It’s good and bad news, I’m afraid.
The good news is that we are beginning to talk more and more, in the pensions industry, about the merits of investing in private markets.
The bad news is that all too often it is just talk. “It’s too difficult”, “too expensive”, or “I’m just too busy” seem to form many a dismissive response. But we need to change, we need to wake up and we need to be more determined to do the right thing for our customers and scheme members. And we need to do it now.
When I started in the pensions industry, some 35 years ago, the world looked very different. Workplace pension provision was predominantly Defined Benefit or DB (an amount dictated by an employee’s final salary at retirement age), and any Defined Contribution or DC (dictated by how much you save and the investment growth it achieves) arrangements tended to be small and rudimentary. The economic landscape and investment world were also very different. Private markets and privately funded businesses obviously existed, but they were a very small, niche and relatively unattractive part of the investable universe, especially for pension scheme trustee boards.
Goodness, how the world has changed since then.
Workplace pension provision is now predominantly DC – and that provision is becoming increasingly concentrated across a small handful of providers and master trusts, with high levels of expertise and strong governance frameworks. So too have we seen a significant increase in the size, importance, and attractiveness of private markets – now an integral part of many investment portfolios. And yet DC pension scheme providers and trustees still aren’t really recognising and embracing this change and investing in private markets.
It’s now time to wake up and embrace the opportunities and advantages of investing in private markets. It’s time to do the right thing for your customers and scheme members.
Private markets are an important part of today’s economy. The world’s most innovative and fastest-growing companies tend to be privately funded and tend to remain so longer than ever before – indeed many of these companies are at the heart of driving the solutions we need to enable an ecologically-sustainable world.
By investing in private markets, you are investing in the economy and world of tomorrow.
The case for this is strong. Private markets can not only bring the potential for solid growth and access to an illiquidity premium which exists in many private market investments, but also material risk reduction through beneficial diversification.
Ok, so there are challenges, of course, and it won’t be right for everyone. But larger schemes, providers and master trusts should all have the requisite levels of expertise, governance, and operational rigour to overcome these challenges and make it work.
So come on: now is the time to embrace the private markets opportunity, the moment to generate significant value to your customers and scheme members, and to make a meaningful difference to their financial futures.
Gary Smith is a Senior Adviser at Cadro and the former Chief Executive of Atlas Master Trust.