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股权众筹不会因欺诈问题止步不前

有些人害怕向非受信投资者开放股权众筹会导致诈骗蔓延,专家对他们说:“不要小瞧了公众。大多数情况下,那些诈骗犯根本就进不了游戏圈。”

创业者希望通过众筹筹资时,来自社会的声音会聚集到筹得的资金上。说得通俗点,你吆喝得越勤快,你筹得的钱就越多。上个月,众筹融资平台RocketHub的联合创始人及CFO Alon Hillel-Tuch在一次纽约福特姆大学法学院上的股权众筹专家讨论会中称,通常,创业者的亲朋好友会首先为项目做口头宣传并做出贡献。当一个众筹项目筹得大笔钱却没有相应多的社交活动宣传时,就通常是一副障眼法了。

他说:“你懂的,欺诈犯没有支持他们的亲朋好友。因此,当RocketHub上的一个项目开始得到人们大笔资金却没什么社交媒体活动时,我们就会注意到了,这会触发我们的欺诈侦查程序,事实上,我们能仅仅通过这种社交趋势来关掉项目。”

Hillel-Tuch则把开始一个众筹项目同中学生开始学跳舞相提并论。Hillel-Tuch称:“男女生都站两边,放着音乐,但就是没人跳舞,对吧?但然后有人开始跳舞了。如果这是高中组织的,明显人人参与。但如果有个别人,或者某些人开始加入跳舞行列,可能某些小团体也会出现,最后你会注意到大家都来跳舞了。但一定得某人开始站出来跳舞,且这个人得有社交资本。”

这种比喻可能听着太简单。但关键是,对一个众筹项目而言,它从本质上要求有社交推动力。如果没有足够的社交活动推动这个项目,这个球是不会一直转的(这里指如果没有社交活动推动,项目不会继续进行)。尽管美国还在为如何最好地保护投资者而焦虑,其他国家已提供了大量证据表明公众确实在保护投资者方面做得相当好。关注JOBS法案的管理咨询公司,威尔士资本的创始人Kim Wales称,在股权众筹已持续8年的澳大利亚,澳大利亚小型募股董事会未收到任何欺诈的投诉。

Wales称,在英国,通过众筹融资合法筹资的活动已进行三年了,也是未收到任何欺诈的投诉。她在福特姆大学同一个专家讨论会上说:“为何如此呢?因为我们把很多尽职调查的任务交给了公众。”

2012年通过的JOBS法案让所有投资者(包括非专业的和非受信投资者)都能够参与到股权众筹(在此之前,股权众筹仅向受信投资者和足够富有的人开放)。

股权众筹让创业者能用自己的公司换取资金,这使得股权众筹比创业者用礼物或酬劳换取资金的捐助型众筹更有风险。

由于SEC还在继续完善股权众筹相关条文,政府应该在其中扮演一个怎样的角色才能保护非专业投资者免遭初创公司投资损失,这成为了一个难题。专家讨论会上,负责股权众筹条文最后修改部分的SEC成员Joanne Rutkowski称:“JOBS法案和我们在众筹中应有的行为把我们完整分成了资本组成及投资者保护模块的十字型。” Rutkowski 称:“其中有矛盾,这也是我们需要致力于解决的地方。但你没法解决。”

可能确实如此,但公众已证实其自身作为防欺诈工具是相当有效的。如今,投资也同80年前相比大有不同,当时SEC第一次发布针对联邦股票发行的规定。

Hillel-Tuch称:“获取信息的途径也非常不一样了。个人在家里、电脑上获取的信息量对于一个上世纪30年代的人来说根本难以想象。太神奇了。所以当你寻找投资时,欺诈会发生吗?会,确实是会的。人们每天都想在我们的平台上进行欺诈。我不会否认这点。他们成功了吗?没有,一次也没有。因为这太社会化了。”

他说:“众筹融资就是这么个‘社会化机制’。”

To those who fear that opening up equity crowdfunding to unaccredited investors will result in rampant fraud, some experts in the space say: Don’t underestimate the crowd. In most cases, fraudsters will be outed.

When an entrepreneur is raising money with crowdfunding, social buzz tends to correlate with money raised. The more you hustle to get your story out, the more money you raise. And usually, it’s the entrepreneur's friends and family that make that first push to get the word out and initiate contributions, said Alon Hillel-Tuch, co-founder and chief financial officer of crowdfunding platform RocketHub, during a panel discussion about equity crowdfunding held at Fordham Law School in New York City last month. When a crowdfunding campaign raises a significant amount of money without a corresponding amount of social activity, that's often a sign of a red herring.

“You know, fraudsters don't have friends and family that support them. By definition, they lack that,” he said. “So what we've noticed is when a project goes live on RocketHub right now and starts getting a lot of funds from people with no social media activity, that raises a red flag within our fraud detection engine and we actually are able to close projects purely based on social trends.”

Hillel-Tuch compared launching a crowdfunding campaign to getting middle schoolers to start dancing together. “Boys on one side and girls on the other side and music is playing and nobody's dancing, right? But then somebody starts dancing. If it's the high school quarterback, everybody else shows up, obviously. But if it's someone else, maybe some people start joining in, maybe some of the cliques show up and eventually you notice everyone is dancing. But someone had to start it and that person had to have social capital,” Hillel-Tuch said.

The analogy may sound simplistic. But the point is that a crowdfunding campaign, by its very nature, requires social momentum. And if there isn't the requisite amount of social momentum, the ball just won't get rolling. While the U.S. is still fretting about how exactly it should best protect its investors, there’s plenty of evidence in other countries that that shows that the crowd does a very impressive job protecting investors. In Australia, where equity crowdfunding has been in place for 8 years, the Australian Small Scales Offering Board has had zero complaints of fraud, said Kim Wales, founder of Wales Capital, a management consulting firm focused on the implementation of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups, or JOBS Act.

In the U.K., where companies have been legally raising money through crowdfunding for three years, there have also been zero instances of fraud, says Wales. “And why is that? Well, because we're turning over a lot of the due diligence to the crowd,” she said, at the same panel discussion at Fordham Law School.

Passed in April 2012, the JOBS Act, made it legal for anyone -- including non-professional or unaccredited investors -- to participate in equity-based crowdfunding. (Before this, equity crowdfunding was only open to accredited investors – or those deemed sufficiently wealthy.)

In equity-based crowdfunding, an entrepreneur gives a piece of his or her company in exchange for cash, making it a riskier proposition than donation-based crowdfunding, in which an entrepreneur might give away gifts or recognition in exchange for cash.

As the Securities and Exchange Commission continues to finalize the rules for equity-based crowdfunding, there's been a question of the how much responsibility the government should have in protecting a non-professional investor from losing money on a startup. “The JOBS Act and what we have to do with crowdfunding puts us squarely in the crosshairs of capital formation and investor protection,” said Joanne Rutkowski, a member of the SEC division that is working to finalize the equity crowdfunding rules, at the panel. “There's a tension there, and it's just something that you have to work within. You're never going to resolve it,” Rutkowski.

That may be so, but the crowd has shown that it is a fairly impressive fraud prevention tool. And investing now is very different than it was 80 years ago, when the SEC first came out with major federal regulations on the offer and sale of securities at a federal level.

"Access to information is very, very different," said Hillel-Tuch. "The amount that you can see as an individual from your home, from your computer is unimaginable to somebody in the '30s. It's incredible. So when you look at offerings, does fraud happen? Yes. It does. People try to commit fraud on our platform every single day. I'm not going to deny that. Do they succeed? No. No one has. Why? Because it's so social."

Crowdfunding is “such a social kind of mechanism,” he said.


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