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Guest post: “Would you like to know how financial advisors are choosing products?”

Investment marketers want to know what’s driving financial advisor behavior, so I asked  Lisa Cohen, CEO of Momentum Partners, for a guest post.

Financial advisors, what do you think of the RepThinkTank findings that Lisa discusses? Are you–like the advisors whom she mentions–planning to increase allocations to emerging markets and international stocks?


Would you like to know how financial advisors are choosing

products and making investment decisions in this market?

By Lisa Cohen

We thought you might. We did too. The recently-released first report in the RepThinkTank Distribution Dynamics series provides comprehensive information on investment selection and asset allocation trends. The study includes data from more than 1,000 financial advisors across all channels.

Key findings include:

  • Continued commitment to a short list of top managers and families (American Funds, Franklin Templeton, PIMCO), and
  • High regard for growing managers including Davis Investment Advisors, Ivy Investment Management, First Eagle Investment Management, and Thornburg Investment Management
  • Plans to increase allocations to Emerging Market Equities and International Core, among other asset classes, and to slightly decrease exposure to fixed income
  • Changing risk/return expectations and the financial crisis are a top driver of recent changes in the asset allocation of client portfolios
  • Advisors’ median allocation across all channels to passive investments is 20%. Data suggests a growing appreciation for using passive investing as both a core allocation and as a way to adjust investor exposure to specific asset classes.
  • Use of third party portfolio construction tools by nearly a third of advisors in all channels. In light of advisors’ anticipated increase in use of mutual fund wraps, this data suggests the continued outsourcing of asset allocation.

The complete report is available from any of the RepThinkTank partners and is priced at $7,500. RepThinkTank is an experienced, integrated team of leading financial services research, advisor practice management, and advisory firms. Learn more at www.repthinktank.com. You can contact Lisa at 866-995-7555.

Should the Morningstar style box go 3-D? Quality counts, says Atlanta Capital

Investment professionals and financial advisors are familiar with the Morningstar style box, which categorizes stock funds by market capitalization and style. A recent CFA Magazine article made me wonder if Morningstar should turn the style box into a style cube by adding a third dimension: quality.

Stock quality may overwhelm size and style

Quality counts for just as much as size and style.

That’s according to Brian Smith, director of institutional services and principal at Atlanta Capital Management, in “3-D Investing” in the Sept.-Oct. issue of CFA Magazine. The CFA Magazine article is based on a longer white paper, “The Third Dimension: An Investor’s Guide to Understanding the Impact of ‘Quality’ on Portfolio Performance.” To access the original white paper, click on “Publications” across the top of the Atlanta Capital website.

“…our research indicates that ignoring quality and investing solely by capitalization and style dimensions is unwise. In fact, the performance of high- and low-quality stocks can have a significant influence on an investor’s risk and return characteristics, in many cases overwhelming the influence of either size or style,” writes Smith in his CFA Magazine article.

I wondered if there might be something other than quality at work.  Could one style be more associated with quality than another?

Smith notes in the white paper that certain value and growth styles are sometimes associated with high- or low-quality stocks. “Conservative growth” and “relative value” tend toward high-quality vs. low-quality for “absolute value” and “aggressive growth,” he says. Smith refers to this as a “hidden quality bias.”

Smith compared returns by quality, size, and style using Russell indexes and custom benchmarks based on the Standard and Poor’s Earnings and Dividend rankings. Looking at 2009 returns, he found that “Clearly, each size, style, and quality index responded differently to the same economic stimuli….”

In other words, the correlations among the quality, size, and style indexes were weak.

The “quality cycle” in the stock market

Smith suggests that a “quality cycle” exists because fluctuations in the performance of high- and low-quality stocks are associated with the economic and stock market cycle. Low-quality stocks briefly outperform high-quality stocks at both ends of a market cycle. This is probably because they’re more sensitive to the economy, the availability of credit, and investor speculation. High-quality stocks win the rest of the time.

Smith concludes,”If history is a guide, high-quality stock should post stronger relative returns in 2010 and 2011….”

Do you agree? You’ll probably want to read more of the CFA Magazine article or Atlanta Capital white paper before you decide.

POLL: How can Boston make itself more competitive as an investment management center?

Boston’s asset managers need to boost their competitiveness, according to the leaders who spoke on “Where Are We Heading? The Future of Investment Management in Boston.”

Our new poll asks “What does Boston need more of to achieve this goal?”

Please check as many answers as apply in the poll that appears in the right-hand column of this blog. You’ll need to scroll down below “Recent Posts.” If I missed something, please leave a comment.

The poll will run until I’m ready to report the results in my August e-newsletter. Not a subscriber to my free monthly? Sign up today! As bonus, you’ll receive a free electronic copy of my Top Tips.

“Where Are We Heading? The Future of Investment Management in Boston”

The future of investment management in Boston was the focus of a panel presentation to the Boston Security Analysts Society’s annual meeting on June 24.

The view that Boston is being left behind made the greatest impact on me, but I’ll report some of the opinions of the four speakers, all of whom are industry veterans.

Reamer: Emphasis on actively managed equities hurts Boston

The investment world is shifting toward aggressive hedge funds and passive quantitative funds, said Norton Reamer, vice-chairman and founder, Asset Management Finance LLC. There’s also currently an emphasis on fixed income. This is because the public has been discouraged by the stock market returns of the past two years. They want defensive, safe investments. On a related note, large pension funds are moving more toward indexing.

These trends don’t favor Boston, the home of the original mutual fund, because local firms emphasize actively managed mutual funds. At least these trends don’t bode well in the immediate future.

For Boston to prosper, it must attract assets from around the world, said Reamer. However, he sees the action shifting to New York, London, and even Philadelphia and California. Boston has only one of the 10 largest hedge funds and three of the 30 largest. While Boston has a history of venture capital, venture capital is less important than private equity, which is concentrated elsewhere, said Reamer.

One of Reamer’s comments held a glimmer of hope. Universities–along with arbitrage groups, traders, and others–are the source of the new ideas that are changing the investment world. Boston has some great universities. Perhaps the universities can fuel the region’s resurgence as an investment center. I’m happy to note that the Boston Security Analysts Society’s program committee has a subcommittee devoting to inviting speakers from academia.

Putnam: Four trends will create many losers, few winners

Investment management is a craft, said Don Putnam, managing partner of Grail Partners, who moderated the panel. He emphasized the need to avoid losing sight of the craft before he described the four trends that he believes are changing the industry.

As a result of these trends, there will be many losers and few winners, said Putnam. The winners will be global firms as well as small cadres of capable people. The big challenge for money management will be to connect these two groups.

Trend 1: The long, complicated supply chain is reordering. For example, people are seeing the problems with “the slices taken off for people who deliver golf balls.” I assume Putnam was referring to wholesalers and the broader issue of 12b-1 fees and the like, though he said that he was not making a case for fee-only advisors. Changes are coming as a result of regulatory pressures, client demands, and “better mousetraps,” such as ETFs and active ETFs. Putnam said he’s sceptical about growth opportunities for the mutual fund industry.

Trend 2: The relevance of specialization is declining. Why? Because the efficient frontier–and the need to diversify into many slices of the market–has been challenged. “It has been proven to be nonsense for the client,” said Putnam. Clients’ “true utility equation” can be delivered more efficiently with quantitative solutions, he added.

Trend 3: The arithmetic of the investment business is changing with the rising importance of asset allocation. As the utility of money management has declined, fees have risen, said Putnam. This can’t last. While clients have bought the “myth of comfort and control,” the past three years have increased client dissatisfaction.

Trend 4: Technology is increasing in importance. Technology should be woven into every aspect of money management, said Putnam. Technology’s influence on money management has barely begun.

Manning: Structure your firm to have an edge over your competition

You must deliver great results to keep assets, said Robert J. Manning, who spoke as CEO of MFS Investment Management, but is scheduled to become the firm’s chairman on July 1. This means you must structure your firm to have an edge over your competition. Manning discussed three key elements of MFS’ structure.

1. Follow a long-term investment philosophy. The world is preoccupied with short-term investment returns. However, MFS believes that you need a culture of long-term investing backed by an appropriate compensation structure. When MFS conducts performance reviews, it only considers periods of three years or longer.

2. Create a global footprint. If your people are only in Boston, you can’t be a winner, said Manning. For example, if you don’t have staff in Europe, you can’t respond quickly enough when credit default swaps widen in Europe. As part of the global footprint discussion, Manning emphasized the need to integrate the firm’s fixed income and equity teams.

3. Analysts are more important than portfolio managers. The old model is broken, said Manning. The most important employees are career analysts who have expertise in specific sectors. MFS has eight global sector heads. These are the people who, if they “see a storm coming” get the entire firm out before it hits.

The increased importance of analysts has been driven partly by the fact that clients want to buy “specialized sleeves of alpha.” This is reflected in analysts’ compensation. At MFS, analysts earn more than portfolio managers.

We sell the global research platform, not the portfolio manager, said Manning. The portfolio manager simply assembles the alpha streams from the analysts the way that clients want.

Hughes: Confident in Boston’s future

Larry Hughes, CEO of BNY Mellon Wealth Management, said that Boston’s talent and innovation makes his firm feel confident about Boston’s future.

Still, the next decade will pose challenges for wealth managers in terms of how to protect clients against continued market volatility and how to capture the related opportunities. Hughes suggested three areas for focus.

1. Investment innovation–The “set it and forget it” ways of the past won’t work any more, said Hughes. It’s important to capture trends that develop–and disappear–in months, or perhaps even just weeks.

2. Seamless and dynamic planning–Wealth managers must “plan across silos,” considering all aspects of clients’ lives, including taxes, estate planning, health care, and more.

3. Better manager-client engagement–It’s important to speak in your clients’ terms. Clients don’t talk about the efficient frontier, standard deviation, or r-squared, said Hughes. So neither should wealth managers. Instead, wealth managers should present issues in straightforward terms, such as “helping you maintain your lifestyle.”

Guest post: “Making Research Readable”

Investment research analysts can learn to write better. In his guest post, Joe Polidoro gives directors of research his advice on how to make this happen. I’m delighted to have met another advocate of good investment writing thanks to Twitter, where Joe tweets as @joepolidoro.

Making Research Readable
By Joe Polidoro

Is it worthwhile, or even possible, to improve the quality of your research analysts’ writing? Yes and yes, and I’ll tell you how. First, the business case.

It seems reasonable that good writing—clear, engaging, memorable—should be more effective than sub-par writing at reaching your audience. But let’s see the numbers.

One of the best proofs I’ve come across is courtesy of Dame Marjorie Scardino, CEO of Pearson PLC and former CEO of the Economist Group (hat tip: Vicki Cobb and I.N.K.)

Scardino located a study in which three groups—linguists, writing professors, and journalists –were asked to improve passages taken from a history textbook. Students were then asked to read the original passages and the rewrites and immediately record as much as they could remember.

Recall of the journalists’ rewrites beat recall of the other groups’ rewrites and of the original text by a whopping 40%. Good writing matters.

And I think average writers, including research analysts, can measurably improve their writing—with the right help.

First, look for a writer
In your quest for a writing coach, avoid anyone who doesn’t make a living—and a decent one—by writing. As Stephen King said, anyone who is paid to write knows how to write effectively. Professional writers “get the story told memorably … and quickly,” says Scardino. Those who make their living doing other things, including the teaching of writing, usually can’t.

Hire a writer/coach
A writing pro isn’t necessarily a good writing teacher, however. Aside from references, here’s how to tell. Effective teaching is less about charisma, more about preparation, perseverance, and a passion for the work. So ask questions: What are you going to teach my analysts? What are your goals? What’s your plan? How will you deal with indifference or egomania?

Your writer/coach should be quick with confidence-inspiring answers.  Look for someone who emphasizes telling a story (yes, even in a research report), clarity, and effective editing. Steer clear of those who get deep into grammar and theory. Good writer/coaches use real examples and show how it’s done.

Follow through with your swing
No writer/coach worth hiring will promise to improve your analysts’ writing in one session. A golfer won’t significantly improve her game with a 3-hour lesson. If she’s serious, she’ll take a series of lessons over the season. And writing well is harder than golfing well.

It doesn’t have to be extensive—even three 45-minute sessions over four to eight weeks with your most problematic analysts will work. But set aside budget for this. It’ll show you’re serious. And it will make whoever you hire that much more effective.

Joe Polidoro spent over a year improving the equity research reports at Bear Stearns, where he worked with past and future research stars including Lee Seidler, Lincoln Anderson, Larry Kudlow, Joe Buckley, Jami Rubin, and Steve Binder. Joe now co-heads Triplestop LLC, a marketing agency specializing in asset management and related industries.

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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Six lessons from the CFA Institute’s conference tweets

You can learn some lessons for how to tweet a conference from the CFA Institute. It has done things right as it timed its Twitter debut to coincide with its annual conference. But there’s still room for improvement.

Lesson 1:  Deploy a team. The CFA Institute mobilized a team of 14 people to report on its three-day conference. One person will burn out if she or he tries to cover every session. Plus, it’s impossible for one person to cover concurrent sessions.

Lesson 2: Use a hashtag. The hashtag #CFA2010 allowed people to find conference tweets by both official and unofficial sources.

Lesson 3: Complement your tweets with blog posts. You can’t say much of substance in a line of 140 characters or less. You’ll engage your conference attendees more deeply when some of your tweets lead them to blog posts. Tweets may be the sizzle that leads some reader to the steak. Read the CFA Institute’s 2010 conference blog.

Lesson 4: Decide on a strategy for engaging with fellow Twitter users. The CFA Institute included non-staff #CFA2010 tweets in the Twitter feed. It might also have engaged with other people tweeting about the conference.

I may have overlooked something, but I didn’t see any CFA Institute Twitter users getting into conversations on Twitter. On the other hand, there aren’t many CFA charterholders on–or even knowledgeable about–Twitter. “You can tweet, although I don’t know what that means,” joked John Rogers, the CFA Institute’s President and CEO, to widespread laughter when he introduced the conference’s Monday morning sessions.

Lesson 5: Monitor the back channel. This isn’t an issue for the CFA Institute yet, but it’s becoming more of an issue, as reflected in the publication of The Back Channel: How Audiences Are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever by Cliff Atkinson. The CFA Institute kept its eyes on the back channel by featuring #CFA2010 tweets on its conference blog and on screens at the conference.

Lesson 6: Go multimedia. Some folks like to take in their information in written form. Others prefer audio and video. The CFA Institute did a great job of getting its headline speakers interviewed on camera by reporters and tweeting the interviews as they became available online. It has also gradually fed the interviews onto its blog.

Congratulations CFA Institute on a conference well-tweeted!

Related posts:
* My blog posts related to #CFA2010

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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Pull your white papers into the year 2010

Investment and wealth managers, you can get a lot more mileage out of your white papers today.

How’s that?

Don’t forget about the content once it’s up on your website. Reuse it using social media.

Recycle as blog posts
White paper content can be recycled into blog posts. In some cases, you can pluck a few paragraphs and drop them into your blog “as is.” However, most of the time, you’ll need to frame and re-write the content. I’ve been doing this recently for a white paper client.  

Another possibility: Send your white paper to a blogger whom you respect. Offer to answer questions about your topic on the other person’s blog. Check out “How to guest-blog on personal finance or investments,” if you’d like to explore this option

Tweet it–and don’t forget LinkedIn
It’s a no-brainer to tweet the availability of your white paper. Smart marketers go beyond this. They tweet intriguing excerpts, keeping them short enough to be retweetable. Pithy quotes are popular on Twitter.

Remember, tweets are also great fodder for LinkedIn updates. While you’re over at LinkedIn, you may also want to raise a question in a Group related to your white paper topic.

Go multimedia
Different members of your audience prefer to take in content in different ways. So, also consider turning your white papers into podcasts, videos, or interactive webinars.

Related posts

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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Guest post: "Talking to clients about social investing"

Socially responsible investing can make for a difficult conversation between investment managers and their clients. But it doesn’t have to be that way if you follow the tips provided by my friend Annie Logue, the author of Socially Responsible Investing for Dummies.

Talking to clients about social investing
By Ann C. Logue

Often, an individual client will walk into an office with a list of industries and companies that he or she does not want to own. Some clients have well-thought out objections or religious obligations that set the tone, but others have a vague idea of the goodness or badness of an industry without any real reasoning behind it.

How do you deal with such a customer?

Social criteria can be legitimate investment constraints, so one tactic is to approach it as a constraint. Get the client to identify the real issues, ideally in writing. Are they religious? Well, you can’t argue with religion! If they are more vague, then use some good questioning to get them onto paper, or ask the client to do some research. Some good sources are CSR Wire and Triple Pundit.

The real conversation is about what your client would rather invest in. Social investing doesn’t have to have lesser performance than traditional investing; the KLD Social Select 400 Index has minimal tracking error to the S&P 500 and, right now, outperforms it slightly. The secret is making sure that the companies you do invest in have a similar risk and return profile. If your client wants to sell BP, then you’d better find a company with similar characteristics. Replace BP with a speculative green tech company, and you’re changing the portfolio’s nature. Replace it with a large multinational food company with responsible business practices, paying a high dividend, and subject to commodity price fluctuations, and you’re getting closer to the portfolio contribution of BP without the oil exposure.

Keep holding the conversation, too. BP had a great reputation for its social responsibility right up until April of 2010. Social investing is still investing, and you still take on company risk. Just as there is no perfect job and no perfect boyfriend, there is no perfect investment. Remind your client of the long-term goals. Many clients prefer to separate their investing from their philanthropy, figuring that the more money they make, the more money they can donate and the more time they have to volunteer.

Finally, turn your clients into activists. Talk to them about proxies. They can vote their proxies and have an influence on companies even if they do not change their ownership positions. That gives the client power without disrupting an investment position.

Social investing doesn’t have to underperform, and it doesn’t have to be a wedge between you and your client. You can use a client’s interest as an opportunity to educate them and to show how you can add value to their portfolio.
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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

My May blog posts by category: Blogging, economy/investments/wealth management, marketing, social media, writing

Did you notice that I went wild in May, posting every day as part of the Word Count Blogathon? For your convenience, I’m listing my May posts by category.

Blogging

Economy, investments, and wealth management

Marketing

Social media

Writing

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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Poll: Which should investors fear more? Which #CFA2010 speakers were right?

CFA Institute Annual Conference speakers raised many concerns about the future during the conference, which ran from May 16 to May 19 in Boston. But they didn’t always agree with one another. Their mixed opinions inspired this month’s poll.

Which do you fear more? 
* Inflation or deflation? 
* Continued fiscal stimulus or spending cuts to focus on deficit reduction?

Please answer the poll in the right-hand column of this blog. I’ll report on the results in the July issue of my e-newsletter.

For a sampling of the mixed opinions, see
* Memo from Van Hoisington: Inflation Won’t Be a Problem for Some Time to Come on the CFA Institute’s conference blog
* Why Niall Ferguson’s Forbidden FT Headline is the Key to Understanding Sovereign Risk on the CFA Institute’s conference blog
* Harvard Professor Kenneth Rogoff Offers a Historical Perspective on Financial Crises on the CFA Institute’s conference blog
* R Koo, “Lessons from Japan: Fighting a Balance Sheet Recession”
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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved