A slew of articles criticizing the emerging p2p lending industry appeared this week, beginning with Mark Gimein's post at Slate's the Big Money, "You are Unlikely to Prosper". Felix Salmon soon after wrote "The Problem With Peer to Peer Lending" and then Techdirt followed with "Person to Person Lending Not Saving the Economy...Actually Looking Really, Really Bad".
The message of all of this coverage? That p2p lending is riskier than advertised, most lenders have lost money, adverse selection abounds, and really the whole venture is a failed innovation in finance. As usual in articles about p2p lending, the comments are full of testimonials from lenders about their terrible losses on Prosper.com and how p2p borrowers tend to be deadbeats.
If we were back in 2008, these criticisms would all be noteworthy. Prosper undeniably made terrible, risky gambles, produced misleading advertising, and failed to adequately screen borrowers in the early years. Investors are still reeling from those mistakes (see Fred93 who dropped $800K into the site), but why are we still focusing on earliest years and the losses incurred during the height of the credit crunch? This seemed like old news back in April.
By contrast, Lending Club (scarcely mentioned in these articles) launched with SEC approval, institutes stringent borrower requirements, and has a happy lender community (no hate blogs that I've found yet). Gartner predicts that p2p lending will increase by 66% over the next three years. It's 2010. Let's look forward and let the new crop of p2p lending companies learn from Prosper's early mistakes and do better.
Note: The best discussion forum to get a sense of p2p lender frustration is prospers.org.
Flickr credit: amalthy