Interview with Joerg Bartussek, Co-Founder of Finnest.com

What is Finnest.com about?

Finnest.com is the only platform successfully providing modern corporate finance for well-established Mittelstand companies (no start-ups). Borrowers are mostly AAA-like rated brands and industry leaders that have been on the market for years (often decades) and are able to demonstrate a sustainable and profitable growth path.

These top-companies are actively seeking alternatives to their traditional bank loans and want to diversify their finance mix. For the first time, Finnest.com gives these Mittelstand champions access to the capital market. The platform is a 21century version of a classic corporate bond bookbuilding process and provides end-to-end financing solutions.

Currently, Finnest.com is licensed and active in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Slovakia.

What are the three main advantages for investors?

1.) Investors get access to a completely new class of investments, previously reserved for a handful of professional investors.
2.) On Finnest.com, investors select the interest rate of their choice! Only if the company agrees to pay this annual rate (or more), will a deal be closed.
3.) Investors can invest in local and regional companies that create jobs and income in their area.

What are the three main advantages for borrowers?

1.) For the first time, Finnest.com provides this segment of well-to-do Mittelstand borrowers with access to the capital market previously reserved for large corporations.
2.) Mezzanine financing as provided via Finnest.com strengthens these companies’ balance sheets.
3.) An enormous PR & loyalty effect – when customers invest into “their” brand, the term “brand messenger” gets a rich new meaning.

What ROI can investors expect?

On Finnest.com, investors select their interest rate of choice. On average, companies have paid out 5.5% annually fixed interest rates. The concept works: a Finnest investor invests about 7.000 Euro per transaction, that is roughly 20 times higher than on other online platforms.

Finnest charges investors a fee of 1% (minimum 25 Euro). Doesn’t a high fee hinder diversification?

We are one of the few (the only?) platform that charges an investor fee. It’s 1% of the invested amount. That means if an investor invests 7.000 Euros, she/he is charged 70 Euros once. That’s it. We haven’t learned of any investor who would not invest because of this small fee.

Finnest.com uses subordinated loans (‘qualifiziertes Nachrangdarlehen’). An Austrian court recently ruled that this structure severely disadvantages investors. Why did you choose this structure rather than standard loans?

Headquartered in Austria, Finnest.com is licensed by the Austrian AlternativfinanzierungsGesetz (alternative financing law). This law (just like its German counterpart, the Schwarmfinanzierungsprivileg) actually requires us to use subordinated loans. It’s the tool the law selected.
The court ruling you refer to, addressed one specific contract by one single issuer who did not use any legally checked platform, but decided to do this financing on his own. Apparently, that was not such a smart idea – that contract must have been quite bad and the court ruled accordingly. Our contracts are thoroughly checked by leading law firms in each jurisdiction and have been presented to the financial authorities, of course.

How did you start Finnest.com?

For many years, Günther Lindenlaub, my co-founder, had been in charge of capital market transactions for one of Europe’s leading banks. While he saw, that large corporates keep using tools like corporate bonds to diversify their finance mix, the banks we not able (or willing) to offer something similar to the Mittelstand. But bonds are too complex and costly for the Manners and Almdudlers of this world. So, he decided to create his own platform – Finnest.com.

Joerg BartussekIs the technical platform self-developed?

Yes. It was built by a team that had previously built part of ING-Diba and AustroControl, the Austrian flight control agency. These guys know everything about stability, security and usability. We like to joke that we did not build a Tesla but one of those 80s’ Volvos with the iron bars in the doors. Very safe, very stable, drives, and drives, and drives.

Was the company funded with venture capital? Is the company profitable now?

We were lucky to attract Speedinvest, the largest Austrian VC, as our seed investor. And we have added a carefully selected group of international angels and VCs since. As we are still growing fast, we are not profitable, yet. But we are doing very good business.

Are there any new features for the platform your team is working on? What about a secondary market?

We are expanding: As we are speaking, our team is in the last phases of building a new, second platform. It will provide a similar service as Finnest.com does, but it will address a different market segment: large corporations on the one hand and professional as well as institutional investors on the other hand. Modern corporate finance XL, so to say.

Which country are you most successfully attracting investors in?

Even though we originate in Austria, Germany is our prime market. Already today, the majority of our investors comes from Germany and we have just hired new team members focusing mainly on the German market.

You plan an expansion beyond Germany, Austria and Switzerland. What can you tell us about your next market(s)?

Our industry is a highly regulated one, governed by national rules and regulations. But with the new platform, we will be able to provide a pan-European service. That will open a completely new scale of opportunities for us.

Do you plan to cooperate with institutional investors? In which way?

Yes, definitely. The new platform will be customized for their interests and needs.

What is the current state of the market in Austria?

With the passing of the AlternativfinanzierungsGesetz, (alternative financing law), the online financing market grew at a rapid pace. We have now more than a dozen platforms and high 2-digit number growth rates. But of course, business in Austria is always only a fraction of that in Germany. Germany is the main market we are focusing on.

Where do you see Finnest in 3 years?

We believe, that in 2020 there will be three main platforms financing larger, successful companies across Europe. Finnest.com should be one of them.

P2P-Banking.com thanks Joerg Bartussek for the interview.

Rocket Internet Sells Lendico to Arrowgrass

Rocket Internet has sold its majority stake in German startup Lendico to Arrowgrass. The German p2p lending marketplace Lendico was struggeling in the past months. It stopped the origination of consumer loans in Germany and the Netherlands. Investors complained about ongoing IT problems of the platform.

The purchase price was not disclosed.

Arrowgrass, a UK hedge fund, was among the investors in Lendico’s 2015 round. At that time Arrowgrass obtained a 7% stake.

Another Rocket Internet backed German p2p lending startup, Zencap was sold to Funding Circle in 2015.

The German market is a tough market for p2p lending services to succeed. Few companies run a p2p lending marketplace model. One of the earliest players, Smava pivoted already in 2012 and now brokers bank loans.

Funding Circle Germany Publishes Loanbook Performance Figures

After months and years of announcements and waiting Funding Circle Germany yesterday published loan book performance figures. Data reported is on all loans since launch on March 30th, 2014 (at that time Zencap) and as of June 30th, 2017. In total there were 920 loans.

Figures:

Total loan origination volume 66,560,800 EUR  100%
Repaid loan volume 26,859,284 EUR 40.35%
Loan volume in default (more than 90 days overdue): 3,988,632 EUR 5.99%
Outstanding principal: 35,712,885 EUR 53.65%
Total interest paid to investors: 4,578,552 EUR

The outstanding principal of 35,712,885 EUR (100%) is further categorized:
Current: 33,293,583 EUR 93.23%
Loans that are less than 30 days overdue: 1,664,005 EUR 4,66%
Loans that are 30 to 60 days overdue: 421,902 EUR 1.18%
Loans that are 60 to 90 days overdue: 333,394 EUR 0.93%

Average weighted interest rate: 8.41%

I would have linked to the source here, but Funding Circle pulled the figures within hours after publication and the page now returns a 404 error (I did save a screen shot before they were pulled). I reached out via email to Funding Circle asking for the reasons, but have not received a reply up to the point of publication of this article.
Update: I received a reply from Funding Circle stating that the figures were not correct and did not match Funding Circle’s global reporting format. An example given was that payments made by defaulted loans were omitted. Funding Circle strives to publish the corrected figures asap.
2nd update July 13th: Funding Circle has now published updated figures in changes format. They are online here.

Phrasing it differently one could say that 9.6% (6,4M/66,6) of all issued loans are currently overdue or in default.

In my view the figures give a very bleak – but correct picture of the state of Funding Circle Germany’s loan book. Overdue and default figures are high. With nearly 6% of the loan amount in default and more than another 6% of the remaining loans overdue, there is a very high probability that many investors will incur (after tax) losses. Usually German investors cannot offset default losses against interest earned.

My portfolio

I invested into 27 loans with 100 EUR each (the minimum bid). I stopped investing already in February 2015, after only 10 month, when it became clear to me that Funding Circle Germany had higher overdue figures than expected. However as there is no secondary market at Funding Circle Germany I was stuck with the loans until maturity.

Of my 27 loans the status today is:
– 22 repaid
– 4 overdue (2 of them for 256 days !)
– 1 default (in collection)

I already received back 2,303 EUR of the principal, so there is only about 15% of my investment amount still outstanding. I might get away with a return around zero, as my defaults + overdues are still lower than the interest paid, but it will be close as I have to pay taxes on the full interest earned regardless of defaults. My dashboard still claims 4.12% yield for my portfolio, which does not reflect reality as I see it. The only chance for that to happen would be full recovery of defaults and overdues, which is an unlikely scenario.


My own portfolio at Funding Circle Germany

Investor sentiment towards Funding Circle Germany seems to have turned mostly negative to sarcastic in the past two years if you look at the massive critic on the Funding Circle forum at P2P-Kredite.com. Funding Circle Germany no longer publishes statistics regularly on new monthly loan volumes.

International P2P Lending Volumes June 2017

The table lists the loan originations of p2p lending marketplaces in June. Funding Circle leads ahead of Zopa and Lendinvest. Assetz Capital makes a huge leap forward. The total volume for the reported platforms adds up to 530 million Euro. I track the development of p2p lending volumes for many markets. Since I already have most of the data on file, I can publish statistics on the monthly loan originations for selected p2p lending platforms.

Milestones reached this month are:

  • Twino reaches 150 million EUR in origination since launch

Investors living in national markets with no or limited selection of local p2p lending services can check this list of international investing on p2p lending services. Investors can also explore how to make use of current p2p lending cashback offers available. UK investors can compare IFISA rates.

p2p lending statistic june 2017
Table: P2P Lending Volumes in June 2017. Source: own research

Note that volumes have been converted from local currency to Euro for the purpose of comparison. Some figures are estimates/approximations.
*Prosper and Lending Club no longer publish origination data for the most recent month.

Notice to p2p lending services not listed: Continue reading

Plum Automates Investment in Ratesetter – Plum Equity Crowdfunding Pitch

Plum is another fintech that makes use of Ratesetter’s products through a cooperation. Plum is bot on Facebook messenger designed to automate savings for the user and to invest money on his behalf. Savings can currently be invested in Ratesetters rolling market. Plum is currently pitching to raise 700K GBP through a convertible with a valuation cap of 5M GBP on Seedrs. Watch the video for more information on the Plum product and pitch. The minimum investment for this equity crowdfunding campaign is 10 GBP. The pitch is EIS eligible (UK residents). Other investors include 200K US$ invested by VC 500 Startups. This pitch is not yet officially launched on Seedrs, but already open for investments. You can use P2P-Banking’s free notification service to be alerted of upcoming Seedrs pitches early and review them ahead of the crowd.

Competitors of Plum include Digit, Qapital, Clarity, Albert, Squirrel, Cleo and Savedroid.

The Plum pitch deck is  informative reading. To request that, login, click on ‘Documents’ in the pitch, and send a message to request the pitch deck.

Another example of an innovative cooperative cooperation making use of products of a p2p lending service is Commuterclub.

This article is not an investment advice. Investing in startups bears significant risks, including total loss of investment.

Tikehau Capital Buys Credit.fr for 12 Million Euro

Tikehau Capital today announced it has completed the acquisition of Credit.fr, a French p2p lending service for small businesses , for an amount of 12 million EUR. Incubated since March 2015 by Truffle Capital and under the leadership of Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, its chairman since November 2015, Credit.fr has established itself as a player in the small and mid-sized companies (SMEs) alternative financing market.
This acquisition enables Tikehau Capital, a  company active in the corporate lending and private debt market in France, to consolidate and expand its lending platform by bringing its corporate financing solutions to smaller businesses and SMEs. Through Credit.fr, Tikehau Capital will enable its wide network of investors and partners to broaden their investment policy, currently focused on medium-sized and larger companies, to include smaller businesses rigorously selected by Credit.fr teams.

Since its creation, Credit.fr has financed 217 companies, raising a total of over EUR 13 million, through 13,000 loans from retail clients willing to support the real economy while securing an attractive return. Credit.fr has also established numerous partnerships with financial sector players, including HelloBank!, the first French bank recommending its clients to invest on a p2p lending platform nearly a year ago.

Guillaume Arnaud, Managing Director of Tikehau IM, said: “We have been monitoring SME crowdlending platforms in Europe for some time now, particularly in France, where the market has strong growth potential. The acquisition of Credit.fr provides us a unique smaller business lending knowhow and allows us to expand our range of financing solutions and therefore address most of French companies.”

Thomas de Bourayne, CEO of Credit.fr added: “With its renowned asset management expertise and strong growth, Tikehau Capital represents the ideal partner for Credit.fr to develop in France and internationally. This deal will enable us to offer institutional investors solutions for investing in a new asset class and support the development of small French businesses.” Continue reading

ProSiebenSat.1 Sells Shares in Auxmoney to Lexington

German media holding ProSiebenSat.1 has sold its stake in German p2p lending marketplace Auxmoney to new investment fund Crosslantic Capital, in which Lexington Partners is the majority shareholder. This is part of a package sale of shares in 16 startups. ProSieben investment company Seven Ventures will hold a minority stake of 24.5% in the new fund.

The shares came from an investment in Series D of Auxmoney (held through Seven Ventures).

Shift of Demand on UK Property Marketplaces

The market situation on UK property marketplaces for bridge loans with high interest rates has turned drastically in the past 2 months. For a long time before there has usually been much more investor demand than could be soaked up by loan demand. That the situation has changed is most visible on the loans on offer (mostly through the secondary markets). There is currently nearly 8 million GBP on offer on Lendy (that was close to nil 8 weeks ago). At Moneything there is 2 million GBP on offer and at Fundingsecure 0.6 million GBP. Collateral recently raised the interest rate for new loans from 12 to 14%.

So what is causing this change? I will look at possible causes and measures the marketplaces could take to react.

  • Have property prices peaked?
    Building activity and property prices are influenced by the economy. This Guardian article says UK house prices fell three month in a row. Should investors think, the economic climate is cooling down, they might be more cautious as loans to property developers would be affected in a downturn.
  • Defaults are rising on Lendy
    Loans that are more than 180 days overdue are categorized as default loans on Lendy. There are now 19 loans in default, with the total loan amount in these loans adding up to 23 million GBP. While this does not mean that money will be lost – the loans are secured by the property, it makes investors cautious and hesitant, asking more questions about valuations and collection procedures.
  • Lenders might fear that the assets become increasingly illiquid
    Part of the attraction of Lendy and Moneything in the past (aside from the high interest rate) came from the fact that loans could be sold very fast, usually within hours for most loans that were not overdue. That has changed on Lendy and might be currently changing on Moneything. However with the queues for sales building up on Lendy it is too easy to just look at the nearly 8 million GBP on offer and deduct that it takes very long to sell loans. Not all loans are equally liquid. I sold 400 GBP of DFL025 recently. Despite over 35,000 GBP in the queue before me, my part sold within 3 days.
    A major factor with the longer selling times is that on Lendy, investors forego interest while the loan part is on sale. On Moneything it continues to accrue interest while on sale.
  • UK investors are increasing their stake in tax sheltered IFISA products
    That is my favourite explanation. The shift in the above markets 2 months ago coincides with the launch of many IFISA offers on other UK marketplaces. Lendy, Monything and Collateral currently do not offer IFISAs. Check the database for best IFISA rates of other marketplaces. Fundingsecure has an IFISA. I am not currently investing on Fundingsecure, therefore I am not as closely monitoring the market developments on Fundingsecure as on Lendy or Moneything. But it seems that investor demand on Fundingsecure has not changed as much as on Lendy or Moneything. It is obvious that UK investors will prefer to invest in IFISA offers, at least until their yearly allowance of 20,000 GBP is reached.
  • Brexit and pound uncertainty pause international investors
    All of the above platforms are open for international investors. I currently run a survey among German speaking investors on my German p2p lending forum. 31% precent of respondents have already invested on UK marketplaces. But 5% want to reduce their level of investment because of the uncertainty of the pound development and for this reason 20% will not consider to start on UK marketplaces.

So what could marketplaces do and what measures are they already taking?

  • Attract more investors, increase marketing spend
    I believe this is already happening. Lendy revamped the referral program as of June 1st and Collateral announced it will launch one soon. Lendy will sponsor the ‘Lendy Cowes week’ sailing regatta. I have doubts this will be cost effective, but its hard to tell from the outside without access to hard figures. I know of other p2p lending platforms that sponsored golf events in the hope of targeting and attracting the right audience and discontinued that (for reasons unknown to me).
  • Launch an IFISA
    Actually I think this would most profoundly change the situation for Lendy. However for that Lendy first needs to get full FCA approval. Moneything has recently said it has put an IFISA higher on the priority list, but it is still not imminent but planned for later this year.
  • Find ‘different’ sources of capital
    This could be institutional money. Or a differently structed offer like the Lendy bond. But it is to early to tell how the Lendy bond is taken up.
  • Raise interest rates
    Collateral has taken this step. And Moneything offered 1 percent more on a very large loan. I don’t think Lendy will take this route as it recently moved from 12% interest for all loans to a broader range of 7 to 12% interest rates.
  • Change the model of the secondary market
    Lendy and Moneything currently have secondary operating at par value. The investor community seems split. While some applaud the simplicity and ease of use of this model, others argue to allow discounts (and possibly premiums). One argument for discounts and premiums is that it might better match demand and supply. Counterarguments are that p2p lending is not a high volume market and variable pricing would not be suitable and that premiums will attract traders. Also some feel that seeing discounts will furthermore undermine trust and deter new investors from signing up.
  • Show recovery results and better communication and transparency of collection efforts
    Obviously full recovery on defaults would be a most effective measure to increase confidence and trust of investors. However this will take time and I don’t think haste would do the results good. Therefore the only thing Lendy could do short-term is communicate more and in more detail.

What is your opinion, dear reader?

P.S.: On the continent at Estateguru with its 10-12.5% interest property loans there is no change of market conditions. Investor demand continues to outstrip loan supply.

Assetz Capital Launches Property Secured Investment Account

P2P Lending marketplace Assetz Capital today announced the launch of another account type. The Property Secured Investment Account (PSIA) is marketed as a way to invest exclusively in property backed loans with automatic diversification intended to help investors spread their risk across a diverse range of lending. Every single loan considered for this account is automatically selected or rejected upon the basis of the level of property security that it offers. The loans automatically selected for investment by this account are only those that have no expected loss in the case of that loan defaulting in the future, even after any estimated recovery costs.

The target rate for the Assetz PSIA account is 5.5%. (Interest is quoted gross at the target rate, although actual returns could be lower)

Doing KYC on International Investors and the Potential of Automation

German id exampleOn the majority of p2p lending marketplaces that accept non-resident international investors, the necessary process to comply with ‘Know Your Customer’ (KYC) rules involves multiple manual steps both on the side of the investor and on the side of the marketplace. After filling in details in forms the investor typically needs to submit scans (or photos) of an ID or a passport. As an investor  I balk at the very few marketplaces that ask me to submit these via unsecured email. The better ones offer an upload inside the SSL secured website after login. The British marketplace typically also require a recent utility bill to confirm address.

Video ident

In continental Europe a few marketplaces are doing video ident. Recently when I registered at Paskoluklubas, aside from entering details in forms I needed to schedule a Skype video call in which I answered several questions and had to show my ID live. While it was straightforward, it is not more time efficient (both for investor and for marketplace). And I was lost for words for a split second when asked for my zodiac. How many non-native-english speakers can answer that question without hesitating for the right word (luckily mine is easy to translate). So there may be a higher drop off in conversion than in the document upload version.

I learned from Paskolulubas that they used video ident not to optimize the process but rather to fulfill Lithuanian regulation requirements: ‘In the end of last year in Lithuania … [a law was passed] which legalized digital identification …. There are just two legal methods to identify clients through digital technologies. The first one is to use special programs, applications or other measures to ensure that the photos execution process is continuous and that the photos transfer in non-real time would be impossible. The second one is video identification when [the] company directly could record customer and his ID document. We chose … [the latter] method because of the following reasons: a. easier control of quality with in house team and b. faster start’.

So Paskolulubas uses inhouse staff to conduct the video ident process.

Outsourcing KYC

In Germany video ident is also an allowed method of identification. And it slowly replaces the traditional Postident process, a longtime German proprietary solution, since it avoids media discontinuity. But usually the video ident process, while integrated in the website is outsourced to a specialized service provider.

Another example of outsoucing is the process Lenndy uses. When registering, all an investor is asked by Lenndy is his email address, nothing else. Then the investor is required to link an Paysera account with at least level 3. Either an existing one or a newly setup one. Paysera is a E-money institution with over 5 million customers. Lendy then imports the customer data, which have been verified by Paysera with the consent of the the customer. While this solution is elegant for Lenndy, Paysera receives mixed reviews by several German investors in p2p lending. But as the search for ‘Paysera’ in the last link shows, actually several p2p lending platforms use Paysera processes to some degree.

All of the above still require mainly manual labor for checking, even if some of the work is outsourced.

Automating KYC for international investors

Last week British Relendex moved from a manual document upload process to an automated process for investors of 7 countries; Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland. Relendex uses the Call Validate solution and checks (in case of Germany) first , middle, last name, gender, phone, address, city and postal code with the data coming from three different data sources and which Relendex says has high match accuracy. Relendex’s criteria was that the data available should be of equal quality and accuracy to that of the UK database.

A Relendex representative told P2P-Banking: ‘With the new process, international lenders from the nine countries could see their account be approved in a matter of minutes. Where previous manual checking could take a couple of days, the automated KYC process is much more efficient.’

Of course there are other solutions. I reached out to other companies for comment. But those who have automated are tight-lipped about details citing proprietary technology and competitive advantages.

Marketplaces that also use automation are welcome to comment and add to this story.