Big Society Capital invited three social entrepreneurs to challenge some of our management team with their burning questions on the state of social investment and asked them what they really want from social investors.
In the first of four blogs exploring the themes raised, Geetha Rabindrakumar focuses on improving the customer experience for frontline organisations: Over my 5 years at Big Society Capital, I have seen a huge shift in how social investors work with charities and social enterprises. Increasingly it is apparent that there is mutual respect, trust and a sense of partnership, which I believe has helped drive greater use of investment in recent years to enable impact. We often hear of the added value that social investors can bring, for example providing business development support, or flexibility and advice through challenging times. Earlier this year we had a fantastic staff away day in Birmingham to take us back to the core of our mission both as an investor and a market builder: social impact. We heard from a panel of social entrepreneurs who shared examples of their experiences in accessing social investment. This was a timely reminder that we can’t be complacent about the customer experience. Issues raised included: long processes; lack of visibility on interest rates and costs; and in terms of the process, the relative ease of going to a commercial lender vs a social investor. The session was powerful for being consistent with what we have heard over a long time in our engagement work with social enterprises and charities. Here are a few quotes highlighting some of what we’ve heard:
"There are lots of really good things that have come from borrowing money from my social investor, probably more than I expected. They have helped me with ideas, contacts and more practically offering a capital repayment break when things got difficult."
But there are still things that could be improved…
"Tell us how it really is as soon as possible and simplify and standardise some of the processes. Every minute we spend doing this is cost and therefore stops us from maximising the difference we really want to make.
Taking on a loan, especially for the first time, is likely to be a point of stress and expense for the organisation. Loan providers who try and ease this process are more likely to get further customers, rather than providers who make the process even more difficult."
We agree that improvements must be made to the customer experience of social impact investment. Our last stakeholder survey showed around 40% of responding frontline organisations felt that investors were helpful, clear and transparent in their requirements and decision making. And we know from talking to frontline organisations that fund managers have responded positively to the challenge of improving the customer experience over the last few years.
We see investee experience as a key indicator of success for the market and hope that work across the social investment sector will improve this over time. Increasing the share of satisfied frontline organisations from 40% to 50%+ in our next stakeholder survey would be a tangible indicator of progress.
What we are doing: using our influence as an investor
- When we are asked to invest into a fund, we seek feedback from existing frontline investees and previous applicants. This helps to inform our decision on whether to invest as well as where we will look for improvements in the fund managers’ approach if we do invest.
- Our social sector engagement team work alongside our investment team during the due diligence process to help inform our new investments and to ensure that new fund managers and their products best meet the needs of the sector.
Building the social impact investment market
- As part of our ambition to develop a learning culture:
- We share learnings by frontline organisations on Good Finance and at events like Let’s Talk Good Finance. We do this to encourage other social enterprises and charities to demand better, to share with investors what they value and what good looks like from their perspective as a social enterprise and charity customers.
- We share insights and experiences from frontline organisations with the social impact investment sector through induction days for those joining the sector as well as other sector events.
- We run a stakeholder survey to actively gather feedback from investees, investors and other stakeholders on the state of the sector.
- We work alongside a range of social investors offering support through our Building Blocks programme not just as a funder but also facilitating numerous opportunities for social investors to strengthen how they work with customers by learning from each other and from the frontline’
In short, we know there is more to do to provide a better customer experience for frontline organisations. While we can’t directly invest into social enterprises and charities, we actively engage with them to shape our work. We also work closely with stakeholders to build a strong and effective market that puts the people whose lives we’re all ultimately working to improve front and centre.