Peer-to-Peer Lending’s Global Struggle

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New rules were introduced to peer-to-peer lending in Britain this month with the introduction of Policy Statement 19/14 by the government. The document heralds in a number of new processes that will be required to be enacted by peer-to-peer lending platforms in the UK by early December this year, if they are to continue operating unmolested.

Among these rules is the expectation for stricter transparency and honesty between platforms and potential investors, specifically with regard to the practice of using borrowers’, investors’, and even the business’s own money to pay for defaulted loans. As well as this there is the introduction of appropriateness tests to ensure that those who are candidates to become investors understand the various risks of the industry they are prospecting.

Such tests aren’t new to the alternative finance industry, as they have been previously employed for both crowd bonds and equity crowdfunding. But that doesn’t mean that they will comfortably slide into use among peer-to-peer lending processes. The question about when they will be asked to complete the test during the application, be it at the beginning, upon completion of the first form, or after receiving confirmation of a loan, remains unanswered; there are concerns that lending platforms will take a ‘tick all boxes’ approach and pose unsatisfactory questions; and the fear that only larger firms will be able to afford the costs to install these compliance checks, thus edging out smaller peer-to-peer lending companies from the market, is common.

US CHINAThe publication of the document comes after years of success for peer-to-peer lending within the British market. With the previous 12 months showcasing £6.7 billion in peer-to-peer loans being taken out, more than any other European country, the market initially appears to be doing well, but stories about firms collapsing or exiting from the industry indicate otherwise. For example, Lendy, one of the first and largest peer-to-peer platforms in the UK collapsed and left 20,000 investors uncertain about the £160 million that was outstanding in loans; while BondMason withdrew completely from the market, pivoting into alternative property investment services.

Looking forward, it appears as if lending platforms in the UK may become less reliant on retail investors and seek out more institutional investors who better understand the risks of peer-to-peer lending.

Peer-to-peer lending has gone through it own iterations in the US, with two platforms still thought of as peer-to-peer (but perhaps are no longer!) recently squaring off with the SEC. Last year, two former executives of Lending Club agreed to settle charges with the SEC for improperly adjusting returns of a related fund and this past April, Prosper Funding LLC agreed to pay a $3 million penalty for miscalculating and materially overstating annualized net returns to retail and other investors.

It could be worse.

China is currently watching its own peer-to-peer lending market collapse, despite the industry previously having drawn 50 million investors. With estimates claiming that half of the market was wiped out in 2018, and forecasts saying that 70% of those that survived will be gone by year end, China is on track to lose 85% of its peer-to-peer platforms within 24 months. This follows a number of cases of executives of Chinese peer-to-peer lending firms embezzling money and fleeing, leading to stories like the 31-year-old woman who hung herself when faced with the reality of losing $40,000 after a shareholder of PPMiao, a state-backed peer-to-peer platform, ran off when the firm went bust, reneging on any accountability.

“It’s amazing how quickly it’s unraveling,” said Zennon Kapron, the managing director of Shanghai-based consulting firm Kapronasia, about the peer-to-peer industry. And while Kapron was speaking about the Chinese market, governments worldwide have shifted from nurturing peer-to-peer lenders to policing them and diligently trying to rein them in.

Last modified: October 7, 2020
Brendan Garrett

Category: p2p lending

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