Setting out to disrupt an industry is a brave move in itself, but Matt Symons set out to disrupt one of the most profitable industries in the world – the banking sector. Matt and his co-founder, Greg Symons, started SocietyOne in 2012, a peer-to-peer lending service that connects credit-worthy borrowers with private investors through their online platform. Their concept was a defiant step away from a centuries-old lending model and has caught the attention of big-name investors, including Rupert Murdoch, James Packer and Kerry Stokes. What started as a small Sydney start-up has triggered a transformation in the Australian finance landscape. We sat down with Matt to hear exactly how they did it.
You started a service that defies a centuries-old economic pillar, so we’ve got to ask, what’s your beef with the banks?
I have absolutely no beef with the banks! In fact, both my Dad and Grandfather were bankers who spent their entire careers at one bank. Think old-school country bank managers who lived in the apartment above the branch. While working for Accenture in the US, I also worked closely with some of the largest financial organisations in the world. Together with my own experience, that’s well over a century of banking experience in the family!
How did the concept of peer-to-peer banking first come to your attention, and what was it about this model that got you excited?
I first heard about P2P lending in 2009 when I worked as an Accenture Partner in San Francisco, where the two largest P2P lending companies in the world are headquartered. I thought P2P lending was a brilliant concept and a disruptive business model, particularly with my work within large financial institutions. I mystery-shopped the application and assessment process, and was surprised at the lack of innovation in this product over the previous decades. I just thought to myself “this category is ripe for disintermediation”.
I was fortuitously introduced to Greg Symons – who’s no relation to me – in 2010. Greg had discovered P2P lending in 2007 and saw it as the future of banking. He had built a world-class loan management platform called ClearMatch over the course of 17 years, which he reoriented to a P2P platform. We co-founded SocietyOne in 2011, and launched the ClearMatch powered platform to the public in August of 2012, as the only active P2P lender in Australia at the time.
How did it feel when Rupert Murdoch, James Packer and Kerry Stokes joined the party, and what impact did this have on the business?
I think we were lucky and in the right place at the right time. [We also] benefited from the success of P2P lending globally and from the track-record of established players who have built very interesting businesses. They saw in SocietyOne a unique platform with a business-focused orientation and robust technology architecture. I think they recognised the opportunity to operate across multiple asset classes in smaller geographic markets from day one.
For entrepreneurs in general, when it comes to shaking things up, how can one be sure they’re offering a welcome disruption?
Disruption isn’t just about changing things for the sake of change. True disruption has to create new value. So it’s not just about taking a service online and making it cheaper and faster – that wouldn’t be disruptive and would be easily replicated. Value creation is the real game changer.
P2P lending has the potential to be disruptive if it creates this new value and a radically different user experience based on peer validation. It would be challenging for traditional banks to replicate this. In this sense, we like to think we’re driven by the same motivation as Uber and Airbnb: creating a network of trust and transparency.
Matt Symons is one of our incredible speakers at The Collective’s Vivid Ideas event on 28 May. Find out more here.