GIPS Conference 2021: Key takeaways
Sean P. Gilligan, CFA, CPA, CIPM and Sara Celapino
November 17, 2021
CFA Institute hosted the 25th annual GIPS Conference October 26th – 27th 2021. Like last year’s conference, viewers tuned in virtually to hear from industry experts on a range of subjects relating to GIPS compliance and investment performance.
The hottest topics of this year’s conference were the newest developments regarding compliance with the 2020 GIPS Standards, the SEC Marketing Rule, ESG reporting, and manager selection and oversight. Below are some key takeaways from this two-day event.
Updated Resources for the 2020 GIPS Standards
The 2020 edition of the GIPS standards was issued June 2019, and compliant firms are required to make any necessary updates before presenting performance for periods including 31 December 2020 in their GIPS Reports.
This year’s conference reminded firms of these updates and discussed implementation challenges. We have shared similar information in previous articles that may help your firm implement the 2020 GIPS standards if not yet fully adopted. For more information check out our previous articles on How to Comply with the 2020 GIPS Standards, How to Update your GIPS Policies & Procedures for GIPS 2020, and How to Update your GIPS Reports for the 2020 GIPS Standards.
CFA Institute has been hard at work updating the resources on their website so that the most relevant guidance is easy to find. This has involved updating or archiving outdated and repetitive documents, with some of this content being incorporated into new Guidance Statements.
Guidance Statements are authoritative guidance on a broad topic. The Guidance Statements on Supplemental Information, Risk, and Overlay were out for comment prior to issuance of the 2020 standards. Concepts from these Guidance Statements were included in the provisions and the Handbook, covering Supplemental Information and Risk sufficiently enough for those Guidance Statements not to be issued. The Guidance Statement on Overlay Strategies is currently being finalized.
Guidance Statements updated or new in 2021 include the updated Benchmark Guidance Statement (effective 1 April 2021) and new Wrap Fee Guidance Statement (Effective 1 October 2021).
Q&As are also authoritative guidance, but on a narrower topic compared to Guidance Statements. There was a lot of re-organization done to the Q&As, with 265 Q&As being archived and 39 updated by CFA Institute. Content from many of the archived Q&As is now incorporated within the Handbook, while other Q&As are no longer applicable under the 2020 Standards.
There were several new Q&As issued addressing 2020 standards topics. The Q&A Database can be accessed here.
FINRA Regulatory Notice 20-21
This year’s conference also addressed FINRA Regulatory Notice 20-21, guidance from which indicates that firms presenting IRRs in private placements must calculate and present performance in accordance with the methodology outlined in the GIPS standards.
Details on the calculation and presentation requirements for IRRs, as well as additional information on this regulatory notice was outlined in a previous blog released on this topic.
The GIPS standards generally prohibit firms from making statements about calculating returns in compliance with the GIPS standards, as compliance with the GIPS standards is “all or nothing” and firms cannot partially claim compliance.
With that being said, an exemption has been made to allow firms and their agents to make a specific statement regarding the GIPS Standards only in retail communications concerning private placement offerings that are prepared in accordance with FINRA Regulatory Notice 20-21. The following statements can now be used:
For firms that do NOT claim compliance with the GIPS standards:
[Insert firm name] has calculated the since-inception internal rate of return (SI-IRR) and fund metrics using a methodology that is consistent with the calculation requirements of the Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS®). [Insert firm name] does not claim compliance with the GIPS standards. GIPS® is a registered trademark of CFA Institute. CFA Institute does not endorse or promote [insert firm name], nor does it warrant the accuracy or quality of the content contained herein.
For firms that claim compliance with the GIPS standards:
[Insert firm name] has calculated the since-inception internal rate of return (SI-IRR) and fund metrics using a methodology that is consistent with the calculation requirements of the Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS®). [Insert firm name] claims compliance with the GIPS standards. GIPS® is a registered trademark of CFA Institute. CFA Institute does not endorse or promote [insert firm name], nor does it warrant the accuracy or quality of the content contained herein.
Databases & the GIPS Standards
Investment manager databases are a powerful tool for the collection of standardized data from investment managers, including quantitative and qualitative data on firms and their strategies.
For managers who populate databases, the importance of providing all available information and keeping the monthly and quarterly performance data up-to-date was emphasized, as not doing so increases the likelihood of being filtered out of investors’ searches.
When narrowing down managers/products, some of the main criteria investors and consultants screen by include:
- Risk/return metrics
- Assets under management
- Product-level details such as benchmarks and holdings
- ESG and Diversity & Inclusion information
Longs Peak helps many clients calculate firm and product statistics and updates them in these databases each month. Getting support in this process is a great way to keep these items updated and help your firm avoid being filtered out for dated information.
The conference speakers also emphasized that when populating databases, GIPS compliant firms should treat these communications the same as any other qualified prospective client. Firms complying with the GIPS standards are required to make their best effort to distribute a GIPS Report to all prospective clients. Firms uploading performance to databases need to think of a database as a prospective client and include their GIPS Report.
A firm’s “best effort” in providing a GIPS Report to a database should involve uploading the GIPS Report directly to the database if that option is available. Otherwise, reaching out to your firm’s database contact and providing the GIPS Report via email also checks the box for this requirement.
The 2020 GIPS standards require firms to demonstrate that they’ve met the distribution requirement, thus it’s important to save any relevant emails and document this effort in a distribution log, similar to how it is done for other prospective clients.
Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) refers to the evaluation of a firm’s sustainability and ethical impact of an investment in a business or company. Investors are increasingly using ESG criteria to screen investment products.
Research has shown that ESG considerations can have an impact on risk and return, so paying attention to these structural, long-term trends has become a focus for many firms as well as investors. Investors want transparency around how products are put together, what they do, and how they do it.
Asset management practices vary by firm, so there tends to be an expectation gap about what ESG means to different firms and what their products do. Disclosures around ESG products have tended to be on the lighter side, focusing on ESG as a process and how these considerations are integrated into the investment process and portfolio construction rather than the outcomes of the products and how those are measured.
Managers have opted to keep these disclosures light as to give themselves the opportunity to adjust their products as the market develops. With so many different questions being asked by investors, a need has arisen for standardizing the disclosure requirements for ESG products.
The CFA Institute Global ESG Disclosure Standards for Investment Products was issued 1 November 2021. This is the first global voluntary standard for disclosing how an investment product reflects ESG matters in its objectives, investment strategy, and stewardship activities.
The Handbook, which includes an explanation of the provisions and interpretive guidance, is set to be issued on or before 1 May 2022. Assurance procedures that will enable independent assessment of ESG disclosure statements is also set to be issued by the same date.
SEC Marketing Rule
The SEC Marketing Rule went into effect 4 May 2021, and firms registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have until 4 November 2022 to comply. As was the case for the 2020 GIPS standards, early adopters must meet all requirements of the new rule and cannot do a partial adoption.
Under the SEC Marketing Rule, GIPS Reports are considered an advertisement rather than a one-on-one presentation because GIPS Reports typically use the same performance table for all recipients and are a standardized marketing document.
Unfortunately, requirements of the SEC Marketing Rule are not all consistent with those of the GIPS Standards. Since SEC registered firms must ensure they are meeting all regulatory requirements that go beyond what GIPS requires, there are some changes firms may need to make once the SEC Marketing Rule is adopted. For example:
Return Stream – Firms must show net-of-fee returns. Net-of-fee returns must be net of advisory fees and custody fees if the adviser is paid for the custodial services (rather than a third-party custodian).
Track Record – Firms must present the 1-, 5-, and 10-year annualized returns in advertisements. If the track record does not go back this long, the annualized since inception return must be shown, in addition to the applicable time periods listed.
- If GIPS Reports are used as a standalone document, these statistics must be added to the GIPS Reports.
- If the GIPS Reports are included in a pitchbook or incorporated into other marketing materials, these statistics can be shown outside of the GIPS Report.
- Firms whose track records go back farther than the periods for which they claim compliance with the GIPS Standards must show these additional periods. For example, if the firm claims compliance with GIPS for the most recent 5 years, but the firm and strategy have existed for 10 years, the 10-year annualized performance must be shown. Since the GIPS standards do not allow firms to link compliant and non-compliant performance periods, if this is presented on the GIPS Report to satisfy this SEC requirement, a disclosure of this conflict must be included. The following is an example of how this disclosure could be written:
- “The inception of the firm’s GIPS compliance is 1/1/2016. Performance is presented with an inception date of 1/1/2011. Although the GIPS standards prohibit linking compliant and non-compliant performance periods, the 10-year annualized return is presented to meet local regulatory requirements set forth by the SEC Marketing Rule.”
Hypothetical Performance – Firms must make a clear differentiation (and have documented Policies & Procedures) on who may receive hypothetical performance in marketing. To receive this type of information, the recipient must be a sophisticated investor, as defined by the firm in their policies and procedures. The presented hypothetical performance must also be deemed relevant to the given recipient’s financial situation. If using hypothetical performance, firms are required to maintain a record of who it was shared with and how they met the qualifications to receive such performance.
Carve-Outs – What the GIPS standards refers to as a “carve-out,” the SEC Marketing Rule refers to as “extracted performance.” The SEC Marketing Rule also considers a composite of extracted performance to be hypothetical. Therefore, the recipients of carve-out composite performance, such as in a carve-out composite’s GIPS Report, must be qualified to receive hypothetical performance as described in the Hypothetical Performance section above.
Non-Fee-Paying Accounts – Firms must apply a model fee to any non-fee-paying accounts within composites if net-of-fee returns are presented using actual fees. Firms that apply model fees (instead of actual) to determine composite-level net-of-fee returns will not need to make any changes. The fee applied to the non-fee-paying accounts should be the highest fee that was charged historically or the highest possible fee the advisor would charge today.
Frequency/Timeliness of Updates – Marketing must be updated as of the latest calendar year-end at a minimum. However, more recent periods (such as YTD) may be required if, for example, a material shift in the performance occurred since the latest calendar year-end. It is generally expected that most firms should be able to update performance through the end of the calendar year within one month after the year ends.
- Not showing more recent, YTD performance could be considered misleading if more timely quarter-end performance is available and/or events have occurred that would have a significant negative effect on the advisor’s performance (think of updating performance to show 1Q20 to show the impact of COVID). It is important to keep in mind that the general focus of the SEC Marketing Rule is to ensure the presentation is “fair and balanced.” Part of ensuring the presentation is fair and balanced would be showing the most recent performance available regardless of whether it is favorable or unfavorable for your firm.
- Future guidance is expected to be issued, as firms have expressed concerns around the difficulty of implementing this.
Portability – Requirements for presenting portable track records are materially the same between the SEC Marketing Rule and the GIPS Standards. However, the Marketing Rule indicates that if the main individual or team responsible for managing the strategy at the prior firm leaves the current firm, then the portable period can no longer be shown.
- During the conference, there was discussion around possibly being able to continue presenting the portable track record of terminated decision-makers if knowledge of implementing the strategy has been sufficiently transferred to an individual or team at the current firm. A reasonable time-period for this transfer of knowledge could not be specified, as it would depend on the complexity of the strategy. For example, a quantitative strategy primarily managed with an algorithm would likely require less time than a more qualitative investment strategy.
- The key point highlighted was that if firms are electing to present portable track records after key individual(s) are no longer with the current firm, it is important to clearly document this knowledge transfer in case presenting the portable track record is questioned by a regulator.
This year’s speakers did a great job of hitting on the most relevant industry topics and providing resources to add clarification regarding the 2020 GIPS standards.
While the past two virtual conferences have each been a success, we are excited about the possibility of the next conference being in person.
If you have any questions about the 2021 GIPS Virtual Conference topics or GIPS and performance in general, please contact us.