Are you a better lender than a bank is? Richard Duvall, who helped launch Britain’s largest online bank, Egg, thinks you are. His new venture, Zopa, is an eBay-like website that lets ordinary citizens borrow money from other regular Joes — no bank needed.
The service is open to any U.K. resident over 18 who clears a credit check. Each borrower is assigned to one of two categories: market A for people with solid credit, and market B for riskier borrowers, who pay higher rates. To dampen the effect of defaults, Zopa spreads each user’s cash among at least 50 customers. The payoff for would-be J.P. Morgans? Their money works harder than it would in the best money-market accounts. Market A lenders can expect returns around 6 percent, while market B lenders get rates as high as 9 percent. Zopa, meanwhile, takes a 1 percent commission from every borrower’s loan.
Since the site’s debut in March, more than 23,400 people have joined. “Some people hate their banks and want to borrow from real people,” says CEO Duvall, who’s now eyeing the U.S. market. But analysts say federal and state regulations could present obstacles. Still, if Zopa can find a way around the legal hurdles as it did in the U.K. — where it skirted the issue of consumer credit licensing by limiting users to £25,000 ($44,000) in loans outstanding — who knows? The guy next to you on the subway might be your next banker.