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.

Experiences with Setting up a Company in Estonia for the Purpose of Investing in Bondora P2P Lending

This is an interview with Austrian investor Bernd R. about the experiences he made when he created a company in Estonia to benefit from the advantages that investing as business on Bondora brings. Note that these are his personal experiences and should not be construed to be investment or tax advice. The circumstances for other investors will be different and investors should seek tax advice by qualified and certified tax advisors.

How did you get the idea to setup a company in Estonia for your Bondora investments?

I read a lot about Estonia – its business friendly environment, simple tax system, huge start-up culture and the efforts to make administration processes available online.

Setting up an investment vehicle in Estonia would allow me to combine an uncomplicated taxation system with the advantages of a legal entity and all that at low costs.

What are the main advantages when investing as a company rather than an individual on Bondora?

There are several advantages.

  • The corporate tax rate in Estonia is 0%. Only dividends are taxed with 20%. This means that your retained profits will generate additional profit. Double taxation agreements with your home country protect you from being taxed twice and usually limit the total taxation to the tax rate for dividends of your country of residence.
  • In Austria interest income of private loans is treated in a different way than regular interest income (e.g. from a bank saving account). Interest income of classic bank saving product are taxed with a 25% flat rate, “private loans” fall under progressive taxation. On-top income of a full-time employee is easily taxed with 43% till 50%. So depending on the individual situation the tax savings can be up to 25%.
  • Provisions for bad debts or write-offs reduce the taxation basis.
  • Profits and Losses of different activities can be consolidated, e.g. losses generated with stock trading can be consolidated with your Bondora interest earnings and reduce the taxation basis.

How does the tax situation improve in your specific case?

I reduced the tax rate by 25% compared to my individual tax rate.

In addition I will generate more profit in absolute numbers due to untaxed retained earnings invested and at the same time reduce the taxation basis with bad debt provisions. The impact of these 2 factors depend on the future default- and interest rate of my Bondora portfolio.

To setup the Estonian OÜ you used a company formation service. Did that require you to travel to Estonia?

No, it was not necessary. A power of attorney does the job. Continue reading

Lendico Launches P2P Lending in Austria

Today Lendico launched the p2p lending service in Austria. It is the fourth country Lendico enters after Germany, Spain and Poland. Austria is pristine territory for p2p lending. Up to now no services were available to Austrian borrowers. Interest rates range from 2.99% to 15.99% (comparable to Lendico Germany) depending on credit grade. Loans are possible up to 25,000 Euro for terms between 1 and 5 years. Lendico uses services of CRIF and Austrian Post for identification and credit rating.
Right now there are 3 loan listings online.

P2P Lending Sites in Europe

Visualizations are great to show data that would otherwise just be a long list. I decided to create a map of the p2p lending landscape in Europe. It shows active and discontinued p2p lending services in Europe (including p2p microfinance). Not listed are sites that are in pre-launch stage. All of these marketplaces have been featured earlier in the P2P-Banking.com blog. If you want more information about any of them just enter the name in the search box on the top right of this blog.

Notice to other websites: You are free to copy and use this map, provided you agree not to alter or resize the image and you will set a link to this article.

Notice to p2p lending sites: If you want to be included in a future version of this map, contact me to learn how.

MyMicroCredit – P2P Microfinance to the Needy

Karl Rabeder was a successful entrepreneur and rich. But being a millionaire did not make him happy and he was seeking a purpose in life. So he sold his villa in Austria, his house in France and his 5 sailplanes and moved into a small 1 room apartment in Innsbruck.

Now he dedicates his time to the p2p microfinance non profit he founded: MyMicroCredit.org. MyMicrocredit enables lenders to fund loans to needy persons in Latin America, Asia and Africa with the objective to become self-employed. Currently MyMicroCredit partners with the MFI Apoyo Integral in El Salvador, Nicaragua, concentrating on funding education projects for agriculture teachers.

I contributed 25 EUR towards a 24 months loan. The website display of projects (see left) bears resemblance to Kiva. No registration is necessary to lend. This allows fast and easy funding but has the disadvantage that lenders cannot login to see a portfolio of what loans they did fund.

Lenders will by notified be email upon repayment of a loan and can then decide to reinvest or withdraw their money.

(Sources:  Chrismon, P2P-Kredite.com)

Financial Services Authority Closes Bankless-Life

Austrian p2p lending service Bankless-Life (see earlier coverage on Bankless-Life’s launch) was closed by the FMA, the authority supervising banking regulation in Austria. The FMA sent an order to Bankless-Life on Dec. 22nd, demanding it to stop arranging loans, since it lacks the necessary concessions. Today FMA issued a notice to the public, informing potential lenders that the offering of the service is not in compliance with the law.

Bankless-Life.at has published a statement on their website on planned legal steps against the order to close.

Bankless Life Launches P2P Lending in Austria

Bankless-Life.at was launched as the first p2p lending service in Austria by the non-profit association “Von Menschen für Menschen” (engl. by humans for humans). The members-only site (membership fee is 60 Euro per year) allows borrowers with a given minimum credit score and a minimum income requirement of 1,000 EUR per month to apply for loans between 1,000 and 30,000 EUR. The wanted interest rate is set by the borrower, selectable loan terms are 12, 24, 36, 48 or 60 months.

Lenders are charged 3 Euro per bid. The fees for borrowers are rather high: In addition to the membership fee borrowers pay 0.5% to 2.5% (depending on term) origination fee, 0.8% tax plus 2% premium of the loan amount for the Anleger-Pool, which is a mechanism similar to the one used by German Smava spreading default loss risks among lenders.

According to chairman Siegfried Fischer Bankless Life has 1,800 members two weeks after launch.

The German blog P2P-Kredite.com has more details in yesterday’s article ‘Bankless- Life startet P2P-Kredite.com Österreich‘.