Lending Club Puts Hold on Lending Activity While It Sorts Out Some Legal Issues

Lending Club, a P2P lending service that started off as a Facebook app, has temporarily stopped accepting new loans and lenders.

According to a brief “quiet period” note on its website:

Lending Club has started a process to register, with the appropriate securities authorities, promissory notes that may be offered and sold to lenders through our site in the future. Until we complete the registration process, we will not accept new lender registrations or allow new commitments from existing lenders. We will continue to service all previously funded loans during this period, and lenders will be able to access their accounts, monitor their portfolios, and withdraw available funds without changes.

While the company will not talk to media “until the registration process is completed,” we suspect that Lending Club is looking to obtain a broker-dealer license from the SEC that would legitimize its operations.

Since Lending Club both loans and borrows money from users, instead of connecting them directly, it’s not a pure P2P service. While the legality of its lending practices is not in question, its borrowing practices could be interpreted as the sale of securities, which requires a license Lending Club doesn’t appear to have.

This suspicion has been reinforced by Veronica McGregor, an attorney with the law firm Perkins Coie. She says that “it looks like they are getting themselves a license to buy and sell securities.”

These are issues that other P2P lending sites – such as Prosper, Virgin Money, and Zopa – will have to face if they haven’t already.

Center Networks has more thoughts on the situation here and here.