What the peer-to-peer lending industry learnt from Lego

Karteek Patel
Source: Getty

Fidget Spinners are out. Loom bands are out. Pokemon Go? So out. What’s the latest craze sweeping the nation’s playgrounds this term? Lego. And more precisely, Lego figurines.

These little Lego people have broken free to become one of the must-have tradeable toys this autumn. Lego is no longer just about the bricks, and the brand’s relentless drive to expand its range has brought it back into the forefront time and time again.

Strange as it may seem, using the analogy of Lego may be the best way to demonstrate why we believe the peer-to-peer (P2P) industry also isn’t – and can’t be – a one trick pony. While some see the industry as a fad that is set to become redundant, there are many reasons why this isn’t the case.

The pursuit of creating something better

A decade ago, the Lego brand was centred entirely on selling colourful bricks. And back then, it was on the verge of collapse.

But today, it owns a hugely successful film franchise; Lego TV shows are broadcast all over the world, and it boasts a huge army of online fans, young and old.

And, of course, the company still shifts boxes and boxes of Lego sets.

Lego even has its own crowdsourcing success story, following a campaign inviting anyone and everyone to become idea originators.

In short, Lego’s success is largely due to its ability to embrace change and technology, and diversify the types of products it offers – rather than just create different versions of one product.

Embracing change to create something better is exactly how the P2P lending industry is shaking up the world of borrowing and investing.

P2P platforms are exploring a range of new and old ways, and their aim is to create something which is more equitable, satisfactory and useful for everyone.

From the start, when Zopa originated its first loan in 2005, the P2P lending industry sought to revolutionise the interaction between investors and borrowers by improving the speed and transparency of the lending process.

But this was never going to be a revolution that meant throwing away everything that was already working well.

Rather than getting rid of everything and starting from scratch, the success of true innovation lies in the ability to see what has come before. We should look at what has worked well, and use this to advance and improve.

Yet when this happens in our industry some see it as a sign of weakness. Industry critics and naysayers have picked on some platforms for straying into what is perhaps erroneously referred to as “traditional finance”.

Finance is not a tradition

The financial industry is not a tradition. It is a commercial venture.

By creating ways for businesses to access finance, we are allowing them to evolve, remain competitive, and create more jobs.

At the same time, it broadens the types of investment opportunities available to retail investors. This is arguably even more vital today given the atrocious interest rates, the looming pensions crisis, and a generation of millennials who are unable to get on the property ladder.

The real battle

To draw battle lines based on what is deemed “traditional” and what is deemed “innovative” is to ignore the real advantages that technology brings to the mix. It completely disregards the potential to make improvements through development, not just replacement.

At a very basic level, P2P lending has been made possible because technology now enables us to create a direct relationship between the borrower and lender.

But that doesn’t mean the industry will only ever do this.

Successful businesses that only sell one thing, in one way, are few and far between. Just ask Lego.

Do more of what works well

Finding better ways of working sometimes means developing new software or creating new algorithms.

It might mean making use of new human behaviours facilitated by technology, such as the use of artificial intelligence. At other times, it might be more about blending the old with the new.

In many ways, the entire P2P industry can be thought of in this light, because it stems from the “traditional” banking business model, but has adapted this basic premise by channelling everything online. And it’s not about scrapping those investment products which are arguably more familiar, and therefore comfortable. Instead it’s about offering these older-style products alongside the new. Like Lego, the classic products can complement the new product lines.

Using the basic concept of finance also means P2P companies can create a wider range of options that can work for a variety of businesses, while responding to the drive to increase transparency and lower costs.

Entirely replacing what has come before isn’t the only way to move forward. Now, does anyone have a Lego Batman they want to trade for a Darth Vader?