Amala expands with ex-Actis and ex-Altius hires

The UK-based placement agent has recruited a former Actis fund accountant and a former Altius Associates executive, in response to an improved fundraising environment and greater demand for its services in between capital-raises.

Amala Partners, a London-based placement agent, has expanded its team with the appointment of Christina Keogh, a former senior associate at Altius Associates, and Thomas Sparrow, a former fund accountant at Actis. 

Keogh started on 1 October 2013, while Sparrow joined Amala a month prior to that. Both have been hired as associate directors, Ian Simpson, founder of Amala, told Private Equity International

Sparrow, a chartered accountant who has worked at Actis and PwC, will focus mainly on analytical tasks and project management work, Simpson said. “As a fund accountant with Actis, [he] closely worked with their internal fundraising team preparing data for investor requests and due diligence material,” he said. 

Keogh’s role will be more investor-focused, Simpson said. Keogh, who spent five years at Altius, “brings a buy-side perspective to the organisation which we think is going to help us going to be more attuned to investors and investor requirements going forward.”  

Keogh and Sparrow join Maddalena Orlandini, another associate director, who has been with Amala since 2010. Simone Brands, who joined Amala in 2008 having previously worked at 3i Group and Probitas Partners, will shortly be promoted to partner. The firm is also likely to recruit another associate director in the next few months.  

Amala’s expansion comes after what the firm – which works with several GPs including AAC Nordic, August Equity and Quadriga Capital – describes as a busy few months. It anticipates this to continue in 2014.   

The reason they are more positive on Europe is because there are no riots on TV any more and it’s [no longer] a question whether Greece, Spain or Italy will be leaving the euro. All of that has died down, so a lot of fear about investing in Europe has gone.

Ian Simpson

“Investors become ever more demanding [on] every aspect of due diligence,” Simpson said. “We feel we have to expand the team to be closer to investors and really deepen the relationships that we have and improve the service we give.”

The role of placement agents has changed in recent years as the GP-LP relationship has become more intense, he said.  “We do a lot more work than we used to do between fundraisings for [our] GP clients. We help them [work out] how they should handle [the] processes when secondary interests come available for sale; how they should manage bad news; and how they should make the most of good news when they have good exits from the portfolio.” 

Fundraising conditions have eased in recent months, particularly from a US standpoint, Simpson added. “Generally, it is a better fundraising environment than it was 12 months ago. But US investors coming back into the market has been the big move that we have seen. The reason they are more positive on Europe is because there are no riots on TV any more and it’s [no longer] a question whether Greece, Spain or Italy will be leaving the euro. All of that has died down, so a lot of fear about investing in Europe has gone.”

Even North American investors that don’t feel hugely confident about Europe may still make commitments, according to Simpson. “A lot of US investors made commitments to European funds until the financial crisis hit in 2008. All of that capital is now invested and has started to come back to them as investments are realised, so if they want to remain neutral on Europe they need to make new commitments. [That] is definitely affecting the market.” 

Furthermore, emerging markets look less attractive relative to Europe than they used to, he said. “There’s been the currency crisis in India [and] the slow-down in the Chinese economy has been well reported. So when North American investors look at investing outside the US, they are either looking at emerging markets or Europe principally – and the big emerging markets look possibly less attractive than they did 12 months ago.”