Tag: <span>capitalstackers</span>

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” Mark Twain once remarked when an overexcited journalist transmuted the illness of a friend Twain was visiting into the fanciful poverty-stricken death of the author.

Many in the P2P industry will know how he feels after the insolvency specialist Damian Webb reheated some leftovers from his AltFi 2019 “State of the Market” article at a recent NARA (Association of Property and Fixed Charge Receivers) conference. As the man charged with recovering funds from the Lendy wreckage, Webb, a crocodile tear welling up in his eye, pronounced that “P2P lending, from my perspective, is dead”.

For his “perspective” read, “from the point of view of one whose main professional interaction is with patients who are dead, or nearly dead”. It’s like asking an undertaker who will win a marathon. We called Mr. Webb out on the same material nearly two years ago [1], and yet the record hasn’t changed.

Yes, Lendy was an appalling car crash which should never have been allowed to happen. But we (along with other informed commentators on P2P, such as 4thWay) were calling out Lendy’s bad practices long before they came to Mr. Webb’s professional attention.

In fact, long before they appeared on the administrator’s slab, 4thWay actually refused to list Lendy among the P2P institutions they commented on, citing “lack of access and little information about its processes, performance, people and legal structure. Its publicly provided information left a lot to be desired and serves as a warning to prospective lenders attracted by high interest rates and vague concepts of property security” [2].

Mr Webb’s pronouncements at the Insolvency Practitioners’ jamboree were reported in an article entitled ‘The downfall of P2P lending: self-valuation, excess capital and no experience’ [3] and described “the shocking details of how the once booming P2P property lending market collapsed”.

By “collapsed”, he of course means that, of the scores [4] of regulated P2P lenders, 26 have withdrawn from the market and only 8 of those actually went down owing money to investors. Of the remaining 18, three switched to institutional only lending, three changed to a new business model, four were sold and their new owners discontinued P2P operations and 8 decided voluntarily to close down. But only 8 actually went bust [5].

Of course, that’s eight more than anyone would like – and we truly feel for those who lost money to these bad platforms – but to suggest this represents a “collapse” of the industry is playing fast and loose with the facts. We would expect better of a financial professional.

And in his cataloguing of this “collapse” he somehow neglects to mention the many thousands of homes that would never have been built if P2P hadn’t stepped into the breach to help fund the building industry after the banks stopped lending in 2008. CapitalStackers has been instrumental in raising the money to build 118 houses and 433 apartments.

Webb cites the platforms’ withdrawal as “natural selection for the benefit of the market because the poor players are effectively being killed off because they are not competitive”, as if such a process is a unique feature of P2P. It’s not, of course.

Banks have gone bust, institutional lending operations have gone bust. So have newspapers, supermarkets, lawyers, accountants and even insolvency practitioners [6]. Badly-run, uncompetitive or ill-prepared companies in every industry have gone bust owing money – yet no one is writing about the death of supermarkets or accountants. Or even, dare we say it, insolvency practitioners.

So clearly Mr. Webb has an agenda, and to this Damian, all omens are bad. A man with the gift of hindsight is presuming to tell us the future.

He wipes a few smudges and finger marks off his crystal ball and pontificates that, “I think there will be more failures in that P2P space, but it has largely been fixed or closed down by the Financial Conduct Authority” [7].

Again, this is ill-informed. The tweak to the regulations imposed an obligation that retail investors must pass an “appropriateness test” and, in the absence of taking independent advice, limit their lending to 10% of their investments until sufficiently experienced (which equates to lending on two deals within the last two years) at which point they could change their status from “Restricted” to “Sophisticated”, for P2P purposes. Those platforms that voluntarily left the regulated space did so because the regulations were too much of a faff – but they weren’t “regulated out”. They simply weren’t committed enough to go the extra mile and left the business to those that were.

At this point of his speech, Dr. Hindsight may have managed the kind of frosty smile that killed off all the houseplants in the building and mustered an attempt at cheeriness – “There are a number of operators in that space that will do well. They are well run, they’ve got a good client base and they will continue” – Gee, thanks Damian – “but the market is moving very much towards alternative lending out of institutional funds” – Oh.

So then the man who has no professional knowledge of healthy P2P companies went on to proclaim that, “The future is alternative lending – P2P may be an aspect of that but it’s going to be a very small aspect”.

What exactly does this endgame specialist know about institutional funds? Or lending in general, for that matter (apart from the kind that’s ossified into terminal debt). Does he follow the view of some investors that the mere presence of an institution in a deal gives them comfort because people who deal in finance must ipse facto understand all forms of finance? Does he think the institutional lenders have some sort of expertise in property lending that would have prevented the Lendy bellyflop?

Well, they might have done, not because they understand property debt, but because they can smell the stench of bad practice.

But why on earth Webb feels institutional lenders are “the future” is an unsolved mystery. True, a few platforms have found them to be a useful source of funding fast growth, but at CapitalStackers we’ve only proceeded down that route (as indeed we do all routes) with caution, because our retail investors are so important to us. And since stability outweighs speed of growth in our book, we haven’t been in a hurry to secure a large institution’s funds. We’re not against an institutional tie up. Far from it – just as long as it doesn’t cut across our highly valued relationship with our existing investors who, after all, have been with us from the get-go.

On the other hand, we do work hand in hand with banks on almost every deal, which is an institutional partnership of a different kind. While we’re regulated by the FCA, banks, for their part, are subject to very high standards of regulatory control through the Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority, which tightened controls further after 2008. In effect, this means banks can only lend up to around 60% Loan-to-Value ratio, otherwise they require more regulatory capital and business becomes less economical.

Which is the basis of our business model – funding the gap between a property developer’s equity and the amount it’s economical for the banks to lend – which is a sensible position for crowdfunding. Small investors who prefer not to tie their capital up in REITS or unit trusts can get involved in the kind of regulated, transparent deals that banks normally fund. This gives them more choice and flexibility. Not to mention the confidence generated by a deal fully funded from the outset.

And yes, this means we take a junior position in the “stack” to our bank partners, but this is a calculated and painstakingly assessed risk. Whilst in the repayment cascade the bank would be out first, it’s worth pointing out that they would never enter into a deal with a junior lender where they expected that junior lender to go into default, since this would also cause issues with their own deal.

Anyway, continuing to paint a portrait of the entire industry through his keyhole, Dr. Hindsight goes on to explain that the “historic failures in P2P lending over the last decade” (all eight of them) were all down to “shareholder greed, too much capital, using technology to cut out credit risk processes, and lack of experience in lending”. Furthermore, he states that “many of the people involved in fintech were more technology than finance-based, they had no financial background,” tarring the entire seagoing fleet with the same brush he used to damn the few that sank.

“There was no grey hair”, he goes on (boy does he go on!), “there was no experience, people just jumped into the sector, worked out there was an ability to deploy money and did so with minimal review of credit or understanding of lending.

“And they went into areas I think they deemed to be simplistic, i.e. property lending, but they didn’t really understand the issues involved.”

Which, to be honest, sounds a bit like, dare we say it, an insolvency practitioner predicting the future of an entire industry when he doesn’t understand the issues involved.

The above litany is nothing like our experience. In fact, it pretty much describes the opposite of the CapitalStackers business model. As catalogued by 4thWay, our shareholders’ demands are modest. Where there is still hair, it is grey. The experience of our directors’ spans decades of specialist property lending in major banks. Our credit processes are not automated, but still go through the time-proven process of staring into the borrower’s eyes and seeing his very soul (plus a lot of exhaustive financial modelling, independent surveys and information sharing with banks). And while we’ve had no difficulty raising funds for the kind of deal we publish (we recently broke our own record, raising half a million pounds in under a minute), deep due diligence into the quality of the deals is more important to us than the need to deploy vast amounts of capital quickly.

In other words, it doesn’t matter how much capital we have – if the deal doesn’t get through our narrow gates, that capital ain’t getting deployed.

So the suggestion that the kind of serious property lenders who form the backbone of this industry would “run roughshod over credit processes and standard banking processes that had been in place for years, creating significant value for themselves in the business but at significant expense of the retail investors investing into the platforms” would be libellous if they weren’t clearly the words of someone suffering from insolvency practitioner’s myopia.

The future of property-based P2P, Mr, Webb, cannot be borne on the broad shoulders of institutions alone. Yes, they bring a source of capital (in return for a steady income) – but if they had lending expertise, they would do it themselves. This is why they come to the P2P platforms in the first place. No, the future, as ever, is partnership – a marriage of resources and skills, with each team member bringing their best game.

As the interlopers and charlatans get weeded out, the field will be left to experienced property lenders, well-versed in banking best practices, lending on high quality deals with appropriate LTV ratios and maintaining complete transparency in all areas and at all stages with their investors. They will happily work with regulators, banks and investment institutions to create the best of all possible worlds for all investors, borrowers and, of course, the many happy people who benefit from the homes they help to build.

Blog Investor News

We’re delighted to add a new layer of transparency on the CapitalStackers website.

On the new “Portfolio Statistics” page, members can find answers to general questions, such as how much cash we’ve raised in total through our investors, how much has been provided by banks and what the average investment is.

But it also allows them to browse through enlightening performance stats such as

  • Highest and lowest investor returns
  • Average return
  • Repayment performance
  • Risk and reward

Along with useful background information to explain any anomalies or unusual variations.

You may ask why we haven’t done this before. The simple answer is, until recently we haven’t had sufficient data. However, having reached the significant milestone of £60 million funding raised (that’s £45 million through banks and the rest through you) we feel the sample size is now robust enough to give you a meaningful set of statistics.

We’d like to take a moment to thank our investors and appreciate what a huge achievement they’ve helped to make possible – behind every statistic there is a viable, successful building project that would never have got off the drawing board if it weren’t for their collective support.

So now’s finally the time to stop hiding our light under the bushel.

Blog News Press Releases

If the recent, much publicised collapse of Lendy and FundingSecure has horrified you – and if it hasn’t, please don’t bother with our Investor Appropriateness Test – then spare a thought for the hapless investors of Estonia. The regulatory landscape in the former Soviet territory makes the Wild West look like Disneyland.

Increased scrutiny in the latter half of 2019 seems to have accelerated investors’ woes, with particular attention being drawn to two platforms – Kuetzal and Envestio.

Kuetzal’s management appears to be so bad it’s almost a parody. In December, Explore P2P reported that Kuetzal seemed to have lent €850,000 to a “fake” petroleum company with one employee and no trading history, most of whose website text seemed to have been copied and pasted from that of a Russian petrogiant.

It doesn’t take a particularly sophisticated investor to ask the question, “Where was the due diligence?” But that of course depends on whether there’s anyone to ask. The CEO, Maksims Reutovs, is a 24 year old former semi-pro tennis player and junior bank employee, who appears to have learned what he knows about the Estonian finance industry from his residence in Barcelona.

Those concerned about his commute, or how often Mr Reutovs is seen in the office, will not be reassured to learn that the answer is never. Because there isn’t one. The “office” photos are CGI images lifted from stock sites.

Fortunately, Mr. Reutovs’ staff don’t miss him, because there aren’t any of those either. Neither does his boss seem to be too concerned about his whereabouts, since he doesn’t actually have a contract of employment. Nor does he even appear to know who his boss is. Mr. Reutovs recently admitted he didn’t even know the full name of the owner, and had only had contact with the latter’s 29 year old wife. To whom he is not actually married.

And anyway, the CEO might be advised not to ask too many questions, since he only got the job after his predecessor and most of his family mysteriously disappeared.

Investigations by a vigilante group of investors have unearthed suspicions that the owner may be the convicted money launderer, Andrei Korobeiko, who coincidentally lives at the registered address of the company. Or it may be Eugene Koshakov, who apparently became the CEO of AA Development, the company that received Kuetzal’s biggest loan the day before the loan went live. Or it could be 24 year old Alberts Cevers, the previous CEO, who is, by coincidence, married to Evelina Cevers, who is listed as the official founder of AA Development…

Anyway, having almost found the owner, the question “where is the due diligence?” can be answered. There isn’t any. The company recently issued new terms and conditions to investors saying, ‘The Portal operator does not perform any due diligence of the borrower or project’.

So you’ll be getting the impression that transparency at Kuetzal is on the murky side of opaque. This state of affairs has led a particularly sharp-eyed official at their bank to freeze their accounts, citing money laundering issues. Not much gets past those Estonian bankers. Well, okay, a lot gets past them, but show them a made-up company with no offices, no staff, no contracts, no due diligence and no links to the owner and they’ll rumble the whole thing within…er…months.

For the last few months of 2019, Kuetzal maintained that it was still paying its investors out. However, how it was doing this without a bank account is yet another Estonian mystery.

Nevertheless, this charmed existence finally had to come to an end and on 12th January, Kuetzal closed its doors, owing millions to investors – citing “attacks” on its reputation, its bank accounts, and whatever else it could think of.

So the question must be asked – how can a P2P site have liquidity problems? In the UK, Investor funds are held in trust in a separate, protected bank account. If you want your money back, you simply request it, or if it’s already invested your loans at least have a value and you can seek to sell them on the secondary market.

But that’s not how Kuetzal and others conducted their business. They promised that for a small fee, you could cash out at any time. Which would be wonderful if they had any cash reserves, which they didn’t. And so faced with a situation when all the investors smelt a rat at the same time and headed for the exit, the company was found without its trousers.

The day Kuetzal claimed to be the victim of those “attacks” happened to be the day after they’d defaulted on a commitment to return funds to investors within 5 working days. The last lucky investor to get his money out of the tombola did so on 12th January 2020. So we’d suggest, although we can’t be sure, that these “attacks” were a smokescreen.

We’d like to say this is an isolated case, but we can’t. Another Estonian P2P scam platform, Envestio, shut down last week, having only launched in 2018 and holding €33m (£27.9m) of lender funds which would appear to have disappeared into thin air. Those with a strong stomach can google the details. A good place to start is here.

Now, while horror stories like this make the likes of Lendy and FundingSecure seem like angels, they in no way excuse their practices. But they serve, we hope, as a reminder to us all as investors to do our homework. We should all, before pledging a penny, be checking those vital questions: Who are the management? Where are they? What’s their area of expertise? What’s their track record? And most important of all – how transparent are they? Do you get regular, in-depth and consistent reporting, with independent corroboration? If the answer is no to any of these, sit on your hands.

And it’s also one good reason why Brexit is a good thing, for P2P at least. The EU has, in its schizophrenic wisdom, left financial regulation to its individual member states, in general allowed cross-border platforms to “opt-in” to licensing under European Crowdfunding Service Provider (ECSP) regulation, or to simply register in the country of their choice.

Given that roughly eleven countries have shown any application in this matter at all (Britain, France, Belgium and Germany proving the strictest, the Nordics wavering between very strict and “light touch” approaches and the rest of the member states on a sliding scale from partial regulation to absolute chaos), this opens the door to those operating across borders to pick their country in the way that pirate ships used to operate under flags of convenience (and I use the former term advisedly). They can effectively hurdle entry barriers and sidestep any form of governance, credit assessment, money handling, disclosure and complaints handling standards.

So whereas UK platforms seeking an FCA licence must subject themselves to the rubber glove treatment for many months – and rightly so – countries like Lithuania promise “fast, easy licensing” with a view to being up and running “within 30 days”. It beggars belief.

This is what leads to horror stories like those above. Without strict regulation, we invite unsavoury types to use P2P as a magnet industry for developing scams. If the EU allows platforms to solicit investments without appropriate regulation, who knows how many Kuetzals and Envestios there are? Until it’s too late.

We continue to support the FCA in weeding out the bad actors in the UK. However, we’re also confident that as the Lendys and FundingSecures fall by the wayside – and the new, tighter regulations squeeze out others – the FCA is getting it right.

And as long as we do get it right, P2P is a valuable and powerful cog in the world’s financial engine. So we hope the UK can continue to lead the way in financial product innovation and regulation, and carry a torch and set the standards for the rest of Europe to adopt.

Blog

P2P lending platform CapitalStackers has been awarded full FCA authorisation, following a detailed assessment by the FCA.

CapitalStackers is a direct peer to peer lender, matching developers seeking finance with investors. The company aims to plug the funding gap between typical bank debt and the developer’s equity. Investors typically receive double digit returns up to 20%.

Steve Robson, Managing Director of CapitalStackers comments, “We have always had a strong commitment to compliance, abiding by strict codes of conduct and giving our investors total transparency on every deal. Becoming an FCA approved lender is a lengthy and rigorous process and gives investors that extra comfort – it is the icing on the cake. We understand that a number of other P2P lenders withdrew their applications when they realised what was involved, which makes our approval status even more significant.

“At CapitalStackers, we only arrange loans to experienced developers, many of whom have already raised part of the funding requirement through a major high street bank and gone through their independent due diligence process, as well as our own stringent checks. No investment is without risk, but ours are carefully assessed, managed, and transparent.

“Compared to pooled lending, the beauty of direct lending is that investors are fully in control of what level of risk and return they are comfortable with. They choose the deal, loan amount, layer and return and have access to detailed information on which to judge the risks. They like to invest in secured lending against bricks and mortar and the information we provide leaves no room for questions or doubt. They have everything they need to make an informed decision. This transparency and conduct is why our investors are re-investing again and again.”

Blog News Press Releases