Almost a year ago, I wrote about a borrowing and lending exchange called Zopa that had just launched in the U.K. — a sort of peer-to-peer lending service where individuals participate directly with each other rather than through a bank or other financial institution. Since most of my clients are financial institutions, I found this an interesting bit of disintermediation, except for once it was the big guys (the banks) being disintermediated out of the supply chain.
The Economist just published news of a similar exchange (paid subscription required to read article) opening in the U.S.: Prosper. There are a few differences in how they operate (Zopa always spreads a loan across at least 50 lenders, whereas Prosper allows the higher-risk scenario of one lender to assume an entire loan), but they both take on much of the administration work around the loan — credit scoring, collection agencies in the case of a borrower defaulting — for a fee of 1% of the loan amount taken from the borrower. Prosper also allows borrowers to form social networking-type groups, such as alumni from a particular university, where the loan repayment track record of the group can have a positive reflection on the members, and therefore lower the expected interest rate. In addition to reduced interest rates, the Economist also discusses the warm-and-fuzzy part of the equation:
There is a psychic pay-off, too. Users on Zopa have said that they like lending and borrowing within a community of “real” people, rather than through a faceless bank. Mr Duvall [Zopa’s CEO] notes that affinity credit cards (ie, those linked to an activity or membership) tend to have lower default rates than traditional credit cards. “The sense of community matters,” he says.
It will be interesting to see if this technique that’s proving successful in the British marketplace can make inroads with Americans.