life assurers were investing like banks, and their experiment was not far off what today would be called direct lending.
Then as now low yields on government bonds pushed investors with long-term liabilities to look for returns in recherché forms of credit where they would not mind the lack of liquidity. It included private corporate debt. Over the years this market became much bigger in the US.
In Europe, where banks have historically financed almost all corporate investment, it did not. That is changing.
A private debt market is maturing in the region, fed by a continuing retreat by banks from loans to small and middle-market companies, under the pressure of tougher capital rules. Regulators are catching up.