The Department of the Treasury has issued a report, Opportunities and Challenges in Online Marketplace Lending. Online marketplace lending is still in its early stages, so it is great that regulators are paying attention to it before it has fully matured. This lending channel may greatly increase options for borrowers, but it can also present opportunities to fleece them. Treasury is looking at this issue from both sides. Some highlights of the report include,
- There is Opportunity to Expand Access to Credit: RFI [Request for Information] responses suggested that online marketplace lending is expanding access to credit in some segments by providing loans to certain borrowers who might not otherwise have received capital. Although the majority of consumer loans are being originated for debt consolidation purposes, small business loans are being originated to business owners for general working capital and expansion needs. Distribution partnerships between online marketplace lenders and traditional lenders may present an opportunity to leverage technology to expand access to credit further into underserved markets.
- New Credit Models and Operations Remain Untested: New business models and underwriting tools have been developed in a period of very low interest rates, declining unemployment, and strong overall credit conditions. However, this industry remains untested through a complete credit cycle. Higher charge off and delinquency rates for recent vintage consumer loans may augur increased concern if and when credit conditions deteriorate.
- Small Business Borrowers Will Likely Require Enhanced Safeguards: RFI commenters drew attention to uneven protections and regulations currently in place for small business borrowers. RFI commenters across the stakeholder spectrum argued small business borrowers should receive enhanced protections.
- Greater Transparency Can Benefit Borrowers and Investors: RFI responses strongly supported and agreed on the need for greater transparency for all market participants. Suggested areas for greater transparency include pricing terms for borrowers and standardized loan-level data for investors.
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- Regulatory Clarity Can Benefit the Market: RFI commenters had diverse views of the role government could play in the market. However, a large number argued that regulators could provide additional clarity around the roles and requirements for the various participants. (1-2)
As we move deeper and deeper into the gig economy, the distinction between a consumer and a small business owner gets murkier and murkier. Thus, this call for greater protections for small business borrowers makes a lot of sense.
Online marketplace lending is such a new lending channel, so it is appropriate that the report ends with a lot of questions:
- Will new credit scoring models prove robust as the credit cycle turns?
- Will higher overall interest rates change the competitiveness of online marketplace lenders or dampen appetite from their investors?
- Will this maturing industry successfully navigate cyber security challenges, and adapt to appropriately heightened regulatory expectations? (34)
We will have to live through a few credit cycles before we have a good sense of the answers to these questions.