Alternative Credit Investor February 2024

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Photo coverage from the night


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AI and the private credit sector

Lendwise’s Rishi Zaveri on IFISAs and social good >> 11


Mezzanine debt set to grow in 2024 MEZZANINE deals are predicted to surge this year, as high interest rates and tighter credit conditions present opportunities for lenders. Mezzanine debt bridges the gap between senior debt and equity financing and is one of the higher-risk forms of debt, producing returns of up to 20 per cent. It had been through a decade-long period of decline, going from 68 per cent of private debt deals in 2009 to 11 per cent in 2022, according to Preqin data. Industry stakeholders attributed this decline to private credit lenders’ focus on other types of financing such as unitranche deals, which combine senior and junior debt into a single loan. However, in 2023, mezzanine’s share of the number of private debt deals rose to 24 per cent. Higher interest rates and tougher lending conditions – combined with regional bank turmoil

in the US – have led to a recovery in demand for mezzanine financing. There was a 55 per cent year-on-year increase in mezzanine fundraising in 2023 to $40.6bn (£32bn), as investors look to gain exposure to higher return private debt assets. A senior private credit executive at a global asset manager said he expects to see more mezzanine debt transactions this year. “We’re seeing some rebalancing now away from unitranche transactions towards traditional senior debt,” he said. “Unitranche loans have been the winning

format over the past decade. They’re not going to go away but we’re seeing a move towards more conservative, traditional senior debt with lower interest rates. “There will probably be more mezzanine debt transactions this year. It goes back to what I said about more senior debt structures coming into the market, and they often come with a mezzanine layer.” David Bouchoucha, head of private debt and real assets at BNP Paribas Asset Management, also said he sees opportunities in junior debt this year, which includes mezzanine financing.

“A junior tranche is very interesting and we are trying to convince more investors to do this,” he said. “The incremental risk compared to pure senior debt remains quite marginal.” Mezzanine debt is certainly making a mark on the private debt landscape again. Three of the top five largest private debt funds to close last year were mezzanine, according to Preqin data. HPS Investment Partners’ HPS Strategic Investment Partners V closed in April 2023 having raised $17bn. That was >> 4



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124 City Road, London, EC1V 2NX EDITORIAL Suzie Neuwirth Editor-in-Chief Kathryn Gaw Contributing Editor Marc Shoffman Senior Reporter Selin Bucak Reporter PRODUCTION Tim Parker Art Director COMMERCIAL Tehmeena Khan Sales and Marketing Manager SUBSCRIPTIONS AND DISTRIBUTION Find our website at Printed by 4-Print Limited ©No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission from the publishers. Alternative Credit Investor has been prepared solely for informational purposes, and is not a solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any peer-to-peer finance product, or any other security, product, service or investment. This publication does not purport to contain all relevant information which you may need to take into account before making a decision on any finance or investment matter. The opinions expressed in this publication do not constitute investment advice and independent advice should be sought where appropriate. Neither the information in this publication, nor any opinion contained in this publication constitutes a solicitation or offer to provide any investment advice or service.


s the private debt market too big? Preqin is forecasting the sector to grow to $2.8trn (£2.2trn) by the end of 2028, up from $1.5trn in 2022. That spectacular growth is raising questions about whether the market is expanding to the detriment of credit quality and if there is a systemic risk attached to a potential crash or slowdown. But the reality is that the private debt sector is still a mere minnow in the world of finance. Preqin recently carried out some analysis and found that private debt is just 4.5 per cent of the overall US credit market. It said that for all other markets, that percentage would be smaller than the US. “Private debt is not too big, and there’s plenty of room to grow,” concluded RJ Joshua, VP, head of private debt and fees, research insights, at Preqin on a recent webinar. The private debt market is certainly… private. A lack of data transparency has, quite rightly, provoked the interest of regulators and politicians alike. But it would be unfair to condemn the sector as overblown, when as the figures show, it’s only just getting started.





cont. from page 1 followed by Goldman Sachs’ GS Mezzanine Partners VIII, which raised $11.7bn in January that year. The fourth largest fund was Crescent Capital Group’s Crescent Credit Solutions VIII, which raised $8bn in February 2023. However, macroeconomic challenges are a potential headwind for mezzanine debt. Preqin’s latest investor survey in November 2023 found that 27 per cent of limited partners said mezzanine debt offers the best opportunities for investment over the

next 12 months. This was down from 38 per cent in June 2022. “This may be down to investors weighing the benefit of higher spreads with mezzanine debt against the risk of recession, and how that might impact more

junior debt positions,” Preqin said. “If we see an increase in defaults in the broader economy, investors could shift their preferences to strategies that can benefit from this, such as distressed. “It seems likely to us that the outlook for

mezzanine debt will be entwined with investors’ macroeconomic outlook. Although distressed debt and mezzanine debt both entail higher ex-ante risk than direct lending, they allow investors to express different views on how the future will pan out.”

Could rate cuts be welcomed by private credit managers? DESPITE the higher interest rate environment being hailed as a “golden age” for private credit, it has also created challenges for the market. Most private credit funds issue floating rate debt and have therefore benefited from rising rates. But this has also made deploying capital more difficult, at a time when new funds have increased the dry powder available. According to S&P Global, private credit funds had more than $400bn (£315.2bn) in dry powder globally as of September.

But private equity deals have been harder to come by due to an increase in the cost of financing transactions. Globally private equity deal volume was down 20 per cent, according to PitchBook. Many private credit funds have therefore either focused on continued lending to existing borrowers, to fund add-on deals, or working on amendments and extensions with portfolio companies that have come under pressure from higher interest rates and rising costs. “The longer the rates

continue to stay high, the more pressure the portfolios of investments will suffer,” said Julien Dubar and MarieLaure Mounguia at EY Luxembourg. “Furthermore, several old vintage funds launched in a low-rate environment are highly levered and will soon search for a refinancing solution, creating increased stress on the market.” Therefore a potential cut in interest rates may be a welcome development for some managers. It could

kickstart the M&A markets, creating more opportunities for lenders and it will take some of the pressure off borrowers. “All-in yields will go down as base rates are expected to decrease in 2024,” said Richard Olson, managing director at Lincoln International. “This will favourably impact portfolio companies and lead to more borrowing capacity, which might catalyse more M&A. There are a lot of favourable conditions that could materialise towards the back end of 2024.”



Private credit secondaries become more popular, paving way for GP-led deals INVESTORS in private credit have been increasingly selling their shares in funds to get some cash in their coffers, with the lower discounts on offer making them more attractive for sellers than private equity secondaries. The private credit secondaries market has grown significantly in the last few years, making up around 30 per cent of the overall secondaries market now, according to Coller Capital’s Martins Marnauza. Marnauza, who is a partner within the firm’s credit investment team, said the top quality, best in class portfolios are trading at around high-

single-digit discounts. “A few years ago, senior credit would have been the last thing to be sold as there was no constructive bid,” he said. “Now with a more appropriate cost of capital we see sellers coming out first with private credit portfolios, looking to generate liquidity first through credit. “As a seller you can generate liquidity at a sensible price and that's important.” According to one investment banker, in mid to late 2022 the discounts were in the range of five to 10 per cent of net asset value (NAV). But those have

since narrowed and in more recent transactions there has been no discount to NAV at all. Asset managers have sought to take advantage of the growing market, raising large funds dedicated to the opportunity. This includes Apollo Global Management, which is targeting $2bn (£1.6bn) for its next credit secondaries fund, Pantheon attracting $3bn in capital for its latest dedicated programme, and Ares Management which launched its first credit secondaries commingled fund last year. JP Morgan expects more than $30bn of private credit to

change hands this year in the secondary market, according to a Bloomberg report. “Given this new dedicated capital, sellers of private debt on the secondary market no longer need to accept big discounts,” said Daniel Roddick, founder of advisory firm Ely Place Partners. He also expects to start seeing more GPled secondary deals. “Private debt GPs can now use the secondary market to accelerate liquidity for LPs, free up reinvestment capital, exit tail end assets, as well as renew their LP base,” he added.

Rising demand for maturity extensions and covenant holidays A GROWING percentage of credit facilities are requiring maturity extensions, amid a challenging macroeconomic environment. These have grown from 16 per cent of all amendments at the start of 2023 to 34 per cent as of the third quarter, according to Richard Olson, managing director of investment bank Lincoln International’s valuations and opinions team. Meanwhile, covenant holidays have also made up around 16 per cent of amendments. What’s interesting has

been the average times for the changes. For example, in the first quarter of last year, most maturity extensions were for around 16 months. Now they are closer to 24 months, which Olson says, “should help borrowers get well past their worst-case scenarios for peak interest rates”. And covenant holidays were previously granted for roughly one year, which has since decreased to seven months on average, meaning that private credit lenders are keeping a tight rein on borrowers.

The number of European companies in stress, measured as 80 per cent of par value, has increased from 1.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2022 to roughly four per cent in the third quarter, according to Lincoln International. While Olson says the level of stress could increase,

there hasn’t been much movement for four to five straight quarters with higher base rates. “The financial performance of private companies Lincoln reviewed remained broadly strong,” he added. “That said, every additional quarter we’re in with elevated base rates and higher inflation gives rise to the potential that costs, both in terms of interest rates and variable costs like labour and energy, will outstrip companies’ ability to produce sufficient cash flows to service debt.”



Peer2Peer Finance Awards: Photos from the night The Peer2Peer Finance Awards took place on Tuesday 12 December 2023 at London’s Hurlingham Club. With the winners already announced, please enjoy seeing a selection of photos that show how much fun our attendees had on the night!







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The impact of IFISAs


NNOVATIVE FINANCE ISAS (IFISAs) are not just tax efficient investment tools, they can also be used to provide a social good and have a positive impact on the country. Just ask Rishi Zaveri (pictured), chief executive of education finance platform Lendwise. “We offer a real impact investment,” says Zaveri. “Ultimately, our investors are making a serious difference to someone else's life. And they are also being compensated well for that.” Lendwise provides postgraduate education funding through its IFISA, while also paying investors approximately nine per cent per annum in tax-free interest. The platform primarily funds postgraduates, who face higher university fees but have a much higher chance of employment following graduation. As a result, the platform’s default rate remains low. “Interest obviously accrues, but repayments don't start until after they have graduated,” explains Zaveri. “But thereafter monthly repayments come in. So the investor has an opportunity to get a stable income that comes in every month.” While steady returns and low defaults are a bonus, Zaveri believes that Lendwise’s investors are more attracted to the opportunity to make a real difference in another person’s life. This is one of the reasons why Lendwise has won the Consumer Lender of the Year award two years in a row at the Peer2Peer

Finance Awards. At the most recent ceremony, judges heralded the platform’s commitment to underserved borrowers as well as its strong track record of delivering for investors. “I think we've delivered every step of the way,” says Zaveri. “We do what we say we’re going to do. We're saying, if you want to study, if you have the ability to get into a university, whichever university that may be, don't let the fact that you don't have the funds stop you.” The platform is also mindful of its investors’ needs – namely, diversification and the ability to manage risk. Investors can spread their investment across a range of loans on the platform, effectively derisking their portfolio. The platform has an auto-invest function (called AutoLend) that can be used to set parameters around potential investments, so that investors don’t miss the next suitable opportunity. “It’s for investors to decide how they wish to allocate their investments across the risk spectrum,” says Zaveri.

“You can define your criteria, whether you choose to narrow that down by university or by interest rate range or a combination of things, that's entirely down to you. But there are plenty of tools and on Lendwise, I think it definitely makes sense to diversify your investment. So I would say being invested in many loans is better than being invested in a few loans.” Lendwise has been in business for over five years, and its track record speaks for itself. Lendwise’s IFISA account has been in operation since the tax year 2021/22. To date, the platform has originated more than £50m and over £0.6m has been invested via the platform’s IFISA which continues to grow. But Zaveri is most proud of the work that the platform has done in educating students and changing people’s lives. “With our platform, you have the ability to make a credible difference because people are going on and getting better jobs and I think this is reflected in our low default rate,” he says. “It's really rewarding personally, and I speak on behalf of my cofounders and the entire team here. Everyone is very passionate about what we do because it makes such a difference to people's lives.” “The track record is there to see,” he adds. “I think that's really something powerful. Combine that with the difference that we're making, the subject, nature of what we're doing, and you have the data to back that up, and there are investors who've experienced this. I think it's very powerful together.”



To automation and beyond AI and other automation technology is being used to propel growth in the private credit sector, but risks remain. Kathryn Gaw investigates…


ECHNOLOGY HAS AN increasingly important role to play in the private credit sector, particularly in the era of artificial intelligence (AI). Automation has been a buzz word in the industry for several years now, and the mainstreaming of AI tech solutions has dovetailed with a boom in private credit funds, for better or for worse. Just about every private credit fund manager uses technology such as AI to cut costs, speed up due diligence and data collation processes, and monitor investment portfolios for compliance risks. The extent to which automation is used varies from fund manager to fund

manager, and doubts persist about the reliability of the technology. However, like it or not, AI is very much a part of the private credit ecosystem, and it is just the tip of the technological revolution that is disrupting the private markets, and capturing the attention of the regulators. Law firm Macfarlanes believes that cutting-edge technology – including AI, automation and contract management systems – is becoming increasingly critical to credit funds. “Whilst technology cannot replace the human skills and relationships that are essential for successful deal-making and risk management, it is playing an increasingly

important role,” says Adam Caines, a partner at Macfarlanes. “The consensus is that the private credit industry will need to balance the benefits and risks of technology, and invest in it alongside continued investment in talent and culture, to remain competitive and resilient in the future.” Fund managers are acutely aware of the importance of maintaining that human element of portfolio management. Investors want to place their money with people, not algorithms. This is an industry where investors will follow individual fund managers and credit teams from one company to another; where dynamic reputations


Technology cannot replace the human skills and relationships that are essential for successful deal-making and risk management are rewarded with easier access to funding and new investment opportunities. To remove the human element completely risks alienating long-term investors. Fund manager Pollen Street has been vocal in its commitment to automation and new technologies, but partner Michael Katramados believes that there are some functions that simply cannot be performed by technology. “As things stand, I would not be comfortable removing the human element from monitoring and from data ingestion,” says Katramados. “If you are monitoring a portfolio of multiple assets with multiple degrees of freedom in the risks that you need to assess and understand, you don't want to completely remove the human element from looking and understanding the data, and the trends that are generated from them.” That human element is also necessary when it comes to building relationships with clients and investors. This means that automation is best used behind the scenes, in those parts of the business which are not client-facing. “Careful thought must be given to replacing human involvement in any part of the credit and underwriting processes,” says Macfarlanes’ Caines. “But that freeing up deal team time to focus on originations and relationships will drive value creation.” Indeed, many of the technological changes which have been rolled

out recently have been inspired by investors. Recent economic turmoil has led to an increased focus on transparency and compliance by the institutional investors who fund the private credit sector. These institutions are professional investors. They choose and monitor their allocations extremely closely, and they know exactly which data points to pay attention to. This means that fund managers must be able to meet these high expectations and provide data not just on their own operations, but on the operations of their clients too. Pollen Street invests in a number of direct lending platforms, which means that it is not unusual for the company to have tens of thousands of loans representing millions of data points to monitor. “As an asset based lender, data digestion, data manipulation, and data accuracy have been integral parts to our strategy,” says Katramados.


“We have an in-house tech team that is leading the development of a proprietary tech stack that comprises of a data lake that sits at the core of what we do. “That data lake will ingest information from all the businesses we're working with, will communicate with our finance and accounts department, and will act as the clean source of accurate information on everything that we do from the loans, to the collateral that are securing our loans, and the returns for our funds in one place”. AI is already being used to manage asset inventories, for relationship mapping, and to prioritise data for marketing and research purposes. Its potential is almost unimaginable, but even in the short term AI promises to save time and money, while satisfying investor demand for more data. Like many fund managers, Pollen Street also uses technology as part of its reporting to investors, and uses “a high degree of automation in that process”. However, Katramados is still wary of AI. “There's an element of data cleansing and making sure that there's as much automation and automatic checks on the quality of that data,” says Katramados.



“And there are certain providers out there that we've spoken to that use AI for that purpose. “There's going to be around the edges more and more of the human intervention that can be automated and therefore give more leverage to the team. And I think that's really valuable. I don't believe we're at the point yet that we can just kind of close our eyes and let AI do our job well.” Concerns around over-reliance on AI have been bubbling across the industry lately. In a recent paper for UK Finance, James Watts, sector lead, banking, financial services and operational resilience at Armis, warned that AI “directly feeds into external risk factors.” “Its rapid development, commoditisation and proliferation will see it settle in the hands of those that choose to operate outside the controls of the global regulatory system,” Watts wrote. “Regulation will struggle to keep pace with AI and the pending acceleration in innovation. AI’s power will grow, cyber ‘incidents’ will become ‘existential events’ for some, with the potential to become ‘systemic events’ for all.” The Alternative Investment Management Association (AIMA) has even created a checklist for credit fund managers which aims to help them safely and ethically use generative AI – a subset of AI which creates content such as software codes and product design. This checklist has been seen by Alternative Credit Investor and

includes warnings around data privacy and the quality of the data produced. AIMA has also cautioned that the incorrect use of generative AI could present an increased risk of cyber security threats. “A wide array of threat actors have already used the technology to create ‘deep fakes’ or copies of products, and generate artifacts

“ Regulation will struggle to keep pace with AI and the pending acceleration in innovation

to support increasingly complex phishing scams,” AIMA told its members. “Investment managers must develop robust internal policies on cyber security risk management.” Pollen Street’s Katramados says that cybersecurity has been a big point of diligence for the fund manager. “It's a risk we need to cover specifically on every deal,” he says. “We have a cybersecurity risk framework and a checklist of things we want our borrowers to do and a risk scorecard that we have developed in house. If there are any vulnerabilities, they



“ Investment

managers must develop robust internal policies on cyber security risk management

will be flagged and we will insist upon any gaps being closed.” Several investment firms have already been the subjects of attempted cyber security attacks, which have been swiftly contained and sparsely publicised. But while risks are inevitable with any emerging technologies, private credit fund managers are expert risk managers. At present, AI and other forms of automation are used primarily on back-office processes such as background diligence on sectors, sponsors and potential portfolio companies, investor

reporting, portfolio monitoring and environmental, social and governance benchmarking. If used correctly, it can be a powerful tool which can speed up many labour-intensive elements of the portfolio management process. “Credit funds are very focused on optimising the application of AI without introducing additional risk – driving efficiencies where possible whilst maintaining tight controls and human oversight, particularly when it comes to credit analysis and decision making,” says Macfarlanes’ Caines. It is this prudent approach

towards new technologies that will serve private credit managers well as the sector continues to grow. However, challenges will persist. More and more credit funds are seeking to target retail investors, in addition to institutional investors. Retail money comes with enhanced regulatory requirements which could either be streamlined or stymied by the use of automation. In a recent speech, Jessica Rusu, the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA’s) chief data, information and intelligence officer asked: “Just because we have the ability to process the data, should we?” The FCA has indicated that it will enhance its regulation of AI and similar technologies in the near future. Meanwhile, across the pond, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has proposed new rules to address the risks of AI, particularly around using predictive data analytics which could potentially place a firm’s interest ahead of its investors’ interests. The challenge for fund managers is finding the balance between investor requests for data transparency, and safeguarding those same investors from cyber attacks and data leaks. Somewhere out there, someone is working on a piece of software that does exactly that.

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Opening the IFISA floodgates


EW RULES FOR THE Innovative Finance ISA (IFISA) will come into action in April 2024, with many predicting that the new-look IFISA will attract a raft of new investors to the tax wrapper. The new rules will extend the remit of the existing IFISA, making long-term asset funds and openended property funds eligible for inclusion for the first time. In a reversal of an earlier rule, investors can now open multiple IFISA accounts per year, rather than being limited to just one. As one of the most highprofile IFISA providers in the country, easyMoney is well placed to take advantage of this incoming IFISA boom. Jason Ferrando, chief executive of the peer-to-peer lending platform, has welcomed the rules as a “positive for the industry”. “The new rules can only be a positive for the industry as not only do they provide a greater degree of choice and accessibility to the consumer, but they will help put the spotlight on IFISAs and the often-superior returns they offer,” says Ferrando. “We’ve already enjoyed strong and consistent growth since launch and so the latest rule changes will only help to boost this momentum going forward.” At the time of writing, easyMoney is the largest IFISA provider in the country, with more than £72m invested within its tax wrapper. The platform won the coveted IFISA Provider of the Year award at the Peer2Peer Finance Awards in December 2023 (pictured).

Ferrando believes that this success is due to a number of factors. “Our zero default record* is a key part of this and we have been able to offer strong target interest rates,” he explains. “However, it’s just as important that we provide accessibility and support for our investors. “In addition, there are no fees to investors, no lock-up periods and our interest is paid monthly.” easyMoney’s IFISA accounts pay between 5.53 per cent and 10 per cent per annum, with all loans secured against UK property. The platform keeps its zero default rate* thanks to the expertise of its team, as well as monthly site visits, constant updates, low loanto-values (LTVs) and a diligent approach to underwriting. Ferrando believes that this prudent approach will make

the platform more attractive to brokers and ultra-high-networth individuals (UHNWIs) who might be considering an IFISA for the first time in 2024. “The introduction of new rules is always likely to lead to a heightened degree of interest for IFISAs and as one of the leaders in the sector, we expect this will only help strengthen our position in the market as we attract further investment from UHNWIs and our assets under management continue to grow,” he says. “Of course, we’re unapologetically biased when it comes to our IFISA offering but there's good reason for this. We have an experienced team and as a result of great underwriting, we offer a low LTV across the book. “But most importantly, we continue to maintain our zero default record* which is one we are incredibly proud of.” Recent research by easyMoney found that demand for ISAs is growing, and over the last decade the pre-deadline spike in ISA queries has grown by an average of two per cent per annum. “Its clear that appetites for ISA investment are growing,” says Ferrando. “It’s important to remember that the IFISA is just seven years old and while we’ve seen consistent growth, we believe that there is more to come, particularly with the additional exposure gained as a result of latest rule changes.” * A default rate of zero means easyMoney has never made a loss to date, but past performance does not guarantee future results.




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