Discretionary Management  

The risks of going it alone post-Covid

The risks of going it alone post-Covid
 Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg

We have long argued that investment management is a specialist pursuit and benefits from dedication and experience.

However, a benign period of rising equity and bond markets could, until recently, have made the job of those advice companies choosing to run portfolios in-house look relatively easy. 

This benign environment has been blown apart by the Covid-19 outbreak. Crises can expose weaknesses in investment processes and, for some advice companies, this will have been no exception. 

Performance will have shown advisers whether their portfolios were adequately diversified, whether they had considered liquidity closely enough and whether they grasped how the underlying assets would behave. 

Here are five ways in which the crisis may have proved tough for advisers trying to go it alone.

Diversification

No amount of experience can predict what the impacts of a global pandemic will be on businesses, but it can ensure portfolios are resilient to crises. 

Part of this resilience comes from adequate diversification, both across equity and bond portfolios, and through the inclusion of alternatives.

However, some of the most effective diversification options often come with liquidity constraints – such as private equity and hedge funds. Investment trusts proved a compelling way to defend capital in this crisis, but investors need the resources to analyse and monitor them.  

Meanwhile, property, a classic diversifier, has come under extreme pressure, with funds closing to redemptions and new investments. Having the experience of how best to diversify – and the capabilities to access different sources of diversification – is a key benefit of outsourcing. 

Style

It has been a horrible time for value investors. Even the most capable value-focused managers have struggled in this era of low interest rates and unprecedented fiscal spending. 

There have also been problems for income funds, particularly as these also tend to have a natural value tilt. Many also had high weightings in the oil majors and banks, and have thus taken a significant hit. Those looking to preserve their clients’ income streams have faced a notable challenge.

It is difficult for advisers with limited time and resources to dig deep into the inherent style biases involved in collective investments. However, investment managers can help advisers to draw from a broad range of options to meet these challenges. 

Time

Dedicated time and resources matter at a time of crisis. We had 333 one-on-one meetings with investment managers from March to May, where we posed targeted questions about their current investment approaches.

At times of crisis, this is particularly important. Fund managers can lose their nerve in volatile markets and it is important to ensure they are behaving as expected. 

We would argue relatively few advisers have the resources to do this, particularly when they are hand-holding nervous clients. 

Volatility 

Trading in volatile markets is a challenge. Any portfolio rebalancing needs to be undertaken with extreme care: being out of the market, even for just a few days, could have had a significant impact on long-term portfolio returns.