GPs ride a wave of optimism in a new landscape
The annual Investec GP Trends survey looked at how the private equity market is evolving by gauging the opinions of 220 private equity professionals globally on the current landscape.
In its 11th year, the latest survey revealed a wave of optimism and renewed confidence among general partners (GPs) as the world begins to emerge from an extraordinary global health crisis. The survey also highlighted the impact of Covid-19’s profound legacy on business practices – from due diligence to hybrid working models.
Read the full 2021 GP Trends report
The results showed a marked increase in career satisfaction from the last survey – 20% of respondents were much more satisfied with their career than 12 months ago, compared with just 6% last year. Overall, 50% of respondents were happier in their careers.
Meanwhile, fewer respondents said they wanted to leave their firms compared with last year and before Covid-19. The survey also revealed that more respondents wish to set up their own funds.
Helen Lucas, Co-Head UK Originator, Growth and Leveraged Finance, explained wherever there is disruption, there is opportunity – and this is helping to drive satisfaction levels.
“Optimism and a renewed sense of career satisfaction are translating into confidence. This suggests the pandemic experience may have stimulated a more risk-on and entrepreneurial sentiment among GPs, as they sense an opportunity to make their mark,” she said.
Key 2021 findings
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Opportunity knocks for junior GPs
Jonathan Harvey, Head of Client Relationship Management in Investec’s Fund Solutions team, agreed that the shifting of the landscape had created a more fruitful environment for GPs to demonstrate value.
“GPs have gotten used to consistently rising markets over the last decade, which has created an environment where it is difficult to stand out. The pandemic-induced volatility has created a new dynamic where GPs can demonstrate relative outperformance,” he said.
“At the onset of Covid-19, the consensus was a lack of exits would deepen the inherent founder-ownership culture in private equity. The expectation was the Covid-induced liquidity crisis would be even more challenging than the credit crunch of 2007-2008.”
Lucas also believed the crisis had given people pause for reflection. “The dramatic and catastrophic impact of the Covid-19 crisis on public health gave GPs a unique opportunity to consider their relative happiness in the face of human tragedy. This tends to motivate people to attach a new value to their normal working lives,” she added.
Harvey explained the initial perception was that the crisis would put the brakes on buyouts, exits, fundraising and returns. “At the onset of Covid-19, the consensus was a lack of exits would deepen the inherent founder-ownership culture in private equity. The expectation was the Covid-induced liquidity crisis would be even more challenging than the credit crunch of 2007-2008,” he said.
For example, carry distributions were expected to be severely impacted or wiped out. It was also thought that GP’s in general would be reluctant to proceed with exits in volatile conditions that could compromise valuations.
High hurdles to succession remain
However, after a sharp drop last year, the survey showed that carry is up 3% as a source of funding for new funds. Furthermore, commitments to future funds are strengthening. For example, in 2020, only 12% of respondents said they would expect to commit between 5-10% of the current fund to the next fund. This has now almost doubled to 22%.
A further comparison that consolidates the general sense of optimism is a key metric showing fewer suspended fundraisings – only 1%, down dramatically from last’s year figure of 17%.
“The recovery has been more rapid than perhaps even the most optimistic scenario,” said Jonathan Arrowsmith, Head of Advisory and Co-Head of Private Equity at Investec.
“Private equity has learnt from the last liquidity crisis and the industry was able to sustain more of a shock to the system. Not only have companies survived, but many have thrived in the face of adversity. This demonstrable ability to adapt to a more virtual world has strengthened business models and multiples – and EBITDA will duly follow.
“Initially, the pandemic dislocation created a challenging backdrop for private equity deals and fundraisings, but despite market volatility, private equity has demonstrated extraordinary resilience. Managers have adapted and are continuing to find ways to get transactions done.”
Younger partners can also be more optimistic about succession plans, as the recovery takes shape and exits are no longer expected to be delayed. Yet the returning optimism does not change inherent problems facing the private equity industry for more junior Partners, which are marked by high buy-in levels and prohibitive GP commitments, explained Harvey.
“There still needs to be a lot of work done for private equity professionals to solve a lack of liquidity through understanding the way their income is derived and the relative value to the assets they hold,” he said.
Fortunately, Harvey said GPs can build a sustainable succession mechanism and access flexible tailor-made financing solutions, enabling retiring partners to take money out and promote partners to buy in.
He also stressed that valuable opportunities within the funds space could often be lost due to commitments on existing working capital. Investec can provide the financial flexibility for GPs to seize opportunities as they arise and take care of a fund’s wider strategic needs.
“We are witnessing a fundamental shift in the way we do business in the private equity space. Previously, 80% of business was conducted in person. We expect this to invert, leaving only 20% of business conducted in-person in the post-Covid world.”
Covid-19 leaves a legacy of workplace innovation
The pandemic has left no industry or economic sector untouched, and for private equity, a traditionally people-facing industry, Covid-19 has required new ways of conducting business.
The survey results showed that 94% of respondents conducted due diligence over virtual Zoom, with deal processing largely completed virtually as well.
“This is a new paradigm,” said Arrowsmith. “We are witnessing a fundamental shift in the way we do business in the private equity space. Previously, 80% of business was conducted in person. We expect this to invert, leaving only 20% of business conducted in-person in the post-Covid world.”
Arrowsmith also stressed that the hybrid model would create new efficiencies. “The legacy of Covid-19 is an enhanced way of working where the video-conference has created a more personal and human engagement over the traditional call. But this is not to say there will be no reversion to the mean. The private equity mindset demands face-to-face meetings so participants can feel comfortable around doing business,” he said.
Lucas agreed and commented that GPs could harness the best of both worlds, keeping the in-person element and attaining better geographical reach through engaging video calls.
The survey also showed how Covid-19 is disrupting the traditional working week. Attending the office three days per week was the preferred option chosen by most respondents, while just 22% wished to return to the conventional five-day-a-week in-office working pattern.
“One the great legacies of Covid-19 will be an adjustment in the balance of time spent in the office. While, again, we will see some reversion to the mean, hybrid working practices are here to stay and will help boost flexibility in the workplace – and, consequently, career satisfaction,” said Lucas.