** BondMason review updated April 8th, 2019 **
While technically not peer to peer lending, BondMason is an interesting addition to a field of platforms vying for investor’s money and could be the future of peer to peer lending. The company offers a virtually hands-off investment option for people investors who don’t want to navigate the intricacies of choosing peer to peer lending platforms and loans. There is a £5,000 minimum investment requirement with higher annual fee structure up to 1.5%.
My current annual rate of return: 0% (I no longer invest)
|Est. Annual Returns:||6%
|Recent Return Rate Trend:||← →|
|My Risk Rating *:|
|Loan Types:||Receivables, property backed|
|Loan Security:||It's complicated (see review)|
|Lender Fees:||1% - 1.5% annually|
|Min Investment:||Core £5,000 min, Bonds £1,000 min|
|Time to Become Invested:||Varies, target of 28 days|
|Time Needed Managing:||Low|
|Lending Agreements With:||Borrowers|
|Cashback Offer:||Sign Up For A Free Account|
* This opinion risk factors in loan types, interest returns, platform history, default numbers and my own investing experience.
How Do I Sign Up / Any Offers?
Get £50 cashback when you invest £5,000+. (When you sign up for an account and invest through my link, you help to support this website and enable me to continue writing in depth reviews.)
The BondMason Review – The Important Info:
- 100% hands-off investing
- Transparency and great communication
- Instant access up to £5,000 (depending on platform liquidity)
- Directors and staff have extensive financial sector experience
- Low defaults / extensive due diligence – only invests in platforms they have met with
- Company invests in every loan alongside investors
- Invests in loans normal lenders wouldn’t have access to
- Easy to use website
- Could be the future of peer to peer investing?
- £5,000 minimum to get started
- Max 1.5% annual fee
- Can’t see specific details about your individual investments
- Can take up to a month for your deposit to be invested
- Reinvestment cash can sit idle waiting for deployment (aka cash drag)
- Lenders invest in receivables; could be higher risk
- Isn’t technically peer to peer lending
- The company setup for wind-up proceedings could be a conflict of interest
- Lenders have no direct rights (security) over loans
- Not FCA regulated but the senior team are FCA approved persons (*see note below)
BondMason Review: My experiences so far….
On paper, BondMason fills all the wants of a hands-off peer to peer lending investment vehicle. When I first invested, I liked the attractive returns, deposit and forget auto investments and an experienced financial team analysing loans. After researching further, I decided to give BondMason a try. It took a couple of weeks for my original deposit to be invested but after that, so far so good. Payments have been made on time and my account value is growing monthly.
When BondMason announced a raise in fee structure and minimum investments, I decided to exit the platform. For those investing £5,000 – £25,000, the annual fee will be raised to 1.5%. After tax, I calculated I could be earning between 3-5% and when factoring the risk involved, this doesn’t appeal to me. I was sad to exit BondMason as I still believe they are a reputable lender. Read on for more of my thoughts if BondMason.
What Is A BondMason?
BondMason is a UK based investment company that invests in receivables, invoices, peer to peer loans and debt. This is where things get a bit confusing but bear with me as I try to explain BondMason’s set up. Remember it is very important to understand what you are investing in.
BondMason has an outside / sister company named BondMason Client Ltd (aka BCL) which on paper, is a client of BondMason the platform. BondMason’s team analyses loans on peer to peer platforms and buys loans that passes their quality criteria. BondMason’s platform then facilitates the sales and purchase of these loans to lenders in the form of receivables. BCL collects loan payments and distributes them to BondMason the platform, which then distributes payments to lenders. BondMason also invests in each loan alongside lenders to keep interests aligned.
Here’s an illustration:
This set up means BondMason could be considered more like an investment fund than a true peer to peer company.
BondMason in association with Chiltern, will soon be offering a property backed bond.
BondMason, in Association with Chiltern Bonds, issued The Absolute Return Bonds I & II on October 2018. These are ISA eligible investments. Minimum investment amount £1,000.
How Can I Contact BondMason?
UK Tel: 01582 802 000
When Did They Launch?
Is BondMason Regulated?
Not yet but BondMason’s FCA regulation is pending. Since BondMason offers a unique product, FCA regulation has been a slower process. BondMason has applied for regulation through the Financial Conduct Authority and is working closely with them to comply. No timeline for approval has been given.
BondMason was one of the first companies accepted onto the FCA Innovation Hub program in April 2015. Their model was considered (i) innovative (ii) a positive contribution to financial services and (iii) current regulations didn’t fit their operating model. An FCA application for certain activities was submitted in December 2015, and is awaiting a final response. The senior team are FCA approved persons.
BondMason’s Company Financial Health
BondMason hasn’t published their profit and loss information. You can view Bondmason’s company accounts here.
Who Can Open An Account?
Anyone 18 years or older who lives in the UK, has a UK bank account and can pass the identity checks.
What’s The Signup Process Like?
The signup process is simple. Click the signup button, fill out the information, pass the identity verification and you are in.
How Are Deposits Made?
Via bank transfer
What’s The Minimum Deposit / Investment?
Deposit: £5000 account minimum
Loans: Auto invested so no further minimums
Bonds: £1,000 minimum investment
Does BondMason Offer An Innovative Finance ISA?
Not yet but it is possible to use a SIPP provider to invest in BondMason. Click here to learn more. Chiltern Bonds – Fixed Term Bonds (1 year and 3 year) are ISA eligible investments.
How Much Interest Does BondMason Pay Investors?
BondMason Core clients have achieved an average yearly net return of 6% since 2015.
Is Interest Paid Immediately Upon Investment?
interest is paid starting from the time your money is deployed into investments but interest is not while your money sits in the invesment queue.
When Is Interest Paid?
Interest payments are staggered throughout the month.
Am I Lending To The Platform Or To Borrowers?
This is a grey area. Technically you are purchasing receivables from BondMason Client Ltd (BCL) which are then linked to the peer to peer loans. BondMason and client positions are separated. BondMason is investing on lenders behalves through its sister company BCL. BCL then passes the cash flow to lenders through BondMason’s platform. BCL is bankruptcy remote from the platform.
No simple answer here as BondMason’s legal structure is complicated. In my opinion, because investors aren’t lending directly to peer to peer borrowers, investors are lending to the platform.
What Are The Fees?
- 1.5% p.a. on investment amounts for first £25,000
- 1.25% p.a. on the next £75,000 (£25,001 to £100,000)
- 1.0% p.a. on all invested amounts over £100,000
Selling: Selling investments is normally free but BondMason reserves the right to charge a 2% fee. This fee appears to be to deter frequent buying and selling. Sellers will be contacted by staff if a fee is to be charged upon sale.
What Are The Length Of The Loans?
The loans range from one month to five years. When you have auto investing enabled, you cannot select loan term lengths or the investments.
What Securities Are Used Against Loans?
BondMason doesn’t list specific loan details on their website. Most loans are listed as being asset secured. Only one of my 50 loans was unsecured but this can vary.
BondMason invests in private loans as well as loans on other peer to peer platforms, so security varies but it is usually property related.
Typically between 75-80% of underlying loans are secured by UK property via a first or second ranking charge. The remainder of loans are secured by other assets such as debentures, floating charges and personal guarantees.
What Are The Loan Default Rates?
According to BondMason’s website, as of January 2019, 87% of their loan book is performing as expected while 5.23% of loans are on a watchlist which means these loans require monitoring. BondMason has written off 0.1% of its total loan book and expects a total loss ratio of 0.5 – 2%.
When I invested through BondMason, only two of my loans defaulted out of 68 loans I held.
What Is Default Handling Like?
BondMason mixes its investments in loans offered by other peer to peer lending companies, and loans it originates itself. Regarding outside companies, BondMason monitors the default collection process. Regarding internal loans, I don’t have information about how the collection process works but after my conversation with CEO Steve Findlay, my confidence in their process is high and so far I’m impressed.
Is There a Secondary Market?
Sort of. BondMason advertises that they offer exit possibilities based on market demand. BondMason listed its liquidity / exit targets at:
- Up to £5k invested: same day liquidity
- Up to £10k invested: liquidity in 2-3 days
- Up to £25k invested: liquidity in 3-7 days
- Up to £50k invested: liquidity in 7-14 days
- £50k-100k: liquidity in 10-21 days
- Over £100k: contact them
Click here for the latest liquidity and exit information as this can change daily.
I recently hit the withdraw button and liquidated all my investments. I’m happy to report all loans were sold within one day except for two that are in default. Any accrued interest owed is paid at the end of the month.
What Are The Main Risks?
Company failure: BondMason is a newer peer to peer platform so its lack of history adds to the lender investment risk. As with any peer to peer company, should BondMason cease trading, lenders could face capital losses. Platform failure is the single biggest risk to peer to peer investors. Another concern is that its sister company BCL purchases the peer to peer loans. As I understand, BCL is also listed as the third party set up to handle the loan book in case of platform failure. BondMason states that this legal structure is designed to protect lenders. Whilst this maybe true, there could be some conflict of interest here so I would much rather see BondMason hire an independent third party for loan administration. If BondMason fails, BCL could fail also even though it is legally separated from the platform.
Defaults: BondMason’s experienced team analyses the quality of each peer to peer loan it places investors money into. For this reason I expect defaults to be low. However due to the volatile nature of peer to peer lending, defaults happen. Higher default rates could severely damage investor confidence leading investors to the exit doors. If investors exit all at once, it would be hard to sell existing investments as liquidity could dry up.
Lowering of standards: If BondMason lowers its investment criteria standards, defaults could increase and returns could fall. I fully expect BondMason’s quality standards to remain high.
Hand-off investing: Passive investing has its downsides. Investment companies make frequent changes, some for the better and others for the worse. When you passively invest, it’s so easy to become complacent and forget to keep an eye on the company you are invested through.
Overall risk: BondMason could be the future of investing in peer to peer lending. Before you invest, you should understand that this type of investing could be riskier than standard peer to peer lending because you are placing heavy reliance on BondMason’s decision making and operation rather than choosing your own peer to peer loans. Given the experience of the team, I see this as a positive. I would rather have an experienced finance team vetting peer to peer loans than relying on my own knowledge.
Is There A Provision Fund?
What Happens If The Company Goes Bust?
BondMason has a living will in place which would place a third party (Bond Mason Client Ltd. aka BCL) in charge of managing investors’ funds. The issue as discussed early is that BCL is the third party. As much as I like BondMason, as I always warn, if it were to go under, there are too many unknown variables to know whether investors would see return of their capital.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT BONDMASON:
Completely Hands-Off Investing
Peer to peer lending can be very time consuming. To overcome this problem, BondMason created a true set-and-forget platform. Many lenders yearn for investment platforms where they can passively invest money and receive interest payments while they eat Monster Munch and watch Emmerdale Farm. Of course there are downsides to passive investing convenience, one of these being lower return rates.
Director And Staff Highly Experienced In The Financial Sector
Many peer to peer lenders overlook the importance of Director experience when considering investment risk. BondMason has experienced Board Members and Directors who have many years of financial services and investment analysis experience. The financial team analyses each loan opportunity and invests alongside lenders. It’s good to know the loans are being analysed over by experienced people.
After my lengthy conversation with CEO Stephen Findlay, I have a high regard for BondMason’s team and its values. Stephen expressed how they realise people have entrusted their money to BondMason and the team doesn’t take this responsibility lightly.
Transparency / Great Communication
Without a doubt, BondMason is one of the most transparent peer to peer lending companies. Their statistics page outlines all the activity including loan types, defaults, returns and cash drag effects. Some peer to peer companies aren’t good at communicating with their lenders so I certainly tip my hat to them for their refreshing approach. Should you need help, the communication is excellent.
Easy Platform Exit
BondMason states that lenders can exit investments depending on the amount, website liquidity and demand. Remember you can never completely rely on being able to exit investments. If the economic climate changes and investors mass exit, liquidity could dry up.
BondMason states than in 2016, they were able to fully liquidate and return clients funds within 24 hours in 95% of cases. I was able to liquidate all investments but two defaults and receive the money in my account within 24 hours.
Invests In Loans Normal Lenders Wouldn’t Have Access To
Peer to peer loan options can be limited to regular lenders. Since BondMason uses an institutional business approach, it has access to loans we don’t. For example, one of their loan partners has a minimum investment of £250,000.
Low Defaults & Extensive Due Diligence
BondMason’s high level of loan due diligence means loans default have been almost nonexistent. The financial team brings an institutional level of due diligence and only invests in loan borrowers and platforms they have personally met and interviewed.
Skin In The Game
BondMason invests in each loan it offers to its lenders, but their website doesn’t specify how much they invest. It certainly inspires confidence knowing that company interests are aligned with investors and that they to stand by the loans they buy.
The website is easy to use. Here is what the investor dashboard looks like:
The Future Of Peer To Peer Lending?
There are three peer to peer lending drawbacks that BondMason attempts to solve.
Firstly, the large amount of time it takes to wade through the hundreds of loan choices and various platform options. BondMason’s hand-off investing could be the answer many people are looking for.
Secondly, certain peer to peer platforms have lofty minimum investment amounts that are too high for us regular folk. For example Thincats has a £1,000 minimum investment per loan. A company like BondMason can use the power of collective investing to purchase loans through these high minimum loan platforms.
Thirdly, in order to achieve 100% diversification in an ideal world, every lender would have a small piece of every viable loan on every platform. This way defaults or platform failures won’t affect lenders too badly. Both time, demand and financial limitations prevent lenders from being fully diversified.
An ideal diversification level would be to have no more than 2% of platform money in each loan. For example, in order to be fully diversified on Thincats, a lender should invest in 50 loans. This would require a platform investment of £50,000, an amount that is probably out of most people’s financial reach. BondMason lenders can set whether they wish to have no more than 1% or 2% of their balance in each loan investment (I use 1%). If BondMason expands and buys loans from more platforms, it could be the most diverse option for peer to peer lenders.
A profitable and efficiently operated BondMason could be the future in the peer to peer lending world. The issue for me is the high annual fee amount and possible cash drag make the returns too low.
WHAT I DISLIKE ABOUT BONDMASON:
BondMason has some pretty significant annual fees of up to 1.5% that can drag down your returns (see above in the Fees section).
If you know anything about me, you’ll know I dislike investments with high fee structures. Low fees are the reason why I invest in index trackers and not managed unit trusts.
At 1% I thought BondMason’s fees were palatable, but at 1.5%, I find this no longer to be true. Let me show you how much this 0.5% fee increase will cost you over 20 years:
With £20,000 invested, the 0.5% extra fee costs you over £6,924 or £346 per year.
While I understand the reasons for the fee hikes, I still dislike them. If the target net return rate of 6% is met, some higher paying tax people may only net 4-5% post-tax which could be too low for the risk.
£5,000 Minimum Starting Deposit
BondMason increased its required minimum account balance from £1,000 to £5,000. This was a shame because many early adopter investors didn’t want a higher exposure in the platform and had to liquidate or run off their accounts. BondMason made this change so the team could focus on finding quality investment loans while continuing to offer a high level of customer service.
While I was disappointed about the minimum rise, I commend BondMason on making the necessary changes to grow and be profitable.
Lender Invests In Receivables
Since lenders are buying receivables from BondMason Client Ltd., lenders have no security rights over loans. I quote from their website, “Lenders have no recourse against either the seller or the borrower under the loan related to the receivables in the event that the receivables are not paid to the BondMason Customer Funds Account.” This adds another layer of lending risk.
No Specific Details About The Loans Your Money Is Invested Into
BondMason is designed to be a hands-off platform so I can understand the limited level of investment detail. It would still be nice for lenders to know what platforms and loan receivables their money was lent to; for diversification purposes if nothing else.
Can Take Time For Deposit Money To Be Fully Invested
Since peer to peer lender demand tends to outweigh loan supply, it can take several days or weeks for your money to start earning interest. This goes for reinvestment of interest payments also.
BondMason has a target of 28 days for monies to be invested but everything depends on loan supply.
This issue is also known as cash drag (see below).
Cash Drag Hurts Your Returns
Cash drag refers to money sitting idly in your account uninvested. BondMason’s unique investing model makes cash drag inevitable as there is probably no way for them to have 100% of every lenders account fully invested. I expected 10% of my funds to be uninvested although some Financial Thing readers have claimed their cash drag to be as high as 40% at times.
BondMason’s Sister Company (BCL) Is The Company Designated To Process The Loan Book In The Event Of Platform Failure
As explained above, BCL was the third party company created to buy loans. BCL is also the company that is assigned to process the loan book in the event of company failure. There could be some conflict of interest here so I would much rather see use of an independent third party for loan administration. If BondMason the company does fail, there is a chance BCL could also fail.
Not FCA Regulated
While I don’t put too much weight on FCA regulation, it would be comforting to know BondMason was under the watchful eye of the FCA. BondMason is working closely with the FCA so hopefully their regulation permissions will be granted soon.
For me, BondMason was a set and forget platform so my strategy was simple. Once the money was deposited, there wasn’t much else to do other than watch and wait. I used the 1% maximum per loan to be as diverse as possible. This selection is under the settings menu in the dashboard.
Once I deposited money, it took two weeks to become fully invested and after that, everything was smooth sailing and monthly payments were received promptly. Most of my reinvestment money was re-deployed quickly but there were times where small amounts of cash sat idle.
The BondMason Review Conclusion
I’m still a fan of BondMason’s transparency, team experience and business model. I love how the team carefully analyses each peer to peer company and loan they invest in. CEO Stephen Findlay spoke to me about how he takes the morale responsibility of investing peoples money extremely seriously.
Unfortunately, the increase in annual fees and minimum account balances made me decide to exit the platform. If you are a high net worth investor looking to place £100,000 at the 1% fee level, BondMason’s could still be an option, especially since little time is required managing the investment. Just make sure you calculate your post-tax expected to decide if the risk is worth the reward.
There are risks involved since lenders have no direct claims over loan security due to the legal structure.
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This unbiased BondMason review is for information purposes only and should not be considered investment advice. Opinions expressed in this review are based upon my investing experiences. All information was deemed to be correct at the time of writing. Peer to peer lending contains risks so never invest more than you can afford to lose.