GIPS 2020: What’s Changing and What You Should Do (Updated July 2019)

It has been a busy couple of weeks for GIPS! On August 31st, the Exposure Draft of the 2020 Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS®) was released for public comment and last week (September 14th and 15th) was the GIPS conference. With this exposure draft being released only two weeks before the conference, the forthcoming changes to the GIPS standards were the highlight of the event.

UPDATE: Notes have been added in red to clarify what has been adopted or modified now that the 2020 GIPS standards have been published.


Why are changes to the GIPS standards necessary?

The three primary reasons GIPS standards are being revised is to make them:

  1. Easier to understand: GIPS compliant firms are required to comply with all of the requirements of GIPS, including issues addressed in Guidance Statements and Q&A’s. Since the 2010 Standards were published, there have been several new Guidance Statements and many Q&A’s issued, which can be difficult for firms to follow. The GIPS 2020 re-write of the Standards is reorganized to avoid having to refer to several different sources to understand what is required.
  2. More relevant for different types of investors: GIPS was intended to be a global standard that is applicable to any type of investment manager, regardless of location or type of investment strategy managed. Despite this intention, GIPS has historically been focused on presenting composite performance, which is only really relevant when marketing a strategy to prospective segregated account investors. GIPS 2020 differentiates between marketing a strategy to potential segregated account investors versus marketing an established pooled fund to prospective fund investors. It also separates out the requirements for Asset Owners who present performance to their oversight board instead of prospective investors.
  3. More consistent across asset classes: In some cases, the Standards have been overly focused on asset class in specifying calculation methodology and valuation requirements where investment vehicle structure and external cash flow control are perhaps more important than the underlying investments. By removing asset class specific requirements for private equity and real estate, the Standards can be applied more appropriately and in a more consistent manner.


What is changing with GIPS?

To be clear, nothing is changing yet. The purpose of the exposure draft is to introduce proposed changes. We are all invited to provide comments during the public comment period (open through December 31, 2018) to ensure our voices are heard before any of these proposed changes become official. Below are some highlights of the most significant proposed changes:

Asset Owners 

While this is largely just a formatting change, the reorganization of how the requirements for Asset Owners are documented will make it significantly easier for Asset Owners to understand and apply GIPS to their organizations. Specifically, GIPS 2020 separates the requirements for Investment Management Firms and Asset Owners, allowing each type of firm to review the provisions applicable to them and see all requirements in one place. Since there are many redundancies between the two sections, this makes the Standards much longer, but easier to read since only the sections of the provisions applicable to them needs to be reviewed. Previously, Asset Owners were required to start with the Standards that were written for investment managers and then remove or adjust the requirements that were not applicable for them. It is now easier for Asset Owners to understand what applies.

UPDATE: This change was adopted as part of the 2020 GIPS standards.

Managers of Pooled Funds 

Previously, GIPS compliant firms were required to create composites for pooled funds even if the pooled fund would be the only constituent of the composite. GIPS 2020 no longer requires these composites to be created. Managers of limited distribution pooled funds will instead create a GIPS Pooled Fund Report that presents the information of the fund itself for prospective investors together with required GIPS disclosures for this type of report. Managers of broadly distributed pooled funds are not required to create a special report for GIPS. This will save managers of pooled funds a lot of time and effort and will allow them to create meaningful presentations focused on the funds themselves rather than creating composites that would likely never be used.

UPDATE: This change was adopted as part of the 2020 GIPS standards.

Option to present MWR

Previously, only Private Equity funds presented Money-Weighted Returns (“MWR”) (a.k.a. Internal Rates of Return (“IRR”)). GIPS 2020 removes all asset class specific rules and focuses more on the structure of cash flows and the type of vehicle used. For example, under GIPS 2020, if a firm manages a closed end fund where they control the external cash flows, they will have the option to present MWR instead of TWR, regardless of the type of underlying investments being made. In cases where the manager controls the timing and amount of the cash flows rather than the client, MWR is likely a more meaningful performance measure since it does not remove the effect of the cash flows the way TWR does.

UPDATE: This change was adopted as part of the 2020 GIPS standards.

Valuation Requirements

Previously only the Real Estate provisions included a requirement for external valuations. Since all asset class specific rules have been removed, the external valuation requirement now applies to all private market investments. To make this manageable, what is accepted as an “external valuation” has been loosened to include annual financial statement audits. This means that as long as the fund is audited, no separate external valuation should be required.

UPDATE: This was NOT fully adopted. Private market investments are now RECOMMENDED to have an external valuation at least every 12 months; however, real estate investments included in a real estate open-end fund are still required to have external valuations at least every 12 months. Real estate investments that are not included in real estate open-end funds are required to have an external valuation at least every 12 months unless the client agrees to a less frequent external valuation (minimum of every 36 months) OR, instead of the external valuation, the real estate investment can be subject to an annual financial statement audit.

Carve-outs

That’s right, carve-outs are back! Firms that spent a lot of time and money revising their composites when carve-outs were disallowed in 2010 may not be happy to hear this, but this is likely good news for wealth management firms with balanced accounts that want to market asset class specific strategies. It is not yet clear whether carve-outs can be built historically covering the period they were disallowed (2010 – 2020), but this was discussed at the GIPS conference and we expect it to be clarified.

UPDATE: This change was adopted as part of the 2020 GIPS standards and updates can be made for historical periods once the firm has adopted the 2020 GIPS standards.

Portability

Under the current Standards, GIPS requires firms to link prior track records to ongoing performance if all of the portability requirements are met. GIPS 2020 proposes to make the linking of historical performance optional.

UPDATE: This change was adopted as part of the 2020 GIPS standards.

Advisory-Only Assets

Firms are required to report total firm assets that include the assets of both discretionary and non-discretionary portfolios. GIPS 2020 clarifies that advisory-only assets cannot be presented as a part of total firm assets, but may be presented separately. With the growth of Unified Managed Account (UMA) platforms, many firms’ assets are shifting to the “advisory-only” category. Although presented separately from total firm assets, being able to present these advisory-only assets will allow firms with a large UMA business to demonstrate the amount of assets invested in their models.

UPDATE: This change was adopted as part of the 2020 GIPS standards.

Deadline to Update GIPS Presentations

GIPS Composite Reports (formerly known as Compliant Presentations) will need to be updated with the latest annual statistics within 6 months after the annual period ends. This won’t be an issue for most firms, but firms who prefer to have their verification complete prior to updating their presentations may struggle to get this updated in time.

UPDATE: A deadline to update GIPS Reports was adopted as part of the 2020 GIPS standards; however, a more reasonable 12 months after the annual period ends was set instead of the proposed 6 month deadline.

Sunset Provisions for Select Disclosures

GIPS 2020 will allow some disclosures, such as disclosures of benchmark changes or material events to be removed when they are no longer relevant for current prospects.

UPDATE: This change was adopted as part of the 2020 GIPS standards.

Additional Statistic in GIPS Presentations

GIPS 2020 will require a 3-year annualized return to be presented for both the composite and benchmark. GIPS already requires the 3-year annualized ex post standard deviation to be presented for the composite and benchmark, so this provides the return that matches the periods included in the standard deviation calculation.

UPDATE: This change was NOT adopted as a requirement of the 2020 GIPS standards, but was instead adopted as a recommendation.

Estimated Transaction Costs

Previously, the use of estimated transaction costs was prohibited. Because of this, many wrap managers, or managers of accounts with asset-based transaction fees that do not reduce gross-of-fee returns, are required to present their gross-of-fee returns as supplemental information. As long as these firms are able to estimate the transaction costs and support that the estimated costs result in gross-of-fee performance that is lower than when using actual transaction costs, these managers will be able to present gross-of-fee returns without the supplemental disclosures under GIPS 2020.

UPDATE: This change was adopted as part of the 2020 GIPS standards; however, the requirement for calculating returns that are more conservative when using estimated transaction costs was removed because it may be too difficult to prove. It was clarified that estimated transaction costs may only be used when actual transaction costs are unknown. Guidance on how to determine estimated transaction costs will be included in the Handbook, which is expected to be published by the end of 2019.

Revised Advertising Guidelines

GIPS 2020 takes a broader approach to the Advertising Guidelines to include advertisements to Pooled Fund Investors and Asset Owners rather than only for composites intended for Segregated Account Investors. Additionally, the requirements were loosened by changing some of the previously required disclosures to recommendations and by increasing the options for performance periods presented.

UPDATE: This change was adopted as part of the 2020 GIPS standards.

What action should be taken now?

 

UPDATE: The 2020 GIPS standards are now published. Please see our latest blog “2020 GIPS Standards: Prepare for the Changes to help your firm determine what steps you need to take to comply with the 2020 edition of the GIPS Standards.

The changes listed above are a sample of the most significant changes. If you are concerned about the changes, I would strongly encourage you to review the full exposure draft and provide comments to the GIPS Executive Committee. Read the full Exposure draft and provide any comments to the following email: standards@cfainstitute.org. Comments must be submitted by December 31, 2018.

Please note that the exposure draft contains 47 specific questions that the GIPS Executive Committee would like feedback on prior to finalizing the changes. You can provide comments on as many or as few of those questions as you like. Additionally, you can feel free to provide comments on any aspect of the Standards even if not related to one of the questions posed. Keep in mind that providing positive responses to what you do like is as important as providing critical feedback. If only critical feedback is provided, there is the risk that changes could be made based on the critical responses received that actually represent a minority of the stakeholders’ opinions since they did not hear the positive support for the change.

Questions?

If you have questions about GIPS 2020 or the Standards in general, we would love to talk to you. Longs Peak’s professionals have extensive experience helping firms become GIPS compliant as well as helping firms maintain their compliance with GIPS on an ongoing basis. Please feel free to email Sean Gilligan directly at sean@longspeakadvisory.com.

How to Construct Composites

GIPS compliant firms are required to calculate and present composite performance, rather than presenting the performance of a model or single representative account. The purpose of this is to ensure investment managers are presenting an accurate representation of their ability to implement a strategy, rather than “cherry-picking” their best performing portfolio. As discussed in our previous 2-part blog post, about how to create a GIPS Policies & Procedures Document, composites must be defined based on the strategies your firm manages. Once your composites are defined and composite rules established, you are then ready to construct your composites.



Organize Portfolios by Strategy

A composite is an aggregation of portfolios with similar objectives. The first step in constructing composites is to group all of the portfolios your firm manages by strategy, which will later be refined by applying composite rules. Strategies can be as broadly or narrowly defined as you like as long as the resulting performance statistics are meaningful. If you are not sure how to define your firm’s strategies, you should consult with a GIPS expert to ensure the definitions maximize the marketing opportunities available to your firm. Most importantly, you should ensure that they are:

  1. Representative of how your strategies are managed and how you intend to market your firm’s offerings.
  2. Broad enough to have sufficient assets that may be required to attract certain institutional investors.
  3. Narrow enough that the dispersion is low and the performance results are meaningful.
  4. Easily comparable to the strategies marketed by your firm’s closest competitors.

When grouping your portfolios into strategies, you must consider both the portfolio’s current mandate as well as historical changes in your clients’ investment policy statements. If a portfolio’s strategy has changed since inception, you must check that it is grouped under the correct strategy both before and after the change.


Apply Composite Rules

Once portfolios are grouped by the strategy they followed for each period, you can then apply your firm’s composite rules established in your GIPS Policies and Procedures document (“GIPS P&P”) to create each strategy’s corresponding composite. For example, if you have a U.S. Large Cap Growth strategy, you can start by evaluating all of the portfolios that follow this strategy’s definition. If the portfolio meets your firm’s GIPS definition of discretion and does not break any other composite rule (such as minimum asset level), the portfolio can be added to your U.S. Large Cap Growth composite.

The timing of the portfolio’s inclusion in the composite will be based on the inclusion policy set in your firm’s GIPS P&P (e.g., the first full month after the portfolio is funded or the first full month after the portfolio is at least X% invested). The portfolio will then remain in the composite until discretion to implement this strategy is lost, at which point the portfolio will be excluded from the composite based on the exclusion policy set in your firm’s GIPS P&P (e.g., the end of the last full month before discretion was lost).


Discretion to implement this strategy can be lost one of the following ways:

  1. The client adds a restriction to the portfolio causing it to no longer meet your firm’s definition of discretion – The portfolio becomes non-discretionary until the restriction is lifted or until the restriction no longer interferes with the implementation of the strategy.
  2. The client notifies your firm that they will be terminating your management of the portfolio – The portfolio is closing and is considered non-discretionary until the assets transfer out.
  3. The client requests a change to a different strategy – The portfolio is temporarily non-discretionary as it is rebalanced to fit the new strategy, at which point it will enter the new strategy’s composite based on its inclusion policy documented in your firm’s GIPS P&P.
  4. The client makes a deposit or withdrawal of cash or securities that exceeds the composite’s defined “significant cash flow” threshold – The portfolio is temporarily non-discretionary as trading takes place to facilitate the client-requested cash flow and the portfolio will be re-included in the composite based on the timing documented in your firm’s significant cash flow policy.
  5. The portfolio’s market value drops below the composite’s documented minimum asset level – The portfolio becomes non-discretionary until the market value goes back above the composite’s minimum asset level, at which point the portfolio would be considered discretionary again and would be re-included in the composite based on the timing documented in your composite’s minimum asset level policy.

It is important to note that the first four of the five scenarios listed above are driven by client requests and the fifth is based on a predetermined policy. The removal of a portfolio from a composite cannot be based on changes made to a portfolio that are driven by the portfolio manager. If a portfolio manager makes a tactical shift in the strategy, such as holding higher cash because of current market conditions, this would be considered an evolution of the strategy definition rather than a reason to remove an account from the composite.


Conduct Tests Before Finalizing Compsites

The process of reviewing portfolios to ensure they are placed in the correct composite for the right time period can be difficult. Many firms rely on GIPS consultants or composite software to help test their composites to identify portfolios that break composite rules or exhibit outlier performance (indicating that a portfolio may not belong in the composite). Being proactive about composite testing allows you to make corrections before finalizing composite results for distribution or verification.

Best practice is to address these issues when building the composites rather than waiting for issues to be caught during the verification process. Often, when issues come up during verification, it leads to an increase in the verification testing sample size, resulting in more work and potentially more cost to complete the verification.


Calculate Composite Statistics

Once your composite membership is finalized, you can then calculate composite statistics. Specifically, you will need to calculate annual composite performance, a measure of internal dispersion, and three-year annualized ex-post standard deviation. The calculation methodology used must be consistent with the methodology described in your firm’s GIPS P&P.

We will discuss each of these statistical measures as well as well as the other figures and disclosures that must be included in a GIPS compliant presentation in the final part of this blog series “How to Create GIPS Compliant Presentations.” Please subscribe to our blog or follow us on social media to ensure you don’t miss the conclusion and to receive future GIPS and performance-related educational updates.


Want to Learn More?

If you have any questions about the GIPS Standards, we would love to help.  Longs Peak’s professionals have extensive experience helping firms become GIPS compliant as well as helping them maintain compliance with the GIPS Standards on an ongoing basis. 

How to Become GIPS Compliant

Many firms are interested in becoming GIPS compliant, but are intimidated by the initial process of bringing their firm into compliance. As long as you know the steps to become GIPS compliant and understand the options you have to complete each step, this process is very manageable. The information provided here is intended to provide you with a high-level overview of the steps you must complete to become GIPS compliant.



Before holding your firm out to the public as a GIPS compliant firm, there are three main steps that must first be completed. Firms must:

  1. Document GIPS policies and procedures
  2. Construct composites that consistently follow these policies and procedures
  3. Create compliant presentations to show the results of each composite

Document GIPS Policies and Procedures

Firms are required to document how they comply with the GIPS requirements as well as any recommendations that the firm chooses to follow in a document known as the firm’s GIPS Policies and Procedures (“GIPS P&P”). This document acts as the firm’s internal representation of their GIPS compliance, and is intended to state the firm’s GIPS policies as well as describe the procedures the firm follows to maintain their compliance. Examples of items typically found in this document include:

  • Firm Definition – GIPS is applied to your firm as a whole, not to a single product or strategy you manage. How your firm is defined for GIPS purposes is primarily based on how the firm is held out to the public, which may differ from the legal structure of your firm.
  • Definition of Discretion –Discretion is defined differently for GIPS than it typically is for legal or regulatory purposes. You may have a discretionary contract for an account that you deem to be non-discretionary for GIPS purposes because of restrictions the client places on the implementation of the strategy. The “Definition of Discretion” section of your firm’s GIPS P&P should outline objective criteria for determining the discretionary status of accounts.
  • Policies Regarding Books and Records – Firms must be able to support all information included in compliant presentations as well as support that their client assets are real. This section of your P&P can outline the types of records that are maintained and in what format/location they are stored.
  • Calculation Methodology – While GIPS provides a framework for how to calculate performance, firms may have different methods for handling external cash flows, asset-weighting accounts, calculating dispersion, etc. The specifics of the methods used must be documented in the firm’s GIPS P&P.
  • Composite Definitions and Rules – Firms must create policies to ensure that accounts are placed in the appropriate composite for the correct time period. The timing of the movement of accounts in or out of composites must be based on objective criteria that is outlined in this section of the firm’s GIPS P&P. Other optional rules, such as minimum account sizes and significant cash flow thresholds can also be documented here to keep accounts out of composites during periods where the intended strategy cannot be fully implemented.
  • Error Correction Policies – Firms must create materiality thresholds that pre-determine the action required if errors occur in a compliant presentation. This section should include thresholds for all statistics as well as criteria for determining when errors in disclosures are material.

Construct Composites

After the GIPS P&P is created, firms can use these policies to construct the composites defined in the policy document. To do this, firms must:

  1. Identify all of the accounts that meet the definition of a composite. In other words, group all accounts by strategy, but then remove accounts that do not meet the firm’s definition of discretion or that do not meet a composite-specific rule, such as a minimum account size.
  2. Determine the correct time to include each account as well as remove any account that closed, changed strategies, or otherwise caused you to lose discretion. Portfolios must only be included in composites for periods in which they were considered discretionary for GIPS purposes. This helps ensure that the composite results accurately represent the firm’s management of the composite’s strategy and does not include outside noise created from client-requested restrictions.
  3. Asset-weight the monthly account-level results for each account included in the composite to calculate the composite-level performance results.
  4. Calculate all required composite-level statistics (see the list below) that must be included in the composite’s compliant presentation.

Create Compliant Presentations

Compliant presentations act as the firm’s external representation of their GIPS compliance and must be provided to all prospective clients. Each composite has a separate presentation that includes all of the required statistics as well as the required disclosures. Statistics included in compliant presentations include:

  • Annual composite performance (gross and/or net)
  • Annual benchmark performance
  • Number of accounts in the composite as of each year-end
  • Total assets in the composite as of each year-end
  • Total assets of the GIPS firm as of each year-end
  • A measure of internal dispersion for each annual period
  • Three year annualized ex-post standard deviation of both the composite and the benchmark based on monthly returns

Other statistics may also be required such as the percentage of non-fee paying accounts or the percentage of bundled fee paying accounts as of each year-end, where applicable.


Want to Learn More?

If you have any questions about how to become GIPS Compliant, we would love to help.  Longs Peak’s professionals have extensive experience helping firms become GIPS compliant as well as helping them maintain compliance with the GIPS Standards on an ongoing basis. 

What are the GIPS Standards?

The Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS®) are an ethical framework that standardize how investment managers calculate and report their investment performance to prospective investors. Standardized presentations help ensure the information presented is meaningful, complete, and comparable to performance presentations of other GIPS compliant firms, regardless of location or regulatory jurisdiction.

This comparability helps simplify the due diligence process for prospective investors as it allows them to make an “apples-to-apples” comparison of similar strategies managed by different investment managers regardless of their location. Currently, there are 37 countries that have officially adopted GIPS, making it a true global standard.


Why are the GIPS Standards Necessary?

GIPS is designed to address potentially misleading practices employed by some investment managers when presenting investment performance to prospective clients. Examples of misleading practices include:

  • “Cherry-picking” accounts – Showing a strategy’s best performer as a representation of how the strategy performed as a whole
  • Using selective time periods – Presenting the performance of a strategy only for the period it performed the best
  • Utilizing model or back-tested results when results of actual managed accounts could have been used
  • Survivorship bias – Excluding accounts that have closed (often the worst performing accounts) from performance calculations

Under GIPS, discretionary accounts are grouped into composites based on the strategy they follow. Performance is then reported at the composite level, based on the aggregation of the accounts within the composite. Composites only include actual discretionary accounts, not models, and it is required to present each composite’s performance statistics for each annual period.

These requirements, implemented in conjunction with the rest of the GIPS requirements, help prevent compliant firms from manipulating their results and improve comparability between firms that are GIPS compliant and manage similar strategies.


Why Become GIPS Compliant?

GIPS compliance offers investment managers both marketing and compliance benefits.

According to eVestment, two out of three searches made in their database by investors or consultants are set to exclude firms that are not GIPS compliant. Being able to “check the box” in RFPs and consultant databases indicating that your firm is GIPS compliant can be a valuable marketing benefit.

Being GIPS compliant requires firms to document policies and procedures, addressing how their firm complies with all of the GIPS requirements as well as the recommendations they choose to adopt. The practice of documenting and implementing these policies is an excellent way to ensure your firm is consistent in its practices across the firm, which can be immensely valuable to your compliance department.


Misconceptions About GIPS that Discourage Managers from Complying

Misconception 1: GIPS Compliance is Burdensome and Expensive

The initial process of becoming compliant can be time consuming; however, if sufficient time is put in at the start of the process to create detailed GIPS policies and procedures and construct composites that consistently follow these policies, the ongoing maintenance is very manageable.

For firms that do not have the resources available internally to bring their firm into compliance, GIPS consulting firms such as ours, Longs Peak Advisory Services (“Longs Peak”), are available to assist with the creation of policy documents, construction of composites, the creation of compliant presentations, etc.

Verification is often the largest direct expense associated with GIPS compliance; however, having your firm verified is not required. If you choose to be verified, the marketing benefit received will likely outweigh the cost. If the cost of a verification is more than your firm can currently afford, you can always become complaint now and add verification at a later date when it fits more comfortably in your budget.

If a firm can comply with all of the GIPS requirements without the help of a GIPS consultant and elects not to have their compliance verified, there is no direct cost for a firm to be GIPS compliant.


Misconception 2: GIPS is Not Relevant for My Firm

As mentioned earlier, GIPS offers both marketing and compliance benefits. Even if you are not marketing your strategies to institutional investors that require their managers to be GIPS compliant, your firm can still benefit from GIPS. More specifically, if your firm:

Only manages funds:

It may seem pointless to create a composite of one account; however, when marketing a composite rather than the fund itself, adjustments can be made to the fund’s fees to make the performance results more representative of what a separate account would have experienced following your strategy. This composite performance could be used to market your strategy to prospective separate account investors or to help prospective clients compare your performance to a competitor whose performance is based on a composite of separate accounts.

Manages customized portfolios:

Even if you are not managing a strategy strictly to a model, composites can be built based on the risk level of the client. For example, many wealth management firms have Conservative, Moderate, Growth, and Aggressive composites. There may be some dispersion between accounts within each composite, but these composites at least give you the opportunity to present an aggregation of your actual accounts with similar risk and objective profiles.


Questions?

If you have questions about the GIPS standards, we would be love to talk to you. Longs Peak’s professionals have extensive experience helping firms become GIPS compliant as well as helping firms maintain their compliance with GIPS on an ongoing basis. Please feel free to email Sean Gilligan directly at sean@longspeakadvisory.com.

Will the GIPS Guidance Statement on Broadly Distributed Pooled Funds affect your firm?

An Exposure Draft of the Global Investment Performance Standards’ (GIPS®) new Guidance Statement on Broadly Distributed Pooled Funds was recently published. The intention of this exposure draft is to seek comments from the public regarding this proposed new guidance before it is officially adopted in January of 2017.

Anyone with opinions regarding the guidance, especially with regard to questions the GIPS Technical Committee has included within the exposure draft, is encouraged to provide written feedback by 29 April 2016. Witten feedback can be submitted by emailing your comments to: standards@cfainstitute.org.



Who does the pooled fund guidance apply to?

Any GIPS compliant firm that manages and markets a “broadly distributed pooled vehicle” (which includes mutual funds or other similar vehicles) fits within the scope of this guidance.

If a firm is only responsible for managing the fund (e.g., as a sub-advisor), but has no responsibility for filing the fund’s official documents (e.g., the prospectus or KIID) or for creating fund-specific marketing materials, then this proposed guidance statement is not applicable.

The requirements set forth in the proposed guidance statement are specific to marketing pooled funds. Marketing pooled funds should not be confused with marketing a strategy or composite that contains a pooled fund. The guidance is specific to situations where the fund itself is being marketed to attract new investors within that fund.



What is the purpose of the proposed guidance?

GIPS requires firms to make every reasonable effort to provide compliant presentations to all prospective clients; however, most firms have historically interpreted this to only include new separate account prospective investors, not pooled fund investors that simply invest in a fund that is already included in a composite.

The purpose of this guidance statement is to ensure GIPS compliant firms are consistent in the way they present their pooled fund information to prospective investors. This consistency is intended to help prospective pooled fund investors make meaningful comparisons between funds. To achieve this, the exposure draft proposes requiring official fund documents, as well as all fund-specific marketing materials (i.e., materials that are specifically marketing the fund itself, not the strategy or composite), to include specific statistics and disclosures.



What does the proposed guidance require?

If adopted in its current form, the new guidance would require GIPS compliant firms to include the following in each of their funds’ official documents as well as any fund-specific marketing materials:

  1. A description of the fund’s objective or strategy.
  2. An indication of the risk involved in investing in the fund, which can be either qualitative or quantitative.
  3. Pooled fund returns calculated according to the methodology and time periods required by local laws or regulations. If local laws or regulations do not specify a methodology or time period then firms must present the fund’s returns net of all fees and expenses for periods that are acceptable based on the current GIPS Advertising Guidelines.
  4. Benchmark returns for the same periods that the fund’s performance is presented, as well as a description of the benchmark. If no appropriate benchmark exists, this can be disclosed in lieu of including benchmark performance.
  5. The currency used to express performance.

There is no requirement to mention GIPS or provide (or even offer) a compliant presentation. The guidance statement does recommend, however, that firms include the following claim of compliance in their fund’s official documents and fund-specific marketing materials: “XYZ Firm, the firm managing this pooled fund, claims compliance with the Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS®). For more information about the GIPS standards, please visit www.gipsstandards.org.”

It is important to note that this claim of compliance is new and differs from the wording used in compliant presentations or materials adhering to the GIPS Advertising Guidelines. When claiming compliance, firms must ensure that the correct claim is used and is stated verbatim from the standards.



What can firms do now to prepare for this new guidance?

Firms managing pooled funds should first determine whether they fit within the scope of the proposed guidance. If so, then your firm should review its current official fund documents and fund-specific marketing materials to determine if changes are needed in order to meet the new requirements, if adopted.

If there are material changes that are not reasonably feasible for your firm, use this opportunity to provide comments to the GIPS Technical and Executive Committees before the guidance is formally adopted.

In addition to sharing your general feedback on the guidance, responding to the specific questions the GIPS Technical Committee has included within the exposure draft will greatly help shape the final version of the guidance statement before it is officially adopted. The entire exposure draft, which includes these questions, can be reviewed here.

To learn more about the Exposure Draft of the Guidance Statement on Broadly Distributed Pooled Funds or other GIPS and performance measurement topics, please contact us.

GIPS Compliance Actions for the New Year

Your firm works hard to comply with the Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS®) and likely expects the benefits of GIPS to far outweigh any burden associated with maintaining compliance.

Most of the policies and procedures your firm set when first becoming compliant will never need to change; however, as both the standards and your firm evolves, it is beneficial to conduct a high-level review of your GIPS compliance each year. This high-level review will help ensure that you continually refine your processes and policies to maximize the benefits of claiming compliance with GIPS year after year.

Before getting into the specific aspects to review, you should first make sure you have the right people involved. One person or department may be responsible for managing the day-to-day tasks that maintain your GIPS compliance; however, high-level oversight from a larger group should take place to help ensure that any decisions made or policies set will integrate well with your firm’s other strategic initiatives.

This larger group, often called a GIPS Committee, typically consists of representatives from compliance, marketing, portfolio management, operations/performance, and senior management.

Not everyone on the committee needs to be an expert in the GIPS standards. In fact, many will not be. What they will need is to be available to share their opinions and represent their department’s interests when establishing or changing key policies for your firm.

Your GIPS expert/manager can set the agenda for your meeting and can provide any background on the requirements that will be part of the discussion. If you do not have a GIPS expert internally, or need independent advice about your policies and procedures, a GIPS consultant can be hired to help.

High-Level GIPS Topics to Consider Annually

Once you select the right group to represent each major area of your firm, the following high-level questions can help determine if any action is necessary to improve your GIPS compliance this year:

  • Have there been any changes to the GIPS standards?
  • Have there been any material changes to your firm or strategies?
  • Do your composites meaningfully represent your strategies or should their structure and descriptions be reconsidered?
  • Are the materiality thresholds stated in your error correction policy appropriate for the type of strategies you manage and are they consistent with the thresholds set by similar firms?
  • Are you satisfied with the service received from your GIPS verifier for the fee that is paid?
  • Is there any due diligence you need to conduct on your verification firm?

Changes to the GIPS Standards

It is important to consider whether there have been any changes to the GIPS standards since last year that would require your firm to take action. For example, if a new requirement is adopted, you should consider if any changes to your firm’s policies and procedures or compliant presentations are needed.

Keep in mind that GIPS compliant firms must comply with all requirements of the GIPS standards including any updates that may be published in the form of Guidance Statements, Questions & Answers (Q&As), or other written interpretations.

If your firm is verified or works with a GIPS consultant, these GIPS experts are likely keeping you informed of any changes to the standards. The best way to check for changes yourself is to visit the “Standards & Guidance” section of www.gipstandards.org. Specifically, you should check the “GIPS Q&A Database” where you can enter the effective date range of the previous year to see every Q&A published during this period. You should also check the “Guidance Statements” section. The guidance statements are organized by year published, so it is easy to see when new statements are added.

Changes to Your Firm or Strategies

Similar to changes in the standards, it is important to also consider whether any changes to your firm or its strategies would require you to take action. Examples include, material changes in the way a strategy is managed, a new strategy that was launched, an existing strategy that closed, mergers or acquisitions, or anything else that would be considered a material event for your firm.

Even if no changes were made this year, you should still read your entire policies and procedures document at least annually to make sure it adequately and accurately describes the actual practices followed by your firm.

Regulators, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), commonly review firms’ policies and procedures to ensure 1) that the document includes actual procedures and is not simply a list of policies and 2) that the stated procedures truly represent the procedures followed by the firm. Many firms have created their policies and procedures document based on template language, so tweaks may be necessary to customize the document for your firm.

Meaningful Composite Structure

The section of your GIPS policies and procedures requiring the most frequent adjustment is your firm’s list of composites, as you must make changes each time a new composite is added or a composite closes. However, even without adding new strategies or closing older strategies, the list of composites and their descriptions should be reviewed at least annually to ensure they are defined in a manner that best represents the strategies as you manage them today.

Since your firm’s prospects will compare your composite results to those of similar firms, it is important that your composites provide a meaningful representation of your strategies and are easily comparable to similar composites managed by your competitors. If a review of your current list of composites leads you to realize that your strategies are defined too broadly, too narrowly, or in a way that no longer accurately describes the strategy, changes can be made (with disclosure).

Keep in mind that changes should not be made frequently and cannot be made for the purpose of making your performance appear better. Changing your composite structure for the purpose of improving your performance results, as opposed to improving the composite’s representation of your strategy, would be considered “cherry picking.”

Two examples of cases that may require a change in your composites include:

  1. A strategy has evolved and certain aspects of the way the strategy was managed and defined in the past are different from today. This can be addressed by redefining the composite. Redefining the composite requires you to disclose the date, reason, and nature of change. This disclosure will help prospects understand how the strategy was managed for each time period presented and when the shift in strategy took place. Changes like this should be made to your composite descriptions at the time of the change, but an annual review can help you address any items that may have been overlooked when the change occurred.
  2. A composite is defined broadly to include all large capitalization accounts. Within this large capitalization composite, there are accounts with a growth focus and others with a value focus. If your closest competitors are separately presenting large capitalization growth and large capitalization value composites, your broadly defined large capitalization composite may be difficult for prospects to meaningfully compare to your competitors. To address this, you can create new, more narrowly defined composites to separate the accounts with the growth and value mandates. In this case, the full history will be separated and the composite creation date disclosed for these new composites will be the date you make the change. Note that this will demonstrate to prospective clients that you had the benefit of hindsight when determining the definition.

Materiality Thresholds Stated in Your Error Correction Policy

Another section of your firm’s GIPS policies and procedures that should be reviewed in detail is your error correction policy. Your error correction policy includes thresholds that pre-determine which errors (of those that may occur in your compliant presentations) are considered material versus those deemed immaterial. These thresholds cannot be changed upon finding an error; however, they can be updated prospectively if you feel a change would improve your policy.

Many firms had a difficult time setting these thresholds when this requirement first went into effect back at the start of 2011. Now that much more information is available to help you determine these thresholds, such as the GIPS Error Correction Survey, you may want to revisit your policy to ensure it is adequate.

Setting and approving materiality thresholds that determine material versus immaterial errors is a task best suited for your firm’s GIPS committee rather than your GIPS department or manager. The reason for this is that opinions of what constitutes a material error will vary from one department to another. Your committee can help find a balance between those with a more conservative approach and those with a more aggressive approach to ensure the thresholds selected are appropriate.

GIPS Verifier Selection and Due Diligence

If your firm is verified, it is important to periodically evaluate whether you are satisfied with the quality of the service received for the fees paid. You may also want to consider whether you need to conduct any periodic due diligence on your verification firm with respect to data security or other concerns important to your firm.

All verifiers have the same general objective: to test and opine on 1) whether your firm has complied with all of the composite construction requirements of the GIPS standards and 2) whether your firm’s GIPS processes and procedures are designed to calculate and present performance in compliance with GIPS. Where they differ is in the fees charged and process followed to complete the verification.

With regard to fees, much of the difference between verifiers is based on their level of brand recognition rather than differences in the quality of their service. For example, smaller firms specialized in GIPS verification may have more experience with the intricacies of GIPS compliance than a global accounting firm; yet, a global accounting firm will likely charge the highest fee. When selecting a higher fee firm, it is important to consider whether the higher fee is offset by the benefit your firm receives when listing their brand name as your verifier in RFPs you complete.

With regard to process, the primary difference between verification firms is whether the verification testing is done onsite or remotely. There are pros and cons to both methods and it is important for your firm to consider which works best for the team that is fielding the verification document requests.

The onsite approach may result in finishing the verification in a shorter period, but may be disruptive to your other responsibilities while the verification team is in your office. The remote approach may be less disruptive to your other responsibilities, but likely will take longer to complete and may be less efficient as documents are exchanged back and forth over an extended period of time. Another difference is how the engagement team is structured, whether you can expect to work with the same team each year, and how much experience your main contact has.

Regardless of whether the verification is conducted onsite or remotely, be sure to ask any verifier how your proprietary information and confidential client data is protected. If the work is done remotely, how are sensitive documents transferred between your firm and the verifier (e.g., is it through email or a secure portal) and once received by the verifier, do they have strong controls in place to ensure your data is not breached.

If the work is done onsite, it is important to ask what documents (or copies of documents), if any, the verifier will be taking with them when they leave, and whether these documents are saved in a secure manner. Documents saved locally on a laptop are at higher risk of being compromised.

For more information on how to maximize the benefits your firm receives from being GIPS compliant or for other investment performance and GIPS information, contact Sean Gilligan at sean@longspeakadvisory.com.