The Private Equity Compensation Report for 2016 Uncovers Disconnect Between Fund Performance and Cash Bonuses
Cash increases slow while the demand for private equity talent increases.
SAN DIEGO, CA, January 20, 2016 — The 2016 Private Equity & Venture Capital Compensation Report, released today, shows that slower industry activity is reflecting in private equity and venture capital pay.
Although 65 percent of professionals reported an increase in expected salaries and bonuses, the growth in cash compensation has slowed. This year’s average compensation for private equity and venture capital professionals was $272,000 USD, a slight decrease from last year.
This marks the second consecutive year of diminished correlation between bonus pay and firm performance. Respondents working in firms that were down 10 percent or more, report anticipated bonuses averaging $43,000 USD. This disconnect continued to surface in firms down 1 to 9 percent, with these survey participants expecting bonuses to average $94,000. In contrast, respondents working in firms that realized gains between 1 to 9 percent were expecting an average $91,000 in bonus pay, $3,000 less than their counterparts in firms that were down by the same range.
The private equity job market, however, continues to shine. “Funds are looking to put their capital to work, that means deal sourcing talent is at a premium,” said David Kochanek, Publisher of PrivateEquityCompensation.com. This year’s report reveals that 45 percent of firms are looking to hire additional investment professionals.
Says Kochanek, “With all the dry powder firms are sitting on, we were not surprised to see increased demand for investment talent again this year. Further, based on the expensive multiples seen in recent strategic exits, we won’t be surprised to see demand increase over the next 12 months for professionals with deep due diligence experience.”
As seen in prior years, when the demand for talent is high, the level of satisfaction with overall compensation is low. Again this year, more than half of respondents described their compensation as unsatisfactory.
About The Report
The 2016 Private Equity and Venture Capital Compensation Report is based on data collected from hundreds of private equity and venture capital partners, principals and employees through direct surveys. The report, in its ninth year of publication, is widely regarded to be among the most comprehensive benchmarks for private equity and venture capital compensation. It opens the door to trusted, independent and impartial data covering a broad range of salary, bonus, carried interest and other compensation related information, sourced from respondents working within the industry.
Some of the participating firms over the years include: Alpinvest Partners, American Capital, Battery Ventures, BlackRock, Carlyle, Century Capital Management, Cerberus, Comcast Ventures, DuPont Capital Management, EdgeStone Capital Partners, GE, Guggenheim Partners, Highland Capital Partners, Hilco Consumer Capital, Intel Capital, Mission Ventures, Mohr Davidow, North Atlantic Capital, RBC Capital Partners, RBS, Safeguard Scientifics, SV Life Sciences, Siemens Venture Capital, TPG, Venrock, and Warburg Pincus.
One question that many private equity and venture capital professionals are faced with is whether or not to pursue further graduate level education. From a purely financial standpoint, individuals must weigh the costs of MBA programs and the future compensation advantages they may generate. But the decision is not purely financial. Professionals also must way the value of a new network for finding exciting opportunities, and the personal development gained along the way.
From the financial angle, our 2015 Private Equity and Venture Capital Compensation Report did find an advantage for MBA holders when it came to total compensation. In 2013, respondents with an MBA indicated they earned 19 percent more than their non-MBA peers. However, in the most recent survey, we saw this gap narrow to only 12 percent.
An interesting trend that we’ve noted in the past is that the gap in compensation is driven more by base compensation than it is by bonuses. One possible driver of this differential in base compensation may be that those with MBAs have greater access to the best positions through their well-developed networks. In addition, the credential may open up more senior level positions where base compensation is stronger, depending on the firm and individual’s experience. However this year, we saw that gap close among our survey respondents. In a stronger job market, the MBA may hold less of an advantage than what seemed to exist in leaner times where every possible edge was necessary to land top roles.
On the other hand, however, bonuses have been are largely comparable between those with and without an MBA for some time. Bonuses are driven largely by firm and individual performance. While an MBA may have some additional developed skills through their education, this may not be enough to dramatically tip the scales when it comes to bonuses. MBAs did earn higher bonuses than their non-MBA peers in 2014, both in nominal dollars and as a percentage of total compensation. Relative to total pay, however, the advantage was marginal.
Of course, pursuing an MBA to further one’s career in Private Equity or Venture Capital comes at a high cost. Top MBA programs can run about one-hundred thousand dollars, not including foregone earnings, so future graduates must be confident in their ability to land a role that can pay for this investment upon graduation. In many cases, this isn’t the reality, leaving the benefits of the MBA more intangible to some graduates.
Many professionals in the private equity and venture capital industry wonder whether a potential move to a larger or smaller firm may result in higher compensation. According to the latest results from our 2015 Private Equity and Venture Capital Compensation Report, the overall difference in compensation in 2014 between firm sizes is marginal at best. However, this has not always been the case, and different compensation levels between firm sizes have been noted in previous reports.
Looking at our 2014 data, those working at firms with between 50 to 99 employees tended to earn the highest total compensation. However, these same professionals did not earn the highest salaries, which were reserved for those at firms with 10 to 24 employees. As firm size increased, we saw notable bonus compensation increases offset somewhat by a decline in base compensation. The one exception to this trend was compensation at the largest firms, with over 100 employees. In this example, we found that total compensation was lower than mid-size peers in both bonuses and base pay.
In the past, we noted a stronger U-shape to the profile of total compensation by firm size. Those working at the smallest and largest firms tended to earn the highest compensation, while those at mid-size firms earned the least. This was partially explained by the reality that those at the smallest firms often have to wear many hats and carry a variety of responsibilities, while those at the largest firms benefited from the most stable client revenue streams, allowing their firms to offer higher total compensation.
The robust job market, which we have seen continue to strengthen in our survey results, is a key contributing factor to the flattening of the compensation profile by firm size. When high performing employees have the ability to jump ship to other firms, it forces all players to be more competitive in their total compensation offerings in order to retain their top talent.
Another factor in increasing pay equity across different firm sizes may be the additional transparency when it comes to compensation in the industry. Reports such as ours, and other data sources, allow professionals to better negotiate their pay within industry norms. On the flip side, companies are also better informed in offering pay packages within the ranges.
As long as we continue to experience a robust market, this trend is likely to continue in 2015. With both professionals and firms having better access to compensation data, and job opportunities aplenty, parity among firm sizes in compensation may be a trend that is here to stay, at least for the medium term.
Those in any segment of the financial industry are no stranger to long hours in the office. However, over the past several years, our Private Equity and Venture Capital Compensation Report found that the total hours worked per week by professionals in this segment of the industry had declined, and in some cases, substantially. In 2014, however, we noted a considerable reversal of this trend, raising questions about what changed and why.
When it came down to the details, we found that 51 percent of respondents to our survey worked at least 70 hours to week. This is a major jump in the number of respondents from this cohort, up from only 20 percent of respondents in the prior year’s survey. However, this data needs to be interpreted carefully, as a slight increase in the number of hours may bump a large percentage of people into another range band in our results. That said, there is a clear increase across the board in the number of hours professionals are spending in the office.
While on the surface some may consider this evidence of a slowing job market, where employees need to work harder to prove their worth, our other data does not support this. Hiring intentions are jump, and fund performance is strong. External data providers, such as Preqin, as indicating investor interest in private equity is improving, not weakening. This leads us to believe that this increase in hours worked may be reflective of positive trends in the industry, with lots of work to do and more deals being closed. The increasing demands on staff will be a positive factor in salary negotiations in coming years, and a tighter labor market with more firms hiring will only contribute to both increased hours in the office and increased salaries.
It’s important to note that those that work the highest hours do not necessarily make the most money per hour worked. In line with previous year’s results, our survey found those working in excess of 90 hours per week made on average $250 per hour, while those at 70 hours per week earned the most, $306 per hour. One important consideration is that hours worked may also reflect one’s position in the organization. Trying to prove oneself as an analyst may require more hours than the work of a Managing Director, even though that too is a demanding role when it comes to office time. These positional differences may account for a portion of the variance we see when it comes to pay per hour worked.
After a year of strong performance in the sector, private equity and venture capital professionals posted some remarkable pay gains in 2014. While the S&P 500 posted a fairly strong total return of 14 percent in 2014, the majority of our respondents indicated their funds were likely to beat these equity benchmarks for the year.
Investors looking for diversification along with higher returns compared to other possible alternative asset classes are increasingly looking to private equity as a solution. According to Preqin, 57 percent of private equity firms said they saw increased investor appetite over the last year, while only 12 percent of firms said they saw reduced interest. In an industry where management fees, based on assets under management, drive the bottom line for firms, the increased amount of capital available is one factor in driving up compensation in the industry. Sustained interest in the segment will continue to allow for improved compensation among top performing firms.
Behind all of this investor interest and new money, of course, is performance. Our survey respondents at private equity and venture capital funds indicated their funds were expected to post stronger returns in 2014 than they did the prior year. At the upper end of the spectrum, 22 percent of respondents indicated their 2014 performance would exceed 25 percent, up 6 percentage points from the prior year. This strong performance is one factor driving compensation higher this year. And in light of increasing volatility in equity markets, the relative stability of private equity returns will be attractive to investors in the coming year.
There is also a correlation between fund performance and bonuses, which comprise a large portion of the total compensation for all finance industry professionals. Our survey results indicated that the strongest performing funds also awarded the largest bonuses to their professionals, as expected. With the highest paid professionals earning sometimes the majority of their compensation through bonuses, fund performance can clearly have a large influence on total compensation payouts.
The coming year looks to be promising for private equity and venture capital firms, and their employees, if performance can be maintained at or near these levels. Increasing equity market volatility will encourage more investors to consider the more stable and long term focused returns consistent with private equity strategies. Firms successful in capturing this investor interest by building their assets under management will likely be the leaders in increasing compensation available to their employees, in order to attract and retain top talent.
The finance industry has long been known for working employees, especially junior ones, to the extreme, often demanding upwards of 70 or 80 hours a week. However, recent controversies, including the death of a Bank of America intern after working three consecutive days with no sleep, along with a shift in the broader professional world to more work life balance are beginning to change the industry.
In the 2014 Private Equity and Venture Capital Compensation Report, there was a significant decline in the correlation between the number of hours spent in the office, and the total compensation of the employee. While the lowest pay was found among those putting in less than 40 hours per week, perhaps reflecting part-time employees, the highest pay was not found among those working the most hours, over 90 per week. In fact, there was a considerable drop off in compensation for employees working beyond 70 hours a week.
With that considered, working in private equity is almost certainly going to require longer hours than a typical nine to five job. The majority of private equity and venture capital employees worked over 60 hours per week, with a full 54 percent responding they’re putting in such hours. On top of that, an additional 37 percent of respondents indicated they are working between 50 and 59 hours per week. So with 97 percent of employees putting in more than 10 hours of “overtime” per week, those considering a move to the industry should not view recent developments to more balance as a significant decrease in workload.
When it came to vacation time, the report found very little change compared to last year, with the majority of firms offering between 3 and 4 weeks of vacation. A select few offered a generous 5 to 6 weeks, while some firms offered only 2 weeks or even no paid vacation. While 3.4 weeks may have been the average vacation entitlement, employees only took 2.7 weeks in actual leave.
While the industry may be shifting towards more balance, old attitudes remain and work expectations may differ greatly by firm. Some of the old guard in the industry still takes a view that more hours demonstrate greater commitment to the firm. Randall Dillard, managing director and chief investment officer at Liongate Capital Management, recently told a room full of future financial professionals at the 2014 London School of Economics Alternative Investments Conference that 60 hours a week is “not even in the game.”
So even if some of the larger institutions are beginning to take notice of the potential upside of adding more balance, it may be a long time before such views are held industry wide.
When it comes to compensation in the private equity and venture capital industries, bonuses are a key component of one’s pay package, with some professionals earning more than half their compensation through incentive pay. Linked to fund performance, bonuses can often be at times volatile, though in recent years payouts have been relatively healthy. Last year, with robust equity markets and return to more active deal making, private equity firms posted excellent returns for their investors, driving bonuses higher.
One key marker of industry performance, the LPX 50 index which tracks some of the top private equity companies that are publically listed, reflects this strong performance with a near 40 percent return in the past year. When asked to explain the source of these remarkable returns, Sam Armstrong of Barwon Private Equity told Fundweb, “anecdotally it appears to be a range of things: low interest rates and low funding costs, strong earnings margins and more aggressive cost management.”
Armstrong also pointed to flexibility being key for private equity firms, referring to their ability change focus quickly in rapidly evolving markets.
The strong performance posted by the LPX 50 mirrors the sentiment captured by the 2014 Private Equity and Venture Capital Compensation Report. In terms of 2013 fund performance, nearly 19 percent of respondents indicated that they expected their funds to provide returns in excess of 25 percent this past year. A further 47 percent expected returns between 10 and 25 percent, indicating that two thirds of respondents expected double digit returns for 2013. In a time of low fixed income yields, this kind of performance sets up private equity and venture capital well as an alternative asset class, providing diversification for portfolio managers.
Fortunately for employees of private equity firms, this high level of performance is resulting in lucrative payouts when it comes to bonuses. According to the compensation report, for firms with 25 percent or higher performance in 2013, employees expected a bonus of $148,000 on average. Bonuses for firms reporting gains in the 10-24 percent range averaged $104,000. While the average is likely weighted higher by the remarkable payouts seen by senior management, even the more junior members of these firms likely enjoyed a large bonus this year.
Throughout the full range of performance, from funds that were down on the year to the highest performers, a clear correlation existed between investor returns and bonus payouts. This has become more apparent through the years as investors demand tighter linkages between their own returns and the compensation of their money managers. It also makes sense from a fund perspective, where high bonus payouts can be more easily managed after a year of strong performance and likely net inflows, compared to a year where revenue is scarcer.
As professionals look back on 2013, they’ll remember a year of strong performance and year of high personal compensation. And the next year is looking to be promising as well, with optimism high and a strong start to 2014. With that optimism, private equity and venture capital employees are likely looking forward to another year of strong bonuses as the closer ties between performance and compensation pay off.
Coming off several consecutive years of compensation growth, the private equity and venture capital industry is poised for continued prosperity, both for firms and for employees. Following strong earnings growth in 2012 and 2011, salaries continued to climb in 2013, posting remarkable gains. Even more encouraging, most employees in the industry expect the trend to continue in 2014, as increased investor demand drives the industry forward.
According to the Wall Street Journal, institutional investors are coming back to the private equity industry in a great wave, with nearly $217 billion in new funds for 2013 in the U.S. alone. This represents a 15 percent increase over 2012 fundraising levels, led primarily by buyout firms but also with great support from distressed debt and turnaround funds.
While equity markets posted strong returns in 2013, the lack of attractive returns through diversification in debt markets is perhaps one cause for the shift towards private equity. Many portfolio managers and large investors seeking higher returns from asset classes with less correlation with broader equity markets are taking a long look at private equity.
And fortunately for employees of private equity firms, the success of the industry is resulting in larger personal bank accounts as well, according to the 2014 Private Equity and Venture Capital Compensation Report. The vast majority of industry professionals had expected their 2013 earnings to exceed their 2012 pay, with 62 percent reporting an expected increase in their 2013 take home pay. In some cases, this increase was substantial, with a full 31 percent of respondents expecting an increase over 16 percent. On the flip side, only 5 percent of respondents expected to take home less in 2013, dropping from 8 percent in the prior year.
Even in an industry known for large bonus payouts, increasingly private equity compensation is coming in the form of bonuses. Over 39 percent of total compensation in 2013 came from incentives, up from 36 percent in the prior year. This reflects a growing trend in the broader financial industry towards more closely linking compensation with fund performance.
As the industry continues to raise funds at an ever more frantic pace, the opportunity for continued compensation growth will remain. Continued record low interest rates will provide a catalyst for further transfers into the alternative asset segment, and private equity is well position to be a leader in taking up that demand, particularly from institutional clients. Along with the rapid growth in assets under management will come a similar pace of growth in private equity salaries. Accordingly, the future outlook remains bright for professionals in the private equity industry.
Without a doubt, the private equity and venture capital industries are the source of some of the largest compensation packages in any business worldwide. However, professionals in the industry constantly compare their pay to those in related industries where their skills could be put to use for perhaps higher salaries and bonuses. As a result, monitoring satisfaction with pay for private equity and venture capital professionals is an important activity for managers in the industry concerned with retaining their top talents.
Unfortunately for those managers, the 2014 Private Equity and Venture Capital report found there was a notable decline in pay satisfaction in comparison to last year’s survey. Only 46 percent of employees found themselves satisfied with their pay this year, in comparison to 56 percent of employees in the prior year. This year’s result is still favorable compared to the 41 and 36 percent satisfaction levels noted in the 2012 and 2011 reports respectively, however a shift in the trend will certainly be something that managers will want to keep an eye on in the coming year.
Taking a holistic view on employee satisfaction in the workplace may be one step towards increasing pay satisfaction – the solution isn’t always just increased compensation, but perhaps a more enjoyable workplace where employees don’t just look to cash for satisfaction. This might sound like an attitude more prevalent in a west coast tech start-up, but even Wall Street is starting to take notice, finding that spending a little on Wellness can curb compensation demands.
According to a recent CNN Money report even firms like Goldman Sachs are exploring new ways to motivate employees, whether it be a tai chi club or meditation sessions. While this may be primarily aimed at recruiting and attracting young employees that may be more interested in lifestyle than dollars, the trickle down impacts on the broader employee base can be tangible in lower turnover and less burnout. While there isn’t a great deal of disclosure from private equity firms on innovative wellness initiatives, staying competitive in the overall financial job market will be important going forward.
In many cases, these benefits aren’t about having employees spend less time at the office to find balance, but rather bring many of the employees interests to them in a more convenient package so they can explore their interests in conjunction with the long hours that are often expected in finance jobs. Whether private equity managers explore such initiatives in order to reign in declining pay satisfaction remains to be seen, but these options certainly should be considered as a potential low cost way to build employee enjoyment of their workplace.
The annual bonus is a large part of compensation in the financial industry and this holds true in both private equity and venture capital firms. Depending on a number of factors, bonuses can range from a most welcome “extra paycheck” at the end of the year to a substantial majority of a professional’s total compensation. Our 2013 Private Equity and Venture Capital Compensation Report identified several factors that influence bonuses in the industry, from fund performance to firm size and job titles. Considering all of these elements is critical when attempting to determine whether a bonus is on market or not.
One of the obvious factors that drive bonus levels in the industry is fund performance. Simply put, a firm experiencing greater success is likely to reward its employees most handsomely. This was certainly one of the leading factors in the differences between reported bonus levels. Top performing funds, earning in excess of 25 percent for their investors, rewarded employees with $151 thousand in incentives in 2012. That compares to only $11,000 being awarded to employees in firms that lost over 10 percent of their value. With a clear trend correlated with performance, it’s safe to assume that the majority of a private equity professional’s bonus will be driven by the returns the fund provides to its investors.
Another factor that weighs on the size of one’s bonus is firm size. While performance can also be somewhat correlated with firm size in some cases, it still holds that both the number of employees and the size of the firm or fund weighs heavily in how much bonus compensation an employee will receive. In general, firms that manage more assets tend to offer higher bonuses despite base compensation being largely the same between firms. On average, an employee at a firm managing $1 billion or more in assets earned a bonus of $250 thousand in 2012, while at a firm with under $200 million in assets an employee would be likely to see $100 thousand in incentive pay.
Somewhat surprising, however, is the impact of the number of firm employees on expected bonus size. The highest bonuses were seen among firms with less than 5 employees. This likely reflects the concentration of senior professionals in smaller firms and a higher reliance on results in order to sustain the very existence of the firm.
The rewarding of senior employees through higher bonus payouts was seen across the industry however, not just in small firms. For example, the average bonus of a Director was around between $100 and $130 thousand per year across all firm sizes, while an associate saw between $24 and $66 thousand. The largest bonus payouts were found in those with Partner and Managing Partner titles, with some big firm leaders earning up to $1.5 million in incentive pay in 2012. Across job titles, a clear trend is evident in that more senior employees will find a larger portion of their pay coming from incentives. This trend likely ties in to their greater influence on firm profits.
With this considered, it’s important to keep in mind all of these factors when evaluating incentive compensation. Bonuses can vary heavily based on these factors. However, performance is always the key driving factor in incentive payouts, whether that’s the performance of the fund or an individual’s own contribution. Successful results are always the best way to ensure a higher bonus payment at the end of the year.