Can MSCI drag private markets out of the shadows?

Meet the Nicaraguan revolutionary behind the world’s favourite index supplier

HENRY FERNANDEZ was once a counter-revolutionary. The man who over three decades has built MSCI, a provider of stockmarket indices, into a standard bearer of financial globalisation, started his career as a Nicaraguan diplomat in the government of Anastasio Somoza, a right-wing dictator. While some of his friends flocked to the left-wing Sandinistas ahead of the revolution that toppled Somoza in 1979, he took a look at socialism in eastern Europe and decided it was doomed to fail. Instead, he embraced free-market capitalism and moved to Wall Street.

There he encountered a different revolutionary movement that he has championed ever since: the forward march of capital markets. Starting in the Reagan era, he has played a role in several of the upheavals that have swept the world of finance, from securitisation in the 1980s and the growth of emerging-market investing in the 1990s, to the rise of index tracking and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) this century. He retains an idealistic streak. While many former advocates of environmental, social and governance investing have shied away from the climate-related fad of the past half-decade, he remains a true ESG believer.

He is now betting that MSCI’s indices can penetrate the opaque world of private finance—the $12trn-plus of assets held in private equity, credit, venture capital, real estate…