Peer-To-Peer Pressure: Risks vs. Reward and a Changing Regulatory Landscape

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Peer to peer lending also known as P2P is not a new phenomenon. People have always turned to their friends and family for financial assistance when caught between a rock and a hard place. It was either that or the cutthroat pawnshop owner or the shadowy lenders down a dark alley.

Before the recession, many a person in need of a loan could comfortably approach a bank and get their credit problems solved. However, with the collapse witnessed in the banking sector, things took an about turn, and stringent borrowing measures took the loan out of reach for most people in need.  

The rise of peer to peer lending

The rise in the popularity of peer to peer lending has been partly attributed to a growing need for alternative lending sources outside the brick and mortar lending institutions. The other could be the financial need of the younger generations in the job market that does not have the stable financial future cushion the older generations had to rely on.

With little in terms of job security, the gig economy is on the rise, meaning that there will not be much to rely on as far as employer matched pension benefits are concerned. So millennials and their peers are out there looking for a way to make that extra buck that will make their future more comfortable.

These age groups are also leaving tertiary institutions tangled in high student debt more than witnessed in any other generation in history. They, therefore, need these alternative lending sites, for credit for their business ideas and start-ups, since most of them are deemed not worthy of credit by most banks.

Why P2P lending has had such an unbeaten run

With this crowdfunding method, you will be matched to an investor willing to lend you cash for interest. Banks have for eons thrived on low-interest charges lent to savings accounts and high-interest charges lent to creditors.  Younger investors have found out that P2P lending can give them higher returns on their investments, much better than bank savings.

With these ultra-low rates on savings, banks have put their clientele in a bind and opened the door for alternative lending sources. These alternatives have thrived and taken away their customers right under their noses.

P2P lending also has fewer overheads than brick and mortar lenders. Investors, therefore, can have better ROIs and also give affordable interest rates to the borrowers…It’s a win-win for all parties.

The dark clouds on the horizon

As for 2018, the peer to peer lending industry in the U.S had hit the $3 billion mark. A clarion call is continually being sent out to more youngsters with deep pockets to join in, in the largely unregulated trade.

Riding on the wave of financial technology they are appealing to millennials who have a deep distrust for banks and their out of date and inefficient systems. This age group are digital mavens and flourish where the service and industry are, and so, they are responding in droves to the P2P attraction.

P2P lending is of course very different from traditional lending or short-term lending from companies.  Why? If you are planning to lend some money to your friend, you will have a harder time making that transaction legal. Banks thrive in the legalism they in conjunction with the law have built for mutual interest.

P2P is however very different from cash saving for investors or lenders. An investor could lose everything they have plowed into lending for interest if the borrower defaults. The transaction in this sector are primarily unprotected and not covered by the  Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).  

Peer-To-Peer Pressure

In the UK, financial regulators are preparing methods to crack down on the marketing efforts of P2P lending sites in fear that more people are throwing their money into these pools through false advertising. In 2018, these platforms transacted £6.1bn as loans. And while there is great risk apportioned to these investment platforms, the reward is that their interest rates far exceed most of what is found on other investment instruments.

However as young investors enjoy the rates and grow their savings, the UK Financial Conduct Authority has its eyes fixed on the glossy ads that are inviting more and more hapless investors to the market.

Most are going overboard and putting in more they can afford in the hopes of striking it rich. With reported increased investor losses on loans, profits to investors are on a decline, and many a long time investor is preparing to leave the scene.

Regulation and closure

There has been increasing criticism over this crowdfunding method, especially after the massive collapse of their Chinese P2P lending platforms in 2016. One of the greatest dangers these platforms raise to investor assets is that they often grow to large pools of money giving the platform owners the onus loan out more risky investments in a bid to expand.  

The expansion helps the platform sell off the business faster with less worry about the risks they have put their investors in. They can just get their millions, wash off their hands and walk away to the sunset, leaving their investor’s finances in disarray.

In China P2P lending took off like fire to fuel, hitting 6000 platforms in a few years. By 2017, the transactions this industry commanded totaled more than $445 billion. In a move to regulate the sector, the Chinese government moved in to shut down some platforms like Ezubao that was more Ponzi in its operations than a crowdfunding business.  

Soon some of the Chinese largest P2P lenders started to exit the scene claiming that the new regulations were making it hard to turn in a profit. As of February 2018, there were less than 2000 platforms of this nature operating in China.

With the Chinese government still on the move with regulations more and more platforms shut down, often freezing the assets of their investors on their downward spiral. Lenders began to panic and withdrew their funds en masse causing a further loss of funds and investor confidence in the sector.

Guo Shuqing, the chair of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission later issued a statement to the effect that investors had swallowed hook line and sinker the ‘too good to be true’ deal that Chinese P2P platforms represented.

He warned that while the high returns of 6% were questionable, those beyond 8% were dangerous, while those higher than 10% would cause investment losses. The upheaval witnessed in China has not hit the United States yet, but with growth, it is expected that the law and the taxman will make a move too.

Pros of P2P lending

  • Peer to peer platforms fills a natural void in the lending market and in the community need to share the resources available to them. There is a mutually beneficial relationship between borrower and lender that has less red tape than experienced in other lending sectors
  • You will get to enjoy higher returns than those of many different investment channels.  
  • You have the choice of who to lend depending on your risk tolerance.
  • There is a lot of personal satisfaction derived from helping out a worthy person in genuine need of finances. If for example a borrower has a sketchy financial history, but has a sob story that arouses your sympathy, you can assume the risk of the loan or forego the high returns of the investment.
  • The sense of community and camaraderie in P2P sites is very inviting, and their forums are very heated and active. There is also the spirit of helping each learn about healthy borrowing and lending.
  • It is a good investment source for anyone that dislikes saving their cash in a bank
  • The denial rate for P2p loans is much lower than what is witnessed in banks.
  • The borrowing and lending relationships built over time can be forged to more profitable long-term relationships due to the nature of the platforms
  • The opportunity to invest and make profits is open to small scale investors as well who would have a harder time reaping off such benefits in other sectors
  • As per statistics, over 80% of all investors on these lending platforms have either met or exceeded their ROI. It works!

 Cons of P2P lending

  • The available loans are often small and in many P2P platforms limited to $35,000, though there are variances.
  • Poor credit histories will still keep some borrowers away
  • The loans are not insured so a lender capital could be entirely or partly lost, especially when dealing with dishonest borrowers who have perfected their sob storytelling techniques
  • P2P platforms tend to publish what many borrowers consider private financial stories. Some borrowers may, therefore, prefer an impersonal brick and mortar lender to the publicity of a P2P platform
  • As the industry grows and shapes itself, regulations, consolidations may become a risk and a burden, chasing away disciplined investors.

Our advice

To stay on the safe side, do your due diligence before committing your hard-earned cash to a P2P platform. Gauge the health of a platform not only by its sheer size, but by its performance for years. Do as much as you to minimize your exposure by ensuring that you do not put all your eggs in one single basket.

Image(s): Shutterstock.com

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