'Fund of funds' model for the social investment bank

The Chancellor's plans for the long-awaited bank are raising questions, says David Ainsworth

Toby Eccles, development director, Social Finance
Toby Eccles, development director, Social Finance

The Government's long-awaited proposal for the structure of a social investment wholesale bank - a lender providing capital to the social investment sector - finally appeared as part of last month's Budget.

But the announcement that the Government would be a minority shareholder in a private sector 'fund of funds' with investment of up to £75m has created more questions than it has offered answers.

Charity finance experts say the use of a fund of funds, a wholesaler that would invest cash in retail lenders rather than individual third sector organisations, was very different from the original concept of a bank.

"It's a fairly opaque announcement," says Charles Middleton, chief executive of social lender Triodos Bank. "It may well be that they've chosen to use a fund of funds because the legal requirements and regulation for a bank would be much stricter. But we need a lot more detail."

He said he approved of the decision to attract private sector investors, and said a fund of funds might be able to attract investors that would not be interested in existing retail funds.

Toby Eccles, development director of Social Finance, a consultancy that helped develop the original idea of an SIWB, says that for a fund of funds to work it needed to reward financial rigour from its investees.

"The fund shouldn't hand out money to anyone who asks," he says. "There should be a method for ensuring that the most effective organisations are those that receive the most money. Too often in the third sector, your financial soundness is second to your ability to produce a good sob story."

John Brooks, sales and marketing director of Unity Trust Bank, says a fund would be able to bring less money into the sector than a bank. "With a fund, you get a pound out for every pound you get in," he says. It can't take advantage of banking ratios."

What the Budget said about the bank

"To support the creation of an SIWB, the Government will provide up to £75m as a minority stake in a private sector social investment fund of funds. The SIWB's aim will be to deliver financial inclusion and other social returns by linking mainstream investors with organisations with social impact."

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