Venture capital: Bangladesh perspective

Shah Md Ahsan Habib | Published: April 08, 2018 20:30:42 | Updated: April 09, 2018 21:38:35


In Bangladesh, the financial system is bank-based. Securities market has started developing, but market of Non-Bank Financial Institutions (NBFIs) is a recent development. In such a scenario, banks have been the single most important sources for both short-term and long-term funds for the entrepreneurs.  However, banks generally handle known and proven clients, and commonly ask for collaterals, guarantees from a company's directors, consider past performance, etc., to assess credit worthiness. Approaches of banks and NBFIs do not match with the capital/financing requirements and the growth of startups. For addressing the need and capitalising on the true potential of these entreprises, it is mainly about understanding, owning and financing potentially innovative business ideas.

In regard to Bangladesh, venture capital financing institutions are primarily registered with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies (RJSC) as limited companies under the Companies Act 1994. Subsequently, these companies are required to obtain separate registration from the Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission (BSEC) for establishing the fund as per the Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission (Alternative Investment) Rules, 2015. As per the rules, alternative investment funds must appoint fund managers and trustees. The aforementioned BSEC rules are applicable not only for the registration and regulation of alternative investment funds but also for fund managers and trustees of such funds.

All venture capital financing companies, particularly those which wish to enjoy government declared tax advantages and other benefits for such companies, must operate within the rules issued by BSEC. These rules have been in force since June 22, 2015. As of January 31, 2018, a total of 11 companies got registration as alternative investment fund under the BSEC rules. Though 11 companies got registration, a few are yet to start their operation in full swing. Three types of funds are given registration under this rules which are 'private equity fund', 'venture capital fund' and 'impact fund'. Of these funds, venture capital fund means an alternative investment fund which invests primarily in non-listed equity and equity linked securities of startups with less than two years' operational history or green field companies or emerging early-stage undertakings mainly involved in new products, services, technologies or intellectual property rights based activities or new business models. A venture capital fund under this rule is established for a specific period from five to fifteen years which shall be disclosed in the constitutive documents. Such funds can sell units to collect fund only from eligible investors and there are restrictions on investment from the fund too. Apart from Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission (Alternative Investment) Rules, 2015, Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission (Qualified Investor Offer by Small Capital Companies) Rules, 2016 have also been formulated for easing the exit route of venture capitalist firm. According to the new rules, companies with small capital (less than Tk 300 million) can also be listed in the capital market through IPO process. Other than these, the government and Bangladesh Bank have certain circulars/arrangements to support and promote venture capital in the market. Considering the key challenge of the shortage of fund, Bangladesh Bank provision allowing BDT 2.0 billion by a commercial bank for venture investment is a remarkable one. However, response from banks is almost absent in this connection. Practically, it is all about the collective initiatives of the stakeholders of venture capital financing in Bangladesh.

Almost all the venture capital financing  companies are relatively new and yet to start their business. Only one fund has so far registered and some funds are in the process of registration. A few companies have started venture financing from their own capital. As the companies are new in this arena, it is difficult to measure their financial performance. Apart from these, several companies which are yet to be registered with BSEC, are also providing venture capital. Practically, some of these companies have produced several success stories (for example, Popular Pharma by Brummer & Partners Asset Management); and have also proven workable environment for the venture funds in the country. 

As a broad sector, the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) is probably the biggest relevant area. Investment/financing demand-supply gap is glaring in the sector.  As traditional bankers are relatively conservative in offering loans to SMEs, venture capitalists have huge opportunities to bridge this gap by way of provision of equities or loans or both and 'participative management approach' where venture capitalists can also reduce information asymmetry and transactions costs of lending SMEs which are basically characterised by uncertainties. In some instances, banks usually face problems in intermediating funds for SMEs whereas venture capitalists do not feel so. It is to be mentioned here that venture capitalists not only supply finance to investee firms but also provide non-financial services, which a traditional bank can never offer. Institutionally, banks are in the lending business whereas venture capitalists are in a partnership business. It is argued that most of the SMEs in Bangladesh also suffer from shortage of managerial skills, marketing skills, lack of standard products, communication skills and so on besides being overburdened with financial problems. So, venture capitalists have the opportunity to offer different non-financial services like strategic decision making, marketing, management, contracts and so on for the betterment of the firm.

Banks and NBFIs are not at present interested to extend finance to Greenfield but high potential firms considering high risk. As such, high potential Greenfield firms suffer much due to shortage of funds. Venture capitalists' are trying to bridge this financing gap. However, due to shortage of fund from their own source, venture capitalists are facing hardship. By investing in venture capital funds, there is opportunity for banks and NBFIs to be benefited in the long-run having some clients suitable for financing.

Though banks and NBFIs are allowed to invest in alternative investment funds, as per Bangladesh Bank (BB) guideline, we have only one instance at this stage. A large part of the micro and small entrepreneurs is out of the banking services. Bangladesh Bank, as part of its financial inclusion programme, is motivating banks to include these unbanked groups under the fold of banking services. But banks are not interested to provide financing facility due to incomplete documentation, absence of collateral and other necessary information in several instances. Now this could be a great opportunity for the venture capitalists. So, the micro and small entrepreneur willing to get the fund from banks can be diverted to the venture funds/impact funds. Venture capitalists may nurture the entrepreneurs, prepare necessary documents, provide managerial services and offer other assistance.

There is a common fear of greater involvement of regulator in the development process of the financial segment like venture. It is to be mentioned here that policymakers and regulators generally acknowledge that venture capital funds should be exempted from the new stringent regulatory and reporting requirements. However, certain regulations must be in place to reduce systemic risk and promote the stability and efficiency of the markets. There must also be monitoring need and guideline to address high degree of information asymmetry between the fund managers, and the passive investors. Moreover, involvement of banks with such investment demands certain requirements to ensure safety and trust issues. At the end, it is about a customised balancing of regulatory and monitoring framework with sufficient incentive for the market players and investors to operate comfortably.

Dr. Shah Md Ahsan Habib is Professor and Director (training) at the Bangladesh Institute of Bank Management (BIBM). ahsan@bibm.org.bd

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