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Thursday, 28 January 2016

UK Peer to Peer Lending – Is it really ‘Too Good to be True?’

Many self-proclaimed financial experts say Peer to Peer lending (PtPL) is flawed and full of risk.  Most of them are directly or indirectly employed by big banks or brokers and have an interest in maintaining the financial status quo.  But then this is no different to the doom-mongers who have been predicting a stock market crash every month since the great depression!

Here are some classic arguments:

     No Government Protection

The UK Government underwrites approved bank and building society SAVINGS via the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).  This scheme clearly doesn’t extend to anything with risk whether stocks, shares, funds or peer to peer loans.

However, this doesn’t mean that government doesn’t like PtPL.  The Government regularly invests 10% in loans to small/medium UK businesses through platforms such as Funding Circle.  

The UK Government is also encouraging PtPL via it’s new third ISA, known as the Innovative Finance ISA.  There may be no government protection for PtPL but equally there has never been any state compensation for losses in any global stock market.

 Too Risky

Risk is relative.  Buying shares or funds is very risky.  I have a pharma fund that gained well over 10% in less than a year but where am I now? – a loss of around 10%! 

The risks in PtPL are much easier to quantify and you can also build a mixed portfolio to cover many of the risks.  So, for example, on each platform, you should spread your cash across a relatively large number of loans.  If the platform offers loans secured against a range of assets then mix the assets.  For example, with a platform like Money Thing you can spread the risk between several asset classes including fine art, railway memorabilia, land, property or super cars. 

In practice, while stocks and shares jump around in an almost totally unpredictable manner, PtP loans result in a fairly steady and predictable stream of interest. This makes PtPL an ideal regular income source.

     The Platform Might Fail

Do your own ‘due diligence’.  Check out the company, the backers and what other users think (Why not join the PtP Independent Forum?).  Examine the platform’s loan supply and their track record in terms of both defaults and recoveries.

 Too Many Defaults

Lower interest sites like ZOPA or Ratesetter (typically 5-6% over 5 years) have provision funds to cover defaults.  Other platforms such as Funding Circle (FC) have a projection for defaults that you can include in your own calculations. 

For example , the safest FC risk category is A+.  This typically pays around 8% interest.  FC charge a fee of 1% and estimate a 0.6% loss due to defaults.  The actual net projected interest in this example is therefore  6.4%.

Other sites, such as Saving Stream, Money Thing, Funding Secure and Assetz only offer secured loans against assets such as property.  This means that, provided the valuation is correct, you should eventually get all your money back, in the case of a default, once the asset is sold.  You can also check the platform track record in terms of defaults to estimate the risks.

A Final thought

 You don’t need to be a financial expert to do Peer to Peer Lending.  What you do need is some common sense and you should make sure that you never invest money you can’t afford to lose.  If I invest say £50,000 in PtP then I clearly need to make sure that I don’t put £25,000 on a single loan!  Ideally I should spread my investment across several platforms and make sure a good proportion of the total is invested at relatively low risk.

Yes Peer to Peer lending may, at first sight, seem too good to be true but my advice is to give it a try and see how it works out for you by taking out some trial small loans.  You might be pleasantly surprised.  

I would suggest PtPL is far less risky than the stock market and far more rewarding than a savings account, even without the government protection!

Friday, 15 January 2016

UK Peer to Peer Lending: Saving Stream – ‘Still Very liquid and Continuing to Deliver!’

What it Says on the Tin!

Saving Stream remains my favourite UK Peer to Peer Lending (PTPL) platform.  It reminds me of the product Ronseal with the simple slogan ‘Does what it says on the tin’.  Please note I have no financial interest in Saving Stream other than being a satisfied customer.

Saving Stream continue to deliver high value loans while keeping their platform simple.  They offer 12% interest across every loan with no fees whatsoever.  Also, no lender money has yet been lost due to defaults. 

Saving Stream (SS) don’t indulge it a lot of chat or debate with users but do appear to listen.  Each time there has been reasonable complaint, for example, via the P2P Independent Forum, they have acted in very short time period to modify their platform to fix the problem.

Pre-Funding Brilliance 

As a result they are the only PtPL platform to offer pre-funding; an arrangement where you can pre-bid for pipeline loans and then settle up AFTER the bid is accepted.  You can also, at the same time, buy or sell on the secondary market and again settle up the balance owed at a later date (ideally within 24 hours).

Bad Robots

More recently there was annoyance from SS users about numerous ‘bots’ (the actual number was never agreed!) that snaffled up every snippet of cash on the secondary market in the blink of a human eye, hence excluding flesh and blood buyers from competing.

The use of PtP robots, software programs that monitor a Peer to Peer Platform and operate on behalf of their human owner, are not limited to Saving Stream alone.  Funding Circle was awash with them, particularly in the days when the platform had variable rate loans and you could bid for your preferred rate.

Anyway, Saving Stream have now taken measures to greatly restrict the use of bots including the use of the ‘Captcha’ (software that differentiates humans from robots).

First Class Liquidity

The problem currently facing all platforms is that the increasing popularity of PtPL means there simply aren't enough big loans to go round, particularly in the quiet period after Christmas.  For this reason Saving Stream hardly ever have anything available to buy on the secondary market.  However, this means that, in the current climate, you can cash in all your loans in a period of a few minutes, ie total liquidity.  Not bad for 12% interest! 

Friday, 8 January 2016

UK Peer to Peer Lending - Innovative Finance ISAs (IFISA) and the way ahead


Some cynics are nicknaming the proposed government IFISA’s as ‘iffy’ ISAs and, considering that these products are due to launch by 6 April 2016 (only 3 months away), surprisingly little is yet known about them.

The creation of Innovative Finance ISAs is all part of the UK government’s enthusiasm for alternative finance in general and in particular, Peer to Peer Lending.  This is surprising as it often seems the Conservatives (the clue is in the name) favour the wealthy, big banks and other traditional fat-cat financial institutions.  

However, George Osborne has been a champion of peer to peer lending for some time (reflected in his budget statements) with the government lending up to 10% of the cash for selected small businesses loans through platforms such as Funding Circle.

The IFISA may also eventually include other alternative finance platforms such as crowd funding but it is assumed by many that this will come later once the PtPL option has been added to ISAs.

Meanwhile the big banks as well as big brokers such as H&L have, until recently, shown little enthusiasm for Peer to Peer Lending (PtPL).  (Do a search on their websites to see what I mean.)

'Boy' George Osborne Loves PtPLending?

What do we know?

So what do we know about the IFISA?  Currently you can invest up to £15240 maximum (tax free) in a cash ISA and/or stocks and shares ISA.  Unfortunately both have their problems.  Cash ISAs pay almost zero interest and shares are more likely to go down rather than up in the current financial climate.  In April 2016, The IFISA will offer a third alternative allowing the allowance to be used on PtPL.

What DON'T we know?

So what DON’T we know?  Well, quite a lot!  Apparently the government have not yet finalised the rules for IFISAs, even though their introduction is only months away!

We know that the major players such as Zopa, Ratesetter and Funding circle hope to have their own IFISA wrapper.  It also seems likely that other platforms such as Assetz  Capital and Saving Stream will also move towards the ISA provision.   We also know brokers like H&L also plan to have a wrapper.  It is not clear yet what platforms or products H&L will put in the wrapper and also how much they will charge for this service.

The general consensus from the informed lenders (the Independent Peer to Peer Lending Forum) is that the interest available from the IFISA will be less than that available on the non-ISA product.  If, for the sake of argument, an IFISA offered 5% or less interest, then more experienced PtP lender might well opt for a straight platform loan with, for example, Saving Stream (12% interest with asset security) and then pay any tax owed.

Other common PtPL questions include: 

Will the new IFISA allowance be limited to just one PtPL platform or broker in a year?

Can existing lenders transfer existing PtP loans into an IFISA wrapper?

Watch this space for further ‘iffy’ ISA developments – Anyway, all these unknowns do make me wonder just how many of these IFISA products will actually be available to tax payers in April 2016!