P2P Conference Riga 2019
On June 7th the first P2P Conference was held in Riga (Latvia). There between 300 and 400 investors, bloggers, platforms, and other interested people, from around 24 countries. I was able to attend the conference too.
Several platforms have their office in Riga and I visited a few of them in the days before and after the conference to have a look and ask questions. I will write about these visits in the next blog posts.
The conference was sponsored by around 15 crowdfunding platforms, and several other platforms were present as well.
As you can see the weather was great in Riga, it was 30 degrees Celsius. This was really noticable in some of the conference rooms: there was no air conditioning and I sometimes felt the sweat dripping from my head.
The conference was opened by two well-known German P2P bloggers: Lars Wrobbel and Kolja Barghoorn.
On stage they discussed the future developments in the P2P market with several platforms.
Crowdfunding platforms and the banks
One of the questions was why the traditional banks do not jump in the void that is filled by the crowdfunding platforms. After all, the banks have a headstart of over a thousand years.. Well, it cannot be denied that most banks get with the times and sometimes can be quite innovative. But overal the traditional banks are more conservative.
The platforms do notice that there are big differences between the old banks and the newer banks that are not that long in the market. It is easier to cooperate with those newer, non-conservative banks. These banks are more open and more innovative.
The conservative nature of the banks results in a vast market for loans to businesses and consumers that could not meet the tough requirements set by the banks. Around 80% of all loan applications by small businesses are rejected by the banks.
This is the untapped market, the gap that is now being filled by the crowdfunding platforms. They make full use of the newest developments and technologies. This allows them to keep the costs significantly lower and it also gives them the ability to react faster to changes in the market. At the same time these platforms are developing several mechanisms that minimize the risk for both the platform and the investors.
The platforms do see a role for the traditional banks in the future, being safehavens for your money. At the same time they see the boundaries dissappearing, and in the future consumers might have only one account for both investing and paying the daily groceries (“consumers are getting tired of carrying so many cards”).
Crowdfunding and the big tech giants
Do the platforms see it as a risk, one or more tech giants entering the crowdfunding market? Surprisingly, they do not. None of the platforms think this would be a problem. Amazon is already making loans to businesses, and Amazon is one of the largest companies in the world (with a totasl revenue in 2018 of over 233 billion dollars).
I looked this up later, and it turns out Amazon has been making loans since 2012. It is limited though to small companies that sell products via Amazon’s online marketplace, for amounts between 1,000 USD and 750,000 USD and interest rates between 6% and 14.5%. It is quite popular with a total volume of over a billion dollars per year.
Some platforms even think it would be beneficial to the existing platforms if one or more tech giants would enter the crowdfunding market. The market is relatively unknown to the public at the moment, and the tech giants could make crowdfunding a regular for of investments instead of the niche product it is today. It would be a lot of free publicity for the existing platforms.
The platforms also think they can innovate more quickly and freely. And one of the platforms has another compelling argument: investors will always spread their investments to minimize risks, so there will always be plenty of room for the current platforms.
Loan originators and stability
All platforms say the keep a close eye on the loan originators and their performance. New applications have to meet tough requirements and checks. All platforms want to make sure the loan originators are always able to fulfill their commetments, and keep the quality of the offered loans high. Grupeer even mentions that their loan default rate is zero.
After the conference I looked into this too, and found out that last year one loan originator defaulted: Eurocent. This loan originator was active on the Minto platform. I also read that more than half of the investments were returned to the investors, but this is obviously still a major blow. Luckily this seems to be an exception. It does show that we, investors and bloggers, need to keep a close watch on the originators and the platforms.
Mintos says they now continuously monitor the performance of the loan originators and their loans, to prevent this from happening again. As soon as a decrease in performance is detected they will immediately throttle the originator, and limit the number of loans that can be made available by the originator. Thoese loans are also subject to more checks.
The platforms are also looking into new technologies to aid them in the monitoring process, such as Artificial Intelligence and Power BI. This allows the platforms to use business intelligence to perform complex analysis on the high volume of data.
Fintech and the Baltic states
Most of the crowdfunding platforms have their offices in one of the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania). Why? That is a question that has been asked a lot.
The Baltic states became independent (again) in 1991, after almost 50 years of occupation by the Soviet Union. Since then, the countries have oriented themselves to the west, and became members of NATO and the European Union. The baltics have small enonomies, but the membership of the EU and the Euro give them easy access to the huge European market.
The economic growth was mainly because of their EU membership, so it is not strange that the population has a very positive attitude towards the European Union. All parties that were elected into parliament in october 2018 are pro-EU. As someone in Latvia told me: there was only one anti-EU party and they received only 0.5% of the votes, probably because their grandmothers voted for them…
The technical infrastructure and internet speeds nowadays are above average compared to the other EU countries, as they are focused om improving this as well as lowering the costs of IT. It also helps that the wages in the Baltics are relatively low, but there is no real shortage of high-skilled people.
I talked to several platforms at the conference, both known and unknown platforms. Here is a selection/summary.
Envestio was not a sponsor and didn’t have their own stand, but there were two employees present: Alesia Nikalaichyk (Senior Account Manager) and Liene Meldere (Investment and Development Advisor).
One of my concerns was the availability of projects to invest in. There is a handful of new projects every month, but the popularity of the platform resulted in these projects being fully funded in just a matter of hours. This makes it really difficult to invest.
The surprising answer was that Envestio is busy starting a collaboration with a company that will help them assess projects, and also bring in more projects to invest in. We should see these in a week or two.
Other surprising news: Envestio is developing an auto-invest feature, and they’re currently testing it. Of course you don’t need an auto-invest function without projects, so hopefully both will arrive soon.
Bulkestate is a platform I’m not using at the moment, but I’ve spoken with them and now I am considering investing via this platform now too.
Bulkestate has real estate projects with an average interest rate of 15%. All loans have real estate as collateral, and the loan value may not exceed 70% of the real estate value. This pretty much guarantees the safety of your investment!
The platform was started in december 2016 they now have more than 3,300 investors. The minimum investment is just 50 euros, en the platform also has an auto-invest function. There is even an extra cashback for larger investments (e.g. 1% cashback when investing 10,000 euros, and 2% cashback when inveting 25,000 euros).
Something I haven’t seen in other platforms is ‘group buying’. This puts a large building with multiple apartments for sale, and normally this is quite difficult to sell. The seller needs to either find a party that is willing to buy everything at once, or they need to deal with a lot of smaller buyers. There is a lot of paperwork and coordination involved, as all parties need to have their financing in order at the same time.
This is where Bulkestate steps in. The seller puts the building on the Bulkestate platform, with a considerable discount. And all investors then have a change to buy one of the apartments, including that discount. There is no option to buy a part or a few square meters, you do actually buy a whole apartment. So you need to invest a really large sum, but then you will have a new place to call your home (or investment of course). So this really puts the bulk and estate in Bulkestate..
DoFinance got my attention by the unique way they advertised their investment options. As with many other platforms you invest in consumer loans, but here you can only choose from 5 portfolio options. Each portfolio option is an automated investment portfolio, but each has a different interest rate (and accompanying risks): 4%, 5%, 7%, 9% or 11%.
For each portfolio option they had a corresponding beer on display, as well as a lot of cold ones in the fridge. They were honest to say they cheated a but with the 9% and 10% beers, as the alcohol percentage was 7% max. Obviously I took advantage of this situation to thoroughly examine their investment options 🙂
DoFinance currently has 3,871 investors. All loans are originated by the parent company, not by external loan originators. The platform also has a 100% buyback guarantee on the very day the loan ends.
Mintos announced a new product on the conference: Invest & Access. It opened up the monday after the conference:
It is an auto-invest portfolio where you chose how much of your funds may be invested in it, and that will be automatically invested in loans with buyback guarantee. They will also make sure it is diversified over the different loan originators. New loans that are added to the platform will be offered to the Invest&Access portfolios first, then to the normal auto-invest portfolios, and only the remainder will be put in the list of available loans for manual investment. So this can be a handy front row ticket if the number of available loans starts to drop.
So investing is super easy, but so is the withdrawal process. You can take you r funds out an any moment, so this makes it very similar to the Go&Grow option of Bondora.
I looked into it in the week after the conference, and after it was added to the platform. The “funds always immediately withdrawable” is more like “funds mostly always immediately withdrawable”. When you want to cash out, the Invest&Access portfolio puts the loans in your portfolio on the secondary market. Here they should be bought immediately by the Invest&Access portfolios of the other investors. Only the loans that are current are sold automatically though. So the remainder will only be returned when the buyback guarantee kicks in after 60 days.
So the new Invest&Access portfolio is more of a handy auto-invest combined with a automatic bulk-sell function, and less of a revolutionary product. The Go&Grow option of Bondora has the advantage of real immediate cash out, this new Mintos product offers almost the same but with a higher interest rate (it is expected to be around 12%).
Grupeer had a funny way of showing that a lot of money can be made by investing:
I visited the office of Grupeer a few days after the conference, you can expect a post about this in a few days.
I had a talk with another interesting platform: Robocash. This platform started in 2017 and had financed loans totalling over 58 million euros. There are over 6,500 investors on the platform.
Here your funds are automatically invested in short term loans with an average interest rate of 12%. All loans have buyback guarantee after 30 days, including the accrued interest. All loans are originated by the parent company of Robocash.
A platform with an interesting concept is Reinvest24. The minimum investment is 100 euros and you can buy small pieces of real estate properties. The difference is that the apartments and houses are rented out, and you will get a proportionate part of the rental revenue.
Managing the property and everything around it is managed for you. You can sell your share at any moment, or wait for the value of the property to go up in time and collect the price growth. All investments on Reinvest24 are secured by mortgages on the properties.
Although several platforms are in the market for several years, the P2P market is clearly still developing. The platforms are maturing and the market is getting more and more attention, but it is still relatively unknown to the public.
The (expected) growth is enormous: in 2015 the P2P market was valued at 26 billion dollars, in 2018 it was 110 billion dollars. It is estimated that it will be worth a staggering 897 billion dollars in 2024.
I also talked to a lot of other P2P investors and I found out most of them have only invested a small portion of their funds in the P2P market: around 10-15%. So they do not only diversify their investments into multiple platforms, but also in different investment markets. Which is an important lesson to learn.