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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

You Want Another 'Clarion Call' To Regulate Crowd Investing?!

On Monday, Lord Sharkey and Baroness Kramer proposed a 'probing amendment' to the Financial Services Bill to add "The activity of establishing, operating or winding up a crowdfunding scheme" (see here, from column 832). In support of this, Lord Sharkey cited the example of the US JOBS Act and the fact that most new jobs are created by small businesses. He also cited a report by the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE). Oddly, however, in declining to support the latest amendment, Lord Sassoon said (at column 835), "there has been no clarion call from industry for more regulation." This appears to arise out of some confusion over the meaning of the term 'crowdfunding', which is being used in some circles to refer to all direct finance platforms, regardless of whether they facilitate donations, lending or investment in debentures and shares.

This is in fact the third amendment that relates to peer-to-peer or direct finance platforms, the first pair of amendments having been debated on 18 July (see columns 325 to 332). All three are really part of the same debate insofar as they share common types of operational risks, regardless of the type of instrument available on the platform. In that earlier debate (at column 330), Lord Sassoon confirmed that "changes being made as part of the Bill under Clause 6 would make it legally possible to bring direct platforms into scope." From the immediate context, he seemed to be only referring to peer-to-peer lending, since that amendment deals with "Rights under any contract under which one person provides another with credit". However, this should also permit regulation of crowd investing in other debt insturments (debentures), leaving open the question of whether equity-based crowd investing can be definitively brought in scope. 

Lord Sassoon said the financial regulatory framework is flexible enough to enable crowd investing, and he says the FSA's note on crowd investing shows that the matter is in hand. But he did add, rather tellingly, that "industry standards and further FSA and FCA guidance may have an important role to play in future." 

That seems an unnecessarily cryptic reference to the Government's recent response to the Red Tape Challenge on challenger businesses, which is why the suggested lack of a 'clarion call' seems rather odd. That Red Tape Challenge indeed yielded a 'clarion call' from industry for proportionate regulation to clear the way for various forms of direct finance. Follow-up submissions produced in consultation with various platforms dealt with both crowd investing and peer-to-peer lending, as did submissions in support of the July amendments in the House of Lords. 

And, as the government's creation of a cross-departmental working group suggests, there is a lot of work yet to be done in response to that call.