LONDON, 14 December 2015 – Institutional investors without regulatory capital requirements are exploiting the illiquid credit space vacated by banks facing stricter regulation and ongoing stress tests according to Towers Watson. The company’s clients have allocated over US$7 billion to illiquid credit investment strategies globally in past five years and it expects this to grow as the area remains largely untapped and compelling tailwinds remain. In new research entitled: Illiquid credit - playing the role of (good) bank, Towers Watson suggests there is still an early mover advantage for those investors willing to overcome the additional governance and complexity associated with successful investing in illiquid credit.

Chris Redmond, global head of credit at Towers Watson, said: “Increased regulation and stress testing of the banking system has created a set of new asset classes which increasing numbers of institutional investors are taking advantage of to increase portfolio diversity and achieve higher returns. These new ‘good’ banks have a competitive advantage when providing capital in illiquid credit given their longer investment time horizon, tolerance for illiquidity and lower sensitivity to the credit cycle.”

According to the research, investors have historically used private equity, real estate, infrastructure and hedge funds to access alternative risk premia, including the illiquidity risk premium, to help diversify the sources of return. The company suggests investors with sufficient governance should consider including illiquid credit in their portfolios for a number of reasons:

  • Huge illiquid credit markets remain untapped despite the high and growing rate of bank retrenchment
  • There is a critical need for investors to diversify sources of credit risk at this point in the cycle
  • Provides access to often under- or poorly-utilised return sources: illiquidity, skill and complexity premia.

Chris Redmond said: “We believe there is significantly greater scope for investors to consider illiquid credit as a meaningful part of both low risk and return-seeking portfolios, indeed we view this an excellent opportunity for investors with a tolerance for illiquidity and a desire to improve overall portfolio efficiency.”

In the research investors are warned not to lose sight of cyclical headwinds associated with a mature credit cycle and compressed valuations in those markets segments already influenced by quantitative easing and investor search for yield. In addition, it suggests investment in illiquid credit presents a challenge of greater complexity and the associated governance and asserts that only through discipline, selectivity and skill can the benefits of illiquid credit be successfully exploited.

Chris Redmond said: “Governance permitting, we believe implementation should be focussed, specialised, dynamic, and built with a strong appreciation for the broader portfolio. Illiquid credit exposure should be developed and maintained via investments in a series of closed-end vehicles selected on their future risk-adjusted total return prospects at the time of deployment. Derived using a blend of top-down and bottom-up inputs, an assessment of where the illiquidity premium is most attractively priced should represent an important determinant.”

Towers Watson classifies illiquid credit (or private debt) as part of the broader alternative credit universe, specifically those non-traditional asset classes where there is limited ability to sell prior to maturity and includes Direct Lending, Distressed Debt and Specialty Finance.

The breadth of opportunities available within illiquid credit
Opportunities exist across the risk and return spectrum

The breadth of opportunities available within illiquid credit - Opportunities exist across the risk and return spectrum

Towers Watson Investment

Towers Watson’s Investment business is focused on creating financial value for institutional investors through its expertise in risk assessment, strategic asset allocation, fiduciary management and investment manager selection. It has over 850 associates worldwide, assets under advisory of over US$2.2 trillion and over US$75 billion of assets under management.

About Towers Watson

Towers Watson (NASDAQ: TW) is a leading global professional services company that helps organisations improve performance through effective people, risk and financial management. With 16,000 associates around the world, the company offers consulting, technology and solutions in the areas of benefits, talent management, rewards, and risk and capital management.