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According to an in-depth study by the Social Futures Observatory, anti-bank feeling is running so high in the UK that 74% of Brits would consider borrowing or lending money through a social lending community in preference to their high street bank.

In the ultimate case of old concept finds new medium, the process of person-to-person money lending is as old as the hills but traditionally has been restricted to very small, localized and close-knit private social groups. The Internet, and particularly the social networking side of Web 2.0 services, is facilitating a sea change in how people form circles of trust and as a result social lending is fast emerging a genuinely important new online financial phenomena.

The study determined that the aspects of control, community and individual entrepreneurialism, or minipreneurs as they have been named, together with the second wave of the Internet with Web 2.0 is driving a re-emergence of person-to-person money lending schemes at the expense of the high street banks.

One example of this is Zopa, www.zopa.com an online marketplace for people to meet in order to borrow and lend money which was, ironically, established by many of the team that launched online bank Egg. Zopa has more than 100,000 members in the UK, and it was these people that were interviewed in the survey.

Control, community, self-authoring and importantly, positive financial gain, were key elements that people linked with online Social Lending. 81 percent of lenders felt that Zopa offered ‘significant control’, whereas only 4 per cent felt that mainstream financial services offered a similar level. Borrowers felt much the same, with 70 percent saying they felt Zopa offered ‘significant control’ compared to only one percent with mainstream banks. When it came to facilitating self-help and entrepreneurialism, 74 percent thought Zopa aided greatly, and only 4 percent claiming the same of high street banks. 56 percent, interestingly, stated that social and interactive features such as blogs and message boards attached to lending marketplaces were ‘significant’ in their decision to use such a scheme.

Certainly the anti-bank feeling shone through the study, with more than a third of respondents strongly agreeing that the big banks aimed to put customers in debt, 61 percent saying that the main aim of their bank was ‘to make money for themselves’ and only 15 percent thinking the main aim was to provide a good financial service to its customers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, up to 69% of people (depending upon their particular bank) thought interest on borrowings was unfairly high when compared with interest on savings.

According to Professor Michael Hulme, who authored the study, “The development and increasing integration of the Internet into our lives has produced a greater desire for control. Social Lending organizations offer two mains forms of control to members – control of flexibility and control of purpose. The success of Community Lending Sites and the stark contrast with traditional banking lies significantly in their providing genuine opportunities for control, choice and transparency for the participating member. There are echoes here of broader social trends and particularly those round notions of authenticity.”

This is not, it would appear, just about an easy or cheap way to get hold of cash either, the report found that there are cultural and social desires to invest in other people. Social lending would appear to be driven as much by ethics as greed. Only 12 percent of those questioned thought their bank was sufficiently involved in community projects, and 29 percent were unaware of any ethical policies held by their banks.

So, can anyone lend me fifty quid? I want to buy a tree...