The failure of government initiatives to boost funding to small businesses has acted as a spur for the latest entrant in peer-to-peer lending to set out ambitious targets for growth.
Assetz Capital, which launched late last year, is looking to lend about £50m this year and £250m in 2014 through P2P lending, in which businesses seeking loans are matched with lenders via the web.
The targets look “entirely achievable”, said Stuart Law, chief executive. The venture shares the brand name but is separate to the Assetz group, the property investment company in which Mr Law is a majority shareholder.
Peer-to-peer lending is a relatively new concept in the UK that allows individuals to lend to each other and to small businesses. The sector, whose operators include Zopa and Funding Circle, aims to provide higher returns for lenders than from a bank deposit account while improving access to credit for borrowers.
Mr Law said traditional high-street lenders as well as various government initiatives such as the Bank of England’s Funding for Lending Scheme, which makes cheap money available for mortgage and small business lending, were not providing enough support for businesses looking to invest.
“Funding for lending has not succeeded in the business sector at all,” Mr Law said. “Banks have taken the easy option and used it for mortgage lending.”
Assetz Capital said a £1.5m loan to fund a student hall of residence development in Nottingham is the biggest loan yet raised from “P2P” lenders in the UK. The P2P lender has also raised £180,000, which it will use for trade finance loans.
P2P lending has won support from the government, which has allotted part of its Business Finance Partnership funding to support alternative lending models to the largest providers.
Mr Law rejected the suggestion that banks are keen to lend but companies are unwilling to borrow because of blunted confidence amid stuttering economic recovery.
“I don’t buy it – demand is out there and its huge,” he said. “I don’t think business lending is going to improve for a considerable period of time.”
He said P2P lenders are in a stronger position as banks face ever-stricter capital and regulatory requirements, constricting their ability to lend. The company’s non-executive chairman is Paul Moore, the former HBOS executive who was fired from his job as head of group regulatory risk in 2004 after warning that the bank was taking excessive risks.
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