The Pension Protection Fund (PPF) is to begin lending at least £150m (€181m) a year to UK corporates, entering the direct lending market more than five years after the financial market caused the banking sector to contract.

The £15bn UK lifeboat fund said it would seek to appoint no more than two investment managers that could act as co-investors and offer loans or private debt securities to the firms.

A spokesperson told IPE: “Adding UK Direct Lending to our investment portfolio is intended to act as a diversifier within our fixed income portfolio.

“This mandate fits well our need for long term fixed return assets as it will enable us to access these with investment grade companies.”

In the tender notice, the PPF said it would consider lending “mainly to companies with a UK presence”, and that all transactions should be fixed-rate or index-linked, denominated in sterling.

It added that any loans should be long term – at least five years – investment grade and placed directly with the borrower or through market syndication.

Any applying manager must have at least a decade’s experience, as of December last year, in the UK direct lending market, and able to act as a co-investor, matching the PPF’s commitment to each company.

Applicants should also already manage a portfolio of at least £3bn in assets and be able to invest a minimum of £150m a year on behalf of the lifeboat fund.

Investment managers have until 4 February to apply for the mandates.

A number of large UK pension funds have previously spoken of their interest in direct lending, with Steven Daniels, CIO at Tesco Pension Investment, last year telling the National Association of Pension Funds investment conference that he would be “happy to participate in [direct lending] as far as possible”.

But he insisted at the time that any deals had to offer terms suitable to funds.

“We are banks – potentially good banks – but we are not mugs,” he added. “We need to pay great attention to how everything is structured that we do.”

Institutions across Europe have already been active in lending to small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), with the Irish National Pensions Reserve Fund a year ago investing €500m in three funds aiding domestic firms.

The €36bn Fonds de Réserve pour les Retraites in France last summer also confirmed it had committed €120m to an SME financing fund backed by the government and insurance industry, while the Danish pension association F&P recently struck an agreement with its government to promote SME lending among local pension funds.

Italy’s PensPlan, meanwhile, launched a fund investing in corporate bonds of SMEs in the South Tyrol region.