They walk the fundraising trail hand in hand. They may have known each other for years. And they rely on each other for continued success. Nonetheless, there are a few things about placement agents that alternative asset managers may not be aware.
Following the popularity of our best practices guide on hiring a placement agent, Navatar hosted a roundtable last week featuring a group of placement specialists and an in-house investor relations director to discuss “What Every Alternative Asset Manager Should Know About Working With Placement Agents.” Seven things emerged from the conversation that may surprise GPs.
1. Agents think your fundraising schedule is too optimistic
GPs took an average of 17 months to close a fund in 2015, according to data provider Preqin. Fund managers hear that number and anchor their own fundraising timelines around it. Like drivers, the majority also believe they are above average and so expect to beat it. But the mean is the wrong starting point, our placement agent panelists argued. Larger funds that LPs tend to clamor for are believed to be weighted more heavily in the mean. GPs may also have their fundraising perceptions skewed by the trade press, which is more likely to cover lightening quick fundraises then they are the more common two year slog.
2. They want fairer performance appraisals
A second want is more nuanced performance metrics. GPs tend to measure an agent’s worth by capital raised, a few referrals and professional chemistry. Less attention is paid to the fundraising conditions of a specific vintage year, or the challenges of bringing a first-time GP on a roadshow. Our agents expressed a desire for these subtler points to be a bigger part of the conversation.
3. They want clearer expectations set up front
It is a difficult question, but “Will you do what you actually say you’re going to do?” During the roundtable, we heard a war story of a manager that exerted minimal effort during fundraising. Agents understand each fund manager comes with their own working style. Some are more willing than others to travel. Others prefer a blitz of afternoon investor calls coordinated by the placement specialist. But getting the day to day mechanics down between agent and manager requires an honest appraisal from both sides on who will do what, and how much. And then, of course, to follow through.
4. They are early adopters of technology
Fundraising, being extremely competitive, requires intense focus and discipline. In addition to relationships, placement agents must have a solid institutional memory so they can leverage intelligence from their previous mandates, track shifts of personnel at institutional investors, as well as changes in sector appetite. That’s why agents rely on platforms like Navatar Placement Agent to ensure that they have firm-wide visibility into all communications and news.
5. They’ve worked with all levels of seniority
It’s natural to think your procedure is the procedure. It’s what you live and breathe everyday. But when it comes to how GPs coordinate with agents, managers may be surprised to learn the level of variance. Our placement specialists mentioned working with anyone from junior-level analysts on powerpoint presentations all the way up to senior founders. There is no necessarily right answer here, but our agents recommended someone relatively senior-level to correspond with, and to dedicate a single person on the IR staff to manage data flow between the two groups to develop a sense of proficiency and consistency in the exchanges.
6. They think re-ups are just as difficult as bringing on new investors
GPs balk at paying high placement charges for returning investors. They reasonably attribute their track record and stellar client service to re-ups. Agents, meanwhile, wish GPs gave more consideration to the difficulty of re-ups. LPs are quick to shed relationships these days, agents argue. In fact, 70 percent of private equity investors say that LPs are becoming less loyal to individual managers, a Coller Capital survey found. Agents feel that re-ups can be just as much work as sourcing new relationships.
7. They’re looking into you just as much as you look into them
It is the GP that ultimately hires the agent, but placement specialists said many clients are unaware how much selection is placed on them as well. Placement agents perform just as much due diligence on potential clients as managers perform on prospective agents, the roundtable shared. Agents must believe in the manager’s strategy, reputation and “story” to perform their job. A bad fundraise hurts both parties.
The roundtable touched on a number of themes that centered on “What Every Alternative Asset Manager Should Know About Working With Placement Agents.” A full rebroadcast of the roundtable discussion is below.