Digging into the data: Stress testing the businesses you lend to

At Funding Circle, our aim is to build a sustainable platform that allows you to earn attractive, stable returns by lending directly to creditworthy businesses. To help achieve this, we rigorously prepare so you can have confidence in your portfolio remaining resilient during every stage of the economic cycle. Part of these preparations include regular stress-tests of the businesses you lend to, and we wanted to share the results of our most recent test with you.

What is a stress test?

Stress tests allow organisations to estimate how their assets are likely to perform during adverse economic periods. These tests form an integral part of any prudent risk management strategy, as they allow us to simulate what could happen to your returns during tough economic conditions, such as a recession. A recession is characterised by a sustained period ‒ typically two consecutive quarters ‒ of negative GDP growth.

What did we do?

We have built on previous tests carried out on the Funding Circle loanbook, in both 2014 and 2016, to make this year’s test the most sophisticated yet. Using more than 25 years of UK insolvency and macroeconomic data, alongside 7 years of small business lending data, our experienced credit risk management team have created a bespoke stress testing model. By applying the same scenario used to stress test the UK’s leading banks to this model, we can estimate how a major recession might impact the returns earned by Funding Circle investors.

Methodology

The starting point for any stress test is to create a number of example portfolios and establish how we expect those loans to perform if the UK economy remained stable. We call this our base scenario. It’s also important to note that we aren’t stress testing any individual loans, instead looking at how overall portfolios would react under stressed conditions. We created two example portfolios:

  • Portfolio A – representing an existing investor, comprising all outstanding small business loans in the Funding Circle loanbook (as of June 2017).
  • Portfolio B – representing a new investor, comprising all small business loans made on the Funding Circle platform in the first six months of 2017.

In our base scenario we would expect Portfolio A to earn an annual return of 6.7%, and Portfolio B to earn 6.8%, after fees and bad debt but before tax.

We then simulated the effects of a recession to these two portfolios. This simulation is called a stress scenario, and it shows what could happen to returns if the UK were to enter a period of severe recession.

This year we haven’t included secured property loans within our example portfolios. This is because these loans make up an increasingly diminishing proportion of the Funding Circle loanbook (less than 10% as of June 2017). More information on how secured property loans could perform in a downturn can be found in last year’s blog.

Building the Funding Circle stress testing model

It’s important that our model accurately reflects how changing economic conditions impact the returns earned by Funding Circle investors. To do this we established a mix of key economic indicators, including inflation, unemployment and interest rates. Carefully combining the right mix and weighting of indicators allows us to estimate how small businesses react to changing conditions.

The chart below shows how closely the overall UK small business insolvency level (the number of businesses who are unable to repay their debts) tracks the insolvency level estimated by our model. This is especially true when looking at the last two major UK recessions, in 1990 and 2008.

Source: Office of National Statistics

This high degree of correlation gives us confidence that changes to our mix of economic indicators closely estimate how small businesses in the UK would react during a stressed scenario. As the Funding Circle loanbook is well-diversified across regions and sectors, and broadly reflects the overall make-up of small businesses in the UK today, we can expect that businesses you lend to will react similarly.

It’s worth noting that businesses that have been trading for at least two years, like the ones you lend to, experienced a lower than average insolvency level during the 2007/08 recession. Businesses borrowing through Funding Circle are on average 10 years old. In addition, approximately half of the businesses in the Funding Circle loanbook successfully traded through that recession, further highlighting their resilience.

Timing of a recession

It’s also important to consider the timing and duration of any stressed scenario when measuring its impact on small businesses. Defaults are not spread evenly over the life of a portfolio of loans, typically starting approximately four to six months after the loans are made, and decreasing again as the outstanding amount to repay falls. In addition, all of our small business loans amortise. This means borrowers pay back a proportion of their principal along with interest each month. The timing and duration of a recession, along with amortisation, reduces the impact of a recession on older portfolios of loans. You can see this from the illustrative graph below, showing what happens to the base default rate when you apply a recession to a portfolio of loans after 18 months:

You can see that the earlier a recession starts, the more significant impact it has on a portfolio of loans.

PRA scenario and results

We tested our example portfolios against the Prudential Regulation Authority’s (PRA) 2017 stress test scenario. This is the same test currently being undertaken by all major UK banks. The PRA scenario provides a range of macroeconomic changes designed to simulate a severe UK recession. By applying these changes to our stress testing model, we can estimate how our example portfolios would be impacted.

The chart above shows that the PRA scenario (in orange) simulates a recession more severe than experienced by small businesses in 2007/08. This recession would start immediately (June 2017), and last for 60 months. During the stressed period our model estimates that the default rate for small businesses would increase by 1.9x. In addition we have also assumed that the recovery rate on defaulted loans would reduce by 40%. The table below* shows how our two example portfolios would be impacted.

Even during this severe recession both our example portfolios remain resilient, although Portfolio B is affected slightly more due to the timing factors discussed previously.

Looking in more detail at how the returns experienced by Portfolio B change throughout the stressed period, even at the point where defaults are at their highest the projected return remains above 3.5% per year after fees and bad debt, but before tax.

When simulating a recession similar to 2007/08, the projected annual returns for our example portfolios after fees and bad debt but before tax are 5.3% for Portfolio A, and 4.9% for Portfolio B.

Validating our results

We wanted to ensure our stress testing model stands up to scrutiny, so you can have confidence that we’ve approached our work in the right way. To help us do this, we asked a leading financial consulting firm, True North Partners, to conduct an independent review of our stress testing and return forecasting models. They have confirmed that the methodology used was valid, and the results based on this methodology are an accurate representation of how your returns could be affected by an economic downturn.

Actively monitoring the economic climate

The results of our test assume that in a stressed scenario, Funding Circle would take no action to mitigate losses. However, we have a number of processes in place to help anticipate and react to worsening economic conditions. In addition to closely monitoring the performance of the loanbook, we also track external macroeconomic conditions to help us identify when a downturn may be approaching. If there were signs that conditions were worsening, we would adjust our credit assessment process to price in some of its effects of on new loans. You can read more on how we assess businesses on our blog.

Conclusion

We hope you’ve found this information useful. We’re committed to helping you earn an attractive, stable return that remains resilient even during the toughest times. You can read more about the performance of Funding Circle loans on our statistics page. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Enjoy lending,

The Funding Circle team

* GDP = Gross Domestic Product

CPI =  Consumer Price Index

BOE = Bank of England

** You can see how projected returns are calculated here.

  

 

Jack Pritchett

Customer Communications Manager