Alternative investments are on a tear, and no asset class has seen more growth than private equity. According to a recent study by eVestment, assets under administration grew 44 percent from 2015 to 2016. This influx of capital has caused major ripple effects across the entire private equity landscape, with fund managers competing intensely to attract investor capital.
This competition has reinforced the importance of the overall experience that private equity managers provide to their investors, and as a result managers have increasingly been looking to their fund administrators for solutions.
Technology is widely seen as the solution to many of the challenges facing both private equity managers and fund administrators. Yet despite this consensus, “private equity is in the dark ages when it comes to technology” as Allison Piet, director of alternative investments accounting and reporting with insurer MetLife, puts it.
Private equity fund managers and fund administrators alike are finding themselves at a crossroads on two key issues:
- Delivering on investor demands for greater transparency and a more modern digital experience.
- Handling the operational burden of labor-intensive and margin-constraining processes that are insufficient to meet growing regulatory requirements.
A study by technology provider FIS, titled “The Promise of Tomorrow: Private Equity and Technology,” brings context to these two important issues:
Delivering on investor demands for a more transparent and modern digital experience.
One of the greatest obstacles to solving this challenge is the proliferation of systems that fund administrators and fund managers use across areas like accounting, reporting and document storage.
This multi-system approach adds a great level of difficulty to the process of collecting and preparing data required to provide investors with transparency. Further, maintaining multiple systems often proves to be arduous and time-consuming.
This demand for a more modern experience has placed tremendous pressure on fund administrators in particular, as their fund manager clients increasingly look to them to meet this need. Fund managers are sending a loud message by walking away from administrators that can’t help. In fact, according to a Preqin study, 28 percent of fund managers fired their fund administrator in the past 12 months.
This helps to explain why, according to the FIS study, 26 percent of respondents felt “threatened” by technology. That said, those that are leveraging the power of technology to improve their offerings are realizing that it can become a competitive advantage, as evidenced by the 74 percent of respondents that affirmed this in the study.
A quote from the FIS study makes this key point: "The private equity industry’s effortsto reinvent its relationship with technology also reflect recognition of the critical importance of technology to winning and retaining customers and to penetrating new markets.”
Handling the operational burden of labor-intensive and margin-constraining processes that are insufficient to meet growing regulatory requirements.
The private equity and the alternative investment industries have also been going through a metamorphosis over the past few years in the area of operations, driven in large part by the imposition of ever-increasing regulatory requirements. Compliance is the great equalizer, affecting all stakeholders in the industry from the fund administrator down to the investor.
These requirements become a business-breaking burden when operational efficiency is dictated primarily by the number of people that a company has available to help tackle them. The alternative investment industry is notorious for how heavily it relies on people to handle manual and repetitive tasks that should be automated. These are things like document preparation and distribution, tracking and receiving needed approvals, sending emails for notifications and more.
These manual tasks are exponentially more troublesome when legal and regulatory requirements come into play as most fund administrators have to add one full-time employee for every three or four new clients that they win.
This results in a vicious cycle for fund administrators as they far too often expand their budgets by adding additional staff instead of investing in technology that could solve their root problems.
Technology provides the clearest path to help private equity get out of the dark ages. This is the one solution that will help all key stakeholders improve the overall offering to investors without compromising their ability to build profitable businesses.
This quote from the FIS study encapsulates it best: “Firms that embrace this world of innovative technologies are likely to be the ones that win out in the marketplace."