FintechNorth

Earlier this week, I was at the FintechNorth event in Leeds, UK. A very well organized, small conference with about 150-200 attendants. After a welcome from Adam Beaumont, founder of aql and a chairman address by Dan Rajkumar, CEO of p2p lending marketplace Rebuildingsociety, who co-organized the event, Chris Sier, director of FiNexus gave a very interesting presentation on the current state of the fintech market and the economic context.

fintechnorth venue in Leeds

Very interesting event venue in former Salem church. Beneath the glass, that Chris Sier is standing on there is the server farm of Aql’s datacentre.

Chris Sier put forward the provocative thought that we are at a cusp of a new banking crisis [in the UK] because of the rise of peer to peer lending. His argument is that the rising market share of p2p lending marketplaces will take away that much working capital from the banks that it will critically diminish the ability of the banks to create credit.

Applied futurist Tom Cheesewright than gave his assessment of the current state of digital innovation, saying he is still optimistic but not as bullish as he was a few years ago on the prospects of fintech and digital transformation.

Another very interesting presentation was ‘The future of lending’ by Richard Carter, the CEO of Nostrum Group, which provides digital lending technology to banks, finance companies and brands (one of their clients is Lendable). He thinks that the biggest gamechanger could actually be that a company like Paypal, Facebook or Amazon starts to make lending offers to their customer and thereby makes use of the size of their existing customer base, the trust these customers have into the brand and the vast amount of data these companies have collected on their customers which will benefit them in the assessment of the credit risk.
He showed a chart with portfolio balances of unsecured loans in the UK (Lloyds 9.6bn GBP, RBS 8.9bn GBP, HSBC 8.9bn GBP, Santander 5.5bn GBP, Barclays 4.9bn GBP, Zopa 1bn GBP). He expects to see totally different names on that chart in the future.

After the lunch break James Sherwin Smith presented Growth Street, a company that offers overdrafts to SMEs. One aspect he mentioned was that all talks with banks about collaboration opportunities so far led nowhere. The banks are unable/unwilling to understand that they need to regain the trust of their SME customers (‘only 13% of SMEs trust their bank to act in their best interest’).

Markus Simson of Ziraff and Tiit Pekk of Codeborne gave some fascinating examples of the efforts to digitize a whole country: Estonia. I was aware of the great progress before, but I find it striking over and over when I hear tidbits about what it means for everyday life. E.g. 99% of state services are online. Tax declaration takes 3 minutes now, but that is considered too long, therefore the next step is to make it ‘zero click’. 98% of medical prescriptions are handled online, no paperwork. Only marriages and divorces are still conducted offline. Wonder about the latter – too messy?
Tiit claims to be able to setup a new mobile bank (including all regulatory compliance, KYC, AML, card services) within months. Continue reading

Rebuildingsociety offers one Business the First 25K Interest Free

Rebuilding Society LogoUK p2p lending marketplace Rebuildingsociety currently offers a promotion where one business will receive 25,000 GBP of their loan interest free. Loan applications received until 31 August 2015 will enter into the promotion.

Daniel Rajkumar, CEO of Rebuildingsociety.com, said: ‘Companies seeking loans now have peer-to-peer platforms as a mainstream alternative to the banks and I’m delighted to be giving a 25,000 GBP interest free loan to a business. Businesses seeking loan finance can approach us either through commercial finance brokers or directly and our platform will typically enable viable applications to get finance within 4 weeks.’

Queue Up for P2P Lending!

When was the last time you stood in a long line outside your bank branch, patiently waiting to deposit money into your savings account? Imagining a scene like that seems ridiculous at a time with near-zero interest rates in an increasingly large number of developed countries.

But there where you would least expect it, in the Fintech world of fast-moving bits, some startups actually are imposing measures to throttle influx of investor money in order to balance it with borrower demand. Welcome to p2p lending (short for peer-to-peer lending). The sector is experiencing tremendous growth rates. With attractive yields for investors some platforms struggle to acquire new borrowers fast enough for loan demand to match the ever-rising available investor demand.

One challenging factor is deeply ingrained in the business model of p2p lending marketplaces: once a new investor is onboarded and found the product satisfactory, he is most likely to stay a customer for years to come and reinvest repayments received and maybe the interest also. On the other hand the majority of borrowers are one-time customers. They take out a loan typically just once. While it may take years for the borrower to repay that loan, in most instances there is no repeat business for the marketplaces. So the marketplaces have to constantly fire on all marketing cylinders to win new borrowers in order to keep up and grow loan origination volume.

This has sparked some outside of the box thinking, e.g. the partnership of Ratesetter with CommuterClub to win their loan volume, which is in fact mostly repeat business.

Winning investors has been relatively easy for many of the p2p lending services in the recent past. Investors are attracted typically through press articles or word of mouth. One UK CEO told me he never spent a marketing penny ever to acquire investors.

But what happens on the marketplace, when there are so many investors waiting to invest their money in loans, but loans are in short supply?

  • If the marketplace does nothing or little to steer it, then those investors that react the fastest, when new loans are available, will be able to bid and invest their money. This is the situation e.g. on Prosper, Lending Club and Saving Stream.
  • The marketplace has some kind of queuing mechanism. This is typically coupled with an auto-bid functionality. Examples of this are Zopa, Ratesetter and Bondora.
  • The investors are competing during an auction period by underbidding each other through lower interest rates. Examples of p2p lending services with this model are Funding Circle, Rebuilding Society and Investly.
  • The marketplace can lower overall interest rates to attract more borrowers while the resulting lower yields slow investor money influx.

The UK p2p lending sector is eagerly awaiting the sector to become eligible for the new ISA wrapper. Inclusion into the popular tax-efficient wrapper will attract an avalanche of new investor money to the platforms.

“That’s going to be a challenge for the industry,” said Giles Andrews, CEO of Zopa. “Once the dates are worked out, the industry will need to plan for that together, and we may have to do something we have never done before, which is to limit the supply of money. It’s not good to have people’s money lying around [awaiting new borrowers] or to lower standards of borrowers.”[1]

So there is some speculation that UK p2p lending services could impose temporary limits on new investments.

The investor viewpoint

The aim of the investor is to lend the deposited money easy and speedy into those loans that match his selected criteria/risk appetite. Idle cash earns no interest and will impact yields achieved (aka cash drag).

For the retail investor none of the above mentioned mechanisms are ideal. The “fastest bidder wins” scenario means he would either have to sit in front of the computer most of the time or be lucky to be logged in just as new loans arrive. The queuing mechanisms are disliked as they can prove to be very slow in lending out the funds and can be perceived as nontransparent (see the lengthy and numerous forum discussions on the Zopa queuing mechanism). Underbidding in auctions does provide the chance to lend fast, but at the risk of setting the interest rate too low and this requires a strategy and can also be time consuming. Continue reading

How I Explored P2P Lending – My Review Part I

This is part I of a guest post by British investor ‘GSV3Miac’.

About the author.. I spent 25 or so years in software engineering, programming everything from IBM mainframes to microchips in early Hotpoint washing machines. I must have been halfway competent (or not) since I wound up managing a software development group, a large IBM computer centre, workstations of networks and PCs. When my (American owned) factory shut down I spent the last year (in between managing the closure) retraining as an IFA. I qualified, but I never actually practised – I took my redundancy / pension and headed for the hills (of Shropshire). That was a while ago, so don’t expect me to know chapter and verse on the latest tax wrinkles! *grin*

How did I get into P2P (misnamed .. it’s largely P2B these days .. much of is headed for B2B!) lending? Blame my mother .. she died, and left me a sum of money which was not expected, and not really critical to my future. Having no children (there being, IMO, no people shortage on the planet) it is probably all headed for charities one day, so I thought I might as well have some fun with it. Before I did that, I had, of course, gone through the approved checklist .. i.e.

‘Emergency’ easy access cash account(s) .. tick.

Pay off the mortgage .. tick.

ISA(s) .. tick

Pension Provisions .. tick

Stock market investments / bonds / shares / funds ..tick

OK, anything left can be risked a bit. (I accept that stocks and shares and even cash has =some= risk attached, but now we are looking at ‘high wire with no net’ type options .. VCTs, EIS schemes, and yep .. P2P lending). If you want to plan for ultimate disaster (Ebola pandemic, nuclear war and global financial meltdown) then probably investing in long dated canned food, and an underground shelter on an island upwind from everywhere, is your best bet. More modest (and likely) risks can be mitigated by spreading your investments around a lot, and by being conservative in your assumptions of what you might get back.

I started my P2P journey (in 2013) with Funding Circle (henceforth ‘FC’) and ZOPA, both of which I had heard about from a friend, and I dipped my toes in rather gingerly at first. ZOPA had been going for some time, and I probably missed their best years (when you could decide who to lend to, and later when you could at least still decide at what rate you’d lend). ZOPA had just introduced their ‘safeguarded’ lending, and started fixing the rates, so even their name (‘Zone Of Possible Agreement’) no longer made sense. I stopped lending with them after less than 6 months .. the rates were just not attractive (and unpredictably so). On the plus side, the exit from ZOPA was fairly cheap and painless.

As an alternative to ZOPA I went to look at Ratesetter (RS), which still lets you set the rate(s) you are willing to lend at over 1,3 or 5 years (or monthly). No control over who gets it, but at least some control over what they pay; and (like modern ZOPA) there is a provision fund which should hopefully protect you from bad debts. Exit from RS can be quite expensive though, so best to lend for no longer than you are sure you can do without the money for. Basically they charge you the difference between the rate you would have got for the actual period you lent for, and the rate you got by lending for a longer period. I still like them, for simplicity with just enough control to make it interesting, and I lend / recycle in the 3 and 5 year markets depending on the rates at the time (typically I expect at least an extra 1% for signing up for the extra 2 years). Continue reading