Private equity isn’t just for institutional and accredited individual investors anymore. To say it’s becoming democratized might be a little over the top, but it has become increasingly accessible to retail investors in recent years and will become even more so in coming years, said a panel of industry players on Thursday at the Fifth Annual Innovative Alternative Investment Strategies Conference in Denver.
The conference, which is hosted by Financial Advisor and Private Wealth magazines, has an all-time high 700 attendees this year.
On a panel focused on private equity and venture capital opportunities, panelists named some of the key trends they expect to see in private equity during the next five ears. Among them: the rise of liquid alternative mutual funds and exchange-traded funds.
“There are ’40 Act funds such as ourselves coming into a space that’s growing,” said Mark Sunderhuse, co-founder, managing director, and co-portfolio manager at Red Rocks Capital. “People want these types of funds for the beta exposure. I think we’re just at the front end of this trend.”
The ALPS | Red Rocks Listed Private Equity Fund is an open-end mutual fund providing investors with exposure to private businesses by investing in publicly-traded private equity companies that trade on global exchanges.
Sunderhuse sees big opportunity for private equity in the defined contribution space. “Target-date plans will use private equity,” he said. “There’s a lot of work with consultants going on, and different types of products will fit different boxes. We’ve had conversations with a number of people in more mainstream mutual fund-type formats where they’ll use it [the Red Rocks fund]. Our product is primarily used in investment models where people want private equity exposure in way where they can manage the risk and be able to reallocate it and rebalance it.”
Kevin Albert, a partner at Pantheon, a global private equity investment company, said U.S. public pension plans on average have 10 percent of their assets in private equity. But defined benefit pension plans are becoming dinosaurs both in the U.S. and abroad.
“That has motivated the best firms in the private equity industry to raise capital from other sources, and the two biggest other sources are defined contribution plans and private affluent investors,” Albert said. “And that’s a good thing because 15 years ago it was hard to convince a top 10 private equity fund to raise a feeder fund or to participate in an offering that would go to individual investors. They saw it as less prestigious, and viewed it as more complicated from a regulatory perspective.
“Now you’re seeing firms like Carlyle, KKR and Blackstone at the vanguard of this,” he continued. “So I think we’re in the middle of an amazing revolution in the repackaging of private equity to make it attractive to defined contribution plans, which have different needs and desires than defined benefit plans did. So I think that will be a meaningful difference in this industry from five, 10, 15 years ago.”
Sunderhuse also expects to see structural changes in how private equity is offered to investors.