Operating a peer-to-peer platform became a regulated activity on 1 April 2014, having previously been within the perimeter of the Office of Fair Trading. Currently platform operators must either be fully authorised and regulated by the FCA with permission for operating an electronic system in relation to lending, or they can be operating under interim permissions while their full authorisation is being processed. However invoice financing is not a regulated activity so can be carried out by unregulated firms.
It is important to understand the operator’s current regulatory status and the protection this should provide to investors.
The alternative finance industry typically distinguishes between crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending, inasmuch as crowdfunding investors typically take an equity interest in businesses, whereas peer-to-peer investors lend money to individuals and/or businesses. However, the FCA refers to both of these as crowdfunding, which it divides into loan based crowdfunding and investment based crowdfunding.
- Loan based crowdfunding is what is more commonly know as peer-to-peer lending. The loans are specified investments, which means that any promotion of these investments to retail clients who are not high net worth, sophisticated or advised must be issued or approved by an FCA authorised firm.
- Investment based crowdfunding involves investors purchasing securities (e.g. shares and bonds) issued by companies. These investments are non readily realisable securities (NRRS), unless the securities are traded on a regulated venue and can be readily valued and realised within 30 days. Direct offer promotions (promotions that specify a manner of response, such as an application form) of NRRS to retail clients cannot be made unless the client is high net worth, sophisticated or a restricted investor. A restricted investor undertakes not to invest more than 10% of their net assets in NRRS (spanning 12 months before and after investment the point of investment).
As operating a peer-to-peer platform is now a regulated activity, platform operators have to comply with the FCA’s Conduct of Business rules and many other requirements including keeping a minimum amount of liquid reserves. Investors also have access to the Financial Ombudsman and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).