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Why Direct Lending is so Attractive to Investors


At a time when investment and wealth preservation is as challenging as ever, direct lending offers an alternative for asset managers looking to invest.

There is a growing trend for non-bank lenders to loan money to companies, cutting out the middleman. Indeed, institutional investment is now the direct lending in the UK as it has been seen as a way to source alternative finance and funding for a variety of industries.

Direct lending started in the UK in 2005 with consumers borrowing from other consumers. Today, borrowers have increased and widened across many asset classes and the types of lenders have also expanded.

Direct lending is often now used to describe P2P lending and this reflects the growing number of diverse lenders keeping up with the high demand from borrowers.

Direct lending offers an attractive investment opportunity, gaining:

- Higher returns than a savings account could
- Lower volatility than stock markets

Likewise, borrowers are attracted by the lower rates and quick loan decisions.


Why direct lend?

Other investment options aren’t as reliable as they used to be so it has become prudent to invest elsewhere.

Stock markets remain volatile and therefore now difficult to find a safe-haven for money.

Add to this the decreasing yields on the usual ‘go to’ investment products and savings accounts that now offer little return.

Furthermore, Q4 2017 saw inflation rise to 3.0% - with the ever threat of increasing inflation.

Direct lending is also attractive when compared to other credit-grade investment choices:

 

A gap in the market was seized

Traditional banks have cut back on business lending in recent times, especially to SMEs, as tighter regulations have changed the post-financial lending culture. These tighter regulations aim to reinforce bank capital requirements and reduce leverage.

This has created an opportunity for alternative lenders and this gap in the market is being seized by investors who are offering loans to mid-market companies as an answer to low-yield problems.

Direct lenders can work under more favourable circumstances, therefore taking on the companies with high leverage simply because they don’t have to adhere to capital requirement guidelines. This results in more attractive returns for the investor.


Direct lending isn’t a passing fad

Direct lending was relatively untapped until recently, but research by the Alternative Credit Council (ACC) has led them to predict that global lending is expected to break the US $1 trillion mark by 2020.

The UK direct lending market is substantial and has grown considerably in recent years - with plenty of room for direct lending to continue to grow further.

The UK direct lending market accounted for £4.5 billion of lending in 2017 - this is an increase of 21% in a year.

 

Europe is catching up

In 2017, European direct lending grew to around US $22bn, alongside the growth of mergers and acquisitions amongst SMEs. With SMEs seeking alternative ways to finance this growth the two are intrinsically linked.

Institutional lenders now account for more than half of the direct lending in the UK - yet the UK media still remain skeptical about the industry. One of the reasons for this is that direct lending is often mistakenly confused with equity crowdfunding in the media.

Direct lending is much more established in the US and Asia and Europe is set to follow. In fact, shrewd P2P investment is helping clients who may not be able to get finance from banks and this in turn is injecting sluggish economies.

The borrowers benefit from loans that are secured and have straightforward and open arrangement fees from the start.

In turn, investors have the potential for attractive yields, low volatility and low correlation compared to other asset classes:

European direct lenders are teaming up to chase bigger deals and more high-profile firms. For example Zenith Group Holdings Ltd and Non-Standard Finance Plc used direct lenders to meet their financial needs.

 

An increasing number of investors

Direct lending started with asset managers lending to mid-market companies and therefore filling in the gaps left by the banks. Now other types of companies such as P2P platforms are joining in and taking up the market for smaller loans, while the asset managers have the expertise for the larger loans - creating an even more prosperous and thriving investment climate.

In fact, in 2017 there were more than one hundred direct lending platforms facilitating more than £4.5 billion of lending.

In turn, fund managers can offer bigger loans as the money flows, making direct lending more attractive with potential for returning clients.

 

Untapped potential

There is plenty of untapped potential from retail gatekeepers who have yet to wholly embrace direct lending:

 

Are there any downsides to direct lending?

The extra leverage that makes direct loans more attractive to a borrower, is also a higher risk to take if the economy takes a dive.

The need for direct loans grew from the banks refusing businesses simply due to tightening of restrictions - these were safe and dependable businesses that were suddenly cut off when previously they wouldn’t have had a problem. However, due to a more competitive and growing direct lending market, a growing number of direct lenders seek out the higher-risk financing to companies in trouble.

 

What does the future hold?

The rate of growth in the direct lending market is slowing, but this is all for the greater good as a ‘flight to quality’ is predicted as better lending platforms outperform weaker or less scrupulous ones.

However - there is still plenty of room for growth long term as reflected in the forecasting statistics.

In 2018, there will likely be an increase in collaboration between direct lenders and traditional lenders - they will complement each other - with banks seeing direct lending as a source of capital.

Another factor will be the concept of open banking which is spreading with a ripple effect across the financial world. For example, the UK’s Open Banking Initiative promotes the use of open application programming interfaces (APIs) to provide access to bank customers’ transaction data. This is certainly something to watch in the future with regard to how direct lenders can use this valuable data.

Direct lending will certainly experience change as it evolves in the coming years, but it is here to stay as an alternative investment opportunity which offers good returns - and ultimately it is uncorrelated and relatively liquid in comparison to other classes.


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