Zopa US joined the person-to-person lending arena recently. From a potential lender’s perspective, I was excited to see what they had to offer since Zopa has been operating in the U.K. for a while, and with several features that made them different than the current leader in p2p lending within the US, Prosper.com (review, $25 sign-up bonus). These include:
- More Flexibility – You set your rates, choose how long you want to lend for (1 to 5 years) and decide on a risk level. With Prosper, all loans are for 3 years, there are no other options.
- Risk-Based Interest Rate – Each borrower has a risk-assessment done, and your investment rate is based upon what risk grade you want to invest in. This is different from the pure reverse-auction format of Prosper.
- Easier Diversification – If you lend ?500 or more, your money is spread across at least 50 borrowers. That’s only ?10 per borrower. On Propser, the best you can do is split it to $50 per borrower.
Which of these were extended to Zopa US? None of them.
With Zopa US, they have basically turned into a credit union. Your only choice is to buy a NCUA-insured 1-year certificate of deposit, currently paying 5.10% APY. While the rate is better than average, it’s nothing spectacular. That’s it. Minimal risk, minimal return.
Oh, there is a bit of optional charity if you like. You can “choose your rate”, which mean if you choose a rate of 4.90%, then 0.2% goes the the borrower to help them pay off their loan. But borrowers pay at least 8.75% interest on their own loans! Who’s making money off the rate spread? Zopa, not you.
Person-to-person lending was supposed to cut out the bank as middleman. But this just the same old bank/credit union setup. My guess is that Zopa went this route because US regulations don’t allow them to replicate the UK model here. Very disappointing!
By Jonathan Ping | Investing | 12/6/07, 3:47am