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P2P lending in Australia

It's been stop-start, but there are signs of growth.

Reading Simon Strong's Finextra blog post about growing overheads as P2P lenders mature and become more regulated, and Dan Barnes' post about the growing involvement of traditional banks, got me thinking about the development of the P2P lending sector in Australia.

There has been no shortage of start-ups looking to mirror the UK and US succes of the likes of Zopa, Prosper and Lending Club. But a number of factors have stymied growth, and as of today, there is just one company operating in P2P lending, albeit with a different starting model to the P2P lenders elsewhere in the world.

iGrin was the first to market in 2007, matching borrowers and investors on a small scale before winding back operations in 2008, partly through lack of demand and partly through lack of regulatory clarity and licensing.

Fosik launched in 2008 but has since disappeared, and Lendinghub launched in 2009 and still has a website up, but isn't matching loans.

SocietyOne began operations last year, claiming to be Australia's first fully compliant P2P lender. It's achieved this by limiting paricipation on the investor side to wholesale institutions rather than opening it up to individuals. Its investor funds are pooled into a trust, a wholesale unregistered managed investment scheme. And through this structure it has managed to get an Australian Credit Licence.

It uses Yodlee to drive the application process, and proprietary software called ClearMatch, which it has adapted from an existing receiveables management solution used in the agribisiness sector, to drive the matching process.

The business claims it is looking to register its investment scheme to be able to open up to retail investors, and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission says it would not block such moves, or the growth of the P2P industry, providing the level of disclosure to to retail investors is appropriate.

This may open the way for more competitors, as iGrin could make a comeback. Its business and technology were bought last year by a couple of payday lending entrepreneurs and, according to reports, it is looking to launch again with a model that would include providing investors with compensation to cover losses in the event of default.

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