When Easyjet, Ryanair and Jet2 launched they shook up an airline industry dominated by high prices and package holidays. They were able to offer a direct and simple way to get a better rate on your seat using the internet. They offered a new way to travel, giving people unprecedented access to air travel on a scale never seen before. While many have an opinion on allocated seating, printing your own boarding pass or paying for food on-board, the model was simple but thrilling – give the customer a low-cost, destination rich, frill-free option and see if it flies. It did, and became the new normal.
Fast forward 20 or so years, and something similar is happening in finance. While a few canny and charismatic entrepreneurs drove the adoption of low cost flying, it is a combination of people power and the latest technology that is revolutionising finance in this digital age – taking the frills out of finance but putting great rates back in. An example of this would be the peer-to-peer finance industry, which innovation specialists Nesta calculate to be currently worth a staggering £482 million in 2013 alone. Not enough to topple High Street banking yet, but certainly enough for mainstream customers to take notice. Peer-to-peer lending businesses have taken a very old model in banking, which is essentially lending and borrowing, and modernised it through online platforms to offer a more direct, open and transparent way to lend and borrow. It is a product that offers reward balanced against risk as platforms aim to diversify the risk, only lend to most credit worthy borrowers and some platforms even have safeguard funds in place in case of a default. There is also a social element as many lenders appreciate the community spirit involved as they are helping people finance a new car or home improvement or supporting a business to grow through a business loan. The return for enabling this is personal, and provides a financial incentive which currently offers returns two or three times higher than the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, high street banks offer savings rates so low that in real terms its costing people to save money.
In October 2013 the industry warmly welcomed the draft measure outlined by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for regulating peer-to-peer lending. Put simply, regulation will help improve trust in an industry that is still growing and open it up to a whole new consumer audience. How they are regulated is one of the most common questions asked of peer-to-peer lending platforms, as there is an added level of perceived safety that regulation seems to bring to any industry. Some have speculated that regulation may stifle the creativity of those currently operating in the sector, but the majority believe it will normalise and legitimise these more democratic forms of finance.
With all businesses more accountable and connected to their customers than ever before, repairing the damage caused by the financial crisis is proving tough for traditional financial institutions. While there will always be a desire to have a transaction based relationship with banks, the increasing popularity of alternative finance options cannot be ignored. Startling growth rates of 200 per cent year-on-year have been predicted for the peer-to-peer lending platforms over the next few years, helped on by regulation and other benefits that this allows like tax free savings in ISAs. The take-off of peer-to-peer lending has been steep but it’s for many that regulation will bring about a smooth landing, with higher volumes of passenger numbers in 2014.
Giles Andrews is CEO and Co-Founder of Zopa