Equity crowdfunding can bridge New Zealand’s capital divide but is yet to reach its potential

New Zealand is a great place to live and do business. That’s not just an assertion, it’s something borne out by objective measurements – Auckland and Wellington both appear towards the top of the Mercer Quality of Living list, while New Zealand is second on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Rankings.

Yet New Zealand is not a particularly wealthy country, not at least when compared to our first world peers. New Zealand’s average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is USD 23,815 per annum while the OECD average is USD 25,908.

Why is this?

There are many reasons. The small size of our domestic market, and our relative distance from our largest export markets, are important factors.

Another key factor is our capital base – how much money we save and invest, and what we invest it in.

Last week we heard that the funds flowing into KiwiSaver are at an all-time high, with total assets under management of just under $28.5 billion. KiwiSaver now accounts for a significant portion of New Zealand’s wealth, equivalent to around 12% of GDP.

While this a positive step forwards for New Zealand, and more ordinary kiwis than ever are saving and directly or indirectly investing in equity markets, it is also true that this capital is not available to the majority of growth oriented New Zealand companies. With 44.7% of KiwiSaver funds in low risk, conservative or cash funds, there’s clearly considerable room for KiwiSaver to move towards more growth oriented investments.

Kiwisaver funds typically build in exposure to growth assets through domestic and international equities. International equities make up a significant portion of these portfolios for diversification, but also because the market cap of NZX is small, and funds need look further afield for sufficient exposure. Kiwisaver funds have appetite to invest in quality newcomers to our local exchange, but we need to get more companies to that stage.

The question is how can we bridge the capital divide between New Zealand today and the more prosperous and growth oriented economy that we want for our future?

Of course there’s not one single answer.

We founded Snowball Effect because we believe equity crowdfunding is part of the answer, and in our first year of operations nearly $10 million was raised through our platform for growth oriented New Zealand companies.

But equity crowdfunding, in its current format at least, is far from reaching its potential for the New Zealand economy. In part this is because investments are generally illiquid and the asset class is considered too risky or new by some investors.

We’re working on a number of expansions to the equity crowdfunding model intended to drive greater economic growth through more efficient capital markets. A secondary market, providing greater liquidity for investors, is one obvious way in which more investors will be attracted to private equity investment. A fund product to provide simple exposure and diversification is another.

Property is another interesting area. Rather than working against the common New Zealand desire to invest in bricks and mortar, can we rethink the investment process in a way that is streamlined, efficient and makes investors’ money work harder for them? Can this help to free up cash for investment in more growth oriented businesses? Rather than just investing in the existing supply of housing, what about investment in the development of new housing in supply stricken regions such as Auckland?

The ambition of lifting New Zealand’s economic performance is not an unrealistic one. New Zealand’s Ease of Doing Business ranking in part reflects a regulatory and political landscape that is economically liberal and growth oriented. New Zealand’s excellent and world leading equity crowdfunding regulations are a testament to this pro-growth tradition. It is now up to the private sector and equity crowdfunding platforms to make the most of the opportunities, and do our part to bridge the capital divide.