Interview with Matthew Powell, CFO of Lending Works

What is Lending Works about?

Lending Works is an online marketplace lending platform for unsecured personal loans. We offer extremely competitive lender returns and fixed rate, flexible loans up to £25,000 over 1 to 5 years.

What are the three main advantages for investors?

  1. Lender protection – our unique Lending Works Shield consists of a reserve fund to cover loan arrears and insurance to protect against the primary reasons for borrower defaults, including loss of employment, fraud and cybercrime. No other peer-to-peer lender offers this. In addition, our underwriting processes are extremely robust, resulting in a 0.00% arrears and default rate since launch
  2. Great returns – our lender returns are extremely competitive and are protected by the Lending Works Shield, so the rate you see is the rate you get
  3. Flexibility – lenders can access their funds early using our Quick Withdraw facility, or can automatically reinvest monthly repayments using Auto Lend

What are the three main advantages for borrowers?

  1. Low cost loans – our loans are offered at market leading rates. By directly connecting our customers and cutting out the bank, we’re able to cut down the cost of a loan significantly
  2. Simplicity – by utilising the latest technology and being an exclusively online platform, we’re able to pay out funds within one working day of completing the simple online application process
  3. Flexibility – borrowers can make overpayments or settle their loans early at any time, without charge

What ROI can investors expect?

Lenders can expect returns of around 4.1% over 3 years, up to 6.0% over 5 years. These rates are protected by the Lending Works Shield so there shouldn’t be a need for lenders to factor in bad debts.

How did you start Lending Works? Is the company funded with venture capital?

We started building Lending Works in 2012 and launched the platform in 2014. The idea was to create a simple and safe platform to enable ordinary consumers to get a fair deal. We tried to make lending and borrowing through Lending Works as simple as possible – most of our customers do not have the time or desire to actively monitor and manage their account. That’s why we opted to steer away from an auction-based or “market” model and introduced features like Auto Lend to automate the reinvestment process.

The company is funded primarily by angel investors. We’ve raised around £4m in funding to date which has enabled us to navigate the launch period successfully. We’re now focused on driving exponential growth through innovative partnerships and new loan origination channels.

Is the technical platform self-developed?

The technical platform is completely bespoke and was initially built by an external digital services agency. Since launch we’ve brought all development activity in-house which allows us to innovate quickly and to regularly release updates. We hired our first Head of Technology, Michael Raasch, in September. Michael has over 25 years’ experience working for large investment banks and has been fundamental in preparing our platform for large scale. Continue reading

The Largest P2P Lending Service Is …

Creditease.cn in China. Founded in 2006, Creditease has grown strongly and now has 2,200 employees in 20 cities. The new loan volume originated each month is about 25 million US$.

Only the lender offer is available online. The borrower application is mainly an offline process, with all borrowers subject to a 30 minute personal interview. After background checks about 20% of applications succeed. According to the company, the historical default rate is at a low default rate of 1%.

The maximum loan amount is 60,000 RMB (approx 9,100 US$). Figures on the fee for borrowers differ but most secondary source quote 1 to 10% of the loan amount.

Lenders don’t choose individual borrowers but rather select a term length between 3 and 12 month. Based on this selection they get interest rates between 7 and 10% p.a. Minimum investment is 100 RMB (about 15 US$). Returns are automatically reinvested. Lending is fee-free and lenders do not bear the default risk, as these are covered by Creditease’s  Risk Fund.

Additionally Crediteasy has a p2p microfinance offer, where it partners with local MFIs to loan to woman in rural area. On these p2p microfinance loans lenders have the option to get 2% interest.

Founder Tang Ning, a graduate of Peking University, said in mid 2010 that he sees CreditEase in the second phase of a 3 phase development and currently the focus is to build a larger customer base. In 5 years he aims for CreditEase to be a brand name as well established as EBay.

(Sources: company website, ceibs.edu, Beijing Rundschau, GlobalTimes.cn, China.org.cn)

MYC4 will cover for MISCOCI loans

Acting on problems that came about when an insurance scheme, that was supposed to cover over 200 loans in Ivory Coast, failed (see previous coverage), MYC4.com announced it will reimburse all lenders on these loans, if the loans default.

Mads Kjaer, CEO of MYC4, announced:

We have in previous update informed that we will intervene and take on the obligation towards the Investors and cover defaults on loans. MYC4 will cover all defaults on MISCOCI covered loans. In actual numbers this could amount to a total cost of EUR 388,000. This will put financial strains on our company, yet we believe it’s the right thing to do.

Now, what does it mean that MYC4 covers MISCOCI included loans? As noted, 242 loans in Cote d’Ivoire were supposed to be covered by MISCOCI insurance. These 242 are very likely to default within the near future – some are already defaulted (cf. MYC4’s default policy) and therefore MYC4 will cover Investors’ loss on their principal.

This means covering the spread between what has already been paid back and Investor’s principal or in other words: MYC4 will step in to reimburse Investors whatever amount they still have not received of their original investment. Meaning the original bid value minus total received repayments over time. We are currently working how we technically can do this in the system and will revert back with an update in two weeks time.

Loans without MISCOCI:
With regards to the not MISCOCI-covered Cote d’Ivoire loans, we are aiming at a solution that will create the best possible chances for Investors to get some of their money back by ensuring that Notre Nation and Ivoire Credit will continue to collect repayments also after the technical default on the platform.

Lenders welcomed this decision in forum feedback.

Other MYC4 news:

  • MYC4 wins prize as “best financial e-commerce” by FDIH, the Danish Association of Internet and Distance Trade
  • The first bid by IFU and CSR was made on MYC4 in their aim to invest 2.2 million EUR on MYC4 (see earlier coverage)

Which of my predictions for p2p lending trends 2008 came true?

In January 2008 I made some predictions what might happen in p2p lending this year. Now I’ll check on those (the black colored text is the original text, the green and red texts are the review as of today):

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, especially in the largest market: In the United States Globefunder.com and Loanio.com will launch. In other markets, where there is no national p2p lending service established yet (e.g. Canada, New Zealand, Spain), p2p lending will be introduced by the launch of a service.

Loanio did launch, but went into quiet period shortly afterwards. As did Prosper. Zopa US closed. Fynanz launched. Competition in the US is in fact lower than at the End of last year. Internationally several p2p lending services launched.

Insurance against defaults (probability 75%)
Not totally new, since Boober.nl and Smava.de already offer some protection of the loan principal. Insurance can be implemented as a classical insurance product (supplied by an insurance company) or as a market mechanism, spreading the risk over multiple loans.

Several p2p lending services offer insurance.

Secondary market (probability 25%)
One of the disadvantages for lenders currently is that on all p2p lending platforms, the invested money i locked in for the duration of the loan term. Prosper.com has already announced that it plans a secondary market, enabling lenders to sell and buy loans any time. Depending on the market there are huge regulatory hurdles to allow trading of loans. For example German executives told P2P-Banking.com that on the German market a secondary market is unlikely for years to come.

Zopa Italy and Lending Club introduced secondary markets.

Cross-market lending (probability <25%)
Aside form the social lending approaches (Kiva, MyC4, Microplace) so far all service are open only for lenders and borrowers that live in the same market. If lenders could lend to borrowers in markets with higher key interest rate than the market the lender lives in, the advantages could outweight the risks. In the European Union due to the Euro zone there would be no currency exchange risk. Again there are steep regulatory hurdles to be taken.

Has not happened.

Variable interest loans (probability ?)
So far all loans are for fixed terms (prepayment allowed) with fixed interest rates. Variable interest loans could add flexibility. The interest rate could rise or decline following an indicator (e.g. market prime rate). Another possibility would be a mechanism where the variable interest rate would rise or fall as a result of the level of defaults of the credit grade. This could protect lenders, if the actual default ratio is higher then the forecasted default ratio.

Fynanz loans have variable rates. But this is the only example so far.

Third party bidding management (probability?)
Just a thought. Lenders could allow a third party to manage their portfolio. Like an investment funds the lender would invest an amount of money, while the funds manager does the actual selection of loans. This could possibly be done by a sophisticated software (would you trust this?) selecting loans by statistical analysis of performance of loans with similiar parameters or by a fonds manager. The later is unlikely because the amount of time needed for each loan is too high to be covered by fees.

Prosper introduced bidding via API in February.

I’ll publish my p2p lending predictions for 2009 in January.

Zopa Italy update – growth and secondary market

Eight months* after the launch of Zopa Italy the p2p lending service says it is the fastest growing in Europe (2.79 million Euro = approx 4.075 million US$ cumulative loan volume as of Sept. 3rd).

And Zopa Italy is the first social lending service with an active secondary market, called Rientro Rapido (fast-track withdrawal).

Rientro Rapido offers the lenders – who have a sudden need of liquidity –  the possibility of recovering their funds instantly by transferring loans made to borrowers to other active lenders in the community.
It is the Zopa market who determines the possibility to transfer a loan to other lenders: in order to withdraw money, there has to be in the market at least one offer from a different lender with compatible  rating, interest rate and duration.
“We are very proud to be the first Social Lending world-wide to launch a service such as RientroRapido, but we have not done this for the sake of establishing a record – Maurizio Sella, CEO of Zopa Italy, declares – . Since we opened our market, several lenders have asked for a tool that would allow them to withdraw rapidly the cash lent-out through Zopa. And with this new service we fulfill their desire. This is the value of Zopa: we are a community that grows, evolves and improves especially thank to the pro-active participation of its members.”

Lenders who sell their loans through Zopa to other lenders pay 0.8% of the loan value plus 15 Euro commission to Zopa. Only loans that have never been late may be sold.

Since June borrowers can select optional payment protection insurance (Rata Protetta) against unemployment, illness or injury. Zopa states that 57% of borrowers bought the insurance (69% in September). The insurance covers the total amount of the loan.

(Source: Zopa Italy management)

*counted from the public launch on January 16th, 2008, there was a 2 month period before, that was open by invitation only.

Insuring p2p lending borrowers against hazards

German p2p lending service Smava.de yesterday introduced an optional insurance for borrowers. Borrowers can take out an insurance together with their loan. In the case of death, disability or unemployment (through no fault of one's own), the insurance will pay the repayments. To offer the residual debt insurance (see a definition of residual debt insurance), Smava partnered with an insurance company. The costs for the insurance paid by the borrower are:

  • death hazard only: approx. 0.5% of loan amount
  • death and disability: approx. 2.5% of loan amount
  • all three: approx 4.7% of loan amount

It will be interesting to see how many borrowers are willing to opt in to the insurance.

Lenders profit because this lowers the default risk. Unfortunately at the moment lenders can not on a borrower's loan listing whether the borrower selected insurance or not.
11 months after launch defaults at Smava are still rare. Only 3 of 368 loans have defaulted and only 2 are currently late. A chart shows the development of the Smava interest rates since start.

Kokos – p2p lending in Poland

Kokos.pl launched the first p2p lending service in Poland. I interviewed Dorota Janik, PR Manager of Bluemedia, about the new service.

P2P-Banking.com: Can you please describe Kokos?

Dorota Janik: Kokos.pl is the first p2p lending or social lending system in Poland. It opens new possibilities in e-finance industry and fills a niche between offers of banks and other financial institutions.

The main advantage of Kokos.pl is being able to offer a much more beneficial interest range for both the lenders and borrowers, and a higher level of security than on other web based auction systems.

The most stress has been put on the borrower verification process. Kokos.pl uses Biuro Informacji Gospodarczej (BIG) to check borrowers credit history and to assign their rating in the system. Continue reading

P2P lending trends to expect in 2008

2007 was a year of launch and growth for most players. What trends in peer to peer lending can be expected in 2008?

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, especially in the largest market: In the United States Globefunder.com and Loanio.com will launch. In other markets, where there is no national p2p lending service established yet (e.g. Canada, New Zealand, Spain), p2p lending will be introduced by the launch of a service.

Insurance against defaults (probability 75%)
Not totally new, since Boober.nl and Smava.de already offer some protection of the loan principal. Insurance can be implemented as a classical insurance product (supplied by an insurance company) or as a market mechanism, spreading the risk over multiple loans.

Secondary market (probability 25%)
One of the disadvantages for lenders currently is that on all p2p lending platforms, the invested money i locked in for the duration of the loan term. Prosper.com has allready announced that it plans a secondary market, enabling lenders to sell and buy loans any time. Depending on the market there are huge regulatory hurdles to allow trading of loans. For example German executives told P2P-Banking.com that on the German market a secondary market is unlikely for years to come.

Cross-market lending (probability <25%)
Aside form the social lending approaches (Kiva, MyC4, Microplace) so far all service are open only for lenders and borrowers that live in the same market. If lenders could lend to borrowers in markets with higher key interest rate than the market the lender lives in, the advantages could outweight the risks. In the European Union due to the Euro zone there would be no currency exchange risk. Again there are steep regulatory hurdles to be taken.

Variable interest loans (probability ?)
So far all loans are for fixed terms (prepayment allowed) with fixed interest rates. Variable interest loans could add flexibility. The interest rate could rise or decline following an indicator (e.g. market prime rate). Another possibility would be a mechanism where the variable interest rate would rise or fall as a result of the level of defaults of the credit grade. This could protect lenders, if the actual default ratio is higher then the forecasted default ratio.

Third party bidding management (probability?)
Just a thought. Lenders could allow a third party to manage their portfolio. Like an investment funds the lender would invest an amount of money, while the funds manager does the actual selection of loans. This could possibly be done by a sophisticated software (would you trust this?) selecting loans by statistical analysis of performance of loans with similiar parameters or by a fonds manager. The later is unlikely because the amount of time needed for each loan is too high to be covered by fees.

I'll check at the end of 2008 to see how these trends developed.