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Entering a new decade, changing investor appetites and other market dynamics force alternative asset managers to chart unique paths in the pursuit of asset growth

Luxembourg, 26 November 2019. With more investors increasing allocations to private equity and other alternative asset classes largely at the expense of traditional hedge fund offerings, all alternative fund managers are examining their strategic priorities and focusing on how to develop products and prepare their business for a rapidly evolving future, according to the 2019 EY Global Alternative Fund Survey When focusing on the future, where do you look?

The 13th annual survey (formerly the EY Global Hedge Fund Survey) found that overall allocations to alternative investments haven’t changed, but the competition is intensifying between asset classes. Continuing a multiyear trend, assets under management (AUM) allocated to hedge funds decreased by 7%, while allocations to private equity increased by 7%. The survey also identified expanded interest in private credit and real estate offerings. This shift in allocations has impacted the strategic priorities of alternative managers. Private equity managers have every reason to enact ambitious capital raising strategies and continue to identify growth as their top priority. Hedge funds are more muted on their growth agenda and are increasingly focused on talent and cost management.

Hedge fund and private equity managers’ avenues for growth diverge.

While hedge funds and private equity represent the majority of allocators’ alternatives portfolios (33% and 25%, respectively), investors report 23% of their assets allocated to real estate and 19% to private credit, infrastructure and other alternative asset classes.

Given the competition, 69% of hedge fund managers and 71% of private equity managers list asset growth as a top priority. Recognizing they need the right people in place to achieve this goal, talent management is a close second, with 62% of hedge fund managers and 56% of private equity managers listing this among their top three priorities. From here, priorities diverge.

Hedge funds are more focused on reigning in costs than their private equity peers. Half of hedge fund managers ranked cost management and rationalization high among their priorities, while just 29% of private equity managers ranked this a top priority. As interest in private equity shows no signs of abating, 43% of private equity managers report a priority of enhancing middle- and back-office processes and technology to support the explosive asset growth they are receiving, and 24% of private equity managers prioritize investor reporting to meet the needs of new clients, quadruple the number of hedge fund managers (6%) who see this as a priority.

Amid increased investor demand for customization of strategy and nontraditional offerings, alternative fund managers continue to diversify products, with hybrid credit and ESG products as several of the trend setters.

Hedge fund and private equity firms continue to diversify their product offerings, despite the operations, technology, talent and investor acceptance challenges they pose. Hedge funds offering or planning to offer co-investment vehicles more than doubled from 21% to 58% in the last year. Another 37% of hedge fund managers currently offer or plan to offer illiquid credit, private credit, CLOs and senior debt in fund structures, 17% currently offer or plan to offer real assets and infrastructure and 16% currently offer or plan to offer real estate. Private equity managers are equally bullish on these product offerings, with 41% offering private credit vehicles, 23% providing real estate products and 22% offering exposure to real estate.

Managers are also continuing to focus on driving growth within their existing strategies, although the structuring considerations and customization continue to be challenged by investors. The majority (79%) of hedge fund managers have been more successful increasing AUM in their existing offerings rather than in their new products. Despite this, more than half of managers (60%) find success in launching new products, including separately managed accounts (SMAs), for existing clients and new clients. Investors’ demand for SMAs continue to grow for several reasons, and managers reported an increase in their firm assets comprised by SMAs from 25% in 2018 to 32% in 2019. Furthermore, 39% of hedge fund managers anticipate growth in the proportion of their firms’ assets that will be included in SMAs in the next two years, as compared to their views of their comingled offerings, where 24% of managers expect future asset growth but 20% expect asset declines.

Entering the next decade, diversifying into products that are environmentally and socially responsible is crucial, as 29% of investors are already investing or planning to invest in socially responsible funds, and nearly two-thirds of these investors (63%) say that managers’ ESG policies have a critically important impact on their decision

to invest.

Managers are hearing the call. The number of hedge fund managers currently offering ESG products is just 19%, but that number is expected to increase by approximately 50% over the next two years. Not only are alternative asset managers launching new product sets, but also embodying what it means to be good “corporate citizens.” The majority of private equity firms have adopted environmental and social responsibility policies (66% with another 8% planning to adopt), and even though they are further behind, half of hedge funds have adopted or plan to adopt these policies.

Michael Ferguson, Wealth and Asset Management Leader at EY Luxembourg, commented, “Investors of the next decade are more socially and environmentally conscious than they were in the last decade. They demand customization, transparency and accountability. They also are more comfortable with and desire a number of offerings that years ago would have been considered nontraditional but are increasingly becoming more common as part of alternative managers’ product arsenal. But, ultimately, they desire investments that will deliver strong returns. Managers able to heed these demands and diversify their offerings are poised to succeed.”

While talent management has garnered meaningful focus by alternative managers and progress has been made, significant work needs to be done in terms of achieving diversity in the front office.

Recognizing the impact that having the right people makes on positive investment returns, nearly all investors (86%) note that talent management programs play a key role in their decision to invest. Over the past year, investors’ focus on succession planning nearly doubled from 23% to 40%. Hedge funds appear most sensitive to retention issues with 43% of hedge fund managers ranking retention as a top priority compared to only 29% of private equity managers. With hedge fund growth and performance generally more lackluster compared to private equity, being able to retract and compensate key performers is a challenging business issue.

While private equity firms are ahead of their hedge fund peers, improving gender diversity necessitates continued progress. Only 30% of alternatives firms have set diversity targets and just 2% of all alternative fund managers report having a greater than 50% proportion of women employees in the front office. Eighty-eight percent of hedge and private equity funds report their front office leadership team as comprising 30% or less of women. Progress has been made outside of the front office, as 78% of private equity managers report to have at least 30% of their back-office roles filled by women and half of hedge funds have 30% or more gender diversification.

While alternative asset managers feel they don’t have challenges in recruiting younger talent, retention proves to be a more significant challenge. Most managers have initiatives to attract and retain young talent, such as improving office amenities (64% of managers), allowing relaxed dress codes (61%) and adding the flexibility to work from home (52%).

Laurent Capolaghi, Partner, Private Equity at EY Luxembourg, commented, “Increasing diversity is not only the right thing to do, it’s strategic, as diversity in backgrounds is linked to supporting better investment decisions and more efficient business operations. The entire alternatives industry has a way to go to build a balanced workforce. The managers who accelerate progress are not only role models to the industry but are creating a competitive advantage.”

Alternatives managers are utilizing data as a competitive advantage, and while private equity firms are further behind in devising formal strategies for maximizing data utility, they are catching up.

As managers increasingly face a reality where they have to find cost savings and efficiencies, the ability to better leverage data created internally is crucial, and those who do not maximize its utility will be at a competitive disadvantage. Despite the amount of data they generate, just over half (57%) of the largest hedge fund managers (over $10b) have a formal data strategy in place, while under half (44%) of the smallest firms report to have a strategy in place. Private equity peers are further behind. Over half (56%) of the largest private equity firms do not have a formal strategy, and that number jumps to 86% when referring to the smallest shops.

Managers not only lacks strategies, but dedicated resources as well. Whereas at the largest organizations, data management is viewed as a full-time job, just 21% of the smallest firms have a CIO/CTO.

Private equity managers have historically trailed their hedge fund peers in using next-gen data and artificial intelligence (AI) as part of the investment process, but the gap is closing, as managers are increasingly seeking out new data sources as part of their investment process. Now 35% of private equity managers use nontraditional data, closing in on par with the 42% of hedge fund managers using this type of data. Making strides, private equity firms leveraging AI within the investment process tripled from 2018 to 2019 with a jump from 5% to 15%.

With the proliferation of data comes concerns surrounding keeping the information safe and secure. Only 39% of investors are confident that alternative fund managers have adequate cybersecurity protocols in place, whereas the majority (82%) of fund managers feel they are extremely well prepared. This confidence by managers is buoyed by the fact that the majority of managers have increased their cybersecurity budgets over the past two years, some upwards of 50%. Given the variance in severity of cybersecurity breaches, few investors note definitely they would redeem investments if a breach occurred, but rather they would base their decision on the type of information that was compromised, how it was handled by the manager and the steps the manager would take to remediate the issue.

Michael Ferguson, added, “Data is a double-edged sword. We are seeing sophisticated managers harness the power of their data to improve investment decisions and run the business more efficiently. But to prevent data from being a manager’s downfall, it demands quality assessment and safeguarding.”

The complete survey is available at


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