Many of the fund managers I speak to remain conflicted about how best to position their diverse asset management firm. While I don’t have all the answers, perhaps I can help shed a little light on the topic for folks. Read this while you’re thinking about your capital raising battle plans for 2019. And may it help you separate who’s been naughty and nice, whose chimney you should visit and whose you should skip in the New Year.

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In January of this year, I was asked to speak at the 2018 TEDx UIUC event "Roots." The theme of the event was pretty straightforward - "The beginning of all things are small" (Cicero). The organizers asked me to talk about both my professional journey and the work I do around diversity in finance/investing.

First, I was very flattered.

Then, I *may* have pooped my pants a little at the thought of giving a TEDx talk.

TedX Wide with full Ted Cropped Photo Resized.JPG

Ultimately, I of course accepted. And on April 22, 2018 I gave my talk to about 400 students, faculty, members of the Champaign-Urbana community, my mom, and Jill Kimmel (yes, THAT Kimmel).  

The talk looks at what I've identified as the three types of good and bad luck that impact all of us on our journey to success, and how we can create more good luck (or micro-opportunities) to open doors for others and effect change, specifically in the investing community.

If you've got just under 20 minutes, I hope you'll take time to watch it. If you like the message, I hope you'll take time to share it. If you utterly hate it, let me know and I'll send you a personal note of apology for the time wasted AND I'll try to prevent my mom from sending you hate mail, too. 

Posted
AuthorMeredith Jones

I miss Entourage. 

To this day, I’m not sure there was much better than watching Ari Gold lose his collective crappola and yell hysterical insults at people. Listening to Ari’s invective was like giving my id a voice. Sure, it was obscene, profane and probably actionable abuse in many cases, but that’s why it was so much better to watchsomeone else spewing that hilarious filth than to let my own inner Ari Goldout to play.

Vulgarity aside, I also enjoyed watching the agent-principal relationship that Ari had with Vincent Chase. Sure, Vinnie ultimately called the shots, but Ari brought moola and industry know-how to the table. It was, despite a brief firing at the end of Season 3 (and the entire “Medellin” disaster), an almost perfectly symbiotic relationship.

In many ways, you see that same principal-agent relationships play out in the investment world (minus the copious swearing). In fact, I content that all investors can be classified as either principals or agents, or as some hybrid blend of the two, and that it’s critical to know which one you’re dealing with at any given time. 

If you’re a money manager on the prowl for assets under management, knowing whether you’re interacting with a principal or agent can save you time, energy and headaches. If you’re an investor looking for a new role, understanding and explaining whether you’ll be a leading lady/man or Ari Gold can help manage expectations down the line.   

Investors who are principals usually have some traits in common: 

  • They’re often quicker to invest – usually because there’s not layers upon layers of decision makers behind the scenes. There is no (or a limited) investment committee and there’s usually no consultant or operational due diligence outsourced resource. 
  • “Principal” investors may choose more innovative or niche-y investment strategies, invest in new trends earlier and generally take more risks. 
  • However, they are often able to do this because they are investing their own capital and may not have fiduciary duty to anyone other than themselves or a small group of constituents, which means they don’t have to make enormous allocations or worry about headline risk. 
  • Think high net worth individuals, single family offices, small foundations. 

Investors who are agents also have traits in common:

  • They usually take longer to invest due to multiple layers of sign-off and decision making. 
  • You can be pretty sure that every nook and cranny of your fund, firm and investment strategy will be gone over with a fine-toothed comb, because these investors have more headline and client risk. If an agent investor recommends a fund that blows up or fails you’re almost certain to hear about it because they are investing large, either for themselves or on behalf of their external clients.  
  • Because “agent” investors often move as a herd, you can rest assured that where one goes, there will likely be a sequel. Making it past the gate with one agent can pave the way for others.
  • Think institutional investors (whose minutes and meetings are often matters of public record) and investment consultants. FOFs (who generally have to think about attracting clients to ensure their existence) can fall anywhere on the agent-principal spectrum, depending on the organization.
 (c) MJ Alts

(c) MJ Alts

Obviously, there are benefits and drawbacks to working with both agents and principals when it comes to investing. The only real drama comes from not knowing with whom you are dealing and therefore not effectively managing expectations (and resources). 

For example, if you’ve got a truly niche-y and innovative strategy that perhaps is a bit untested, presenting it only to agents may pay off, but it will likely be a long slog and you may be stopped out entirely if your strategy can’t handle large allocations. Or if you have a strategy that is more of a new twist on an old tale, Aquaman 2for example, you may find that high net worth individuals aren’t sufficiently wowed by your offering. If you need to get to a quick close, or if you only have limited capacity left before your final close, landing a prime role with an agent may not be possible. But if you’re looking for a large anchor, or if you have enormous capacity and the time to run the agent gauntlet, these investors can provide the bulk of your capital.

And to make matters worse, some agents present as if they were principals, and principals can suddenly bring an agent to what you thought was your fund’s premier. It would be so much easier if there was just a script the industry could stick to, but unfortunately, you just have to try to learn everyone’s role and trust that if there’s some confusion, you can just hug it out in the end. 

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are turning pretty colors. Kids are back in school. There is a real possibility of leaving my air-conditioned Nashville home without my glasses fogging upon hitting the practically solid wall of outdoor heat and humidity. And like any good Libra lass, I’m celebrating a birthday.

That’s right, it’s time for my annual orgy of champagne, mid-life crisis, chocolate frosting and introspection. Oh, and it’s time to check the batteries on the smoke detectors – best to make sure those suckers are good and dead before I light this many candles.

One of the things I’ve noticed in particular about this year’s “I’m old AF-palooza” is how much time I spend thinking about sleep. On any given day (and night), I’m likely to be contemplating the following questions:

  1. Why can’t I fall asleep?
  2. Why the hell am I awake at this hour?
  3. How much longer can I sleep before my alarm goes off?
  4. Why did I resist all those naps as a kid?

I even bought a nifty little device to track and rate my sleep (oh, the joy’s of being quantitatively oriented!). Every night, this glowy orb tracks how long I sleep, when I wake, how long I spend in deep sleep, air quality in my bedroom, humidity levels (in the South – HA!), noise and movement. 

 To sleep, no chance to dream

To sleep, no chance to dream

Yes, I’ve learned a lot about my nocturnal habits from my sleep tracker – for example, I move around 17% less than the average user of the sleep tracking system, I’m guessing due to having two giant Siamese cats pinning me down - but the one thing I didn’t need it to tell me was that I SUCK at sleep.

I’m not sure when I went from “I can sleep 12 hours straight and easily snooze through lunch” to “If I fall asleep RIGHT NOW I can still sleep 3 hours before my flight….RIGHT NOW and I can still get 2.75 hours…1.5 hours….” but it definitely happened.

I don’t drink caffeine. I exercise. I bought a new age aromatherapy diffuser and something helpfully called “Serenity Now” to put into it. I got an air purifier, a new mattress and great sheets.

But no matter what I try, I am a terrible sleeper.

I’ve concluded that it must have something to do with stress. I do spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about life, the universe and everything, so perhaps that’s my problem.

So in honor of my 46th year on the planet, I decided to compile a list of the top 46-investment related things I worry about at night. They do say admitting the problem is the first step in solving it, after all.

In no particular order:

  1. $2 trillion increase in index-tracking US based funds, which leads me to…
  2. All beta-driven portfolios
  3. Short-term investment memory loss (we DID just have a 10 year index loss and it only ended in 2009…)
  4. “Smart” beta
  5.  Mo’ Robo – the proliferation (and the dispersion of results) of robo-advisors
  6. Standard deviation as a measure of risk
  7. Mandatory compliance training - don’t I know not to take money from Iran and North Korea by now?
  8. Spurious correlations and/or bad data
  9. Whether my mom’s pension will remain solvent or whether I have a new roommate in my future
  10. Politicizing investment decisions
  11. Did I really just Tweet, Blog or say that at a conference?
  12. Focusing on fees and not value
  13. Robo-advisors + self-driving cars equals Skynet?
  14. Going through compliance courses too quickly & having to do them over again
  15. Short-term investment focus
  16. Will I ever have to wait in line for the women’s bathroom at an investment event? Ever?
  17. Average performance as a proxy for actual performance versus an understanding of opportunity and dispersion of returns
  18. The slow starvation of emerging managers
  19. Is my industry really as evil/greedy/stupid as it’s portrayed
  20. Factor based investing – I’m reasonably smart – why don’t I get this?
  21. Dwindling supply of short-sellers
  22. Government regulatory requirements, institutional investment requirements and the barriers to new fund formation
  23. “Chex Offenders” – financial advisors and investment managers who rip off old people (and, weirdly, athletes)
  24. The vegetarian option at conference luncheons – WHAT IS THAT THING?
  25. Seriously, does anyone actually read a 57-page RFP?
  26. Boxes...check, style, due diligence...
  27. Tell me again about how hedge fund fees are 2 & 20…
  28. The markets on November 9th
  29. The oak-y aftertaste of conference cocktail party bad chardonnay
  30. Drawdowns – long ones mostly, but unexpected ones, too
  31. Dry powder and oversubscribed funds
  32. Getting everyone on the same page when it comes to ESG investing or, hell, even just the definition
  33. Forward looking private equity returns (see also: Will my mom’s pension remain solvent)
  34. Will my investment savvy and sarcasm one day be replaced by a robot (see also: Mo’ Robo)
  35. After the election, will my future investment jobs be determined by my membership in a post-apocalyptic faction chosen by my blood type?
  36. How many calories are in accountant-provided, conference giveaway tinned mints? (See also: conference chardonnay)
  37. Why are financial advisors who focus on asset gathering more successful than ones that focus on investment management? #Assbackward
  38. Dunning Krueger, the Endowment Effect and a whole host of ways we screw ourselves in investment decision making
  39. Why divestment is almost always a bad idea
  40. Active investment managers – bless their hearts – they probably aren’t sleeping any better than I am right now
  41. Clone, enhanced index and replication funds – why can’t we just K.I.S.S.
  42. The use of PowerPoint should be outlawed in investment presentations. Like seriously, against the actual law - a taser-able offense.
  43. Will emerging markets ever emerge?
  44. Investment industry diversity – why is it taking so looonnnnggg?
  45. Real estate bubbles – e.g. - what happens to Nashville’s market when our hipness wears off? And is there a finite supply of skinny-jean wearing microbrew aficionados who want to open artisan mayonnaise stores that could slow demand? Note to self, ask someone in Brooklyn….
  46. Did anyone even notice that hedge funds have posted gains for seven straight months?

Yep, looking at this list it’s little wonder that sleep eludes me. If anyone can help alleviate my “invest-istential” angst, I’m all ears. In the meantime, feel free to suggest essential oils, soothing teas and other avenues for getting some shuteye.

 

Sources and Bonus Reading: 

Asset flows to ETFs: https://www.ft.com/content/de606d3e-897b-11e6-8cb7-e7ada1d123b1

Recent HF Performance (buried) http://www.valuewalk.com/2016/10/hedge-fund-assets-flows/

HF Replication: http://abovethelaw.com/2016/10/low-cost-hedge-fund-replication-may-threaten-securities-lawyers/

Average HF Fees: http://www.opalesque.com/661691/Global_hedge_funds_slicing_fees_to_draw_investors169.html

Political Agendas & Investing: http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/16/10/03/murphy-adds-plank-to-platform-no-hedge-funds-in-pension-and-benefits-system/

Asset Gathering vs. Investment Mgmt: http://wealthmanagement.com/blog/client-focused-fas-more-profitable-investment-managers

World's Largest PE Fund: http://fortune.com/2016/10/15/private-equity-worlds-largest-softbank/  

Spurious Correlations: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-14/hedge-fund-woes-after-u-s-crackdown-don-t-surprise-sec-s-chair

Short-Term Thinking - 5 Months Does Not Track Record Make: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/10/14/venture-capitalist-chamath-palihapitiyas-hedge-fund-is-outperforming-market.html

 

My ex and I parted ways about a year ago. After taking some time to eat some ice cream, clean out my closets and get my personal feng shui back in order, I decided recently it was time to re-enter the dating scene.

Unfortunately, as someone who A) works from home and B) travels extensively, I realized that meeting men who weren’t delivering FedEx packages or patting me down in the airport was going to be a bit challenging. So I bit the bullet and did the online dating thing.

Color me PTSD’ed. 

My first day at the online ‘all-you-can-date’ buffet saw me literally innundated with emails. “Hey!” I thought. “I must still have it!.”

But then I started to actually open those emails and realized that nearly all of the men who had emailed me could be categorized into one of three buckets:

  1. Men holding things they had killed;
  2. Men my dad’s age and older; and
  3. Curiously, Civil War re-enactors (As an aside, do folks not realize the South actually lost the Civil War? I mean, isn’t that kind of like re-enacting the Titanic sinking over and over again? Big fanfare. Long denouement. Everyone dies. But I digress…)

Ho-lee-shit.

My mind started racing.

“Well, if this is the best that’s out there for me these days, I’m going to be single forever,” I thought.

“Do you suppose they have nunneries for spiritual, not religious, former Presbyterians-quarter Jews whose favorite form of cardio is shopping and who want to endow the cloister not only with their worldly ‘dowry’ but with vast amounts of high quality hair gel???” I wondered.

Seriously. My dating life was over. Kaput. I was hopeless. Driven to salted caramel ice cream, red velvet cake, NeimanMarcus.com and re-runs of the BBC's Pride and Predjudice in an instant.

And then I realized something.

I had fallen for literally one of the oldest tricks in the mind’s playbook. Instead of considering the known unknowns (i.e. – the thousands of men online and in the physical world from whom I hadn’t received disturbing, Santa Clause-esque pictures), I had taken the known knowns and concluded that I would eventually die alone and be eaten by my cats. And don’t even get me started on the unknown unkowns in this scenario. I mean, Bridget Jones-type endings don’t just happen in the movies, right?

Daniel Kahenman explained this information processing phenomenon in his book Thinking Fast And Slow as “what you see is all there is (WYSIATI),” and I was a classic victim.

But it was somewhat comforting to me to remember that I’m not the only one that falls for this little mind game. The investment industry does it all the darn time. In fact, it’s one of the things that makes me the kinda tired about the work I do.

Don’t believe me? Think about the following areas:

Hedge Fund Returns: A classic example of WYSIATI, we all know that hedge fund returns have been positively tragic for years, right? I mean, we see the HFRI Asset Weighted Index is down -0.21% through July and that obviously means that all funds have struggled to post any kind of decent returns. Well, hold on there a minute, Sparky. What if I told you that looking at that one number was giving you a bad case of the known knowns? What about all of the other funds in the HFR database? I guess they’re underperforming, too? Nope. Even if you look at other index categories you can see instances of strong outperformance: Credit Arb – up 5.17%, Distressed – up 6.20%, Equity Hedge Energy – up 10.73%, and those are all averages. Or what about the small funds I'm always pushing on y'all? They are up 4.1% for the year to date, according to industry watcher Preqin, compared with a somewhat anemic gain of 0.54% for the "billion dollar club." In fact, these numbers are the known unknowns – the numbers we could consider, but we don’t because there’s a nice, neat single little index number for us to rely on. And then you’ve got the unknown unknowns – the funds that DON’T report to HFR and aren’t accounted for in their index. I know of funds that are up 10%, 15% even 20%+ for the year. In a universe of 10,000 funds, drawing conclusions from one bit of known known data just doesn’t cut it.

Diversity: In April 2015, Marc Andreessen famously said in an interview that “he has tried to hire an unnamed woman general partner to Andreessen Horowitz five times. Each time, she’s turned him down.” See? Even a luminary in the venture capital world can get sucked into WYSIATI. Because the “unnamed woman” was likely one of the few females Andreessen associates with in the industry, she constitutes his entire universe. She is his known known. And if you think there aren’t great women and minority candidates, funds or investment opportunities out there, the problem is likely with you. Cultivating different networks, rewriting job descriptions to attract different applicants, working with recruiters who specialize in diversity, hell, even just being more intentional about hiring and investing can reveal a wealth of candidates that can help bring cognitive and behavioral alpha to your firm.

Fund Fees: Hedge fund fees are 2 and 20. 2 and 20. 2 and 20. I hear (and read) this so much I want to vomit. Do some funds charge 2 and 20? Sure. Do some funds (read: most funds) charge less, if not in headline fees, in actual fees? Hell yes! The average fees for a hedge fund these days is about 1.55% and 18% and declining. For new fund launches, fees were remarkably stable for years, never approaching the 2 and 20 milestone on average. And what’s more, roughly 68% of funds in a Seward & Kissel study offered reduced fees for longer lock ups, while 82% of equity funds and 29% of non-equity funds offered reduced-fee founders share classes. And what about hurdle rates? An investor recently swore to me that “no hedge funds have hurdle rates.” Well, that’s just bupkis. A show of other investor hands in the room immediately dispelled that myth, proving that, while not the majority of funds, some funds do have benchmarks to beat before they take their incentive allocation. What that one investor saw was not all there was.

Indices: Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em: Obviously, the entire investment industry is trending towards passive investments. You can’t swing a dead pouty fish without hitting an article touting the death or underperformance of active investment management. And for people who have only been investing over the last 10 years or so, it probably looks like the S&P 500 is a sure bet. Always goes up, right? Well, wrong. While it’s certainly true that the S&P does tend to go up over time, you can never be sure what the time frame will be, and whether you’ll have time to recover from any unexpected downturn. But the bull market we’ve seen since March 9, 2009 isn’t all there is. Actually, if you recall, at that point in time, the S&P 500 had just experienced a 10-year losing streak. Ouch. Don't believe me? Ask any Gen X'er like me how much Reality Bites when the first 10 years of your 401k saving is wiped out by a tech wreck. Sorry, Millennials, but you haven't cornered the market on false financial starts quite yet. 

Investment Opportunities/Herding: Private equity and venture capital dry powder with nowhere to go. Hedge funds all own the same stocks. Crowded trades. High valuations. What investor could possibly make money in this environment? Once again, 13-Fs, Uber and Apple aren’t all there is. Even though we tend to fixate on the visible data, there are a number of niche-y, networked, regional, club-deal and other funds out there getting it done. Even big firms with the right resouces can pound the pavement, do the research or build the quantitative system that generates returns. Don’t believe me? Read the article (link below) on Apollo, who did more deals in the first part of this year than their three largest competitiors put to work in the same period. Just because the managers you’ve seen thus far haven’t done it, doesn’t mean it isn’t being done.

So before you freak out about one of the topics above and eat an entire red velvet cake while standing at your kitchen counter (no judgement).

Before you decide that you should do away wholesale with your hedge funds, private equity funds, venture capital allocation, financial planner, mutual funds or your dating life.

Take a step back.

Breathe.

Sign off of Match.com because, honestly, any site that thinks the best reason for going on a date with someone is that neither of you smokes needs help with their dating algorithm.

And understand that you’re likely looking only at what you know, which may not help you as much as you’d like.

Sources: HFR, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/11/andreesen-women_n_7046740.html, Seward and Kissel, http://fortune.com/2016/08/04/hpe-private-equity-apollo-global-management/

 

This week, I decided to spare everyone my usual delivery of salty commentary on the investment arena and instead, use two pictures to say my 1,000 words.

So here's this week's blog in cartoon format. Of course, as badly as I draw and with the economic outlook uncertain, these may actually only be worth 500 (or even 5) words. But hopefully you'll get my general drift that:

  1. Asset managers can limit themselves by pursuing the biggest, splashiest and easiest to find investors, and
  2. Investors can limit themselves by not casting a wide enough net when looking for investments.

Oh, and apologies to Raiders of the Lost Ark...although maybe this attempt at spoofing humor will inspire you to watch it again. 

 (c) 2016 MJ Alts

(c) 2016 MJ Alts

 (c) 2016 MJ Alts

(c) 2016 MJ Alts