Crowdfunding lets you raise money for a charity or a start-up. Find out how it works, the risks involved and how you can protect yourself as an investor.
- Not all crowdfunding projects are regulated.
- Beware of the risks of unregulated investments.
- Always ask, check and confirm before investing.
Crowdfunding is an innovative way to raise money through social sharing and personal networks. Commonly used to fund charitable causes, crowdfunding is also used by start-ups to find investors for their projects and business.
Types of crowdfunding
|Type||How it works||Returns|
|Donation-based||Individuals pool their money to support a charitable cause.||None.|
|Reward-based||Individuals give money to a company in return for a “reward”.||Non-monetary. It is usually a product from the company.|
|Individuals lend money to a company.||Interest rate and return of amount lent at pre-determined intervals.|
|Equity-based||Individuals invest in shares sold by a company.||Profit-sharing in the form of dividends.|
Crowd funding arrangements which do not involve the offer of securities (for example, where contributions are in the form of donations or pre-payment for merchandise under donation-based and reward-based crowd funding respectively) are not subject to MAS' regulations.
Lending-based and equity-based crowd funding which involve offers of securities by companies are generally referred to as securities-based crowd funding (SCF). SCF is subject to securities regulations, but not lending-based crowd funding occurring directly between individuals.
Is crowdfunding regulated?
SCF is an alternative source of financing for start-ups and SMEs.
All SCF platform operators who want to operate in Singapore must be licensed by MAS. Only donation-based and rewards-based crowdfunding that do not involve offers of securities, are not subject to MAS’ regulations.
What are the risks?
Before signing up or agreeing to contribute funds to a crowdfunding platform, you should always read the terms and conditions and understand the risks involved.
Common risks associated with crowdfunding include:
Loss of capital
SCF is usually used by start-ups and SMEs with little or no track record. Failure rate for start-ups is high. You could lose some or all your capital.
Securities offered by foreign issuers will mean that your investment is subject to the laws of that country. You may have to pay additional taxes, costs and fees.
As fundraising is carried out through online platforms, you may not have direct contact with whoever is making the offers of securities. There is a risk that the projects or proposals may not be legitimate and that expected rewards or returns may not materialise.
|Lack of liquidity||
When you want to exit the investment, there is a risk that you may not be able to sell the securities or have to sell them at a significant discount.
|Failure of the platform||
If the operator of the SCF platform that you are relying on to ensure that your funds are passed on to the project owner fails, you may lose all your money. You should find out the recourse if the SCF platform ceases business or fails. Check if there is an appointed party who can assist with debt recovery.
You may not receive enough information to make a fully informed investment decision as there is no regulatory requirement for issuers and SCF platform operators to provide specific information on the securities offered.
Also, the financial statements of the issuers may not have been audited. An unaudited financial statement may not reflect the true financial health of a company. For foreign issuers, the financial statements of the issuers may not be made accessible to you if there are no requirements in their home country to do so.
Requirements for operators
MAS will only admit SCF platform operators that are assessed to be fit and proper.
- Ensure proper segregation of investors’ monies
- Keep proper records of transactions
- Deal fairly with investors in the conduct of their business
- Disclose the key risks of the investments to you
They must issue a prospectus unless the offer falls within these exemptions:
- Small offers: Personal offers of securities less than $5 million within any 12-month period.
- Private placement: An offer of securities to no more than 50 persons within a 12-month period.
But they must disclose the key risks (as prescribed by MAS at a minimum) of such investments to you. Before investing, you will be required to acknowledge that you have read and understood these risks. Do take time to consider the investment carefully as ultimately investors bear responsibility for their investment decisions.
If a licensed operator is found to have breached MAS’ rules, supervisory steps will be taken, ranging from enhanced audits to revoking the licence.
Overseas crowdfunding platforms
Any platform that solicits funds from investors in Singapore will be subject to a prospectus and other requirements.
However, there are limits to the enforcement of local requirements on crowd funding platforms which do not have any presence in Singapore. Be extra vigilant if you decide to take part in such offers.
MAS aims to safeguard your interests by ensuring only competent and professional persons provide financial services to investors in Singapore. If you deal with an unregulated person or entity, you will forgo MAS’ protection.
If something goes wrong
Take these steps to resolve any disputes:
Approach the SCF platform if there's a default on payment.
Explore the debt recovery options and costs to be borne by you (if any). Some SCF platforms engage agencies on investors' behalf to collect outstanding debts from the issuers.
Speak to your Financial Institution (FI).
You should seek help with your FI as they have easy access to your records. All FIs are expected to handle consumer complaints and feedback independently and promptly.
If you are unable to resolve your problem, you may approach the Financial Industry Disputes Resolution Centre Ltd (FIDReC) within 6 months of receiving the final reply from the FI.
What to look out for
Before committing any money, take a moment to consider the following:
Have you conducted due diligence?
Read the terms and conditions on the SCF platform carefully before signing up or agreeing to contribute funds. Assess whether you are satisfied with the extent of the due diligence that the SCF platform operator conducts on issuers before allowing deals to be listed on the platform.
- Find out if checks have been conducted on the issuer's board of directors or senior management, financial performance and ability to repay the funds. Such checks should minimally include past credit records, cash flow and financial strength of the issuer.
- Also check with the SCF platform operator on the total outstanding loans of an issuer.
What are the non-performing loan rates?
Don't focus just on the SCF operator's interest rates of return. You should also examine the non-performing loan rates to get an indication of the loans which have defaulted on interest or principal repayments to investors.
What happens if the platform closes down?
Find out what courses of action are available if the SCF platform ceases business. SCF platform operators are expected to put in place proper business cessation plans and disclose the arrangements and communications which they will make if that happens.
Questions to ask include:
- How will investors receive their future repayments from the issuers?
- Will there be another party appointed to help investors monitor future repayments due from issuers or assist with debt recovery?
- What are the arrangements for handling investors' monies (i.e. whether investors monies are placed in segregated trust accounts) or loan agreements kept on behalf of investors?
- What are the procedures for communication with investors regarding business cessation?
Do you understand the investment?
Make sure you fully understand the benefits and risks of the product or service before committing. Assess whether the features of the product or service offered meet your needs.
Ask, Check and Confirm
Before committing to an investment, you should always:
- Ask the seller as many questions as you need to understand the investment opportunity fully.
- Check if the information provided by the seller on itself or its scheme is true.
- Confirm before investing, the seller or its representative’s credentials by using resources such as MAS' Financial Institutions Directory, Register of Representatives and Investor Alert List.