Jo Swinson MP, Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), has urged accountants to ensure that their clients are aware of alternative finance options

Speaking at the first Alternative Finance conference organised and hosted by ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), Ms Swinson added that ACCA’s members have a key and critical role in promoting alternative finance, saying that financial options need to be available to, and understood by, small businesses and individuals.

Ms Swinson also added that peer to peer lending platforms can open up new opportunities and potential for both borrowers and lenders, as long as their services are valued and trusted by both.

The Minister confirmed that the government is taking a keen interest in a healthy and vibrant environment for alternative finance, pointing to its £100m investment in alternative business finance providers through the Small Business tranche of the Business Finance Partnership scheme, including £30m in online peer-to-peer lending platforms. She also added the hope that new channels of funding can in turn attract new investment in businesses.

Helen Brand, Chief Executive of ACCA, welcomed attendees to the event, explaining: “2013 can and should be the year that crowd-funding and peer-to-peer finance come of age, as properly regulated services serving mainstream business.”

Comparing the sector’s current state to five years ago, she noted that it is now the UK, rather than the US, that is leading the race for innovation in financial services — building on traditional strengths in banking, venture capital and professional services.

However, Helen Brand warned: “Alternative funding providers are still benefiting from a very benign climate: widespread mistrust of the banks and the financial system, rock-bottom interest rates, substantial interest from venture capitalists and now government support too. It cannot always be this way and the incumbents know this.”

Helen Brand concluded: “We look forward to these changes and want accountants, businesses’ most trusted advisers, to be part of this new financial services industry.”

The Alternative Finance Conference included expert presentations by Simon Deane-Johns of Keystone Law on the regulation of alternative finance platforms and Prospect associate editor Andy Davis on the past and future of the sector, as well as a showcase by six of the sector’s leading service providers:

  • Marketinvoice, the invoice auctioning platform
  • Funding Circle, the peer-to-peer lender for business
  • Crowdcube, the online crowdfunding platform
  • Kantox FX, the peer-to-peer FX trading platform
  • Finpoint UK, the finance matchmaking service and
  • Bilbus the business finance hub