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US Widens Access To Private Capital Markets

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor , 31 August 2020


The US regulator has adopted a number of changes to the meaning of the term "accredited investor" - a big step in expanding the number of people who can hold assets such as private equity, debt, infrastructure and real estate.

(An earlier version of this news item appeared last week in Family Wealth Report, sister news service of this one.)

The US took a further step towards widening access to private capital markets – now drawing in money from family offices and other wealth management entities – by putting through changes to regulations last week.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it had adopted amendments to the “accredited investor” definition, one of the principal tests for determining who is eligible to invest in private capital markets. For example, people can qualify as accredited investors based on professional certifications, designations or other credentials from an educational body. 

Historically, individual investors who do not meet specific income or net worth tests, regardless of their financial sophistication, have been barred from this sector.

“Today’s amendments are the product of years of effort by the Commission and its staff to consider and analyse approaches to revising the accredited investor definition,” SEC chairman Jay Clayton said. “For the first time, individuals will be permitted to participate in our private capital markets not only based on their income or net worth, but also based on established, clear measures of financial sophistication. I am also pleased that we have expanded and updated the list of entities, including tribal governments and other organisations that may qualify to participate in certain private offerings.” 

The amendments allow investors to qualify as accredited investors based on defined measures of professional knowledge, experience or certifications in addition to the existing tests for income or net worth. The amendments also expand the list of entities that may qualify as accredited investors, including allowing any entity that meets an investments test to qualify. 

The potentially superior yields that private capital – debt, equity, real estate and infrastructure – can deliver compared with listed markets, is attractive to investors at a time of near-zero or even negative official interest rates. That higher yield comes with low liquidity – a trade-off that has concerned regulators, particularly at times of market stress.

The volume of private capital runs into billions. To cite private debt, for example, a total of $34 billion of private debt funds were raised among 49 funds in the second quarter of this year. Within private equity, $116 billion was raised in the quarter. (source: Preqin). For the most part, only institutions, including family offices, and ultra-wealthy individuals deemed “accredited”, could participate. 

In recent years a number of firms, such as the New York-based financial platform iCapital Network, have expanded offerings, saying that they democratise access to such non-public investment asset classes. 

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