Fund Administration going through radical changes

Chris Andraca of BaseVenture highlights three factors which are radically changing the fund administration business.
1.Explosive growth

The fund administration business has only been around in earnest since the 2008 financial crisis and the aftermath of the Bernie Madoff scandal. In that time the popularity of alternative investments (e.g. Hedge, private equity, real estate, venture capital) has exploded, with total assets growing from $3 trillion in 2012 to around $10 trillion today, and forecasted to grow to $17 trillion in 2020. Because of this inflow of capital, the fund administration business has also grown rapidly. Depending on the source, fund administration is anywhere from a $8 billion to a $12 billion industry today.

This scale of capital has attracted a lot of competition, which has been aided by the high churn among fund administrators. No metric shows this better than the one reported by Preqin that 28% of fund administrators have been fired by their clients in the past 12 months.

Estimates in the United States alone are that there are somewhere between 300 – 500 fund administrators. While there is a long tail of small fund administrators servicing smaller funds, the real action has been in the medium to large players.

Industry consolidation has exponentially increased, with SS&C acquiring the fund administration businesses of Wells Fargo, Citibank & Conifer, Maitland buying Phoenix Fund Services, and Apex buying Pinnacle, just to name a few. In fact, from 2015 thru Q3 of 2016 there were over 9 acquisitions in this space.

This consolidation is making it harder to compete for fund administrators of all sizes, which is forcing them to look for new ways to differentiate themselves.

2.Change in the nature of services performed

Fund administrators have traditionally been thought of as providers of accounting services. However, the quality of accounting services provided by fund administrators is no longer enough to win and retain clients.

Technology has taken on new importance for fund administrators, no longer relegated to discussions in the IT department with little senior-level involvement. In fact, technology has become an integral capability for any fund administrator – a critical ingredient to enabling the fund administrator to deliver the types of services being demanded by clients and investors.

Investors of all types are placing greater emphasis on transparency in areas like Net Asset Values and Asset Under Management, and the due diligence done on general partners and the funds that they manage is more thorough and is starting earlier than ever before.

Regulatory and Compliance pressures have also increased over the last few years, with acronyms like KYC, AML, FATCA, and others fast becoming part of the lexicon. This has placed new pressure on fund administrators to help solve this need. In fact, a Longitude Research study showed that more than 50% of fund administrators predicted that the need to keep up with regulation would have the greatest impact on their activities over the following 3 years.

Fund administrators can only turn to technology to give them the data, reporting, and understanding that are needed to satisfy the evolving needs of their clients and investors. A fund administrators’ capabilities in accounting will need to be augmented with capabilities in technology for them to succeed.

3.Expansion into other alternative investment types 

Revenue growth for fund administrators will no longer come mostly from hedge funds, but rather from other investment types that have historically not used fund administrators. These include fast growing types like private equity and real estate funds.

For more context, the use of fund administrators is pretty much a requirement for hedge funds, as evidenced by the outsourcing to fund administrators increasing from 50% in 2006 to 81% in 2013. In comparison, fund administrators are under-penetrated in private equity & real estate funds, with estimates showing fund administrator penetration at around 30% of AUM today.

The saying “follow the money” will have an effect for fund administrators, as the growth in private equity funds has been significant. Assets in private equity funds have risen from $30 billion in 1995 to around $4 trillion in 2015. This growth will continue, as 64% of limited partners plan to increase their allocation to private equity funds, which is up from 26% just 5 years ago.

The same conditions that drove the shift to fund administrators in the hedge fund space affect private equity & real estate funds as well. Just as happened with investors in hedge funds, investors in private equity & real estate funds are demanding third party validation of assets and performance. Regulatory pressures are already having an impact on general partners of private equity and real estate funds, as 80% of general partners stated that compliance costs are climbing faster than other operating expenses.