Who Invests in Private Equity?

Who invests in private equity?

Investors in private equity are institutions and individuals. Institutions are defined as pension funds, endowments, and foundations. Currently (2016) individuals are comprised of family offices and select high net worth individuals.

In the future, more and more people are going to be investing in private equity.

In August 2015, Private Equity International compiled a list of the biggest investors in private equity. The list includes four categories of investors which include direct investors, fund investors, as well as investors that invest in co-investments and secondary investments.

Direct investing is when an investor directly invests in private companies. It could be buying the entire company or a minority investment.

Fund investing is when an investor goes to a private equity fund and the private equity fund buys companies on the investor’s behalf.

Co-investing is the most complicated option. For instance, an investor invests $50 million in a private equity fund with co-investment rights, meaning that when the fund looks for opportunities it can allow the investor to participate not only through the fund, but directly as well.

An example of this would be when a fund is looking at investment in a $40 million company. That investment needs $30 million equity and $10 million in debt. The equity portion given by the fund (without co-investing) would be $30 million dollars. In the case of co-investing, the fund gives $20 million (in which the investor is participating through the fund) with the remaining $10 million (i.e. the difference between the $20 million in equity given by the fund and the $30 million equity needed) is offered to the investor to do on a direct basis resulting in the fund investing $20 million and the investor investing $10 million.

When investors invest into a fund, they pay full “two and twenty” fees (i.e. typically paying a 2% management fee and a 20% performance fee). By investing $10 million directly, other than a small deal origination fee, investors are able to reduce their overall fees. (For more on fees see the following video).

The fourth way to invest in private equity is through secondaries. In this example, our investor makes a commitment to invest $50 million in a private equity fund by giving about $10 to $20 million dollars to the private equity fund up front for the first two fund investments. As more acquisitions are made, the private equity fund makes capital calls to the investor. The investor is usually locked into the private equity fund for seven to ten years (or longer). If the investor wants out of this agreement, the commitment can be sold to other investors. The sale can be of the entire commitment (which would include the existing deals that the private equity fund was already made, plus future capital calls) or it can be done through a structured secondary (selling different parts) where the investor may want to keep the existing investments and just sell the future commitments. As easy as an investor can sell a secondary, it can buy one as well.

Returning to the August 2015 list of all the types of investments in private equity compiled by Private Equity International, we see that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) tops the list.

CPPIB participates in all types of investments including direct, fund investments, co-investments, and secondaries. One of its most notable investments was in Skype. Skype was purchased from eBay in 2009 and sold to Microsoft in 2011. CPPIB had a small portion of that deals. In 2009, CPPIB invested $300 million and in 2011 it received $933 million. Yes, that’s right; CPPIB put in $300 million and received $933 million back in two years. Not too bad!

To recap: Investors in private equity are institutions including pensions like CPPIB, endowments, foundations, and individuals. In 2016, individuals are mostly family offices and select high net worth individuals. In the future, more and more people are going to have access to private equity.