Crowdestate communications disaster

Since a lot has happened with Crowdestate in the past few months and due to Estonians having a serious advantage when it comes to accessing information on issues, then I thought I’d take the time to do a short write up for non-Estonian investors involved in CE projects to get a clue of current issues.

To start – several projects funded by CE have failed. It’s yet to be seen how many have been fraud cases or maliciously badly run, but failing projects in itself is not something to cause too much alarm over (because projects can fail). The issue to raise alarm about is the accompanying PR disaster that has seriously shaken investors’ faith in how well CE manages things.

The beginning

It’s hard to say when exactly things started going a bit wrong but the first big *bang* was the Q-Haus project. Fortunately/unfortunately this case was covered by Estonia’s biggest business newspaper Äripaev. They have a made-up investor (Toomas) who has started to invest into P2P as well. In LHV forums ( a local bank) people were discussing this project – that there is something wrong and the company’s (the Sponsor’s) name had been changed in he business register.

This prompted several investors to (luckily for them) sell. After the name change (CE was unaware of this it seems), a claim for bankruptcy was filed and this info was up on the Äripäev news section *before* any announcements were made on the CE website. This means that investors who either read the LHV forums or the Äripäev news site managed to sell their loan parts before the majority of investors knew anything (and before trading on the CE secondary market was closed).

All other investors who finally got the info through the CE website could no longer do anything. The delay in information being given out was unacceptably long and raised issues on how this info was shared in the LHV forums and CE team knew nothing. By the time the bankruptcy announcement came the business had been cleaned of all assets.

The second issue

Now, this prompted a lot of investors to look deeper into what was going on in their portfolios and this caused a bit of a panic sales push on the secondary market. Another such project which people were talking about on the LHV forums was Baltic Forest. This project has been funded with 10(!!) different rounds and recent updates were not promising. The company was missing payments claiming slight issues while LHV forums once again had discussions of large management issues and likelihood of project failure.

Within not too long official notice was given that the company was indeed in serious trouble and filing for debt management and freezing all payments for at least 6 months. This raised multiple questions on how well CE due diligence works. Turns out that while final rounds were being funded via CE the company’s auditors were already raising alarm bells. At this point info was given that debt management process was started due to failure of securing more working capital from investors, which in all likelihood means anything other than failure is a rather optimistic outlook, especially looking at the total number of millions currently owed.

While all this was happening then Hm Seafood was also struggling for payments and payments were stopped. Info was promised to investors after a meeting and nothing so far.

In the background.

While the business funding issues were piling up, development projects were also piling up problems. Most notably, Tammelehe, for which due diligence issues were once again raised. In the terms for new rounds it was written that the money would be given out provided that previous goals had been achieved. This was brought under question when an investor visited the construction site and took pictures to show an essentially deserted construction site.

Now, the cherry on top of this disaster cake came via Facebook. As in, there is a small group of CE investors who have a FB discussion group and there (and only there!!) Loit (the CEO) wrote, that Tammelehe has been on their radar since spring (!!!) as a potential fraud case. This info was not shared on the website or their blog or newsletter. Investor backlash was rather serious to such a communications blunder an of course this was covered extensively by Äripäev.

Another project that raised red flags was Lepa tee  / Metsa tee. Two projects by the same developer (Kristjan Sild). Before funding the first project with the help of CE, he had gone through personal bankruptcy. As stated in the prospect for the first investment, CE team suggested giving him a chance. Key mistake here was that while the first project was already showing issues they allowed a second separate project to be funded, increasing investors’ exposure to his person. Currently a call has gone out to push for bankruptcy.

In the background Latvian projects are also struggling, more info will probably be out about them soon as well.

To sum up

  • CE had information about things happening and did -not- share this with investors in a timely manner
  • CE had information about things happening and shared this information in a dumb way – through a Facebook group
  • CE missed out on key events happening (company names being changed, board members being changed, assets being moved)
  • CE failed to check whether previous projects / rounds were going well enough to justify allowing further rounds being funded

As a result:

  • investors have justified questions about how due diligence is done at CE
  • investors who did not follow information through other channels (such as LHV forums, Facebook, Äripäev) will end up taking losses that active (or informed) investors managed to avoid
  • serious loss in trust has occurred
  • a very large amount of negative coverage has been given to P2P investments in Estonian media

Mintos update

It’s been a while since I’ve done an update, been a super busy year, but since people occasionally ask – a small update on mu Mintos portfolio.

As for a while I had some cash that I pulled out from other investments, for most of last year I kept my Mintos loan volume rather high, at the end of the year I had a total of 40 000 eurot invested, which produced a solid 400 euros/month of loan interest.

While the summer of 2018 was rather sad in the sense that after mogo buybacks there was a marked loan interest rate drop (many good loan originators dropped down to 10-11%), then I mostly picked short term loans to reinvest the money that was returning from loans, to keep my options open for when I hoped the interest rates would start to climb again.

As it turned out, once autumn hit, loan originators needed more capital again, so both mogo and creditstar started to list 12% loans, I also picked up some 12% banknote loans and a few other originators’ loans.

At the start of the year I needed to move some money to another investment opportunity, so I reduced my outstanding loan volume in Mintos to 25K. It took about 3 days to sell enough loans on the secondary market to cash out 15K, I was pretty impressed with the speed (but I also had good loans to sell, 12% Estonian car loans and other 12% loans from reputable originators.

Currently planning to keep the 25K growing in Mintos, strategy is to still pick up loans from bigger originators, there seems to be enough loan volume for that to not be an issue and expecting a steady 250 euros of interest per month to continue. So, all is boring on the Mintos front :)

Mintos portfolio 2,5 years

Since Mintos has once again opened up their refer-a-friend and more people are looking for info on Mintos experiences, then I thought I’d do an update on my Mintos portfolio. For the first two years Mintos was mostly a small part of my P2P investments. Solid, but there were other alternatives I preferred (Omaraha at the time).

As time went on, Omaraha became less attractive due to lower returns and Mintos much more interesting due to cashback being offered. Since I sold my rental apartment and needed an option to invest the money short term, then for the last 6 months Mintos has been the biggest part of my portfolio.

This is the chart of my interest returns across two years – you can clearly see the *bump* from when I added in the money from the sales of the apartment and when I started to trade more actively on the secondary market (cashback being offered also offered bigger volumes for the secondary market).

mintosinterest

This as stated is interest returns – interest + late fees. This chart does not show cashback returns, which aren’t really repeatable at this point – since no campaigns are running, but cashback has effectively helped this year’s Mintos returns hover at about a 20% return. Cashback rewards + secondary market profits together are almost as big combined as all of my interest returns.

Overall, I’d say Mintos has definitely surprised me in a positive way when it comes to their growth rate and the pace at which they add loan originators. While I can’t keep my portfolio at this level for much longer since I need to cash out from some investments, but I feel comfortable having a significant amount of money invested with them.

Overall the only small issues I have with them are 1) it’s still somewhat slow to deposit money (some hassle with them switching providers as well), 2) maybe sometimes slow on updates (such as Eurocent case) and 3) somewhat difficult to assess originators for an investor (I only invest in a handful of the 40) and 4) at times customer service struggles with more complex questions. Most of these are fixable issues though.

Other than that, they’re more transparent than most P2P portals, sharing relevant info (yearly report) which should interest all investors, and as they are profitable I feel that a lot of risks are mitigated by that. No big issues so far over the 2,5 years I’ve invested with them.

 

 

Mintos cashback vol 2

A bit more than a week after last Mintos cashback bonuses were paid out, another cashback program (actually two of them) was announced. Since I’ve seen some investors seem confused about the value of such a program, I thought I’d discuss it a bit. So, why offer a cashback?

  1. The obvious – bring in more money

As I predicted in my last post, the cashback pushed people to deposit more money, Mintos finished December with 46,9 million euros worth loans financed. This means more money for Mintos instantly (since they earn money based on the volume of loans financed), and a bigger growth push for them (since people who deposit money will not withdraw it instantly after the program is over).

2. The less obvious – encouraging long term commitment

I personally know a lot of people who invest in Mintos but only choose short term loans since long term loans seem too scary. What better to help people overcome mental hurdles such as this (taking on more long term risk) than extra money? Once people have dared to invest into longer term loans once, then once they have them in the portfolio it’s easier to add more long term loans (If you’ve already taken in 60mo+ loans then some more 12+ month loans seem less scary than having to “jump” from 1-3 month loans).

3. The practical – the money remains in the portal for a bit at least

Once you’ve invested into long term loans you can’t just instantly jump out again. Either the loan has to finish (take a long time), it has to get bought back for some reason (unpredictable) or you have to sell it on the secondary market. To sell on the secondary market someone else has to buy it – meaning other investors are likely to bring in more money. Or, if you’re in a hurry to get out then you’re likely to sell at a discount, and everyone is happy (other investor gets investments cheap). You can already see people selling BBG loans at a discount after having cashed in their discount.

4. The logistical – easier to manage

If an loan company (or Mintos) wants to increase amount of money from investors then logically you would have to increase interest. For long term loans a slight increase in interest is problematic since for a long term loan that comes to a large amount of money. If you list loans with the same interest rate as before, but offering a cashback it’s easier to manage (get to predict volume) and investors are less frustrated if loans get bought back later. It’s also more instant – increased interest rates will not motivate people to make deposits as quickly as a time-limited cashback offer.


 

Overall, since I’ve been investing into mogo loans for most of my Mintos career then for me the buyback is a nice bonus to have. I even sold some older loans at a bit of a discount to benefit from the cashback (I was interested to see that people were actually buying!). Some people are probably still a bit too scared to take in such long term loans, but, well, more left for those who pick them.

Mintos and Twino portfolio updates

Mintos and Twino portfolios are both steadily trekking on, and being probably the most passive part of my portfolio still. I kind of refer to them as my latte fund – my investments there are enough for me to afford a latte every day of the year, the worst financial sin in the eyes of some savings gurus :) Of course, I don’t actually drink a latte every day because I’m too lazy to actually go and get one, but the point still stands. Next goal for these two portfolios is to allow me to buy a Starbucks coffee every day. I’ll probably fill that goal before Starbucks actually opens a shop in Estonia!

Portfolio growth

Since I’ve been saving up money for a house downpayment, then I haven’t really been adding all that much money into my portfolio this year, and I’ll be a bit less aggressive with adding money until the house is ready and decorated and all those other million expenses that go with moving. However, both Mintos and Twino portfolios are slowly doing their thing, and I’ve started to add tiny amounts of money to my Mintos portfolio again.

Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 10.59.16

I’ve stopped adding money to Twino due to the fact that for a couple of months there was a constant cash drag issue, where there weren’t enough new loans with attractive rates to really justify adding any money. If they get their pipeline going better again, I might reconsider, but I currently have 3500 euros floating around there, bringing in about 35 euros/month, so it’s a nice and slow growing portfolio.

Mintos however is really showing impressive growth, both in terms of loan volumes and amount of originators, being well on the path of becoming a P2P market leader in Europe. While I’ve been quite liberal with my autoinvest settings in Mintos, then about 90% of my Mintos portfolio is still mogo loans, which have served me well. Currently I have 4400 euros circling around, bringing in about 45 euros/month, so also a nice passive portfolio.

Returns

Now, returns are however on a different track and instead of climbing upwards they are steadily declining. This is inevitable as more money pours in to P2P, and there is more competition in the field. Currently Twino returns show as 13,42% and Mintos returns show as 13,03%.

As time goes in, I expect both of them to balance down to about 11-12%, which is still impressively good for such a passive investment. I literally just transfer money in whenever, and don’t really even log on to check the results all that often.

The only interesting thing in the past few months has been the fact that since Eurocent is struggling, I’ve checked occasionally how my one Eurocent loan (22€ loan piece) that I’d managed to pick up is doing. I’ve also pushed my Twino portfolio to be abit more towards shorter term loans, bringing the average length down, now that there aren’t much BBG loans anymore.

Twino status:

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Mintos status:

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