About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Understanding alternative finance

Say 'financial innovation' and what comes to mind for many is the investment banks and complex products that were at the centre of the financial crisis. Yet in recent years we’ve seen the term become associated with a new type of finance provider, those businesses and online platforms gathering under the banner of alternative finance.

Finance models such as crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending are at the heart of this as they harness internet technologies to bring those with money and those who need it closer together and aggregate numerous small investments or donations to meet large funding needs. Businesses, community groups and individuals are using this industry to either get funding they cannot access elsewhere or to get it quicker and on better terms.

Nesta has been at the forefront of research in this space as it has grown and are pleased to continue this with our newest report ‘Understanding Alternative Finance’. This research, conducted in partnership with the University of Cambridge with support from the ACCA and PwC, constitutes the most detailed and extensive survey of the alternative finance sector yet undertaken anywhere in the world. As part of the work, we have gathered the views of the general public as well as those who have used the industry to access or commit funds as well as analysed platform data to gain insights on how the industry works, its size and growth.

We are extremely grateful to the industry for being such willing collaborators on this research and hope that this report will be an aid to those trying to understand how this space works as well as be a stepping stone for further exploration of the industry.

Below we present some of the headline findings from the research. As ever, we welcome your comments and views.

  • In 2014 the alternative finance market is expected to grow to £1.74 billion
  • The market grew by 150 per cent from 2012 to 2013 and is on track to grow by 161 per cent from 2013 to 2014
  • It is expected that the UK alternative finance market will have provided over £1bn of growth and working capital to an estimated 7,180 SMEs, equivalent to 2.4 per cent of bank lending to businesses by the end of 2014
  • 70 per cent of SME borrowers using P2P business lending have seen their turnover grow since secured funding with 63 per cent of them recording a growth in profit
  • Alternative finance is providing significant additional giving to social good projects, with more than three in four backers of projects with a social focus using funds in addition to what they would normally give to charitable causes
  • One in seven of UK consumers have used at least one alternative finance model
  • Less than 10 per cent of UK SMEs have used at least one alternative finance model to raise funds
  • Equity-based crowdfunding is now worth by £84 and is the fastest growing market, with an average growth of 410 per cent
  • P2P business lending, which has seen an average growth of 250 per cent, is the largest individual alternative finance market, with estimations being that by the end of 2014 it will have facilitated loans worth £749 million

Report highlights by type












Peter Baeck

Peter Baeck

Peter Baeck

Director of the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design

Peter leads work that explores how combining human and machine intelligence can develop innovative solutions to social challenges.

View profile
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Policy Advisor

Liam was a Policy Advisor in Nesta’s Policy and Research team. Liam’s work focused on innovation and economic growth with a particular emphasis on finance for innovation and innovative…

View profile