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Thursday September 1st 2016, Daily News Digest

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United States

Amazon and Wells Fargo part ways on private student loan deal, (Washington Post), Rated: AAA

(Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Barely a month after teaming up, Wells Fargo has stopped offering Amazon.com customers discounted interest rates on private student loans.

Neither company would explain the abrupt end of the program, only confirming that it has been discontinued. The Wells Fargo Web page that once heralded the union now redirects to the bank’s run-down of its student loan products.

Until this week, Amazon Prime Student subscribers who applied for any of the bank’s education loans were eligible to have their interest rate lowered by half a percentage point. The deal was a bit unusual. Though it’s not uncommon for banks to partner with retailers to offer credit card customers discounts on shopping or travel, loans are another thing.

“We congratulate Amazon for deciding to stop promoting Wells Fargo’s costly private education loans,” said Pauline Abernathy, executive vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS). “Private loans are one of the riskiest ways to pay for college, with none of the flexible repayment options and consumer protections that come with federal student loans. Students should consider other schools if a school requires them to take out a private loan.”

Moody’s: New efforts to bolster lender protections won’t eliminate legal risks for marketplace lenders, (Moody’s), Rated: AAA

Two recent developments in the marketplace lending space will be credit positive for some asset-backed securities (ABS) backed by marketplace loans, Moody’s Investors Service says in a new report. The moves, which reflect efforts to strengthen protections for holders of marketplace loans against legal actions by consumers, won’t eliminate this risk entirely, however.

“Some marketplace lenders have recently changed their origination model to address legal risks that could impair consumer loans whose interest rates exceed state usury limits,” says Moody’s analyst, Jody Shenn. “Meanwhile, newly proposed legislation, if passed, would create more explicit protections from state usury laws for bank-originated loans that are sold.”

Prosper Marketplace Inc. is the latest marketplace lender to adjust its origination model in the wake of the Madden v. Midland Funding LLC decision and other rulings, Shenn says. The changes strengthen loan holders’ ability to protect themselves against legal actions by consumers whose loans have high-interest rates but don’t completely remove this risk. Madden-like challenges, for example, could be heard by judges who are sympathetic to plaintiffs’ arguments.

Separately, US Representative Patrick McHenry has introduced a bill in Congress that would more explicitly protect bank-originated loans from state usury laws. If passed, the legislation would state that if a loan is valid when made due to the federal preemption of state usury laws, it would remain valid if it is then sold, assigned, or otherwise transferred.

“Such legislation would be credit positive for marketplace lending ABS because it directly addresses the Madden ruling and would prevent legal challenges based on the same theory,” Shenn says. “The bill is very narrow, however. It doesn’t resolve the issue of whether the bank or marketplace lender is the true lender of a loan, for example, which therefore is a separate legal risk for securitization transactions.”

Yirendai to defend against legal suits, (Shanghai Daily), Rated: A

Fifteen Chinese firms were sued in securities class action lawsuits in the US in 2015, taking up over 40 percent of all shareholder suits filed against US-listed foreign firms, research by Stanford Law School and Cornerstone Research showed.

On Tuesday, both New York and New Jersey-based law firm Bronstein, Gewirtz & Grossman filed a lawsuit accusing Yirendai of making “materially false misleading statements.”  On the same day Rigrodsky & Long PA filed a legal suit for the Central District of California against the P2P lender’s failure to disclose “rising fraud related to customer applications for its loan products,” and the negative impact that “the implementation of new anti-fraud regulations could have on Yirendai’s performance.”

Yirendai, the consumer finance arm of Chinese P2P lender CreditEase, yesterday rejected the complaints as “without merit” and the company intends to defend its interest.

Moody’s: Marketplace Lending is Good for Small Business Even as Pitfalls Remain, (Crowdfund Insider), Rated: A

Moody’s report in full can be found here.

Moody’s has published a report on the marketplace lending industry stating that platforms are “steadily expanding credit to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – but challenges remain. The authors are of the opinion that partnerships with traditional banks may ease the path forward for this segment of online lending.

Moody’s believes the new lending technology can help provide credit to SMEs while banks will benefit from access to the technology – including faster loan review – while expanding their relationships with customers.

The caveat to all of this is the looming risks of online lending and the list is challenging. Moody’s highlights model risk, regulatory risk, loan performance uncertainty and, yes, the risk from banks that are going it alone. With Goldman Sachs poised to enter the market in weeks, existing MPLs will have additional competition.

United Kingdom

Crowdfunded bonds: an income solution for ISA savers?, (City Wire), Rated: AAA

From November, the type of crowdfunded loans that will be authorized to sit within the new ISA will expand to include crowdfunded bonds. Unlike P2P lending, where investors’ money is spread among a large number of smaller loans typically made to small businesses and individuals, crowdfunded bonds see all of an investor’s money lent to larger, more established company.

The newest addition to the ISA stable, the ‘Innovative Finance ISA’, has been available since April. Currently, it allows peer-to-peer (P2P) lending investments to be held tax-free, such as loans made through lending platforms like Zopa, RateSetter and Funding Circle.

Julia Groves, head of crowdfunding at Downing and founder of the Crowdfunding Association, argued crowdfunded bonds were cutting out the fund manager middle-men and their high fees, meaning there were greater returns for investors.

Downing offered its first crowdfunded bond – investing in solar energy – at the beginning of the year at a fixed interest rate of 6.25%. It has launched eight bonds to date and is looking at launches next year that will enable investors to lend to care homes and nursery schools. Alongside solar investments, there is also a Pub Bond that offered 5.75% over 12 months plus a 20% discount card for investors in a chain of Home Counties pubs that is hoping to expand from its current four.

Downing is also seeing a boost from pension freedom, which has given over-55s the ability to be more flexible with their retirement savings.

Zopa doubles lending but reports £8.9m annual loss, (Financial Reporter), Rated: A

Peer-to-peer lending platform Zopa doubled lending to £532 million in 2015 but announced a 45% increase in annual losses from £6.1 million in 2014 to £8.9 million.

Zopa says the loss is due to “significant internal investments” throughout 2015. Headcount more than doubled, from 70 people in December 2014 to 157 in December 2015, and a focus on technology innovation combined with increased marketing activities stimulated the growth in disbursals and revenue.


RBI likely to agree on nodal agency, (Business Standard), Rated: A

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is expected to issue the final guidelines for peer to peer (P2P) lending in the next few days.

It is expected to concede to lending firms’ suggestion for a nodal agency.

Comment: I had to look up what a nodal agency means. Nodal means: at a place where lines, systems, or paths meet. I assume a nodal agency would mean an agency that reports to multiple government stakeholders. 

People familiar with the development say the final guidelines are expected to come out before he demits office on Sunday.

The entities also suggested they should be given access to credit bureau data, which could get approval. They say this will help improve the quality of borrowers.  Apart from structural guidelines, the rest would be more suggestive in nature. “This is because the sector is still evolving and they don’t want to clamp on it,” said one player.

Some had asked the minimum capital requirement of Rs 2 crore be relaxed.  While bigger entities wanted the amount to remain, smaller ones had reservations, saying they were not lending or accepting deposits, and it shouldn’t apply to them. Now the players are also expecting a clarification on this.

European Union

Marketplace Lending in Italy Still in Infancy but Long Term Potential is Promising, (Lend Academy), Rated: A

As of the latest available figures Italy accounts for a minuscule 0.27% share of the volumes originated by the industry since inception. True, the UK accounts for the lion’s share of the European pie at 84.80%, suggesting that marketplace lending in Europe is currently a tale of two markets: the UK, and “all the others”. But Italy’s share looks extremely low even in comparison with France’s 3.33% and Germany’s 5.55%. It is approximately one-third the size of Finland, a country whose population is over 10 times smaller than Italy’s.

Two new platforms have joined the segment of loans to individuals: Soisy and Younited Credit, the latter having clearly taken the lead in new monthly originations after only four months since launch thanks to the strong support of its French mother company (the former Pret d’Union).

Four more platforms have been established to provide financing for businesses. Two of these are already operating: Borsa del Credito (which focuses on medium-term (36 to 60 months) financing for micro-businesses and SMEs) and Work invoice, which as the name suggests is a marketplace for companies aiming at financing their business via the sale of some of their receivables.

Before the end of 2016, they will be joined by Instapartners, an initiative backed by an impressive team of former top consultants and well-known entrepreneurs and CashMe. Both newcomers will be focusing at least initially on offering short-term financing solutions to SMEs.

Data collected from sources such as Milan’s Polytechnic (publisher of an annual report on Crowdfunding which from this year also included “Crowdfunding Lending”) or our own site P2Plendingitalia.com (a specialist blog/site in Italian which collects monthly figures from all the platforms) are still very modest in absolute terms.

Italy is a market only marginally smaller than the UK, in terms of population (60 mn people vs the UK’s 65 mn) or measured by the size of its GDP. It is also home to over 6 mn businesses, of which 4 mil classified as “micro-businesses”. Finally, the pool of savings held by Italian households is huge. According to Bank of Italy’s data, total financial assets held by Italian households at the end of 2014 amounted to €3.9 tn (approximately $4.3 trillion) and total net wealth was estimated at €8.7 tn ($9.5 trillion USD).


Fosun chairman calls China’s P2P market a ‘scam’, (FT), Rated: A

China’s self-styled “Warren Buffett” and billionaire businessman Guo Guangchang on Wednesday called the country’s Rmb440bn ($65.9bn) peer-to-peer lending market “basically a scam”, becoming the latest high-profile executive to attack an industry that has been plagued by scandal.

The sector has been lauded for providing an alternative to low-interest deposits but has more recently gained a reputation for hosting some of the biggest scams involving retail investor cash in China’s recent financial history, incurring the wrath of some of the country’s top business people as well as the regulators.

Mr. Guo made the remarks at a press conference in Hong Kong following the release of the company’s interim results. Another Fosun executive emphasized that the company, known for using insurance premiums to make investments abroad, had never dabbled in the P2P business.

Earlier this month, the president of Ping An Insurance, China’s second-largest insurer, told the Financial Times that most P2P lenders were “fakes” and that the vast majority of China’s P2P lenders would not be able to continue their business in the future.

The president of Ant Financial Services, a subsidiary of Alibaba that houses the group’s payments and credit scoring platforms, has also tried to distance the company from China’s broader P2P lending market.

Mr. Guo has been no stranger to controversy himself. The Fosun chairman disappeared for several days in December, only to re-emerge claiming he had been assisting an investigation in China. The group subsequently walked away from a deal to buy an Israeli insurance company.


Indonesia’s Fintech investment to reach $ 8 b in two years: KADIN, (Deal Street Asia) ,Rated: A

The Indonesian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (KADIN) has said that the country’s fintech industry is expected to receive up to $8 billion (Rp 105 trillion) of investments by 2018.

“In 2008, fintech investment stood at roughly $ 900 million. It had increased to three billion in 2013, and is projected to reach $ 8 billion by 2018,” Roeslani said at the Indonesia Fintech Festival and Conference (IFFC).“

Southeast Asia’s largest market Indonesia has been witnessing an emergence of a number of fintech companies such as peer to peer lending company Modalku, mobile recharge platform Sepulsa, e-commerce financing company Kredivo, online micro-lending company UangTeman and many others.

Not long before that, Indonesian P2P marketplace Investree said it had secured a series A funding commitment from a local venture capital firm, Kejora. Details of the amount, however, were not disclosed.

Transactions through fintech in Indonesia are estimated to be Rp 40 trillion in the past two years, a rapid escalation alongside growth in internet usage in the country, with a third of its 250-million population going online. A fifth of that number, however, still have no bank accounts.

Around the globe, KADIN recorded that customers in the fintech sector in Africa have risen almost two times to 101.3 million users, from 57.8 million reported in 2012. North America has 90.7 million users, while Europe acquires 64 million. Latin America saw a growth of 162 per cent of users, while in the Middle East the number of users has increased more than 300 per cent. In the Asia-Pacific region, investment in fintech rose fivefold to $ 2.7 billion in the first three months of this year from the same period a year ago.

Karaniya Dharmasaputra, Secretary General of Indonesian Fintech Association said, boosting cooperation and increase connections among fintech companies in Indonesia are one of the strategic objectives of the association, as it can help improve public access to technology-oriented financial services.


George Popescu
George Popescu

About the author

George Popescu

Serial entrepreneur.

George sold and exited his most successful company, Boston Technologies (BT) group, in 2014. BT was a technology, market maker, high-frequency trading and inter-broker broker-dealer in the FX Spot, precious metals and CFDs space company. George was the Founder and CEO and he boot-strapped from $0 to a $20+ million in revenue without any equity investment. BT has been #1 fastest growing company in Boston in 2011 according to the Boston Business Journal and the only company being in top 10 fastest in 2012-13 as it was #5 in 2012. BT has been on the Inc. 500/5000 list of fastest growing companies in the US for 4 years in a row ( #143, #373, #897 and #1270). After the company sale in July 2014 until February 2015 George was Head-of-Strategy for Currency Mountain ( www.currencymountain.com ), a USD 100 million+ holding company focused on retail and medium institutional currencies, precious metals, stocks, fixed income and commodities businesses.

• Over the last 10 years, George founded 10 companies in online lending, craft beer brewery, exotic sports car rental space, hedge funds, peer-reviewed scientific journal ( Journal of Cellular and Molecular medicine…) and more. George advised 30+ early stage start-ups in different fields. George was also a mentor at MIT’s Venture Mentoring Services and Techstar Fintech in NY.

• Previously George obtained 3 Master's Degrees: a Master's of Science from MIT working on 3D printing, a Master’s in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Supelec, France and a Master's in Nanosciences from Paris XI University. Previously he worked as a visiting scientist at MIT in Bio-engineering for 2 years. George had 3 undergrad majors: Maths, Physics and Chemistry. His scientific career led to about 10 publications and patents.

• On the business side, Boston Business Journal has named me in the top 40 under 40 in 2012 in recognition of his business achievements.

• George is originally from Romania and grew up in Paris, France.

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