Asset management is the direction of all or part of a client’s portfolio by a financial services institution, usually an investment bank, or an individual. Institutions offer investment services along with a wide range of traditional and alternative product offerings that might not be available to the average investor.
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Asset management refers to the management of investments on behalf of others. The process essentially has a dual mandate – appreciation of a client’s assets over time while mitigating risk. There are investment minimums, which means that this service is generally available to high net-worth individuals, government entities, corporations and financial intermediaries.
The role of an asset manager consists of determining what investments to make, or avoid, that will grow a client’s portfolio. Rigorous research is conducted utilizing both macro and micro analytical tools. This includes statistical analysis of the prevailing market trends, interviews with company officials, and anything else that would aid in achieving the stated goal of client asset appreciation. Most commonly, the advisor will invest in products such as equity, fixed income, real estate, commodities, alternative investments and mutual funds.
Accounts held by financial institutions often include check writing privileges, credit cards, debit cards, margin loans, the automatic sweep of cash balances into a money market fund and brokerage services.
When individuals deposit money into the account, it is typically placed into a money market fund that offers a greater return that can be found in regular savings and checking accounts. Account holders can choose between Federal Deposit Insurance Company-backed (FDIC) funds and non-FDIC funds. The added benefit to account holders is all of their banking and investing needs can be serviced by the same institution rather than having separate brokerage account and banking options.
These types of accounts resulted from the passing of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999, which replaced the Glass-Steagall Act. The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 was created during the Great Depression and did not allow financial institutions to offer both banking and security services.
Venture capital is a form of private equity and a type of financing that investors provide to startup companies and small businesses that are believed to have long-term growth potential. Venture capital generally comes from well-off investors, investment banks and any other financial institutions. However, it does not always take a monetary form; it can also be provided in the form of technical or managerial expertise. Venture capital is typically allocated to small companies with exceptional growth potential, or to companies that have grown quickly and appear poised to continue to expand.
Though it can be risky for investors who put up funds, the potential for above-average returns is an attractive payoff. For new companies or ventures that have a limited operating history (under two years), venture capital funding is increasingly becoming a popular – even essential – source for raising capital, especially if they lack access to capital markets, bank loans or other debt instruments. The main downside is that the investors usually get equity in the company, and, thus, a say in company decisions.
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In a venture capital deal, large ownership chunks of a company are created and sold to a few investors through independent limited partnerships that are established by venture capital firms. Sometimes these partnerships consist of a pool of several similar enterprises. One important difference between venture capital and other private equity deals, however, is that venture capital tends to focus on emerging companies seeking substantial funds for the first time, while private equity tends to fund larger, more established companies that are seeking an equity infusion or a chance for company founders to transfer some of their ownership stakes.
Venture capital is a subset of private equity (PE). While the roots of PE can be traced back to the 19th century, venture capital only developed as an industry after the Second World War. Harvard Business School professor Georges Doriot is generally considered the “Father of Venture Capital”. He started the American Research and Development Corporation (ARDC) in 1946 and raised a $3.5 million fund to invest in companies that commercialized technologies developed during WWII. ARDC’s first investment was in a company that had ambitions to use x-ray technology for cancer treatment. The $200,000 that Doriot invested turned into $1.8 million when the company went public in 1955.
Although it was mainly funded by banks located in the Northeast, venture capital became concentrated on the West Coast after the growth of the tech ecosystem. Fairchild Semiconductor, which was started by the traitorous eight from William Shockley’s lab, is generally considered the first technology company to receive VC funding. It was funded by east coast industrialist Sherman Fairchild of Fairchild Camera & Instrument Corp.
Arthur Rock, an investment banker at Hayden, Stone & Co. in New York City, helped facilitate that deal and subsequently started one of the first VC firms in Silicon Valley. Davis & Rock funded some of the most influential technology companies, including Intel and Apple. By 1992, 48% of all investment dollars were on the West Coast and the Northeast coast accounted for just 20%. According to the latest data from Pitchbook and National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), the situation has not changed much. During the third quarter of 2018, west coast companies accounted for 38.3% of all deals (and a massive 54.7% of deal value) while the Mid-Atlantic region had 20.4% of all deals (or approximately 20.1% of all deal value).
A series of regulatory innovations further helped popularize venture capital as a funding avenue. The first one was a change in the Small Business Investment Act (SBIC) in 1958. It boosted the venture capital industry by providing tax breaks to investors. In 1978, the Revenue Act was amended to reduce the capital gains tax from 49.5% to 28%. Then, in 1979, a change in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) allowed pension funds to invest up to 10% of their total funds in the industry.
Called the Prudent Man Rule, it is hailed as the single most important development in venture capital because it led to a flood of capital from rich pension funds. Then the capital gains tax was further reduced to 20% in 1981. Those three developments catalyzed growth in venture capital and the 1980s turned into a boom period for venture capital, with funding levels reaching $4.9 billion in 1987. The dot com boom also brought the industry into sharp focus as venture capitalists chased quick returns from highly-valued Internet companies. According to some estimates, funding levels during that period peaked at $119.6 billion. But the promised returns did not materialize as several publicly-listed Internet companies with high valuations crashed and burned their way to bankruptcy.
For small businesses, or for up-and-coming businesses in emerging industries, venture capital is generally provided by high net worth individuals (HNWIs) – also often known as ‘angel investors’ – and venture capital firms. The National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) is an organization composed of hundreds of venture capital firms that offer to fund innovative enterprises.
Angel investors are typically a diverse group of individuals who have amassed their wealth through a variety of sources. However, they tend to be entrepreneurs themselves, or executives recently retired from the business empires they’ve built.
Self-made investors providing venture capital typically share several key characteristics. The majority look to invest in companies that are well-managed, have a fully-developed business plan and are poised for substantial growth. These investors are also likely to offer to fund ventures that are involved in the same or similar industries or business sectors with which they are familiar. If they haven’t actually worked in that field, they might have had academic training in it. Another common occurrence among angel investors is co-investing, where one angel investor funds a venture alongside a trusted friend or associate, often another angel investor.
The first step for any business looking for venture capital is to submit a business plan, either to a venture capital firm or to an angel investor. If interested in the proposal, the firm or the investor must then perform due diligence, which includes a thorough investigation of the company’s business model, products, management, and operating history, among other things.
Since venture capital tends to invest larger dollar amounts in fewer companies, this background research is very important. Many venture capital professionals have had prior investment experience, often as equity research analysts; others have a Master in Business Administration (MBA) degrees. Venture capital professionals also tend to concentrate in a particular industry. A venture capitalist that specializes in healthcare, for example, may have had prior experience as a healthcare industry analyst.
Once due diligence has been completed, the firm or the investor will pledge an investment of capital in exchange for equity in the company. These funds may be provided all at once, but more typically the capital is provided in rounds. The firm or investor then takes an active role in the funded company, advising and monitoring its progress before releasing additional funds.
The investor exits the company after a period of time, typically four to six years after the initial investment, by initiating a merger, acquisition or initial public offering (IPO).
Like most professionals in the financial industry, the venture capitalist tends to start his or her day with a copy of The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and other respected business publications. Venture capitalists that specialize in an industry tend to also subscribe to the trade journals and papers that are specific to that industry. All of this information is often digested each day along with breakfast.
For the venture capital professional, most of the rest of the day is filled with meetings. These meetings have a wide variety of participants, including other partners and/or members of his or her venture capital firm, executives in an existing portfolio company, contacts within the field of specialty and budding entrepreneurs seeking venture capital.
At an early morning meeting, for example, there may be a firm-wide discussion of potential portfolio investments. The due diligence team will present the pros and cons of investing in the company. An “around the table” vote may be scheduled for the next day as to whether or not to add the company to the portfolio.
An afternoon meeting may be held with a current portfolio company. These visits are maintained on a regular basis in order to determine how smoothly the company is running and whether the investment made by the venture capital firm is being utilized wisely. The venture capitalist is responsible for taking evaluative notes during and after the meeting and circulating the conclusions among the rest of the firm.
After spending much of the afternoon writing up that report and reviewing other market news, there may be an early dinner meeting with a group of budding entrepreneurs who are seeking funding for their venture. The venture capital professional gets a sense of what type of potential the emerging company has, and determines whether further meetings with the venture capital firm are warranted.
After that dinner meeting, when the venture capitalist finally heads home for the night, they may take along the due diligence report on the company that will be voted on the next day, taking one more chance to review all the essential facts and figures before the morning meeting.
The first venture capital funding was an attempt to kickstart an industry. To that end, Doriot adhered to a philosophy of actively participating in the startup’s progress. He provided funding, counsel, and connections to entrepreneurs.
An amendment to the SBIC Act in 1958 led to the entry of novice investors, who provided little more than money to investors. The increase in funding levels for the industry was accompanied by a corresponding increase in the numbers for failed small businesses. Over time, VC industry participants have coalesced around Doriot’s original philosophy of providing counsel and support to entrepreneurs building businesses.
Due to the industry’s proximity to Silicon Valley, the overwhelming majority of deals financed by venture capitalists are in the technology industry. But other industries have also benefited from VC funding. Notable examples are Staples and Starbucks, which both received venture money. Venture Capital is also no longer the preserve of elite firms. Institutional investors and established companies have also entered the fray. For example, tech behemoths Google and Intel have separate venture funds to invest in emerging technology. Starbucks also recently announced a $100 million venture fund to invest in food startups.
With an increase in average deal sizes and the presence of more institutional players in the mix, venture capital has matured over time. The industry now comprises an assortment of players and investor types who invest in different stages of a startup’s evolution, depending on their appetite for risk.
The 2008 financial crisis was a hit to the venture capital industry because institutional investors, who had become an important source of funds, tightened their purse strings. The emergence of unicorns, or startups that are valued at more than a billion dollars, has attracted a diverse set of players to the industry. Sovereign funds and notable private equity firms have joined the hordes of investors seeking return multiples in a low-interest rate environment and participated in large ticket deals. Their entry has resulted in changes to the venture capital ecosystem.
Data from the NVCA and PitchBook indicated that VC firms funded US$131 billion across 8949 deals in 2018. That figure represented a jump of more than 57% from the previous year. But the increase in funding did not translate into a bigger ecosystem as deal count, or the number of deals financed by VC money fell by 5%. Late-stage financing has become more popular because institutional investors prefer to invest in less-risky ventures (as opposed to early-stage companies where the risk of failure is high). Meanwhile, the share of angel investors has remained constant or declined over the years.
The simplest definition of private equity is that it is equity – that is, shares representing ownership of or an interest in an entity – that is not publicly listed or traded. A source of investment capital, private equity actually derives from high net worth individuals and firms that purchase shares of private companies or acquire control of public companies with plans to take them private, eventually become delisting them from public stock exchanges. Most of the private equity industry is made up of large institutional investors, such as pension funds, and large private equity firms funded by a group of accredited investors.
Since the basis of private equity investment is direct investment into a firm, often to gain a significant level of influence over the firm’s operations, quite a large capital outlay is required, which is why larger funds with deep pockets dominate the industry. The minimum amount of capital required for investors can vary depending on the firm and fund. Some funds have a $250,000 minimum investment requirement; others can require millions of dollars.
The underlying motivation for such commitments is of course the pursuit of achieving a positive return on investment. Partners at private-equity firms raise funds and manage these monies to yield favorable returns for their shareholder clients, typically with an investment horizon between four and seven years.