Make 4% a year by lending to strangers

As banks cut their interest rates after the financial crisis, other providers stepped in, offering higher returns. But are they worth using? David Stevenson explores the world of alternative finance.


Harness the power of the crowd

Looking for a decent income from your investments? It's become progressively harder since the days of the financial crisis, as interest rates have collapsed.

Yet as the banks have cut rates available, other providers have stepped in, hoping to tempt investors and savers with more attractive potential returns.

Alternative finance is one such niche area that has emerged from nowhere in the last eight years, with pioneer company Zopa leading the way in providing what are called "P2P (peer-to-peer) lending accounts".

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So what are these, how do they work, and should you consider using them?

What P2P can offer adventurous investors

Go direct. If you're an investor, then why not lend your money directly to a lender through a marketplace the financial equivalent of eBay.

Back when these P2P sites first launched, the idea was truly radical. You set the term (number of years) you'd want to lend over, and the interest rate you required. Then you'd wait for borrowers to accept your terms. The market in effect "set the rate" (that's the idea behind Ratesetter as a brand).

Times have changed, of course, and now the big two platforms lending to consumers (Zopa and Ratesetter) operate much more like an online fund.

You lend your money into a pot. That pot of money is in turn lent out to borrowers, mostly prime or just below prime borrowers (the most creditworthy). The interest rate you receive depends on how long you want to lend for and what protection you want in case of lenders defaulting on their payments to you.

The tables below explain the current investment rates on offer for lending on Zopa and Ratesetter.


Swipe to scroll horizontally
TermInterest Rate
1 month2.8%
1 year3.5%
3 years4.5%
5 years5.7%

Protection Fund size (see below for more on this): £17.7m, coverage ratio against expected defaults 133%

Total money lent: £1.11bn


Swipe to scroll horizontally
ProductInterest RateSafeguardFees
Access3.5%Yes0% withdrawal fee
Classic4.5%Yes1% fee
Plus6.5%No1% fee

Protection Fund size: £12.24m

Total money lent: £1.39bn

Both of these reasonably well-known brands now offer real choice for income-orientated investors even more so when you consider that both are about to launch Innovative Finance Individual Savings Account (Isa) wrappers.

At a time when the average high streets savings account pays well under 2% a year, the rates above represent a real boost for income seekers. And both of these brands have been working incredibly hard to reassure investors that their money is safe.

Boiling it down, there are four big selling points to using a P2P lender:

  1. You have a choice of products and terms over which you can lend your money. If you are ultra-cautious, you can lend for just one month or a year. The choice of risk is yours.
  2. The biggest underlying risk is that the borrowers don't pay back their debts. Defaults are however, currently running at very low levels for both Zopa and Ratesetter, as both platforms have a good record of making personal loans to consumers (although Ratesetter in particular is diversifying and now lends substantial amounts to businesses as well).
  3. Both platforms offer protection funds where a levy on transactions is used to build up a fund, which should be able to compensate investors for losses. The tables above contain details of these funds. Both platforms reckon that even if defaults doubled, they'd still have enough money in reserve to pay for any losses. If defaults went up five fold, there may be some loss of interest.
  4. Each platform has also developed fairly detailed plans to make sure that if they the online marketplaces go bust, you'll still have your loans in your name. In this extreme example, an appointed specialist will wind down the loan book, collect your interest and make sure your loan is repaid.

Interesting opportunities just remember there are risks

I'd be a lot more cautious about locking your money up for five years but if you are looking for a home for some money for a couple of years, these could be a useful non-core idea, with the potential to soak up to 10% of your income orientated wealth.

However, I'd emphasise very strongly that these are not substitutes for cash savings products from high street providers. There is no guaranteed compensation via the FSCS protection fund the state-backed Financial Services Compensation scheme.

Your money is not guaranteed and you have to keep an eye on how these platforms develop over time. Both are well funded by venture capitalists and big investors (such as Neil Woodford at Ratesetter) and both are very well run.

But who knows what might happen in the future? A recession could result in a massive spike in defaults, which in turn could overwhelm the provision funds. A run on the platform could cause liquidity problems if everyone headed for the door at the same time. These are investment platforms after all, and there are some increasingly obvious risks.

The returns on offer may well amply compensate you for those risks but these are not "lock away and forget" ideas like NS&I Premium Bonds.

If this piques your interest, I'll be looking at more income ideas regularly for MoneyWeek, and in particular, Lifetime Wealth, in the coming months.

If you're not already a MoneyWeek subscriber, you can sign up here.

David C. Stevenson

David Stevenson has been writing the Financial Times Adventurous Investor column for nearly 15 years and is also a regular columnist for Citywire. He writes his own widely read Adventurous Investor SubStack newsletter at

David has also had a successful career as a media entrepreneur setting up the big European fintech news and event outfit as well as in the asset management space. 

Before that, he was a founding partner in the Rocket Science Group, a successful corporate comms business. 

David has also written a number of books on investing, funds, ETFs, and stock picking and is currently a non-executive director on a number of stockmarket-listed funds including Gresham House Energy Storage and the Aurora Investment Trust. 

In what remains of his spare time he is a presiding justice on the Southampton magistrates bench.