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Evolutis:专业服务公司自己的P2P借贷平台

Evolutis是一家最近崛起的P2P网贷提供商,专门为“专业服务”提供贷款。他们创作了一本名为《专业服务公司网贷说明》的白皮书,对着眼于低风险投资的读者来说值得一读。

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小微企业需要信用。当商人想要借钱进货,然后把货物运送过海或者穿越沙漠销往遥远的市场时就已经是这样了。现在也同样存在这样的问题,只不过小微企业是要能在保证赢利的情况下获得贷款。

2007至2008年金融危机之前,获得贷款还很容易。当地商业银行能为很多生意提供利率诱人的贷款,而且几乎任何东西都可以作为抵押品。银行贷款很自由简易,已到期应付款、在途货物、车间展示品、在制品和许多种其他资产——几乎每样东西都是有价值的。这是因为美国和其他银行想获得非常大量的贷款,什么类型都可以,然后将其放入证券化资产池中,作为债券售卖。

金融危机过后,投资者意识到许多这样的贷款已经难以收回,而且形势还在不断恶化。除了不动产,现在的银行几乎不愿接受任何其他类型的抵押贷款。小微企业的生存都受到了威胁——状况良好、基础扎实、运营了几十年的企业却遭遇了突如其来的资本荒。

但是问题并不是抵押贷款的资产本身存在缺陷,而是银行不知道应当如何承诺支付,而且大多数时候银行并不在乎这一点。只要他们能把贷款卖给证券持有者,就会一直继续发行贷款,因为他们知道就算是贷款坏账也不关他们的事。

在小微企业界内,有利可图的贷款种类很多。窍门就是先寻找到一个充满机遇、有利可图的市场,然后在这一行做点赚钱的生意,但是不要着急赚大钱,因为这里面的本质变化多端,你无法真正地了解透彻。

专业服务公司借款需要

专业服务公司属于一个已经验证的利益领域——比如医生及牙医等其他医学专业、会计、律师和兽医等。乍看起来,这些行业的从业者应该不大可能会贷款。在常人眼中,这些专业人员口袋满满,开梅赛德斯或者捷豹这样的豪车,是高尔夫俱乐部的常客,住着高端社区的大房子。不过他们确定是不需要借钱的吗?

也许他自己并不需要,但是他的生意可能需要。医疗实践处处花费昂贵。一台牙科用椅要价1万英镑左右,但是这仅仅是个椅子的价钱,还没有算上压缩机、钻头、抽吸机、X光机等等。新的欧盟法律颁布之后意味着许多牙科医生都需要更新他们的灭菌设备,每台设备耗资高达5万英镑。和许多做小生意的人们一样,牙科医生通常也是将每年的营业利润作为自己的收入,所以不大可能有钱能用来进行这样资本支出。

那么律师和会计又是怎样的呢?除了几台便宜的笔记本电脑和租用的复印机,他们难道真的就不需要为了购买昂贵设备而筹措资金?其实他们也是有这方面需要的——只不过他们昂贵的装备就是他们的外套,每天晚上都要穿着走出办公室。对于大多数会计和法律从业者来说,最大的开销就是工资。他们雇佣高水平、高薪水的员工,每月要向他们发放工资。这有时很容易管理,但是律师的费用有时会在交易完成后才会收到,而会计的工资会在公司报告和账目结束后才会发放,在这期间即便有任何收入,也只能冲抵很小的一部分花销。

在信贷危机发生之前,这些企业会通过透支来筹得这部分资金,或者有些久经世故的公司会在融资设施里做点手脚。而现在这样的情况已经几乎绝迹。因为像是Evolutis这样非银行业的网贷公司可以跻身这一行业,能够为这些企业提供贷款。

市场规模是否值得关注?

图1中的表格显示出各领域专业人员数目,以及雇佣公司数目。

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图1:英国专业人员和公司数目

可以看出,仅在英国目标领域内有近5万家公司。2007年以前,几乎所有这些公司都会有不同形式的借款,可能是透支、商业开发贷款或是类似的借款。我们发现这些贷款申请的平均数额在两万至两万五千英镑之间。保守估计,我们假设这些公司只有一半是潜在借款者,每家公司借款一万五千英镑,那么市场总额也会高达3.75亿英镑。实际上,我们相信这个市场远远大于这一规模,因为如果这些公司能够借款那他们一定会去这样做。一旦他们了解到了Evolutis,他们就不止会去借钱,还会借更多的钱来发展他们的生意。

专业服务公司能是否有力偿还?

借钱容易还钱难,这是银行业的老生常谈。所以问题就是,相比于英国的其他借款人,专业服务公司安全性如何。英国破产服务局统计了拒绝偿还并且破产的人数和公司数。图2中显示了相关数据:

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图2:英国公司和个人破产率。来源:英国破产服务局。

可以看出,1985年至2013年之间,个人破产率在0.025%至0.325%之间浮动,而英国全国公司破产率为0.6%至2.75%。对于个人而言,由于21世纪初期一些政策的改变,破产和恢复都变得更加容易,这也意味着我们很难再看到20世纪80年代和90年代的超低破产率了。

只统计专业服务公司的破产率比较困难,比如英国牙医协会说他们从未看到哪一家牙医诊所因为还不起债而停止营业。但是律师业在此方面数据充足。

律师管理局告诉我们,在2013年,英国有12.5万名执照律师,分别为10,734家公司工作。在过去的几年里这一数据维持平稳。在过去的五年中,每年破产数目在6至11家之间波动,概率约为0.0006%至0.001%。

当这些数字和所有公司的总体数目相比时,就能看出律师业比英国平均破产率低了至少600倍。从贷款人的角度来看,这意味着你能拿回资金的概率比平均概率高出600倍。

Evolutis Lending的姊妹公司Orchard Funding已经为会计行业贷款超过12年了。目前为止,还从未因无法收回贷款而损失一分钱。

对于P2P投资者而言,这些数字十分具有参考价值。不像是在银行里,如果一个P2P投资的贷款人遭遇违约,贷款人会受到直接损失。因此,投资者需要从借款者的广告宣传中计算出可能的损失和回报概率。

如果是在Funding Circle这样借贷方多样的平台,比较也很容易做出——将宣传概率减去0.6%至2.25%,所得到的就是净回报率。对于专业服务公司的一笔贷款,你只需扣除0.001%作为平均可能损失。

如果专业服务公司如此安全,为何还要利用诱人的回报率来吸引投资者?

任何一个商学院的学生都会告诉你,一笔贷款的最佳风险指示就是借款方所开出的利率。在完全市场中,这可能是正确的,但是如今的市场现实不容乐观,贷款市场已经不仅仅是不完全,而是根本不存在。

对于许多专业服务公司来说,问题关键并不是银行将会收费几何,而是银行是否会借款给他们。正如上文所提到的那样,金融危机之后,银行几乎退出了除房地产以外的借贷市场。对于小微企业来说,这可是个大问题,因为大多数公司用的都是租赁房产。至于专业服务公司,其中只有很少一部分是切实拥有工作场所房产的。这一情况十分常见,因为相比于直接拥有,这样做体现了合伙人退休金计划的优点。无论是哪种方式,都无法通过抵押房产来筹集资金。

罗列出大多数行业之后,我们发现专业服务公司更加看重可靠性和必然性,而不是些许优惠的价格。他们不会为了寻得一份更便宜的贷款而解雇一名工资高昂但是能力不错的员工。Evolutis Lending的姊妹公司在过去多年中赢得了许多回头客。他们了解借贷过程,也欣赏这种快速的周转时间。对于他们来说,贷款代表着他们想做也能做的生意和必须收回比例之间的差异。

我们从客户那里了解到,许多P2P出借人其实并不明白借款人的商业需求,所以不愿意出借款项。只有更多借贷资本进入市场而且能够能够抓住利益点,投资机遇才会变得更加具有吸引力。

Evolutis, one of the latest peer-to-peer providers, specialises in lending to "professional services".  They have produced a white paper entilteled "the case for lending to professional service firms" and it is an interesting read for lenders looking at lower risk investments.

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Small businesses need credit.  This has been true since the beginning of time, when merchants borrowed money to buy stock to transport across seas and deserts to sell in faraway markets.  Today, like then, the problem for small businessmen is securing the loans they need at prices that make commercial sense.

Before the financial crisis of 2007/2008, there was a one stop shop to borrow money.  Your local high street bank would make money available to an enormous range of businesses at very attractive rates, and take practically anything as security.  Banks lent freely and easily against payment due, stock in transit, shop floor display products, work in progress and a whole host of other assets – almost anything that had a value.  This was because US and other banks wanted loans of pretty much any type to put into securitised asset pools that could be sold as bonds.

After the crisis, investors realised that many of these loans were extremely difficult to collect upon, and the pendulum swung the other way.  Banks now are extremely reluctant to lend on anything but real estate assets.  For many small businesses, this is a threat to their very existence.  Good, solid businesses that have existed for decades suddenly are starved of one of their raw materials, capital.

But the problem wasn’t that the assets or the loans were fundamentally flawed, the problem was that the banks didn’t know, and in many cases didn’t care, about how to underwrite them.  So long as they could sell loans to the securitisers, they kept on originating, knowing that if the loan went bad it would be somebody else’s problem.

Within the small business world, there are all sorts of niches of profitable lending that can be carved out.  The trick is to pick a niche with enough opportunities to build a profitable business, without carving such a big “niche” that the characteristics within it are so diverse that you can’t truly get your head around the issues.

The need for borrowing by professional services firms

One niche that has proved extremely interesting is the area of professional services firms – Doctors and other medical professionals such as dentists, accountants, lawyers and vets.  At first sight, this might not seem like a very fertile sector for a potential lender to look at.  The common perception of professionals is of a wealthy chap, driving a Mercedes or a Jaguar to the golf club and living in a nice big house in the more fashionable parts of town.  Surely he doesn’t need to borrow money?

He might not, but his business does.  Medical practices are full of very expensive kit.  A dentist’s chair costs around £10,000, for a chair, before you even start with compressors, drills, suction machines, X-rays et etc.  New EU laws mean that many dentists are having to upgrade their sterilisation equipment, at costs of up to £50,000 per practice.  Like most small businessmen, dentists tend to take the profits out of their businesses as income each year, so there is unlikely to be money in the company to fund this kind of capital expenditure.

What about the lawyers and accountants?  Other than a few cheap laptops and leased photocopiers, surely they don’t have expensive kit that needs to be financed?  Well actually they do – it’s just that their expensive kit puts on coats and walks out of the office every night.  The biggest cost to most accounting and legal practice is the salary bill.  They employ well qualified, expensive people who need to be paid every month. This would be easy to manage, but in the case of lawyers invoices are often only raised when a transaction or case is completed, and accountants are often only paid when the company report and accounts are finalised.  Any interim invoices along the way typically only fund a small part of the costs to date.

In the “old days” pre credit crunch, these businesses would have funded these costs with an overdraft or the more sophisticate firms might have used some sort of work in progress financing facility.  These are now as rare as hen’s teeth.  Hence the opportunity for non-bank lenders such as Evolutis Lending to step in and lend to these businesses.

Is the market big enough to be interesting?

The table in Figure 1 shows the number of professionals in each sector, and the number of firms employing them.

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Figure 1: Number of UK Professionals and Firms

As can be seen, there are nearly 50,000 firms in the target sectors in the UK.  In the pre-2007 days, almost all of these had some form of borrowing, be it an overdraft, business development loan or similar.  The average size of loan application we have seen from these kinds of practices is between £20,000 and £25,000.  In order to be conservative, if we assume that only 50% of these companies are potential borrowers and they might borrow £15,000 each, then the total market size is £375 million.  In fact, we believe that the market is much, much larger because if these firms were able to borrow they would do so.  Once they know about Evolutis, they will not just be more likely to borrow, they will borrow bigger sums to grow their businesses.

Will professional services firms pay lenders back?

There is an old saying in banking that it’s easy to lend money, getting it repaid is harder.  So the question is how safe are professional services firms compared to other borrowers in the UK.  The UK Insolvency Service collects data on how many people and companies don’t pay what they owe and go bankrupt.  The data is shown below in figure 2:

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Figure 2: Insolvency rates for UK companies and personal bankruptcies in the UK.  Source: UK Insolvency Service

As can be seen, between 1985 and 2013, the insolvency rate for individuals has varied between 0.025% and 0.325% and for all UK companies between 0.6% and 2.75%.  In the case of individuals, some rules were changed in the early part of the 21st century, making it easier to go bankrupt and recover, meaning we are unlikely to see the very low rates seen in the 1980s and 1990s again.

Getting data on insolvencies by just professional services firms is difficult, for example the British Dental Association say that they do not recall ever seeing a dental practice cease trading because it cannot pay its debts.  One group that has very good data is the lawyers.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority tell us that in 2013, there were just over 125,000 solicitors licenced to practice in the UK, who worked for 10,734 distinct firms.  These numbers have been remarkably stable over the last few years.  In the last 5 years, the number of practices that have gone bankrupt has varied between 6 and 11, for a rate of between 0.0006% and 0.001%.

When these numbers are compared to firms as a whole, it can be seen that lawyers are at least 600 times less likely to go bankrupt than an average firm in the UK.  From a lenders perspective, this means that on average you’re 600 times more likely to get your money back.

Evolutis Lending’s sister company Orchard Funding has been lending to accountancy practices for over 12 years.  In that time,not one penny of principal has ever been lost because a practice failed to repay its loans.

For a peer to peer investor, these numbers are very relevant.  Unlike in bank, if a borrower from a peer to peer investor defaults, then the borrower feels that loss directly.  Therefore, the investor needs to subtract the likely loss rate from the headline rate advertised by the lender to calculate the return he is likely to get.

In the case of a peer to peer lender like Funding Circle (who lend to pretty much any type of business), the comparison is simple to make.  Take the headline rate, subtract something between 0.6% and 2.75% from the headline rate and you arrive at your net return.  For a loan to a professional services firm, you only need to subtract 0.001% to cover your average likely loss.

If professional firms are so safe, why are they prepared to pay attractive rates to investors?

As any business school student will tell you, the best indicator of risk on a loan is the interest rate an investor is prepared to pay for that loan.  In a perfect market, this would be true but the sad reality of business today is that not only is the market for loans not perfect, it often doesn’t exist.

For many professional services firms, the issue isn’t how much the bank will charge them, it is whether they bank will lend to them at all.  As mentioned above, since the financial crisis, banks have largely withdrawn from lending against anything except property.  For most small businesses, this is a significant problem because most choose to rent their premises.  In the case of professional services firms, in the relatively few cases where there is any connection to the ownership of the building they operate from, it’s most often because it’s an asset of the partner’s pension scheme rather than directly owned.  Either way, the practice can’t mortgage the building to raise finance.

List most businesses, professional services firms see reliability and certainty as more valuable than a slightly cheaper price.  It’s simply not worth taking an expensive employee off a job that generates fees to try to find a slightly cheaper loan. Evolutis Lending’s sister company has built up relationships with many of its repeat customers over many years.  They understand the lending process, and appreciate the fast turn-around times.  To them, the loans represent the difference between being able to do the volumes of business they want and having to scale back.

We hear from our customers that the more generalist P2P lenders don’t really understand their businesses or their needs, and often turn them down for loans.  Until more lending capacity enters the market with the necessary skills to understand this niche, the investment opportunity will remain very attractive.


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