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Happy birthday to Zopa and welcome Japan

Zopa is three years old today!

It isn’t just us who’s reached the grand age of 3 – today also marks the third birthday of peer-to-peer lending. We were the very first P2P company when we launched in 2005 and now, three years later there are more than 20 around the globe.

A few months ago I mentioned we were hoping to see Zopa in several interesting and rather exotic locations in 2008. Today I am thrilled to announce the formation of Zopa Japan KK, which will be led by Chairman Takeshi Yoneda and CEO Tatsuya Kuboi, both highly experienced and accomplished Internet financial services professionals. We look forward to helping even more people around the world enjoy the big benefits of cutting out the banks by borrowing and lending with other people instead.

The launch of Zopa Japan, along with the US and Italy last year, further strengthens our position as the leader in our field.

With recent average returns for lenders the best they have ever been at 8.1%, with some enjoying more than 10%, social lending has never looked so attractive. Borrowers continue to enjoy personal loan rates normally much lower than they can get from the banks, and despite months of turmoil in the credit markets, our state-of-the-art credit and affordability checks have maintained our remarkably low default rate at less than 0.1%.

Since we launched in March 2005, £20 million in unsecured personal loans have been arranged at Zopa in the UK. More recently growth has been boosted by the global credit crunch which is driving unprecedented demand for P2P personal loans as banks become less competitive and tighten their lending criteria. All of this has also pushed up returns to Zopa lenders to an all time high.

We’ve had a tremendous year. We reached 150,000 members in May, the Guardian named us as one of the "Top 10 dotcoms to watch" in July. October saw the arrival of listings , which has enabled our members to lend and borrow in a brand new way. (Remember we’re offering fee free listings today!) Towards the end of 2007 Zopa launched in the US and Italy. February 08 was our biggest ever month, with lenders enjoying rates of 8.1%. To top off our February nicely, we were listed as one of "the Googles of tomorrow" in an article in The Independent. We’ve also been short-listed for ‘Most Threatening Non-Bank Competitor’ in the 2008 Retail Banker International Awards and for Innovation in the 2008 Efma Retail Finance Awards. We’ll keep you posted on how we do.

With over 190,000 members in the UK alone and the launch of Zopa in 3 more countries, things are looking very exciting indeed for the year ahead.