“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 , 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” .
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’  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By “collapsed”, he of course means that, of the scores  of regulated P2P lenders, 26 have withdrawn from the market and only 8 of those actually went down owing money to investors.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 .
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 . 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” .
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.