How to Advertise as a GIPS Compliant Firm

Most GIPS compliant firms are aware of the requirement to provide their compliant presentations to prospective clients, but it can be a little confusing how to reference GIPS in other materials.

It is important to remember that you should never just casually reference your firm’s GIPS compliance without considering what disclosures are required to accompany that claim of compliance. Specifically, if you are creating an advertisement (any material meant for a broad audience, generally designed to attract people to become prospective clients of your firm), you have the following three options:

  • Don’t mention GIPS at all.
  • Mention GIPS and include a compliant presentation with all required GIPS disclosures.
  • Mention GIPS and follow the more abbreviated requirements of the GIPS Advertising Guidelines.

Why do some GIPS Compliant firms avoid mentioning GIPS?

One reason firms choose not to mention GIPS in an advertisement is due to space constraints or the logistics of fitting the required disclosures without looking awkward. For example, firms often try to keep factsheets to one page. If including the claim of GIPS compliance and related disclosures would push the presentation to a second page then the firm may elect not to mention GIPS.

Unfortunately, another common reason GIPS compliant firms choose not to mention GIPS in advertisements is out of fear of doing it wrong. After all the hard work you put in to become GIPS compliant, you should definitely be able to reference GIPS in your advertisements without fear! The information provided below explains how you can confidently make reference to your firm’s GIPS compliance in advertisements.


The Two Options When Mentioning GIPS

Option 1: Include a Compliant Presentation

Compliant presentations include all statistics and disclosures for a composite that are required to be provided to your firm’s prospective clients. While this document is most often used in a one-on-one setting with prospective clients, it can be attached to advertisements that mention GIPS as well.

In some cases, it can be easier to attach the compliant presentation rather than trying to incorporate the advertising disclosures directly into the advertisement. For example, if emailing a newsletter (considered a type of advertisement) and your firm wants to mention GIPS in the letter, you could include the compliant presentation as an attachment to the email rather than trying to fit the advertising disclosures into the newsletter itself. Making a reference to the attached GIPS compliant presentation may be cleaner than adding disclosures directly into the newsletter itself.

Also, many firms looking to add a reference to their GIPS compliance on their website (also considered a type of advertisement) will simply add a link to their compliant presentations rather than putting the advertising disclosures directly on the website. This way, you can simply add a link to the detailed information for each composite rather than adding disclosures referencing who to contact to receive a copy of the disclosures, etc., which is required by the GIPS Advertising Guidelines.


Option 2: Follow the GIPS Advertising Guidelines

Following the GIPS Advertising Guidelines allows a firm to mention GIPS in an advertisement with a more abbreviated set of disclosures than what is required for a compliant presentation. This is the most common option firms follow when they want to mention GIPS in a print ad or press release where attaching a compliant presentation would not be feasible.

The disclosures required by the GIPS Advertising Guidelines are different depending on whether performance is included in the advertisement or not. If you elect to follow the GIPS Advertising Guidelines, we recommend that you use our Required Disclosures for GIPS Compliant Advertisements checklist. This list can greatly assist in helping your firm confidently reference GIPS compliance in all of your advertisements.


Want to learn more?

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 contact us or email Sean Gilligan directly at sean@longspeakadvisory.com.

Creating GIPS Compliant Presentations

Firms that are GIPS compliant are required to provide all prospective clients with a GIPS compliant presentation. Typically, each composite has its own separate one-page sheet that includes all the statistics and disclosures required for that composite. This one-page sheet can be attached as an appendix to your firm’s pitchbooks and other marketing materials to properly represent your firm to the public as a GIPS compliant firm.

Not all compliant presentations are the same. Your firm’s required statistics and disclosures will depend on your firm’s strategies and policies. In this article, we discuss the required statistics and disclosures applicable to most GIPS compliant firms. In addition, we provide information on common issues firms face when creating compliant presentations and what you might be able to do to avoid them.


Required GIPS Statistics

Although additional statistics may be required, the following are the most common statistics that GIPS compliant firms are required to present in their compliant presentations:

  • Annual composite time-weighted returns (gross and/or net) – GIPS recommends the use of gross-of-fee returns; however, at least in the United States, it is most common to include both gross and net-of-fee returns. Net returns can be based on actual management fees or a model fee. As discussed in a previous post titled “Are fee-related administrative issues causing errors in your investment performance?” using a model fee instead of actual fees may be necessary when you have clients that pay fees from an outside source (e.g., by check or from another account your firm manages for them).
  • Annual benchmark returns – GIPS requires the use of a benchmark unless you are able to disclose a reason why no meaningful benchmark is available. Even if your strategy is benchmark agnostic, most firms choose to include the most relevant benchmark available and then disclose any material differences between the benchmark and the strategy.
  • Number of portfolios in the composite as of each year-end – This is simply the number of portfolios that are included in the composite as of 31 December each year.
  • Total assets in the composite as of each year-end – This is simply the sum of the composite assets as of 31 December each year.
  • Total assets of the GIPS firm as of each year-end – This is the sum of all discretionary and non-discretionary portfolio assets that are included in the firm definition as of 31 December each year.
  • A measure of internal dispersion for each annual period – Internal dispersion is a measure used to give the user of the performance report an indication as to how tightly the strategy is managed. In other words, if you are reporting that the composite return was 10% for the most recent annual period, a low internal dispersion figure will tell the user that most portfolios in the composite returned approximately 10%. High dispersion would indicate that the portfolios in the composite had a more diverse set of returns (e.g., perhaps some returned 5% while others returned 15%). Typically, firms use standard deviation to present this, which can either be calculated on an equal-weighted or asset-weighted basis.
  • Three-year annualized ex-post standard deviation of both the composite and the benchmark based on monthly returns – This is a measure of risk. The standard deviation of the composite’s monthly returns and the benchmark’s monthly returns provides the user of the performance report an idea of the level of risk taken compared to the benchmark. Ideally, you want higher annual returns and lower annualized standard deviation compared to the composite’s benchmark. That would indicate that you were able to outperform while taking less risk. For composites where a different measure of risk would be more meaningful than standard deviation, firms may present an additional risk measure with an explanation as to why that measure is more relevant, but the annualized standard deviation must still be included.

Other statistics may also be required if, for example, your firm manages non-fee-paying or bundled-fee accounts. Firms with these types of accounts must show the percentage of the composite they represent as of each year-end. Firms with private equity or real estate composites also require different statistics which can be found in the Real Estate and Private Equity provisions of the GIPS Standards.


Required Disclosures

When reviewing compliant presentations before distribution, many firms focus purely on the statistics presented to ensure material errors do not exist. This is often done without realizing that missing or incorrect disclosures can also be considered a material error. Thus, you’ll want to make sure your review process incorporates an evaluation of both.

The disclosures that must be included in a GIPS compliant presentation will differ by firm and by composite. Rather than listing all of them here, we have compiled a checklist of required GIPS disclosures which can be used as part of your firm’s marketing material review process. This checklist can be used to help you incorporate the proper disclosures for each compliant presentation prior to approving them for external use.

When reviewing the disclosures included in your firm’s GIPS compliant presentations, it is important to ensure:

  1. No required disclosures are missing.
  2. The disclosures are consistent with the policies documented in your GIPS Policies and Procedures document (“GIPS P&P”), including any recent changes to policies. For example, if a minimum asset level is changed for a composite, it is important to ensure that this change is consistently:
    1. documented in your firm’s GIPS P&P,
    2. implemented in the actual composite construction, and
    3. disclosed in the GIPS compliant presentation.
  3. Any disclosures (such as the claim of compliance) that are required to be written word-for-word as stated in the standards, are not modified in any way.

Common Issues

Firms that do not have composite maintenance software or an external GIPS consultant to create their GIPS compliant presentations often create them manually. When creating and updating compliant presentations yourself, it is important to avoid theses common mistakes:

  1. Don’t double count assets. For example, if the same portfolio is included in more than one composite you will not be able to sum your composite assets to get to your total GIPS firm assets. Additionally, if you manage a fund and then some of the separate accounts you manage invest in that fund as part of their portfolio, you need to ensure you do not count those assets both as part of the fund and again as part of the separate accounts. It is also important to ensure that only actual accounts are included. Models and anything that is considered “advisory-only” should be excluded from your calculation.
  2. Ensure that the number of portfolios reported is the total number of portfolios included in the composite as of 31 December of that year. Since internal dispersion is calculated based on only the portfolios that were in the composite for the full year, some firms make the mistake of reporting their number of portfolios as just the number of portfolios that were included for the full year. This is not correct as this statistic is intended to be the total number of portfolios in the composite as of each year-end.
  3. When partial-year performance is presented, it is important to:
    1. Clearly label the period for which performance is presented.
    2. Match the benchmark period to the period presented for the composite.
  4. Keep your presentations up-to-date. This means:
    1. Updating presentations with corrected statistics if corrections are made to the composite’s data. For example, firms may make updates to transactions for reconciliation purposes, such as backdating dividends. If this results in a change to composite-level statistics, then the compliant presentations must be updated accordingly. It is important to consistently follow your firm’s GIPS error correction policy. Typically, immaterial changes to the statistics are updated for future use even if the changes are not large enough to trigger redistribution of the presentation.
    2. Updating presentations with the most recent year’s statistics as soon as they become available. It is not necessary to wait for the verification to be complete before adding and presenting updated statistics. For example, if your annual GIPS verification for calendar year 2017 will not be complete until mid-2018, you do not need to wait until the verification is complete to present the 2017 statistics in your compliant presentation. You just cannot update the date your firm is verified through until the verification report is issued (i.e., you can present unverified statistics for the 2017 period, but the date range of your verification will still be disclosed as ending 31 December 2016). This lets the user of your compliant presentation have the latest statistics while letting them know that the verification for the latest period is pending.
  5. Ensure there are no typos if you are manually entering the statistics into a table. Typos can easily cause material errors that would trigger the need for redistribution of the presentation with disclosure of the error. Establishing a simple review process can help your firm avoid this headache.
  6. Make sure the information for each composite is entered into the correct compliant presentation (i.e., ensure you do not enter the statistics for Composite A into the presentation for Composite B). Seems obvious, but you’d be surprise how often this mistake is made. Again, a reliable review process can help your firm avoid these mistakes.

Want to Learn More?

If you have any questions about creating compliant presentations or any GIPS statistics or disclosures, 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. Contact us to learn how we can help.

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.