最有看点的互联网金融门户

最有看点的互联网金融门户
国际资讯

富国银行缘何惧怕P2P

此前,总部位于伦敦的《金融时报》爆出消息称:世界上规模最大的银行之一,富国银行,已经发布备忘录禁止其员工参与Lending Club和Prosper投资。以下是该项备忘录的关键摘录:

“…P2P信贷是构成利益冲突的竞争活动”

 

《金融时报》继续分析富国银行出台禁令的原因:P2P模式直接匹配借款者和资本,绕过传统出借人,这使得银行和P2P平台间的紧张关系正逐步升级。因此,《金融时报》认为,富国银行关于禁止雇员进入P2P信贷领域的决议和Lending Club和Prosper直接威胁富国银行有关。

《旧金山纪事报》记者Kathleen Pender在备忘录出台后两天向富国银行寻求其进一步评论。富国银行对Pender的回复有些冗长,核心思想就是:

“关于我们业务范畴内少数雇员投资P2P信贷公司的问题[…]对这些雇员的指导完全基于我们的道德准则。”

显然,富国银行不同意《金融时报》的说法,其发布备忘录不是出于竞争考虑,而是单纯出于道德考虑。

金融专家对富国银行的说法并不买账。来自《旧金山商业时报》的Mark Calvey解读备忘录新闻时强调为何“借款平台的提供的贷款利率比银行低。”CNBC 从备忘录立即转变到讨论P2P信贷时如何“取代银行”。来自Orchard Platform的David Snikof同时从道德和竞争角度分析——他倾向于认为这个备忘录背后的深层次的原因是P2P贷款已经对富国银行的未来造成了威胁:

“富国银行的新政策或许是已成功公司应对有潜在威胁的新商业模式的范例。”

综上所述,:富国银行感受到了来自P2P信贷的威胁。那么,这将引出我们今天会试着回答的问题:像Lending Club或Prosper这样的公司,是如何对世界上最大的银行之一造成威胁的?

富国银行 vs. P2P信贷:规模比较

粗略的比较两家机构就能揭示出其鲜明的差异。例如,让我们来看看富国银行和Lending Club收入的对比(上一季度数据)

或者考虑富国银行拥有的雇员数:

总之,单看规模,富国银行没有任何理由担心这个“边缘”区域,但是他们仍然对一家规模上是其九牛一毛的小公司宣布禁令。以GDP类比,这类似于美国宣布对岛国毛里求斯进行贸易禁运。

所以,这背后肯定有其他的原因存在,我认为这个原因来自于新型发放贷款的方式如何“取代传统借款人”。学术上把这种取代的过程称作“脱媒”。下面我们将通过电子存储的案例,让大家更容易理解去中介化的过程的所带来的影响。

MP3 文件如何毁灭音乐产业?

让我们回想1996年6月的互联网时代,一根导火线已经被点燃,日后将会有令人震惊的全球性影响。一个叫做Napster的音乐销售项目悄然启动,它利用了一种全新的音乐压缩格式MP3。MP3格式能够极大地降低数字音乐文件占用的存储空间,而之前,通过网络传输数字音乐需要占用很大的空间和带宽。突然所有人只要轻点鼠标就能获得自己喜爱的音乐。全国民众开始随心所欲地(非法)下载他们喜爱的歌曲。不到两年间,Napster独立用户数达到惊人的1000万。

接下来发生的事都是历史。唱片产业拼命反对数字音乐,就好比一个国家的超级强权对抗一个5MB文件。传统唱片业发起诉讼,Napster的创始人Shawn Parker被起诉,Napster被迫关闭。简洁的FBI警告被印在超过十亿张唱片上。著名的摇滚乐队,如:金属乐队,也加入了抗击盗版的队伍。原先相互间激烈竞争的唱片公司突然关系交好,倾尽全力协作抵御MP3格式的威胁,努力想维持已有的市场地位。

5MB文件获胜了。1999年时,音乐产业收入高达创纪录的190亿美元,仅仅十年后的2009年,收入只有当时的40%。

这段时间以来,唱片公司已经退居到整个音乐生态系统的一个卑微角落。唱片公司的利润主要来源于数字单曲的销售。唱片公司仍然提携、推荐艺术家,制作音乐,但是他们的权力已经被大大削弱。

此外,全球经济数字化已经无处不在发生,而且它已经颠覆了许多行业的巨头。百年企业柯达,辉煌时曾和其他全国性标杆企业一起作为道琼斯指数的成分股,因没有紧跟数码照相的趋势,2012年宣布破产。脱媒:当一个产品或服务使已有的产业不再必要或多余所发生的情况。

为何科技如此强大?它做事情更便宜、更高效。

MP3格式如此流行的关键原因在于其内在的高效率。是的,MP3格式使许多音频进步成为可能。(还有人记得Milkdrop吗?)但是,最重要的是,MP3格式很简单。唱片公司和他们庞大的卡车配送线无法和人们呆在家里一个按键就能享受到音乐的简单性相抗衡。MP3格式实在是太有效率,太容易获取、存储和共享。

P2P信贷的效率

与此类似,Lending Club提供了令人惊讶的低贷款利率,因为它们比现有的银行都更加便宜高效。像iTunes一样,P2P平台完全基于线上。它们不需要固定的住所,没有资金要求。它们不需要雇佣出纳员坐在柜台旁等待走进来的客户。Lending Club唯一的基础设施是位于内华达州的服务器群和位于旧金山的办公室。然而仅凭这些简单的设施,仅仅两百名雇员已经发放了数十亿美元的贷款。

所以P2P信贷对于银行的影响就像MP3对于唱片公司一样。很明显,两者的关系比砖和泥还要简单。但是我们能够用实实在在的数据支持这一大胆的观点吗?我们如何证明P2P信贷比现有的银行制度优越?

为了回答上述问题,发布备忘录的富国银行是绝佳的例子。与其他美国大型银行不同的是,富国银行定期通过社区银行项目发放个人贷款,很接近Lending Club发放的贷款。

运营费用比率:富国银行 vs. Lending Club

如果想要做这个比较,我们需要对比两家公司的效率,而非其规模,而是两家公司发放贷款的容易程度。例如:如果富国银行需要花费2美元来发行1000美元的贷款,而Lending Club只需要花费1美元来发行同样额度的贷款,那么Lending Club的效率是富国银行的两倍。

衡量贷款发行人效率(其营业费用率)的标准是将(A)贷款发行人的费用除以(B)仍在归还过程中的贷款总价值。

富国银行的效率

通过富国银行的投资者关系页面,我们可以很容易地发现其营业费用率。在其最近的季度报告附注中,我们发现有标题为“社区银行”的页面,下面有“年贷款净额”和“非利息费用”,我们可以用这些来计算富国银行的效率

Lending Club的效率

Lending Club增长很快,因此其运营费用更难计算。我们要找到Lending Club上报给证监会的最新季报,从中寻找到该季度的运营费用和发放贷款金额,再利用一些数学公式将季度数据推算到长期数据。基本上,我们假设Lending Club未来会一直保持上一季度的业绩。

注:这有一份白皮书概述了我是如何计算运营费用比率的:《为何P2P信贷将会取代美国银行业》.

下面的表格对比了两家公司的运营费用比率,其中Lending Club采用了其最近一个季度的财报数据。

用它们的费用除以贷款余额,我们可以看出Lending Club的效率比富国银行高出270%。如果我们拉远视角,数字将会变得更加有趣。这是两家公司过去三年效率的对比图:

Lending Club不仅仅是是一家远比富国银行有效率的公司,而且它们的效率每一季度都在不断的提高。相比之下,富国银行的效率一般保持不变,在5.5%到6.5%之间波动。如果你将Lending Club的效率和其增长率图表放在一起,一个戏剧性的图片将会出现:

这是个多么令人震惊的势头。P2P信贷可能是美国银行业自建立以来所面临的最严重的现实威胁。

突然,富国银行的备忘录似乎不像是过度反应,而更像是轻描淡写。尽管规模上,Lending Club只是银行业巨头的一小部分,但是它的高效率和高增长正危及富国银行业务的核心。

富国银行将会如何竞争?(和它们将会如何失败?)

这引出了另一个问题:为什么一个像富国银行这样资源丰富的公司会感受被P2P信贷的高效率所威胁?他们完全可以自己建立这样一个低成本的平台。富国银行最近的备忘录显示,它们已经看到了未来发展的趋势,那它们为什么不改变自己来面对这种危险?

去年十月份,我曾有幸见到Lending Club的CEO Renaud Laplanche,并向他询问了这个问题。他的回答是:

“如果你去回顾创新的历史就会发现——已成功的公司降低其成本结构,打败以低成本技术为基础的新进入者的例子非常罕见。”

在此之前,已经有许多例子证明这一点。无论是书店巨头Border无法快速应对亚马逊的网络书籍销售,或者百视达(Blockbuster)的录像出租无法快速应对Netflix的在线出租,它们都最终走向破产。公司曾许多次尝试尽力维持低成本运营,从而生存下去。十年前,因为来自于西北航空和捷蓝航空的威胁,所有的大型航空公司都分拆出低运营成本的子公司,达美航空成立Song,美国联合航空成立泰德航空。但是这些子公司最终都有着与母公司完全相同的成本结构

卑微的美国银行业

总的来说,富国银行永远都无法和Lending Club竞争,因为这样做需要过于激进的转变。就像富国银行今天在宣传册上所说的一样,它们运营的分支机构超过九千处,每一家分支机构日常维护和安保费用使得富国银行无法提供比P2P信贷更低的贷款利率。你认为富国银行会愿意解雇它们旗下的270000雇员,关闭上千处分支机构,如果只有这样才能生存下去?算了吧,不可能的。更有可能的是,它们会尽最大努力来寻求两方面的平衡,或者在两方面都做的很糟糕。

有趣的是,那些分支机构帮助富国银行取得了现有的成功,也正是这些分支机构使富国银行走向破产。我不会惊讶,二十年后,富国银行将会退居到小众市场,如:火灾保险。就像柯达被自己深爱的胶卷市场所拒绝,最后几年中只能以销售电脑打印机以生。

我仍然被这一激动人心的全国性转变所震惊,今天乃至整个历史,我国最强大的经济力量——银行业,因数百人和一个服务器群而显得卑微。

Five weeks ago the London-based newspaper Financial Times broke a story that Wells Fargo, one of the largest banks in the world, had issued a memo banning their staff from taking part in Lending Club and Prosper. The key line of the Wells Fargo memo is:

 “… peer-to-peer lending is a competitive activity that poses a conflict of interest.”

Financial Times then went on to analyze why this ban was issued, stating that “tensions between banks and peer-to-peer platforms have arisen because the P2P model cuts traditional lenders out by matching capital directly with borrowers [emphasis mine].” So in the view of Financial Times, the decision of Wells Forgo to forbid their employees from entering the peer to peer space had to do with how Lending Club and Prosper directly threaten Wells Fargo as a company.

Kathleen Pender at the San Francisco Gate then approached Wells Fargo for further comment two days later. Wells Fargo replied to Pender’s piece with a wordy paragraph containing this key statement:

 “In response to a specific question about investments in peer to peer lending companies from a small group of team members in one of our licensed businesses [...] the guidance given to these team members was based on our code of ethics.”

In short, Wells Fargo disagreed with the Financial Times’ angle that the memorandum was issued for competitive reasons, instead arguing that the memo was issued for purely ethical considerations.

Financial experts did not buy it. Mark Calvey of the San Francisco Business Times transitioned from news of the memo into highlighting how “the lending platforms can offer loans at lower rates than banks charge.” CNBC moved from the memo to immediately talking about how peer to peer lending is “cutting out the bank“. David Snitkof at Orchard Platform analyzed both the ethical and competitive angles – himself leaning into the memo’s rationale being about the threat that peer to peer lending poses to Wells Fargo’s future:

 “Wells Fargo’s new policy may be an example of how a new incumbent reacts to a potentially disruptive new business model.”

In summary, the jury has returned with a verdict: Wells Fargo feels threatened by peer to peer lending. This, then, poses the question that we will attempt to answer today: how does a company like Lending Club or Prosper pose a threat to one of the largest banks in the world?

Wells Fargo versus Peer to Peer Lending: Size Comparison

A cursory comparison of the two institutions reveals stark differences. For instance, let’s look at the income of Wells Fargo as compared to Lending Club (last reported quarter):

Or consider the number of employees at Wells Fargo’s disposal:

In short, when looking at size alone, Wells Fargo should not have any reason at all to worry about this “fringe” sector (MarketWatch). And yet they issued a corporate embargo against a company a fraction of their size. Comparing GDP, this is akin to the United States of America issuing a trade embargo against the island nation of Mauritius.

So something else must be going on, and I think it has something to do with how this new way of issuing loans “cuts traditional lenders out” (as stated by the Financial Times piece). The technical term for being cut out like this is disintermediation, and its power becomes easier to understand if we take a small detour down digital-memory lane.

How the MP3 File Killed the Music Industry

Let’s remember back to the bygone internet days of June 1999. A fuse had just been lit that would go on to have an astounding global impact. A music distribution program called Napster was quietly released, taking advantage of a new compression technology called MP3, a file format that dramatically shrank the space used by a digital song file. Whereas before digital music took up too much space to be transferred via the modems we used back then, suddenly everyone’s favorite music was available with the click of a mouse. The nation began (illegally) downloading their favorite songs with carefree abandon. Napster reached an astounding 10 million unique users in less than two years time.

What happened next is the stuff of history. The record industry fought tooth and nail against digital music, a national superpower versus a five megabyte file. Lawsuits were issued. Napster’s creator Shawn Parker was sued and forced to shut down. Terse FBI warnings were emblazoned on a billion audio CDs, and famous rock bands like Metallica joined the cause against piracy. The record companies, previously stiff competitors, suddenly made nice and threw the entire collaborative weight of their industrial bulwark against this problem, desperate to remain in power.

The 5MB file won. Back in 1999, the music industry was experiencing record revenues, around $19 billion. By 2009, just ten years later, it was 40% of its size.

These days the record companies have been relegated to a humbler corner of the overall music ecosystem, making the majority of their profit from the sales of digital singles. They still promote artists and produce music, but their power has been greatly diminished.

Furthermore, this digitization of the global economy has been happening everywhere, and it has been slaying all sorts of industry giants. Kodak, a hundred year old company that was at one point included with other national standards on the DOW Jones index, went bankrupt in 2012 after years of failing to adjust to digital photography. Disintermediation: it is what happens whenever a product or service makes an established industry player unnecessary and redundant.

How is technology so powerful? It does things cheaply and efficiently.

The key reason of why the MP3 got so popular had to do with one particular feature: its inherent efficiency. Yes, the format allowed many new listening improvements (anyone remember MilkDrop?). But most importantly, the MP3 was simple. Try as they might, the record companies and their immense distribution truck-lines could not complete with the ease of their product being available in people’s homes with the click of a button. The MP3 was just too efficient, too easily gotten, stored, and shared to lose.

The Efficiency of Peer to Peer Lending

Similarly, Lending Club offers astoundingly low loan rates because they are cheaper and more efficient than banks have ever been. Like iTunes, a peer to peer lending platform is based totally online. They have no vaults or cash-holding requirements. They have no tellers they pay to sit at a counter and await walk-in customers. Lending Club’s only infrastructure is a server farm in Nevada and an office in San Francisco, and this lean profile has allowed a small staff of only 200 employees to issue billions and billions of dollars in loans.

So it makes sense to say that peer to peer lending is to the banks like the MP3 was to the record companies. Both seem starkly simpler mechanisms than the brick and mortar establishments. But can we back up this bold claim with hard data? How can we prove that peer to peer lending out-prices the banking establishment?

To answer this question, the memo-issuing Wells Fargo is actually a perfect comparison. Unlike other big banks in the United States, they regularly issue personal loans through their Community Banking program, loans similar to those of Lending Club.

Operating Expense Ratios: Wells Fargo vs. Lending Club

To make this comparison, we need to compare each company’s efficiency, not their size, but the relative ease with which each company can issue loans at all. For example, if it costs Wells Fargo $2.00 to issue a $1000 loan, and it costs Lending Club $1.00 to issue the same loan, then Lending Club would be twice as efficient.

The measure of a loan issuer’s efficiency (their operating expense ratio) is found by dividing (A) a loan issuer’s expenses by (B) the total value of all its loans that are still in the process of being paid back.

Finding the Efficiency of Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo makes it easy to discover this ratio through their Investor Relations page. In the Quarterly Supplement for their most recent quarter, we find a page titled Community Banking. Underneath are the “Annual Loans, net” and “Noninterest Expense” numbers we can use to calculate the efficiency of Wells Fargo.

Finding the Efficiency of Lending Club

Lending Club’s operating expense ratio is more complicated to calculate because the company is growing so quickly. We have to open up their most recent 10-Q filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission, find their cost and issued loans for that quarter, and use some math to extrapolate these numbers into perpetuity. Basically, we see how Lending Club did last quarter and project its future as if the company simply repeated last quarter’s performance over and over.

Note: Here is a white paper outlining how I discovered these expense ratios: Why Peer to Peer Lending Will Replace American Banking.

The chart below contrasts their operating expense ratios, with Lending Club’s projected using their last filed quarter’s performance.

Dividing their expenses by their outstanding loans, we can see that Lending Club is currently something like 270% more efficient as a company than Wells Fargo. The numbers get even more interesting if we zoom the camera out. Here is the efficiency of both companies for the past three years:

Not only is Lending Club a much more efficient company than Wells Fargo, but their efficiency continues to improve each quarter. In contrast, Wells Fargo’s efficiency generally stays the same, drifting between 5.5% and 6.5%. If you couple this efficiency with Lending Club’s growth chart, a dramatic picture begins to emerge:

What momentum. It’s possible that peer to peer lending poses the greatest existential threat that American banking institutions have ever faced since their companies began.

Suddenly, Wells Fargo’s memo seems less like an overreaction and more like an understatement. Even though Lending Club is a fraction of the banking titan’s size, its efficiency and growth endangers the very core of Wells Fargo’s business.

How Wells Fargo Will Fight (and Why They Will Lose)

This begs another question: why does a resource-rich company like Wells Fargo feel threatened by peer to peer lending’s efficiency when they could simply create a low-cost platform themselves? Their recent memo shows that they see the writing on the wall, so why don’t they simply pivot their company to match this threat?

I had a chance to sit down with Lending Club’s CEO Renaud Laplanche back in October and ask him this very question. His response:

If you look at the history of innovation, there are very few examples of that happening, of incumbents reducing their cost structure and out innovating the low-cost technology-based entrant. [ ... ]

There have been many examples of this happening before, whether it was when Borders could not react fast enough to Amazon or when Blockbuster could not react fast enough to Netflix and eventually went bankrupt. There have also been many attempts at companies trying to survive by spinning out low-cost operations. Ten years ago, because of pressure from Southwest and Jet Blue, all the major airlines spun out low-cost alternatives. Delta launched Song; United launched Ted. But these alternatives ended up having exactly the same cost structure.

The Humbling of America’s Banking Industry

Download the white paper: Why Peer to Peer Lending Will Replace American Banking

In conclusion, Wells Fargo will never be able to compete with Lending Club because doing so would require too radical of a shift. As Wells Fargo states in their Today brochure, they operate through “more than 9,000 locations”. Each of these nine thousand branches has to be maintained and kept secure, driving up the cost of the company and disallowing them from ever offering lower rates than a peer to peer lending company. Do you think Wells Fargo would be willing to lay-off their 270,000 employees and close thousands of branches if it meant they could survive? Heck no. More likely they will try their best to balance both, and do both poorly.

Interestingly, it seems like the very branches that enable Wells Fargo’s current success are the one thing that will drive them to bankruptcy. I would not be surprised that in twenty years Wells Fargo will be relegated to some niche product like fire insurance, similar to how Kodak, having been ejected from its beloved film industry, spent its final years selling computer printers.

I continue to be transfixed by this dramatic national shift. The greatest economic force in our nation today, arguably in world history, is en route to be humbled by a couple hundred people and a server farm.


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