Collateral Case the Next Step: BDO’s Joint Administrators’ Proposals

BDO has prepared and emailed the Joint Adminstrators’ Proposal to investors and creditors of the Collateral Companies last night. The report is also available publicly on the BDO website. I have read the whole report. I will not attempt to summarize it, but point out some findings that I find personally really surprising given that Collateral was an operation that managed millions of pounds of client money.

From the outset of the Administrations, we identified that securing the Companies’ electronic records would be critical. Following our initial meeting, the directors advised that all of the Companies’ IT functions and services were outsourced to an IT consultant. Both the directors and … advised that they had no access to the electronic platform, nor any back-up of the data contained within it, and they advised that the electronic platform had been decommissioned during March 2018 due to non-payment of outstanding bills; they did not therefore consider that the Joint Administrators would be able to recover the platform or the underlying data

The company outsourced IT operations, but kept no copies or backups of the data stored. Wow.

BDO did not give up on this, but located the servers and data forensics are working on recovering (part) of the data.

We have since made contact with the third party company holding the servers. Again, following protracted correspondence and with the assistance of our lawyers and my firm’s Forensic Technology team, we have located and secured the actual servers previously used by the Companies. There appears to be a significant volume of data still held on those servers and, as at the date of these proposals, we have taken steps to consolidate the contents of the different servers containing the Companies’ data into a single location (whilst preserving the originals intact). We shortly expect to receive a copy of the data, which we will then interrogate and review to better understand the nature of the data that has been recovered.
Whilst it is not yet clear whether we have retrieved all of the Companies’ electronic data, nor whether it will be possible to restore the electronic platform, the Joint Administrators consider that this represents positive progress.

Given that the allocation of client money to loans and the bookkeeping is a primary tasks of a p2p lending marketplace I am appalled when I read this finding:

… also provided certain key information in relation to the investors and loan book, in the form of two spreadsheets (which I refer to below) and copies of email correspondence between his office and various stakeholders during the period in which he purported to act as administrator. …advised that he held no other books or records, and neither did he have any access to the Companies’ electronic platform, or the data contained within it.

Really? The data was held in two spreadsheets? Excel, maybe?

A last quote (highlighting is mine)

Members of the Joint Administrators’ team attended the Companies’ trading address in Manchester on the afternoon of their appointment. The address is a serviced office space, and the office provider advised that the Companies had vacated the office several months prior to the Joint Administrators’ appointment. There were no assets or books and records remaining at the premises.

Now to the good news. BDO confirmed there is money in the client and office accounts. And the report shows the directors are cooperating with the administrator. The report seems to classify investor’s money as trust assets which would, as I understand it, leave investors in a much better position, than the outcome would have been, if they would have been qualified as pure unsecured creditors.

BDO says it is too early to give a forecast to the outcome, given the circumstances, but asseses:

We would, however, note that, as summarised on the statement of estimated financial position attached at Appendix 2, the estimated claims of creditors exceed the book value of the assets held by the Companies (including trust assets). Therefore, even before taking account of any potential asset write-downs and the costs of the Administrations, it appears likely that not all investors and creditors will recover their entire exposure to the Companies and the Collateral lending platform.

A lot will depend on how much can be retrieved from the outstanding property loans, which will fall due by mid-November 2018 at latest.

There is a lot of investor discussion regarding the report on the P2pindependentforum.

Trying to look at this from a high vantage point:

  • In my opinion a lot of the work, time and fees of BDO would have been saved, if the data would have been stored more persistently by Collateral in the first place
  • Investors should try to keep some form of offline records. I know depending on platform and number of loans that might be hard and laborous to do, but look at what position the Collateral investors are in now.  It is uncertain though if those investors that do have precise records on their loan allocation will be in any way better off than those that do not in the Collateral case
  • Investors trust regarding operations stability and bookkeeping of smaller UK platforms (Collateral had 5 employees) may be dealt a blow. It might become more important for smaller UK marketplaces to demonstrate robustness and durability of operations (e.g. through a detailed and transparent documentation of the living will, which is required for fully authorised platforms anyway)

The next steps in the Collateral case are described in the proposals in 15.1. and 15.2 of the report (page 20).

 

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

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.

Ablrate – Invest in a P2P Loan With an Aircraft as Security

Ablrate is a new p2p lending service that launched this month in the UK. Ablrate is short for asset backed lending rate, meaning each loan will be backed by an security. The management has long experience in aircraft financing and consequently the first loan on the platform is secured by an aircraft. This loan offers 10% interest p.a. (paid monthly).

International investors welcome

Ablrate is open to non-UK investors (except from the US). Investors are not charged a fee to lend. The minimum bid is 100 GBP (about 125 EUR). After I signed up I used Transferwise to transfer money to my Ablrate account to avoid high banking fees (instead of doing a direct bank wire since I know from experience that UK banks do deduct heavy fees on incoming international transfers).

The P2P Lending Marketplace

Ablrate will offer two types of loan listings. Fixed rate listings will close once the loan amount is fully funded (the first loan is a fixed rate offer). With auction offers the lenders will underbid each other with lower interest rates once the loan amount is reached until the auction term closes. Ablrate has a secondary market where investors will be able to buy and sell loan parts.


First loan listing. Comprehensive detail information is available on the platform after registration and authentication.

My first impression of the platform is good. Very much information is presented in the extensive FAQ, the lender brochure (see How It Works > For Investors > at bottom) and several videos which illustrate the process. I made my first bid and am now waiting on the loan request to fill for the next step. Continue reading

A Visit With Assetz Capital

On Wednesday I flew to Manchester on invitation of p2p lending service Assetz Capital and met with Managing Director Andrew Holgate and his team. I learned how they operate and we spent the day discussing various aspects of p2p lending.

Assetz Capital does p2p lending to businesses secured by assets – mostly property. While the loans are big (usually the minimum loan size is 100,000 GBP), investors can lend starting with amounts of just 20 GBP. But typical investments are higher. In fact their first loan, which was for the amount of 1.5M GBP was funded by just 150 investors. Andrew Holgate pointed out that since each loan is backed by a security there is not as much need for investors to diversify to spread risk as with other p2p lending platforms.

Assetz Capital went live in April 2012. The founders and the management have extensive experience in finance, especially SME funding. One of the founders, Stuart Law, is the CEO of Assetz Group which has a 15 years track record in property investments. Assetz Capital could utilise the huge existing database of over 65,000 customers of Assetz Group when it started marketing its loan offers to investors.

Initially the main task at hand was to build trust. Trust not only on the investor side, but also from brokers, the main source of loan requests. Brokers wanted to be able to rely on the referred, approved loan requested getting funded within reasonable time (e.g. 2 weeks). While this was challenging in the beginning, Holgate says Assetz Capital has no problem now of getting multiple large loans funded simultaneously. Some of the loans fill as fast as 4 to 5 hours.  To get there Assetz Capital integrated underwriters into the process.

After Assetz Capital has thoroughly vetted the applying business and the underlying security – in fact every business is visited in person by an employee of Assetz Capital, it is presented to large investors which will then check the offer themselves and underwrite it – effectively saying they are prepared to finance large chunks of the offer.

Once the loan is on the marketplace, investors bid on it. Investors do see all documentation available on the loan and Assetz Capital says investor scrutiny and feedback is very valuable. Each loan request has a Q&A section where investors can comment.  Between funding and drawdown it usually takes a few weeks, depending on circumstances. In this time all documentation required is completed (e.g. first or second charges).

Assetz Capital is 100% owned by the management. Even so the business is very young it already turned profitable.

Broader product range

Assetz Capital started p2p lending with loans backed by real estate. Gradually they are now moving in financing a broader range of loan purposes, but always backed by asset securities. Assetz Capital wants to become the single access point for SME finance needs, as banks are no longer fulfilling that role. A surprising point in the talks for me was, when Holgate said, that actually their interest rates are higher than those charged by the banks, which is possible since many SMEs don’t get the funding they need from the banks any more.

On the investor side Assetz Capital will take steps to reduce the average time-span between funding and drawdown for investors. The company also considers in the medium term to grade loans into risks classes. At the moment different risks perceived by the risk manager at Assetz Capital are priced into the interest rates of the loans. So far Assetz Capital has refrained from assigning risk grades as it might be seen as giving investment advice to investors, which Assetz Capital does not do. Assetz Capital might also make it easier for investors to automatically invest into loans of a given risk/interest range. So far this was not necessary as the majority of investors enjoyed the process of the individual selection of loans. Continue reading

P2P Lending With Cars as Collateral

German p2p lending service Auxmoney.com has introduced a new feature this week. Borrowers can now offer a car as collateral for a p2p loan.

The user pays a fee of 9.95 Euro to document this in his loan listing. Pictures of the car, the model and the mileage and the estimated price a car dealer would pay for car are displayed in the listing. In this example listing, the borrower puts up his BMW as collateral. The estimated value covers 101% of the loan amount requested. In general the car can cover any percentage of the loan amount – it does not need to cover the full amount. Furthermore there is information on the type of insurance coverage.

If the loan is funded, then a contract defines the terms of the assignment as security. The borrower continues to drive the car (obviously he is not allowed to sell it without the consent of Auxmoney), but needs to deposit the certificate of ownership (motor vehicle registration certificate) at Auxmoney. This arrangement costs the borrower 2 Euro per month.

Should the borrower fail to repay the loan, then Auxmoney has the right to sell the car.

While a car as collateral does in not provide fail-safe security (many things can happen), it will be probably perceived by lenders as one feature for higher security against defaults.

The Wiseclerk Auxmoney stats page will in future track the performance of p2p loans secured by cars.

This is a first for p2p lending – but soon another p2p lending service will follow. Pärtel Tomberg, CEO of Estonian p2p lending service Isepankur told P2P-Banking.com earlier this month, that Isepankur will introduce cars and real estate as collateral for p2p loans in the second half of 2010.

(Photo by pedrosimoes7)