Investment management (or financial management) is the professional asset management of various securities (shares, bonds, and other securities) and other assets (e.g., real estate) in order to meet specified investment goals for the benefit of the investors. Investors may be institutions (insurance companies, pension funds, corporations, charities, educational establishments etc.) or private investors (both directly via investment contracts and more commonly via collective investment schemes e.g. mutual funds or exchange-traded funds).
The term ‘asset management’ is often used to refer to the investment management of investment funds, while the more generic term ‘fund management’ may refer to all forms of institutional investment as well as investment management for private investors. Investment managers who specialize in advisory or discretionary management on behalf of (normally wealthy) private investors may often refer to their services as money management or portfolio management often within the context of “private banking”.
The term fund manager, or investment adviser in the United States, refers to both a firm that provides investment management services and an individual who directs fund management decisions.
According to a Boston Consulting Group study, the assets managed professionally for fees reached an all-time high of US$62.4 trillion in 2012, after remaining flat-lined since 2007. Furthermore, these industry assets under management were expected to reach US$70.2 trillion at the end of 2013 as per a Cerulli Associates estimate.
The global investment management industry is highly concentrated in nature, in a universe of about 70,000 funds roughly 99.7% of the US fund flows in 2012 went into just 185 funds. Additionally, a majority of fund managers report that more than 50% of their inflows go to only three funds.
The business of investment has several facets, the employment of professional fund managers, research (of individual assets and asset classes), dealing, settlement, marketing, internal auditing, and the preparation of reports for clients. The largest financial fund managers are firms that exhibit all the complexity their size demands. Apart from the people who bring in the money (marketers) and the people who direct investment (the fund managers), there are compliance staff (to ensure accord with legislative and regulatory constraints), internal auditors of various kinds (to examine internal systems and controls), financial controllers (to account for the institutions’ own money and costs), computer experts, and “back office” employees (to track and record transactions and fund valuations for up to thousands of clients per institution).
Key problems of running such businesses
Key problems include:
- revenue is directly linked to market valuations, so a major fall in asset prices can cause a precipitous decline in revenues relative to costs;
- above-average fund performance is difficult to sustain, and clients may not be patient during times of poor performance;
- successful fund managers are expensive and may be headhunted by competitors;
- above-average fund performance appears to be dependent on the unique skills of the fund manager; however, clients are loath to stake their investments on the ability of a few individuals- they would rather see firm-wide success, attributable to a single philosophy and internal discipline;
- analysts who generate above-average returns often become sufficiently wealthy that they avoid corporate employment in favor of managing their personal portfolios.
Representing the owners of shares
Institutions often control huge shareholdings. In most cases they are acting as fiduciary agents rather than principals (direct owners). The owners of shares theoretically have great power to alter the companies via the voting rights the shares carry and the consequent ability to pressure managements, and if necessary out-vote them at annual and other meetings.
In practice, the ultimate owners of shares often do not exercise the power they collectively hold (because the owners are many, each with small holdings); financial institutions (as agents) sometimes do. There is a general belief[by whom?] that shareholders – in this case, the institutions acting as agents—could and should exercise more active influence over the companies in which they hold shares (e.g., to hold managers to account, to ensure Board’s effective functioning). Such action would add a pressure group to those (the regulators and the Board) overseeing management.
However, there is the problem of how the institution should exercise this power. One way is for the institution to decide, the other is for the institution to poll its beneficiaries. Assuming that the institution polls, should it then: (i) Vote the entire holding as directed by the majority of votes cast? (ii) Split the vote (where this is allowed) according to the proportions of the vote? (iii) Or respect the abstainers and only vote the respondents’ holdings?
The price signals generated by large active managers holding or not holding the stock may contribute to management change. For example, this is the case when a large active manager sells his position in a company, leading to (possibly) a decline in the stock price, but more importantly a loss of confidence by the markets in the management of the company, thus precipitating changes in the management team.
Some institutions have been more vocal and active in pursuing such matters; for instance, some firms believe that there are investment advantages to accumulating substantial minority shareholdings (i.e. 10% or more) and putting pressure on management to implement significant changes in the business. In some cases, institutions with minority holdings work together to force management change. Perhaps more frequent is the sustained pressure that large institutions bring to bear on management teams through persuasive discourse and PR. On the other hand, some of the largest investment managers—such as BlackRock and Vanguard—advocate simply owning every company, reducing the incentive to influence management teams. A reason for this last strategy is that the investment manager prefers a closer, more open and honest relationship with a company’s management team than would exist if they exercised control; allowing them to make a better investment decision.
The national context in which shareholder representation considerations are set is variable and important. The USA is a litigious society and shareholders use the law as a lever to pressure management teams. In Japan it is traditional for shareholders to be low in the ‘pecking order,’ which often allows management and labor to ignore the rights of the ultimate owners. Whereas US firms generally cater to shareholders, Japanese businesses generally exhibit a stakeholder mentality, in which they seek consensus amongst all interested parties (against a background of strong unions and labour legislation).
Size of the global fund management industry
Conventional assets under management of the global fund management industry increased by 10% in 2010, to $79.3 trillion. Pension assets accounted for $29.9 trillion of the total, with $24.7 trillion invested in mutual funds and $24.6 trillion in insurance funds. Together with alternative assets (sovereign wealth funds, hedge funds, private equity funds and exchange traded funds) and funds of wealthy individuals, assets of the global fund management industry totalled around $117 trillion. Growth in 2010 followed a 14% increase in the previous year and was due both to the recovery in equity markets during the year and an inflow of new funds.
The US remained by far the biggest source of funds, accounting for around a half of conventional assets under management or some $36 trillion. The UK was the second largest centre in the world and by far the largest in Europe with around 8% of the global total.
Philosophy, process and people
The 3-P’s (Philosophy, Process and People) are often used to describe the reasons why the manager is able to produce above average results.
- Philosophyrefers to the overarching beliefs of the investment organization. For example: (i) Does the manager buy growth or value shares, or a combination of the two (and why)? (ii) Do they believe in market timing (and on what evidence)? (iii) Do they rely on external research or do they employ a team of researchers? It is helpful if any and all of such fundamental beliefs are supported by proof-statements.
- Processrefers to the way in which the overall philosophy is implemented. For example: (i) Which universe of assets is explored before particular assets are chosen as suitable investments? (ii) How does the manager decide what to buy and when? (iii) How does the manager decide what to sell and when? (iv) Who takes the decisions and are they taken by committee? (v) What controls are in place to ensure that a rogue fund (one very different from others and from what is intended) cannot arise?
- Peoplerefers to the staff, especially the fund managers. The questions are, Who are they? How are they selected? How old are they? Who reports to whom? How deep is the team (and do all the members understand the philosophy and process they are supposed to be using)? And most important of all, How long has the team been working together? This last question is vital because whatever performance record was presented at the outset of the relationship with the client may or may not relate to (have been produced by) a team that is still in place. If the team has changed greatly (high staff turnover or changes to the team), then arguably the performance record is completely unrelated to the existing team (of fund managers).
Investment managers and portfolio structures
At the heart of the investment management industry are the managers who invest and divest client investments.
A certified company investment advisor should conduct an assessment of each client’s individual needs and risk profile. The advisor then recommends appropriate investments.
The different asset class definitions are widely debated, but four common divisions are stocks, bonds, real estate and commodities. The exercise of allocating funds among these assets (and among individual securities within each asset class) is what investment management firms are paid for. Asset classes exhibit different market dynamics, and different interaction effects; thus, the allocation of the money among asset classes will have a significant effect on the performance of the fund. Some research suggests that allocation among asset classes has more predictive power than the choice of individual holdings in determining portfolio return. Arguably, the skill of a successful investment manager resides in constructing the asset allocation, and separate individual holdings, so as to outperform certain benchmarks (e.g., the peer group of competing funds, bond and stock indices).
It is important to look at the evidence on the long-term returns to different assets, and to holding period returns (the returns that accrue on average over different lengths of investment). For example, over very long holding periods (e.g. 10+ years) in most countries, equities have generated higher returns than bonds, and bonds have generated higher returns than cash. According to financial theory, this is because equities are riskier (more volatile) than bonds which are themselves more risky than cash.
Against the background of the asset allocation, fund managers consider the degree of diversification that makes sense for a given client (given its risk preferences) and construct a list of planned holdings accordingly. The list will indicate what percentage of the fund should be invested in each particular stock or bond. The theory of portfolio diversification was originated by Markowitz (and many others). Effective diversification requires management of the correlation between the asset returns and the liability returns, issues internal to the portfolio (individual holdings volatility), and cross-correlations between the returns.
There are a range of different styles of fund management that the institution can implement. For example, growth, value, growth at a reasonable price (GARP), market neutral, small capitalisation, indexed, etc. Each of these approaches has its distinctive features, adherents and, in any particular financial environment, distinctive risk characteristics. For example, there is evidence that growth styles (buying rapidly growing earnings) are especially effective when the companies able to generate such growth are scarce; conversely, when such growth is plentiful, then there is evidence that value styles tend to outperform the indices particularly successfully.
Large asset managers are increasingly profiling their equity portfolio managers to trade their orders more effectively. While this strategy is less effective with small-cap trades, it has been effective for portfolios with large-cap companies.
Fund performance is often thought to be the acid test of fund management, and in the institutional context, accurate measurement is a necessity. For that purpose, institutions measure the performance of each fund (and usually for internal purposes components of each fund) under their management, and performance is also measured by external firms that specialize in performance measurement. The leading performance measurement firms (e.g. Russell Investment Group in the US or BI-SAM in Europe) compile aggregate industry data, e.g., showing how funds in general performed against given indices and peer groups over various time periods.
In a typical case (let us say an equity fund), the calculation would be made (as far as the client is concerned) every quarter and would show a percentage change compared with the prior quarter (e.g., +4.6% total return in US dollars). This figure would be compared with other similar funds managed within the institution (for purposes of monitoring internal controls), with performance data for peer group funds, and with relevant indices (where available) or tailor-made performance benchmarks where appropriate. The specialist performance measurement firms calculate quartile and decile data and close attention would be paid to the (percentile) ranking of any fund.
It is probably appropriate for an investment firm to persuade its clients to assess performance over longer periods (e.g., 3 to 5 years) to smooth out very short-term fluctuations in performance and the influence of the business cycle. This can be difficult however and, industry wide, there is a serious preoccupation with short-term numbers and the effect on the relationship with clients (and resultant business risks for the institutions).
An enduring problem is whether to measure before-tax or after-tax performance. After-tax measurement represents the benefit to the investor, but investors’ tax positions may vary. Before-tax measurement can be misleading, especially in regimens that tax realised capital gains (and not unrealised). It is thus possible that successful active managers (measured before tax) may produce miserable after-tax results. One possible solution is to report the after-tax position of some standard taxpayer.
Risk-adjusted performance measurement
Performance measurement should not be reduced to the evaluation of fund returns alone, but must also integrate other fund elements that would be of interest to investors, such as the measure of risk taken. Several other aspects are also part of performance measurement: evaluating if managers have succeeded in reaching their objective, i.e. if their return was sufficiently high to reward the risks taken; how they compare to their peers; and finally whether the portfolio management results were due to luck or the manager’s skill. The need to answer all these questions has led to the development of more sophisticated performance measures, many of which originate in modern portfolio theory. Modern portfolio theory established the quantitative link that exists between portfolio risk and return. The capital asset pricing model (CAPM) developed by Sharpe (1964) highlighted the notion of rewarding risk and produced the first performance indicators, be they risk-adjusted ratios (Sharpe ratio, information ratio) or differential returns compared to benchmarks (alphas). The Sharpe ratio is the simplest and best known performance measure. It measures the return of a portfolio in excess of the risk-free rate, compared to the total risk of the portfolio. This measure is said to be absolute, as it does not refer to any benchmark, avoiding drawbacks related to a poor choice of benchmark. Meanwhile, it does not allow the separation of the performance of the market in which the portfolio is invested from that of the manager. The information ratio is a more general form of the Sharpe ratio in which the risk-free asset is replaced by a benchmark portfolio. This measure is relative, as it evaluates portfolio performance in reference to a benchmark, making the result strongly dependent on this benchmark choice.
Portfolio alpha is obtained by measuring the difference between the return of the portfolio and that of a benchmark portfolio. This measure appears to be the only reliable performance measure to evaluate active management. In fact, we have to distinguish between normal returns, provided by the fair reward for portfolio exposure to different risks, and obtained through passive management, from abnormal performance (or outperformance) due to the manager’s skill (or luck), whether through market timing, stock picking, or good fortune. The first component is related to allocation and style investment choices, which may not be under the sole control of the manager, and depends on the economic context, while the second component is an evaluation of the success of the manager’s decisions. Only the latter, measured by alpha, allows the evaluation of the manager’s true performance (but then, only if you assume that any outperformance is due to skill and not luck).
Portfolio return may be evaluated using factor models. The first model, proposed by Jensen (1968), relies on the CAPM and explains portfolio returns with the market index as the only factor. It quickly becomes clear, however, that one factor is not enough to explain the returns very well and that other factors have to be considered. Multi-factor models were developed as an alternative to the CAPM, allowing a better description of portfolio risks and a more accurate evaluation of a portfolio’s performance. For example, Fama and French (1993) have highlighted two important factors that characterize a company’s risk in addition to market risk. These factors are the book-to-market ratio and the company’s size as measured by its market capitalization. Fama and French therefore proposed three-factor model to describe portfolio normal returns (Fama–French three-factor model). Carhart (1997) proposed to add momentum as a fourth factor to allow the short-term persistence of returns to be taken into account. Also of interest for performance measurement is Sharpe’s (1992) style analysis model, in which factors are style indices. This model allows a custom benchmark for each portfolio to be developed, using the linear combination of style indices that best replicate portfolio style allocation, and leads to an accurate evaluation of portfolio alpha.
Education or certification
Increasingly, international business schools are incorporating the subject into their course outlines and some have formulated the title of ‘Investment Management’ or ‘Asset Management’ conferred as specialist bachelor’s degrees (e.g. Cass Business School, London). For those with aspirations to become an investment manager, further education may be needed beyond a bachelors in business, finance, or economics. Designations, such as the Chartered Investment Manager (CIM) in Canada, are required for practitioners in the investment management industry. A graduate degree or an investment qualification such as the Chartered Financial Analyst designation (CFA) may help in having a career in investment management. There is evidence that any particular qualification enhances the most desirable characteristic of an investment manager, that is the ability to select investments that result in an above average (risk weighted) long-term performance.
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- ^“Should You Get A CFA, MBA Or Both?”. Forbes. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
Ofer Abarbanel is a 25 year securities lending broker and expert who has advised many Israeli regulators, among them the Israel Tax Authority, with respect to stock loans, repurchase agreements and credit derivatives. Founder of TBIL.co STATX Fund.