Crowdfunding websites clamour for clearer regulation

Dec 07 2012, 13:40 IST
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SummaryThe so-called crowdfunding sector raises cash from members of the public to fund lending and investment.

A new breed of internet-based financiers are calling for action to end regulatory uncertainty they say is preventing them from getting money to the small and medium-sized businesses that need it.

The so-called crowdfunding sector raises cash from members of the public to fund lending and investment. Regulators, however, have proved resistant to pleas for adjustments to rules that are tailored to more traditional markets.

"Operators of these platforms find it difficult to launch and flourish because existing EU and UK regulation does not fit the new models," operators within the sector said in an open letter to EU and UK policymakers on Friday.

The plea coincides with a summit to discuss proposals for regulating a market that has developed in reaction to reduced bank lending to small and medium-sized enterprises because of tougher capital rules and greater regulatory scrutiny.

A host of alternative financing models have cropped up online, many allowing individuals to lend to, or invest in, companies with sums from as little as 10 pounds ($16).

Massolution, a research and advisory firm specialising in the sector, says that 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) was raised globally from crowdfunding last year.

Though some crowdfunding websites have tried to fit their operations within the existing regulatory framework, most remain largely outside it.

Part of the problem in drawing up appropriate regulation is the wide range of activities involved. Some offer debt, some equity, while others seek donations for charity or funding for creative projects in return for some non-financial reward.

With little or no expected returns from the latter, the main regulatory focus would be on equity crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending.

As well as making sure that individuals are aware of the inherent risk involved with putting money in start-ups, the industry wants to avoid the risk of scams by ensuring that platforms vet businesses adequately.

Lost in the crowd

Britain's Financial Services Authority (FSA) warned in August that inexperienced investors should be aware of the risks in crowdfunding websites. A few days later United States securities regulators put crowdfunding at the top of their annual investment scams list.

Views differ about how to tackle these risks without stifling an increasingly important source of funding, and the matter is complicated by the varying rules already in place in different countries across Europe.

Measures taken by Seedrs, the only crowdfunding website to have received FSA approval, include requiring investors to pass a test to show that they understand the risks.

"It is hard to

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