January 30, 2015 / 9:41 AM / 5 years ago

Peer-to-peer lending heads for UK mainstream after bumper 2014 -trade body

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s peer-to-peer lenders provided 1.24 billion pounds of credit during 2014, taking total lending by the industry beyond 2.1 billion pounds, more than double the figure at the end of 2013.

Peer-to-peer lending allows investors to lend directly to individuals and businesses via low-cost online platforms. It has grown rapidly since the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009, with bank credit remaining scarce for small businesses.

“These figures demonstrate the growing impact peer-to-peer lending is having on the market,” said Christine Farnish, chair of the Peer-to-Peer Finance Association.

“Last year showed continued and solid growth in the consumer market and a significant increase in lending flow to businesses. Invoice finance and peer-to-peer finance within the property market are also growing.”

This year could see peer-to-peer become a mainstream financing option as part of Britain’s ISA savings scheme.

ISAs, or Individual Savings Accounts, allow British residents to put up to 15,000 pounds in either cash or stocks and shares, the interest or returns on which are tax free.

The government is considering a third-way ISA for peer-to-peer lending following a treasury consultation in December, which is expected to debut either this year or next.

There are still kinks to be ironed out, however.

Under current ISA rules, people must be given the option to transfer savings from one investment to another without penalty.

That is not possible with peer-to-peer lending, said Danny Cox, a spokesman for financial services company Hargreaves Lansdown.

“The only way to do it is to cash them in and then reinvest. But given the fact that there is no secondary market for peer-to-peer lending, that makes the process difficult.”

Cox advised investors to make sure they spread their risk in peer-to-peer investments, adding that the platforms let users do that automatically.

“Still, don’t overexpose your portfolio: 5-10 percent maximum on peer-to-peer investments, I would have thought.”

In another sign of a maturing peer-to-peer lending marketplace, Britain’s FCA financial watchdog is running the rule over peer-to-peer advertising following concerns that some lenders are misusing the word ‘savings’ in their marketing activities.

Nicola Horlick, CEO of peer-to-peer platform Money&Co, welcomed the increased scrutiny.

“We are a young sector ... We now need to work with the regulators to make sure that business is conducted ...to the very best of business practise,” she said.

Reporting by Matt Scuffham and Andrew Winterbottom, editing by Sinead Cruise and John Stonestreet

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