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Best Practices on Investing in the VC Asset Class – Part I

BGV recently moderated a panel hosted by Marcus Evans on the challenges faced by LPs in constructing an alternative asset portfolio around the Venture Capital asset class.  The panel members included Matt Stepan with CFM, a financial advisory firm with $11Bn AUM, and Freeman Wood with Mercer Sentinel, a leading investment advisory consulting firm.  The full webinar can be accessed at: https://vimeo.com/marcusevans/review/233650620/3d1129d2c3.  This is the first in a two-part blog summarizing the webinar content focusing on the best practices around manager selection in the Venture Capital asset class.

 

Context & Key Trends

Since the 2008 financial downtown, there has been a steady increase in LPs committing higher allocations to alternative assets. In fact, this practice has accelerated since 2016 and is expected to continue to do so over the next 12 months.  In a recent survey by Preqin, almost 65% of the respondents said they expect to deploy more capital in the next 12 months, compared to the past 12 months (see chart below).

 

Global family offices with an estimated $4T are allocating 50% to the alternative asset class.  Within the alternative asset category, private equity (including venture, buyout and growth capital) and private debt have been the biggest benefactors of the shift in allocations.

 

Despite the recent run up in public markets, this sector is becoming structurally less attractive to LPs.  These LPs are responding by raising their allocation to private markets.  Some rotate out of hedge funds into multi-asset funds.  Even Sovereign wealth funds, and pension funds as well, which comprise 5-6% of the allocation to private equity, are expected to go to 10-11% allocation. Within the alternative asset classes, investor appetite for venture capital has significantly increased over the past 12 months, ranging from Family Offices, to Sovereign wealth funds, to Endowments and Foundations. This data is fairly consistent across all geographies.

 

 

Challenges – Manager Selection

While growth in the number of funds has increased- assets under managements and even distributions have increased- this development presents a unique set of challenges. In order to increase their allocation to alternatives, investors must find the right managers and investment strategies to put that capital to work.

 

There is a wide dispersion in the returns from the private equity asset class, heavily dependent on the fund managers.  We believe that manager selection significantly influences the net returns.



Furthermore, a stark difference exists between top quartile vs. bottom quartile managers in terms of fund performance – measured in net IRR. The chart below shows that the net IRR range over a 10-year horizon is between 16-17%. The median is about 6-8%. However, when you look at the bottom quartile performance, difference is more distinct.


Thus, the challenge for institutional investors is to find top quartile fund managers. There is no guarantee that one can generally invest in this asset class and get the type of the returns they target.

 

Q&A

In our discussion, the first topic we are going to discuss is the best practices our panelists and their clients have used to go about manager selection successfully.

 

  1. Matt, from a CFM perspective, what are the top two to three criteria that you have used successfully to select high performing managers?
  2. We tend to look at three criteria to evaluate and identify top quartile fund managers. These include: a) Top quality leadership – GP’s at the firm; b) A differentiated approach to investing in the markets they focus on; c) Early stage focus – to enable us to take advantage of the equity valuation increase that comes from investing in innovative companies at this stage.

 

  1. Freeman, what do you recommend to your clients around due diligence best practices to evaluate fund managers?
  2. We tend to advise our clients to diligence the fund’s governance and infrastructure to identify and make investments and also on how they manage the investments over time. Our emphasis is on ensuring there are sound, robust and repeatable processes to manage investments over time and not just identify investments.  We also tend to look for transparency in the processes.

 

  1. Matt, you see a high number of pitches from fund managers, how do you diligence the quality of the team?
  2. We tend to look for specific characteristics in the individual GP’s including: a) Strong operating and investment backgrounds; b) Their ability to relate well to an entrepreneur – the journey that an entrepreneur takes from startup to exit is a unique and difficult one to navigate.; b) A track record of consistent success and their ability add value beyond the capital be it as a coach, a trusted advisor and/or a productive board member. At the team level, we look for teams that have worked together successfully before – this ensures that they have worked out how they make decisions and work as a team.  

 

  1. Freeman, could you give us a few examples of robust repeatable processes that you look for when evaluating fund managers?
  2. We look for teams with demonstrated expertise in the areas of investment and operational focus. For example, we like to see a clear segregation of responsibilities and processes in areas such as making investments (i.e. investment committee etc.), finance/back office operations, management of portfolio companies and portfolio exit/dissolution.  We like to see that processes are well documented and have been implemented consistently over time.

 

In our next blog, we will summarize the best practices around sustaining returns over time once LPs have made the manager selection for investment in the VC asset class. 

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