Alternative finance and the challenge of going “mainstream”

The growth of the UK alternative finance industry continues apace.

The industry as a whole has now facilitated loans to small business and consumer customers totalling well over a £1bn. A number of the leading P2P finance platforms meanwhile have recently announced details of significant fundraises with the objective of further expansion.

This expansion inevitably brings communications challenges and top of the pile is how to manage the jump from alternative to mainstream.

For most platforms, particularly those aimed at consumers, the ultimate ambition is to become a recognised household brand. This represents something of an oxymoron. P2P finance has thrived precisely because it offers a genuine alternative to the banks and to date the leading platforms have played heavily on this differentiation. 

Think of the successful #nothanksbanks strapline of Funding Circle or the high-profile transparency campaign conducted by Transferwise which saw semi-naked Londoners roaming the street clutching #nothingtohide placards.

It is fair to argue that this “disruptive” narrative will inevitably have to change as platforms attempt to broaden appeal beyond the current hinterland into the trillion pound household savings and loans market.  

How this transition plays out will be fascinating to see and it is well worth looking to Betfair and its evolution into a FTSE 25O business for inspiration.

It seems a long-time ago now but Betfair was the ultimate disruptive force, turning the multi-million pound gambling industry on its head in spectacular style. The catalyst for the 2005 Gambling Act which redefined how bookmaking was governed in this country.

Betfair initially thrived under this guise but change was driven by and large by the reality that building scale required mass appeal. In short, Betfair had to compete with Ladbrokes et al in price and product. Fast-forward 15 years and Betfair is seldom referenced in the lexicon of “disruption” and there is little in their marketing about how the business works under the bonnet.  

P2P finance platforms will have to tread a similar path towards normality but without losing the gloss of being different that has served them so well to date.