Is peer-to-peer economy only the tip of the iceberg?

“We’re finally seeing the impact of the peer-to-peer economy through Airbnb, Uber, Taskrabbit, and numerous others. Is this only the tip of the iceberg, and can we expect similar revolutions across the economy in the years to come?”

(Max Marty, Co-Founder of VOLO)

Airbnb and Uber only present a tip of something, but we no longer can call it an iceberg. It will be huge, promising and devastating at the same time. With unexpected winners and losers. Like Schumpeter’s description of creative destruction, newco’s we cannot yet think of, will rise to the top. But also a lot of newco’s who looked successful at first sight, will have a very short lifetime and be surpassed by other newco’s.

It will be new and not new at the same time. At the end, it is all about getting things arranged in an easier, faster and cheaper way. It is about showing possibilities that didn’t exist before (or so you thought).

However, the peer-to-peer (p2p) aspect may disappear. People booking an Amsterdam apartment via Airbnb want a nice affordable place to stay. For the majority, however, contacting the owner isn’t a necessity and even annoying to some. Even more business travelers now are starting to use booking sites similar to Airbnb, but for many people at the “guest” side it is important not only to have easy and useful experience, but also an anonymous one, less peer-to-peer.

Part of the attractiveness is the easy way money transfers are dealt with. Apple also got this, now introducing Apple Pay. You can see it coming–if you have an oversight of someone’s transactions, you may also be in the best position to assess someone’s spending behavior and creditworthiness. That used to be a bank, but Apple may be in good position to take that role, if it can first effectively compete with near-banks like PayPal.

However, stepping in the financial sector will wake up some very large incumbents who have already shown that they can effectively take over the p2p platforms. In his very interesting article in Forbes, titled “The Disappearance of Peer-to-Peer Lending,” Nav Athwal is taking this position, stating that the big financial companies not only provide most of the cash to p2p lending platforms but also their board members.

In general, don’t be surprised if incumbents come up with copy-cats. Or if suddenly Chinese competitors are at your door step (think about the taxi wars in China between Alibaba and Tencent with Uber-like apps, subsidizing taxi drivers). Or evenmore simple–if newer, easier apps are showing up and offering the same service in a better way, or new services. We’ve been there before, try to remember what happened to WordPerfect and Lotus.

All the while tax authorities are trying to get a grip on p2p phenomena. Money transfers are crucial in that. Ironically, if you try to imagine how you could avoid money transfers, you come back to a real p2p with one-on-one deals like HomeExchange.com. If you want to make it more universal but want to avoid money transfers, you end up with money-like solutions as Bitcoin.

An alternative is to change the tax systems fundamentally, moving away from labor and transactions, heading on to consumption. There is a lot of discussion about that already, and for many reasons. One is environmental, but an important driver is also the excesses of the current system resulting in, for instance, big offshore cash pools owned by US companies.

Starting with p2p, we are wondering if peers aren’t disappearing, while seeing new banks coming up and considering a fundamental change of the tax system.

This isn’t an iceberg anymore.

 

About this column: Dr. Finance is Gerard van Baar, an independent financial consultant, who’s been offering free financial advice to Dutch startups and companies on the pages of our magazine since 2011. His expertise is drawn from his involvement in the financial world.Van Baar has previously worked as the Managing Director Finance & Sustainability at the Holland Financial Center and as the Director Energy & Commodities Risk Management at Deloitte. If you’d like to get an advice from Gerard, e-mail your question to editor@nrgm.nl, mentioning “Dr. Finance” in the subject line

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Is peer-to-peer economy only the tip of the iceberg?