What the new P2P rules mean

  • Describe how the FCA rules will improve consumer protection
  • Identify the dangers of the rules over 'sophisticated investors'
  • Describe some of the problems the FCA found with P2P platforms

You could make a similar criticism of the requirements around management structures and governance.

One of the complaints from investors about the failed firms to-date has been the quality and expertise of those operating them.

Simply rebadging an existing employee as a compliance officer or internal auditor is not going to significantly transform the levels of competence in a sector that is still relatively young.

Some firms may need to invest in these functions to facilitate meaningful change, for example through training or bringing in new expertise.

Perhaps the biggest criticism, however, is that the changes are much better at providing protections for future investors than existing ones.

Under the rules, those who have invested in P2P twice or more in the last two years can be reclassified by firms as sophisticated investors - removing the restrictions on investment amounts and marketing.

An individual who puts in even £10 twice over the two-year period could therefore, in theory, then be allowed to invest a big chunk of their life savings or cashed-in pension pot in P2P.

In such scenarios the FCA will expect firms to adopt a sensible approach, which should also be beneficial for the reputation of the sector.

Striking the balance

The FCA has to consider how it protects investors while at the same time not being seen to stand in the way of innovation.

Take no action and investors with too little understanding of the risks stand to lose more than they can afford; but come down too hard on P2P platforms and it risks stifling a sector that can provide opportunities for investors looking for yields and is proving popular not just in the UK but across Europe.

(While the UK market continues to be most active, France and Germany also have dozens of P2P platforms.)

It could even have panicked investors into withdrawing money en masse, potentially leading to a run on the sector which is unlikely to be a good outcome for anyone.

Overall, the new rules appear to strike this balance fairly well.

They should enable the continued development of the UK’s P2P sector and help keep it competitive in line with its view that the sector offers “valuable choices, particularly for SME lending and investors,” as the policy statement puts it.

The FCA acknowledges the challenge: “We have sought to find an appropriate balance between advancing our policy objectives and enabling future innovation in products and services.”

The rest will be down to the sector itself.

The new rules are likely to mean some investors are better informed and could reduce the amount some put into the platforms.

They are not likely to put many existing investors off the sector entirely, however.