There has been much speculation about the potential impact of the IFA and wealth manager communities eventually throwing their weight behind the P2P sector. Why they haven’t done so up until now hinges on the argument that without FCA approval they have not felt able or willing to recommend P2P products to their clients. The FCA’s lengthy deliberations regarding which P2P platforms are granted full authorisation – a process that is still ongoing for most of the major platforms, including ArchOver – have obviously not helped the cause.
Crucially, authorised status will dictate which platforms will be able to offer an Innovative Finance ISA product. It is widely anticipated that, for those who pass the FCA test, this could act as the trigger that will prompt IFAs/wealth managers to give their active endorsement to P2P through IF ISAs. The hope is that, once the regulatory shackles come off, the floodgates will open as lenders/investors pile in to take advantage of tax free returns on P2P loans (obviously within annual ISA limits), which we know would generate far more attractive returns than those based on bank or building society deposits.
It all sounds great. My only question is: why do we need the wealth managers and IFAs now? Surely disintermediation lies at the very heart of the whole P2P lending project – a process by which the investor receives a greater share of the return because the middle man has been removed from the equation.
This can be easily demonstrated in the world of investment management where investors are forced to give up part of their gain in the form of fees. An investment of, say, £100,000 may produce an annual return of 7%, or £7,000. A return reduced to 6%, of £6,000, by fees would mean a reduction of £1,000 in one year alone. Over a period of five years, arithmetic shows that the cumulative loss would be £17,797, assuming annual returns are reinvested. Removing the middle man may involve slightly more effort on the part of the investor – virtually none if you are being charged fees to invest in a tracker fund – but the savings can be considerable. And it makes still less sense to be charged fees in the years when investments fall in value.
And the same applies to the world of debt finance where the banks are a classic case to point. For decades, they have enjoyed low cost of capital which, when combined with the low returns offered to depositors, explains how they can afford to maintain a presence in the High Street.
The internet has been one of the driving forces behind disintermediation – it allows the dissemination of information to large numbers of people at low cost. And the process has only just begun.
To ‘re-intermediate’ by inserting a layer of fee-charging organisations between the client and the product provider – IFAs, wealth managers and P2P aggregators, to name a few – represents an unnecessary step backwards. Those who take the risk should keep the gain