The EU Crowdfunding Regulation starts to apply: Overview & Practical Considerations (Part 2)

Introduction

On 10 November 2021, the long-awaited EU Regulation on European Crowdfunding Service Providers, for business (Regulation (EU) 2020/1053) (the ECSPR) that aims to create a harmonised regulatory framework for crowdfunding platforms in the EU has started to apply.

In the first part of our publication we have analysed the scope of application of the ECSPR and the authorisation requirements that prospective CSPs will need to comply with under the new regime. In this second part of our publication we will take a closer look at the investor protection requirements under ECSPR and analyse the impact that the new regime will have on the existing regulatory framework on crowdfunding in Germany.

Investor Protection Requirements

Investor categorization & Entry knowledge test

In term of investor categorization, the ECSPR differentiates between sophisticated investors (professional clients under the MiFID II and persons meeting certain qualification criteria set out in Annex II of the new Regulation) and non-sophisticated investors. Whereas sophisticated investors will not be subject to any limitations when investing, non-sophisticated investors will be subject to mandatory entry knowledge test prior to investing in particular crowdfunding project. Therefore, prior to providing non-sophisticated investors with the full access to crowdfunding offers, CSPs will have to assess investors’ knowledge and experience, financial situation, investment objectives and risk awareness in order to assess which crowdfunding projects are appropriate for them. Periodic appropriateness assessment will have to be conducted every two years.

Key Investment Information Sheet (KIIS)

Inspired by similar concepts that have emerged years ago under the PRIIPs and the UCITS framework, the ECSPR requires CSPs to ensure that investors are provided with a so called Key Investor Information Sheet (KIIS) for each crowdfunding offer. Limited to maximum 6 A4 pages, the KIIS will have to contain key information about the project owner, the project itself, terms and conditions of the fund raising, risk factors, details on associated fees and costs as well as appropriate risk warnings. The KIIS will need to be drawn up by the project owner for each crowdfunding offer and CSPs will be required to have adequate procedures in place to verify the completeness, correctness and clarity of information contained in it.

Since the KIIS will neither be verified nor approved by the NCA like securities prospectus, project owners will be required to make proper disclosure thereto in order to warn prospective investors about the risks associated with investment in respective project. Lending based CSPs providing portfolio management services will be additionally required to draft the KIIS at platform level which shall contain key information on the CSP, available loans in which investors’ funds can be invested as well as information on fees and risks associated with investments.

Auto-investing and use of filtering tools

The use of commonly used filtering tools and automated systems have been also addressed in the new ECSPR. To that end, where filtering tools are available on the platform, based on which investor can shortlist available projects in accordance with the pre-specified criteria (e.g. economic sector, interest rate etc.), the results provided to investors are not to be considered as investment advice as long as information are provided in a neutral manner and without provision of a specific recommendation. On the other hand, CSPs using automated processes based on which investor funds can be automatically allocated to specific projects in accordance with predetermined parameters (so called auto-investing) will be considered as individual portfolio management of loans.

Right to withdraw

Non-sophisticated investors will be able to revoke their offer or expression of interest to invest in a particular crowdfunding offer, within a 4-day pre-contractual reflection period, without the need to provide any reason or to incur penalty of any kind. For this purpose, CSPs will need to provide investors with the clear information on the reflection period and the ways in which investors’ right can be exercised.

The impact of the ECSPR on national framework in Germany

Up until recently, the roles of fundraisers and investors in crowdfunding structures in Germany, could potentially fall under the scope of some regulated financial services.

  1. First, the lending activity of the investor itself could (under certain conditions) constitute the regulated activity of credit business (Kreditgeschäft) within the meaning of Section 1 paragraph 1 Nr. 2 of the German Banking Act (Kreditwesengesetz “KWG”).
  • Second the fundraising via crowdfunding platform could also trigger the licensing requirement for the provision of the so called deposit business (Einlagengeschäft) within the meaning of Section 1 paragraph 1 Nr. 1 KWG.

German national law and administrative practice of the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) have stipulated a number of exemptions from these regulated activities whose application needs to be assessed always on a case by case basis (like for instance the frequently used exemption for qualified subordinated loans whose granting does not trigger either of the aforementioned regulated activities).

With the aim of bridging this regulatory uncertainty, the German national transposition law (Schwarmfinanzierung-Begleitgesetz), which was adopted on 10 June 2021, makes necessary amendments to KWG by stipulating that fundraisers and lenders that raise/invest funds via crowdfunding platform authorized under the ECSPR, are not to be considered to be providing either of the above mentioned regulated activities.

Further, public offering of securities can generally trigger prospectus obligation under the German Prospectus Act (Wertpapierprospektgesetz “WpPG”), where no exemptions apply. In line with the ECSPR, the national transposition law exempts securities offering made on crowdfunding platforms operating under the new regime from requirements under WpPG.

Timeline & Outlook

Whereas the ECSPR has started to apply as of 10 November 2021 for all in-scope CSPs, the Regulation provides for an additional transitional period for operators of crowdfunding platforms that were operating under national rules before the go-live date of the ECSPR. They will have to apply for a new license and bring their business in line with new requirements by 10 November 2022.

On 10 November 2021, ESMA has published the Final Report on Technical Standards (RTS and ITS) that shall help prospective European CSPs with preparation for compliance with new requirements. In addition to this, in February 2021 ESMA has also published Q&A that bring more clarity to questions around the use of SPVs in crowdfunding structures, transitional provisions and operational requirements under the ECSPR.

The ECSPR promises to overcome existing obstacles embedded in national regimes of individual Member States by enabling CSPs to provide crowdfunding services based on a single set of rules on a cross-border basis and project owners to raise funds from investors from all across the EU. However, it remains to be seen whether and to what extent will the new regime be accepted on the market and whether it will really meet the expectations of EU lawmakers and the crowdfunding industry.

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