Trust, Reputation and Community Aspects of P2P Lending

One of the biggest challenges for a new internet startup to offer an innovative financial service is to gain the trust of its potential customers. Consumers approach new concepts with legitimate caution.

The book ‘P2P Kredite – Marktplätze für Privatkredite im Internet‘ examines how p2p lending services can address the uncertainties and what measures can be used to build trust. After a short introduction of how p2p lending works and a look at Cashare, Smava, Zopa and Prosper the author covers the aspects credibility, safety, reputation, guarantee, sanctions, information and communication. Fabian Blaesi also describes how community features can help.

In an empirical study the importance of several factors for the perception and acceptance of p2p lending services by lenders is quantified.

The book is available at,, and

For Debate: Can Data from Social Networks be Used to Reduce Risks in P2P Lending?

P2P Lending is mostly anonymous and loans are unsecured. To make the risks of lending to a stranger acceptable for lenders, p2p lending services had to provide models for the lenders to judge the dimension of the risk of not getting paid back.

The initial estimation of the risk-level could not come from the platform itself as it had no track record and could not build a model that “calculated” the level of risk involved for the lender. The consistent consequence was that nearly all p2p lenders relied on established third party providers for credit history data and credit scores. Prosper for example showed Experian data on default levels to be expected depending on credit grade.

Over the time it became obvious that the actual default levels at Prosper were much higher than the expected default levels based on Experian data. We don’t actually need to argue here what led to this (be it financial development of the economy, be it that p2p lending attracted bad risks, be it a poor validation process), but the result was that since defaults were much higher than expected, lender ROIs were much lower than expected at the time of the investment.

And this is not Prosper specific. Several other p2p lending services show clear signs that default levels will (or have) surpassed the initially published percentages of defaults to be expected based on external data.

Boober failed due to default levels, on Smava levels are higher than the Schufa percentages fore-casted, same is likely for Auxmoney defaults which will be higher then Schufa and Arvato Infoscore data suggested. The one exception from the rule is Zopa UK, which successfully manages to keep defaults low, as CEO Giles Andrews rightly points out.

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Is identity theft a possible threat to the p2p lending concept

On most peer to peer lending services (Prosper, Lendingclub, Smava, Boober) the identity of the borrower is hidden to the lender. Only the service itself knows the identity of the borrower. Therefore the lender has no means to check if information given is accurate and has to trust the platform.

The service has to

  • ensure that it takes adequate measures to verify the identity the borrower has stated at registration is correct
  • instill trust to the lender that the fraud risk of borrowers impersonating under a false identity is minimal, non-existant or while existant not covered by the lender.

Prosper gives a "100% Identity Theft Guarantee" and in case of identity theft repurchases the fraudulent loan:

Prosper reserves the right to buy back loans at any time. If Prosper buys back a loan, the outstanding principal balance will be returned to lenders and the loan will be marked as "repurchased".

Prosper typically repurchases loans in accordance with Prosper's 100% Identity Theft Guarantee, under which Prosper has agreed to repurchase loans from lenders if the loan is found to involve identity theft of the named borrower's identity.

Prosper is committed to providing a safe and secure marketplace, and works with law enforcement authorities to prosecute to the fullest extent perpetrators of identity theft.

Rateladder had one of his loans repurchased today. But how often does this occur?

Looking at the Wiseclerk Prosper loan stats by status, the column Repurchased shows a value of 400000 US$. Out of the total loan value of 96 million US$ that is about 0.4%. Not all of the repurchased loans are due to identity fraud.

Prosper checks identity by several measures like checking documentaion supplied by the borrower, calling him, verifying bank adresses, sending postcards to his adress… There have been several discussions on this topic with details on the Prosper forum.

Other services use other measures. German uses the PostIdent-process a service that requires the registering service to produce a government id (passport) in person. The Postident process is used by nearly all German online banks and is considered quite safe.

P2p lending services can tolerate only a low level of identity theft cases. The innovative approach of p2p lending requires that lenders trust the concept and the service. Fraud cases endanger that trust.