Tim Jones - The man who is trying to give SIBs a good name

The chief executive of Allia believes social impact bonds can help to democratise society

Tim Jones
Tim Jones

There aren't many people who can say they've helped to raise £140m for charities. Tim Jones is one of them.

As chief executive of Allia, a charity that supports social ventures, Jones has been central to attempts to increase private sector investment in the charity sector.

Jones joined Allia in 2002 and has a wealth of experience in the finance sector and in starting up small and medium-sized businesses. His work has taken him across the world, from North America across Europe to the Persian Gulf. But his most recent focus has been on helping the charity sector access wealth trapped in investment markets, to the extent that he has twice represented the UK on social investment trade missions to the US.

Perhaps his biggest success has been the charity retail bond, the first of which involved Golden Lane Housing and was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2014 - the first bond of its type to do so.

Allia's bonds allow investors with spare capital to invest in social projects for a set period, with the money returned to them at the end of the bond's lifespan. The Golden Lane bond proved so popular with investors that the requested £11m, to provide housing for people with learning disabilities, was raised in only eight days.

Jones has become such an authority on the subject that he was asked to provide evidence to the Lords Select Committee on Charities in November. Social impact bonds had been branded "incomprehensible" and "irrelevant" by Geoff Burnand, chief executive of Investing for Good, at a previous committee hearing. Jones argues that SIBs are little understood because they have been poorly branded by the government, with the biggest problem the use of the word "bond".

"At Allia, we are using bonds in the true meaning of the word, as in financial instruments that are debt instruments," he says. "You put the money in on a fixed date, you know the terms, the risk and that you will get the money back on a fixed date. SIBs are not bonds - it is a confusing name that has been adopted for an outcomes-based contract."

Jones says this is a big issue: SIBs are restricted by a name that doesn't make sense to would-be investors, but which is simultaneously aping terminology that can be intimidating to charity trustees with little experience of financial markets. Therefore, Jones argues, it's no wonder more charities aren't getting involved.

He says SIBs have to attract investment from both the finance and the public sectors, especially from the vast wealth reserves found in pension funds. To achieve this, they have to be listed on a stock exchange and become "a liquid, transparent, tax-efficient, market-priced instrument" that can be bought or sold like other financial instruments.

If this happens, Jones says, it will bring "democratisation" of civil society by allowing the public to invest in SIBs. If people have their own money invested in achieving social good in this way, he says, "you are going to be much more democratically invested in the wellbeing of the country".

SIBs had £14m of investment in them by the end of 2015, but the government has predicted that the SIB market will be worth £1bn by 2020. Jones says: "I think the rhetoric from government has over-egged the SIB proposition; it needs to be rethought and reshaped. It's an evolution - we are creating new things, and whenever you create new things you have to go through this sort of learning."

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