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Beyond Public: Family Offices' Hunger for Private Markets

Family Offices and the Quest for Direct Investments in Private Markets

The allure of private markets has never been stronger for family offices. As the investment landscape evolves, there's a palpable shift from traditional public markets to the more opaque, yet potentially rewarding, private markets. But what's driving this change? And how can family offices ensure they're making the right moves?

Trends and Driving Factors:

  1. Search for Higher Returns: With public markets showing volatility and lower yields, private markets, especially in sectors like tech and healthcare, promise higher potential returns.

  2. Desire for Control: Direct investments offer family offices a hands-on approach, allowing them to influence decisions and steer the direction of their investments.

  3. Dissatisfaction with Traditional Fees: The fee structures of traditional funds, especially the 2-and-20 model, have been a pain point. Direct investments can bypass these, offering potential cost savings.

  4. Long-term Investment Horizon: Unlike institutional investors who often seek quicker exits, family offices can afford to be patient, aligning well with the long-term nature of private investments.

Access to the Best Deals and Leading Players:

Navigating the private markets is akin to navigating a maze. The best deals are often hidden, and access is restricted. Leading players in the private market space, such as established fee-laden private equity firms like Blackstone, KKR, and Carlyle, often have first dibs on these opportunities. However, the emergence of collaborative investment platforms and family office networks democratises access, connecting family offices directly to entrepreneurs and deals.

Selection Bias in Private Markets:

The private markets are rife with selection biases, which can significantly impact the quality of deals a family office gets access to:

  1. Investment Banker's Negative Selection Bias: Investment bankers play a crucial role in the private markets, often acting as intermediaries between sellers and buyers. However, there's an inherent negative selection bias at play. Investment bankers might sometimes be incentivized to offload deals that aren't as attractive or have been passed over by other investors. These could be companies with underlying issues or those that don't promise high returns. For a family office, this means extra caution is needed. Due diligence becomes paramount to ensure they're not picking up someone else's rejected deals.

  2. Family Office's Positive Selection Bias: On the flip side, family offices often exhibit a positive selection bias. They tend to gravitate towards industries and sectors they are familiar with, often because of the family's historical involvement or passion for that sector. While this can mean they have an in-depth understanding and can leverage their network and expertise, it also leads to concentration risk. If a significant portion of a family office's investments is concentrated in one sector, they become vulnerable to sector-specific downturns. For instance, a family office with a background in real estate might heavily invest in property developments, but if the real estate market crashes, their portfolio could suffer significant losses.

Pros and Cons of Direct Investments:


  1. Potential for Outsized Returns: Direct investments, especially in early-stage companies or niche sectors, can yield significant returns.

  2. Greater Control: Direct stakes mean a seat at the table, allowing influence over strategic decisions.

  3. Cost Savings: By sidestepping traditional funds, family offices can avoid hefty management fees.

  4. Alignment of Interests: Direct investments ensure that the success of the asset or company directly impacts the family office, eliminating intermediary misalignments.


  1. Increased Risk: Private markets are inherently riskier due to factors like lack of liquidity and market volatility.

  2. Resource Intensive: These investments demand hands-on management, due diligence, and oversight.

  3. Potential for Limited Diversification: A direct investment approach can lead to a concentration of assets, increasing exposure to sector-specific risks.

  4. Access Challenges: As mentioned, the best deals are often hard to come by, reserved for insiders or those with deep networks.

Impact on Fees and Resources:

While direct investments can lead to savings on management fees, they come with their own set of costs. Due diligence, especially for family offices without a dedicated team, can be expensive. Additionally, co-investments, legal fees, and potential advisory fees can add up. On the resource front, direct investments can be time-consuming. They require a hands-on approach, from sourcing to managing and eventually exiting.

10-Point Checklist for Direct Investments:

  1. Alignment with Objectives: Ensure the investment aligns with the family office's long-term goals and risk appetite.

  2. Thorough Due Diligence: This includes financial, operational, and legal due diligence.

  3. Valuation Assessment: Ensure you're paying the appropriate amount. Engage experts if necessary.

  4. Management Team Evaluation: A company's leadership is crucial. Assess their track record, expertise, and integrity.

  5. Exit Strategy: Understand the potential exit routes and timelines.

  6. Legal Framework: Ensure robust legal agreements are in place, protecting the family office's interests.

  7. Co-investor Assessment: If there are co-investors, evaluate their track record and alignment with your objectives.

  8. Governance and Reporting: Ensure a clear governance structure and regular reporting mechanism.

  9. Diversification Check: Ensure the investment doesn't lead to over-concentration in one sector or asset class.

  10. Post-investment Management: Have a clear plan for how the investment will be managed post-acquisition.

In conclusion, while the allure of private markets is undeniable, family offices must tread cautiously. With potential high rewards come inherent risks. A structured approach, thorough due diligence, and a clear understanding of the landscape are essential for success.

Further Reading:

  1. "Private Markets Come of Age" by McKinsey & Company (Link)

  2. "The Rise of Direct Investing" by Family Office Magazine (Link)

  3. "Direct Investing by Family Offices: A Look at the Landscape" by Forbes (Link)

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The strategies presented are thematic and do not constitute investment advice (or advice of any kind). No assurance can be given that the objectives of the aforementioned investment strategies will be achieved; the strategies involve risk (including, without limitation, illiquidity risk) and may incur a loss on some or all capital deployed. The opinions expressed, or indeed the information or assumptions that underpin them, may contain errors, mistakes, or omissions; no assurance or warranty can be made as to the accuracy or completeness of this information, and readers should not place any reliance on this content for the purposes of executing investment decisions or for any other purpose. Readers accept full responsibility for using this content and are kindly requested to consult with their professional advisor before making any investment decision related to the same.

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