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Syndicated Loan, Leveraged Finance and Private Debt Awards 2022: Best US Private Placement Agent – NatWest

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Preeminence for private placements built on investment in the right people and the right platform for any situation

NatWest’s reputation as the preeminent bank for private placements has been built across three decades of investment in the right people and the right platform for any situation. The bank guided clients through a volatile year, brought several of the more impressive transactions of 2022 to market and earned a clear win for Best US Private Placement Agent.

NatWest has a long heritage in the US private placement market, being the first bank to open the market to European issuance nearly thirty years ago. Since then, throughout the tumult of the global financial crisis and the COVID pandemic, private placements have remained a flagship product for the firm.

“There has always been a mentality to strive to be the best and lead the market,” says Rob Busby, head of private placements. “We’ve maintained a very skilled and experienced team, which is crucial in a market where most deals are unrated and bespoke. The team has an unrivalled ability to position unrated credit with investors and has continued to innovate across currencies, structures and geographies as the market has evolved beyond the traditional US investor base.”

The bank is focused on a model that encompasses both investment grade and non-investment grade offerings, powered by a distribution reach that covers North American, European and Asian investors. All this has won the firm a loyal customer base and impressive share of deal flow.

The team has an unrivalled ability to position unrated credit with investors and has continued to innovate across currencies, structures and geographies as the market has evolved beyond the traditional US investor base
Rob Busby, head of private placements, NatWest Markets
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During 2022, issuance volumes in the wider private placement market fell by over 20%, but volumes in NatWest’s home market of European issuers remained steady at $28bn, resulting in an increase in the bank’s overall market share.

Transaction highlights included a $400m three-tranche deal for Bunzl plc. This was the first deal for a BBB+ issuer on an ‘MFL’ basis and won GlobalCaptial’s Best US Private Placement of the Year award. “Bunzl really demonstrated the structural innovation around covenants that can happen in the private placement market,” says Busby.

NatWest also worked on the runner-up for best deal, EnBW AG. The energy firm sold a stellar debut deal in dollars, euros and sterling, hitting the market in November just as Europe entered an uncertain winter. “EnBW was a great example of private placement investors taking a long-term view amidst wider market volatility, delivering $850m of funding for a key German utility,” Busby says.

This was clearly a year of volatility. Government bond yields jumped across ranges not seen in years. Yield targets for both investors and issuers were moving constantly from week to week. But in many ways the volatility played to NatWest’s strengths. Years of experience on both sides of the Atlantic meant there was no team better able to help clients position themselves amid market movements.

“We made sure our customers were able to execute successful deals during this period of uncertainty,” says Busby. “It's important for an agent to be able to make the key judgement calls on pricing, structure and execution strategy -- even more so in tumultuous markets.”

Although NatWest remains particularly strong in bringing traditional corporate issuers to market, its desire to lead has seen it grow into new areas like sponsor driven infrastructure transactions.

“It’s about making sure that we're always thinking about new structures, new transactions and new issuers that can be brought to market,” says Busby. “We’re not just relying on a steady flow of corporate deals, I think the investor base really values the range of deal flow that we bring to them across different credit qualities and price points.”

One major focus is on social and ESG-related transactions, which has involved opening up the market to issuers like UK housing associations. “We've been a leader in educating the US investor base in this area and really helping to drive funding for a sector that builds much needed homes,” he says. “Similarly, we've been strong in the university space, for example, raising a £175m sustainable private placement for The London School of Economics last year for green and social projects at the school. So really helping to support clients, who are more focused on the social and wider purpose.”

CEO Alison Rose has sought to position NatWest as a leading bank in the ESG space and this has spread throughout the organisation into the investment banking and markets operations.

NatWest’s strength in private placements coupled with growing expertise in sustainable finance has helped it drive a rapid increase in ESG transactions. The volume of ESG private placements in 2022 was more than the three previous years combined, due in no small part to NatWest.

“We've been at the forefront of educating investors on the motivations and benefits for this type of format,” says Busby.