Walter Heller famously said that an economist is someone who sees something in practice and wonders if it would work in theory. Economic theory says banks exist because they channel loanable funds more efficiently than individual savers and investors pairing up bilaterally. Those informational, diversification and maturity transformation considerations imply that banks should be able to out-compete peer to peer (P2P) lenders. The stylised fact that few P2P platforms have made a profit to date is in line with this theory. If so, then P2P lenders face a difficult future and they may need to become more like traditional banks in order to survive. Either way, that makes them much less disruptive than they first appear.
Peer to Peer (P2P) lending is a hot topic at Fintech events and has received a lot of attention from academia, journalists, various international bodies and regulators. Following the Financial Crisis, P2P platforms saw an opportunity to fill a gap in the market by offering finance to customers and businesses struggling to get loans from banks. Whilst some argue they will one day revolutionise the whole banking landscape, many platforms have not yet turned a profit. So before asking if they are the future, we should first ask if they have a future at all. Problems such as a higher cost of funds, or limited ability to scale the business, may mean the only viable path is to become more like traditional banks.
Peer-to-peer lending platforms (P2P platforms) emerged after the financial crisis by catering for pent-up demand for unsecured borrowing from individuals and small businesses. Ten years after the conception of P2P platforms, the question is whether they may soon start to penetrate more mainstream lending markets and thereby challenge high street lenders. For example, according to the latest survey compiled by Nesta, P2P lending for the year 2015 was the equivalent of 3.9% of new loans lent to SMEs, although the outstanding stock of P2P lending is much lower. This post considers how seriously in practice to take this threat to the traditional banking model.