Currently in the process of selling all of my Bondora investments

Times have been turbulent for Bondora for a while, and as someone who keeps an eye out for all kinds of changes in P2P investing, even I have managed to lose track of what Bondora is attempting to do. A while back I eliminated my private investing portfolio in Bondora, largely due to tax reasons, but I was still rather optimistic about their long term outlook, which meant that I built a company portfolio that I planned to run with a rather conservative strategy as a part of my p2p portfolio.

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To achieve a conservative portfolio I used an API solution that was self built, and picked loans that were only Estonian, and fell into the more conservative segment, focusing on loans up to C credit group. Within a couple of months I managed to build the portfolio up to about 5000 euros, and while the returns were on the lower end of my portfolio due to the changed risk evaluation policies I was OK with this, as I believed in the long term stability of the portfolio.

Then came all the changes. Firstly the DCA, which, while I understand was necessary was a PR disaster, even though we tried to do our best to help information spread through the investing podcast that we run. The final nail in the coffin, however, is turning out to be the thing that a lot of active investors, including myself, predicted would be the biggest issue – API investments cannot compete against portfolio managers, meaning as long as enough people turn on their autobidders being an active investor is close to impossible.

What this means, is that since the middle of October there has been a steep drop-off for loans, and as such, I have not received a single loan through API bids since October the 13th. Asking around, it seems like other investors are in the same boat as well, leaving only two options available. 1) turning on the automatic portfolio manager or 2) actively trading on the secondary market.

Fundamentally, I do not wish to passively invest in Bondora, which means that if I do turn on the autobidder, it will be just with some play money to test it. I’m just so confused at the direction that Bondora is moving towards – why build all the tools necessary for active investing and then actually make active investing impossible?

Unless the plan was to make API bidding viable for the secondary market only (where it seems to be quite successful). In that case, good luck to all the people making great deals on the secondary market, but I feel the amount of money I currently have in Bondora is not worth the effort of building up the level of statistical modelling which would be required for trading well on the secondary market.

Which means, I’ve slowly started to sell off my company portfolio’s loans, and will continue to do so until I manage to sell most of what I can at value, leaving maybe a small amount of money circulating to see what’s happening. Kind of sad, seeing as Bondora was the portal I started with, and I fundamentally liked their business ideas, but I think my investing ideals have just drifted very far apart from what they’re doing now. Lucky for me, though, there are multiple other viable offers on the market, meaning there is no reason for the money to sit idle!

Bondora API: analysis, experience, options

Since the beginning of December Bondora has allowed investors to use third party API applications to invest into loans. In theory this is an amazing opportunity – people who are capable of analysing the dataset to create investment models can use this opportunity to achieve higher returns and manage their risks in a way a passive investor is just not capable of doing. However, the reality at this moment is a bit different.

Lack of available tools

So far the only API client that has been publicly released is the Beeplus client created by Jarmo. Hopes were that there would be multiple clients competing, but this has proven to not be the case. (I tried to contact LendTower who talked about releasing a client, but I didn’t get an answer from them.) I can only guess what the reason for lack of public clients is, but what probably impacts it is:

  • programming a usable client takes time/effort/skill
  • the process of how the API works isn’t final (sandbox issues, documentation issues), so developers are still waiting to work on it
  • people would rather not be responsible for other people’s money (mistakes the application make could be blamed on the developer)
  • there is no chance of monetisation at this moment (either due to people not being willing to pay or lack of usability for API at this point)
  • people are only sharing the clients with close friends

I asked Jarmo, who created Beeplus a few questions, since I know a lot of people are using Beeplus to invest via Bondora.

A bit about yourself (who are you, how long have you been investing?)

I’m an experienced software developer with some spare time in my hands (happens sometimes, rarely). I have also been investing small amounts at Bondora for a few years now.

What motivated you to create Beeplus?

When I saw an article about Bondora creating an API at their blog, I wanted to create something for myself to invest better at Bondora because their Portfolio Manager is very limited. After I started playing with the API in the sandbox environment I saw an opportunity to not just help myself, but also others like me and created the BeePlus. This is how it all got started essentially.

Who is the typical Beeplus user? (Do you have any user stats to share?)

I haven’t conducted any interview processes yet among BeePlus users, but deriving from some communication I’ve had with them, I’d say that currently big part of them are early adopters and more technical users. I haven’t made (almost) any PR to promote BeePlus and all current users have somehow found BeePlus. To be honest, I don’t know how. Currently BeePlus has 50+ active investors (meaning they participate daily bidding on Bondora’s auctions) and from the end of November (time when BeePlus went live) BeePlus has made 5000+ bids on behalf of investors through Bondora’s API.

Is Beeplus a hobby project or will you monetize it at some point?

Currently BeePlus has been a hobby project, but I’ve had some thoughts about making some money with it as well by introducing a freemium model (meaning that core functionality is free, but premium functionality will cost a little bit of money). It’s not going to happen in near-future if ever though.

What is best about using Beeplus? What are you planning to add in the future (or is Beeplus now ‘ready’)?

Best of BeePlus is that it is user-friendly (hopefully), because UX (usability) has been one of the goals since from the beginning. Security and privacy is also very important to me (for example many users ask for functionality, which would require BeePlus to query about investors available balance at Bondora’s account, but I’ve not done these yet due to privacy reasons – it might change in the future though). BeePlus is far from ready – I have a pretty long TODO list for it. I’m going to add some investment limits (monthly and/or daily) to the rules, secondary market support and so on. Functionality list is endless and I’m always hearing out all the ideas users might have as well, but at the same time I want to keep BeePlus simple and easy to use (UX, right?), which means that not everything will be implemented in the end.

Any wishes in terms of usability from Bondora’s side?

Bondora’s API has not been live long and that’s why there might have been many problems among API documentation and bugs in the system. Hopefully it will get better. However, there is a large problem of Bondora having lower priority for all API users compared to their own Portfolio Manager, which they are not planning to change. For now.


As you can see, luckily there is one option on the market written by someone who personally also invests and has been kind enough to share their work on the open market. However, at this point there are a few problems with how the API functionality works overall, that I’d like to address that I hope will get fixed in the future.

Prioritisation of bids

At this moment, the priority for bids is as follows:
1. Investors (likely to be institutionals) who bid via API to fill up whole loan
2. Passive investors using Bondora portfolio manager
3. Investors who bid via API

There are many key issues here. Firstly, at some point when institutional investors come into play, then we will be seeing more and more (or well, not seeing) loans not even hit the primary market. If we talk about a fund that wants to invest 2million/year then they are definitely not going to be investing into small pieces of loans.

At this point we do not have institutional investors on the market yet (as far as I know), but it will be interesting to see how it will play out. At one point, I’d say it might be a good idea to gather up your friends, pile up your investment money and start buying whole loans. Provided that you can pile up about 100K euros with your group of buddies this would probably work reasonably well in terms of diversification.

The second problem is the low priority of API bids, which is actually making the API rather useless at the moment. The whole point of the API being the idea that you can bid on specific loans that fit your investment model – however, since you are currently mostly bidding into loans that portfolio managers do not managed bid full, then trying to implement any strict filters for your loans doesn’t really work since you just don’t have the volume to choose from. This is especially true when we start thinking about a more conservative portfolio which at this point is considered by most to be Estonian loans AA-C.

The easiest way to fix this would be to reserve a certain percentage of loan total value to API bids. The reason why API bids are still getting AA loans at the moment for example is because the portfolio manager bids are mostly small enough that they do not fill up loans with higher values (you can also see fluctuations at points of the month when portfolio managers are “empty”). However, this will not last long since with every 200 loans in a portfolio the bid size increases – meaning in a few months more loans would likely be filled up by the autobidders. When visiting Bondora Pärtel mentioned that they would be looking into this, I hope if the situation does get problematic some sort of a fix would be made to the priority list (especially if other entities enter the bidding priority list). Currently as it stands, you cannot use the API for much other than a glorified country picker unless you have very strong models and are interested into investing into higher risk loans.

My bidding experience

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Ever since the start of December I have invested 95% on my money via an API application, and a few loans I have picked manually. I am using an application that my husband built and as mentioned before, I am sharing it with a few close friends who have asked for it (since I don’t really want to be responsible for errors/support to an extent a public application would need). I am not using any complex model since I haven’t had time to develop anything but I am not ruling it out in the future, provided I have some time to analyse the dataset with the help of some analysis programs (not seeing this happening any time soon).

As it stands, for the whole month of December both my business & private portfolio used the application to bid. For my business account I managed to invest into 100+ Estonian AA-C loans. Mostly of course the result being B&C loans, since they are generally big enough, and there are enough of them to go around for everyone.

Starting January I set my private portfolio to only invest into Estonian AA & A loans, as I am slowly starting to withdraw money but I am still planning to keep a small conservative portfolio running. So far, it seems like I get an AA or A loan every 3-5 days. This is about the pace that I expected and will help me keep the pace of withdrawing all deposits into my private account within two years an reducing the portfolio size steadily.

For my business account, at the moment it seems like there is enough loans to go around if you are not investing at insane rates. Getting into at least 50 EST AA-C loans seems entirely possible, and for most private investors that is a perfectly reasonable level of diversification. As I said before, as the portfolio managers start bidding more or as institutional investors enter the market the situation might change, but if you don’t want to use very complex models you can get the money out. However, using very complicated predictive models at this point is rather impossible, however at least the clients are being built (if only secretly at this point), that in the future they will hopefully be of much more use.

Summary of our Bondora visit

A couple of weeks ago some Estonian bloggers got invited to Bondora to talk a bit about future plans, to get a chance to ask our questions and discuss overall better communication. I’m going to write down a slightly chaotic list based on the notes I made, please notice that this is what I wrote down and understood, any errors are wholly mine.

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Company restructuring

The business has been seriously reorganized to separate people who work with borrowers and people who work with investors. This is largely due to how little overlap there is with the products, meaning in the long run better service and quality for both sides.

Rework of investor communications

Pärtel was honest in admitting that investor relations have not been working at the level they should have, and complaints have been justified. There is a whole new investor relations team, and I have already had some experience with them, and I’ve seen far more professional answers and contact than from general customer service before.

Rework of business logic and other details

2015 was a year of big change, including both reworking the models for rating clients and reworking a lot of the legal framework. The legal changes mean that now an investor essentially purchases a claim for a piece of a loan, but isn’t directly tied to the loan taker – all loans for a moment go through Bondora’s records, but legally it’s set so that even in case of Bondora’s bankruptcy investors keep their claims. The legal framework has also been set to include institutional investors.

Banking license in the future

Due to practical reasons of trying to enter new markets, a banking license is inevitable due to how much easier it makes accessing new markets. It would also allow Bondora to include more products for people, for example a set interest CD that would be backed by the loan book. Bondora itself investing partially into the loans was also mentioned. It would definitely allow for more flexibility in terms of products and new markets.

But active retail investors?

Retail investors are here, and will remain. Active ones who manage their own portfolio are however a rarity and there just isn’t enough money in their hands to support expansions into new countries (this is already known based off all other big P2P sites). This means that institutional investors will have to come on board to support expansion.

Institutional investors

Pärtel mentioned that the “ballpark” for institutionals is that they’d be able to provide something in the range of 100 million per year to help keep up loan supply. It might seem like much, but expansion plans that are going around are mentioning 8 new countries by 2017. Institutional investors are also more interested in Spanish loans due to higher returns. (Retail investors are always scared that they’re going to lose access to EST loans, but that’s too tiny of a market for any institutional investor.)

Bondora rating

Overall the rating has proven itself. There was a tiny update in December to improve the current model. We were shown a lot of charts & data and overall conclusion is that the rating has failed to predict well for Spanish B, D, C, however those combined are at 2% of the portfolio, and the new model was set to fix it. Risk/recovery are currently on plan.

Recovery

There will be open data in the near future about how the DCA (debt collection agency) have done in recovering, but Pärtel said that the data is better than expected. The reason why they use DCA at start instead of courts is that 1) often people fear DCA’s more, 2) courts take a very long time to act 3) courts are inconsistent in their rulings. Hope to see a blog post by them about this at some point.

Buyback

One of the bloggers, Jaak, raised the topic of a buyback guarantee and allowing investors to accept the loss, if they so desired from defaulted loans. Pärtel stated being very much against it due to the black box that it creates. (I agree on that). An investor can accept the loss when selling on the secondary market though, since now that the loans are legally restructured you can sell defaulted loans as well, though of course the discount has to be rather steep.

Secondary market

Pärtel also briefly introduced plans to work on secondary market pricing, to include a sort of a “fair price”, allowing people to assess sm loans better, and eventually use the autobidder to buy and sell on the sm. This is probably very far in the future – you can still manually price loans, but if they fall outside of the limits of the fair price that Bondora estimates then people need to manually purchase them.

Primary and secondary market

Are not going anywhere, but will also not be receiving any significant upgrades or additions. Currently no plans to phase them out.

Sharing data

One of the topics we discussed was official communication channels. The Bondora forum exists but is rather useless, it’s used by ~100 people, the loudest of whom often no longer investors, meaning that new users get no useful info there, since Bondora doesn’t actively track it. The current official communication channel is the blog that’s been getting a lot more action recently. We also passed along the suggestion for regular Q&A sessions.

API

First third party applications are already available and in use. Looking at other P2P portals, the pricing of the API tends to  come to 0,2-0,5%. They are following the market to see what’s happening. We briefly discussed the issued of API bids being last in line to make a bid and that this might be a bigger problem in the future. The issue is understood, and can be tracked better now that the old PMs are closed, it will create a clearer picture for how well loans fill. Also, in the future it would be possible (once more institutional investors are on board) that a set % of a loan is always set aside for retail investors.

Future fixes

Essentially what we’ve been waiting for forever – more data & charts on the web (I’ve sent them my wishes like 3x I think). There should be a fix for the cash flow page finally as well in addition to overall quality of life fixes. (The first – bid amount per loan for autobidder users is already live.) Looking forward to seeing all the fixes (hopefully in the near future).

Summary

Overall, while I complain a fair bit about some of the decisions and communication blackouts that Bondora has had (and that complaining has been justified) then I have continuously invested into Bondora due to the returns offered.

I am happy that they are finally starting to work on many issues that have been problematic for a long time (years). Of course, as usual – with many things I’ll have to see them to believe them, but even the fact that we were invited to meet shows a level of openness we haven’t seen before.

Overall, hoping for many positive changes in 2016 both in terms of web use comfort, better access to data, better communication and overall growth of the company.

New portfolio manager Q&A with Pärtel Tomberg

The new portfolio manager for Bondora was released, so of course emotions as usual are running high. My first thought was – holy sh** – this can’t be how the new PM works – you just have to go through two confirmation screens and essentially pick one option out of three to start investing. So, after my initial reaction I had a chance to get some answers from the CEO Pärtel Tomberg about the reasons why the new system ended up as it did. (You can read their official pre-release post here.)

The answers by are by Pärtel (unedited) and my comments are in italics. (Before we start, I gotta say the answers I got from Pärtel were impressively detailed, and a much better show of communication then anything I’ve seen in the past couple of years. Some of the ideas I don’t agree with but he does show their mindset quite well.)

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1. What was the design logic for having more simplicity? Don’t most investors want to more actively manage their investments? 

a.       Our main goal is to deliver net returns higher than available on the public stock markets regardless if you manage your portfolio actively or passively. We want to deliver the results regardless if you are investing 1,000 euros or 1,000,000 euros.

b.      Approximately 80% of the investments are coming from investors who only have used automated portfolios (passive investing) and 20% from investors who are actively managing their portfolios (loan picking, secondary markets, custom strategies on old Portfolio Manager etc.). We conducted extensive interviews and surveys in the beginning of the year and found out that the passive customers actually considered our product (Portfolio Manager) very complex and wanted a single control centre along with easy overview on top of getting access to Bondora’s returns. Active investors on the other hand wanted very granular reporting and loan picking options. It became evident that trying supporting both within Bondora website would be impossible as neither group’s needs would be satisfied.

(I have heard this complaint as well that the current PM as-is was difficult to use, and helped several people set their PM up.)

c.       Therefore we made a decision to build a super easy and light weight product for the retail investors and create an API to support the more active, trader types. We will now release an API that is open to third parties to build services on top of our platform (e.g.http://www.lendtower.com/, https://beeplus.me/). The second version of this API (version 1.0 is in our sandbox) will be coming early November and will include Primary Market buying, Secondary Market buying, Secondary Market selling and setup to support third party developers. Later this year we will also roll out full reporting package after we have updated and corrected the reporting package on the web.

(So far we haven’t gotten much info on the API and the things third parties are doing with it. I had two developers mark that at this point the API wasn’t as good as it could be, but hopefully Bondora is accepting recommendations from the people working on developing the interactions for API.

Also… corrected the reporting package on the web? I’ll believe it when I see it 😉 )

2. Why did you decide to change the way account value was shown ? (meaning the 60+ loans being counted only as the unpaid-by-this-moment as opposed to the whole value of 60+ with maybe a combination of expected % of recovery?)

a.       The objective of the dashboard is to give investors an immediate view of the profit of their portfolio. This profit is calculated using the net investments made by the investor to date (deposits less withdrawals) and the value of their portfolio.

b.      Investments into loan portfolios are fixed income investments whereby an investor exchanges a certain amount of capital for a steady stream of monthly payments that are higher than the initial investment. The key here is the monthly payments. Part of this return comes from interest and part of this comes from reinvestments interest that in turn generates both new principal payments and interest – e.g. cumulative interest.

c.       All loans are priced on the assumption that a certain proportion of loans are not repaid. The default and corresponding recovery is factored into the interest rate so that interest payments on performing loans are high enough so the total portfolio delivers the expected return.

d.      As interest and reinvestments of repaid principal are made monthly then all provisions are matched to the same period. Otherwise we would compare lifetime losses of a portfolio with the interest income of a a couple of months. This logic would potentially work only with a very short investment focus but as investing on Bondora is a long-term investment then it does not make sense.

e.       There are two financially sound alternative views to calculating the portfolio value the way we do in the new dashboard. First is based on IFRS rules for banks and the second based on repricing of all loans in the portfolio according to a similar logic we use for pricing new loans. We plan to roll out both methodologies by the end of the year so that in the future investors can choose which context fits their requirements.

f.       In case you disagree with our logic and would want a simple alternative to check the net annualized return than simply compare the interest income of your portfolio with the amount of capital you have invested on Bondora (deposits – withdrawals) for a certain period. This would be ROCE logic (http://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/roce.asp).

g.      PS! Discounting the balance of overdue loans and matching this number with income makes sense for mortgage and super-prime loans (e.g. ZOPA) where the income of the performing portfolio is negligible so a loss can effectively never be priced/repaid by income on the portfolio.

(I think this is a tricky issue – overall for new investors seeing a more balanced view, but long term this becomes a bit problematic because the number of what’s shown on the dashboard vs what’s shown in the pie chart will differ by a magnitude of 10x.)

3. How should the passive investor decide between the three risk classes? (What should be the ‘decision tree’ that leads them to a specific type of investment?)

a.       First of all an investor should decide if and how much of their portfolio they would like to invest on Bondora. Passive investors typically invest between 5%-10% of their portfolio on Bondora and are not that much concerned of additional diversification (as they have already diversified by only allocating 5-10% to Bondora).

b.      The three risk-return options allow you to decide if you want to build a portfolio that is on average less profitable (and risky), more profitable or at average profitability.  

c.       Each of these options comes with different expected returns however the actual risk of the portfolio (losing money on a portfolio vs. the gains) is always determined by the diversification level. Our statistics has shown that after 200 investments the volatility of returns stabilizes based on if you took the less or more risky route. However in most cases investors earn considerably more than anywhere else on the market and almost never lose money (enclosed).

d.      In summary, investors should first decide if they want to by the types of unsecured personal loans that Bondora can deliver and how much they want to invest. If this amount is enough to diversify (we think that you should consider building up a total portfolio of at least 1,000 euro to meet this condition) then thereafter the actual risk of your portfolio is not influenced anymore by the types of loans you pick.

(Once again… the decision making is slightly problematic. When I try to think about which of the three options I should choose, I would probably struggle. Long term valuations of high risk – high reward can be hard to project the value into the present.)

4. Do you feel that the current one-window check screen for the investor to verify their understanding of risk is sufficient to guarantee that investors are adequately analysing the risks associated with investing? (How are less knowledgeable investors protected from making bad investment decisions?)

a.      In order to invest on Bondora the investor needs to review the information on our landing pages that based on FCA guidelines include full information about risks and processes. You should be confident that you want to invest through Bondora when you sign up and you should only invest a certain share of your portfolio. Typically our customers invest 5-10% of their capital with Bondora and they consider this part of their alternative investments portfolio (potentially higher return but less liquid/higher risk).

b.      The Portfolio Manager page includes information on the expected returns (that are net of losses), an overview of how the portfolio is expected to grow, the expected composition of your portfolio (by risk level and country), expected numbers based on levels of diversification as well as detailed explanations of how different numbers are calculated.

c.       We believe all these steps and detailed information is sufficient to make an investment decision on a 5-10% proportion of an investors portfolio. This level of detail is considerably more extensive than you would find with the people selling pension funds (in supermarkets), online FX sites or online asset managers. We also think our information is considerably more detailed than any other marketplace lender.

(The last in particular is an interesting statement, that your P2P portfolio should be 5-10%. While most bloggers try to direct most investors into this direction, then not many starter investors follow this – for many the P2P section of their portfolio is anything from 50-100%.)

5.  How does the risk balancing process work? How far “out of balance” will the portfolio tip before you stop investing into a group to wait for others to rebalance?

a.       The system calculates your portfolios risk level after each batch of investment and only buys batches of loans with a risk level lower or higher than your existing portfolio depending on your strategy. In general customers who have signed up for the new portfolio manager are looking to decrease the risk of their portfolio.

(This would definitely be interesting to see. If this algorithm works well, then whoever designed it definitely deserves a raise. Also, when the previous PM was launched in January I also set it to be more conservative than my existing portfolio, so I guess I fall in to that ‘general’ subset of investors.)

6. The sizes of the loan pieces – take the sample of my portfolio, what would the investment per loan be (and why isn’t this visualised anywhere?)

a.       The size of each investment is determined by the number of borrowers in your portfolio. The investment size is doubled after each 200 investments (the file enclosed earlier explains the logic). Your (as in me, Kristi’s) portfolio has 680 borrowers which means that your bid size will be 40 euro (or 0.72% of your outstanding portfolio). This level delivers an optimal investment time as well as risk diversification.

b.      This number is not visualized as the people we interviewed when developing this product never raised the topic. We are happy to add this in case our customers request it. Most people never think of how much they would invest into granular assets within the category they are investing in. For example if you choose a pension fund you never think or decide on how many euro per month is invested for each stock or bond in the portfolio.

(Yes, please visualise this :) )

c.       If everyone would sign up to the new product the roughly 83% of the investors would be at 5 euro investment size however this number is more equally spread when we look at the amount invested.

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(Alright, so now this is probably the most controversial of all the issues. My current portfolio value as you see above is about 6,5K. This means that at the rate I invest, which is about 150 euros per month, with returned money reinvested I will be investing into a total of…. 6-8 loans per month. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, especially since I’m on track to get to the 80 euro pieces quite soon. On the other hand, I was super surprised at the data that so many of the investors are at such small portfolio sizes that they would remain at the 5 euro piece – this means that they have <200 loan pieces, meaning a portfolio of <1000 euros. The data shows an intriguing look into the investor base of Bondora – a lot of retail investors who invest small sums, and a small % of investors with significant portfolios that make up almost a third of the money invested. This is the part where you have to keep in mind though – the people complaining on the forums are those who are a very vocal minority – the majority just sits still and lets their money get invested without causing a hassle on the forums.)

7.  Will the 80 euros per limit also apply when investing via API? Why was the decision made to lower the investment amount per loan? How many portfolios are likely to be investing at the max level of 80 euros per loan? (Also, if your account has less money than the assigned ‘loan piece size’ then will it still invest or wait for the money to stack up aka the problem of ‘cash drag’?)

a.       The 80 euro per loan limit was set to ensure that the proportion of each new loan in the portfolio is not higher than 1% of the deployed balance in most cases for customers converting from old products to the new. Such restrictions do not apply when investing over the API – you may fund the entire loan if you want through that channel. As the data showed earlier – roughly 2.6% of investors would be investing at that level in case everyone would convert to the new product.

b.      The new Portfolio Manager never invests fractional amounts to ensure the diversification rules are properly applied. This is already the case for most investors as the minimum investment amount is set already to 5 euro.

(I essentially read this as – the people who would use the API or those who would be investing the max 80 euros per loan piece are likely to overlap anyways so this is somewhat of a non issue.)

8. Does account value function imply that at one point selling whole portfolios will be possible? (Since 60+ loans are now sellable on the secondary market already.)

a.      The new Portfolio Manager will in the future include the option to sell part of or entire portfolio. Other investors using the Portfolio Manager will then pick these up in case there are not enough loans on the primary market.

b.      We are currently working on building the models to price outstanding loans so that loans on the secondary market would be priced according to the same logic as on the primary market. In essence this would mean that certain loans would be sold at balance value, some above and some below.

9.      How many investors are you predicting will be using the passive web interface vs how many will be holing out to use the API?

a.      We expect that roughly 80% of investors will use the passive web interface and rest will come through the API. Already after two days the new Portfolio Manager accounts for 45% of the new investments without any marketing.

(I think this % is very high – it’s a bit scary to seen that many people be so passive with their investments, but overall, Bondora is just about as passive for them as an average investment fund now, so maybe they shouldn’t be judged that strongly based on that. I’m tempted to try the new PM myself as well, just until the API is live since it will take time to test most third party apps for that as well.)

10.  Many of these changes are likely a precursor to more institutional investors coming on board – are you running any scenarios to assess the likely future balance between retail & institutional investors?

a.       We are building a structure where institutional and retail capital is collectively combined to allow consumers move away from banks. It is certain that institutional capital is going to be higher than ’self-directed’ retail capital as the markets are at very different sizes. However you should also understand that raising money from banks (who hold your deposits), pension funds (who manager your retirement plan) or insurance companies (who manage the funds to keep your home safe) are all retail investors simply packaged together.

(While this is already long then some final comments –  1. I do think that most people underestimate just how passive investors are, and a lot of our first impressions are strongly coloured by bad decisions made in the past by Bondora. While talking to Pärtel then he also mentioned that some reorganising is happening to manage investor relationships better. Though they have done this before, then I hope they do it better this time to generate answers for the more complex questions that investors are likely to ask. 2. If you feel like the new PM isn’t for you, then I recommend against activating it – but as you see from the data above most people are likely to activate and just be silent about it. 3. I reserve the right to guess more about these things once they’e been live for long and we can see a bigger impact of this on the way the market works.)

To finish up, a XIRR chart, kindly shared by Pärtel, to demonstrate the need for diversification:

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What is Bondora moving towards?

Having invested into Bondora for almost three years now, and having seen many radical changes happen over the course of that time, then yesterday’s announcement about both the primary market and secondary market being phased out to be replaced by either completely passive PMs or a more active chance to build your own API, the question arises – what exactly is Bondora moving towards?

2014octinvest

 

What is alternative finance at heart?

In the recent (I’d say 7+) years information technology has finally reached a level where it’s possible the radically disrupt classical business models via technological solutions. Most know examples of course being AirBnB and Uber, Transferwise, even Google as an overall idea and many others.

Fintech in that sense has been an interesting field to follow since at heart, innovation in the financial industry is mostly limited by how creatively you can find wiggle room between different regulations that try to stifle your growth and business model.

Quite a lot of new innovations have gone with the model of “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission”, and Uber is perhaps the best example of this in many ways due to actually being declared illegal in some places due to what amount to essentially cartel agreements that exist in the taxi industry.

For fintech, this has meant that many of the startups have started out being not regulated since they don’t fit into a traditional mould of what a credit institution should be. This is why many fintech start-ups first test their business model with a minimum viable legal work to see if it’s reasonable to pour money into actually working with all the regulations that will start pressing in from all sides once you’re a “real” business.

Bondora is one such example – they started out small enough to not be regulated, and now that they’re big enough certain steps need to be made. The first one was probably being voluntarily regulated by the UK financial inspection, but this was likely only a first step on a long path to the new Bondora business model.

What are the new changes about?

While the information so far has been vague in terms of what will happen (and when), then essentially Bondora will move from a one-time heavily individually (actively) managed investment to a more passive form, closer to a fund than a loan market in terms of how it’s going to work.

Now, where this gets interesting is if you follow what Bondora has been doing recently. Clearly they have done a pretty clear 180 from what they promised several years ago – more transparency and more tools for an investor are nowhere in sight, things that were heavily emphasised a few years ago.

Why the sudden change of heart? Bondora will probably never actually explain anything (since they never do), but it’s likely that this change will pave way for a bigger influx of institutional investors due to how much smoother it will be to use for portfolios that invest significant sums of money. Why institutional investors? – The reason is simple, small scale investors are unable to provide the money for expanding to new markets.

In some ways a more Lending Club-ish method of investing wouldn’t necessarily be bad, I mean it works for LC. Investors don’t really own the loan pieces, LC does, and you essentially buy a “bond” with expected returns. While this will likely drop overall returns, it should in theory also reduce risk. However, the success of their model is still heavily tied to the quality of their clients, so as long as they can guarantee that, then for the investor theoretically there shouldn’t be much difference in how the actual interface works.

Another key thing to keep in mind here, is that Bondora is in the process of getting a banking license. Pärtel mentioned this as well at the Opinion Festival, but it’s a move that makes sense if you want to ease your way into the big players, since the way banks are regulated is in many ways simpler than the (legal) loops that alternative finance needs to jump through. The recent announced changes certainly align with becoming a more “classical” type of business.

*I wanted to write a bit about the api as well, but there isn’t enough information yet. I truly hope they don’t accidentally make a Forex-like system though where you have to pay money to third parties to have the best chance to invest. Especially since most retail investors will never be able to compete with institutional investors.