SocietyOne, an Australian peer-to-peer lender, mulls entering NZ market, is talking with 'multiple parties'

SocietyOne, an Australian peer-to-peer lender, mulls entering NZ market, is talking with 'multiple parties'

By Gareth Vaughan

Australian peer-to-peer lender SocietyOne says it is interested in entering the New Zealand market, but hasn't decided how to do so yet.

A spokeswoman for SocietyOne told the firm, in which Westpac venture capital fund Reinventure Group has invested A$5 million for a minority stake, is mulling a "variety of market entry models into New Zealand." Discussions with "multiple parties" are ongoing, she said.

"SocietyOne has been approached by numerous parties, including Sharing Shed, either seeking a partnership or looking to license its technology platform ClearMatch. At this stage no decision has been made as to how SocietyOne will operate in the New Zealand market," the SocietyOne spokeswoman said.

Her comments come after Hayden Bryant, co-founder of the Sharing Shed and who has a background in industrial real estate, told  his firm is keen to become a New Zealand peer-to-peer lender and aims to work with SocietyOne.

The Sharing Shed's website says New Zealand's "most sophisticated peer-to-peer lending platform" is coming soon.

"It's not going to be peer to peer in the true sense of starting up a website and just bringing people together. We're going to be a lot more involved," Bryant said. "It's very early days for us. We haven't applied for a licence yet."

SocietyOne was co-founded by Greg Symons who is chief operating officer. He's known in New Zealand from previous roles including as founder and CEO of both Hopscotch Money and Financial Administration Services. SocietyOne's other co-founder is Matt Symons, who isn't related to Greg, and is CEO.

'Like an online dating service'

The passing of the Financial Markets Conduct Act has opened the door for peer-to-peer lending in New Zealand, with those wanting to be peer-to-peer lenders needing to apply to the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) for a licence.

The principal purpose will be to match lenders with borrowers seeking loans for personal, charitable, or small business purposes and receive fees for doing so. Others applying for licences to operate peer-to-peer lending platforms - Harmoney, Lending Crowd, Lendit and Britain's RateSetter, after it sets up shop in Australia first - are pledging lower interest rates for borrowers, and substantially higher rates for investors than those offered by bank deposits.

Elaine Campbell, the FMA's head of compliance monitoring, told last month peer-to-peer lenders are like an online dating service.

"Essentially what they are doing is introducing people wanting to lend money to people wanting to borrow money," Campbell said.

In Australia SocietyOne currently only offers "sophisticated investors" and wholesale clients the opportunity to invest directly into a portfolio of consumer loans. Licenced New Zealand peer-to-peer platforms will allow retail investors to do this. The SocietyOne spokeswoman said the company is registering with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission as it seeks to be allowed to let retail investors and self-managed superfunds participate.

"Our borrowers are generally credit worthy Australians who meet our lending criteria for unsecured personal loans. While we don't have an SME program yet, we have successfully launched a secured livestock lending program together with one of the largest livestock agents in the country," she said.

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