This P2P song sounds so familiar

My credit union and banking RSS feeds are full of peer-to-peer lending articles. It is early days and everyone is sussing out where P2P lending fits into the financial services landscape. If this topic is new to you, here's a Wikipedia definition:

Person-to-person lending or peer-to-peer lending is lending done between individuals circumventing the bank's traditional role in this process.

Community lending had the advantage that people's interpersonal relationships fostered increased fiscal responsibility. The risk was that without the benefit of diversification, when something went awry the entire community could suffer.
Lending through banks has benefited from scale and diversity. By pooling the available money supply and lending it out again, the impact of any one default would be trivial in light of the timely payment of the vast majority of the notes. The downside to this model is that it has introduced greater transaction overhead and removed community loyalty from the equation.

New ventures are seeking to blend traditional practices with new scale economies via online marketplaces. The marketplace serves many functions. Most notably it facilitates bringing borrowers and lenders together. Furthermore, it simplifies what might otherwise be a cumbersome process to properly document and service the resulting loans.

It is hoped not only that these new markets will be more efficient by removing the bank as middleman, but that factors leading to default can be mitigated by reintroducing a social component to the mix.

I have been following a number of P2P discussions with great interest. Between the arrival of Zopa in six US credit unions, the growing number of P2P players entering the North American lending space and the disingenous marketing tactics of some of these players, there is a forboding feeling that P2P lending is not a flash in the pan.

How does P2P lending affect your credit union? I believe it will have a huge impact in the not-too-distant future. You need to understand it and develop strategies to embrace it. It should not be ignored.

This feels like déjà vu. The emergence of P2P lending is eerily reminiscent of the early peer-to-peer music sharing days. Out of nowhere, a very young Shawn Fanning introduced Napster and the recording industry was changed forever.

Replace the young Shawn Fanning with the older, wiser and richer, Richard Branson, replace music with money and replace illegal with above board and you get the picture of the potential impact that P2P lending will have in the financial services world.

The music industry's answer was to use the law to take down Napster, use digital rights management to throttle the inevitable tidal wave of file sharing and litigate against the common man in hopes of striking fear into the general public.

This took the music industry's eye off the ball as legitimate players like Apple's iTunes, Rhapsody, eMusic and Amazon swept in to fill the void. The ultimate victor in this bloodbath is the consumer with ease of use and instantly available legitimate access to music. Mega record stores are soon to be a thing of the past.

What can we learn from this parallel musical universe? Where will your credit union be after the P2P lending music gets cranked up to 10?

Tim