Investment Performance & GIPS Consulting Blog

Did you miss this year’s GIPS® conference? Here are the key takeaways:

Last week, CFA Institute hosted the 19th annual GIPS Conference in San Diego, California.

Paul Smith, CFA, CEO and President of CFA Institute, delivered the opening address for this year’s conference. He referred to GIPS as CFA Institute’s single most successful product and explained his intention to increase the Institute’s marketing efforts with regard to promoting GIPS around the world.

Smith specifically emphasized the importance of GIPS to developing-market regions. Given that he is based in Hong Kong, I would expect that he will specifically work to promote GIPS in Southeast Asia and other developing regions to help make the standards truly global.

Because there have not been many recent changes to the GIPS standards, much of the conference was focused on general performance and risk topics, as well as US-specific (SEC) regulatory compliance. Below are the key takeaways from this two-day event. Please note that the information provided for non-GIPS topics is based on the opinions expressed by the conference speakers and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of CFA Institute or any other organization.

GIPS-Specific Takeaways

Supplemental Information Disclosures are Not Required Outside of Compliant Presentations

It was clarified that supplemental information disclosures are only required when presenting supplemental information directly on a compliant presentation page. For example, if creating a pitch book with several pages of composite information, supplemental information (e.g., statistics derived from a representative account, carved-out performance, specific holdings, etc.) only needs to be labeled as supplemental if presented on the actual compliant presentation page (i.e., the page with all of your required GIPS statistics and disclosures). If you include supplemental information on pages other than the compliant presentation page, it does not need to be labeled as supplemental and no disclosures are required.

This is a significant shift from how this requirement was interpreted in the past. Previously, most firms interpreted the supplemental information guidance to require any supplemental information included in a presentation to be labeled as such, regardless of what page it was presented on. Other than pure gross returns for wrap composites, it is rare for firms to include supplemental information directly on the compliant presentation page. With this new interpretation, most firms will not need to use supplemental information disclosures at all.

The GIPS Interpretations Committee is working on creating new guidance on this topic that will be published soon. It is important to note that this guidance will not be official until the updated guidance statement is published. It is best to wait until the final guidance statement is available before making any changes to presentations in case changes are made to this guidance as it goes through the process of being approved and finalized.

Submission of Firm Notification Form Now Needs to be Verified

It was announced that verifiers will be required to conduct annual testing to ensure that the firms they verify have submitted their notification form, informing CFA Institute of their status as a GIPS compliant firm. The form must be submitted by 30 June each year, answering the questions about their firm as of 31 December of the prior year.

For most firms, verifiers can simply check to ensure the firm they are verifying is on the published list of compliant firms; however, if your firm has elected to be excluded from this list, it is recommended that you maintain a record of the submission to provide to your verifier.

If your firm has not yet submitted the form that was due 30 June 2015, there is no penalty for late submission, and the recommendation is that you log on and complete the notification form as soon as possible. Click here to complete the form now.

New Pooled Fund Advertising Guidelines will be Distributed for Public Comment During 4Q 2015

GIPS compliant firms are very familiar with the requirement to provide all prospective clients with a compliant presentation, but there has been some confusion as to whether the term “prospective client” includes new investors in funds and other pooled vehicles. It would be very difficult to provide all prospective investors in a fund a compliant presentation, so most firms have followed this requirement by only providing compliant presentations to prospective, separate account investors.

New guidance on how to present performance information to prospective pooled fund investors has been drafted and is scheduled to be distributed for public comment during 4Q 2015. This guidance is expected to require GIPS compliant firms that manage broadly distributed pooled funds to include specific performance and disclosure information in each fund’s prospectus or similar offering documents.

This new requirement is designed to ensure there is consistency and completeness in the way GIPS compliant firms market to prospective pooled fund investors. Many of the required statistics and disclosures are expected to be similar to what is already required by most regulators, so material changes to offering documents may not be necessary.

If you are a GIPS compliant firm that manages broadly distributed pooled funds, please provide feedback during the public comment period to ensure your point of view is considered before this guidance is finalized.

Regulatory (SEC) Compliance Takeaways

Are “Canned” Compliance Policies and Procedures Provided by Consultants Sufficient?

Many firms use “canned” policies and procedures that do not sufficiently describe the actual practices of their firm. It is important to consider whether your compliance policies and procedures are tailored to match your firm or if they are generic, template language provided by a consultant and could be applied to any firm. At a minimum, it is important to ensure that your policies do not state that you are doing something that you are not actually doing.

Policies should have a strong emphasis on employee education, both for new hires and for ongoing training, to demonstrate a proactive approach to creating a “culture of compliance.” Most importantly, ensure that you are able to consistently apply any policy created.

What are the Key Elements of a Compliance Program?

Firms often make their compliance program more complicated than it needs to be. Keep it simple and focus on the following three points:

  1. Risk Assessment – Clearly document how you assess your firm’s risk areas.
  2. Annual CCO Review – Compliance programs should evolve over time to ensure they are sufficiently meeting the needs of your firm, but do not make changes simply to give the impression of making improvements when no changes are necessary. Firms often overdo this. If your firm has not experienced significant changes, your program does not need to change much either.
  3. Calendar/Checklist – This is the most important element of your compliance program. Your compliance calendar is your opportunity to demonstrate your firm’s protocol. If your firm has multiple offices, ensure testing covers all locations and not just your headquarters. Not thoroughly monitoring and testing the compliance procedures of outside offices is a common issue.

What Should Firms do to Prepare for an SEC Examination?

Many firms hire an outside consultant to conduct mock audits, but this can actually be counterproductive. Unless conducted by an attorney, with whom you would have attorney-client privilege, the findings from a mock audit are discoverable by the SEC. This means you are essentially handing the SEC a list of your firm’s weaknesses.

Your time may be better spent working with a consultant building the most robust compliance program you can and ensuring your compliance officer is prepared to confidently represent your firm in the event of an examination.

What are the Current Focus Areas of SEC Examiners?

In addition to the common recurring items that SEC examiners focus on, such as custody, assets under management, marketed performance presentations, suitability, and conflict disclosures, the following are areas currently being emphasized in SEC examinations:

  • Cyber Security – Examiners are looking to make sure cyber security has been considered and policies and procedures have been developed and implemented to protect client data. Firms are responsible for conducting due diligence on their vendors as well, to ensure policies are in place to protect any client data that vendors can access.
  • Fees – There are several areas where fees are being tested by examiners, including:
    • Testing to ensure investors are not placed in wrap or asset-based fee structures for strategies that are not heavily traded, resulting in the investor paying higher transaction costs than if they were on a traditional commission structure.
    • Comparing similar accounts that follow the same strategy to ensure fees are consistent. While it is understood that larger accounts may pay smaller fee percentages, accounts that are the same size and are managed the same, but pay different fees, may be questioned.
    • Reviewing fee structures to ensure they are reasonable and justified for the complexity of the strategy employed.
    • Targeting retirement accounts in their testing sample to ensure the account balances are not being “eaten up by fees.” The SEC feels these types of accounts are especially important to protect, given the reliance individual investors have on these accounts for their future financial security.
    • Examining alternative strategies to ensure both suitability and fees are reasonable and appropriate for the investors.
  • Back-tested Performance – Examiners are looking for “fair and balanced” disclosures. Having multiple drafts of back-tested performance, each with small tweaks until the historical performance looks the best it could, can be an issue if the final version is not clearly based on a repeatable process that the back-tested performance is helping market.
  • Dispersion – Examiners are using dispersion to test that composites or other groupings of accounts are meaningful and that accounts are not included in the wrong composite.
  • Calculation and Distribution of Performance –Examiners are recalculating performance to test results. Even if an independent party has verified your performance, the SEC examiner will likely recalculate your performance to ensure they get to the same results. The distribution and presentation of performance is equally as important as the calculation itself. Even accurate performance could be deemed misleading if matched against an inappropriate benchmark or presented for a select time period that excludes poor performance periods.

Client Reporting Takeaways

Is your firm’s client reporting meaningful for individual investors?

Although the GIPS standards focus on performance reporting for marketing purposes, client reporting was also discussed at the conference. Institutional investors likely want to see detailed performance reports including performance attribution and risk measures; however, if you work with individuals, the reporting that would be beneficial for this type of investor may be quite different.

Once an individual becomes your client, your periodic performance reports are probably the most important tangible item you provide. Given the importance of this document, it is essential that time is taken to ensure the information you are providing is meaningful to that specific client. Consider the following:

  • Is the performance information that you report to your clients easy for them to understand?
  • Do they care if you beat the benchmark or would they rather see a status report demonstrating the progress made toward achieving their financial goals?
  • Does your report help build advocacy and trust in your relationship, or is it just confusing for the client?
  • Do you think your clients read and find value in your reports, or are they disregarded?

Take the time to consider how you add value to your clients, why you are worth a higher fee than a “robo-broker” and demonstrate this value in your client reporting.

Other sessions included a discussion of fee transparency, the use of Active Share in assessing managers, the use of money-weighted returns, insights on manager search and selection, and ex-ante risk evaluation. For more information on these topics or to discuss the key takeaways noted above, please contact Sean Gilligan at