Interview: Toby Eccles

Toby Eccles, champion of the proposed social investment bank to finance the third sector, has a new project on his hands.

Eccles and a team from the Commission on Unclaimed Assets have this week launched a new company, Social Finance, which will link charities and social enterprises with financial products and potential investors (Third Sector Online, 21 April).

Social Finance shares many board members with the commission, including the chair, Bernard Horn, Sir Ronald Cohen, Matthew Pike and Geraldine Peacock. But it will exist as a separate entity.

"We continue to build on the knowledge we had at the commission and evaluate the experience we need for the social investment bank," Eccles says. "We need to look into how we would build a social investment market and evaluate how it would work."

Initial research will examine which products the sector needs. Eccles says one potential issue is that sector investment opportunities, such as social enterprise equity funds, are usually small and applying the appropriate due diligence is time-consuming.

"If there was an organisation providing a fund of social enterprise equity funds, that might enable a different type of investor," he adds.

The seed capital for research and development has been raised from private individuals and their foundations. "These are fundamentally social investments," Eccles says. "We would be looking into an interest rate that was equivalent to the Bank of England base rate - investors won't make money, but they won't lose it either."

However, he points out that even if Social Finance is developing a role for the social investment bank, the firm is not claiming automatic ownership of it. "We are not presuming to be the bank ourselves, but the best thing to do now is to build up expertise in the sector," he says. "Our mission is to make sure that the bank is as successful as possible, whoever runs it."

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