The Evolution of Credit: From Mesopotamia to Marketplace Lending

Backed credit

Lending is as old as civilization itself. Seven thousand years ago, in the Fertile Crescent known as Mesopotamia, Sargon the farmer had 100 apples. His friend, Hammurabi, had 10 bushels of wheat. They exchanged what they had and now Sargon has wheat and Hammurabi has apples. Everyone bartered to meet their needs. Then Sargon got […]

Backed credit

Lending is as old as civilization itself.

Seven thousand years ago, in the Fertile Crescent known as Mesopotamia, Sargon the farmer had 100 apples. His friend, Hammurabi, had 10 bushels of wheat. They exchanged what they had and now Sargon has wheat and Hammurabi has apples. Everyone bartered to meet their needs.

Then Sargon got a little creative.

He came to Hammurabi with a special offer: 60 apples in return for 10 bushels of wheat with the promise that at a future date, he will deliver another 60 apples to complete the deal. Now, Sargon has the wheat he needs, plus an additional 40 apples. With the extra fruit, he can take the seeds and plant more. In due time, he pays off his friend who is happy to see a 20% rise in income. Everybody benefits.

Thus, began the concept of credit.

It was only a matter of time before some other clever people decided to create a common medium of exchange to scale it up. Currency made it all easier. You could buy apples, wheat, and everything else with silver, gold, and eventually paper.

You could also borrow currency to create leverage. The credit system has underwritten prosperity from Mesopotamia, to the first paper currency minted in ancient China, the deposit and loan banking system which started in ancient Greece, the Renaissance fueled by the Italian Banking system, the first Credit Union in 1852, to the last time 1,000 Smartphones were shipped from Singapore to San Francisco backed by a letter of credit.

From then until now the process hasn’t changed. An individual goes to a lender asking for a loan. He fills out forms, provides information about his assets, income, and current debt levels. The lender reviews the information and makes a decision.

For the most part, lenders are financial institutions who take deposits, which they usually pay very little to depositors to hold, then lend out those deposits to borrowers paying them 10-20%. It has been great for the lenders, who haven’t had any incentive to change or innovate the process.

To pay back the loan plus interest, it’s the borrowers who must take risks. They are the innovators, so they produce. They are the ones forced to sweat.

Credit has propelled man forward from the stone age to the digital age.

The Revolution in Online Lending

The great advancements traditional lending financed came with a downside. The user experience was cumbersome, borrowers were limited to whom the lender decided was a worthwhile risk, and lenders benefited most. A lot of people were left out, and the lenders made huge margins loaning out other people’s money while the people who deposited the money saw very little of those returns.

The peer to peer lending model, launched by Prosper in 2006, introduced the most significant breakthrough in consumer lending. It transformed the lenders into innovators, reinventing the credit system to fix all of these imperfections.

Online lenders are productively disrupting the ancient credit model in 4 ways:

1. Utilize technology to give users a better experience.

An applicant for a loan no longer has to haul himself to a lending institution, wait on line, and fill out paperwork. Everything can be done in the comfort of the user’s home. The user can fill out forms online and submit them to an online lender in one click. The online lender can call information like credit scores and past income histories from its own computer, make a decision, and if approved, wire the loan directly to the borrower’s account.

2. Leverage new methods of gathering data to transform risk algorithms.

With vast amounts of data available at everyone’s fingertips, online lenders can now use new information to underwrite loans. Risk models can now be expanded to include new factors like social media, email histories, even mobile phone usage. Online lenders like Upstart have advanced lending models that go beyond credit scores to evaluate risk based on academic achievements. Cabbage underwrites businesses by looking at the lenders available Amazon information.

Expanding on the traditional credit score and debt to income models, online lenders are discovering a new class of prime lenders.

3. Diversifying sources of capital.

Traditional financial institutions are no longer the only business in town. Peer to peer lending lets individuals lend to other individuals. A borrower can now get money from multiple sources. Every lender is forced to be more competitive. Retail and individual investors can opt to invest in loans rather than put their money in a checking account. They can be just like any financial institution, making double digit returns on money originally designated for their checking account.

4. Increase profits for all stakeholders.

Automating more of the loan process requires less labor costs to service each loan. That creates productivity gains which translates to more profit for all parties involved.

For thousands of years human progress has marched forward under a credit system that benefits one party over the others. The emergence of a new system of credit that rewards all involved will propel the advancement of mankind to heights beyond our wildest imagination.

Sargon would be impressed.

Author:

Gilad Woltsovitch is the Co-Founder and CEO at Backed Inc., responsible for designing the company’s first-class platform, UX and UI. Before Backed, Gilad co-founded iAlbums, a semantic curation engine for media players in 2010 where he served as the company’s CEO from 2011-2014. In 2013, Gilad also served as the entrepreneur in residence for Cyhawk Ventures and joined the Ethereum project, establishing the Israeli Ethereum meet-up group. Gilad holds a Masters of Art Science and Bachelors in Sonology from the Royal Conservatory of The Netherlands in The Hague, University of Leiden.