Interview with Ahmed Moor, CEO of Liwwa

What is Liwwa about?

liwwa is a marketplace lending platform that provides funding to small and medium businesses in Jordan. Our mission is to support job and income growth in the region. To date we have underwritten about 10 million USD in loans. This has helped to create 475 jobs in Jordan, 1.77 million USD in income, and 13.05 million USD in economic output.

What are the three main advantages for investors?

The type of investors we target are financially-savvy professionals who already have a portfolio of investments. They are attracted to our service because it is a way for them to further diversify their existing portfolio. The other advantage is that there are no big barriers to testing out the platform – provided he meets certain basic criteria, anyone can register and there is no minimum amount required in order to start lending. Once an account is activated and the investor is ready to get started, the power of choice is in his hands. He is able to browse the various campaigns, read through the credit scoring and business information and select which ones to participate in. A final advantage to using liwwa is the relatively high returns; our Internal Rate of Return across the liwwa portfolio stands at 9.45% for the last 12 months.

It is important to note that the investment is unsecured and therefore a high risk one. This means that if a borrower defaults on his loan then the investor stands to lose any money that he has funded to that particular business and not yet been repaid. We aim to disclose as much information on this risk as possible throughout our website. We also keep investors regularly updated on progress to recuperate the funds in the event of a late payment from the borrower.

What are the three main advantages for borrowers?

There is a 240 billion USD capital access gap in the MENA region. For borrowers, we provide a much-needed alternative to bank financing. The liwwa financing proposition is attractive because we do not require collateral, and because we offer an extremely swift process. We are aware that most borrowers are in need of purchasing supplies or assets rapidly to continue growing their businesses. We commit to reviewing all applications within 48 hours. If an application is approved, the borrower is able to access funding straight away. And finally, we are transparent and we do not charge any up-front or additional fees. A Murabaha rate that an approved borrower is offered is directly related to the riskiness of his business, as determined by the credit assessment and the resulting credit score. Our friendly customer service team ensures that applicants are well informed throughout the process.

What ROI can investors expect?

The return on investment that investors can expect is directly dependent on their risk appetite. Generally speaking and assuming no defaults, an investor who puts all of his funds in low-risk campaigns is likely to make a lower IRR* than an investor who funds only medium- or high-risk campaigns. We encourage investors to diversify as much as possible across risk level as well as sector and loan tenor. Our current liwwa index stands at 9.45% for the last 12 months.

*The liwwa index reflects IRR, or Internal Rate of Return. More information on the Internal Rate of Return can be found at the following link: https://www.liwwa.com/help/irr

Ahmed MoorIs the technical platform self-developed?

The technical platform is self-developed to the extent that the proprietary data is all owned and managed in-house. There is a large focus on predictive modeling, and on collecting enough data to leverage this more in the future as a means for building efficiencies into the credit assessment process.

How is the company financed? Is it profitable?

The company has raised 5.55 million USD from investors and 6 million USD in debt to date. Our investors include Silicon Badia, Bank Al Etihad, DASH Ventures, and Samih Toukan. Our investors include a number of banking partners Bank Al Etihad, Capital Bank, Arab Bank, and Ahli Bank.

We will achieve profitability in 2018, and we are currently working to close a Series B round of investment.

What were/are the main challenges of the market you address?

IFRS 9, with its provisioning rules, is one of the main drivers of banks’ reticence to lend to SMEs. The market demand for loans hasn’t appreciably changed, and one could argue that market risk has stabilized in many MENA economies – so the accounting rule change is having an outsized impact. Companies like liwwa are poised to fill a need because much of the debt that liwwa manages is treated on an off-balance sheet basis. Retail lenders and non-bank institutions can contribute to filling the SME lending gap given a difference in risk appetites and a more generous perspective on solvency ratios.

Is Liwwa open to international investors?

liwwa is currently open to investors from the MENA region and Malaysia. We cannot unfortunately on board investors from other regions at this time due to strict compliance regulations imposed by some countries like the United States. We are working to be able to offer our services more widely in the future.

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

Our investors and borrowers are two vastly different audiences, and our marketing strategy reflects this.

For investors, marketing is varied and a combination of word-of-mouth, digital and more traditional forms of ATL advertising, the latter something we have recently started scaling up. We recognize that investors will want to know more about the company and want to trust in it before they start actively investing, and this make take time. Through all forms of advertising we encourage potential investors to learn more about us and we provide a lot of transparency to facilitate this. For example, anyone can read through our portfolio results www.liwwa.com/help/stats, or our blog blog.liwwa.com where we provide insights into how we work and articles on technology and investment.

For borrowers, social media marketing has been an important and cost-efficient tool for us. We also rely on a Sales team to spread awareness and build relationships with potential customers. As a result of our investment in maintaining customer satisfaction throughout the whole application journey, repeat borrowers currently make up nearly 50% of our portfolio.

Where do you see liwwa in 3 years?

The medium- to long-term focus is on continued improvements to our credit assessment process using technological efficiencies. In the next few years we will have a vast amount of data on the market that we can better leverage for predictive modeling. This means that we can gradually rely more on a combination of predictive modeling and manual credit assessments, minimizing the latter part as the former increases in accuracy.

This will contribute to making the liwwa model easier to replicate in other markets and, given the vast demand across the MENA region, we are targeting to roll out to other MENA markets.

We are still focused on our base of operations in Jordan, and the country will always be an important market to us.

P2P-Banking thanks Ahmed Moor for the interview.

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.

 

What’s Up at Collateral?

Update Feb 28th, 10:50pm: according to a message recieved by affected investors, Collateral (UK) Ltd is going into administration

Or rather, why is Collateral down? A question concerned investors have been speculating on for over 36 hours now, since the website of UK p2p lending platform Collateral went down around 7pm two days ago and is showing a maintenance message. Investors criticize that there was no pre-announcement of this maintenance and worse that Collateral seemed to have ceased all communications to investors and did not react to any phone or email messages.

With no communications from the platform whatsoever investors wondered what to do. Some investors reported the incident to ActionFraud squad of the police while another contacted the FCA to voice his concern and seek advice.

This morning Collateral sent out this email to investors: ‘An update is being prepared and will be emailed to all lenders later today. Thanks for your patience, The Collateral Team‘.

So while at the time of writing of this article it is unclear what’s up at Collateral, this event does present two general questions in my view:

1) How should a p2p lending platform communicate in a crisis?

In my view not communicating at all is the worst choice. As investors pointed out, even if the nature of the crisis prevented communication through own website or email, then the platform could have elected to leave a message via the Twitter or Facebook channel. While that would have not reached all investors, it would have been better than silence.

2) What can concerned investors actually do to react, if the platform is seemingly unreachable/unresponding over a longer period of time?

The discussions amongst investors show great frustration on this point. And the questions is, how helpful any of the discussed measures really would be. The main suggestions were trying alternative phone contacts (calling management directly), visiting office in person, reporting to authorities (police, FCA), alerting the press.

From this incident I would say there is little investors can do to force an immediate reaction.

Regardless what was happening and what the outcome will be, my opinion is that this will tarnish the reputation of Collateral and that investors might try to withdraw (part) of their funds, once the platform is operational again.

Collateral maintenace message

Mintos Adds First Loan Originator From the UK

P2P lending marketplace Mintos has added 1pm as new loan originator on the platform. 1pm is an FCA accredited non-bank finance provider which is publicly listed on the AIM market on the London Stock Exchange. The company provides various loan types to SMEs in Britain. On Mintos 1pm offers business loans for investment in GBP, with an interest rate of up to 11%.

1pm was founded in 2000 and listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2006. The company is dedicated to helping the United Kingdom’s economy grow by providing finance to businesses. It offers many finance solutions to SMEs within the United Kingdom including asset and vehicle finance, hire purchase, commercial loans and invoice financing.

1pm currently operates from eight sites across the United Kingdom. The company employs 170 people and has more than 16,000 small businesses as clients.

“An important part of our strategic growth plan is to harness the benefits of financial technology. By joining the Mintos marketplace, we will now be able to accelerate the amount of loans that are originated by our business and to access retail global investors efficiently, a funding source that would be unavailable to us without this digital capability,” says CEO of 1pm plc Ian Smith.

1pm business loans from the United Kingdom on Mintos range from GBP 3 000 to 50 000. The repayment period is from 3 months to 5 years. .

1pm has a total lease, loan and invoice finance portfolio of GBP 130 million. The interim financial results for the six-month period that ended on 30 November 2017 for 1pm plc showed the group’s revenue increased by 74% to GBP 13.9 million. Profit before tax for the group increased by 77% to GBP 3.6 million.

“The United Kingdom has one of the largest alternative finance markets in the world. We are very excited to have expanded Mintos into this geography by launching 1pm on the marketplace. The company is a great addition and offers investors on Mintos a new geography and further opportunities in GBP investments. We look forward to this partnership with 1pm and to seeing further partnerships arise in this market,” says Martins Sulte, CEO and Co-founder of Mintos.

ING Diba Buys Lendico

Bank ING Diba acquires p2p lending marketplace Lendico. According to Finanz-Szene.de the transaction was reported to the German Federal Cartel Authority last week. The bank has confirmed the acquisition.

Lendico went through hard times. It had to cut back on international activities, never really took off on German home turf and realigned from consumer lending to SME lending. Last year the majority stake was sold from Rocket Internet to Arrowgrass.

Speculation is that the bank acquired Lendico in a make or buy decision to save development time for an own platform, which could have taken over a year. While the price of the acquisition was not disclosed, I suspect Lendico could have come cheap, considering the lingering of the business in the past years.

Ratesetter Launches IFISA Offer

Ratesetter announced it will launch the IFISA product offer tomorrow. The Ratesetter ISA will initially be available to existing customers, then to new customers on 1 March and to inward transfers from other ISAs in April.

Key features of the Ratesetter ISA:

  • Average interest rates are 3% to 6% p.a. depending on level of access.
  • Ratesetter says it takes less than five minutes to open a Ratesetter account online.
  • All investors are automatically covered by Ratesetter’s Provision Fund which manages and diversifies risk, meaning investors do not need to choose specific loans. The Provision Fund has ensured that, to date, every individual Ratesetter investor has received their capital and interest in full. Lending on Ratesetter is an investment and capital is at risk.
  • The Ratesetter ISA is a flexible ISA. Investors can withdraw money and replace it later in the same tax year without losing their tax-free allowance.

Ratesetter’s CEO and founder, Rhydian Lewis OBE, told P2P-Banking:

‘RateSetter’s purpose is to give people the opportunity to earn more on their money. Our ISA makes that opportunity even more compelling because investing is now tax-free.

 Cash ISA savers are frustrated with low interest rates, while inflation is always nibbling away at their money. Stocks & Shares ISA investors have enjoyed good returns recently but may be nervous of market falls, as demonstrated in the last few days. Lending is a third asset class in the middle, offering the potential for higher returns than cash without the volatility of shares.

 With RateSetter’s excellent track record and our focus on the retail investor, we believe our ISA will become an attractive home for people looking to put their money to work.’

For more Innovative Finance ISA products see the large P2P-Banking IFISA comparison table.

Banco BNI Europe Starts to Lend on Multiple P2P Lending Platforms

Banco BNI Europa was launched in July 2014 as a digital-only bank in Portugal. Banco BNI Europa says it aims to challenge the traditional banking sector through strategic partnerships with fast-moving fintech businesses to launch new products allowing the use of the most advanced technology in terms of risk analysis, consumer experience and rapid entry into the market.

Today Banco BNI Europe announced it will start lending on Fellow Finance.

‘Modern banks expand and grow by partnerships. Fellow Finance enables and offers an easy access to invest and lend in Nordic and Central European consumer and SME loans through its platform. Through their investment account at Fellow Finance, Banco BNI Europa is able to diversify their balance sheet investment into Finnish and German loans easily and cost-effectively. This is an example that banks don’t need to set up their own expensive operations on ground but can effectively enter markets through marketplace lending platforms. It is also an example how banks can also utilize the presence of FinTech among their core business’ says Jouni Hintikka, the CEO of Fellow Finance.

‘Investing via Fellow Finance in consumer and SME loans offers us a great opportunity to easily expand our operations and we are very satisfied with the analytical and professional approach of Fellow Finance in credit intermediation’ echoes Pedro Pinto Coelho, Executive Chairman of Banco BNI Europa.

Last week BNI Europe announced it will fund German SME loans through Funding Circle. According to Pedro Pinto Coelho, Executive Chairman of Banco BNI Europa, ‘an investment in German SME – the staple of European economic stability – is a highly attractive asset class. And Funding Circle is the professional partner that convinced us with their risk assessment and credit analysis. …’.

To date Banco BNI Europa has struck fourteen fintech partnerships with European fintech leaders across the continent. The bank had 141 per cent growth by the end of 2017 taking its total assets above €500m, and cited its focus on ‘innovative products’ as an explanation for the improved performance.

International P2P Lending Volumes January 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 564 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 Linked Finance.

Zopa crossed the milestone of 3 billion GBP 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 Volume 01/2018
Table: P2P Lending Volumes in January 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