After the FDIC took control of Silicon Valley Bank’s assets and financial operations, the fate of SVB Capital, the company’s nearly $10 billion venture capital operation, is up in the air.
On Monday, the bank’s parent company said it was “exploring potential transactions” for SVB Capital, as well as the company’s investment banking business, SVB Securities. Both entities, while sitting under the SVB brand, operated as separate divisions and were “not part of Silicon Valley Bank,” according to the company.
Meanwhile, SVB Capital, the venture firm, is trying to reassure its own investors (referred to as limited partners), telling them their exposure to the failed bank is limited and that their funds will continue to operate and make investments. SVB blasted a letter, seen by Fortune, to its limited partners via email Monday morning, saying it was “continuing to operate” following the closure of the bank and that its current management team “will continue to lead the company.”
“Each of our Funds operates as separate legal entities, distinct from Silicon Valley Bank,” the email from Monday morning reads. “Our investor commitments and portfolio investments are owned by these funds, and as such, are not subject to the resolution process underway for Silicon Valley Bank.”
One limited partner, whose investment team was briefed on the state of SVB Capital, says they were told that there are “many interested” potential acquirers of SVB Capital, including large financial services providers, asset managers, and sovereign wealth funds. The LP reported to Fortune that the SVB Capital team was optimistic they would be sold to a strategic buyer as a single entity, rather than be diced up.
Other limited partners are displeased with the communication and feel entirely left in the dark.
“They sent us this platitude email around today about how ‘our funds are safe’—but, I mean, is that even true? There’s so much going on there. It’s very, very concerning,” the limited partner says.
Multiple representatives for SVB Capital didn’t respond to a request for comment.
SVB Capital is a 20-year-old investment manager, operating both as a Fund of Funds, backing the likes of firms like Sequoia Capital or Accel, but also as a direct venture investor with partners that have invested in startups including Opendoor, Bill.com, or Olive.
With valuations crumbling for private companies across the startup ecosystem, it’s a pretty bad time to put a firm and its funds up for sale, as SVB’s annual report reveals that SVB Capital funds are performing poorly.
In 2022, SVB Capital reported a noninterest loss of $110 million—attributing the loss to changes in valuations, distributions, and the general painful market conditions. (In 2021, SVB reported $487 million in noninterest income during the venture boom)
Even in strong markets, it’s unusual for a venture firm to go up for sale, even though stakes in individual funds are frequently sold on the secondary market, or portions of a general partnership may be sold.
“It’s highly unusual, frankly,” says Greg Seltzer, a startup and venture-focused attorney at Ballard Spahr who put together a six-person SVB-focused task force to help clients who are exposed. “You don’t typically see venture funds and venture shops being acquired. So it’s something that there’s not a clear answer on right now.”
While SVB says it is selling SVB Capital separately, the fate of the venture operation may be entirely dependent on a potential acquirer of Silicon Valley Bank, and whether they find that portion of the business valuable or not, according to Seltzer.
“Whoever steps in as the buyer calls the shots,” he says.
But the FDIC is reportedly struggling to find an acquirer, trying once again to auction off the bank after failing to find a buyer over the weekend, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, SVB Capital’s limited partners—ranging from pension plans to foundations to sovereign wealth funds—are waiting in anticipation to see how it will play out.
“I’m on the same page as everybody else—trying to figure out what’s going to happen,” one of the limited partners says.
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