27 MAR 2019

Sustainable Finance Geneva and iGravity finalize a feasibility study and business plan regarding the potential of a social stock exchange based in Switzerland (the ‘Nasdaq of impact investment’)

Sustainable Finance Geneva and iGravity finalize a feasibility study and business plan regarding the potential of a social stock exchange based in Switzerland (the ‘Nasdaq of impact investment’)

In the past years, impact investments have grown rapidly and attracted more and more investors including from mainstream finance, driven by the opportunity of generating solid financial returns combined with positive and measurable impact for society and the environment. The Global Impact Investor Network (GIIN) estimates the current market size at over USD 200 billion, with past and future double-digit growth rates. However, by looking at the full spectrum of impact investments, we estimate the current market size at USD 400 billion, composed of the following segments:

 

  • Green bonds finance projects with a clear environmental benefit (e.g. renewable energy, energy efficiency, climate change adaptation). In 2017, green bond issuances passed the USD 100 billion benchmark(growth of 78% compared to 2016). This means, that green bond transactions accounted for approximately 2.7% of global bond market transactions
  • Since 2014, social bonds,which similar to green bonds finance social projects, annual issuance volume has grown 17x as of 2017with the majority of issuances based on the social bond principles. At the end of 2017, social bond issuances reached USD 8.8 billion, issued by the public sector (USD 5.3 billion), supranational organizations (USD 2.1 billion) and the private sector (USD 1.3 billion).
  • In contrast to social bonds, social impact and development impact bonds, are usually not backed by an international finance institution and only reimburse investors if the outcome of the project is successful. Since 2010, over 100 SIBs have been implemented across 24 countries collectively mobilizing USD 392Min capital seeking to achieve a multitude of social outcomes

 

Market

Estimated size

Geographical focus

Investor base

Impact investing

USD 228.1 billion

Globally

Private and institutional investors, DFIs

Green bonds

Approx. USD 160 billion

Globally

Private and institutional investors, DFIs

Social bonds

USD 8.8 billion

Developing countries

IFIs, DFIs

Social/Development impact bonds

USD 392 million

Developed and developing countries

Foundations, Banks, Governments

Total impact investmet market size according to iGravity research

> USD 400 billion

 

 

 

Despite this success story, attempts to create a central market place for impact investments have not been very successful, even though a vast majority of investors would welcome such a platform, as it would tackle some of the obstacles hindering impact investments to become mainstream:

 

  • Sourcing and evaluation of deals:Sourcing companies which qualify for impact investments is not simple: evaluating such companies has proven challenging, as they are highly diverse, cross sectorial and have varying levels of risk and expected returns. Such a market platform would enhance transparency in the market and support the efficient sourcing of potential deals.
  • Deal sizes:Investors often seek to invest larger amounts of capital than investees need, leading them to pass over smaller deals. Institutional investors, which are needed to push impact investments towards the financial mainstream, are especially constrained by small deal sizes. By offering a liquid market, institutions could seek higher deal sizes by using a central platform as the trading platform.
  • Exit options:Due to low standardization and absence of central platforms, exits from impact investments are not simple. Investors agree that there too few suitable exit options, especially if investors pursue the possibility of a ‘responsible exit’. A central platform could offer such possibilities, by attracting all types of investors and laying the ground for responsible and successful impact investment exits.
  • Impact measurement:One of the greatest challenges in the space is the measurement of social impact. With its unique dual mandate, impact investing has a number of measurement and reporting considerations that traditional investments do not. However, the numerous standards for measuring social and environmental impact (like GRI or IRIS) can be overwhelming, even for industry specialists. If a central platform would be institutionalized as the central platform for impact investments, it could promote best practices regarding impact measurement and educate market participants accordingly.

 

In summer of 2018, iGravity was mandated by Sustainable Finance Geneva (SFG), a Geneva-based alliance of banks, asset managers and important institutional players promoting sustainable finance, to conduct a feasibility study regarding the potential of the launch of a social stock exchange in Switzerland, as a main platform for impact investments. The result is a comprehensive report, consisting of:

 

  • a deep-dive market study to explore the current state, needs and gaps of social enterprises and impact investors
  • insights from previous attempts around the world to establish a social stock exchange
  • the potential offering of a Swiss social stock exchange and its key target groups
  • detailed business plans of several implementation options
  • final take-away’s and recommendations towards SFG

 

In December 2018, the board of SFG approved iGravity’s report including the following key recommendations:

 

  • From our point of view, there are strong indicators of demand for a centralized exchange platform for impact investors and social enterprises. Lessons learned from unsuccessful attempts show that only a fully-fledged stock exchange with a certain market power and liquidity has the chance to become a relevant player in the impact investment world.
  • Attracting and winning the support of key stakeholders committed to the project from the start towards the first transactions on the social stock exchange is absolutely crucial. This should include investors as well as intermediaries such as global banks and market makers to bring liquidity and capital to the exchange.
  • A strong pipeline with committed issuers and investors has to be built, to show that such a stock exchange can really function and prove its additionality. We recommend that a strong pipeline of issuers should be in place before the launch of the exchange.
  • We recommend conducting additional research and explore different technologies for implementation purposes, such as blockchain.

 

In order to pursue the project, SFG is currently looking for a dedicated project manager.