Business Development Companies – Should They Be a Part of Retirement Planning?

VCs, Angels, BDCs, what are they? How are they different? How can an ordinary investor get involved? Do they offer an opportunity for high yield dividend payouts during retirement? These are all questions that anyone planning for retirement should know the answers to in order to have the opportunity to include one of the least understood, and highest dividend paying, categories into their portfolio as part of a diversified plan for retirement.

Venture Capitalists (VCs), Angels (accredited investors), and Business Development Companies (BDCs) essentially fulfill the same role: to help small and medium sized companies obtain financing when more traditional means of funding (bank loans) are unavailable. Bank financing almost always requires a certain amount of guarantees such as accounts receivable, inventory, buildings or equipment or other assets that can be held as collateral for a loan or line of credit. Smaller companies, start-ups, or even individuals with an idea for a business, or medium sized companies that don’t have sufficient funds to grow their business often don’t have the capital required, nor do they have the requisite assets or accounts receivable required by traditional banks to meet their strict loan requirements. This is where Angels, VCs, and BDCs come in. Angels are regulated by the SEC and must be “accredited investors” with a net worth of at least $1,000,000 in order to get involved with a private placement of stock which means that they provide funds for a smaller company and in return own a percentage of the business. VCs are generally partnerships of accredited investors that provide the same type of funding. In addition, they often offer other “incubator” type services to help their portfolio companies to prosper, frequently including the placement of their own management personnel on the board of directors or on the management team. In the case of both Angels and private VC firms these activities are, by regulation, the realm of wealthy investors and beyond the reach of most individuals.

As part of a broad base attempt to level the playing field and give smaller investors an opportunity to become involved in growing smaller businesses, congress passed The Investment Company Act of 1940 which, among other things, created a new class of business called Business Development Companies. While similar to VCs in function, unlike VCs, Shares of BDCs are traded on the major exchanges, and anyone can own them. Similar to Real Estate Investment Trusts, BDCs do not pay income tax on their profits as long as they pass along at least 90% of their profits to their shareholders who then pay tax at their individual tax rates. Since they are required to pay out nearly all of their profits to stock holders, BDCs often fund their growth by issuing additional shares. When this occurs, a stockholder, or potential stock holder, must determine whether or not dilution, caused by the sale of the new shares, will be more than made up by the new business that the incoming money will fund. Generally a BDC will announce, at least in broad terms, how the proceeds from the new offering of stock will be used. Additionally, it is important to evaluate how successful the company has been in the past, how leveraged they are, and how management has reacted to changing market conditions. In other words, like any other investment, doing the proper due diligence, and knowing and understanding the company prior to investing is critical in making the right investment choices.

Because of the pass through tax structure as well as the inherent risk in this type of venture, BDCs typically pay significantly higher dividends than the average company. For that reason it makes good sense to consider them as a part of a diversified retirement portfolio. If you are building up a nest egg for retirement, dollar cost averaging into quality BDCs is an excellent way of creating a high yield position as part of your overall mix. If you are in retirement already, quality BDCs can provide an excellent income stream that will continue to payout regardless of market fluctuations.

A word of caution, BDCs should not be bought and forgotten, like most investments, past performance is no guarantee of future results. By the very nature of the business, BDCs frequently change their portfolio of businesses, may change their risk tolerance levels, may change their leverage, may be impacted by changes in interest rates, etc. Fortunately all of this type of information is readily available in annual and quarterly reports, and BDCs are required to publish any material changes in their business. With the proper due diligence, and appropriate vigilance, BDCs make sense for anyone interested in boosting their retirement income through higher dividends. They are especially valuable in IRAs and other tax free venues where the higher yields can compound free of taxation.