Stephen Franks - Why I've joined Snowball Effect

Stephen is a principal of Franks & Ogilvie, and former Chair and Partner at Chapman Tripp. He is recognised nationally as an expert in company and securities law. Stephen has also been a Member of Parliament, Member of the Securities Commission, Council Member of the Institute of Directors, and Deputy Chairman of the Stock Exchange's Market Surveillance Panel.

I’ve agreed to be a director of Snowball Effect, to help make it New Zealand’s leading equity crowdfunding platform.

The FMA is expecting 12 applications for the necessary licences. Only a few will reach critical volume, so companies looking for funds will benefit from the intense competition among platforms to survive.

Let the games begin.

Equity crowdfunding could be the vital step in recapturing New Zealand's entrepreneurial culture. Over a century ago we were among the boldest, productive risk-takers in the world. In 1901 alone (admittedly a boom year) our vibrant regional share markets could float more than 100 New Zealand mining companies. Some returned huge profits. It needed only simple law, but severe consequences for fraud and bad reputation.

We shared that law, willingness to save and freedom to gamble on investment with our Anglo-sphere brothers (the US, Australia, and Canada). Our pioneering was not confined to bringing new land into production. Experimentation was widespread. In politics it included votes for women, old age pensions and state capitalism to compete with overseas overlords (Bank of New Zealand, Public Trust, Railways). The state capitalism proved to be an expensive educative experience.

A century ago other forms of gambling were also prevalent until the state claimed a monopoly. For over 60 years the state has fostered (unproductive) zero sum gambling. The TAB, later the Lotteries Commission, then the ‘pokies’ have reached their current total turnover of more than $10bn per year. The losers are often people who cannot control or afford their losses. In contrast with the micro-management of middle class savings, the state has seen no need to make more than cosmetic restrictions on amounts and frequency of gambling ‘investment’. There is no control on insider trading. Risk statements are rudimentary.

Meanwhile there have been steeply increasing constraints on the freedom of competent adults to ask other competent adults to share in productive risks. Capital markets have become largely confined to the big end of town, to private equity, and other investors who qualify for the exemptions from securities law offering restrictions. And as I can testify, several generations of lawyers and accountants have prospered from mastering the intricacies of preparing disclosure material that no one asks for, or would be prepared to pay for if they had a choice.

Now equity crowdfunding is opening a window into the stuffy room. With prohibitive costs and compliance risks lifted, once again adults will be free to gamble on productive investment in infant enterprises.

I look forward to being part of this rejuvenation. With luck and energy our platform will enable some companies to soar, and make those who gamble on them wealthy. It will not need to apologise for the gambles that turn out to have been based on unfounded but honest optimism. But I expect a successful platform to need demonstrated determination to deal to any crooks who abuse their new opportunities.