Interview with Yann Murciano, CEO of Blend Network

What is Blend Network about?

Blend Network is an online property lending marketplace that focuses on lending to established property developers in high-growth areas across the UK but outside London. Since its official launch in January 2018, Blend Network has already lend £1.5 million GBP to 6 projects across Northern Ireland, Scotland and Norfolk with an average fixed return of 12.2% p.a. Lenders can join for free and manage their loans through a user-friendly dashboard. Borrowers are double-vetted by both Blend Network and a sponsor before being listed on the Blend Network platform. In addition, Blend Network loans are only made against security to help ensure the protection of lender money in the default scenario.

What are the three main advantages for investors?

  1. Access to niche markets: While most P2P property lenders focus in the London market due to its convenience, we focus in less crowded markets outside London that are outperforming not only the London market but also the average UK market. We have done loans in Northern Ireland where according to the recent RICS UK Residential Market Survey Report the outlook is considerably more positive than in some other UK regions, with prices rising, a growing number of potential new buyers active in the market, robust demand and overall stronger sentiment. Similarly, according to the latest UK House Price Index data, Scotland was the only UK region where average year-on-year house prices in 2017 where higher than in 2016 (In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the pace of price growth moderated, although more significantly in England).
  1. High returns: Our focus in high-growth, high-yield pockets of the UK property market outside London enables us to return up to 15% return p.a. – right at the top-end of the P2P lending marketplace. Our average return for the 6 loans since launch is 12.2%, significantly above the average of around 8% return across other P2P property platforms according to our own calculations.
  1. Strong due diligence and credit risk assessment: We pride ourselves by the strength of our due diligence process. Borrowers are double-vetted by both Blend Network’s Credit Committee and a sponsor before being listed on the Blend Network platform. Our Credit Committee is chaired by senior banker Charles Lamplugh who has 35 years of experience successfully winning and running corporate relationships for Lloyds Banking Group. In addition, Blend Network loans are only made against first charge on the security as well as personal guarantee from the developer.

What are the three main advantages for borrowers?

  1. Access to finance: Most property lenders pulled out in places such as Northern Ireland after the 2008 financial crisis and many haven’t gone back yet, but paradoxically Northern Ireland is one of the fastest growing UK property markets. For small developers in those markets, getting access to finance is simply not easy. Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) developers have the flexibility and the desire to build on brownfield sites, to redevelop derelict buildings and to maximise the potential of property which may no longer be viable for commercial use. Figures from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) House Builders Survey 2017 suggest that a shortage of available small sites, combined with a lack of finance, top the list of barriers facing SME house builders.
  2. We bring knowledge and understanding of developers’ true requirements: We operate in areas where the constrained nature of most mainstream lenders has led to many opportunities for small developers being delayed, frustrated or lost. In contrast, we pride ourselves for our understanding of the true requirements in the development process. As one borrower put it ‘It was very refreshing to work with a company that understood the process well so could recognise the opportunities available and thus able to finance accordingly.’
  3. No exit fee for early repayments: If our borrowers are able to complete their project before the maturity, great! They can repay the loan with no exit fee. It’s a win-win.

What ROI can investors expect?

Between 8% and 15% fixed return p.a. Our average since launch is 12.2% fixed return p.a.

Yann MurcianoIs the technical platform self-developed?

The platform was developed for us, we own it.

How is the company financed? Is it profitable?

The company has been self-financed so far. It is profitable but we have just decided to take the whole team on an offsite to Miami, so we spent all our profit! J J

What were the main challenges when launching your platform?

Frankly, our main challenge so far has been trying to explain why the returns are so good! In today’s markets, there are not many investments that offer an average of 12% return p.a. with no volatility. One might think it is too good to be true. It is not. The simple answer is that the UK housing crisis and lack of available homes is at its worst since the 1970s, and small developers with tight access to funding are willing to pay a premium to get funding for redevelopment projects and bridge loans. This is why we can pay up to 15% return p.a.

Do you plan to offer an IFISA?

We will assess this later in the year and decide whether we want to implement an IFISA for the next financial year.

Is Blend Network open to international investors?

Yes, it is. Our current lenders on the platform include a range of nationalities across Western Europe, the Middle East and Far East Asia.

Which marketing channels do you use to attract investors and borrowers?

The platform has already attracted a string of high-profile lenders among the high net worth bankers and hedge fund managers of Yann’s circle of personal connections. These have lent nearly 1.5M GBP since the platform launched and the proposal is attracting significant ‘word of the mouth’ attention among current lenders. In addition, we have prepared a 2-year strategic marketing plan highlighting the relevance of branding, social media, PR but most importantly word of the mouth by current lenders who are more than happy to recommend the product.

What factors do you see impacting the British property market in the near future?

We see Brexit as a key challenge (or in our case opportunity) for the UK property market in the next 2-5 years. The UK property market is a 2-speed market, with on the one hand the London market and on the other hand the rest of the UK market. We believe the London market is set to undergo a further correction due to being directly exposed to a number of sectors hit with Brexit: the financial sector and the global elite’s appetite towards prime London property ownership after Brexit. On the other hand, the rest of the UK suffers from an endemic housing crisis and lack of available homes: after decades of failure to build the homes the country needs, public concern about housing is the highest it has been for 40 years according to several heavyweight reports into Britain’s housing crisis.

Where do you see Blend Network in 3 years?

At Blend Network we are not trying to reinvent the wheel; we are simply offering an improved product for both lenders and borrowers. While we don’t want to be the only P2P property platform in the market, in 3 years we certainly want to be the best in terms of:

  • Returns – keeping our current position at the top-end of the P2P lending marketplace
  • Customer experience – continuing to enhance the functionalities on our platform to keep delivering top navigational and interface tools that our lenders love using

Access to deals – Continuing to source top deals for our lenders

P2P-Banking thanks Yann Murciano for the interview.

International P2P Lending Volumes February 2018

The table lists the loan originations of p2p lending marketplaces for last month. Funding Circle leads ahead of Zopa and Ratesetter. The total volume for the reported marketplaces adds up to 454 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.

This month I added Nexoos.

Mintos reached 500M EUR originated since launch. Twino reached 250M EUR originated 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 February 2018
Table: P2P Lending Volumes in February 2018. 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

Collateral UK in Adminstration – a Summary for Investors

Yesterday evening investors on the Collateral p2p lending marketplace were informed via email by a letter by Gordon Craig that he was appointed administrator for Collateral (UK) Ltd, the company running the marketplace.

The company is continuing to trade under his supervision, but will not be facilitating any new loans and the secondary market is closed at the moment. Reason for the company going into administration is given as ‘The Company was operating in the belief that it was authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority under interim permission. It has transpired that this is not the case and consequently the Company has ceased lending‘.

Most reassuring for investors into loans is, that he states: ‘Please note that your investment is safe and this is a procedural and compliance issue. … ‘

Investors into loans do not need to take any immediate action. ‘I have lent money via the Collateral platform do I need to do anything? No. Subject to the borrower continuing to make payments of interest and capital those will be returned to you in accordance with the Collateral terms and conditions.’

At a later point it was clarified that uninvested cash and money invested in loans without drawdown is also safe:’ I can confirm however that any monies that are sat on the platform and are not invested are ring fenced in a separate client account and the intention is for these to be returned to all investors after the Administrator has obtained control of the bank account and carried out a reconciliation.

As P2P-Banking has learned, the individual loans are bankruptcy remote, with security held by a separate security trustee – Collateral Security Trustee Ltd.

Collateral has lent about 17 million GBP since the start, most loans were secured by property.

So that are the positive points.

It remains unclear to me how Collateral could have misjudged the regulatory status? The interim permission seems to have lapsed on January 29th. Again it is unclear whether it was actively revoked by the FCA. Investors analyzed yesterday that Collateral had quitely removed references to FCA authorisation (e.g. from email footer) after January 30th. Worse yet the company seems to have changed T&C materially and investors complain they were not notified about any change of T&Cs.

There is also the question why it was allowed to continue to operate from January 29th to February 28th, if it did not have the necessary regulatory approval (anymore). And the lack of communication (prior to the letter of the administrator which is comprehensive) is a disaster (see my previous article). Putting up a server maintenance note for two days, when you are going into administration is not the right way to do it in my opinion.

The adminstrator has not decided if the website will go live again ‘We are currently looking into the website and the possibility of this being reopened in order for investors to view the balance of their investments, however this isn’t something that will be dealt with until next week at the earliest.’

Several other UK platforms have emailed investors and informed them about procedures in place to reassure them that they have taken all the necessary precautions to be prepared in case of a situation like this.

To sum it up, while it is very unfortunate that a platform goes into adminstration with a chance that eventually it will go out of business, it looks like investors into loans will get off fairly lightly.

According to the FT the FCA commented it was ‘aware of the issue and working with the firm‘. The role of the FCA in this happening leaves some questions open for debate at the moment.