The participative financing of startups and SMEs or crowdfunding passed a kind of stress test under real conditions last year. Has the pandemic crisis undermined this system of financing companies via internet platforms? Or on the contrary, has the model been definitively validated?
A survey of the main players on the Belgian market gives a first reassuring picture: the platforms have recorded few failures within their portfolio (a few judicial reorganizations, one or two bankruptcies hardly). In addition, if there were periods of suspension of fundraising and repayments, especially during the first lockdown, activity nevertheless continued at a sustained pace during the rest of the year.
Some underlying trends nevertheless emerged, which are likely to continue in the future. If you want to read more and to find the latest business news in the world, download for free the Born2Invest mobile app.
Platform investors are looking for more guarantees
“Our community of individual investors wants to continue lending to companies, but with guarantees,” noted Frédéric Lévy Morelle, founder and CEO of the crowdlending platform Look&Fin. This is reflected in the sectors that use its services the most: real estate, which represents 30 to 40% of the funds raised in 2019, rose to 60% last year. However, these issues make it possible to offer mortgage guarantees to lenders.
Look& Fin has also adapted its formulas by lowering its interest rates and systematically seeking guarantees, including from a partner insurer (Atradius). Another signal in this sense: regional loans (WinWin in Flanders, Coup de pouce in Wallonia and Proxy in Brussels) are also becoming popular with a crowd because they are partially guaranteed by each Region.
Crowdlending is preferred in the detriment of equity crowdfunding
The Bolero Crowdfunding platform (KBC group) did not wait for the crisis to abandon the crowd in action. “We are not doing any more since 2018 because we believe that the Belgian market is too small for that. The risk for the investor is also higher, because the risk of default is real,” explains Ilse De Muyer, spokesperson for the platform. For the CEO of Look&Fin, it is clear, “there are fewer and fewer initiatives in shares, the loan formula is taking over.” Out of the six platforms contacted, four are now only doing loans; as for the other two, Spreds and Lita.co, they practice both, loans and actions.
At Spreds, things are differently: “Crowdsourcing is not aimed at startups, but at SMEs,” said CEO Charles-Albert de Ratzitzky. These are very different dynamics and targets. I would never lend money to a startup.” According to his analysis, lending is more expensive for the platform, in particular because it requires a rating. Spreds solved the difficulty by working with two partners, Private Lending and Europe Climate DB, who analyze real estate debt and green bonds. The BeeBonds platform (lending only) has found another solution: “We don’t take on projects below $600,000 (€500,000) and we have each of them validated either by PwC or by Deloitte, depending on whether it’s a corporate loan or a real estate loan,” explained CEO Joël Duysan. Below $600,000 (€500,000), there is no way to amortize the cost of these analyses.
Equity crowdfunding specialists are reinventing their business model
Spreds executives reviewed their model after the first containment. They concluded that they needed to reposition themselves. “We decided that we are no longer a fundraising machine, but a digital tool… to raise money,” said Charles-Albert de Radzitzky. “We changed our pricing policy accordingly, by abolishing the success fee but now asking for a flat fee. In case of successful fundraising, our clients pay much less than before. And whether you do a loan or share exercise is no longer as important anymore: in IT, the work is the same. We’re a SaaS (software as a service) tool for companies, period.”
Spreds has extended this logic by also creating new support services for companies in the financing business: its e-governance tool helps them, for example, to organize their meetings remotely.
The Lita.co platform does not feel the same need for repositioning as Spreds. It remains mainly dedicated to the equity crowd (15 operations out of 20 in 2020) and made good progress last year, “but starting from a very low level in 2019,” said its director Vincent De Brouwer. “We support companies at a very early stage. We didn’t feel the crisis too much, probably because we are exclusively in impact projects, which interest a growing fringe of investors.”
Impact investing platforms are on the rise
Three of the six platforms surveyed raise funds only for activities that have a positive impact to varying degrees. Lita.co has the “purest” profile and “refuses many projects where the alleged impact is not demonstrated,” said its boss Vincent De Brouwer. At BeeBonds, every project has to be useful, transparent and bring something concrete to society. Ecco Nova aims at projects with an ecological transition, real estate development with high energy quality or SME’s claiming sustainable development. Lita.co and Ecco Nova literally defied the crisis in 2020 by progressing by 28 and 15% in funds raised, while BeeBonds did a little less well (-9%). But impact investments are clearly benefiting from a growing popularity, which should continue to draw cohorts of investors towards them.
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First published in L’Echo, a third-party contributor translated and adapted the article from the original. In case of discrepancy, the original will prevail.
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