"Investing in the networks that light up the sharing economy certainly looks like a good idea," Fred Wilson, the managing partner of Union Square Ventures, said in a post on his Web site in July. Union Square invested in Lending Club in 2011 and has put money into multiple platforms. Last year it backed Funding Circle, which offers small business loans in Britain. This year it financed the personal-loan marketplace Auxmoney in Germany.
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"There is a platform proliferation out there," said Frank Rotman of QED Investors, a group of former executives of Capital One Financial that has invested in four platforms. "Usually that happens when you see one company succeed and people say they want to find the next one. Right now everyone is trying to find the next Lending Club. They don't want to feel like they missed the opportunity."
The number of significant lending platforms has already grown to roughly 50 worldwide, according to Disruption Credit, an investment firm. The main personal loan platforms in the United States are Lending Club and Prosper Marketplace. On Deck and Kabbage do small-business lending. Overseas, Zopa Ltd. and RateSetter also do consumer lending in Britain, as does SocietyOne in Australia. And student-financing platforms include Social Finance, CommonBond, Pave and Upstart.
Disruption Credit's chief executive, Michael Parekh, says such platforms can disrupt Wall Street and traditional banks much as Google has taken on old-style media companies and Amazon.com has taken business from traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. Disruption and other experts cite a vast $2.8 trillion consumer credit market up for grabs.
Lending Club itself, which just passed the $2 billion mark in total loans made, already plans to expand into small-business and student loans, and may pursue credit cards, insurance and mortgages. It may also expand globally.
In addition to its original base of individual investors, Lending Club has attracted the participation of a few community banks as well as institutional funds that invest in the loans. It also attracted a later-stage investment in 2012, at about one-third the current value, from the venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, whose partner Mary Meeker joined its board. Other directors include John J. Mack, a former chief executive of Morgan Stanley, and Lawrence H. Summers, a former Treasury secretary. Kleiner's China fund is also backing CreditEase, an online small-business consumer lender in China.
If Lending Club can complete an I.P.O. on schedule next year, "I believe this will be the financial-tech version of the Facebook I.P.O., a coming-of-age event just like Facebook was for social media," said Dan Ciporin, general partner of Canaan Partners, Lending Club's second-largest shareholder with a 15 percent stake.
Lending Club expects revenue could roughly triple, to $100 million in 2013 from $36 million in 2012, and could grow to $400 million by 2015. One Wall Street banker said other fast-growing online services like LinkedIn and Priceline trade at 7 to 10 times revenue expected for the following year. At that rate, he says, Lending Club could be worth more than $3 billion in an I.P.O. next year.
"I think this is viewed by venture capitalists as incredibly disruptive and rapidly scalable," said Ron Suber, head of institutional sales at Prosper Marketplace.
Pat Grady, a partner at Prosper's chief venture backer, Sequoia Capital, said big banks might be hobbled by their "legacy infrastructure" and "incumbent inertia." He added, "In some ways the sky's the limit. There's nothing that says the banks of yesteryear have to be the banks of tomorrow."
At a presentation in June at the inaugural Lendit conference for the nascent sector in New York, Lending Club's founder and chief executive, Renaud Laplanche, compared its rapid embrace by customers to the adoption of electricity, color television, stoves and washing machines, saying he plans to "transform the banking system."