Private Equity Coming to Your 401(k)?


Private equity has become a staple in defined-benefit plans around the world. But it’s becoming increasingly common for employers to phase out defined-benefit plans and shift new hires into defined-contribution systems.

Accordingly, private equity funds are now setting their sights on 401(k) plans. Daisy Maxey writes in the Wall Street Journal:

Some big names of the private-equity world are working to make private-equity funds an option in defined-contribution retirement plans, such as 401(k)s, as soon as next year.

Pantheon Ventures LLP, a private-equity fund investor overseeing $30.5 billion, is shopping its plan to offer a private-equity product to defined-contribution plans. The firm is in talks with plan sponsors, and anticipates striking a deal to bring the product to defined-contribution plans next year, says Michael Riak, head of the firm’s U.S. defined-contribution business.

…Private-equity investments are already offered within some defined-contribution plans, though that is rare and the products don’t offer daily pricing and liquidity, says David O’Meara, a senior investment consultant at Towers Watson Investment Services.

Private equity isn’t being welcomed into defined-contribution plans with open arms—plan sponsors maintain skepticism that those investments are the right fit for 401(k) plans.

But those in the private equity field think some plan sponsors will soon change their tune, especially if they’ve dealt with private equity in the course of administering defined-benefit plans. From the WSJ:

Though some asset managers, such as Pantheon, have the products ready to go, and are now looking for plan sponsors to participate, there remains some healthy skepticism within the 401(k) marketplace, he said.

“I would presume that the early adopters of private equity in defined-contribution plans would be large plan sponsors that have used private equity within their defined-benefit plans historically, and understand the asset class and how to evaluate its risks and returns,” he said.

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