Jersey: enabling the private markets to realise their potential
Over the past 40 years, the private markets (or alternatives) sector has grown to become a bedrock of high value employment and prosperity in Jersey – the sector now accounts for nearly 90% of funds under administration in the jurisdiction.
As assets under management (AuM) in the private markets sector continue their rapid expansion worldwide, they’re set to play a key role in driving recovery and creating more sustainable and socially inclusive economies both here and across the globe.
The private markets designation brings together private capital (private equity and credit) and real assets (infrastructure and real estate), and this has real relevance for Jersey which has a formidable reputation in private equity and real estate in particular.
As investors go in search of returns that other asset classes may struggle to deliver, private markets are one of the fastest growing areas of asset management globally. It’s a sector that is now by no means niche – it’s fast becoming mainstream.
Reflecting that, earlier this year, PwC published Prime time for private markets: The new value creation playbook, an in-depth exploration of how the sector is evolving and how to capitalise on the potential. According to that report, it is anticipated that private markets AuM will increase by $4.9 trillion to reach $14.4 trillion by 2025 - around 10% of overall AuM worldwide.
Further, in the JFA’s own survey of its members at the end of last year, respondents painted a clear picture of an industry that is looking to grow and diversify, driven by the private markets. In an industry with alternatives at its core, 69% of respondents said they were confident that their business would grow over the next five years, whilst both short and medium term strategic priorities for Jersey’s funds industry remained focused on private equity, real estate, venture capital and debt funds, according to respondents.
As the PwC report highlights, however, this is an increasingly challenging market in which the prizes will be hard won.
· In search of return: with entry multiples so high and economies still fragile, traditional value levers such as financial engineering and cost reduction may no longer be enough to deliver target returns. Forward-looking private markets managers are therefore broadening their value creation lens in areas ranging from strategic repositioning and top-line growth to longer hold and ‘permanent capital’ models.
· Competing in a concentrated market: Institutional investors’ growing demand for multi-asset mandates is making it difficult for smaller, single-asset-focused managers to compete with big, diversified rivals. There’s still room for specialised players with the right capabilities. The firms that are most vulnerable are those that have neither scale nor specialisation. They risk being squeezed out of the picture.
· Keeping pace with changing stakeholder expectations: the other, and in many ways most far-reaching, challenge is the shift in stakeholder attitudes. As environmental, social and governance(ESG) priorities in areas such as health, sustainability and social inclusion come to the fore, ESG performance has become as important as financial returns.
This isn’t just altruism. As pension and sovereign wealth funds’ private markets allocations increase, reflecting the ‘people’s priorities’ will be ever more important in securing large mandates and sustaining scale and growth. Embracing ESG would help private markets managers to reframe public perceptions, cultivate closer affinity with investors and generate new forms of value. Investment opportunities include helping portfolio companies to move towards net zero production. Private markets managers could also help to bridge the funding gap for small and innovative growth businesses and boost infrastructure investment in areas ranging from healthcare to digital communications.
With government coffers drained by the COVID-19 pandemic, the record levels of dry powder at private markets managers’ disposal could make them a vital contributor to recovery and regeneration – a Marshall Plan for the 21st Century. This would need to be weighed against the increased public scrutiny that would come from a more prominent role in socially-critical areas such as small business finance and infrastructure development.
Jersey’s specialist expertise, record of innovation and supportive regulatory environment puts it in a strong position to take advantage of private markets expansion. But just as the sector as a whole must adjust to a changing world, firms in Jersey are working hard on sustaining relevance and where they can take the lead:
· Picking their spot: the most crucial decision is whether to be a scale or niche specialist player. Firms in Jersey are carefully considering what it is exactly that might make business want to come here, and how they can build on their standout capabilities.
· Challenging assumptions: Further questions centre on how to address changing investor demands. The ever-increasing risk of being called out for ‘greenwashing’ is a clear case in point. As a result, governance – the G in ESG – is rightly at the centre of the agenda. Firms in Jersey are deeply aware of the principal areas needing to be addressed, including gauging what investors really want and how to stay ahead of the game – the goalposts are moving all the time.
· Nurturing talent: Firms are committed to addressing the need to deepen skills and talent, including creating more diverse boards and stepping up the recruitment and upskilling of women.
The evolution and expansion of private markets offer the win-win of high value economic growth locally, and an opportunity to help address pressing social and environmental priorities globally.
With so much at stake, Jersey’s funds sector is focused on tracking how investor demands are changing, ensuring it can keep pace, and articulating what it can offer that other financial centres can’t.