P2P Platform myAzimia Disrupting Lending – and Giving a Boost to Women Entrepreneurs

By Britta Meyer |

When Kanini Mutooni moved from London to Berlin in 2009 and founded myAzimia, the first UK company to provide a white-label technology solution for peer-to-peer (P2P) lending, she had been working in the financial sector for ten years. As an investment bank director, she was at the forefront of the banking sector when the financial crisis hit London hard.

Back then, she believed in mainstream banking as a tool for helping people grow with their businesses and creating innovative products. After the collapse, she realised that she no longer believed in a system that was designed only to make profit.

“That was my Eureka moment,” she said, “when I knew that I needed to build a career out of this sector, but also outside of it.”

While doing research on alternative banking for an executive MBA, she came across Zopa, the first P2P lending company, and decided to write her thesis on them. That was where her love for this form of alternative banking started.

On a P2P lending platform, people in need of a loan can publish their cause, complete with the amount of money they need and the rate of the interest they are willing to pay. Investors can then contact a borrower they think is suitable and the whole transaction is done online, without a bank in between.

Interestingly, people tend to default on bank loans more than they do on peer-to-peer lending – you are much more likely to feel obliged to pay back a real person that helped you out than the rather abstract idea of a institution. This system provides an attractive alternative for entrepreneurs who would not be given a loan by a bank, as well as lenders who want to know exactly which cause their capital is supporting. The concept is on the rise: in 2010, the German parliament, the Bundestag, estimated the total capacity of internationally transacted P2P loans at about $1 billion, or €733 million at today’s exchange rate.

When Kanini learned about the sector’s need for a white label solution, she quit her job and, together with a technology expert, built the tools for implementing the necessary tech frame. When a client decides to set up their own P2P lending platform, myAzimia provides the required technology in the form of its licensed product. It now has clients in Eastern Europe, the US and the UK and is currently raising capital to launch a platform in East Africa.

According to a 2010 study by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), women actually have a slightly better chance of obtaining a loan through online lending than men do. Kanini believes this is because women are statistically being more likely to pay loans back, so private lenders, unlike banks, would be more willing to lend money to a woman. Also, the online factor plays a role in reducing restraints in women borrowers, or, as Kanini puts it: “Women online are more confident than in a banking scenario, which can be very frightening and demeaning. With online loans, they have much more guts and confidence.”

A good startup culture is also important to the success of her business, Kanini believes, and it is something which is more prevalent in Berlin. She described how she was able to rent fitting rooms for a Berlin meeting within only two hours. In comparison, she says, with very few incubators and lots of effort put into the banking sector rather than small businesses, there is no real startup culture in London.

With a family of three kids to care for, it would have been impossible to build up a business like myAzimia in London.

“I lived and worked in London eight years; its economy is only driven by the financial services sector, which I think is a wrong approach. It is better to have some diversity, it is a mistake to be overly focused on one sector.”

Kanini also started Womeninbiz.de, a platform to bring women together to network and to mentor each other. Although there are numerous organisations created to help startups in Berlin, still very few tech companies are run by women and less capital is invested in female-owned businesses. While women reportedly form the majority of workforce in the financial sector, in 2013, only 6.3 percent of positions on executive boards of listed corporations were taken by women and the top management of the 30 biggest companies still holds a male quota of 100 percent. Considering the fact that boards with a balanced gender ratio have a higher probability of achieving their financial goals, Kanini therefore sees the quota as real alternative for German boards, where nothing else has worked in over ten years.

After years of debate, the current coalition government in Berlin has agreed to implement a quota of 30 percent on the supervisory boards of 110 market-listed companies in Germany by 2016. There will be no binding quota for executive boards. About 3,500 more publicly-owned companies will have to set their own quotas for supervisory and executive boards as well as for the upper management levels.

“Quotas are not about saying, ‘You go to the board because you are a woman,’ quotas just open the door for a lot of qualified women who otherwise would not get the chance. I think as a woman, I have the responsibility to fight for giving other women this opportunity.”