Thursday, June 18, 2009

Effective reporting and perspective

One area that often comes up in discussions is client reporting. There are no standards on this topic, although some guidance has been offered.

Reporting is made complex for a few reasons. First, at times the client dictates what they want, in which case the manager's job is made a bit "easier" because they don't have to design the reports, they just make sure they report what the client has asked for ("easier" is obviously used cautiously here, as such reporting can be quite complex, especially when supporting many firms with many unique needs).

As for those clients that don't specify their requirements, firms often wish to tailor reports to each type of client. For example, many retail investors would have no interest in seeing attribution reports, as they would only be confused by them.

We have been involved in a few report design projects and advocate heightened sensitivity to the way information is provided, as there are various perspectives from which the information can be viewed.

We met with a custodian some time ago, for example, who discussed their reporting facility. Their reports, however, are from a single perspective: the manager's. That is, they tell their clients (e.g., pension funds) how the fund's managers have done. This is quite typical. Their returns are time-weighted and the information shown on a portfolio-by-portfolio basis. But what about reporting from the client's perspective? That is, to tell the client how they are doing? You no doubt are aware that one can have a positive time-weighted return but lose money. Clients want to know if they are doing well or not, which is where money-weighting comes in.

If the reporting is coming from a consultant, then an added twist might be to show how the consultant has done in their recommendations (allocations and manager selections).

Perspective is too often overlooked when developing reports. Since there can be multiple forces impacting the ultimate investing (custodian, client, manager, fund-of-fund manager), the reports should be sensitive to what questions they're answering and choosing the best way to present such answers.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately, most "client reporting" is little more than an accounting statement. After all, a time weighted return is little more than the relative change in value over a given period of time. In spite of frequent valuations and calculations, in the end this reduces to the ratio of the ending value relative to the beginning value. We can calculate a geometric average growth rate but this is just the reconciliation of two accounting values. We can deliver this for every manager's product and perhaps even create an overall return for the portfolio of products. But in the end, we haven't answered any relevant question FROM THE CLIENT'S PERSPECTIVE. We have simply given an accounting report for the capital invested in each manager ASSUMING the client never withdraws any money or contributes anything to the account. Of course, these assumptions are incorrect (if they weren't there wouldn't be standards for calculating time weighted returns, right?) So, we provide a report that might be appropriate for each of the money managers, but has no meaning for the client. We are left with the question: "Is this really a CLIENT report?" Or is it a MANAGER report that we deliver to the client? Unfortunately, performance measurement is still stuck in its elementary role as a marketing function rather than an information function. And it is still acting as though its loyalty is to the investment firms rather than to the clients whose money is at risk in the various strategies, and whose fees pay everyone's salaries. Until performance recognizes that its first loyalty is to our clients, it will remain a back-office accounting extension, rather than the true value-added investment function that is its proper place within every investment firm.


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