THE GLAMOROUS world of polo players has proved a winning formula for Jenny Brown.

The mother-of-two, who started her luxury leather goods and clothing firm six years ago, counts John Lewis among 240 outlets stocking her clothing and kit for riders and ponies.

And the hand-stitched belts, bags and clothing from Argentina are also popular with fashion stores, sending sales at Littlemore-based Pampeano [ok] soaring by 40 per cent last year.

So when Ms Brown wanted to borrow £40,000 to expand, a High Street bank was happy to lend her the cash.

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But in common with a growing number of small firms, she turned them down in favour of an alternative way of borrowing, known as peer-to-peer lending.

She explained: “At 12.6 per cent, the interest rate the bank wanted to charge me was a much higher rate than I was prepared to pay.”

After an online application to Funding Circle, which connects investors with small businesses, the cash was in her bank account two weeks later.

And at 9.3 per cent, the interest rate was much lower than the bank’s offer.

Other peer to peer sites, which help businesses borrow from thousands to millions, include Zopa, Assetz Capital and Ratesetter.

Money is borrowed from one or more private investors who bid online to lend the cash but must be paid back in full, with interest.

Firms which want to borrow only make it onto peer-to-peer lending sites after being credit-checked and rated for risk, according to their financial track record.

Ms Brown’s loan through Funding Circle came at a good interest rate thanks to the positive credit rating on her £750,000-turnover business.

She said: “For the bank loan, they wanted a lot more from us in terms of information.

“When you are running a business and have a family, so have a long list of things to do, it becomes very important how much of your time is going to be spent filling out forms.”

Adam Rainey [ok], the area director for small and medium business banking at Lloyds Bank in Oxfordshire, said banks offer not just cash but support.

He said: “An advantage of bank funding is access to the expertise of dedicated relationship managers, who are well connected locally and incredibly knowledgeable about the opportunities for, and challenges facing, Britain’s small businesses.”

Ms Brown, whose products are also on sale in Oxford retailer Shepherd & Woodward and Kirtlington-based Oxford Polo School, expects to pay back her loan in a short period of time.

She plans to make use of more peer-to-peer borrowing in the future.

She said: “It’s quick and easy and takes a fraction of the hassle you have to go through when you apply to a traditional bank.”