Survey findings, part 1: A different take on small investor interests

Private equity is for affluent individuals with an attitude, as many people see it. And this notion clearly reflects in the portfolios of small investors. Further is it fortified by some recommendations of business journalists and bankers to their readers or clients respectively, to stay away from this kind of investments. Last but not least: under the banner of investor protection, regulators do their best to maintain the status quo.

An ongoing market study we are conducting sheds a new light on small investors’ interests in this regard. Our preliminary findings show that over 40% of investors (defined as someone of minimal wealth) have indicated that they would consider a direct private equity investment in an SME or startup and that they would value improved access to such investment opportunities. This is roughly eight times of what reality is showing today.

Even under more restrictive criteria, requiring not only a clear interest but also preparedness to invest time and accept associated risks, 8.4% of investors or roughly 3.64 million people in Germany, Switzerland and Austria would invest part of their money in new ventures or SMEs. This portion includes individuals already invested in private equity today (currently roughly 3%, read here) and, to a large extent, individuals with an entrepreneurial background or advanced investment track record, in the sense that they have invested in more than one asset class.


Note: 56% stated that they would not invest in this type of investment (including a few participants that gave ambiguous answers).

Interested SME investors are almost exclusively in jobs entailing “independent and qualified” or “highly demanding” tasks (job level categories 1 and 2 out of 4 of the Swiss Federal Statistical Office), with a focus – but not predominantly – on economic, finance and law backgrounds. Men are more likely to invest than women whereas the marital status and family situation do not play a significant role.

While it is not surprising that wealth and income play a role in people’s interest to invest, the study shows that there are many people below the threshold of the so-called accredited investor (according to the SEC, a net worth in excess of $1 million or income of >$200k) that are likely to invest. Figure 2 shows the percentage of investors likely to invest by wealth group, increasing sharply and peaking at 16.5% for individuals with of wealth between $100k and $200k. Declining interest with higher net worth could potentially relate to further alternative investment offerings accessible to these individuals.


The apparent demand clearly raises the question of why no corresponding offering for small investors can be found in today’s markets. We will approach this question from a number of perspectives in subsequent posts, including investor concerns (see Survey findings, part2) as well as regulatory and non-regulatory aspects of the market. (See blog the paradigm, part 3: Legitimate concerns or inefficient markets?). Should a corresponding offering emerge, it will be even more interesting to see how many of the 34.9% already considering SME or startup investments today, will take a more active interest.

At this point however, we simply note that the percentage of investors who are likely to invest in private equity is significantly higher than the percentage invested today. It will be an interesting discussion to lead, how and to what extent this additional source of private funds can contribute to funding a larger portion of startups and SMEs in need for financing – today, more needed than ever. Governments are currently evaluating a myriad of options to support this. However, it will be challenging for them to strike the right balance between their mandates to protect small investors and letting small investors take an active and responsible role.

Along those lines: the financial crisis has taught us that too much trust of investors in the “system” or external advice is not only dangerous for the individual investor, but also eliminating some of the checks and balances for the entire economy – controls that, amongst others, regulations were meant to provide. Maybe some of these checks and balances can be put back in place by letting society vote – by means of investing – not only on large corporates but on smaller and/or upcoming enterprises, as well. This voting mechanism works well if voters are experience and well informed. The study shows that people who are likely to invest bring this to the table.

>> Survey findings, part 2: Investor concerns

Check back soon to read additional findings from the market study such as small investors’ motivations with regard to private equity investments as well as how much they are prepared to invest.

Survey: N=176, including only participants from Germany, Switzerland and Austria in evaluations; in these preliminary findings, no corrective factors have been applied to eliminate potential bias in the sample population

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