In 2004, venture capitalist Peter Theil invested $500,000 into a fledgling startup called Facebook. At the time of the company’s IPO, Theil’s stake was worth more than $1 billion.¹
Theil’s investment is an exceptional case, but private capital investments have historically outperformed public equity markets, says Kurt Silberstein, managing director, alternative investments at U.S. Bank Wealth Management.
While this type of investing isn’t available to everyone, you also don’t have to be a Silicon Valley bigwig to do it. And because private capital investment returns are not highly correlated with public markets, investors may receive portfolio diversification benefits, says Kaush Amin, director, private capital investing for U.S. Bank Wealth Management.
Financial and timing requirements
To participate in private capital investing, an investor usually must meet “qualified purchaser” requirements, which include a minimum of $5 million worth of investments.
The investor should also be comfortable with the unique aspects of capital investing:
- Interested investors have a limited time window, often six to 12 months, to decide whether to invest.
- Instead of immediately investing a sum of money, they make a commitment for a total amount.
- Over the next few years, investors are called upon to pay the money they committed to the fund, eventually investing the total committed amount.
- The exact timing of the contributions varies, as does the total investment period.
“In the public markets, you buy stocks or bonds that have an explicit value, and the opportunity to invest remains perpetually open,” Amin explains. “In private capital, there’s a start and end date to raising funds that will be invested over time.”
Assess risks and financial obligations
Investing in private capital funds carries risks that differ from those that come with investing in public markets.
- Liquidity. Investors who own stock in publicly traded companies can sell at essentially any time. “Private capital investments are generally considered illiquid, with an average commitment of 7-12 years. Although a secondary market may exist for some funds, it’s not as active as public markets,” Amin says.
- Harvesting. Private capital investors only realize potential returns when the fund manager “harvests” gains, which may occur when a fund sells a business it’s financing or the company goes public. If private capital investors want or need to sell before the fund harvests its gains, they may have to do so at a discount. The discounted amount depends on the demand for the fund and where it is in its investment or harvest period.
- Financial requests. Private capital investors must also be prepared to meet the commitments they make. When a fund manager requests money, investors are legally obligated to provide it.
- Fees. Funds typically charge both a management fee, which is a fixed percentage of the committed capital of the fund and a performance fee, which is a share of the profits.
Investing in the appropriate private capital funds
While Amin encourages all qualified investors to consider private capital investments, he cautions it’s important to invest in appropriate funds. “There’s a very high dispersion of returns between the good fund managers and the not-so-good managers,” Amin explains. He and his colleagues follow a thorough process to understand potential risks before making a fund available to U.S. Bank Wealth Management clients.
The Wealth Management team at U.S. Bank builds relationships with a number of private capital fund managers. In addition, they consider the opinions of strategists and economists who look at macroeconomic trends and factors affecting industries or sectors when selecting funds.
U.S. Bank also follows an investor-first perspective. “We do not charge any kind of placement fees or receive any fees from funds on the platform,” Silberstein says. “We are presenting opportunities to investors that we believe to be the best fit for them.”