AI Gives the Edge in Private Equity Arena


Headlines have raised fears in recent months that robots threaten many of our livelihoods. However, Jan Hoffmeister from Drooms says that those in the private equity (PE) industry should instead be encouraged by how Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology can give them an edge in a competitive marketplace.

AI technology cannot replace human thinking in relation to strategy and business planning, which are fundamental to PE. But it is an impressive tool when it is correctly incorporated into the more process-driven functions of PE firms, increasing the power to collect, process and distribute information to the right parties with much greater speed and accuracy.

The need to stand out is imperative in the highly competitive PE market. Analysis by EY1 shows that while the industry has made a strong recovery after the crash of 2008, there is also a lot of ‘dry powder’ sitting in the wings because of intense competition for deals.

Total PE commitments globally stood at US$530.7 billion in 2016, which was close to the US$616.7 billion pledged in 2007. However, in 2017, only US$440 billion of transactions took place versus US$748.4 billion in 2007. In terms of dry powder, there was US$525 billion sitting without investments in 2016.

The key issue is that the right investment targets with appropriate valuations are hard to find. Offering a solution to managing the deal-making process helps a PE firm stand out amid intense competition. Using a virtual data room (VDR), which leverages AI technology, makes a firm best in class, whether it is used for a one-off transaction or to create value in assets over their entire life cycles.

Successful PE firms are thorough in their due diligence, nimble and open-minded to pinpoint the right opportunities and disciplined about formulating the right investment philosophies.

There are two key areas in which a VDR is useful for PE firms, particularly if it is used during the ‘hold’ phase of an asset. The first is consistency, in that documents can be updated regularly, giving the vendor full control over data, sourcing investment targets and achieving correct valuations. The second is responsiveness – documents are always ready, so assets can be bought or sold whenever required.

Given that the intention of PE firms is always to sell an asset, it is especially relevant for them to establish a ‘life cycle’ VDR that can be used to manage a company throughout the period of ownership, from purchase, through management and on to divestment.

A VDR connects authorised users, including those inside a company and their external stakeholders, digitally and in a secure environment with real-time access to all relevant documentation.

A VDR always makes documents relevant to a transaction available to authorised parties and helps ensure that they are up-to-date. All data is stored securely online on a server platform and is always accessible to both internal and external parties, depending on their individual permission levels.

Creating a database in which documents can be updated consistently gives asset owners full control and the ability to react to the latest market conditions, bringing assets to market quickly when the conditions are right, sometimes at short notice.

One of the strengths of the Drooms NXG VDR is its Findings Manager function. This improves the vendor due diligence both prior and during the sales process. It allows for the automatic pre-selection of documents and helps in the assessment of potential risks and opportunities within a transaction. This yields greater control, instills confidence in potential buyers and cuts disruption to existing business.

Those PE firms involved in cross-border deals will find the Drooms transactional room particularly useful. It includes a tool that translates documents in real-time, ensuring risk assessments are maintained in a timely fashion throughout the process.

Essential elements

The integrity of documentation is paramount for PE firms. When deals are going through, unclear, incomplete or erroneous documents can cause all manner of problems, including sales falling through. Documentation must provide an accurate assessment of the value of an asset.

For clarity and transparency, a VDR must also have a stringent and standardised index structure for all assets within a portfolio. All an asset’s documentation should be organised in the same manner, allowing quick access to relevant content for the purposes of comparison. Long-term value can be created in assets if they are encapsulated by standardised and sustainable data – and life cycle data rooms are the optimum tool for this purpose.

The practicalities

In practice, careful planning is essential to manage a life cycle VDR successfully. This starts with getting an accurate snapshot of a project’s current progress using key metrics such as available (and missing) documents.

The time frames, processes and the responsibilities of all relevant parties should be defined, and their commitment secured to the proposed solutions, including any changes to management processes.

All the relevant documents must then be collated and, if necessary, digitised before being uploaded to the VDR. Finally, the VDR must be regularly monitored and maintained, updating and adding documents as required.

Most powerful tool in the box

PE firms that wish to manage a market currently characterised by dry powder, high valuation and enhanced competition need to adopt beneficial technologies. A VDR adds value at all the stages of an asset’s lifecycle, including buying, holding and selling, making the whole process much smoother. The value added in terms of making better deals, improving operational efficiency and enhancing the transparency increasingly demanded by stakeholders makes a VDR one of the most powerful tools at a PE firm’s disposal.

1Source: EY, Global PE Watch, 2017