The world of private investment has changed dramatically over the last 12 months. New sources of capital are flooding the market, against the background of low interest rates, leading asset managers to explore new frontiers to build more structured solutions and find investments to put this capital to work.
The path ahead is now cleared for the burgeoning asset class of alternative investments, but it comes alongside ever more intense scrutiny from investors, compliance teams and regulators.
There is no other choice for asset managers but to succeed in combining those traditional bywords of successful businesses: agility and security.
A complex new world is emerging
The amount of money invested in alternative investments has gone up from around $2.5 trillion at the beginning of 2000 to an expected $13 trillion in 2020. That’s a quintupling in size in just 16 years (source: PwC).Alternative investments are also a much larger proportion of global AUM now. In the past they were just a few percent of the value of a portfolio, now they make up anywhere between 15 – 20%. With such large percentages in play, the word ‘alternative’ is no longer adequate to describe such investments; some prefer to call them ‘specialist’ rather than ‘alternative’ investments.
With such a weight in global AUM now tied up in the alternatives market, asset managers are under increasing scrutiny from asset owners as well as regulators around the planet.
The ructions of the 2008 downturn, and the raft of new regulations (AIFMD, Solvency II, Dodd–Frank…) that followed in its wake represent an important period in the development of the burgeoning market.
Speed in acquisition: a key asset to success
Of course, while investment in the sector has increased hugely, the number of underlying real assets has not grown at anywhere near the same rate. That means a shortage of prime assets, high prices and increasing competition.
The trend we have seen for a couple of years is now becoming even more pronounced – accelerated acquisitions cycles. A few weeks ago we saw a core+ asset that was put on the market in the morning and was under option by the end of the same day. That kind of reactivity was not even conceivable a few months ago. The faster asset managers are in processing due-diligence, the better their reputation becomes on the market, and the more they end up with opportunities being presented to them.
Asset managers are seeking out opportunities wherever they can. They are into real estate, infrastructure, renewables, private equity – a plethora of different products, sectors and geographies. Asset management companies need to look at their investment portfolio as a whole. Asset allocation, compliance adherence and cash management all required faster turnaround to manage portfolios more effectively.
The pressure to have more sophisticated monitoring and due diligence processes is upping the ante to remain competitive. It is putting accounting and past-tense portfolio management very much on the back burner as a potential game changer and bringing forecasting and ‘what if’ analytics on an agile basis very much to the forefront.
Indeed, companies have to analyse data and make decisions infinitely faster than they did before to secure the right investments for their clients. It’s also important to havea much closer dialogue with the investors in order to build a strategy which is consistent with their risk vs yield objectives and which is achievable with the opportunities available on the market. This dialogue is based on reporting developed on the basis of accurate cash flow models investors can rely on and risk management process based on cold assumptions, cross border structuring and on reliable information about the assets.
This environment is becoming even more complex with the raft of new regulations that are now coming in the alternative investment market. Risk management processes are even more demanding and asset specific. Dealing with these developments requires quite a degree of reactivity and skills.
Relying on the right technology: a game changer
All these factors crank up the pressure. The above challenges have resulted both in an urgent demand for more agility and by extension new technology that can secure and accelerate all of the processes but not at the expense of accuracy.
Excel-centric organisations, heavily dependent on highly-skilled people, aren’t going to cut it.
We are seeing more and more investors proceeding with IT systems audits before they give a mandate to an asset manager. The level of complexity, the number of parameters to consider, the intricacy of economies are such that it can’t be managed solely by individuals. The treasure is getting the organisation to own the information. Today, it is in people’s heads/memories and in thousands of spreadsheets lost forever on hard drives. Asset by asset models have been developed here and there, but this level of agility now has to reach the fund level and the investor capitalisation tables to engage clients in investment decisions.
The solution is to adopt a platform that does provide a portfolio-wide consolidated view. A platform that can ingest disparate data and then fuel models both speedily and accurately, all the while adhering to a corporately-supported audit trail.
These kinds of systems enable asset managers to know their existing portfolio in detail and to assess new acquisitions and their impacts on cash, distribution, performance and risk instantly.
Moreover, new technologies like the GlobalAsset platform from Taliance, can easily result in asset agnostic models as asset managers never know what is going to be the next opportunity available (debt funds, FoF, RE, Infrastructure, Private Equity etc.). Corporately supported systems are able to combine this ability with strong risk management capabilities as they calculate and put at the disposal of asset managers the risk ratios, perform complex regulatory reporting and track changes in the assumptions and business models. So flexibility, transparency and security are an integrated part of all of the company’s processes
When data is of a high quality and available on demand across an organisation it’s easier to create models for stress testing, test multiple iterations and experiment with different assumptions and, importantly, do this quickly and as much as possible in real-time. It’s no good having the perfect model, if you take so much time to build it that you miss the chance to bid.
Can Thematic Investing provide investors with growth opportunities in uncertain times?
New whitepaper from CAMRADATA explores
CAMRADATA’s latest whitepaper on Thematic Investing, considers the role this type of investing can play in asset management and explores trends that can permeate society and traverse sectors. The whitepaper includes insights from guests who attended a virtual roundtable on Thematic Investing hosted by CAMRADATA in November, including representatives from CPR Asset Management, Sarasin & Partners, Impact Investing Institute, PwC, Quilter Cheviot, Scottish Widows and Stonehage Fleming.
Sean Thompson, Managing Director, CAMRADATA said, “In these seminal times, thematic investing has the potential to shape how the future unfolds. Yet running a successful thematic fund is no easy feat – it is a bit like navigating unchartered waters trying to identify the trends and the long-term opportunities.
“Trends such as AI and biotechnology are still in their relative early days, for example, and global economies are undergoing dramatic changes. But mapping out certain trends, identifying potential sustainable returns through a unifying thread that spans multiple sectors, could help future-proof investments. “Our roundtable guests considered current key themes, which themes worked well, and which have not and how thematic investors could identify trends with the potential to offer future growth.”
The guests named themes they currently like which included artificial intelligence, China, climate change, clean energy, automation, evolving consumption, ageing, digitalisation, water, waste management, biodiversity, and board diversity.
After discussing themes that have worked or not, the guests looked at total allocation to themed funds, and whether clients might be blinded by themes to the overall risk exposure in their portfolios.
Key takeaway points were:
- Themes have a habit of coming and going. One guest recognised that automation and robotics, for example, were cyclical, which means that investors will have to think carefully about entry-points.
- It was agreed that the commodities ‘super cycle’ of the 2000s came about with the economic development of China. Many commodities-based products found their way into mainstream investing, but this is unlikely to happen again.
- One guest was surprised by some of the themes that interested their customers; with their research showing that Board Diversity was almost the lowest-ranking concern among the ESG choices they listed.
- There was correlation between environmental impact and social benefits to investing. The theme that concerns the Impact Investing Institute, which is less than two years old, is improved measurement of such relationships.
- In terms of successful themes, one clear winner due to COVID had been digitalisation.
- One theme that has not done so well is the Ageing theme focused on older people travelling and enjoying experiences abroad later in life.
- One guest said their firm used themes for ideas generation, not as a shortcut for portfolio construction. They said themes lead to good ideas, but they then spend at least three months researching a stock, so that the best themes are represented by the best investments.
- The final point was that there are sensitivities for any global investor in allocating to themes, even the biggest one of all, Climate Change.
- But on a positive note, one guest added if all stakeholders can resolve their differences on definitions such as impact and ethical investing, then more capital will be readily transferred into opportunities.
The whitepaper also features two articles from the sponsors offering valuable additional insight. These are:
- CPR Asset Management: ‘Central Banks: leading the path towards Impact Investing’
- Sarasin & Partners: ‘Theme or fad? How to invest for the long term’
To download the Thematic Investing whitepaper, click here
For more information on CAMRADATA visit www.camradata.com
Promises, Promises: Navigating the Reputational Risks of ESG Investment Pledges
By Nir Kossovsky and Denise Williamee, Steel City Re
As the trend towards ESG investment and a low-carbon economy continues, banks are being backed into a reputational corner. Law firms specializing in representing the expanding pool of litigious shareholders are salivating.
On one hand, banks understand the inherent financial risks and challenges involved with making a wholesale move towards a low-carbon economy. The transition to a greener corporate world can’t happen overnight; as long as “brown” assets continue to be profitable, those in bank leadership positions have to balance their green aspirations with their responsibility to shareholders.
On the other hand, while not renewing loans on existing coal mines or fracking sites may improve a bank’s carbon disclosures, it could have social and financial ramifications that disappoint other stakeholders—i.e., causing people to lose their jobs. Still, financial institutions are experiencing pressure from all sides—from ESG investors to social license holders – to divest the fossil fuel industry and adopt drastic “green financing” practices now.
To alleviate these pressures, banks are pledging greener financing initiatives. Almost every large global bank has made some sort of commitment. Goldman Sachs, for example, announced they would spend $750 billion on sustainable finance over the next decade. Bank of America pledged $300 billion.
Bank boards and executives likely don’t fully appreciate the reputational risks posed by the aspirational statements they’re making. They are making promises and raising expectations without the operational or governance systems in place to ensure those expectations will actually be met. Overpromising and increasing the risk of angering and disappointing stakeholders is the very definition of reputational risk.
Banks are in a unique position: integral to every aspect of our economy, well-known brands that work hard to build and retain the trust of their customers and the general public while operating in an environment of intense scrutiny by politicians and regulators at every level of government. Satisfying all the stakeholders calling for greener policies while fulfilling their responsibility to their shareholders is a demanding balancing act fraught with risk. The Business Roundtable pledge, led by JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, and elevating employees, communities, and the environment as stakeholders, was an attempt to strike that balance. Already, though, that pledge is being dismissed by politicians like Senator Elizabeth Warren, who characterized it as an “empty publicity stunt.”
The price of missing expectations is costly, and bank executives and board members could find themselves in a legal hot seat. Federal securities lawsuit filings alleging reputation harm from missed expectations are up 60% over last year, the third year of a rising trend.
This trend stems from SEC regulation S-K that calls for more human capital disclosures, and the Caremark decision that sets the bar for most securities litigation and makes board oversight of mission-critical corporate operations a test of the duty of loyalty. Other cases, like In Re Signet, have made ESG-like pronouncements—historically “immaterial corporate puffery”—now potentially material in the securities arena.
For example, directors’ duty of loyalty were successfully questioned in alleged failures of innovation (In Re Clovis Oncology, Inc., board failure to protect the firm’s reputation for pharmacologic innovation); safety (Marchand v. Blue Bell Creameries, board failure to protect the company’s reputation for food safety); and environmental sustainability (Inter-Marketing Group USA, Inc. v. Armstrong, board failure to protect the firm’s reputation for oil pipeline-related environmental protection).
In other words, aspirational pledges are now being considered by courts with the full weight of a material public disclosure. As wealth managers chase ESG-informed investing and capital markets chase ‘green underwriting’, the plaintiff’s bar chases boards and executives making pledges that appear to be no more than aspirational marketing.
The only way to strike a balance and mitigate these risks is through a robust Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) strategy that’s centered around understanding who your key stakeholders are, what their interests are, and ultimately, what their expectations are. Coincidentally, it is also one of the three key behaviors the world’s largest asset management firm, Blackrock, is demanding of all investee companies in 2021 thus communicating the type of authenticity to its slogan “beyond investing,” that BP failed to accomplish with similar sloganeering a decade ago.
Banks need to create a central intelligence unit with board level oversight to comb through every aspect of the organization to identify stakeholder interests, potential risks and/or exposures. Pledges and communications should be informed by a rigorous and honest self-assessment of the institution’s public filings and operational capacity. Overpromising is costly. ESG pledges must be rooted in achievable goals that a bank’s leadership are confident their institutions can reasonably execute on an operational level. Banks also need to consider transferring or financing risks using the broad range of conventional and parametric insurance products currently available.
Enterprise risk management, when executed properly, will fulfill ESG commitments, reassure stakeholder groups and give marketers, counsel, and investment as well as government relations professionals an authentic story to tell about strong corporate governance. ERM focused on reputational intelligence will provide confidence to ESG funds, institutional investors, bond raters, and government officials alike.
The popularity of ESG investment and chasing ESG ratings is not going to go away, and stakeholder pressures will continue to mount. Investors doubled the size of the ESG sector this year, putting $27.4 billion into ETFs traded in U.S. markets. According to a recent survey conducted by Bank of America relating to ‘Gen Z’—which is just entering the workforce—80% take ESG into account when making their investment decisions.
Bank leadership that is striving to attain the correct balance between stakeholders and shareholders need to lean more into the “governance” portion of the ESG equation; pledges backed by enterprise risk management are the strongest pledges you can make.
ESG – Bubble or Bandwagon?
By Josh Gregory, Founder of Sugi
Isaac Newton was a successful investor, but he lost a fortune (£15m in today’s money) in the South Sea Bubble of 1720. When asked about his misadventure, he supposedly replied that he ‘could calculate the motions of the heavenly stars, but not the madness of people’ (presumably, himself included).
The rise and fall of South Sea stock was one of the earliest and largest instances of a market bubble and crash. Three hundred years later, we’re facing another massive investing trend: sustainable investing. In the last year or so, almost every investment institution has jumped on the sustainability bandwagon.
It’s now arguably more notable to find an asset manager who hasn’t committed to sustainable, ethical, responsible, impact and/or ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing than one who has. The numbers are telling: in August 2020, assets in global ESG exchange traded funds and products topped $100 billion (£73 billion) globally.
Demand for sustainable investments has been bolstered by two main factors. Firstly, with climate change firmly on the global agenda and all eyes watching the Biden administration’s transition to power (and the subsequent climate change policy that will follow), ‘greening up’ has never been more of a priority for businesses and individuals. This includes the investment industry, with both retail and institutional investors increasingly demanding that their money has a positive impact on our planet.
Secondly, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic reports have continually claimed that ESG funds are outperforming ‘traditional’ investments. No longer is going green cited as a ‘nice to have’; rather, these reports demonstrate the value and resilience of ESG funds to the investor community, increasing demand. Surely, this can only be a good thing? Yes, but only if investors know what they’re buying.
It’s no secret that ESG investing suffers from complexity, lack of transparency and a lack of any universal standard. Fundamentally, this is why we created Sugi – a new platform enabling retail investors to track the environmental impact of their investment portfolios using clear and objective carbon impact data.
Today, ESG terms can lawfully be used to label pretty much anything. Ultimately, this means that the ESG label is not a guarantee of good practice. In fact, an ESG rating is a financial risk metric – the scores calculate the extent to which ESG issues affect a company’s economic value. Many investors, even institutional investors, don’t know how to decipher this. The scores themselves are designed to be used in tandem with portfolio dashboards and other data to make financial decisions. This effectively means that the scores on their own without any context are not of much use to anyone.
This has led to a glut of greenwashing in the sector, where investment products are described as green, ethical or sustainable, but the description is unsubstantiated. And while the top financial performance of ESG funds seems uncontroversial, those digging a little deeper may be surprised at what they find. Many ESG funds are heavily weighted in favour of technology companies, which typically have low carbon emissions. These stocks skyrocketed in 2020 but it’s important to note the context. It was largely due to the COVID-19 lockdowns and had nothing to do with the stocks’ ESG credentials.
The EU, the UK and the US are all working on their own strict definitions of ESG. This should, in theory, go some way to clarify what investors are getting when they choose an ESG or sustainable investment product. However, this will take a while to implement and there will still not be a globally recognised definition or standard.
It would seem many people are pouring money into investments when they don’t know what they’re buying. That’s nothing new. But underneath the ESG label lies something meaningful, worthwhile and, above all, valuable for the world in which we live – environmental, social and governance best practice.
The question remains though, is it a bubble? A bubble exists if ESG investments are over-valued (i.e. over-bought). Right now, ESG funds may be in bubble territory because many of the underlying stocks that make up the funds are themselves in a bubble. But does that make ESG a bubble? If it is, when do we call it?
Historically, all bubbles –whether they be tulips, canals, railways or the internet – no-one knows. And if I knew now, I’d be sunning in the South Seas rather than writing this blog!
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