Are LPs warming to platform extensions?

Expansion into new strategies has often been met with scepticism from investors, but evidence points to changes in the status quo.

“In general, I don’t like them,” a director at one European family office told Private Equity International when asked about platform extensions. “It is a sign of the favourable fundraising environment.”

It’s not a view shared by all private equity limited partners. The sheer number of blue-chip firms that have raised or are launching funds for new asset classes or strategies points to clear demand from institutions for firms that can offer multiple private markets strategies. BC Partners, which this week hired its first head of real estate, will be banking on that.

Twenty-four of the world’s 30 largest private equity firms now operate at least two distinct strategies, according to PEI data. Private debt is the most common expansion route after private equity, followed by real estate and infrastructure.

“Groups like Carlyle, Blackstone and KKR have been doing [extensions] for an awful long time, but it really was the preserve of a few of these asset manager-type GPs, and there was a lot of resistance from investors to allow other managers to do that,” Adam Turtle, co-founder of European placement agent Rede Partners, said.

“But that has really changed over the course of the last few years, to the point where you’re almost seeing investors seeking platforms, seeking managers that they rate in segments across strategies … and looking to see whether there are other things that managers can do that might be tangential and they can deploy more capital behind.”

The benefits are clear. Equity shops can expand their LP bases, increase their fee-paying assets under management and diversify their product offering. LPs can also reduce their workload by committing across multiple funds and asset classes with a single manager.

The proof, to some extent, is in the pudding; Blackstone’s $120 billion real estate business is now larger than its private equity operation in terms of AUM. KKR has also enjoyed success across multiple strategies; its credit arm was selected in December to form the US’s largest business development company with debt management firm FS Investments, an honour previously bestowed on Blackstone.

But some LPs remain sceptical.

“GPs need to be careful to have a very strong rationale for creating another product and a team in place for it, so they don’t just appear to be asset gathering,” one European fund of funds manager warned.

“Otherwise you end up on that slippery slope towards being one of the supermarket managers that have got a product for everything, which means they become a jack of all trades, master of none. As an investor you need to look at that on a case-by-case basis and make sure that you’re not just buying the brand above the door without understanding the product underneath.”