MYC4 Chickens Out – Closes Forum

P2P microfinance platform MYC4 has closed its discussion forum. Links to the forum have been removed from main navigation.

The official explanation on the blog says: “The forum was originally created to ignite a dialog among the investors.  We haven’t seen all that many sparks recently. Most of the posts on the forum in the last year have been either investors asking specific questions to MYC4 or MYC4 communicating news to the investors. Not much dialog.

We decided to try something different, so we created a blog.

… You can still write questions to the Partners on the forum. But the other topics have been frozen. You can find all the old posts there, but you can’t write any new ones.”

It seems weird to argue that a forum is replaced by a blog because a forum is not fit for dialog. My impression is that the MYC4 forum had 3 aspects which can have caused the removal:

  1. Lenders pinpointed things that were not working properly on MYC4 (e.g. default levels, certain processes, provider quality). They kept track on the results following up earlier announcements of MYC4 on measures taken.
  2. In many cases answers by MYC4 did not satisfy the persons asking. This negative customer experience became publicly visible through the forums, possibly deterring new lenders.
  3. Possibly answering questions in the forums tied up to much staff time (but I would expect that the same questions are now send via email, therefore closing the forums does not change this issue)

So I do feel that MYC4, a company that at it’s launch trumpeted utmost transparency goals, chickened out. They no longer want to discuss and face customer demands and criticism in public, but rather elected to replace it with a blog, which is much more a one-way-communication channel.

Everyone is invited to continue the discussion on the MYC4 forum here on Wiseclerk.com.

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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

MYC4 Plans to Target New Partners, Mitigate Risk

In a telephone call MYC4 executive Jes Colding yesterday gave P2P-Banking.com a preview of the future positioning of MYC4. The two main goals are risk mitigation and new provider structure.

All new providers will have to take a direct stake in the loans they provide. They will have to guarantee 20% of the outstanding portfolio. The guarantee can either be provided by a bank deposit or by a bank guarantee. Loans from an already active partner on the MYC4 market place, Fusion Capital, are already covered by a 15% guarantee.
The agreements with new partners will also adapt a new fee structure. While in the past as much as 2/3 of the provider fees were deducted from the loan upon disbursement, in the future a minimum of 75% of the fee will be payable as the loan repays. Limiting fees payable on disbursement to a maximum of 25% of the total fees will align the interest of the providers with the interest of the investors, says Colding.

MYC4 will also shift towards a new kind of partners. The reasoning is that microfinance partners, which MYC4 solely worked with in the past, sometimes have cheaper access to capital already and cannot reach the 3 loan segments MYC4 wants to target in the future: SME, rural and youth.

SME (small and medium size enterprises)
To fund SME loans MYC4 aims to partner with consulting and private equity companies that already work with these clients. Colding cited Fusion Capital as an example.

Rural
Here MYC4 will have supply chain partners and outgrower schemes. Colding gave two interesting examples for the supply chain model. A large Danish supermarket chain wants to increase the amount of African produce on offer. The loans will be used to enable the farmers to upscale their production. And most interesting: Colding says MYC4 will be advertised on the products (e.g. bags of frozen peas) as well as in the supermarket.  A solar system company wants to sell more solar power systems in Kenya. Here MYC4 loans will allow groups of people to buy a system, the manufacturer is paid upon delivery and the group repays MYC4 investors over the loan term. While these are not business but consumption loans, Colding says MYC4 will allow them because of their social and environmental impacts. A third example, which is already available to invest in on the MYC4 market place is loans to Armajaro farm shops in Ghana, which have been fully underwritten by Armajaro, one of the world’s largest cocoa bean wholesaler.

Youth
65% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa are under the age of 25. Many are well educated but have slim employment chances, leaving starting a business as only option. High risk  normally makes funding unavailable to them. Funding via MYC4 investors would not be sustainable for the same reason. Therefore MYC4 partners with the  International Labour Organisation (ILO), Geneva. The ILO and the provider partners will underwrite up to 90 percent of the risk.

Little Progress in MYC4’s Recovery Attempts

As reported in the past MYC4.com has serious operational problems making it an investment with negative ROI for the vast majority of lenders. MYC4 has taken measures to recover as much of the outstanding loan amounts as possible, but progress is very slow.

This is a quick update on the situation

Kenya / Provider Ebony:
The receivership has been in place for two months now, but has recovered only a small amount. The court case against Ebony Capital Ltd. is ongoing still awaiting a ruling. (see details)

Ivory Coast / Former providers Ivoire Credit and Notre Nation
The responsibility for collecting these loans has been turned over to TRIUM International in September 2009. In the 5 months since then TRIUM International collected 17,848 Euro. TRIUM has asked to be relieved of the contract as soon as possible (see details)

Senegal / Provider Birima
Repayments have been delayed. Birima cites technical problems and a bad economic situation in Senegal.

Uganda / Provider FED/CMC
FED seems to have the worst status. MYC4 reports that collections nearly stopped due to a lack of staff and  working capital. Borrowers are said towithhold repayments in speculation on a collapse of FED/CMC.
MYC4 has defined 10 action steps for March and April. (see details)

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Which P2P Lending Developments Happened in 2009 as Forecasted?

In January I published my predictions for p2p lending trends in 2009. Now let’s see how good my crystal ball was. The black text is my original prediction, with the review added in green and yellow.

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.

Multiple new services launched in 2009, e.g. Aqush in Japan, Sobralaen in Estonia, Uppspretta in Iceland as well as ill-fated Pertuity Direct in the US. Prosper reopened. The mentioned Communitylend and Nexx did not make it so far, though it looks like  Communitylend missed a launch in 2009 only by weeks. No competition in Britain for Zopa yet.

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.

Kiva continued it’s enormous growth and popularity. Vittana and United Prosperity launched. For MYC4 it was a hard year with decreasing loan volumes. Continue reading