The rapid rise in popularity of alternative finance is responsible for the major disruption taking place across the whole lending regime. It’s no longer safe for banks to assume that their core lending regimes are impervious to disruption.
What is Alternative Finance?
Alternative finance refers to forms of finance that stretch beyond the traditional funding sources such as stocks, bonds and cash. As a result of the 2008 financial crisis, banks found it increasingly difficult to lend due to ever more restrictive credit policies which resulted into the popularity of alternative finance and an exponential growth in alternative finance sources.
Alternative to what, exactly? The banks. Alternative finance encompasses a range of diverse models with clear distinctions such as people lending money to each other or to businesses, to people donating to community projects and businesses trading their invoices. It’s no longer just a seeding stage for startups, but a viable and attractive avenue for companies to raise capital at every stage of the funding cycle.
In an earlier post, Fintech 2.0 and the C-Word: Collaboration, I talked about how it’s increasingly becoming evident that banks are willing to support startups to innovate within the banks’ ecosystem. Likewise, the reality is that the coexistence of venture capital and alternative finance has now developed collaborative and synergistic models, and these models are rapidly increasing as banks and venture capital firms realize the scope of alternative finance.
What are the various European alternative finance models?
The European alternative finance landscape is dominated by the UK, with France and Germany slowly catching up. This is in part due to the dedicated regulatory regime that currently exists in the UK. Listed below is a working taxonomy of the various alternative finance models:
- Peer-to-peer (P2P) business lending (Funding Circle, Zopa, Auxmoney etc) – Debt-based transactions between individuals and existing businesses (mostly SMEs) with many individual lenders contributing to any one loan.
- Donation-based crowdfunding (Kickstarter, Indiegogo etc) – Individuals donate small amounts to meet the larger funding aim of a specific charitable project while receiving no financial or material return in exchange.
- Invoice trading (Platform Black, IFG etc) – Companies sell their invoices at a discount to a pool of individual or institutional investors in order to receive funds immediately rather than waiting for invoices to be paid.
- Peer-to-peer (P2P) consumer lending (Zopa, Funding Circle, Lending Works etc) – Individuals use an online platform to borrow from a number of individual lenders, each lending a small amount; most are unsecured personal loans.
- Community shares (Microgenius, The Community Shares Company etc) – The term community shares refers to withdraw-able share capital; a form of share capital unique to cooperative and community benefit society legislation. This type of share capital can only be issued by cooperative societies, community benefit societies and charitable community benefit societies.
- Equity-based crowdfunding (Seedrs, FundedByMe, Crowdcube etc) – Sale of a stake in a business to a number of investors in return for investment, predominantly used by early-stage firms.
- Pension-led funding (Alternative Business Funding, IGF etc) – Mainly allows SME owners/directors to use their accumulated pension funds in order to invest in their own businesses. Intellectual properties are often used as collateral.
- Reward-based crowdfunding (Kickstarter, Indiegogo etc) – Individuals donate towards a specific project with the expectation of receiving a tangible (but non-financial) reward or product at a later date in exchange for their contribution.
- Debt-based securities (Zopa etc) – Lenders receive a non-collateralized debt obligation typically paid back over an extended period of time. Similar in structure to purchasing a bond, but with different rights and obligations.
The European alternative finance market grew by approximately 144% in 2014 and is predicted to reach €7bn by the end of 2015. Three things have contributed to this trend: speed, simplicity and transparency.
However, there are structural risks that could derail the trajectory that alternative finance is on, such as interest rate hikes, new regulations, frayed banking relationships, and other unforeseen factors.