Understanding Alternative Investments: Definition and Examples

Article Summary

The article explains what alternative investments are, how they work, and their advantages and disadvantages. They are financial assets that are not classified as traditional investments like stocks, bonds, or cash and may include private equity, hedge funds, real estate, commodities, and collectibles. They can offer potential benefits such as diversification, higher returns, and lower correlation with traditional investments. However, alternative investments can also come with additional risks, such as illiquidity, high fees, and regulatory restrictions, and require a higher level of expertise to understand and manage. The article also discusses the regulation of alternative investments and the regulatory frameworks that may apply to them.

What is Alternative Investment

Assets that are not typically included in traditional investment portfolios, such as stocks, bonds, and cash, are known as alternative investments. These investments are referred to as other investments because they frequently differ from conventional investments in terms of risk and return.

Hedge funds, private equity, real estate, commodities, cryptocurrency, and collectibles are a few examples of alternative investments. These assets may provide special advantages such as inflation hedging, diversification, lack of correlation to conventional asset classes, the possibility for better returns, and non-correlation with them.

Alternative investments, however, can carry their own set of hazards, including illiquidity, high fees, and regulatory restrictions, so it’s crucial for investors to thoroughly consider these assets before incorporating them into their portfolios.

Alternative investments refer to a broad range of investment options outside of traditional investments like stocks, bonds, and cash. These types of investments typically include private equity, hedge funds, real estate, commodities, and other unique assets.

How do alternative investments work?

Alternative investments can offer potential benefits such as diversification, higher returns, and lower correlation with traditional investments.

However, they also come with additional risks and may require a higher level of expertise to understand and manage. Some of the most common alternative investments and how they work are:

1. Private equity

Private equity firms typically seek to acquire companies with strong growth potential and implement strategies to increase their value over time.

They may also sell their stake in the company through an initial public offering (IPO) or to another company.

2. Hedge funds

Hedge funds are private investment vehicles that use various investment strategies to generate returns.

These strategies can include long/short equity, global macro, event-driven, and others. Hedge funds often charge high fees and require a minimum investment, making them accessible primarily to accredited investors.

3. Real estate

Real estate investments can include direct ownership of property or investments in real estate investment trusts (REITs).

Direct ownership can involve buying, renting, and managing properties for income and appreciation.

REITs are investment means that allow investors to own shares in a portfolio of real estate properties.

4. Commodities

Commodities refer to physical goods such as gold, oil, and agricultural products. Purchasing and holding physical commodities is one way to invest in commodities.

Commodity prices can be affected by various factors including supply and demand, geopolitical events, and weather conditions.

Alternative investments can offer potential benefits to investors looking to expand their portfolios and potentially generate higher returns.&

Regulation of alternative investments

The regulation of alternative investments varies depending on the type of investment and the country in which it is made. In general, alternative investments are subject to less regulatory oversight than traditional investments like stocks and bonds.

This is because they are typically only available to accredited investors who are presumed to have the sophistication and financial resources to evaluate the risks and potential benefits of these investments.

Some of the regulatory frameworks that may apply to alternative investments:

Securities laws

In many countries, securities laws govern the sale and marketing of alternative investments.

These laws require that companies offering investments to the public must provide disclosure documents that detail the investment’s risks, fees, and other important information.

Investors must also typically meet certain financial and other eligibility requirements to invest in private offerings.

Investment advisers act

In the United States, investment advisers who manage assets for clients are required to register with the SEC or state securities regulators.

This includes investment advisers who manage alternative investments like hedge funds and private equity funds.

Registered investment advisers are subject to ongoing reporting and disclosure requirements, as well as periodic examinations by regulators.

Commodity futures trading commission

In the United States, commodity futures and options contracts are regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).;

This includes alternative investments that involve commodity futures or options, such as managed futures funds.

Investment managers who manage these funds may be required to register with the CFTC and obey various reporting and disclosure requirements.

Real estate regulation

Real estate investments may be subject to various regulations depending on the country and region in which the property is located.

For example, in the United States, real estate investment trusts (REITs) must comply with securities laws and file periodic reports with the SEC.

In addition to these regulatory frameworks, alternative investments may also be subject to other laws and regulations depending on the specific investment and the country in which it is made.

It is necessary for investors to carefully consider the regulatory environment and any potential risks before investing in alternative investments.

Additionally, investors should consult with a qualified financial advisor or attorney before making any investment decisions.

Advantages and disadvantages of alternative investments

Alternative investments offer potential advantages and disadvantages compared to traditional investments. Some of the advantages and disadvantages of alternative investments:


  • Diversification: Alternative investments can offer investors diversification benefits by providing exposure to asset classes that are not highly correlated with traditional investments like stocks and bonds. This can help reduce overall portfolio risk and potentially increase returns.
  • Potential for higher returns: Alternative investments often have the potential to generate higher returns than traditional investments due to their higher risk profiles and less efficient markets. For example, private equity and venture capital investments may provide significant returns if the companies they invest in experience strong growth.
  • Unique opportunities: Alternative investments can provide access to unique investment opportunities that may not be available through traditional investments. For example, investing in art, wine, or other collectibles may provide returns based on the value of the underlying asset.
  • Hedge against inflation: Some alternative investments, such as commodities and real estate, may provide a hedge against inflation. These investments may experience price increases when inflation rises, helping to protect the value of an investors portfolio.


  • Limited liquidity: Alternative investments are often less liquid than traditional investments, meaning they cannot be easily bought or sold. It can make it difficult for investors to exit an investment quickly if needed.
  • Higher risk: Alternative investments often have higher risk profiles than traditional investments, meaning they are more likely to experience significant losses. For example, investing in a start-up company through a private equity fund involves a high degree of risk, as many start-ups fail.
  • High fees: Alternative investments often come with higher fees than traditional investments due to the additional expertise required to manage these investments. For example, hedge funds may charge fees that include both a management fee and a performance fee.

How to invest in alternative investments

Investing in alternative investments requires a bit more effort and research compared to traditional investments like stocks and bonds. Here are some steps to get started:

Educate yourself

Before investing in any alternative investment, you need to understand the risks and potential returns involved. Read up on the specific type of alternative investment you are interested in and consider consulting with a financial advisor.

Assess the risks and fees

Alternative investments can be more complex and carry higher fees compared to traditional investments. Make sure you understand the risks and fees involved before investing.

Consider investing through a fund or platform

Some alternative investments may require a high minimum investment amount, but there are platforms and funds that allow for smaller investments and diversification across multiple investments.

Monitor your investments

Alternative investments can be less liquid than traditional investments, meaning they may be harder to sell quickly. It’s important to monitor your investments and be prepared to hold them for the long term.

Remember to always do your due diligence before investing in any alternative investment and consider seeking advice from a financial professional.


In conclusion, alternative investments refer to any investment vehicle that falls outside the traditional categories of stocks, bonds, and cash. These can include real estate, private equity, hedge funds, commodities, and more. Alternative investments often come with higher risk but also the potential for higher returns. As with any investment, it’s important to thoroughly research and understand the risks and benefits before committing any funds.

Alternative investments can provide diversification to a portfolio and can be a valuable addition for investors looking to diversify and potentially increase their returns. However, due to their unique characteristics, alternative investments may not be easy for all investors and require a certain level of expertise and understanding.

Key takeaways

  • An investment that is categorized as an alternative investment is not typically categorized as equity, income, or cash.
  • Real estate, commodities, hedge funds, private equity or venture capital, and tangible assets are examples of alternative investments.
  • Most alternative investments are often a little less liquid and are subject to less stringent regulation by (the SEC) of the United States
  • Alternative funds now allow individual investors to access assets previously only available to accredited or institutional investors.
  • Real estate, commodities, cryptocurrencies, and collectibles are examples of common alternative investment types.
View Article Sources
  1. 7 types of alternative investments everyone should know about – Harvard business school online
  2. Alternative Mutual Funds Are Not Typical Mutual Funds – S securities and exchange commission
  3. The journal of alternative investments – Portfolio management research