New academic study estimates average Prosper ROI at 6%

The new study "Dynamic Learning and Selection: The Early Years of" by Seth Freedman and Ginger Zhe Jin, both at the Department of Economics, University of Maryland analyses Prosper data in a time frame from April 19th 2006 to December 31st 2007.

The study analyses the development of the marketplace and how lenders refined their strategies as a result to own experiences and changed settings.

They write:

Overall, we conclude that Prosper is evolving from a comprehensive market to a market that primarily serves the borrowers who have access to traditional credit. This implies that Prosper will compete head-to-head with the traditional banks rather than pick up a missing market. Assuming away any cost in information processing, we estimate that the average rate of return of a Prosper loan is 6% if Prosper loans continue to perform according to what we have predicted from their existing performance. From the lenders point of view, this number compares favorably to 6-month certificate of deposit and 3-year Treasury bill, but less favorably to the rate of return implied by the S&P 500 in the same time period.

Other findings are that high interest loans yield lower returns due to high default rates and that the probability for defaults of Prosper loans peak at month 10 and the edge down.

The main uses of Prosper loans are:

33% of all previous Prosper listings have mentioned credit card consolidation, which is higher than the mention of business (23%), mortgage (15%), education (22%), and family purposes (20%) such as weddings.  

Cited from the conclusion chapter of the study:

The first two years of Prosper has enlivened the concept of P2P lending, but the road towards success is full of challenge. While it is tempting to expect P2P lending to alleviate credit rationing for near- or sub-prime risks, we find Prosper evolving from a comprehensive market toward a market that primarily serves borrowers who have access to traditional credit. This implies that Prosper will compete head-to-head with the traditional banks, rather than pick up a missing market. This pattern is not unique to Prosper. …

How can Prosper compete with traditional banks? Our study suggests that the microfinance approach, as implemented through Prosper groups, has failed to select good risks or enhance loan performance. But on the up side, lenders are learning fast about the pitfalls of P2P lending thanks to the transparency of Prosper. Our calculation suggests that, if the loans continue to perform as what we have predicted from the market performance, Prosper loans could yield an average return of 6%.

See related post on the Prosper blog.

Keystone Study – Online Philantrophy Markets

A very interesting study that mainly concentrates on donations covers aspects of social lending too. Among the 24 online philantrophy markets examined are Kiva and MyC4. The study gives great advice what users (donors and lenders) expect from the market (the service) as functionality.

The study comments on Kiva:

Kiva’s entire business model was, from the start, faced with seemingly insurmountable logistical issues. From verifying the legitimacy of entrepreneurs’ claims straight through to delivering repayments to investors. In addition the challenges of distance, cost, and time were considerable. By partnering with carefully-selected microfinance institutions (MFI) already working in a particular area, however, Kiva has been able to overcome all of these hurdles. … And each MFI’s reputation as an accountable, socially responsible organisation must be unimpeachable with Kiva or another highly regarded organisation such as the US Peace Corps. Partnering with MFIs also overcomes the communication issues encountered working with small businesspeople in developing countries. Whereas very few small business owners in developing countries have Internet access or English language skills, all of the MFIs must have these in order to work with Kiva. This compromise enables individual stories from entrepreneurs, relayed by MFIs, to reach investors both before a loan is disbursed and after its effects are felt. Though loan repayments have been generally taken as a ‘proxy for success’ in the MFI industry, it is these personal stories, says Kiva’s Ben Elberger, which are
most important to most of its donors: ‘The lenders are more interested in the qualitative results than the quantitative…They are more interested in learning what happened to the entrepreneur than they are in getting their money back.’ Thus, the information provided by Kiva’s partners in each of their business’s journals is very rarely financially detailed; rather, it tells the story of how the loan will (or has) impacted on the day to day life of the business owner.

What does the future hold for Kiva? One of its primary goals has become strengthening their partner MFIs, helping them reach a more sustainable financial position so that fluctuations in funds received from Kiva will not impact their overall ability to lend. It is also developing an internal reporting system, but identifying common indicators for MFI and businesses has been extremely difficult, and it is unsure that such a framework is even possible. The biggest variable for the future, it says, is to what degree the public’s moral attention to sustainability and development will last.

MyC4 is given as example for the useful integration of Web 2.0 technologies to create an interactive market.

While a long read (over 50 pages without appendix) I believe it to be interesting for all p2p lending services especially the product development and marketing managers.

Download the study

Group leader endorsement very valuable for loan funding

Research conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Business shows that several variables statistically have very different impacts on the funding success of loans. E.g. a group leader endorsement is twice as effective as improving one credit grade.

This study is a must read for group leaders and is very interesting for lenders too.