Despite launching over 12 years ago, it’s fair to say that p2p lending isn’t on the radar of all British consumers.

“If you did an opinion poll, you’d still find the majority of people have never heard of P2P lending, so there’s still a big job to do,” said P2PFA chair Christine Farnish in a recent interview with P2P Finance News.

Yet while that may be true, it hasn’t stopped the sector powering ahead, and a significant milestone was reached last week, as the 10 billionth pound was lent via peer-to-peer lending in the UK. Such is the exponential upward curve of the industry’s growth that over £2bn was invested through P2P in H1 2017 alone, and all signs suggest that this trend is set to continue.

Intriguingly, it comes on the back of a challenging year in 2016, in which peer-to-peer lending had to contend with its share of negative press from some high-profile figures. In the same interview, Farnish suggested that this may have been at the behest of some incumbent, big-hitting institutions within the wider financial services sector in the UK, who were looking to “slow the whole thing down”.

The only way is up

Either way, it’s clear that such dissenting voices have been subdued since, and the industry’s positive momentum and thrust towards the mainstream have been underpinned by an increasing number of platforms receiving full FCA approval (Lending Works was the first among P2PFA members to gain this approval in October 2016), and, subsequently launching Innovative Finance ISAs.

It is this new type of ISA which is likely to have the greatest impact. Whether prospective investors have heard of P2P lending or not, all and sundry have become frustrated with the derisory rates of return on savings offered by high-street banks and building societies. And as inflation continues to rise, the need to look elsewhere for real returns will grow.

Although money invested via peer-to-peer lending platforms is not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme if losses are incurred, there are significant safeguards in place, so it thus offers a midpoint in terms of risk and return between savings and stocks & shares. The fact that these returns can now be shielded from tax via the ISA will only strengthen P2P’s hand further, and draw many more consumers into the mix.

“Smashing the £10bn barrier represents tremendous progress for our sector, which is still relatively new,” commented Lending Works founder and CEO Nick Harding. “Performance both at company and industry level this year in particular has been very impressive, and the indications are that volumes will continue to soar as more and more people look to better their finances via the efficiencies and benefits peer-to-peer lending has to offer.

“We can’t afford to be complacent, as many people will need to see P2P function through a complete credit cycle before being completely convinced. It is thus up to us to continue to uphold the highest standards of loan underwriting and transparency, and rely on innovation to drive us forward.

“But certainly, this is an exciting time to be involved with the sector, and, as the IFISA era launches in earnest, we predict with a high degree of confidence that the best days very much lie ahead.”

Lending Works review is written by Michael Todt