An interesting paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland “Three Myths about Peer-to-Peer Loans” suggests these platforms, which have experienced phenomenal growth in the past decade, resemble predatory loans in terms of the segment of the consumer market they serve and their impact on consumers’ finances and have a negative effect on individual borrowers’ financial stability.
This is of course what triggered the 2007 financial crisis. There is no specific regulation in the US on the borrower side. Given that P2P lenders are not regulated or supervised for antipredatory laws, lawmakers and regulators may need to revisit their position on online lending marketplaces.
While P2P lending hasn’t changed much from the borrowers’ perspective since 2006, the composition and operational characteristics of investors have changed considerably. Initially, the P2P market was conceived of as individual investors lending to individual borrowers (hence the name, “peer-to-peer”). Yet even from the industry’s earliest days, P2P borrowers attracted institutional investors, including hedge funds, banks, insurance companies, and asset managers. Institutions are now the single largest type of P2P investor, and the institutional demand is almost solely responsible for the dramatic, at times triple-digit, growth of P2P loan originations (figure 2).
The shift toward institutional investors was welcomed by those concerned with the stability of the financial sector. In their view, the P2P marketplace could increase consumers’ access to credit, a prerequisite to economic recovery, by filling a market niche that traditional banks were unable or unwilling to serve. The P2P marketplace’s contribution to financial stability and economic growth came from the fact that P2P lenders use pools of private capital rather than federally insured bank deposits.
Regulations in the P2P industry are concentrated on investors. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is charged with ensuring that investors, specifically unaccredited retail investors, are able to understand and absorb the risks associated with P2P loans.
On the borrower side, there is no specific regulatory body dedicated to overseeing P2P marketplace lending practices. Arguably, many of the major consumer protection laws, such as the Truth-in-Lending Act or the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, still apply to both P2P lenders and investors. Enforcement is delegated to local attorney general offices and is triggered by repeat violations, leaving P2P borrowers potentially vulnerable to predatory lending practices.
Signs of problems in the P2P market are appearing. Defaults on P2P loans have been increasing at an alarming rate, resembling pre-2007-crisis increases in subprime mortgage defaults, where loans of each vintage perform worse than those of prior origination years (figure 1). Such a signal calls for a close examination of P2P lending practices. We exploit a comprehensive set of credit bureau data to examine P2P borrowers, their credit behavior, and their credit scores. We find that, on average, borrowers do not use P2P loans to refinance pre-existing loans, credit scores actually go down for years after P2P borrowing, and P2P loans do not go to the markets underserved by the traditional banking system.1 Overall, P2P loans resemble predatory loans in terms of the segment of the consumer market they serve and their impact on consumers’ finances. Given that P2P lenders are not regulated or supervised for antipredatory laws, lawmakers and regulators may need to revisit their position on online lending marketplaces.