Today, there are approximately 60 million small businesses in India looking for funding, out of which only 33 percent are able to access any kind of institutional credit. The situation is similarly dire in the case of individuals. Almost 80% of MSMEs self-finance themselves, 32% rely on their friends and relatives for credit, and an additional 12% try raising funds from informal banking networks. All these numbers highlight the extent of shortcomings in the Indian lending system and the mega “bottom of the pyramid” opportunity for the young P2P sector.
P2P Market overview
The P2P lending market in India originated around 2012 when Shankar Vaddadi and his team launched the first social peer-to-peer lending platform, i-Lend. Lack of proper regulation governing the P2P ecosystem has proven to be the biggest stumbling block in the growth of this industry, but having said that, it is widely expected that the P2P lending space will grow into a $4-$5 billion industry by 2023.
The Indian P2P lending industry has approximately 63 players including Faircent, Lendbox, LenDen Club, Monexo, LoanBaba, CapZest, i2ifunding, and many more, all of which have been carving their own niche in the lending industry by serving a diversified customer base.
P2P Regulations in India
Rules and regulations in India with respect to lending have always been stringent making it difficult for new players to enter the market. India’s central bank, Reserve Bank of India (RBI), has always prioritized protecting the interests of all the stakeholders involved in the lending process (especially the borrowers). One such act, Usurious Loan Act, allows the judiciary to intervene in case the lending platform or lender is charging an unrealistically high-interest rate. The primary lenders in India, banks, are exempted from the scope of this law, but P2P lenders fall under the ambit of this regulation.
In India, even the states have the right to pass laws on regulating money lending, and 22 states have passed legislation to this effect. One such recent example is Maharashtra Money Lending Act of 2014. As per the guidelines prescribed in the Act, it is mandatory for all lenders to register and acquire a license before they start operating. Furthermore, this act can restrict the operation of money lenders to a specific district and empowers state government to decide the rate of interest to be charged.
In reality, the Indian P2P sector also benefited from a lack of government policies as it allowed them to experiment and launch multiple products without considering any repercussions of the law. This changed in 2016 when RBI released a consultation paper on P2P lending. This paper has been used as a yardstick by RBI to frame regulation to govern the P2P lending market.
The Reason Behind RBI Regulations
Although the P2P market helps in financial inclusion of the economically disenfranchised sections of the society, multi-billion dollar Ponzi schemes like Ezubao in China are too big of a risk to ignore. The main reason cited behind the Ezubao scam was “lack of enforceable regulations.” With the industry starting to spread its wings in the country, RBI stepped up its regulatory efforts in a bid to avoid such a scam in the country.
RBI initiated P2P regulations with the main motive to bring in a new age of economic reform and financial inclusion in India wherein every individual can have access to credit with better terms and transparency without risking the hard earned money of the lender on the platform.
P2P Lending: A Throw Down on RBI Regulations
RBI consultation paper clearly outlined the risk of money laundering attached with P2P lending and will also try to cap the interest rates charged at P2P platforms. The new framework will incorporate the following norms:
- Recognition as NBFCs – All P2P lending platforms will come under the review of RBI and will be compulsorily registered as a Non-Banking Financial Corporation (NBFC).
- Permitted Activity – P2P lenders will be permitted to serve only as mediators who would be responsible for matching and originating loan deals between lenders and borrowers. Besides that, all online portals must specify the adequate regulatory framework governing that portal and are further prohibited from giving any assured returns. To reduce the risk of money laundering, the funds must be transferred directly from the lender´s account to the borrower´s account. Under the guidelines of Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), a law has been imposed on P2P lenders that strictly prohibit them from entering into cross-border transactions.
- Prudential Regulations – RBI has mandated a capital requirement of $312,000 (INR 20 Million) for all P2P lenders. In order to avoid indiscriminate expansion, RBI will prescribe a leverage ratio and also put a limit on the contribution made by a single lender towards a particular loan.
- Government Regulations – It was reported that RBI has made it mandatory for all P2P lending portals to adopt a company structure. As a result, this notification will render all the services provided by other organizational structures such as sole proprietorship, partnership, or LLP (Limited Liability Partnership) as non-compliant.
- Business Continuity Plan (BCP) – In order to ensure smooth flow of operations, the platforms are required to integrate efficient risk management systems and proper backup processes. Moreover, to ensure that operations do not cease due to any event, companies should prepare a Business Continuity Plan (BCP).
- Customer Interface – All P2P platforms must give top most priority in ensuring confidentiality of customer data and to offer complete transparency in its operations. Also, platforms must install a proper grievance handling mechanism to address complaints of lenders and borrowers.
- Reporting Requirements – All online P2P platforms are required to submit a regular report on their financial position, loan arrangement deals, and summary of complaints, if any, filed by borrowers or lenders with RBI.
Impact of RBI Regulations
Guidelines and regulations proposed by RBI are expected to impact the P2P lending space in the following ways:
- More at Stake for P2P Lending Platforms – The new $312,000 (approx) capital requirement will lead to small players shutting shop. This will allow serious players to emerge and restrict operations of fly-by-night operators looking to dupe the general public.
- Opportunities for Growth – RBI guidelines would help minimize the risk of money laundering, and moreover, would help stabilize the industry by introducing streamlined and standard procedures for loan origination. Investors in such platforms would not need to worry if they are compliant with the law.
- Higher Quality of Credit – RBI has made it compulsory for lenders to maintain a database of loan deals originated and a proper record of borrowers who failed to meet their financial commitments. This database is the first step in controlling fraud. It will also help in reducing loan stacking, a common problem plaguing the P2P industry all over the world.
- Greater Transparency and Accountability – Platforms would need to report to RBI on a regular basis. Anyone found non-compliant would risk RBI snatching its license or face heavy penalties. This would ensure greater transparency and accountability for the entire ecosystem.
What once used to be a relatively small part of the fintech industry has turned into a viable option for Indian lenders as well as borrowers. The fact that RBI has framed regulations for P2P lending goes to show that the industry is ready to move to the next level of market adoption. Regulations will surely help all the stake holders involved but the biggest winner will be the underserved Indian population who can finally step on the credit ladder.
Written by Heena Dhir.