businesses get a life line of capital that they badly need, finally get an opportunity to enter the formal financial sector and the economic and social fabric of the countries that they operate in are significantly improved and ultimately the quality of life of these individuals is upgraded. I don’t need to to reinvent the wheel here, we all know about the fantastic tool that microfinance can be in helping to alleviate poverty and helping to improve lives, but the innovative element of these platforms takes microfinance as a financial tool to a new level as it uses the internet as a linkage between the entrepreneurs in developing economies and social investors in Europe.

As I mentioned already the business models of these platforms are all different, and one platform in particular has suffered significant reputational damage within the last 6 months as a result of selecting MFI partner institutions in Africa, that for one reason or another, turned out completely unable to deliver what they had promised. This is a challenge that any platform of this nature faces, the questions that need to be thoroughly explored before selecting partner institutions responsible for loan selection and assessment are:

1. who are the partners in the developing country?

2. Are they regulated locally?

3. Do they understand our process?

4.Do they already have a quality loan book?

5.Do they have high standards in their credit approval procedure?

6. Do they understand the local market and how it operates?

7. Do they have a good track record?

The identification and marketing to social investors is also an important aspect but to my mind has been highly overrated by some commentators. My motto is, get the right partners to work with, understand the market that you plan to disburse loans in and everything else will follow. Continue reading

First payments on my Babyloan loans

In December I discovered Babyloan (see blog post) – a microfinance platform like Kiva allowing individuals to lend to small entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Now the first payments by borrowers took place. Lenders are notified by Babyloan via email. Sample email:

The entrepreneur Suman has reimbursed 373,00 € to the MFI and has 2987,00 € to reimburse. You will receive an email for each reimbursement. After the last reimbursement, you can either reinvest this money or have it transferred to your bank account.

P2P lending trends to expect in 2009

As last year I’ll again attempt some predictions on what trends and developments can be expected in peer-to-peer lending 2009.

More competition and entering more national markets (probability 100%)
In many markets multiple p2p lending services will compete for the attention of lenders and borrowers. In other markets, where there is no national p2p lending service active yet (e.g. Canada, New Zealand), p2p lending will be introduced by the launch of a service. Possible candidates include Communitylend and Nexx.
It is hard to predict when the dormant US players (e.g. Prosper, Loanio) will overcome the regulatory hurdles and if that step is lasting.
The British market which has (compared to other markets) rather low regulatory barriers so far is dominated by a single player –  Zopa. I wonder if we’ll see the launch of a competitor there.

Boom of social lending services/p2p microfinance (probability 100%)
2008 saw the launch of Babyloan, Veecus and Wokai. Kiva funded more the 1 million US$ new loans in a single week in the end of December. The steep growth of Kiva, MyC4 and other services will continue and new p2p microfinance platforms will launch.

First Banks experiment with own p2p lending applications (probability 50%)
While p2p lending volumes are far from being a business threat to banks – banks do watch the developments. Possibly in 2009 a bank will launch its own p2p lending application. The principal aim will not be to generate revenue, but rather to collect experience and to gauge acceptance by the bank’s customers. It will be interesting to see banks testing the water on their path to implement a p2p lending concept that supplements their core business.

Continue reading

Babyloan microfinance

Launched in summer French Babyloan.org has about 1750 lenders financing peer to peer micro-loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries. I signed up yesterday when I found the service (thanks to Jean Christophe Capelli for the pointer) and helped to fund 5 loans to borrowers in Benin, Cambodia and Tajikistan. One of them is Kheav Sitha who runs a small restaurant stand at her house in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She wants to borrow 140 Euro for 6 months.

Signing up went smoothly. I liked the user interface for selecting the loans. It features summaries of the loan detail that are shown with AJAX on the right side of the screen while moving the mouse over photos of the borrowers seeking loans on the left side. The website is in French and English, but on some points the English translation seemed to be missing. Funds are transferred in via credit card payment – I have not yet found out how they can be transferred out after the loan term ends if they are not re-lend.

Like other platforms Babyloan partners with local microfinance institutions (MFIs). The MFIs screen the borrowers and handle the payout to the borrowers – in the case of Babyloan the payout has actually taken place BEFORE the loan is placed on the platform – and the MFI takes the sum to refinance the loan.
Unlike at MyC4 lenders do not receive interest. While Kiva asks for voluntary donations to fund its operations, at Babyloan a fee of 1 Euro per 100 Euro funded is compulsory . (Minimum a lender can lend is 20 Euro).

Babyloan is backed by Acted (a NGO), Bred (a regional bank in France) and Credit Cooperatif.

The following presentation explains what Babyloan does for MFIs: