The Big Four Stretch their Stride

By Sam Griffiths on 10th December 2014

Market share can be a much more useful measure of performance than other volume measures such as, for example, cumulative volume. Trends in market share often shed light on the competitive dynamics of an industry.  Here at AltFi Data, we have been looking at how the combined market share of the four biggest UK Platforms has evolved over time. Those platforms are: Zopa, RateSetter, Funding Circle and Market Invoice. These four are amongst the oldest, are currently the largest in terms of cumulative volume lent as well as in terms of market share. The market share metric that we favour to illustrate this is a 3 month measure, as we feel that the 3 month metric gives a more accurate feel for the platforms that are most active in a rapidly growing and evolving industry.

The Big Four Stretch their Stride

Figure 1: The Combined Market Share of the Big Four UK Platforms

The combined market share of these platforms was 100% until late 2010. As one might expect in a nascent market, with constant innovation and many new entrants, this share was then eroded as new platforms launched and grew. Some of these new platforms have targeted specific niche lending markets, such as the property lending specialists Wellesley, LendInvest and Assetz Capital. Others have introduced new peer to peer models altogether. Lending Works offers an insurance element to its model – affording additional protection to its lenders. The addition of new platforms inevitably adds competition and erodes market share from the top four platforms, an essential development in the creation of dynamic and responsive markets that best serve their customers. 

From the chart it can be seen that the market share of the big four platforms reached a low in June of this year at just below 58%. However, the market share has rebounded from this inflection point in June 2014 and is now sitting just above 72%. It’s hard to be certain as to why this is the case, but it could come down to some combination of these factors:

  • 2014 has seen the larger platforms form strategic partnerships with other financial service providers. For example: Funding Circle engaged in a several partnerships including ones with Santander and PWC; Market Invoice announced partnerships with PwC and Xero; Ratesetter became the first platform in the world to achieve a risk score from research agency FE; and Zopa announced a commercial agreement with Flowgroup.
  • Regulation is considered a barrier to entry in many markets and, if significant, is capable of deterring competition. From April 2014, all platforms were required by the FCA to gain interim permission as regulation is phased in.  The timing of the introduction of regulation and the boost in market share for the more established platforms coincides. It could be an indication of regulation acting as an obstacle for aspiring and startup platforms.
  • Institutional Investors are beginning to deploy capital in the P2P sector. This is a relatively new phenomenon in the UK. The launch of P2PGI, a £200m investment vehicle, in June of this year and deals like Funding Circle’s recent investment from KLS just this month underline the institutional interest. As a result, institutional investors now account for over 30% of monthly volumes on the Funding Circle platform. Institutional investors typically require scale and track record from a platform, amongst other attributes. This could be giving the more established platforms an edge when it comes to attracting the institutions and may be further widening the gap between the big platforms and the upstarts.

So is the dominance of the big players in the UK P2P lending space unique? If we look across the pond, there are only three platforms in the US that together have cumulative lending volumes over $1bn. These three platforms account for over 90% of the market in the US. The ability of these large platforms to generate a healthy pipeline of borrowers inevitably attracts institutional investors wishing to lend on a large scale. In the US over 80% of loans originated on Lending Club and Prosper are funded via institutional capital.

How do the smaller platforms compete? We’re already seeing innovative new products such as Lending Work’s insurance backed returns. New platforms also tend to specialise in niche areas, at least initially. It is also likely that we will see some platforms merge over the next 12 months, giving themselves economies of scale and the market presence to attract institutional capital and also quality borrowers.  But given the recent re-bound in the market share of the big 4 it seems that, for now at least, the established names have turned the tide on the young pretenders. 

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