1.1 What are the most common types of private equity transactions in your jurisdiction? What is the current state of the market for these transactions?
The Cayman Islands is a key jurisdiction in which to domicile private equity funds in light of its legislative and regulatory framework, tax-neutral status, flexible structuring options and experienced service providers.
While private equity fund establishment for acquisition purposes and co-investment opportunities are most common, Cayman Islands structures are routinely employed in transactional contexts, particularly buy-out and secondary transactions.
The nature, scope and volume of matters being undertaken in the Cayman Islands across the entire financial markets spectrum makes it difficult to identify one specific change that has emerged. At a thematic level, offshore practice continues to evolve, being more multi-jurisdictional due to onshore and global developments, more complex as it addresses different, and at times conflicting, regulatory frameworks and more involved as investors seek tailored structures and products that respond to regional and global events.
1.2 What are the most significant factors currently encouraging or inhibiting private equity transactions in your jurisdiction?
The Cayman Islands continues to be the leading offshore domicile for private equity funds due to the global distribution appeal of Cayman Islands vehicles, their ease of use, speed to market and low cost. The Cayman Islands' tax-neutral status ensures the fund vehicle itself does not create an additional layer of tax, creating efficiencies in raising funds from a potentially global investor base.
The Cayman Islands is a well-regulated, co-operative and transparent jurisdiction and continues to refine its laws and regulatory standards to respond and adapt to international standards. This has been most recently demonstrated by the update to primary legislation governing the most popular entity types; notably, exempted companies, exempted limited partnerships and limited liability companies. The Cayman Islands has also enacted legislation for a limited liability partnership vehicle which is anticipated to be available for use in late 2020.
The global regulatory framework is evolving quickly and this is likely to continue in the near-/mid-term future. The Cayman Islands continues to adopt and embrace international best practice approaches in multiple spheres which interact with private equity, including, by way of example, the regime for anti-money laundering and combatting terrorist financing, economic substance initiatives and tax transparency reporting obligations.
1.3 What are going to be the long-term effects for private equity in your jurisdiction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The legal, regulatory and tax environment in the Cayman Islands remains favourable for structuring of both the raising of private equity funds and for downstream cross-border deal activity in the longer term. This is affirmed by robust transactional activity in 2020 despite volatile markets and the broader health, political and economic challenges presented by various events, including COVID-19. There has been a perceptible pivot in terms of certain strategies that sponsors are seeking to pursue against this backdrop, including a range of market dislocation and special situation products.
1.4 Are you seeing any types of investors other than traditional private equity firms executing private equity-style transactions in your jurisdiction? If so, please explain which investors, and briefly identify any significant points of difference between the deal terms offered, or approach taken, by this type of investor and that of traditional private equity firms.
There are a range of investors beyond traditional private equity firm, including family offices and trade buyers, seeking to acquire investments that are structured through Cayman Islands domiciled holding vehicles. Transaction terms, and approach adopted, are dictated by investor profile and other commercial considerations that are not affected by Cayman Islands legal considerations.
2 Structuring Matters
2.1 What are the most common acquisition structures adopted for private equity transactions in your jurisdiction?
The majority of Cayman Islands private equity funds are established as limited partnerships, being the Cayman Islands exempted limited partnership. It is possible to structure a Cayman Islands private equity fund as a company, limited liability company or a trust.
The Cayman Islands fund vehicle will generally invest via other Cayman Islands vehicles, including aggregator vehicles, or entities domiciled outside the Cayman Islands, such as in Delaware, Luxembourg or Ireland, depending on where the ultimate operating portfolio company or target entity is located. Ultimately, net returns from the underlying company or target will be distributed to the Cayman Islands domiciled fund vehicle, which net returns will be in turn distributed to investors and sponsors and be taxable in accordance with the regimes of the jurisdictions where such investors and sponsors are tax resident.
2.2 What are the main drivers for these acquisition structures?
These structures combine the investor familiarity, sophistication and flexibility of Cayman Islands fund vehicles with the economic and structuring advantages of an underlying holding structure, which satisfies onshore tax and regulatory considerations in an efficient and streamlined manner.
2.3 How is the equity commonly structured in private equity transactions in your jurisdiction (including institutional, management and carried interests)?
As the majority of Cayman Islands private equity funds are structured as exempted limited partnerships, investors subscribe for an equity interest in the exempted limited partnership in the form of a limited partnership interest. A sponsor/management will typically participate in the performance of the exempted limited partnership as a carry participant either directly as a partner or through a separate vehicle.
2.4 If a private equity investor is taking a minority position, are there different structuring considerations?
Minority investor protections, such as anti-dilution, veto or information rights, which transaction parties agree to accommodate within a structure can be reflected in the governing documents of any Cayman Islands vehicle. These matters are dictated by commercial considerations as opposed to Cayman Islands legal considerations.
2.5 In relation to management equity, what is the typical range of equity allocated to the management, and what are the typical vesting and compulsory acquisition provisions?
There can be a broad range of approaches as to how profits and other returns are shared among a management team. This is generally left to the management team to determine with a sponsor and will reflect what is most appropriate with reference to their commercial arrangements and target returns.
The vast majority of Cayman Islands private equity funds are managed by a US or other international domiciled and regulated investment manager. Therefore, vesting and compulsory acquisition provisions relating to the management equity and restraints are typically driven by the onshore legal and regulatory considerations of the fund manager.
2.6 For what reasons is a management equity holder usually treated as a good leaver or a bad leaver in your jurisdiction?
Good and bad leaver provisions, and vesting mechanics more generally, are structured in a wide variety of ways depending on the intention of the transaction parties. These matters are dictated by commercial agreement rather than Cayman Islands legal considerations or restrictions.
3 Governance Matters
3.1 What are the typical governance arrangements for private equity portfolio companies? Are such arrangements required to be made publicly available in your jurisdiction?
A Cayman Islands private equity portfolio company can be formed as an exempted company, a limited liability company or a limited partnership.
For an exempted company, the board of directors is responsible for the overall management and control of the company. The composition of the board of directors of a portfolio company tends to vary depending on the nature of the private equity transaction. A director of an exempted company is in a fiduciary relationship to the company and owes various duties of a fiduciary nature, which may be broadly characterised as duties of loyalty, honesty and good faith. Every director owes these duties individually and they are owed to the company as a whole. Specifically, they are not owed to other companies with which the company is associated, to the directors or to individual shareholders. In addition to the fiduciary duties, each director owes a duty of care, diligence and skill to the company.
A limited liability company can be member-managed or can appoint a separate board of managers. There is significant flexibility as to governance arrangements with respect to a limited liability company, which can be agreed by the parties in the limited liability company agreement. The default duty of care for a manager or managing member is to act in good faith. This standard of care may be expanded or restricted (but not eliminated) by the express provisions of the limited liability company agreement.
An exempted limited partnership is managed by its general partner. The general partner has a duty to act in good faith and, subject to the express provisions of the limited partnership agreement, in the interests of the partnership.
Operator information, being director, manager or general partner details (as applicable), can be obtained from the Cayman Islands registry. Commercial arrangements are not publicly available and generally information will only need to be disclosed with consent or in limited, appropriate circumstances, such as with law enforcement agencies or regulatory and tax authorities upon legitimate lawful and proper request.
3.2 Do private equity investors and/or their director nominees typically enjoy veto rights over major corporate actions (such as acquisitions and disposals, business plans, related party transactions, etc.)? If a private equity investor takes a minority position, what veto rights would they typically enjoy?
This is generally a case-by-case consideration based on the commercial circumstances of each transaction.
Investors in a Cayman Islands private equity fund do not typically enjoy veto rights over major corporate actions. For funds structures structured as exempted limited partnerships, the general partner must act within any limitations agreed in the limited partnership agreement of the fund (for example, as to business purpose, limitations on investment, limitations on indebtedness and guarantees, etc.). A limited partner advisory committee will often be established to approve any conflict transactions of the general partner or fund manager. A minority investor would not typically enjoy any veto rights.
To view the full article, please click here.
This article first appeared in the fifth edition of The International Comparative Legal Guide to: Private Equity published by Global Legal Group in September 2020.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.