为了进一步了解日本众筹行业的现状，我们通过邮件方式联系到了众筹平台CrowdBank 、Crowd Securities Japan的Kaz Ohmae。他告诉了我们他的公司如何起步，并且重点介绍了以上提到的最新法案会使行业产生怎样的变化。
这是一个在线的借贷平台，个人投资者和储蓄者可以把他们的钱放到我们这里来，我们负责向中小企业放贷，年利率大概在4到5个百分点。CrowdBank(在拥有证券运营牌照的Crowd Securities Japan下运营）允许投资者购买借贷基金，这些基金面向地方的中小企业，发展中国家的小微金融机构，房地产投资、可再生能源项目等等。投资者可以选择他们想要进行投资的项目。
与Crowd Securities Japan之间的合作关系允许CrowdBank可以做什么？本质上可以将它视为CrowdBank的一家经纪商/交易商吗？
Crowd Securities Japan是一家有牌照许可的经纪交易商，它运营着CrowdBank。最初它是一家小型的投资类银行商店，在90年代末专注于为非上市公司提供股权投资方案。我们把它视为股权众筹的先驱。我们接管了这家公司，并把它改造为众筹的运营商，并将它更名为Crowd Securities Japan, 以彰显它的新使命。
There's been a lot of attention on equity crowdfunding regulation in the UK, New Zealand, France, and elsewhere, but one country that's quietly working on its own crowdfunding rules is Japan. Indeed, the cabinet recently approved a bill that paves the way forward for equity crowdfunding to take root.
To find out a little more about the existing crowdfunding industry in Japan, we reached out via email to Kaz Ohmae of CrowdBank, a crowdfunding platform, and Crowd Securities Japan. He told us about how his companies got their start, and highlights some of the changes in the bill mentioned above makes.
Tell us a little about your background and how the idea for CrowdBank came about.
I started my career at a commercial bank in the 90s and encountered the financial crisis in 1997. My bank went bankrupt, which caused lots of troubles to depositors and borrowers.
Whilst I went to business school in England in 1999-2000, the dot-com boom came. In the UK, I witnessed many incumbent businesses being rattled by new challengers from online space, and realized I wanted to bring this disruption into the retail finance space. I joined Softbank’s financial arm, which envisioned revolutionary financial serviced powered by the Internet. I worked on an online bank project there, which convinced me that the Internet is a really powerful game changer. But I still thought online banking was not innovative enough, as long as it was regulated under bank license. Then, social and P2P lending trends kicked in. In 2009, I joined an international team to make this business happen in Japan.
We learned a lot from predecessors like Zopa and LendingClub, and launched AQUSH. Social lending was much discussed by Internet enthusiasts and journalists, and its business has grown reasonably. But it did not rise up to the same level as it did in the UK and the US. In the meantime, the devastating earthquakes and a tsunami occurred in March 2011, and affected millions of people’s lives.
That incident highlighted how powerful and effective crowdfunding could be in connecting someone’s money with those who desperately needed funds. Donation and reward crowdfunding gained traction. As an investment crowdfunding platform operator, I was on the sideline at that moment, as investment crowdfunding is not appropriate for disaster relief campaigns. But I found that the Japanese’s mindset was changing toward crowdfunding as means to utilize their money in more meaningful ways.
Then, I thought it was high time to position lending and equity as an alternative investment alongside other types of crowdfunding. My team and I decided to launch a completely new service, CrowdBank, from scratch.
Briefly, what does CrowdBank do?
It is an online lending platform where individual investors or savers could put their money into the funds we manage to lend mainly to SMEs, and gain 4-5 percent per annum. CrowdBank (managed under licensed securities firm Crowd Securities Japan) allows investors to buy lending funds whose targets are local SMEs, microfinance institutions in developing countries, real-estate investment, renewable energy projects, and so on. Investors can choose what they want to invest in.
What's your revenue model?
We receive a success fee from investors and a handling fee from borrowers. The more successful our loans are, the more profitable we are.
Have you successfully funded any campaigns yet? If so, how many and for how much money?
We raised more than $1 million in three weeks for a microfinance project in Cambodia and for an iPhone app developer’s working capital. Total funding now exceeds $2 million.
What does the partnership with Crowd Securities Japan allow CrowdBank to do; is it, essentially, a broker/dealer for CrowdBank?
Crowd Securities Japan is a licensed broker dealer and it runs CrowdBank. Originally, it was a small investment banking boutique, which was focused on an equity investment scheme for non-listed companies in the late 90’s. We saw it as a pioneer of equity crowdfunding. We took over the company, turned it into a crowdfunding operator and rebranded it as Crowd Securities Japan to represent its mission.
We believe we are the only licensed securities broker to focus exclusively on crowdfunding. What is unique about a securities broker doing crowdfunding is that investors can have their own trading accounts to manage their money — investing into funds they are interested in, receiving returns from the funds, buying and selling shares of unlisted SMEs. In the future, our customers will be able to donate their money and participate in reward-based crowdfunding. Another advantage for CrowdBank is that securities firms are highly regulated and supervised by the regulator, which gives investors security and some comfort.
What's the regulatory environment for equity crowdfunding in Japan? Are issuers able to advertise offerings to the public, and is there distinction between accredited and unaccredited investors?
The Japanese regulator, the Financial Services Agency (FSA), has closely watched crowdfunding practices in the US and UK, and just recently passed the cabinet approval of Japanese “JOBS Act” to deregulate equity fund raising. Currently, a private company is restricted in advertising offerings to the public, but after the amended law goes into effect, it can crowdfund up to $1 million online, similar to the JOBS Act in the US. As for investors, we do have a distinction between accredited and non-accredited investors, but the FSA, with the intention to balance between more crowdfunding operators to join the game and more individual investors to be protected from potential fraud, will allow everyone to participate in equity crowd funding. Investment amounts, though, will be restricted to a max of $5,000.
Is there a lot of discussion about crowdfunding among the general public, or regulators?
News on JOBS Act was well cited among many media outlets and throughout the Internet community, but crowdfunding drew public attention last year when deregulation for equity crowdfunding became one of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's key policies (popularly called “Abenomics”) to fuel the Japanese economy. The Prime Minister regards crowdfunding as means to provide more risk money for SMEs.
Individual financial assets in Japan reached more than $15 trillion (second to the US), and cash and deposit amount reached $8 trillion out of $15 trillion, which is the largest in the world. In other words, the Japanese are the cash-richest people in the world. The Prime Minister wants to take advantage of those assets to fuel the economic growth, rather than relying on taxpayers. As mentioned above, the cabinet approved the amendment of the law to be discussed at the parliament this month, which became one of the top financial news. And we were also widely recognized as a big potential player in equity crowdfunding when the new regulation comes in effect.
What regulatory changes, if any, do you hope for the government to implement to promote equity crowdfunding?
The Japanese government is sure to promote equity crowdfunding as detailed above. The key changes in regulation are as follows:
Deregulation of new entry
Currently, there is a requirement to be a licensed securities dealer to handle equity transactions, but the new legislation will create a new category for dedicated crowdfunding operator, with lower capital requirement.
New regulation will allow investors to commit up to $5,000 in equity offerings.
Responsibility for equity crowdfunding operator and issuing company
The new regulation will impose responsibility for both the crowdfunding operator and the issuing company to disclose the data so that investors could be as well-informed as possible.
Anything else our readers should know about crowdfunding and CrowdBank?
Japan has been a relatively mystery in the crowdfunding space, but I believe it could be a unique showcase for crowdfunding because of huge financial assets and the great earthquakes which reminded most Japanese of how smartly and meaningfully we should use our money. After the disaster, many people in Japan and overseas took action, sending clothes, electronics, and money to the people affected by the earthquakes and tsunamis. I think the mindset harnessed during the calamity was embedded among the people in Japan, who are ready to participate in crowdfunding.
In summary, we have 123 million people with $8 trillion cash and a crowdfunding-friendly mindset. There is no reason why Japan can’t be the most active crowdfunding country in the near future. To take advantage of the opportunity, CrowdBank started with lending-based crowdfunding, and it envisions being a one stop destination for individuals interested in crowdfunding.