Clear as day? Big Society Capital releases data in latest step of new transparency drive

269 capital allocations, £246m committed, £66m drawn down... Following its pledge to be more transparent, the world's first social investment bank has delivered us a big Xmas sack of data! Lee Mannion upwraps it for us.

UK social investment bank Big Society Capital (BSC) has released data of all its transactions up until September 2015 – following on from its promise of more transparency earlier in the year.
The download available from the organisation's website has details of 269 allocations of capital. In a blog introducing the spreadsheet, BSC has stated that it was  "encouraged by our stakeholders to 'get the data out' rather than wait until the data is of utmost rigour". The data is raw in that it contains no summary headline figures, such as the percentage of money that was dispersed as loans or the amount of money distributed by region, for example.
Figures are somewhat confusing because they include deals made with co-investors, not solely the money that BSC has invested itself. To give an example, nearly £57m is listed in a column titled ‘total investment commitment at the point of investment committee approval’ for the Real Lettings Fund. The fund buys properties that charity St Mungo's Broadway lets to homeless families in London. Of that £57m, the BSC commitment is £15m, with the rest coming from Croydon council, Panahpur and others.

Only 17 community interest companies received money. Responding to this, Jeremy Rogers, chief investment officer at BSC, said: “We are encouraged by the diversity of organisations using social investment with our capital. However, we also know that smaller organisations are struggling to find the right kind of investment. That’s why we set up Access – the Foundation for Social Investment with the Big Lottery Fund and Cabinet Office, and worked hard to see the introduction of Social Investment Tax Relief. We hope these measures will help potentially thousands of smaller organisations access the repayable finance they need.”
The big winner amongst the so-called SIFIs (Social Investment Finance Intermediaries) is undoubtedly Charity Bank, which received 40% of all the investments that BSC made. ClearlySo was the next most significant investee, with more than 50 investments. In the blog accompanying the announcement, BSC states that: "There will be some overlap between the data as some of the deals arranged by ClearlySo would have received investment from some of the funds."
Alongside the 106 amounts listed as going to Charity Bank, the column marked 'Investee name' carries the entry ‘name not disclosed at request of fund’. When contacted about this, Peter Kelly, Charity Bank's business development director, commented: "We are transparent about our investments, examples of which can be found on our website and in our annual portfolios. We see it as important to share and champion the achievements of our borrowers and we take care to work closely with them when we do this. With regard to sensitive deal-level data, some borrowers may not want us to share it and we have to take a decision as to what level of information is reasonable to publicise."

When asked to clarify the total amount of money that is available from them, BSC confirmed a figure of £351m. Of that, £246m has been committed to deals that have been done and £66m has been drawn down, meaning charities and social enterprises have received the money. 

BSC had committed to publishing data in the fourth quarter of 2015 in its Transparency - Next Steps report but the specific timing of the data release, at a time when several interested parties have already stopped for the Christmas break and when such announcements are easier to miss, might be considered to be a little disappointing.

However, BSC's Jeremy Rogers stressed that this release was only the first step in increasing transparency: “The publication of this data is very much the beginning, for us and our intermediaries. We will update this information and our key numbers twice a year and hope other intermediaries will join us. We are very grateful to all of those who have shared their deal data with us and look forward to working with them to increase transparency in the social investment market.”

Pioneers Post has also been tracking the money flowing from social impact investors and intermediaries in our quarterly dealflow, published in our magazine. To see this data, please click here.

Photo credit: Andrea Lanzilli