Big Society Bank will be imitated: Cohen

Big Society Bank will be imitated: Cohen
Social Enterprise Live by Chrisanthi Giotis

The UK Big Society Bank will be the first of many around the world says the man regarded as the father of venture capital in Europe Sir Ronald Cohen.

Cohen, who has been appointed as one of the two government advisors on the bank, told a gathering at JP Morgan in the city last night, that the ideas around the Bank were already being looked at in the US, in Australia and Israel.

Cohen said: ‘This is the first move of it kind anywhere in the world, it’s the boldest move we’re likely to see for some time but I believe it will be imitated.

‘Already the US, Australia and Israel these concepts are being discussed for the same reason we’re discussing them here.’

Cohen said that ‘over time’ and with the help of the social entrepreneurs and social finance intermediaries in the room, the bank ‘will change the lives of millions of people in this country’.

Speaking to Social Enterprise Cohen added: ‘We’ve got the bit between our teeth now and we’re going to run.’

Nick O’Donohoe, global head of research for JP Morgan, who is the government’s other advisor on the Big Society Bank, pointed to the growing interest in social investment – also known as ‘impact investing’ – around the world and said that this was the fourth event on the topic JP Morgan had hosted in the last 12 months.

Outside the event, Rod Schwartz, CEO of ClearlySo, an online marketplace for social business, who is a regular columnist for Social Enterprise, said he was concerned about potential market distortion if the bank was too big and worked too fast.

‘It’s important the bank works with the sector rather than stumbles in with some big boots and messes everything up,’ Schwartz said. ‘The government wants it [social investment] to happen much faster. That’s the frustration.

‘This is happening slowly, but the electoral cycle doesn’t allow for this so people want to see it moving more quickly.’

At the event civil society minister Nick Hurd said he was ‘frustrated’ that European State Aid laws had still not been cleared and this meant that the bank was not likely to launch until the third quarter of the year.

The government will be working with the Big Lottery Fund on interim arrangements that will allow investments to be made as soon as money becomes available in mid-2011.