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The growing importance of fund governance – ILPA principles and beyond

The growing importance of fund governance – ILPA principles and beyond

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Published by Erin Griffith

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Categories:Business/Law, Finance
Published by: Erin Griffith on Nov 24, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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P+P Pöllath + Partners 
2009 Private Equity & Venture Capital
adjusting to new market conditions
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FW | www.financierworldwide.com
The growing importance of fund governance – ILPA principlesand beyond
A crisis is too good an opportunity to waste. Not only is this themotto of Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, it is also on theminds of many limited partners investing in private equity andother alternative investment funds. The global financial crisis is testing many establishedstructures in the business world, including the common limitedpartnership model of private equity investing. Although theprivate equity world is shaken by the crisis, the good newsis that its governing model, which is common in the US, UK,Germany and many other jurisdictions, is proving to be robust. The reason is that existing fund agreements in many waysalready aim at aligning the interests of fund managers andinvestors. Fund managers, for instance, always participate withtheir own money in their funds. Thus, the current debate onexcessive management compensation is less of an issue in thefunds arena.In fund formation, the future has already begun so thecurrent trend allows some predictions to be made. There willbe fine-tuning on the economics side. The main market shift,however, will be on fund governance issues, as limited partnerswant to gain more control and demand better downsideprotection of their investments.Fund governance is increasingly coming into the spotlight.But when current fund market trends are reported, the focus isstill on developments on the economic side. Cases are gettingattention where, due to the harsh financial conditions, carriedinterest percentages are marked down (from 25 percent tothe standard 20 percent as happened in certain US VC funds),management fees are capped or fund sizes reduced. This was highlighted in September 2009, when theInstitutional Limited Partners Association (ILPA) published itsPrivate Equity Principles’. The ILPA is an influential non-profitssociation consisting of around 220 institutional investors inprivate equity funds that collectively manage around $1 trillion.Members include all major investor groups in this asset class(except fund-of-funds). The ILPA publication is the first major set of guidelines andbest practices’ prepared by limited partners in private equityfunds. Not surprisingly, the proposals are generally investor-friendly and deviate, on certain points, from current marketterms (some of which still date back before the financial crisis). The ILPA principles are designed to enhance fundovernance, strengthen the alignment of interests betweenfund managers and investors, and provide greater transparencyto investors. The ILPA’s proposals cover a number of (but notll) important fund terms and contain detailed guidelines forinvestor advisory committees.n the economic side, the ILPA principles cover issues suchs carried interest and management fees. Regarding carriedinterest, the ILPA expresses a preference for the Europeanhole-of-fund carried interest structures over typical US deal-by-deal carry schemes to avoid clawback situations. Also, theILPA demands large reserves (30 percent or more) in case of lawback obligations as well as joint and several guarantees inrespect of clawback obligations to ensure clawback repayment. The ILPA insists on calculating the clawback on a gross of taxes paid basis, and finally proposes clear disclosure and fixedtimeframes for clawback payments.oncerning management fees, the ILPA stresses that feesshould be limited to cover reasonable operating costs and notbe excessive. Management fees should be reduced significantlyt the end of the investment period and in case of formation
FW | www.financierworldwide.com
of a follow-on fund. The ILPA proposes a 100 percent offset of fees(transaction, monitoring, break-up fees, etc.) so that the fund fullybenefits from fees charged by the general partner or affi liates.Placement fees should be paid by the general partner, not the fund.Limited partners should have the power to review partnershipexpenses annually. To ensure the correct alignment of interest, the ILPA suggeststhat fund managers subscribe for a ‘substantial’ equity interest inthe fund: ‘put your money where your mouth is’. Contributionsshould consist of cash rather than ‘cashless’ contributions by waiverof management fee. The ILPA demands that the fund managersshould be restricted from transferring their interests in the generalpartner (or other entity receiving the carried interest) to ensure analignment of interest with investors. The fees and carried interestpayments should be predominantly directed to the professionalstaff of the fund manager.On the transparency side, the ILPA pushes for increaseddisclosure starting with the marketing phase (organisationalstructure of the general partner, profit sharing splits amongprincipals and vesting schedules, individual commitment amountsby principals, as well as other more standard information in fundmarketing materials). Ongoing reporting should provide greaterdetails in capital call and distributions notices (calculating carryand offset of management fees), periodical financial reports(audited annual and unaudited quarterly reports, detailedportfolio company reports on a quarterly basis), ad-hoc noticesof unforeseen events (regulatory inquiries, triggering of key-menprovisions). This shall include early disclosure of changes in themanagement company (public listed vehicles, selling stakes of ownership, formation of other funds).In our view, the real achievement of the ILPA lies in emphasisingthe importance of fund governance. The starting point for the ILPAis the need to reinforce the duty of care and other fiduciary dutiesby the general partner towards investors. Some private equityfunds have made use of the possibility in certain jurisdictions tosubstantially reduce certain fiduciary duties of the general partnerto the limited partners. The ILPA emphasises that general partnersshould act in the best interest of the fund and the investors ratherthan acting in their self-interest. The ILPA wants to strengthen investor rights. Investors shouldbe able to remove the general partner or dissolve the fundwithout cause with a supermajority of two-thirds in limited partnerinterests. A simple majority of investors should be able to suspendor early terminate the investment period without cause. Up to now,some funds do not provide such ‘no fault’ rights or require a largesupermajority (up to 90 percent of interests).In the case of ‘for cause events’ or key-person events, theinvestment period should be suspended automatically withthe option of reinstating it by an affi rmative vote of two-thirdsin interests (not the other way around, as often seen today).Regarding ‘for cause events’, the ILPA considers a preliminarydetermination by a court to be suffi cient, rather than a final, non-appealable decision which in practice could take many years.In pursuing the investment strategy, the fund managementshould be consistent and avoid style drifts – or get a supermajoritypproval as in the case of other amendments to the partnershipgreement. The ILPA stresses that the fund managers shouldrecognise the importance of time diversification of investments(including potential limitations on sums that can be drawnown each year) and suggests that partnership agreementsshould contain explicit limitations on investment and industryoncentrations.ccording to the ILPA, the investor advisory committee is themain body to enforce fund governance, particularly regardingliated transactions and other conflicts of interests and portfolioompany valuations, audited by an independent auditor. The ILPAlays down detailed rules regarding the size, formation, meetingprotocol, role, rights, and responsibilities of the advisory committee.mong the proposals are the right of ‘in camera’ meetings of limited partners only (without management representatives), andhe quite revolutionary idea of an independent fund counsel.lthough only time will tell if fund sponsors will endorse theILPA principles, investors have been more active in recent monthsin defending themselves against practices that they consider areeviations from good fund governance. In current fundraisings,investors already request a more detailed legal due diligence(term review) which leads to tougher negotiations on economicnd fund governance terms. Other examples include cases of onflict of interests in making new portfolio investments (e.g.,mong different fund vehicles of the same sponsor), allegedmisrepresentations in the fund marketing process, unfavourableerms in restructuring of existing funds (including fund sizereductions) and raising annex funds.Investors have reacted by making use of all rights available tohem. Some of the more classical investor protection rights (thebove mentioned ‘no fault’ and ‘for cause’ rights) may, however,not have been included in fund agreements, may require a highsupermajority (e.g., 80 percent) of commitments, or may havedditional requirements (e.g., no general partner removal in the firstwo years of the investment period). Thus, investors have been forced to become more creativein protecting their interests. These include calling for advisoryboard meetings, initiating special limited partner meetings andoordinating among investors to build a (super-)majority, ‘strategicefaults’ (as opposed to defaults due to liquidity issues), andntering into negotiated settlements of disputes with generalpartners. These aspects are not covered by the ILPA principles. Forbetter investor coordination, it is essential that investors receive alist of limited partners with contact information and list of advisoryommittee members (another ILPA demand).In cases of funds with very GP-friendly governance, limitedpartner activism may ultimately succeed in unorthodox ways,including investor letters or contacting regulatory authoritiesnd the press. However, if a conflict escalates outside the fundovernance structure, it may become a threat to the reputationnd standing of the fund management. In consequence, fund

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