Apex Insight research on Peer-to-Peer Lending shows European loan volumes exceeding £2bn in 2015

Industry: Banking & Loans

Peer-to-peer lending has grown due to technological developments, increasing internet use, growth of the sharing economy, the unpopularity of banks and low interest rates

London, UK (PRUnderground) July 1st, 2015

The peer-to-peer lending market has continued to grow rapidly across Europe.  Lenders have sought higher returns than are available from banks while borrowers have benefitted from an appetite to lend to borrower categories the banks are wary of, such as small businesses in the UK, and streamlined loan approval processes.  In the last couple of years the peer-to-peer platforms have scaled up to meet the market opportunity, refining their propositions, improving their credit assessment and other lending processes and strengthening their management teams.

The original focus of the industry was on unsecured personal loans. However the concept has now evolved to include other variations such as loans secured on property or other assets, guarantor loans made to individuals where someone else, such as a parent with a higher credit rating, provides a guarantee of repayment, loans made to small businesses secured on the assets of the business and / or personal assets of its directors and purchase of invoices from smaller businesses.

Peer-to-peer lending builds on, and lies at the intersection of important trends in the modern economy.  These include the development of the technology platforms needed to support secure and robust peer-to-peer lending platforms; the increasing penetration of the internet into everyday life, which has allowed customers to get comfortable with entrusting large sums of money to an organisation represented solely by a website; the development of the collaborative or sharing economy with peer-to-peer type models emerging across many markets; widespread unpopularity of mainstream banks hence enthusiasm for an alternative and a long period with low interest rates offered to savers giving them an incentive to seek out alternative investments.

Peer-to-peer lending has grown exponentially over the last few years with total lending across Europe reaching almost £1.9bn in 2014, having approximately doubled in each of the last few years.

The UK is by far the largest market, accounting for 85% of the European total.  However there are also significant markets in Germany and France, and platforms are being developed and launched in most other countries.

Recovering economies across Europe have enabled most platforms to reduce their loan default rates.  Data from Funding Circle’s loan book shows that, while there have been some defaults, fears that the rate of default would increase markedly in the later years of loans have not been borne out by the experience of its 2010 and 2011 loans.  As the perceived risk of the sector has reduced, rates offered to lenders have inevitably fallen.  At the same time, consumer awareness has increased – by double in the last 18 months – but still remains below 50%

Some of the larger peer-to-peer platforms have started to accept government and bank or institutional finance.  This allows them to speed up their rate of growth and potentially lower their cost of capital, although at the risk of weakening their differentiation from traditional finance.  In the US, this has progressed further with securitisation of peer-to-peer loans to create investment bonds.

There is now a series of leading operators covering most European countries.  Most of the longest-established and largest platforms, such as Zopa and RateSetter in the UK and Auxmoney and Pret d’Union in Germany / France and Bondora, based in Estonia but operating across Europe, focus on loans to consumers.  But, there are also some large operators, led by Funding Circle in the UK, which focus on small businesses.

Continued growth appears beyond doubt, creating further opportunities for those platforms which are able to scale up and execute their plans while avoiding lending pitfalls and defaults, to maintain their reputations.  Forecasts from our interviewees are for peer-to-peer lending continue to grow – although rates vary dramatically with estimates for the UK market in 2018 ranging from £4bn to £30bn.

Expectations of growth are underpinned by recovery in consumer borrowing following an upturn in the economy and confidence levels; continued ability of platforms to offer better rates than conventional banks; increased awareness and customer confidence as the sector matures and is regulated and availability of more funds from access to pension and ISA investment as well as from the wholesale markets

The key risks to growth include the possibility that widespread defaults in a future downturn could shake investor confidence; a continued fall in the rates offered by platforms to lenders and a change in approach by conventional banks involving them becoming more competitive in savings and personal loans.

However, we do not believe these will prevent the growth of the industry.  Platforms have learned from experience and appear to be managing risk and bad debt levels successfully.  The main driver of falling rates has been the increase in the volume of funds received from savers.  If funds become short, rates are likely to rise once more.  Banks will find it hard to become much more competitive on rates without cannibalising their existing business.  In the future, we expect to see banks increasingly working in partnership with peer-to-peer platforms, using them to provide services where they cannot do so competitively themselves.

Apex Insight’s European peer-to-peer lending market report includes insights from interviews with leading platforms and other interested parties, findings from our extensive research on published and company sources, profiles of the leading players as well as our estimates of market size and views on likely future development.  The report has been completely updated and significantly extended since the previous edition in 2013. Significant additions and changes include updating of market size/growth estimates and all other figures and information on a wide range of platforms from across Europe.

About Apex Insight

Apex Insight is an independent provider of research and consulting services covering business and financial services markets in the UK and Europe. It publishes insightful market reports and carries out commercial due diligence and other bespoke consulting exercises to support managers, investors and advisers in making better business decisions.

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