Leading for Success: 2015 in Review, 2016 in View
What are key Private Equity trends for fund managers and institutional investors from 2015, and new opportunities for 2016? This was the topic of discussion with Jeff Williams, Altvia’s VP of Products, as we explored these trends and what this means for fund managers and investors in 2016 as it relates to taking fundraising and operations to the next level.
2015 in Review, 2016 in View
By Jeff Williams
What are some of the top trends for fund managers from 2015 and how are these trends changing the investor dynamic?
The driver for institutional investors choosing managers in Private Equity will always be investment performance track record, but the difference is how that has changed in recent years. There are now more factors beyond just returns; the bulk of which is being driven by institutional investors’ increasing requirements and regulatory-driven operational risk. And so how do we distinguish different parameters? A few in particular are operational processes, assessing risk from the institutional investor perspective and the need to have operations lined up. When institutional demand comes or goes, the dynamics turn. During the financial crisis, a number of institutional investors left Private Equity and there were a select few making commitments – and accordingly the tables turned. Now tables have turned back wherein institutional investors are at the table with capital for investment in Private Equity and asking fund managers why they should partner with them over the competition. There are longer lists of what investors want to see. Established fund managers with track records who have larger AUM are at scale and have headcount as well as the management fee income to make capital investments into technology. And it’s oftentimes the technology investment for infrastructure that can lead to a competitive advantage. So it’s like circular reasoning – the ones who have track records and capital for infrastructure, headcount, etc become more sophisticated and can answer the demands from institutional investors and then further build their track record.
And the dynamics of what people want tend to be what larger fund managers can provide. There’s something very attractive about emerging fund managers; there’s the high alpha potential – particularly a partner or junior partner at an established firm who has a track record, spins off and finds a niche strategy with a smaller fund where return is more impactful. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to compete with the operational excellence of the managers at scale, and the resulting gap leaves managers of all sizes asking themselves what they can do to differentiate themselves. It seems to me that institutional LPs are responding loud and clear, and telling managers that track record isn’t the only thing anymore.
Considering these trends, what are the most common challenges that you’ve heard from customers?
The big picture about business challenges is the increased amount of work surrounding the processes and administration of a fund’s lifecycle. More specifically, challenges involve sizing up and organizing a pipeline of investor prospects to whom you can pitch a fund. Everybody has a Rolodex but given how challenging it can be to meet the demands of investors, which are only getting more rigorous, this challenge effectively shrinks the Rolodex. And so fund managers ask themselves, how can I be more efficient about filling the funnel? Technology, like fund manager software, obviously plays a key role here. Like the organizational component, Altvia provides to help fund managers keep their workflows together so that they can cast wider nets and keep track of it. With better organization, fund managers can basically expand the funnel and track it – and then make more effective decisions.
Another challenge is providing the right information to investors. How can fund managers gather exactly what investors are looking for and systemize these requests in different formats? Even more so is servicing those investors and prospects; for instance, once a manager hits the road with a new offering, the requests start flooding in – could we get a look at your performance in this way, that way? Can you provide us with answers to these requests about your vendors, your systems, your process? Many still do not have clear processes and systems that make it easier to answer these requests. While these requests obviously take extensive amounts of time, they’re increasingly blending the lines between the front, middle and back-office, making it difficult to ensure that the right people are contributing, that the process is efficient and most importantly, that the investor is being delighted. The rate of requests and spectrum of these requests are really causing challenges for managers who aren’t making investments in either headcount or technology to streamline the process.
What’s the key takeaway for fund managers?
The key is not to start sprinting and acknowledge where you’re at. Start simply by looking at the problem – the most effective solution may be easier than you imagine. For instance, when you have disparate systems that provide value in certain workflows, say an accounting system capable of providing the data needed to meet a request or provide documents to investors, it may not be the best solution for front office functions to field and handle the request. The fund manager may sprint to “produce a custom, expensive API that integrates the two systems,” yet this may not be necessary – it’s actually easier and more cost-efficient. Consider the basic issue – how do you produce these documents and deliver them to investors? By identifying the core problem, the solution may be relatively simple and this is how App-X uses technology to solve. Customers are becoming more and more attracted to putting together best-of-breed technology solutions, and we’re finding ways to integrate them and save time. And this is becoming even more apparent to managers because it’s making a positive difference in the investor experience.
About Jeff Williams:
Jeff joined Altvia in 2011 and is involved in the life-cycle of our product from sales through client implementations. Prior to joining Altvia, Jeff spent nearly four years as an Analyst and Associate sourcing and evaluating investment opportunities in venture capital funds and late-stage venture financings in private companies. He was also actively involved in the fundraising process and used AIM extensively to manage both the fundraising and investing processes.
In his free time, Jeff enjoys skiing and playing golf.