A while back I wrote about “peer -to-peer” lenders, which were starting to be popular with both investors and borrowers, although their market penetration is so far small. The best-known one in the UK is Zopa, at least for personal borrowers.
According to an article by Lucy Warwick-Ching in the Financial Times, there is now a new one, focussing on lending to small businesses. Here’s an extract from that article, with my comments. See below to reference it in full from the FT site.

What’s the deal? is an online peer-to-peer lending service enabling investors to make loans to direct to businesses.

Businesses seeking funding pay a listing fee of £450 to upload their information. Potential lenders decide whether to participate in an auction to lend to that company. (Kind of Dragon’s Den, eh? Ed.) If they do, they set the interest rate and the amount they’ll offer. A syndicate is made up of the bidders offering the lowest rates.

The minimum bid is £1,000, but the most common loan is around £5,000. (Clearly for pretty small businesses: Ed.)

Is this good?

With ThinCats, lenders set their own interest rates. Some have achieved rates of 15 per cent in recent months, but 8 per cent to 11 per cent is more likely as the marketplace for these loans matures.

Lenders are not charged a fee and it is up to ThinCats to chase any outstanding payments. (This is a USP, if it works: Ed.)

What’s the catch?

The company is young, so it doesn’t have much of a track record. Loans are secured (key info! Ed.); if a business falls behind with payments, ThinCats would call in the loan security. But investors’ money is not as secure as it would be in a bank account.

What’s the alternative?

ThinCats follows on from the success of other peer-to-peer lending sites such as and; but it is the first to offer secured loans.

(and the first, as far as I know, to target small businesses in search of funding, as distinct from individuals: Ed.)


Peer-to peer lending

Link to reference the article

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My headline is not original. The phrase might or might not have been coined, but was certainly made famous, by Bob Hope. The comedian, an American citizen of course, was a native of Britain, so he was entitled to make a joke about our weather; a good joke too, IMHO.

I shan’t have a go at our weather; that would be pointless, although it sometimes seems that moaning about the subject is a national pastime. I remember many year ago, when I was running training courses in Scandinavia, one of the things people most wanted to talk about under the heading of “cross-cultural awareness” was what constitutes appropriate subjects for small-talk in Britain. This seemed to be a challenge for many Scandinavian businesspeople because there, in a business meeting, people tended (not always but generally) to get down to business immediately; they found our custom of verbal sparring through small-talk a challenge.

Well, the experts, and I am not one, say that the weather is rightly the #1 topic. That’s obvious to us but there is logic to it. Why? “Because it’s uncontroversial and it’s the same for everyone.” They might well have added that in Britain it’s worth talking about because it is so variable, as memorably pointed out by Bob Hope. If you’d been in the Sahara, on the other hand, and ventured the startling opinion that the weather was hot, it would be assumed that the sun had got to you.

No, my moan / whinge / rant is not about the weather but about the BBC’s feeling that we need to be given weather forecasts on a minute-by-minute basis, even when (and this is the key) those forecasts are, by virtue of programming time pressures, so short as to be meaningless. That’s leaving aside whether they are accurate. It’s not enough to have a full five-minute weather forecast a few times every day; useful for those who need to hear it and avoidable for the rest of us; my beef is with the assumed need to put frequent short weather forecasts into what are otherwise current affairs programmes.

Here’s an example, from BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme, this very morning. That’s the programme of which I heard Sandi Toksvig (national treasure in both Britain and her native Denmark, I think) say, while speaking at a dinner here in Bristol: “The Today programme; isn’t it wonderful? Twenty minutes of news, crammed into three hours.” Well, whatever the truth of her witty description, the producers feel it necessary to give us weather forecasts regularly throughout the show. A show, I stress, that is going out on a national channel, to a country with weather that famously fluctuates not just from minute to minute (thank you again, Bob Hope) but from town to town.

This was the forecast, at 0830 this morning, and it was typical: “Now the weather! Well, mostly dry today. Sunny spells but there will be a few showers.”

I kid you not.

If the forecast had been important to me, I would have been so frustrated. I would have been asking, “Where, exactly, will it be like that? In London? In Scotland? Here in Bristol, where I live? And when exactly will it be like that? This morning? This afternoon? Or will it be like that the whole day?”

Why bother with such a short and generalised forecast?

And while I’m about it; the language. I recently heard: “the rain eases this afternoon.” I think you’ll find, as they say, that the use of the present simple to describe a future event is supposed (for those of us who are anal about language) to be reserved for so-called timetabled events, e.g. “our train leaves at five”. Future weather does not come into the category of a timetabled event.

Despite the expensive facilities, large staff and undoubted modelling expertise of our Met Office, described in a fascinating recent article in the FT, the implication of certainty is ridiculous. Why, why, why don’t we adopt the US habit of saying things like “there is a 40% chance of precipitation”?

I can handle that. If they’d said 60% I might take an umbrella; for 40% I won’t.

Meanwhile, I go back to my usual method of weather forecasting. I look out of the window. That works for me.


Rail is again in the headlines but not for the right reasons. That nice Mr Hammond has been defending the fact that Bombardier, our last train maker,  has announced redundancies at its Derby factory.

To what extent this was because Thameslink had decided to buy “1200 new trains” from Siemens, according to the FT, is  not clear. It’s not even clear how many trains are involved; the Guardian on the same day said 1200 carriages, which is rather different; unless, of course, these are single-carriage trains, which we sometimes have to tolerate on some routes here in the rail-deprived West Country.

Who’s the guilty party?

The FT’s coverage went on to say that “insiders attributed the (Siemens) decision to a procurement process set up by the previous Labour Government” and in a radio interview that day I definitely heard Philip Hammond espouse that view. However he has also flagged`up his concerns about the EU procurement directive,an unequal implementation of which meant that you get German-built trains on German railways and French-built trains on French railways but we’ll get (mostly) German-built Thameslink trains, though some of the components for the latter will be UK-sourced.

Mr Hammond should decide which to blame; although the answer is probably not simple (it rarely is), it’d make better copy if he blamed just one party.

That nice Mr Hammond

By the way, the minister seemed surprised that the level-playing-field concept is not universally accepted throughout Europe. When I worked in the chemical industry, I remember it was often said that some of our European partners (no names, no pack-drill) would always press for the strictest possible regulations on safety, environment etc, knowing that they would be less strictly policed in their own countries, thus giving them a cost advantage. So the concept is not new; if it was a surprise, that justifies my having called him that nice Mr Hammond.

Bombardier: post hoc ergo propter hoc?

The Transport Secretary did, however, point out robustly  to a Radio 4 interviewer that the job losses at Bombardier were not totally, or even primarily, caused by the Thameslink decision. And he persisted in his defence even when the interviewer (no names again) pressed him with the traditional “so you are saying that …”, followed by a summary that was totally at variance with what had actually been said. Who’d be a government minister?


For the Guardian story:

For the FT story:  (but you may have to register)