Yieldstreet acquires Athena for $170M to add art financing to its alternative investment platform

Yieldstreet — which raised $62 million in February to further open to a wider base of investors alternative investments in areas like shipping, real estate, legal finance and commercial loans — is today announcing its first acquisition to expand into a new asset class. It is paying $170 million to acquire Athena Art Finance, which provides loans to art dealers, collectors and museums and galleries to buy fine art and other collectibles.

Athena was founded in 2015 and was controlled by private equity firm Carlyle Group along with individual investors (one of whom is Olivier Sarkozy, the half-brother of the former president of France). Yieldstreet said that to date, Athena has racked up cumulative originations totaling some $225 million (the fees that are made out of originating the loans) and, strikingly, no realized credit losses. It will continue to be led by Cynthia E. Sachs under Yieldstreet.

Art finance is a huge business that has grown as the mean price of top-quality works continues to creep up, and sales volumes continue to grow. Those interested in buying for investment or love (ideally love) turn to financing as they compete to buy works against a super-wealthy cadre of collectors. A recent report put the global art finance market at some $20 billion annually, the majority of that being secured by individuals rather than organizations or businesses.

Yieldstreet’s business is built on a platform for people to put up financing for alternative investments in areas that are generally showing very strong returns, but which are typically not traded on public markets and have traditionally been open only to a small group of top investors, a business that has grown to 100,000 users over the years.

The idea is that it will now be adding art finance to the mix, both to open a new investment area, as well as to appeal to a potentially wider set of investors.

“Our acquisition of Athena demonstrates Yieldstreet’s ability to leverage our technology, proprietary origination channels and efficient direct-to-consumer distribution, to take a traditional capital-intensive business and make it capital efficient. We’re thrilled to have the Athena team join the Yieldstreet family, and look forward to supporting its existing business and continued scale and success,” said Yieldstreet founder and president Michael Weisz in a statement.

Art finance is, of course, a very different beast from real estate or shipping, and Athena’s staff includes art experts who help evaluate work and the wider art market, alongside those who structure the loans and the risk analysis. Yieldstreet has up to now positioned itself as a smart partner for alternative investments.

Yieldstreet has seen $650 million invested on its platform (up from $600 million in February), with an expected 12 percent IRR and more than $300 million in principal and interest payments made to its investors. Yieldstreet’s business was built by offering investment opportunities to accredited investors (already a wider pool than the investment banks that traditionally made these kinds of investments), which has a specific set of criteria that includes individuals having a net worth of at least $1 million or with annual income of $200,000 or more.

Going forward, Yieldstreet is expanding its business by opening it up to individuals who are not accredited by creating investment vehicles that bring together multiple products, which is another way that Athena’s business fits into its strategy: it helps Yieldstreet scale out its investment range. “We are working through the legal and regulatory aspects now,” Milind Mehere, founder & CEO of Yieldstreet, told me earlier this year.

“True to our investor-first approach, we are constantly looking for unique and attractive diversification opportunities,” said Mehere, in a statement. “Athena is the leading provider of credit solutions for the global art market and has scaled the business with strong growth and asset performance. Art financing is an attractive asset class with typically low correlation to the stock market and low loan-to-values, providing what we believe is both an exciting and sound new investment option for our investor community of more than 100,000 members.”

In addition to Edison Partners, which led the previous round, Yieldstreet’s other investors include Greenspring Associates, Raine Ventures and Soros Fund Management.