“The P2P Sector Is Growing Up”

There was always going to come a time when the Alternative Finance revolution would falter – maybe we have already reached that point. P2P lending and equity crowdfunding are no longer quite so new and, as the latest missive from the FCA makes clear, this particular side of the Altfi sector has outgrown the rule book. There are also early signs that the novelty is starting to wear off, certainly with the media. So, perhaps now is an ideal opportunity to take a step back and reflect.

Looking ahead into 2017, it is difficult to see how the benign conditions that have helped P2P platforms to create such a significant presence so rapidly – e.g. recovering economy, low interest rates, banks on the back foot – can continue indefinitely. Sooner or later interest rates will start to climb back up and there will be a downturn in the economic cycle. And, with so few platform operators making a profit, there are bound to be casualties.

Some platform backers may grow impatient with the expensive pursuit of acquiring market share at any cost and insist on seeing a return on their investment. Other platforms may simply ‘time out’ because their proposition is not sufficiently different or they have insufficient mass or financial backing to continue.

This could lead to business failures or, more likely, mergers/take-overs of platforms. Consolidation would be a perfectly normal phase for an emerging sector that has a myriad of players all vying for customers and profitability. The High Street banks, too, will recover their poise and may decide to dip their collective toe in the water by making a P2P acquisition or two of their own – if they do, they will almost certainly take aim at the biggest, the most established or those best placed to be scaled. All this is not so much to be pessimistic, rather it is to be realistic. Consolidation is inevitable.

The important thing is to make sure that P2P lenders do not suffer financially. If a platform fails, it does not follow that the loans in which the lenders are invested go bad. All P2P operators should have run-off plans in place to cover that eventuality – something that the FCA, quite rightly, insists upon. If private investors start to lose money, the press and other critics will have a field day.

What is also important is that the P2P sector does not allow itself to be divided into a number of component parts, either into the large and small platforms, or those with different business models. The sector should operate as one for its own protection and for the common good.

The P2P sector is growing up – it can either be in charge of that process or be at the mercy of others.


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