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Catering for investor priorities through tailored structures

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By A Paris – Transparency, accountability and control are three characteristics in high demand. Their importance, although always critical to investors, has been sharpened by the pandemic. Further, within the context of growing investor appetite for environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies, these characteristics take on an even more essential dimension.

The appeal of separately managed accounts (SMAs) has ebbed and flowed for a good number of years; rising in a post-crisis environment and now heightening again as investor priorities change in light of current events.

As the world shifted to a virtual model in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, investors demanded more transparency from their partners. Managed accounts have been key to evolution within the hedge fund and alternatives industry. They increase transparency and give investors additional control. These structures provided institutional investors with greater customisation and optimisation. Through managed accounts, investors have been better able to manage cost, increase transparency and take control of their alternative asset allocation. 

Space for sustainability

Sustainability and ESG is a growing focus among investors. Cliodhna Murphy, executive director, product development, MUFG Investor Services notes: “As we navigate the Covid-19 pandemic and the current crisis, both inside and outside the financial sector, it is worth reflecting on the factors which have driven the increased popularity of SMAs and exploring whether these vehicles could see a rise in popularity as a means of accessing ESG strategies.”

Abali Hoilett, co-head funds fiduciary, Maples Group contends: “In theory, because the investment mandate of a managed account is fully customisable, it would be easy to implement various ESG factors and tailor them to the needs of a specific investor. Depending on the ultimate structure used, the use of a managed account platform would allow the investor to review their exposures from a portfolio perspective versus on a fund-by-fund basis. The managed account platform structuring allows for consistency of reporting and removing the burden on trading advisors to run separate middle and back-office functions.”

Within the sustainability space, asset manager JP Morgan has been deploying managed accounts in different ways. 

Karim Leguel, international head of investment specialists for hedge funds & alternative credit solutions at JP Morgan Asset Management explains: “The JPM multi-manager sustainable long/short fund first finds strong equity long/short managers where we can customise their portfolio to tilt towards sustainable themes and find winners and losers within these medium-term trends such as health and wellness. The fund hires sub-advisors to manage different managed accounts focused on a number of the main sustainable themes: health and wellness, empowerment, resource efficiency, energy transition, technology for sustainability.”

The firm has also created a forward-looking scoring methodology which takes into account changes not yet factored into general ESG scores. “This is done for managers to add alpha ESG to their portfolios. For example, an energy producer may have a significant current carbon footprint today (low environmental score) but have a tangible plan, paired with meaningful capital expenditure, to transition towards renewable energy (high environmental score) in the future and phase out their coal assets,” Leguel outlines.

Lastly, JP Morgan applies a comprehensive value and norms based exclusion list to all the managed accounts to align with client objectives and industry best practices in achieving sustainable portfolios.

In a document detailing its ESG approach, Morgan Stanley Investment Management notes: “Some clients with separately managed accounts wish to apply additional ESG screens to our strategies for ethical, values-based and other reasons. While many of our strategies already consider ESG in their investment processes, we provide additional screening to those clients seeking to avoid certain sectors altogether (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, coal).” 

This is another example where separately managed accounts allow for customisation and a tailored approach which can be better aligned with investor needs.

“Our managed account model offers a high degree of customisation and provides significant transparency. These capabilities can be applied, for instance, to effectively integrate ESG considerations into a portfolio to achieve the client’s unique objectives,” points out Jonathan Planté, director of business development at Innocap.

Real assets and cost

The past year has also seen increasing allocations to real assets on behalf of institutional investors, with infrastructure being one of the headline asset types. Managed accounts are often a preferred structure in this space.

Planté at Innocap outlines: “There are many benefits to structuring real asset deals through a managed account. Some investors are looking to consolidate their positions or segregate risk while others want standardised reporting. Our model enables them to meet those specific needs and to adapt the structure as those requirements evolve over time.” 

A leading example of using managed accounts for real assets is the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (Calpers). The USD370.2 billion pension plan has chosen managed accounts to deploy its infrastructure strategies. Its Real Assets Strategic Plan outlined the plan’s focus on separate accounts.

A memorandum by consultant Meketa Investment Group to the members of the investment committee details: “The infrastructure program is evolving in a manner consistent with the real assets program strategic plan. It is growing in scale at a reasonable pace through its preferred reliance on separate accounts, complimented by strategic commitments to commingled funds and direct investments where possible and appropriate.” Managed accounts comprised around 62 per cent of the plan’s infrastructure portfolio as at June 2020.

These structures have enabled Calpers to achieve cost efficiency: “Asset management fee rates are expected to decline as the portfolio focuses on lower-fee customised separate accounts and direct investments over commingled funds. However, profit sharing fees may increase where managers exceed performance hurdles. Additionally, as the portfolio’s NAV grows, total fees would be expected to increase, even as fee rates may decline,” the memorandum continues. 

Having the potential to tailor cost frameworks is one of the characteristics which add to the appeal of SMAs. In fact, according to the Seward & Kissel 2019/2020 Hedge Fund Side Letter Study, approximately 68 per cent of the SMAs under review had fee structures typically not offered in the standard classes of hedge funds. These included for example, lower rates, sliding scale rates and/or hurdles on incentive fees (compared with 75 per cent in the prior study).

Outlining the benefits of managed accounts in the real assets space, Hoilett at Maples Group comments: “While managed account platforms have typically been created for more liquid strategies, there can be benefits to utilising these platforms for less liquid ones as well. We have seen such instances involving direct lending mandates or notes relating to infrastructure projects, but that’s not to say that traditional real asset or infrastructure exposure cannot be achieved via a managed account platform.”

Using these structures for traditional real asset exposure depends on the AUM available or whether a co-invest opportunity exists. Hoilett notes: “The governance model and use of independent governance professionals is fully transportable between liquid and illiquid strategies and can preserve investor value.  Contract standardisation, cash management, risk reporting and fee negotiations are also areas where utilising a managed account platform provider can create benefits when leveraged across both liquid and illiquid strategies.”

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