Lending Club

Google takes stake in Lending Club

May 2, 2013: 9:51 AM ET

The search giant is dipping a toe in the quickly growing peer-to-peer lending industry.

130418160907-larry-page-google-340xaFORTUNE -- First former Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack joined the board of peer-to-peer investment site Lending Club. Then came Kleiner Perkins's Mary Meeker, followed by the preeminent economist Lawrence Summers. Now Lending Club has picked up another high-profile backer: On May 2, the company announced that Google has taken a minority stake in the company. Through a secondary transaction, the search giant has joined Menlo Park-based Foundation Capital to buy shares worth $125 million from existing investors. As part of the deal, Googler David Lawee will take an observer seat on the board.

This is the second investment that Lawee has made since he left his role leading mergers and acquisitions at Google (GOOG) to start a late-stage venture capital group within the company. In January 2013, Google joined Tiger Global Management in making a $444 million investment in online survey site SurveyMonkey; Lawee also took on an observer role on the board as part of the investment, which was part of a strategy CEO Dave Goldberg used to help the company avoid going public.

Lending Club CEO Renaud Laplanche says the company is still on track to go public sometime next year. He spoke optimistically about a deepening relationship with Google, saying, "We'll work together in the next few months on a number of initiatives. But he declined to give details.

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The announcement comes as the peer-to-peer lending industry gathers steam. The company boasts loan volume of $140 million in April, said Laplanche. It has enabled more than $1.6 billion in loans since 2007 -- $350 million of that came in last quarter.

Meanwhile, major competitor Prosper.com, which hit a setback in 2009 when the SEC forced it to pause for six months while it looked into whether its loans should be classified as securities, came under new management earlier this year. President Aaron Vermut wrote in a recent blog post that the company saw its highest loan origination level ever in April with $20.2 million in loans made on the platform. The company has enabled $500 million in total since it started in 2006.

It's likely that Google's interest in Lending Club is more financial than strategic. Unlike Google Ventures, the company's venture capital arm that puts money into a variety of companies at all stages -- from the home thermostat company Nest to Blue Bottle Coffee -- and is run separately from Google, Lawee's efforts are focused on larger late-stage investments that produce significant returns.

Of course, it's likely true that Google is also interested in understanding financial innovation more deeply. After all, one day earlier, Google Ventures along with co-founder Peter Thiel and Industry Ventures announced a $17 million round in On Deck Capital, a company that offers an alternative approach to lending for small businesses.

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