Free-riders on the p2p lending bandwagon?

In Germany at least four companies developed an approach that makes use of the media hype on buzz words like peer-to-peer lending or social lending.

Under the headline peer-to-peer lending they offer kind of a "dating platform" for borrowers and potential lenders. To attract borrowers they offer hope – even borrowers with bad credit history have the chance to get a loan. To the lender they promise high rates. But a close examination of these services reveals that one could just as good publish a classified in a paper to seek or offer a loan. The services do nothing but store the requests in a database, match them and inform both sides by email once a match was made. It is then up to the borrower and the lender to negotiate the loan terms, a contract, handle the money transfer and the repayments. Since they are not handling the money, the services are not regulated by German regulator Bafin.
Oh I forgot, the services do something else: they (at least 3 of the 4 I am aware of) charge the borrower a registration fee of about 9.50 Euro (approx. 6.75 US$). Note that the fee is not tied to a successful loan match but payable upon registration.

No wonder a German consumer protection agency cautioned against the use of offers like these. Calling it peer-to-peer lending might not technically be a false claim, but these services are worlds apart from comprehensive services like Zopa, Prosper and Smava.

P.S.: No I did not name the companies here in order not to give them more free traffic. The media already did that enough, because they often do not research enough.

German Smava opens to lower credit grades

The German site for social lending Smava.de today allowed borrowers of the lower credit grades G and H to participate. Previously only borrowers of credit grades A through F could participate. According to information published by Smava, 80% of the German population have credit grades in the range A-F, while credit grade G accounts for 10% and credit grade H accounts for 5% of the population.

This move is contrary to the development at Prosper.com which started with a very broad range of credit grades and only later restricted borrower access tighter.

However Smava, so far has experienced not one late payment. Three payment cycles have been completed with 100% of borrowers paying on time.

Other changes at the Smava site today included a lower minimum bid of 250 Euro (down from 500 Euro) and a higher interest rate ceiling (maximum interest rate 18%; up from 15%).

Toogly to apply idea of peer to peer lending to company funding

As P2P-Kredite.com writes, German Toogly plans to apply the idea of p2p lending  to funding startups and companies. Anybody can draft a loan request between 1000 and 100000 Euro describing the business objective. Private lenders can bid between 50 and 100000 Euro. Interest rate and term are set by the borrower.

Currently Toogly only has the idea and a domain as placeholder. The application is currently developed and the CEO Carsten Hansen says he hopes to launch in the end of the 3rd quarter.

Hansen even wants to raise the funding Toogly needs via this way rather then using Venture Capital or other means of financing.

The concept differs from site like GoBignetwork, because Toogly will handle all repayments of the loan from the borrower. It is therefor involved in processing just like other p2p lending services.

Smava with no lates but slow growth

It's been roughly 3 month since the launch of German p2p lending service Smava.de and I want to do a short résumé on the results so far. One huge achievement is that all borrowers made their first payment on time – no lates so far. While it certainly is to early for conclusions, since only one payment cycle (first repayment in the beginning of June) has taken place, the outlook for Smava concerning low default rates is very good. Looks like Smava will be much nearer to Zopa then to Prosper in this point.

Smava has a very restrictive approach for admitting borrowers and loan applications. Not only does Smava verify identity, credit score and income documentation – it goes one step further and calculates if the borrower's financial situation is well enough to allow repayment of the desired loan sum. Only after completions of all these checks is the borrower allowed to publish is loan listing.

As a result the majority of borrowers (about 70 to 80 percent of all applicants) are declined from using Smava. While this strict validation is good for quality it does slow the growth of Smava.

Since the launch Smava enjoyed large and positive press coverage (newspapers, magazines, TV, internet). Despite the good PR, Smava funded only about 50 loans with a loan volume of about 150000 Euro in the first 3 month. There are enough lenders – Smava lacks borrowers. The low volume contrasts sharply from the figures Boober.nl achieved in the Dutch market (see previous post)

The majority of loan listings that were published did get funded. Smava has two interesting functions that are unique and not used on other p2p lending services:

  • Borrowers can close the loan early provided it is more than 50% funded
    At Smava, listings usually run 14 days. However a borrower can decide to take the funded amount (provided it is at least 50% of the total amount) and close the listing early. Several borrowers have used this function. A borrower can open another listing (provided he has not reached his personal maximum repayment allowance) instantly for the remainder (he can even choose a different interest rate for subsequent listings)
  • Borrowers can increase the offered interest rates on their open listing. If this happens the change is applied for all bids on this listing. This is a widely used feature. Many borrowers start with (ridciously) low rates. After a few days they realise their loan will not fund and they increase their interest rate – often in several steps

Smava has yet to find a good concept for groups. While there are groups their purpose is yet to be defined. Consequently the majority of borrowers did not bother to join a group.

I will continue post updates on the development of Smava here on P2P-Banking.com.

Smava.de – the business case

Following the previous post on Smava.de here is a look on the business case of the smava startup and the chances for profit.

Currently Smava earns only when a loan funds. Smava charges the borrower a 1% fee of the loan amount.  Only other fee are 10 Euros per dunning letter (which is covers the costs of the dunning letters but is otherwise neglectable).

Possible reason for the low fee (in comparison to Prosper and Zopa) are the low interest rates in Germany which might not allow for higher fees. Loans range from 500 to 10.000 Euro. Assuming an average loan amount of 3000 Euro Smava would earn 30 Euro.

Looking at transaction costs, we have:

  • Identity check of borrowers and lenders via PostIdent (approx 5 Euros each)
  • Creditgrade check (estimate 1 Euro)
  • Validation of documentation for borrowers (estimate 5 Euro, based on typical call center cost, actual inhouse costs could be higher or lower)
  • Validation of documentation for lenders (estimate 3 Euro, based on typical call center cost, actual inhouse costs could be higher or lower)

Even looking at this transaction costs without taking into regard marketing, overhead, legal and setup costs it seems that Smava faces quite a challenge and will have to focus on automation of processes.

A critical factor in my view is the fact, that costs for lender and borrower identification are incurred before anything happens and regardless if borrowers and lenders become active. Learnings form Prosper.com are that 103.000 listings created only 9000 loans, which means 90% of listings gounfunded. Of the 230000 Prosper.com members about 23000 have the role lender. Only 12000 of these were active in the last 30 days.

Prosper does some verification only when a listing will fund. 

An interesting factor of Smava is the high minimum fee of 500 Euro (which Colin Henderson was quick to point out). 

In a call founder Eckart Vierkant reasoned that a lower minimum was not necessary due to the automatic risk spreading through the Anleger-Pool (see previous post).

The 500 Euro minimum has 2 interesting effects:

  • since the lowest unit is 500 Euro, deposits from 0 to 499 Euro will accumulate on the lender accounts. Lenders collect non interest on these unloaned amount. Assuming an average 'parked' amount is 200 Euro and that the bank partner of Smava invests this money earning a return of 5 % that would mean 10 Euro profit per year and active lender
  • the 500 Euro minimum keeps small lenders out (at least in theory since anybody can register for free)

It will be interesting to see how Smava deals with that challenge in future.

Zopa to branch out into additional markets

Zopa, a competitor of Prosper.com, is on it's way to enter two additional markets (aside from UK and the long planned launch in California), informed sources say.

This source stating Zopa will launch in Germany as next country, is a false report however. It is based on a misleading interpretation of a German newspaper interview.

A summary of the situation for p2p lending in Germany is published at p2p-kredite.com. It states that there are tough regulatory issues to be solved and that it is expected that a first service might launch in late 2007 or early 2008.