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Business Services  •  Business Tax  •  eis  •  financial advice  •  Personal tax  •  Probate and Inheritance Tax  •  Small Business  •  Tax Relief

New investment models for a new normal economy

By RJP LLP on 27 June, 2013

The Roman philosopher Seneca said that ‘difficulties strengthen the mind’ and that’s as true today as it has ever been. It illustrates exactly what is happening now in the finance world, as entrepreneurs continue to innovate to get the results they want, in response to a challenging economic environment. Getting access to finance from traditional sources – banks and investors – has been difficult ever since the initial banking crisis of 2007 and things haven’t really recovered.

In order to counter the effects of this on business owners – for small businesses and start ups in particular – a wide range of new opportunities to secure funding have emerged. Many of these initiatives use the Internet as a means of connecting often-disparate individuals and investment communities with business owners looking for investment. The Government has taken an active interest in these opportunities and is increasingly providing direct support in the form of funds it too invests into small businesses and well as the chance to benefit from tax relief like EIS (Enterprise Investment Scheme) and SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme).

Increasingly, we are being asked by clients for advice about the different options available and thought this would be a useful topic to address in Livewire. It is also relevant to understand because currently, not all the options available are tax efficient for investors.

Crowdfunding
This tends to appeal to trend setters and is where an entrepreneur tries to attract a large ‘crowd’ of small investors, each of whom takes a stake in an (often quite whacky) business idea in return for offering start up finance. A business would launch a campaign to attract funders with a set target of investment to be reached collectively through the crowd via a crowdfunding platform. The idea originated in the US and there are now many different sites providing crowdfunding services in the UK as well.

There are two main crowdfunding models and investors can either be offered a very small equity stake or, more commonly, receive free goods and services for a set period as a return on their investment. Typically the more you invest, the more you will receive back. When entrepreneurs are trying to secure seed funding, this can be a very useful approach since the financial risks to the investor are minimal making it more likely to be successful than trying to secure one or two larger angel investors or backers. For the business, they pay a commission only if the crowdfunding platform is successful in securing the initial investment target, usually around 5% of the total finance achieved.

One good example of crowdfunding success is the Pebble watch, designed to be a wearable watch cum-smartphone. It got $10m funding in under 30 days from the Kickstarter crowdfunding site and we’ve spotted numerous crowdfunders wearing their free watches obtained as a result of pledging financial support early on. For investors, this is a novel and exciting way to invest and support innovation, in return for free goods and services. Because of the small sums involved it is also often possible to qualify for EIS and SEIS tax reliefs from aggregate investments made over the course of a tax year. For entrepreneurs, crowdfunding platforms can make or break a business idea and the rates are comparable to getting a bank loan, taking into account the commissions payable. According to Nesta, crowdfunding raised $1.5 billion for businesses in 2011, and 2012 saw the first project raise well over $1 million.

Peer to peer lending
This is a much more established concept than crowd funding, although only recently really coming to the fore within the business community. It works rather like an investment club, matching investors with companies looking for finance and is facilitated by the Internet instead of a traditional intermediary.

Unlike crowdfunding, which tends to be for start ups looking to secure initial seed finance, peer to peer lending is aimed at established businesses looking to finance the next stages of their development. Consequently the amounts are higher with some sites specialising in minimum investments of £20,000. The government has pledged support for peer to peer lending providers and just made £20m available to one of the UK’s most established providers, Funding Circle, after the April 2013 budget. It is now investing directly alongside other investors.

Peer to peer lending is becoming very popular for investors because they typically get better returns than they would from savings accounts. And for the business, they get growth investment that is becoming increasingly hard to come by from traditional sources. Unlike crowdfunding, where the investors get physical goods and services, peer to peer lenders expect to get back the money they invest plus receive interest.

For investors, it is important to understand that P2P lending is not regulated by the FSA and there are obvious risks as the amounts to be invested are much higher. Although most of the players argue these risks are minimal, there is a chance you will not get all your money back and this needs to be offset against the potential returns. For example, in a recent BBC interview, one investor who had been involved in P2P lending across 200 companies explained that he on average gets a 5% return, taking into account some losses, which are balanced out by significantly higher gains than he would get from a savings account. He estimated he got 0.7% interest from savings. However, currently, peer to peer lending does not benefit from favourable tax treatment and it is not possible to get tax relief from investments in the same way as with EIS or SEIS. Funding providers are lobbying for this to change and given the level of support the Government has already pledged, it is likely something will be announced in a future Finance Bill.

What else could you do to secure funding? These models are undoubtedly creative and offer food for thought. If you have a successful brand, how about going direct, and launching a one off bond to customers in return for their investment support. That’s what Hotel Chocolat did and secured over £4m in investment. For those making the investment, they received free boxes of luxury chocolates and according to the company’s MD it was equivalent to getting a 6% investment return. They are rather expensive chocolates after all – but very delicious!

This is an example of a major brand offering customers an investment opportunity but actually, for any local business with a strong customer base, this brand loyalty could be converted into investment funds. If you have an estate agency, you could offer customers a 0% commission rate when they sell their properties in return for investment finance? Or a local café could offer £10 worth of free lattes a month in return for local crowd funded investment. It’s great marketing and definitely worth further thought.

If you would like to raise business finance or have any questions relating to investment through crowdfunding or peer to peer lending, please contact Simon Paterson by emailing sp@rjp.co.uk

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