Thursday, 4 November 2010

Strength in Diversity

Following the discussion on the concept of a Social Finance Association, it was interesting to read the guest post on Zopa's blog by Rob Garcia, Senior Director of Product Strategy at Lending Club, attempting to classify types of social finance as 'crowdfunding', 'microfinance' or 'peer-to-peer lending or investing'.

Having had to spend far too long studying the distinctions between US and UK regulation in this area, I must respectfully disagree that 'crowdfunding' necessarily involves 'pooling' or a lack of nexus between 'funder' and 'fundee'. Similarly, any of these models should be capable of operation on either a for-profit or not-for-profit basis, or for any purpose, social or otherwise. The essence should be that each facilitator enables people - rather than the facilitator itself - to determine the allocation of their own funds directly to other people, businesses or projects, whether the businesses or projects are operated for-profit, social purposes or otherwise). In other words, people remain in day-to-day control of the management of their money, not the facilitator.

While precise distinctions between the various different social finance models may be important at one level, and a diverse range of business models is certainly good sign for the strength of the sector, the sector must also be ready to differentiate itself from traditional financial institutions and models - unless it wants to be regulated in the same way.

Social finance models were vital alternatives before the global financial crisis, let alone now and for the foreseeable future while traditional institutions adjust to new capital and regulatory constraints. But the existing regulatory framework makes it painfully slow and expensive to launch social finance platforms. To help foster confident innovation and competition, and enable the new sector to flourish quickly enough to provide much needed funding, financial regulators should clarify what is permissible within or outside the scope of regulation.

Image from the Trade Association Forum.
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