Friday Letter: More than a bunch of letters

Europe’s private equity association is right to want to give itself a new identity

How about an AEA or a CECCM or a CELCAA? Or perhaps a CLECAT, an EBCA, an ECASBA, EECA, ESBE, ESE, ESTA, IAPH, IPCSA or UIP? Or maybe a quick FTA?

Difficult to fathom it may seem, but Brussels today is home to more than 800 acronym-named lobbying organisations, each trying to make themselves understood by EU legislators, regulators and the media. In this crowded struggle for attention, many are having a hard time standing out, not least because few acronym-based titles excite much interest. Clear? Compelling? NFW.

Now EVCA, the Brussels-based body representing the European private equity industry, has decided to do something about its name. This spring, following widespread consultation internally and drawing on the recommendations of an external branding specialist, it put it to its members that a titular make-over was required. It has asked them to vote on a proposal that its board has already endorsed: to change its name to Invest Europe.

EVCA is right to want to overhaul its brand, and not just because the current one has little or no meaning to the outside world. Ever since its creation (and christening) in 1982 to enable Europe’s budding venture capitalists to network and to gather data about their activities, it has grown, entirely in lockstep with the industry, into a much bigger and broader church. Now operating from four distinct “platforms” to cater to the needs of VCs, mid-market private equity, large buyout firms and infrastructure houses respectively, it has built a diverse membership that ‘EVCA’ has long ceased to encapsulate.

The Association’s purpose has also changed significantly: networking and data collection remain part of its remit, but EVCA is now an advocacy group first and foremost. Its overarching goal is to persuade policymakers, bureaucrats and journalists, including many sceptics and opponents, that in order to overcome its economic challenges, Europe must embrace private capital for much-needed investment, rather than erect barriers to it. Harnessing a new identity to help communicate this vital message more effectively is a sensible idea.

According to a membership presentation Private Equity International has seen, EVCA has settled on the new name because, besides not being an acronym, it is considered to be inclusive, differentiating and dynamic. It is also intended to “define and own a clear territory”, by placing the members’ core activity – investing – at its centre.

It is worth noting also that amongst other Brussels lobbying groups, it has become fashionable to rename themselves by combining a strong descriptor of their area of focus with the word “Europe”. CEA recently switched to Insurance Europe. CIAA has become FoodDrinkEurope. UNICE is now BusinessEurope. EVRP calls itself PensionsEurope.

EVCA’s 500 or so full members have until early June to decide whether they want their organisation to adopt their own version of this naming policy. It would mean a departure and a break with tradition, and the venture capital constituency would no longer see its initials embedded in the Association’s name. However, the opportunity is to sharpen the association’s profile, at a time when getting the industry’s point across in Brussels matters perhaps more than ever.

If the change happens, it might give other private equity associations something to think about as well. There are ‘VCAs’ all over the world, with missions and memberships similar to EVCA’s. Given that private capital investing accounts for a meaningful portion of what these members do, more rebranding exercises could be on the cards.