Zopa in the UK)
Internet lenders threaten banks
Friday November 24, 2006
The social networking phenomenon that has fuelled the rapid growth of websites such as YouTube and MySpace could be about to threaten the dominance of the big banks by transforming the way we borrow and save, according to a study published today.
The research, by the Social Futures Observatory thinktank, found 74% of Britons would consider borrowing or lending through an online "social lending" community, rather than use their high street bank. More than six out of 10 said the main aim of their bank was "to make money for themselves," while only 15% thought its main aim was to provide a good financial service to customers.
Online social lending, where people who want to lend are put directly in touch with those who want to borrow, is emerging as a new financial category "of genuine importance," say the report's authors.
Some will be sceptical because the study was commissioned and part-funded by Zopa, an online financial "exchange" that launched in Britain last year and now has 105,000 members. Zopa was founded by the creators of Egg, the online bank, and claims it can offer better rates of interest than many people could get from banks and building societies.
The study found that social lending was growing quickly in popularity, partly because of the increased transparency and "social connectedness" it offers.
Professor Michael Hulme, who carried out the study, said traditional banking emerged from the study as almost a "necessary evil". He said: "For most people, banking does not provide any form of rewarding or valued experience, it is simply a necessity. In contrast, the community sites we looked at appeared to offer a much deeper appreciation of the individual far beyond the actual transaction."
Zopa, which is not a bank, is regulated by the Office of Fair Trading and the Financial Services Authority, but has conceded that as a new company, it has "a chance of failure". If an individual fails to pay back their loan, it says it will "get tough" and use the same recovery processes that the banks use.