How to Construct Composites

Sean P. Gilligan, CFA, CPA, CIPM

August 2, 2017

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

Organize Portfolios by Strategy

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

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

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

Apply Composite Rules

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

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

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

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

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

Conduct Tests Before Finalizing Composites

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

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

Calculate Composite Statistics

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

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

Want to Learn More?

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