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Policy Papers

Regulating ESG: A step in the right direction

ESG (environment, social, governance) investment practices are now being fully embraced by the global asset management industry. The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated a number of pre-existing trends and the growing investor appetite for ESG is one of them. COVID-19 has served as a stark reminder to investors about just how vulnerable our planet is to disruption. In turn, this has prompted more investors to pile into ESG-focused funds. Between April and June 2020, Morningstar found that ESG funds attracted inflows totalling $71.1 billion, turbo-charging their assets under management (AUM) to above $1 trillion. Investor demand for ESG products is only expected to grow with PwC estimating that ESG funds will hold more assets than their non-ESG equivalents by as early as 2025. PwC added sustainable and responsible investment funds could control up to €7.6 trillion in Europe in the next five years, accounting for 57% of market share, versus the 15% they have today.

Key Points

  • IIMI membership largely supports the SFDR, but there are concerns in some quarters that the rules could create an imbalance between boutiques and larger asset managers.
  • Some member firms have called on EU regulators to cap the amount which data providers can charge for ESG research and analytics in order to create a more even playing field between boutiques and the larger investment managers.
  • The ongoing uncertainties around SFDR – namely around article 8 designation – need to be clarified.
  • IIMI fully supports the principles behind an ESG taxonomy insofar as that it will be vital in eliminating the risk of greenwashing.
  • It is vital that ESG standards across major markets do not diverge excessively otherwise it could lead to confusion.

Categories
History Policy Papers

Decentralising Fund Management: Encouraging Regional Growth

I am pleased to introduce this paper on the opportunities for decentralising fund management in the UK and encouraging regional growth.

Innovation by entrepreneurial UK asset managers in delivering access to investment markets via collective investment schemes has gone hand in hand over the years with the development of ever wider investment expertise. The lawyer Philip Rose founded The Foreign & Colonial General Trust in 1868, and Ian Fairbairn and George Booth launched M&G’s First British Fixed Trust in 1931 to replicate the resilience and popularity of mutual funds in the United States. Adaptation and evolution have continued over the years to allow UK asset and wealth management firms to remain competitive in delivering their investment expertise to different categories of client. Unit Trusts have morphed into OEICs, and front end charges and bid/offer spreads have disappeared.

Both fresh and familiar challenges, from the COVID economic shock to Brexit, are emerging which make the UK ripe for a new generation fund structure which could also be a catalyst for industry and job growth in servicing the assets invested in a new UK domiciled fund structure.

Nick Mottram

Chairman, New City Initiative
Partner & Chairman, Dalton Strategic Partnership LLP

Categories
History Policy Papers

Facilitating Connectivity: Strengthening UK-APAC Fund Ties

Despite the relentless political uncertainty gripping the UK, the country’s position as one of the dominant centres for investment management in the world remains unaffected. Second only to the US by size, the UK’s asset management industry is responsible for overseeing £7.7 trillion in capital, of which £3.1 trillion are mandates on behalf of foreign investors, a figure that is largely unchanged since 2017. The European Economic Area (plus Switzerland) accounts for the majority (59%) of the foreign sourced assets controlled by domestic UK fund houses although non-EEA capital comprises a large proportion of that AuM total too.

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Figure 1: Assets managed by UK firms for overseas clients
Categories
Policy Papers

M&A in Asset Management: Is it strangling boutiques?

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, many asset managers saw M&A (mergers & acquisitions) with their competitors as a means to survival, principally a necessary evil by which to preserve their businesses amid the tumbling markets and as a counterweight to offset the sheer volume of client redemptions. Since then, M&A has only accelerated at major asset managers, as firms look to create economies of scale facilitating investor diversification and wider product distribution footprints. These larger enterprises can also better absorb the increasing operational and regulatory costs that come with running an asset management business in 2019. However, this rush towards consolidation carries risks.

In this paper, NCI looks at some of the implications which M&A is having on the boutique asset manager community. It also questions whether decisive action needs to be taken at a governmental or regulatory level to further scrutinise this M&A activity, especially if there is evidence that these transactions are drowning out competition and undermining investor choice. As part of this analysis into M&A trends within the industry, NCI spoke to a number of its diverse boutique asset manager members about the impact consolidation was having.

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Policy Papers

Carpe Diem: Advice and Opportunities from the Boutique SME Asset Management Sector to the Future of Financial Services

NCI considers the unique and considered perspective of its members, the SMEs of the asset management industry and broader financial services, in guiding a path for the future of financial services. The political and regulatory response to the Global Financial Crisis led to a focus on larger firms and the banking sector, and reforms implemented in response have sometimes led to unintended consequences, for example in the effect of liquidity regulations on the asset management sector and increased barriers to entry. Now that ten years have passed, and with the UK’s focus on opportunities for the future, NCI submits that it is now the time for an alternative, bottom-up approach that draws from the wisdom and efforts of the SME sector. Drawing upon its past work, NCI shows how its members offer a distinct and important contribution to the debate about the future of financial services, concluding that any consultations and working parties must include their representatives to give the optimal outcome for the broader economy and society.

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Policy Papers

The Evolution of ESG in Asset Management

There has been increasing information and debate about the role environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors could, or should, play within investment strategies. The sheer variety of approaches to, and interpretation of, ESG and its evolving nature, has led to confusion amongst potential customers. The European Commission has announced it will step in to provide clarification through regulation.

This paper takes a closer look at how ESG is being integrated into the investment strategies managed by NCI members, which are specialist, independent, owner-managed boutiques, and whether regulation or the free market will provide the right framework for fostering deeper understanding and facilitating continued innovation in ESG. A survey of NCI membership suggests ESG considerations are already firmly embedded in decision- making.

NCI’s recommendations focus on the need for clarity and transparency, but with free market choice through industry-led solutions. While many asset managers welcome the regulators’ decision not to adopt a prescriptive approach towards ESG integration, NCI believes it should be the industry that is leading the reform initiative.

Jamie Carter

Chairman, New City Initiative Chief Executive, Oldfield Partners

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Policy Papers

The Conundrum of Liquidity Regulation: Observations from the Boutique SME Asset Manager

Liquidity is something that is often talked about in financial markets, usually when it is perceived to be absent. However, an exact and consistent definition is elusive and attempts to clarify matters are often forgotten and inherently difficult to isolate for analysis. What does seem to be agreed is that more liquidity is a good thing, although even that may not be the case if the liquidity comes from inflationary monetary policy. Where the risk of failures in liquidity lie and should lie is more contentious.

Historically, much liquidity risk was held within the banking sector: banks naturally take liquid deposits and make illiquid information-intensive loans. Recently, regulation has constrained banking activity and this has led to a transfer of liquidity risk to other sectors such as asset-management. This has unintended consequences, as discussed in this paper, and may not serve investors or the broader economy well: many asset management strategies explicitly rely upon liquidity transformation and the interconnectedness of different components of the financial services sectors means that regulation that affects one part has a corollary, perhaps unintended, consequence on another sector.

An intelligent and thoughtful approach to regulation and policy is in everyone’s interests. NCI acts as a catalyst for discussion and I am very pleased to introduce this paper, which takes a reflective and broad view of liquidity risk and the policy landscape that addresses it.

Jamie Carter

Chairman, New City Initiative Chief Executive, Oldfield Partners

Categories
Policy Papers

Boutique Asset Management: An SME Cluster

As CEO of a boutique asset manager, I understand well the challenges that come from being a smaller business. However, these are not without counterbalancing benefits. NCI has previously talked about the unique culture that small and medium-sized asset managers have and how this leads to superior outcomes for clients; this current paper extends that work to benefits offered to the wider economy. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) provide a disproportionately large contribution to innovation in the economy, particularly broad-based innovation that drives deep-seated positive change. Financial services SMEs, like NCI’s members, innovate markedly and collaborate together in open innovation as a cluster, much like that commonly associated with Cambridge or other hubs of innovation.

NCI’s view is that this SME cluster of small and medium-sized asset managers should be recognized and nurtured, as should the SME sector generally. However, support from government in one area, such as IMS II, does not offset the resource and financing constraints that limit SME innovation. By way of example, financial services and asset management SMEs, like certain other sectors, are unable to avail themselves of innovation funding or tax advantages that accrue to early-stage backers in other industry segments. NCI argues that this should change and that the unique and vibrant voice of NCI’s members, acting as an SME cluster of innovation, should be recognized with representation on the Asset Management Taskforce and other bodies.

I am pleased to introduce this paper on SME clusters of boutique asset managers, proud to be partner and CEO of one of them, and honoured to be able to represent NCI’s members as chairman.

Jamie Carter

Chairman, New City Initiative Chief Executive, Oldfield Partners

Categories
Policy Papers

Capital Controls: Preparing for the Unthinkable

The idea of capital controls being implemented in a major developed market economy such as the UK seems improbable, but there are two events on the horizon which could cause such action to be taken and encouraged us to think about these risks:

  1. A cliff-edge Brexit. The recent agreement for a transition period was disappointing in that it is conditional on there being a full withdrawal agreement. This conditionality raises rather than reduces the chance of a cliff-edge. An unprecedented event such as this provides no historical comparison with which to guide us, but in the paper we explore the imposition of capital controls elsewhere.
  2. A Labour government. NCI is apolitical, but an independent, objective assessment of some of the policies currently being suggested by the Labour Party increase the risk of capital flight. We discuss these policies and the potential ramifications.

NCI cannot predict the probability of either event, but good risk management requires assessment of all types of risks, even those perceived to have a low probability of occurring. This paper is intended to provide members with food for thought, a trigger for some contingency planning should we be faced with the imposition of capital controls in the UK (or elsewhere for that matter). We assess the impact on the asset management industry, its customers and suppliers, the clearing and settlement process and we’ve used the case study of a UK fund vehicle with a global investment mandate to outline some key operational issues and provide suggested remedies which members and their customers should consider.

Jamie Carter

Chairman, New City Initiative Chief Executive, Oldfield Partners

Categories
Policy Papers

Alignment of Interest: How Culture Defines Boutiques

When I talk to NCI’s members, I am often struck by the commonalities. Notwithstanding different investment strategies and different fund sizes, there is always resonance when it comes to prioritising the client and acting in his or her best interests, building a symbiotic relationship that is prolonged and mutually beneficial.

These thoughts were the genesis of NCI and discussed at length in our earliest papers, laying the foundation for supporting a client-centric model of financial services that would help “fix a broken City” and herald the benefits of the

owner-managed model within boutique active asset management. NCI has kept true to that vision, and thrived upon it.

This latest paper draws upon those core concepts, which we would summarize as ‘organizational culture’, and builds a foundation for the future, drawing upon NCI’s past work and interweaving it with academic and practical authorities to draw a compelling conclusion: that the boutique active management sector is especially amenable to the development of positive organizational culture and that this leads to superior outcomes for clients.

To draw another analogy (and perhaps an investment idea for the truly long term!), planets that support life must be in a particular orbit around a suitable star: too far away or too close and you cannot have liquid water, a narrow band known as the ‘Goldilocks Zone”. NCI members, as boutique asset managers, inhabit a similar optimal zone: not too big and not too small, this paper shows that they are just right to support positive organizational culture and can do so in a way that larger active managers and passive funds cannot.

NCI supports truly client-centric asset management and invites new members who share that vision and ‘culture’. I am pleased to be able to introduce this paper and hope that it acts as a catalyst for further work and discussion to advance the asset management and financial services industries that bring so much to the vibrancy of our economies.

Jamie Carter

Chairman, New City Initiative Chief Executive, Oldfield Partners