Lending Club’s Stock Price is Not a Leading Indicator for Fintech

Lending-Club-NYSE

Lending Club (LC) will always have a fond place in my heart. Renaud Laplanche’s small team presented at our very first Finovate in 2007. And until a few months ago, they were our most successful startup alum, at least measured by company valuation (Credit Karma gets the nod for now). While LendingClub is still a unicorn (market cap = $1.5 billion today), the loss of 7 or 8 unicorns’ worth of market cap in the past 12 months is unsettling.

I have had little interaction with the company in the past few years as it moved from demoing tech at Finovate to keynoting alt-lending events. But I’ve always been a fan, both of the business model, and also of Laplanche and the company as a whole. I will say this, though, they were one of our more intense alums. But that’s not necessarily a negative. That’s often what it takes to scale in the difficult world of consumer credit where one misstep can sink you (RIP Nextcard).

But they’ve also been willing to give back. Laplanche personally introduced us to a potential strategic partner several years ago. He did it purely as a friendly favor. It was long past the point where he had anything to gain from that introduction.

So, yeah, it’s been hard to watch the s***storm of the past 10 days. I was preoccupied with FinovateSpring during the worst of it last week, but I’ve been soaking up the various articles the past few days. I agree with Peter Renton’s post today: Lending Club must overcome some serious challenges in the short-term. But to say that the marketplace lending model is broken (paywall warning), or to jump to the conclusion of a fundamental flaw in the entire fintech industry is just so much hyperbole.

lc ytd stockFrom what I can discern, Lending Club had a relatively minor disclosure issue. And while LC lost major trust-points (albeit a HUGE issue), it’s important to note there were ZERO financial losses for anyone involved other than shareholders (see inset) and fired LC execs. A single bad consumer loan would produce more financial damage to LC lenders than this whole sordid situation.

What does this mean for the future of P2P lending? Well, it’s bad for LC short-term. But for other players, the situation is mixed. Less volume going through the LC platform means more loan demand for other players. But it’s a two-sided market, and clearly some institutional money is pulling back, so it may be harder to fund loans. That means rates go up, which will spike lender returns, bringing more capital back into the system. Money always flows to the best risk-adjusted return. So marketplace lending survives.

And what does all this mean to the other fintech players? We had 72 demos at FinovateSpring last week. Exactly zero of them are impacted negatively by the LC situation. The primary P2P loan-play, Best of Show winner Lending Robot, is probably helped by volatility. As the “Mint for individual P2P lenders,” that YC alum acts as a front-end to multiple loan platforms (see their demo here).

You could argue that the stock-price decline of Lending Club puts a damper on future fintech IPOs. That is probably true for U.S. consumer lending marketplaces like Prosper (which recently laid off 28% of its workforce, which, remember, had doubled in 2015). But serious investors don’t view fintech as one homogeneous field. Returns from angel investing in Hip Pocket or UBS’s recent investment in SigFig, have no correlation with the stock market return of a single public marketplace lender.

So yes, one high-flyer falls back to earth, but that’s not an indictment of an entire, highly diversified industry.

Six Alt-Lending Unicorns Worth Combined $15 Billion: Lending Club, Prosper, On Deck, Sofi, Avant, Funding Circle

Fortune_feb2015_coverPayments companies, especially mobile, have dominated the fintech news cycle for much of the past four years. But as those well-funded payments companies vie to become global standards, attention has turned to the lending arena. At least six alt-lending startups (not including China) have now passed the billion-dollar valuation mark:

1. LendingClub: $7.2 billion (public: LC)

The company launched as one of the original Facebook desktop apps in May 2007 and made its industry debut at the first Finovate in September 2007. Its December 2014 IPO briefly valued the company at $9 billion, the largest-ever IPO for a fintech startup.

2. Prosper: $1.9 billion (valuation from $165 million round announced last week)

The company was the second person-to-person lender in the world (after the U.K.’s Zopa) and the first in the United States, launching in Feb. 2006. It also made its industry debut at the first Finovate in 2007. It was much larger than Lending Club during its first few years; however, high default rates from its pure auction model scared away early investors. But the company retooled its underwriting and has become the third largest consumer P2P marketplace in the USA (and the world outside China).

3. On Deck Capital: $1.5 billion (public: ONDK)

Small and mid-sized businesses (SMB) were hit hard in the 2008 recession with lower profits combined with a massive dry spell in traditional bank credit. So, naturally, entrepreneurs moved in and picked up the slack. On Deck was one of the first on the scene, making its Finovate debut in 2009. Originally, On Deck was dipping its toes into the direct lending space as a proof of concept for its small-business lending platform it hoped to sell to banks. But it turns out they were in the right place at the right time, and, after a December IPO, On Deck is a successful public lender valued at $1.5 billion.

4. Sofi: $1.3 billion (based on Goldman Sachs fundraising efforts for the Feb 2015 round; however, recent press reports say the company is looking to raise $500 million in a 2015 IPO valuing it at $3.5 billion)

With $700 million in loans originated in Q1 2015, Sofi just passed Prosper to become #2 in the United States—and in the world, outside of China. The company initially focused on refinancing student loans for graduates of elite universities, but it has diversified into other types of consumer and SMB lending.

5. Avant: $1+ billion. Forbes recently estimated its value at $875 million; we think that’s low based on the $1.4 billion, including $350 million in equity, that startup has raised.

Like On Deck, Avant is targeting a segment abandoned by traditional lenders in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. But Avant’s specialty is sub-prime borrowers, a segment with higher margins in good times, but risky bets in downturns.

6. Funding Circle: $1 billion, based on an estimate in The Telegraph this month

The only non-U.S. company on the list is London’s Funding Circle (although Wonga is probably still close, and has been above $1 billion in the past). Funding Circle, which specializes in SMB marketplace lending, was founded in 2010 and moved into the U.S. market last year with the acquisition of Endurance Lending.

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Also in the running: Finovate alums Kabbage—meet them at FinovateSpring next month, along with a handful of other promising newcomers; CAN Capital; Kreditech; and Wonga, which was valued well above $1 billion in 2012, but has had a falling out with U.K. regulators. Several peer-to-peer lenders in China are believed to have obtained unicorn status, the biggest being Lufax, which was said to be valued at almost $10 billion by the Wall Street Journal last week.

BTCJam: P2P Lending via Bitcoin

image I have not as yet jumped on the Bitcoin bandwagon. Unlike other digital financial inventions that seemed obviously useful when they first appeared (e.g., Internet banking, P2P lending, two-factor authentication, etc.), an open-source, math-based virtual currency created by an anonymous cryptographer seems a bit of a stretch.

But even the Fed (Chicago) complimented Bitcoin in a letter published today, saying:

“<Bitcoin> represents a remarkable conceptual and
technical achievement, which may well be used by existing financial institutions
(which could issue their own bitcoins) or even by governments themselves.”

While remaining skeptical, I am at least coming to understand why it’s needed. And startups are beginning to show up with businesses built on top of the currency, which helps explain just how important it could be.

Case in point: BTCJam, a global P2P lending outfit, with founders in Brazil and San Francisco, lends in Bitcoins. With participants in 85 countries, this is the first P2P lending platform that successfully crossed national borders.

The startup has already done 2,700 loans worth more than $1 million since its launch a year ago. In comparison, Prosper originated about 6,000 loans worth $28 million during its first year. Prosper’s loan size in year 1 was more than 10x that of BTCjam (Prosper average = $4,800 in 2006).   

The company is currently in the process of raising about $1+ mil via Angel List.

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How it works
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Like most P2P lending platforms, borrowing requests are vetted by the platform. Once approved, they are displaying to the network so that prospective lenders can fund the request. Generally, lenders spread their risks by only backing a portion of each loan.

Since BTCjam is global, it cannot rely solely on traditional credit scores. Instead, it validates the borrower in a number of ways across various social and payment networks along with traditional credit checks, address verifications and income verification. The results are displayed within the loan listing (see screenshots below). 

Borrowers that have passed more verification steps and/or with more “social proof” (e.g., eBay seller ratings, PayPal verified status, Facebook friends, etc.) are more likely to be funded and at a lower interest rate.

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Results
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BTCJam has made 2,700 loans, of which 1,700 have been repaid, with 1,000 active. The company does not say how many have defaulted. Most of the borrowing is for small amounts over short time periods. The average loan amount is $400 to $600 with annual interest rate of about 45%. But most loans are very short duration with an average term of 35 days. The platform takes a 4% advance fee for loans less than 10 BTC (about $2,000) and 1% of higher amounts.

Many borrowers appear to be testing the waters and/or building their reputations through short loans quickly repaid at nominal rates. In addition, there are a number of borrowers using the platform to make Bitcoin currency bets.

Borrowers can choose to repay their debt in straight Bitcoins, but that entails a great deal of currency risk. To avoid that, borrowers can peg their loan to USD, GBP or other currencies. That way, fluctuating Bitcoin values are less of a concern if the funds are converted to local currency. Alternatively, borrowers can essentially short Bitcoins by keeping the funds in BTC and hoping the value against the USD drops.

The company has had loan participants from 85 countries.

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Borrower listings at BTCjam (6 Nov 2013)
Note the borrower ratings/verification in far-right column

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Borrower listing at BTCjam (6 Nov 2013)

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Notes:
1. We have published three reports in P2P lending (OBR 127 in 2006; 148/149 in 2007; and SR-5 in 2009). Our latest P2P lending market forecast is contained in the current Online Banking Report here (Jan 2013, subscription). We also covered equity and debt crowdfunding a few months ago (see Online Banking Report on Crowdfunding, subscription).
2. We are just finishing a report on Virtual Currencies. We’ll announce it here by the end of the month.

Crowdfunding via Facebook: Puddle’s P2P Platform Allows Friends to Pool Funds to Loan to Each Other

image When Prosper launched seven years ago, much of it’s initial promise revolved around the notion that people would be more likely to repay loans made by their peers. To  create peer pressure, borrowers were encouraged to join loosely affiliated "groups" (see note 1). Over time, groups with good repayment performance would be rewarded with lower borrowing costs.

It was brilliant on paper, but early repayment behavior didn’t follow the model. Had there been more runway (funding and/or regulatory tolerance), it might have worked. But the wicked combination of adverse selection (many initial borrowers were financially desperate and/or quasi-fraudulent, despite all the heart-warming stories posted) and the Great Recession pushed Prosper, and it’s contemporary, Lending Club, into more standard unsecured lending procedures. And it seems to be working. The two are on track to do more than $2 billion this year, with revenues of $100 million or more (Note: 85% of current volume is from Lending Club, see latest numbers here).

Fast-forward five years: With the ubiquity of Facebook, it makes sense for newcomers to test the waters of the original Prosper/Lending Club hypothesis (note 2). That friends can lend to friends (F2F) at a far lower cost. And that a third-party platform is needed to facilitate lending relationships, which can become tense if borrowers fall behind or default on their obligations.

imagePuddle (formerly Puddle.io) is a new startup from Kiva CEO & Co-founder Matt Flannery and early Kiva developer Skylar Woodward along with Jean Claude Rodriguez. It uses Facebook bonds to create pools of money that friend groups can share amongst themselves. With suggested interest rates in the 4% range, it’s a win-win, assuming the money is repaid. Borrowers save 10% or more from credit card rates and lenders get a return much higher than bank savings accounts.

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How it Works
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1. Register with the company using your Facebook credentials

2. Connect a PayPal account or debit card to the platform (Wells Fargo holds the money)

3. Start a new "puddle" by setting the rate from 0% to 20% (current average is 4.7%, see inset) and the maximum leverage rate (you can only borrow a multiple of what you put into the pool, the allowable range is 2:1 to 10:1 with the recommended rate of 8:1).  

4. Invite Facebook friends to throw cash into the pool

5. Borrow from the pool (if that is your intent). Currently, loan sizes range from $300 to $3,000 with repayment on an installment schedule spread over a maximum of 12 months (current average outstanding is $320 across 50 borrowers). You can only borrow a max of 40% of the entire pool.

6. Puddle manages the repayment process, including assessing late fees (the late penalty is equal to the interest owed on the previous month’s installment, i.e., you pay double interest if late)

7. As funds are repaid, they become available to other members of the pool to borrow.  

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Analysis
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Like Prosper/Lending Club in 2006/2007, the Puddle model sounds great in theory. But should friends be encouraged to lend to their friends online? I can see this ending badly, with unfortunate borrowers losing more than just the $1,000 they took out of the pool. With a public default to your (ex)friends, will a bad situation just get worse?

But given the founders experience at online microfinance leader Kiva, which has spread $440 million around the globe from nearly 1 million lenders, they fully understand the pitfalls. They also know that affordable credit can change lives.

Bottom line: I think it’s a great experiment (and it is an experiment, the founders admit to not knowing how they will monetize or how regulators will react). But I’m not sure it scales without more financial controls (underwriting, collections, income verification) at which point it becomes nuch like Lending Club in 2007 (though not a bad outcome…given the P2P pioneer’s recent $1.6 billion VC valuation).

I’d like to see financial institutions (or accredited investors) stepping in to backstop the loans (perhaps keeping the default confidential). For example, for a 4% to 5% annual fee, investors would agree to reimburse the pool for 80% to 90% of losses from any defaulting borrower. The fee would vary depending on the credit profile of borrowers in the pool. While borrowing costs would be significantly higher, down-on-their-luck borrowers would be less likely to lose their friends just when they needed them most. 

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Puddle dashboard (active user)

Puddle dashboard

The Puddle dashboard through the eyes of a new user
Note: The great definition in box 1, "A puddle is like a small bank owned by you and your friends. You set the rules."

Puddle new user "get started" screen

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Notes:
image1. For a review of circa-2006 Prosper
"groups" see our March 2006 report on P2P lending (subscription).
2. Lending Club initially launched as a Facebook-only p2p lending service (our original 25 May 2007 post). The original Lending Club Facebook page is shown at right (click on inset). 
3. For the latest on crowdfunding, see our latest Online Banking Report on Crowdfunding (subscription).

Crowdfunding a Better Future: Pave

image If you’ve ever worked in lending (or for a nonprofit), you know there’s always far more need than funds that are available. That is unlikely to change at a macro level. But that doesn’t mean we can’t reach tens of millions more by deploying capital more widely and more efficiently (and at a profit). 

Enter crowdfunding, and the subset, P2P lending.

I’ve been a huge fan since it burst on the scene in 2006, authoring several reports (note 1) along with the only open letter in my life when the SEC squelched P2P in 2008/2009. I just could not believe that something with so much potential for good was curtailed while in its infancy.

But luckily, the tide is turning. Even though last year’s Jobs Act is being held up (by guess who again), I’m encouraged that our government is seeing the light, although I wish Washington would embrace P2P like the Brits have.

And despite onerous disclosure requirements, Lending Club is on fire (with a $1.4 billion run rate in Feb) and proving to investors, and industry observers, that crowdfunding works. For the sake of the nascent industry, let’s hope it doesn’t stumble.

image We are working on a new report on the space (note 1), but in advance of that, take a look at Pave (see below), one of hundreds of newcomers. Maybe I’m a just a sucker for the drama, but it absolutely gives me chills to see web-based investment/lending platforms helping to move deserving folk forward. It’s like a virtual credit union. 

At Pave, backers pledge money to prospects and form a team. In return, backers receive a portion of the prospects’ future income. It’s like angel investing, but focused on careers. Pave is just getting started, with eight funded teams, but the stories are compelling and the future is bright, just as it is for the whole industry. 

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Pave brings mentors/benefactors together with talented individuals needing support (28 Feb 2013)

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Pave prospects

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Pave backers

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Pave teams

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Notes:  
1. We have published three reports in this area (OBR 127 in 2006, 148/149 in 2007, and SR-5 in 2009). We are working on our fourth. It will focus more on equity and debt crowdfunding for small and mid-sized businesses. Our latest P2P lending market forecast is contained in the current Online Banking Report here (Jan 2013, subscription).

Crowdfunding (aka P2P Lending): The First Pure Internet-Induced Disruption in Financial Services

image I am an unabashed fan of peer-to-peer (P2P) finance (see notes 1, 2). In theory, it makes so much sense to tap Internet efficiencies to match the buyers and sellers of money. On the other hand, there are good reasons to have highly regulated intermediaries, although that system is far from perfect as well.  So, I’m looking forward to the hybrids we’ll be seeing in the next few decades.

Back to the present day. In the last 12 years of writing Online Banking Report, only two product launches have made me stop what I was doing and immediately start writing a new report:

  • PayPal’s launch of P2P payments in 1999 (OBR 54)
  • Prosper’s launch of P2P lending in 2006 (OBR 127; note 3)

And I believe P2P lending is way more disruptive than what PayPal has done. PayPal introduced a vastly improved front-end to bank checking accounts and credit cards. The company created an extremely valuable franchise (note 4), but the banking system is still intimately involved in most transactions. PayPal stole revenues from acquirers and held a few deposits, but for the most part, had little impact on card issuers.

That’s competition.

However, Prosper, Zopa, Lending Club and the other P2P lending pioneers created virtual banks (taking in deposits and lending the money out) completely separate from existing financial institutions.

That’s disruption.

And it’s about to get way more interesting as the concept takes off in the business financing/investing arena via what’s been called “crowdfunding” (note 5).

Bottom line: If you are a bank, learn to love crowdfunding and P2P. It’s disruptive, yes, but you can harness it to both help those who don’t qualify under your existing underwriting and increase your bottom line (note 6).

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Notes:
Graphic: One of more than 50 books for sale at Amazon about Crowdfunding and  Kickstarter.
1. Unfortunately, I’ve backed only one loan so far, earning a nice return on my $100 loan in 2006.
2. We have published three reports in this area (OBR 127 in 2006, 148/149 in 2007, and SR-5 in 2009). We are working on our fourth. It will focus more on equity and debt crowdfunding for small and mid-sized businesses.
3. Zopa 2005 launch in the United Kingdom beat Prosper to market by almost a year.
4. eBay’s market cap is $60 billion, of which a significant chunk is attributed to PayPal.
5. There are hundreds of companies entering this space. We are most familiar with two Finovate alums involved in debt-based crowdfunding (SoMoLend and Rebirth Financial). And we’ve written about equity-crowdfunder CircleUp, which was also featured in the NY Times along with SoMoLend this week.     
6. Our latest P2P lending market forecast is contained in the current Online Banking Report here (Jan 2013, subscription).

New Online Banking Report Published: Online & Mobile Forecast Through 2022

imageOur latest research is now available: Online Banking Report 2013 to 2022 Forecast. The report includes our latest 10-year online banking, mobile banking and bill-pay forecast for the U.S. market. Online banking remains relatively flat, growing less than 5%, while mobile expanded by 40% last year (see note 1).

Based on recent mobile growth, we now project that in 2019, mobile account access will equal online account access in the United States (based on household penetration of each service).

The report also includes a revised 10-year forecast for U.S. peer-to-peer lending. After growing almost fifteen-fold in the past three years (2012 vs. 2009), we expect continued strong growth of nearly 30% compounded annually through 2022.

Finally, we took one last look at 2012 and documented the top-10 innovations or trends of the year (see below). We also updated our top-10 project priorities for 2013.

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Top innovations & trends of 2012
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The report includes a summary of the top-10 innovations or trends during the past year (in alphabetic order):

  • Alt-biz lending disrupts commercial lending for the smaller business
  • Balance forecasting launched by Simple and Key Bank
  • Banking websites get “simple” makeovers
  • Digital (cloud) wallets find a value proposition, best-case routing
  • iPads appear at the POS and new accounts desk
  • Mobile deposit goes mainstream
  • P2P lending pops!
  • Pay As You Go auto insurance launched by MetroMile
  • Prepaid cards gain as “basic checking”
  • Virtual gift cards get a boost as Square launches 200,000 in a single day

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New entrants to the OBR Hall of Fame
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Each year we rank the top online/mobile innovations of all time (North America). A total of 48 achievements are listed from 50 companies:

  • 17 banks
  • 5 credit unions
  • 11 non-bank financial services companies
  • 17 fintech companies

The class of 2012 included two new entrants:

  • City Bank of Texas’s mobile on/off switch for debit cards (powered by Malauzai)
  • Simple and Key Bank both launched real-time balance forecast tools 

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About the report
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Online & Mobile Banking Forecast (link)
The next 10 years: 2013 through 2022

Author: Jim Bruene, Editor & Founder

Published: 7 Jan 2013

Length: 32 pages, 26 tables, 12,000 words

Cost: No extra charge to OBR subscribers, US$495 for others here

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Report excerpt:

Lending Club is the biggest fintech startup success of 2012 
The company originated nearly three-quarter billion dollars in new loans in 2012 and surpassed $1 billion in cumulative originations in November.

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Launching: Circleup Taps Your Inner Shark Tank

image If you dream of being Mark Cuban, Mr. Wonderful, or one of other Shark Tank investors (note 1), a wave of new angel-investing platforms are springing up all over the world.

TechStars, a NY-based incubator, said it had more than 30 applications from crowdfunding startups for its summer 2012 class.

In the United States, the recently enacted JOBS Act has spurred interest since it is expected to expand the market to several million more investors. But more importantly, the new legislation will lift the ridiculous “quiet period” rules that are supposed to keep companies from openly soliciting investors (note 2).

Once companies can openly look for investors (expected by early summer), private-placement investment platforms have a lot more to offer to companies seeking capital, namely a marketing opportunity.

Think about it. If you need $500,000 to launch a new line of organic granola bars sold nationwide, would it be better to get it from a couple local angels, or from 100 investor-fans kicking in $5,000 each? The latter approach gives you 100 evangelists in all corners of the country. And with only $5,000 invested, each investor has far less ability to meddle in your affairs.

In the past, the paperwork involved in booking $5k investments made it prohibitively expensive, even if you could find the investors under the old quiet period rules. But the new investment platforms promise to standardize the paperwork, reporting, and sales of small blocks of company shares.

image So, who are the leaders in the space? AngelList certainly, but it focuses on tech only. Of the newcomers, CircleUp which is launching this week, seems to have the most traction, at least measured by press mentions. Co-founder Ryan Caldbeck has recently been featured in the WSJ, NY Times, TechCrunch and the other tech blogs (note 4).

I’ve been using the beta version for a week, and am impressed. Circleup is focused on consumer products, and three companies are currently featured within the site, raising $100,000 to $500,000 each. I’m itching to drop the minimum investment ($3,333) into one of them just for fun. However, my wife wonders if that will be the same “fun” we had the last time I thought I could pick stocks (note 5). So, I’m still just an observer for now, but a very interested one.

How it works
Circleup is a lot like a simplified version of P2P lending. Companies seeking capital post their investor deck, introductory video, and any other info they deem important to their story. An online forum allows investors to ask questions that the companies can answer publicly (though this was little used during private beta).  

Investing is as simple as clicking on a button, agreeing to the terms, and pledging the funds. Once the minimum investment round is reached, the money is taken from investor bank accounts.

Relevance to Netbankers
If it’s allowed to flourish without being crushed by the SEC when the inevitable scams appear, crowdfunding could eventually provide stiff competition in small business lending. Probably not in its current form, where the investments are speculative, ill-liquid equity bets. 

But fast-forward a few years and imagine a marriage of crowdfunding with P2P lending, and with the liquidity issue fixed through secondary markets. Small- and mid-sized businesses could use a crowdfunding platform as one safe source to get a mix of equity, debt, and receivables financing.

Banks should also consider getting involved in crowdfunding by partnering with the platforms to provide debt and other banking services to the small business participants. Banks could even start, or at least invest in, crowdfunding initiatives of their own.   

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Company info page
Note: Fictitious listing; note investment button in middle-right.

Circleup company info page

Investing page
Note: For $25,000 (the max allowed), I get 134,000 shares, or 0.51% of the company.
Actual company seeking capital through Circleup, name masked due to the soon-to-be-ending prohibitions against soliciting investors. 

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Notes:
1. Shark Tank is the U.S. version of Dragon Den. It’s my favorite show on television, though I don’t like how founders are sometimes ridiculed by the celebrity investors, whose egos struggle to fit on the same soundstage.
2. Though Shark Tank, watched by millions on prime-time network TV, demonstrates it’s not a well-enforced rule.  
3. Ryan Caldbeck’s 10-minute discussion of the JOBS Act is worth watching if you want a quick overview of its impact. TechCrunch covers the launch 18 April 2012 here.
4. Our policy at The Finovate Group is to NOT invest in fintech companies.
5. For more ideas on innovating in the small-biz banking market, see lengthy report on the subject, written 2 years ago.

Out of the Inbox: Prosper Markets to Small Businesses

image Everyone says that business startups are a huge driver for economic growth. So, when was the last time you received a solicitation for an unsecured loan to start a business (note 1, 2)? It may not be unheard of, but it’s rare, especially since 2008.

So today’s email from P2P loan pioneer, Prosper, really grabbed my attention (see screenshot below). Not only were they targeting a segment that’s generally overlooked, they were doing it an effective way. The direct subject line, striking graphic, and concise copy, are guaranteed to get the message out.

My only concern is the reliance on the super low, 6.59% rate showcased (for AA borrowers, see highlighted section below). While it’s not a teaser rate, it’s also one that’s not readily achievable for most people needing $25k to start a business. I’d rather see Prosper list the rate for a more typical borrower, or at least show a range of applicable rates.

Still, I give it an A-, because most borrowers savvy enough to start their own business understand that "….starting at" means something higher at the end of the process.

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Prosper email to registered users (1 March 2012; 1 PM Pacific Time)
Note: Social media call to actions at bottom of message.

Prosper email to business startups

Landing page
Note: Interested borrowers are dumped on a generic signup/login page. It seems like there should be some tie-in here to the email call to action.

Prosper landing page

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Notes
:
1. Chase offered a great program in 2010 where business borrowers were given a lower rate for hiring new employees. However, it wasn’t targeted to startups.
2. I’m not on their mail list, but I know Silicon Valley Bank aggressively pursues startup businesses for financing deals.  
3. We’ve covered P2P lending a number of times in our subscription service, Online Banking Report including updated U.S. forecasts in our Jan. 2012 report.

U.S. Peer-to-Peer Lending Hits Record High for Seventh Month in a Row

This guest post was written by Peter Renton, (@SocialLoans), Editor & Publisher of peer-to-peer lending blog, Social Lending Network.

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With the launch of Prosper in Feb. 2006, peer to peer (P2P) lending arrived in the United States with great fanfare. Borrowers no longer needed banks. Individual investors could be the banker and earn great returns.

But, there have been challenges along the way. In 2008, the SEC decided P2P lending should be regulated as a securities business and both Prosper and Lending Club, which launched in mid-2007, were shuttered for half a year as they retooled. Both companies also initially struggled with higher-than-expected default rates.

It is only now that P2P lending appears to be living up to that initial promise. Last month was the best ever as lending volumes broke the record for the seventh month in a row. The combined volume of Prosper and Lending Club amounted to $25.6 million in June compared with $12.2 million a year ago, a 110% gain. As you can see in the chart below, the growth curve has been getting steeper.

image 
Source: Companies, July 2011
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What is driving the growth?
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1. Credit card interest rates remain high
The most common type of loan by far, on both Lending Club and Prosper, is debt consolidation. People are trying to dig themselves out of credit card debt where rates can climb north of 30% if a payment is missed. In comparison, someone with good credit can get a 36-month P2P loan at 12% to pay off their credit cards in three years.

2. Home equity loans are very difficult to get
Before the real estate bust, banks pushed home-equity loans aggressively. No more. It now takes great credit and substantial equity to qualify. Last month Lending Club reported that 14% of its loans were used to fund home-improvement projects. Prosper said that number was 12%.

3. Investors can earn double-digit returns
It has been two-and-a-half years now since the Federal Reserve dropped its target-funds rate to zero. Fixed-income investors have been stuck with returns in the low single digits. Investors are looking for yield and some are considering alternative asset classes like P2P lending where returns are averaging around 10%, though it’s yet to be seen if that return holds as the loans season.

Prosper CEO Chris Larsen attributes the high investor returns to the startup’s five years of experience. He said, “Since re-launching our platform in July 2009, we’ve delivered returns of 10.4% and default rates of 5.3% and lenders are responding favorably.” Their recent performance backs up these statements.

4. Institutional investors are taking notice
Lending Club says that currently about one-third of investor money comes from institutional investors. In May, Prosper took on a new institutional lender who has invested close to $2 million in just two months and has pledged a whopping $150 million in the future. Prosper expects the balance of individual to institutional investor to resemble more of a 50/50 split as the category continues to grow. Clearly some of the big-money players are starting to allocate assets to P2P loans.

5. The IRA option
For a couple years now, Lending Club has offered an IRA option they say has proven to be popular. “Investors planning retirement are less concerned with near-term liquidity and are more interested in consistent returns and the ability of an investment to generate cash flow,” explained Scott Sanborn, CMO at Lending Club, “and we find existing investors who have been pleased with their returns who are opening larger IRA accounts to let their investment grow tax deferred.” Prosper does not officially offer an IRA although it is possible to set up a self-directed IRA with Prosper.