What is the Sharpe Ratio?

The Sharpe Ratio is calculated as the strategy’s mean return minus the mean risk-free rate divided by the standard deviation of the strategy. The Sharpe Ratio measures the excess return for taking on additional risk.

The Sharpe Ratio is one of the most popular performance appraisals measures and is used to compare and rank managers with similar strategies.

Sharpe Ratio Formula

What is a Good Sharpe Ratio?

The Sharpe Ratio is a ranking device so a portfolio’s Sharpe Ratio should be compared to the Sharpe Ratio of other portfolios rather than evaluated independently.

Since the Sharpe Ratio measures excess return per unit of risk, investors prefer a higher Sharpe Ratio when comparing similarly managed portfolios.

As an example, suppose two similar strategies, Strategy A and Strategy B, had the following characteristics over one year. For this period, the average risk-free rate is 0.1%.

Please note: the Sharpe Ratio calculation below has monthly measures as inputs and then annualizes the final result.

Although the strategies perform similarly, the Sharpe Ratios differ significantly due to their differences in volatility (i.e., standard deviation). Because Strategy B has a much higher Sharpe Ratio, it would be preferred over Strategy A to an investor deciding between the two.

Sharpe Ratio Interpretation

The Sharpe Ratio is intended to be used for strategies with normal return distributions; it should not be used for a strategy that treats upside and downside volatility differently. The Sharpe Ratio treats both types of volatility the same. For example, if a manager is looking for high reward investments then upside volatility can be a good thing, but the Sharpe Ratio penalizes the strategy for any type of volatility. For return streams with non-normal distributions, such as hedge funds, the Sortino Ratio may be more appropriate.

Why is the Sharpe Ratio Important?

The Sharpe Ratio is important when assessing portfolio performance because it adjusts for risk. Comparing returns without accounting for risk does not provide a complete picture of the strategy.

The Sharpe Ratio is commonly used in investment strategy marketing materials because it is the most widely known and understood measure of risk-adjusted performance.

Sharpe Ratio Calculation: Using Arithmetic Mean or Geometric Mean

Because the Sharpe Ratio compares return to risk (through Standard Deviation), Arithmetic Mean should be used to calculate the strategy return and risk-free rate’s average values. Geometric Mean penalizes the return stream for taking on more risk. However, since the Sharpe Ratio already accounts for risk in the denominator, using Geometric Mean in the numerator would account for risk twice. For more information on the use of arithmetic vs. geometric mean when calculating performance appraisal measures, please check out Arithmetic vs Geometric Mean: Which to use in Performance Appraisal.

Annualized Sharpe Ratio

When calculating the Sharpe Ratio using monthly data, the Sharpe Ratio is annualized by multiplying the entire result by the square root of 12.

Investment Performance Outlier Testing

For any firm that aggregates portfolios of the same strategy into a composite, or otherwise groups portfolios by mandate, how do you know that each portfolio truly follows that strategy? The answer is outlier testing.

Why Utilize Composites?

The GIPS standards require firms managing separate accounts to construct composites, which aggregate all discretionary portfolios of the same strategy. However, even for firms that are not GIPS complaint, the use of composites is considered best practice when reporting investment performance to prospective clients. Composites offer a more complete picture than presenting performance of a model or “representative portfolio” – which usually leave prospects wondering whether the information is truly representative or if the portfolio presented was “cherry picked.”  

When creating and maintaining composites, firms must ensure that portfolios are included in the correct composite for the right time period – the period for which you had full discretion to implement the composite strategy for that portfolio. This can be achieved by following a clearly documented set of policies and procedures for composite inclusion and exclusion. However, what happens when changes are made to a portfolio and those changes are not communicated to the person maintaining the composite?

In an ideal world, information in your firm would flow perfectly so that the person maintaining your composites knows exactly what is happening with the firm’s clients. In reality, client requests commonly result in small or temporary changes to the portfolio (e.g., halt trading, raise cash) that are not formally documented in the client’s investment guidelines or investment policy statement.

Without formal documentation of these changes, information may not flow down to the manager of your composites. While these minor or temporary changes may not affect the client’s long-term objectives, they may cause the portfolio to deviate from the strategy, requiring (at least temporary) removal from its composite. When these restricted portfolios are left in the composite, they often become performance outliers and create “noise” in the composite results. This “noise” prevents the composite from providing a meaningful representation of the portfolio manager’s ability to implement the strategy. This will also interfere with your prospective clients’ ability to analyze and interpret your performance results.

Why test for performance outliers?

Testing for performance outliers prior to finalizing and publishing performance results can help your firm remove this “noise” and can prevent costly errors in performance presentations. Firms that lack adequate composite construction policies and controls to ensure the policies are consistently followed often end up with errors in their composite presentations. In fact, it is very likely that errors in your performance exist. It is rare for us at Longs Peak to conduct an outlier analysis where no issues are found. Outlier testing should be completed quarterly and at a minimum, before any related verification or performance examination.

Many firms, especially those that are GIPS compliant, rely on their verifier to catch errors in their composites. We do not recommend this and suggest firms perform testing internally (or with the help of a performance consultant like Longs Peak) because:

  1. Verifiers only test a sample and will likely not catch all of your issues.
  2. Verification may happen months after the performance has been published. When errors are found, it may require redistribution of presentations with disclosures regarding prior performance errors.
  3. When verifiers find errors, they generally increase their sample size as well as their assessment of engagement risk. These two things lead to more time spent on the verification and a potential increase in your verification fee.

Even if not GIPS compliant, when firms use composites, regulators may test to ensure the composites are a meaningful representation of the strategy. In addition to improving accuracy, testing for performance outliers can help your firm‘s composites meet the standards expected by regulators.

How can performance outliers be identified?

Testing for performance outliers involves reviewing the performance of portfolios within the same composite or strategy to test if they are performing similarly. This testing allows you to flag any portfolios that may be performing differently so you can evaluate if their inclusion in the composite is appropriate.

For example, if your firm has a Large Cap Growth composite, testing performance outliers would involve compiling the return data for all of your Large Cap Growth portfolios, identifying which portfolios performed materially different from their peers, researching why they performed differently, and then taking the appropriate action if an issue is uncovered. This may sound like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Let us walk you through this in more detail.

Some firms simply look at the absolute difference between each portfolio’s monthly return and the monthly return of the composite. While this may be straight forward, relying only on the absolute difference to determine outliers does not take into consideration the size of the return and the normal distribution of portfolio returns in the composite. For example, setting a threshold to look at all portfolios that deviate from the composite return by 50bps will be very different for a composite with low dispersion and a total return of 2% compared to a composite with higher dispersion and a total return of 20%.

In the outlier analysis Longs Peak conducts for clients, we use standard deviation in conjunction with a comparison of the absolute differences to identify the outlier portfolios that require review. Utilizing standard deviation allows us to identify portfolios that are truly outside the normal distribution of returns for each period. For example, reviewing all portfolios that are more than 3 standard deviations from the composite mean will provide the portfolios outside the normal distribution of returns for that period, regardless of the size of the return or the level of dispersion in that composite.

What should be considered when reviewing outlier performance?

The severity of the outlier

The larger the outlier, the more likely it is that the portfolio has an issue that would require it to be removed from the composite. We typically start by looking at the most extreme outliers first. Generally, we look at portfolios with performance periods flagged as being +/-3 standard deviations from the mean return for the period. By addressing these first (including removing them if it is determined they do not belong in the composite), we are able to re-run the outlier test to assess what outliers exist without these extreme cases disrupting the analysis.

Once these extreme outliers are addressed, we move on to review the portfolios that are +/-2 standard deviations and even +/-1.5 standard deviations, if needed. We keep reviewing accounts with returns closer and closer to the composite’s mean return until we are consistently confirming that the portfolios do in fact belong in the composite and errors are not being found.

Each firm will be different in how much they need to drill down to get to a point of comfort that no more errors exist. If your composite is managed strictly to a model, the outliers should be very clear and easy to identify. If each portfolio you manage is customized, more research will be needed to determine if the outlier performance is simply a result of the portfolio’s customization or if the portfolio was included in the wrong composite.

How often the portfolio is an outlier

Longs Peak’s performance outlier reports show a portfolio’s performance, the number of standard deviations it is from the mean each month, and the number of months the portfolio was an outlier throughout its history in that composite. Our reports also show whether there was a cash flow during that period or not. The following are examples of outlier frequencies we evaluate:

Infrequent: If you see that a portfolio is only an outlier for one month and that month had a large cash flow, then you will know that the portfolio is likely only an outlier for that period because of the cash flow and, perhaps, no further research is required.

Frequent: If you can see that the portfolio is an outlier for most of the months under review, then you will know that there is likely an issue with this portfolio.

As of a specific date: If you can see that the portfolio was never an outlier for the history, but became a frequent outlier from a certain month forward, this may indicate that a restriction was added or that the strategy changed as of that period. The portfolio may then need to be reclassified to the appropriate composite or flagged as non-discretionary.

The most common causes of outlier performance and how to address performance outliers

Outlier performance is generally caused by the following:

  • Data issues – When outliers are extreme, it is likely that there is an issue with the data. Examples include a pricing issue that caused a material jump in performance or a late dividend hitting a portfolio that is closing and had most of its assets already transferred out. These issues are often easily addressed, depending on the circumstance of each case.
  • Cash flows – If a portfolio is only an outlier for one month and during that month the portfolio experienced a large cash flow, this is likely the reason for the outlier performance. If the portfolio had high cash for a period of time around the cash flow and the market moved during that period, this portfolio likely would perform differently than its fully invested peers. Nothing needs to be done in this scenario since the outlier performance is explained and there is no indication that the portfolio is invested incorrectly or grouped with the wrong portfolios.
  • Legacy positions or other client restrictions – If your clients hold legacy positions that you are restricted from selling or have other similar restrictions, this will likely cause these portfolios to perform differently when compared to their unrestricted peers. Depending on your composite construction rules, unless immaterial, these portfolios likely need to be excluded from the composite. With these portfolios removed, other outliers may appear that were not as noticeable when the restricted portfolios were included. It is important to refer to your firm’s composite construction policies, which should outline clear parameters for when restricted portfolios should be included/excluded in composites.
  • Portfolio categorized incorrectly – A portfolio may appear as an outlier because it was placed in the wrong composite. This often happens if a portfolio’s composite changed and it was not removed from its prior composite. If this is the case, the portfolio should be removed and added to the new composite based on the timing outlined in your firm’s composite construction policies.
  • Portfolio managed incorrectly – Performance outlier analysis may help identify a portfolio that is being managed to the wrong strategy. For example, it is possible that the portfolio could be grouped with the correct portfolios, but the wrong strategy was implemented in the portfolio. This is one of the most important errors that performance outlier testing can identify because it means that the client is actually not having their money managed to the strategy for which your firm was hired. In this case, the portfolio would need to be rebalanced to the correct strategy. Likely, a review of the history would need to be conducted as well to ensure the client was not disadvantaged by the error.
  • High dispersion between portfolio managers – Especially when more than one portfolio manager is implementing the same composite at your firm, material differences may exist in the way they each manage the strategy. Outlier performers may be due to differences in the portfolio managers’ discretionary management. If the composite is being sold as one cohesive product, it is important to identify where the portfolio managers are deviating and determine if they need to work more closely together to avoid high dispersion or if the strategy should actually be run as two different products.

When researching outlier performance, keep in mind that, on its own, a portfolio’s performance deviating from its peers is not a valid reason to remove the portfolio from its composite. You need to determine the root cause of the deviation and remove the portfolio from its composite only if the root cause was client-driven. If the deviation was caused by tactical, discretionary moves made by the portfolio manager, the portfolio must remain in the composite as its performance is still a representation of the portfolio manager’s implementation of the strategy.

Ready to implement performance outlier testing at your firm?

While it is best practice to create a flow of information that will allow portfolios to proactively be included/excluded in the correct composite at the appropriate time, testing for performance outliers acts as a back-up plan to catch anything that was missed.

If analyzing your composite data to identify performance outliers is not something you have the resources to do internally, Longs Peak is available to help. Longs Peak offers both consulting and reporting services that can assist your firm with outlier analysis. Conducting outlier analysis should be done at least quarterly to help ensure your firm is managing your portfolios consistently and are reporting strategy or composite performance that is meaningful and accurate. Please contact us to discuss how we can help implement this practice for your firm.

Questions?

If you have questions about investment performance, composite construction, or the GIPS standards, we would be love to talk to you. Longs Peak’s professionals have extensive experience helping firms with all of their investment performance needs. Please feel free to email Sean Gilligan directly at sean@longspeakadvisory.com.

Arithmetic vs Geometric Mean: Which to use in Performance Appraisal

Most performance appraisal measures utilize a mean return in its calculation. This can be in the form a geometric mean or a simple arithmetic average. Because both types of means can be used, it raises the question: Which measure should be applied?

When calculating performance, we are accustomed to calculating returns geometrically (i.e., including compounding). Because of this, many investment managers use the geometric mean in appraisal calculations as it is easy to use the reported time-weighted return, rather than separately determining the arithmetic mean. But using geometric mean is not the most appropriate choice when evaluating risk-adjusted appraisal measures.

When calculating performance appraisal measures that compare return to risk, such as Sharpe ratio, the return used in the numerator of the ratio should be the arithmetic mean of the return stream, not the geometric mean. In many cases, the difference between using the arithmetic mean versus geometric mean will be immaterial; however, the greater the volatility in the return stream, the more material the difference will be. Let’s look at a simple example that demonstrates this effect:

Strategies with significant volatility have lower geometric means than arithmetic means (7.5% vs. 8.4% for Portfolio 2 above). This is because the geometric mean penalizes the return stream for risk-taking. In the case of the Sharpe Ratio, the standard deviation (which also accounts for risk-taking) in the denominator will be higher as a result of this higher volatility (1.5% for Portfolio 1 vs. 14.2% for Portfolio 2). In this case, using the geometric mean therefore results in a penalty for risk in both the numerator and denominator of the ratio.

Because risk is already being accounted for in the denominator, there is no need to include it in the numerator; in fact, including it would be double-counting the risk taken. As a result, for measures like Sharpe Ratio, it is more appropriate to use the arithmetic mean than geometric mean.

Although, in many cases, using the geometric return will not have a material effect on the outcome when comparing risk-scaled performance measures, it is technically more accurate to use the arithmetic mean. Its implications are more relevant when evaluating strategies with higher volatility. 

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. 

Are fee-related admin issues causing errors in your investment performance?

Calculating gross and net investment performance should be simple, right? Yes, however, firms often face fee-related portfolio accounting or administrative issues that cause complications, resulting in inaccurate performance. It is essential that all types of fees are accounted for correctly to ensure reported performance can be relied upon and properly evaluated by clients and prospective investors.



Which Fees and Expenses Reduce Investment Performance?

Gross-of-fee performance represents a portfolio’s return net of transaction costs only. Net-of-fee performance is net of transaction costs and investment management fees, so the only difference between gross and net performance is the investment management fee. According to the Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS®), investment management fees are defined to include both asset-based and performance-based fees that are earned for managing a portfolio.

If your firm is GIPS compliant, it is important to reduce performance by both types of fees when calculating net-of-fee performance. For non-GIPS compliant firms, this is still considered a best practice; however, it is common for firms with both types of fees to report performance reduced only by the asset-based fee as “Net” and performance reduced by both the asset-based fee and performance-based fee as “Net Net.”

Administrative fees, such as custody fees, do not reduce performance. This is the typical practice because clients have some control over selecting a custodian and, therefore, the administrative fees charged to their portfolio. For this reason, administrative fees are excluded from performance calculations and instead are treated like external cash flows that do not reduce their return.

The most common exception to this is net performance reported for mutual funds, which is typically calculated based on the change in the fund’s net asset value (NAV), resulting in performance that is net of all fees and expenses. Mutual fund investors do not have control over the custodian used or administrative fees charged (i.e., the manager selects the custodian), so these fees do reduce performance when calculating net returns for mutual funds.



What Are the Most Common Fee-Related Administrative Issues and How Can They Be Addressed?

The most common administrative issues that affect performance results usually are derived from:

  1. Clients paying their management fee by check or from another outside source
  2. Accounts with bundled fee structures (e.g., wrap accounts)
  3. Accounts paying asset-based fees for transactions in lieu of per-trade commissions

We will examine each of these issues below.


1.  Clients Paying Their Management Fee by Check or from Another Outside Source

In an ideal world all clients would have their management fees directly debited from the account that earned the fee; however, this is not always the case. Some clients prefer to pay their management fees by check or out of one of their multiple accounts managed by your firm. Since many firms record their accounts receivable in an accounting system separate from their portfolio accounting system (which calculates performance), a matching entry must be added to the portfolio accounting system when fees are paid. If this fee is not recorded in the portfolio accounting system, the client’s gross and net returns will be equal (neither being reduced by the management fee), which is inaccurate.

How to Add Adjusting Accounting Entries to Ensure Net-of-Fee Performance Is Accurate

When a client pays their fee by check, to correctly record this, two entries are needed in the portfolio accounting system:

  1. An external cash inflow matching the management fees paid by check.
  2. A management fee expense for the same amount.

After these two transactions are made, the portfolio’s market value will be the same as it was before entering these transactions since the two transactions offset each other. While these entries do not change the value of the portfolio, an expense is recorded that will allow the system to report the correct net-of-fee performance for the period.

Similarly, when the management fee is directly debited from another account, adjustments need to be made to both the account that paid the fee and the account that earned the fee. The account that paid the management fee will need two accounting entries:

  1. A negative management fee expense for fees paid on behalf of a different account.
  2. An external cash outflow for the same amount.

The account that earned the management fee will also need two accounting entries (note that these are the same as the entries when paid by check):

  1. An external cash inflow matching the fees paid by the other account.
  2. A management fee expense for the same amount.

Again, these transactions will not change the market value of any account as these entries simultaneously adjust cash and management fee expense by the same amount. While this has no effect on the total portfolio’s market value, it will allow net-of fee performance to be accurately reported, regardless of the source or method of the actual payment.

Forgetting to make these adjustments is very common and often leads to erroneously overstating net-of-fee performance for clients paying their fees from an outside source. It will also result in an overstatement of net-of-fee performance for any composite that includes these accounts. To avoid regulatory deficiencies or non-compliance with GIPS requirements, it is best to look into whether your firm has accounts paying management fees from outside sources and ensure proper adjustments are made.



2.  Accounts with Bundled Fee Structures, Such as Wrap Accounts

As previously discussed, gross-of-fee performance is reduced by transaction costs and net-of-fee performance is reduced by transaction costs and management fees. This can become complicated when fees and expenses are bundled together and accounted for as one bundled fee.

What to Do If Fees and Expenses Are Bundled Together and Cannot Be Separated

If fees and expenses cannot be separated, gross-of-fee performance is calculated by reducing performance by transaction costs and any fees or expenses that cannot be separated from those transaction costs. Net-of-fee performance is then calculated by reducing performance by transaction costs and management fees, as well as any fees or expenses that cannot be separated from the transaction costs or management fees. This often results in identical gross-of fee and net-of-fee performance, as both performance measures are reduced by the entire bundled fee.

This most commonly occurs with wrap accounts, where the client pays one bundled fee and the individual fees for transaction costs, management fees, etc. cannot be separately determined. When this occurs, disclosures should be included with the performance to clarify if any fees other than transaction costs and management fees have been used to reduce performance.

Alternative Presentation Options for Gross-of-Fee and Net-of-Fee Performance With Bundled Fees

Instead of presenting gross-of-fee performance that is equal to net-of-fee performance, firms often only include net returns as their official performance, but then also present “pure gross” returns as supplemental information. Pure gross returns are gross of all fees and expenses and must be disclosed as such.



3.  Accounts That Pay Asset-Based Fees for Transactions in Lieu of Per-Trade Commissions

As discussed earlier, gross-of-fee performance is reduced by transaction costs. Typically these transaction costs are the commissions tied to each executed trade; however, there has been a trend towards using asset-based fee structures for transaction costs, instead of per-trade commissions.

If an account is actively managed and trades frequently enough that an asset-based fee structure results in lower expenses than paying commissions on each trade, an asset-based fee structure may be a good option for your client. However, properly accounting for this kind of fee structure in your portfolio accounting system may be challenging, as many portfolio accounting systems have not caught up with this trend, leading to errors in the client’s reported performance.

With a commission-based structure, portfolio accounting systems typically account for each trade net of commissions, which ensures that gross-of-fee performance is net of transaction costs. All other fees and expenses are recorded as separate line items that are coded as either “performance affecting” (e.g., management fees, which reduce performance to arrive at net-of fee-returns), or “non-performance affecting” (e.g., administrative fees, which are treated as external cash flows that do not have an effect on performance).

When asset-based fee structures replace per-trade commissions, the asset-based fee is commonly accounted for as a line item, similar to management fees or other administrative expenses. The problem with this is that neither of the two options available (“performance-affecting” or “non-performance-affecting”) reduce gross-of-fee performance to account for trading costs. Instead, these options were only designed to reduce net-of-fee performance or reduce neither performance measure (i.e., there is often no transaction code that only reduces gross-of-fee performance).

How to Make Adjustments to Properly Account for Asset-Based Transaction Costs

Many systems have not created a solution for asset-based transaction costs, leaving firms to develop their own workarounds to reduce gross-of-fee returns. One example of a workaround that firms use is to record these fees as negative dividends, which results in the desired effect of reducing gross-of-fee performance. While this approach works, it is not ideal since the dividend transaction code is not intended to be used for this purpose, and should only be used as a short-term solution until your portfolio accounting system provider can offer an appropriate transaction code that will properly account for this type of fee.

Firms that have accounts with this type of fee structure for transaction costs should check with their portfolio accounting system provider to confirm if there is a way to ensure these fees are accounted for properly. Ideally, this should be addressed with a system developer or senior representative from your system provider, as this question is likely beyond the knowledge of a typical helpdesk associate, and may not be addressed in the reference materials they have available to them.


While this post is focused on fee-related administrative issues that affect performance, there are many other fee-related issues that firms face in reporting investment performance. We intend to cover additional fee-related topics in future posts, including: determining whether to use cash basis or accrual accounting for management fees, and considerations for determining when it is appropriate to use hypothetical or model management fees instead of actual management fees to calculate net-of-fee performance. If you would like to receive periodic information on these kinds of topics, please subscribe to our blog by submitting your email at the bottom of the webpage or check back frequently for new posts.

For more information on fee-related administrative issues or to discuss other investment performance or GIPS® topics, please contact Sean Gilligan at sean@longspeakadvisory.com.