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Moving Mainstream

The European Alternative Finance Benchmarking Report

Robert Wardrop, Bryan Zhang, Raghavendra Rau & Mia Gray

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Since the global financial crisis, alternative finance - which includes financial instruments and distributive channels that emerge outside of the traditional financial system - has thrived in the US, the UK and continental Europe. In particular, online alternative finance, from equity-based crowdfunding to peer-to-peer business lending, and from reward-based crowdfunding to debt-based securities, is supplying credit to SMEs, providing venture capital to start-ups, offering more diverse and transparent ways for consumers to invest or borrow money, fostering innovation, generating jobs and funding worthwhile social causes. 

Although a number of studies, including those carried out by the University of Cambridge and its research partners, have documented the rise of crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending in the UK, we actually know very little about the size, growth and diversity of various online platform-based alternative finance markets in key European countries. There is no independent, systematic and reliable research to scientifically benchmark the European alternative finance market, nor to inform policy-makers, brief regulators, update the press and educate the public. It is in this context that the University of Cambridge has partnered with EY and 14 leading national/regional industry associations to collect industry data directly from 255 leading platforms in Europe through a web-based questionnaire, capturing an estimated 85-90% of the European online alternative finance market. 

The first pan-European study of its kind, this benchmarking research reveals that the European alternative finance market as a whole grew by 144% last year - from €1,211m in 2013 to €2,957m in 2014. Excluding the UK, the alternative finance market for the rest of Europe increased from €137m in 2012 to €338m in 2013 and reached €620m in 2014, with an average growth rate of 115% over the three years. There are a number of ways to measure performance across the various markets. In terms of total volume by individual countries in 2014, France has the second-largest online alternative finance industry with €154m, following the UK, which is an undisputed leader with a sizeable €2,337m (or £1.78bn). Germany has the third-largest online alternative finance market in Europe overall with €140m, followed by Sweden (€107m), the Netherlands (€78m) and Spain (€62m). However, if ranked on volume per capita, Estonia takes second place in Europe after the UK (€36 per capita), with €22m in total and €16 per capita. 

In terms of the alternative finance models, excluding the UK, peer-to-peer consumer lending is the largest market segment in Europe, with €274.62m in 2014; reward-based crowdfunding recorded €120.33m, followed by peer-to-peer business lending (€93.1m) and equity-based crowdfunding (€82.56m). The average growth rates are also high across Europe: peer-to-peer business lending grew by 272% between 2012 and 2014, reward-based crowdfunding grew by 127%, equity-based crowdfunding grew by 116% and peer-to-peer consumer lending grew by 113% in the same period. 

Collectively, the European alternative finance market, excluding the UK, is estimated to have provided €385m worth of early-stage, growth and working capital financing to nearly 10,000 European start-ups and SMEs during the last three years, of which €201.43m was funded in 2014 alone. Based on the average growth rates between 2012 and 2014, excluding the UK, the European online alternative finance market is likely to exceed €1,300m in 2015. Including the UK, the overall European alternative industry is on track to grow beyond €7,000m in 2015 if the market fundamentals remain sound and growth continues apace.

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