Starting Your Own RIA Firm (Part 2): Tips for Marketing and Business Development

Many talented professionals some day dream of having their own business. In the financial industry this usually means being the trusted advisor and investor on behalf of individuals and institutions. On October 4, CFA Society Chicago and its Professional Development Advisory Group assembled a panel to discuss the challenges of building an RIA business for the second part of the Starting Your Own RIA Firm series. The process of business development, brand development and marketing were addressed by the panel.

  • Jennifer Aronson, CFA: Aronson, moderator of the panel, is managing partner with Mosaic Fi, LLC. In that role, she works with family offices and high net-worth individuals. Prior to founding Mosaic, Aronson had over 20 years of experience with Northern Trust and Brinson Partners. She is currently serving on the Board of Directors for CFA Society Chicago for a three year term (2017-2020) and is a member of the CFA Women’s Network Advisory Group.
  • Scott Bosworth, CFA: Bosworth is vice president and regional manager in the Strategic Relationships group of Financial Advisor Services. He is responsible for sales, leadership and management of some of Dimensional’s larger advisory relationships.
  • Andy Kindler: Kindler is managing partner at Xcellero Leadership. Xcellero is focused on facilitating solutions for developing individuals, teams and organizations to spur growth. Kindler has a wealth of experience from different industries both on the corporate side and consulting.
  • Laura Sage: Sage is director of marketing and investor communications at Castle Creek Arbitrage, a relative value hedge fund. Prior to joining Castle Creek, Sage was an independent equity options trader.
  • Mark Toledo, CFA: Toledo has over 40 years of experience providing investment advice to individual and institutional investors. He began his career at Aetna Capital Management and after leaving Mesirow Financial in 2003, he founded Total Portfolio Management, LLC, his own RIA firm. In 2013 he merged his business with Chicago Partners Wealth Advisors.

 

Aronson began the discussion by asking the panel to address the critical tasks of marketing and business development for newly formed RIA firms.

Marketing and Business Development

The panelists agreed that as in any business, a business plan must be created, and that plan must include a path to an effective marketing strategy. The leader of the new advisory firm should spell out his role and have goals. A statement of investment philosophy is critical to the process. Advisors should focus on why they want to do this, what is their passion? You need to stick to your expertise and not try to be everything to anybody. It is important to be true to yourself and be able to tell your story. New RIA’s should attempt to have client meetings scheduled weekly and if you believe a prospective client’s needs are outside of your expertise, refer them to someone else. Client referrals will be critical to your success; often you will get a referral back. It would be useful for a new RIA to have a five-year plan where years one and two would be devoted to getting your story out; you will probably need to pay bills from some other source. Years three through five is when you can expect your business to ramp up.

Targeting Institutional Clients

The universe of potential institutional clients is much smaller. Sage was the panelist with the most experience in this arena. Most pension funds and sovereign wealth funds employ consultants. You will market to the consultant, not the fund directly. There are proprietary databases that contain information on these funds which can be accessed for a fee. There are other platforms similar to “speed dating”, which can gain you some introductions.

Methods to grow the business

  • Social Media: The use of social media is a critical skill to garner and keep clients. Retirees are ubiquitous on social media sites. LinkedIn is a site that can be helpful. Congratulate clients and potential clients on life-events they post online. Follow their work and offer assistance if there are sudden interruptions in their careers. They will remember you for it. A clear and concise website for your business is a must.
  • Referrals: Referrals are the way in which you will grow your business. A vast majority of clients would be happy to give you a referral, however not enough RIA’s ask for this. It is wise to spend time teaching your clients how to sell you. Don’t be shy about asking your client for a referral, however, you never want to put your client on the “spot”, be clear as to why you are asking for this.
  • Public Speaking: The panelists encouraged prospective RIA’s to burnish their public speaking skills. When you present yourself to other people, either publically of privately, be passionate about your expertise. It is important that you are able to communicate your conviction. You may suffer some setbacks, but show no fear in your demeanor. If you are able to keep your level of enthusiasm high, people will want to be part of your success. Clients are more motivated to put their trust in someone who can communicate vision and strategy with confidence.

There was a brief question and answer session with the audience at the end of program. There were inquiries on how to “close”, whether to remain independent or affiliate with an institution, and what functions to outsource. The panelists termed “closing” as the natural outcome of a positive meeting, once again there should be no fear in the “ask.” Typically affiliating with an institution is something that is done after establishing your business. Outsourcing functions can be expensive, but pay dividends down the road. You must look at your skill set to determine if some functions are better left to others.

 

Water’s Impact on Investing

On September 26th, CFA Society Chicago hosted a panel discussion in the Vault Room at 33 North LaSalle on the implications of the worldwide scarcity of potable water. The panel was focused on how this water scarcity may affect future investing. The lack of usable water is an “obvious” danger that does not garner a lot of attention at the moment.

The moderator and three panelists brought their perspectives to this worsening condition.

Michelle Wucker: Wucker, moderator of the panel, is a Guggenheim Fellow and founder of Gray Rhino & Company. A Gray Rhino as defined by Ms. Wucker is an obvious danger that many people ignore. Her expertise is in strategy, public policy and crisis management. She is the author of the book “The Gray Rhino:  How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Danger We Ignore”.

Dr. Dinah Koehler: Koehler has primary responsibility for the overall product positioning and development of Sustainable Equity Strategies and ESG database development at UBS Asset Management. She is a recognized researcher on corporate sustainability.

Dr. Bruce Gockerman: Gockerman specializes in the use of cross disciplinary analytics to understand and address complex issues and environments. In addition to his consulting work, he is a faculty member at Illinois Tech Stuart School of Business.

Lauren Smart: Smart is Global Head Financial Institutions Business with Trucost. She is an expert in sustainable finance and has advised money managers on how to integrate climate change into investment decision making.

Wucker began the panel discussion by stating that the demand for portable water is forecast to continue to outstrip supply. Current thinking is that 1. By 2030 demand will be 40% more than supply, 2. By 2050 global GDP may be reduced by 6% due to this shortage and 3. 43% of corporate CEO’s believe that their businesses will be impacted by this looming shortage.

The first panelist to speak was Koehler who presented four slides that geographically mapped out an investment opportunity set based on global water risk. The slides included:

  • Global Water Risk Map
  • Investment Challenges
  • Negative Impacts of Investment
  • Opportunities for Impact by Geography.

The slides illustrated that the greatest investment opportunities are located in densely populated areas with scarce water resources.

In response to a question from the moderator, Koehler stated that at the moment, most financing for water investment is coming from the World Bank. She expects the private sector to be taking a bigger role.

Gockerman, the second panelist, stressed six points that he believed has worsened the supply/demand equation.

  1. Governance is very weak (mainly local)
  2. Pricing does not include the cost of water (infrastructure only).
  3. Under investment has led to a deteriorating infrastructure.
  4. Needed capital must be focused on the “resilience” of any infrastructure.
  5. Investing impacts must include addressing increasing risk.
  6. Resulting opportunities

Gockerman pointed to the recent hurricane flooding in Houston as illustrating a lack of resilient infrastructure. Investments need to be made into better pumps, advanced technology and better designed large scale projects. He suggested that perhaps a “Marshall Plan” that included public/private partnerships may be a solution.

In response to a question by the moderator, Gockerman stated that current federal policy is mainly derived from the Clean Water Act enacted in the early 70’s. He reiterated that there is a need for the entire system to be rebuilt and expanded.

Smart was the third panelist to speak. She focused on the impact of dwindling water resources on agriculture and energy. Water stress with respect to crop production was illustrated on a slide she presented. The ratio of water withdrawal to supply can exceed 80% in areas where critical crops such as wheat and corn are grown.

In another slide, Smart illustrated that the price of water in most countries does not reflect actual supply or cost. Cities in arid countries like Cairo and Jeddah have much lower prices for water than cities like Copenhagen or Atlanta. These prices do not reflect true cost, are heavily subsidized and cannot be sustained.

After the presentation, there was a question and answer session. Some of the questions revolved around how regional or national solutions may help. Would a regional grid like an electric utility be workable? This is probably not doable since water resources are divided up into different aquifers across the US. Gockerman stated the Great Lakes aquifer region would resist water being diverted out of its aquifer to other states. The panel seemed to agree that Water Bonds might be a good solution and could be funded by pension funds and foundations. Finally the panel was unanimous in stating that de-salinization was not the answer to any shortage as it is currently prohibitively expensive and energy intensive.

Networking with Leadership

CFA Society Chicago gathered on September 27 for the annual Networking with Leadership reception at the Hard Rock Hotel on Michigan Avenue. With no formal presentation or agenda, the members-only event provided a full two hours for networking, making new acquaintances, and renewing old ones. The venue at the Hard Rock included both indoor and outdoor space. A balcony directly off the reception room provided a view of the Michigan Avenue scene below, and was a welcome feature given the unusual warmth for late September. Judging from the nearly sold out attendance of more than 100, our membership values this opportunity for face to face conversations with board members about society business, financial markets, careers, or any topic that comes to mind. Anyone who missed it should make a point to attend next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How CFA Charterholders Can Become Investment-Grade Writers

CFA charterholders are by de facto investment writers; Writing is the primary way of communicating investment ideas and we are judged by the quality of our ideas in written format. Bad writing can be a major career risk and it is a skill that we should focus on. There are a few reasons why we financial types typically resist improving our writing skills. One, we say “I’m a numbers person, not a words person.” While you may be a numbers person, you live in a world where you need to be able to be both types of people. Two, you feel that writing is an innate skill and you don’t have it. This is not true, if you focus on writing and practice it, you can become a better writer.

On August 15th, CFA Society Chicago welcomed Scott Wentworth, founder of Wentworth Financial Communications, to help attendees learn how portfolio managers, analysts, and other investment professionals can enhance the returns of their writing efforts by following a disciplined, repeatable process.  Wentworth explained six keys to improving your writing.

  • Trust the Process
  • Tell your Alpha story
  • Don’t bury the Lead
  • Overcome the Curse of Knowledge
  • Attack the Misconceptions
  • Narrow the Scope

Mr. Wentworth noted that in the same way you have an investment process; you also need a process for writing. There are several steps to the writing process including brainstorming, researching, making an outline, writing, and editing. When brainstorming, putting ideas down on paper will help you start identifying themes. When researching, gather your inputs and narrow the focus of the article. Be sure to make an outline, which will help organize the ideas, identify headlines and sub-themes, and will create the roadmap for the article. For the actual writing portion, he suggested getting “chunky” and setting aside blocks of time to write. Writing takes a lot of concentration and you should eliminate as many distractions as possible. Find a different location or empty office, and then just pull the trigger and do it!  The last process of writing is editing. You should first take a mental break and then come back and read your piece out loud. Also have a friend or co-worker edit the article, as it is hard to edit your own work.

When you tell your Alpha story, you need to focus on a compelling way to articulate your thesis, explaining why it exists and telling where it came from in a qualitative manner. You can be more creative in this step. Story telling should incorporate anecdotes, examples, and analogies that help the reader visualize what you are writing about.

The headline is valuable real estate in your article, so don’t bury the lead. You need to be able to capture the reader’s attention span so that they read the article and don’t just skim it. You should write like a journalist: give the conclusion at the beginning and then back it up with your facts and insights.

To overcome the curse of knowledge, put yourself in the reader’s shoes.  Avoid writing over their heads and say things clearly and plainly; be sure to avoid jargon. When you make a complicated topic accessible, you appear smarter to your audience. Be sure to spell out your line of reasoning and take them through your thesis step by step.

When attacking the misconceptions you should be aware of what the audience knows. Then focus on completing their level of knowledge by addressing the myths and facts. It will also allow you to make the topic relevant to your audience. This also saves time and will keep your article focused and shorter in length.

To narrow the scope of an article, it is better to go deep into the subject to showcase your expertise. If the scope is too broad, your article will be too big and too long. Smaller pieces allow more specific insights and avoid high level general insights.

In review, the six keys to improving your writing are trust the process, tell your Alpha story, don’t bury the lead, overcome the curse of knowledge, attack the misconceptions, and narrow the scope.  If you are able to follow these key items, you will be able to produce good writing and improve your writing skills and communication with your clients.

Why do Ethics and Standards Matter?

Adding “CFA” next to your name is more than a sign that you passed three rigorous exams. It’s also a sign of an ongoing commitment to high standards and ethics – a benchmark for investment professionals around the globe, regardless of job title, cultural differences, or local laws.

But when we speak of the importance of “ethics and standards” as a whole, we sometimes gloss over what each half of that equation really encompasses – and, more importantly, why each is important for our profession.

Ethics

Ethics are the basic principles that guide how we choose to act. They are how we can talk about “right” vs. “wrong” so that we can choose “right” and point out “wrong” when we see it.

If a doctor fails to “Do No Harm,” he loses his medical license; in a sense, an unethical doctor isn’t a doctor at all.

In the same way, CFA charterholders found to be in violation of our ethical code are sanctioned and revoke their right to use the CFA designation. It’s hard to argue with the ethical guidelines that CFA Institute has laid out for our profession:

  • Place the integrity of the profession and the interests of clients above your own interests
  • Act with integrity, competence, and respect
  • Maintain and develop your professional competence

We all know the shadow that bad actors can cast on our industry, so having a hard line differentiating them from real professionals is important for maintaining trust in our profession.

Standards

If ethics are the values behind right vs. wrong, standards are how we define specifically what ethical professional conduct looks like. They’re a more concrete guide for our industry and the current moment in time.

While not universal for everyone in the investment industry, CFA Institute believes standards should center on transparency and putting the investor first. After all, that’s what finance is for: the benefit of clients, and the businesses and communities they invest in.

In the Code and Standards, CFA Institute defines duties that professionals have to the investment profession, capital markets, clients, and employers. There are also specific standards about diligent investment analysis, disclosing conflicts of interest, adhering to duties of loyalty, prudence and care, and addressing the suitability of investments and confidentiality.

It is important to lead by example. But our own actions won’t change the public’s perception. Guided by our strong ethical foundation, we can call for higher standards across our industry. It’s why we at CFA Society Chicago will offer free ethics training to Chicago-area pension plans, and it’s why CFA Institute calls for all who call themselves “advisers” to be held to a true fiduciary standard.

As charterholders, it’s our duty – each and every day, in every interaction – to take the high road. In today’s world of mistrust in our industry and salesmen masquerading as fiduciary advisors, adding the letters CFA after your name are more valuable than ever.

Vault Series: Gautam Dhingra, CFA, High Pointe Capital Management, LLC

On September 7th, the CFA Society Chicago welcomed Gautam Dhingra, CFA, the CEO and a portfolio manager at High Pointe Capital Management, LLC to discuss incorporating intangible assets and ESG factors into stock selection.

 

According to Mr. Dhingra, there are multiple examples of intangible assets; patents in the case of Qualcomm, brands like Pepsi and Apple, difficult to replicate assets like Union Pacific railroad, or sanctioned oligopolies like Moody’s, to name a few. When looking to use these intangible assets one should look beyond accounting data and focus on ‘what really matters’, or historical financials versus future economic profits. Much of the value derived from intangible assets, like the ones mentioned, cannot be found on a balance sheet, rather derived through future pricing power or lack of competition, for example. In the growing information based economy, traditional accounting won’t be as useful going forward and stock selection models must be adapted to incorporate intangible assets to find an edge and outperform. An increasing proportion of companies’ values are being derived by intangible assets, which poses a question; should one view Procter and Gamble and Qualcomm as peers, both benefiting substantially from intangible assets?  The answer is yes.

 

The speaker discussed another form of intangibles, Environment, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG), which can be described as putting your money to work into companies that follow good practices, e.g. treat their employees and other stakeholders well. With employee satisfaction having shown a strong correlation to stock performance by one study, some 3.5% per year above its benchmark, adjusted for characteristics, which found that it could be a leading indicator to predicting earnings surprises.

 

High Pointe conducts its research into ESG and other intangible factors and inputs it into its model that combines ‘franchise quality’ and ‘expected growth’ in an effort to find great stocks. The company seeks to find a business’s ‘franchise quality’ by ranking stocks on a variety of factors, including ‘how good is the business’ (using barriers to entry, degree of competition, pricing power vs. customers, pricing power vs. suppliers, and suitability of advantage) and ‘how well is this being managed,’ which includes management, employees, and governance.

 

CFA Society Chicago Chairman’s Letter to Membership

Marie C. Winters, CFA

I am proud to report that thanks to the efforts of our volunteers, sponsors, and staff, CFA Society Chicago had a very successful FY2017. During the year, we hosted over 150 events to advance educational knowledge, professional excellence, and high ethical standards, and also to enhance the greater good of our community. We also finished FY2017 in a solid financial position with reserves of approximately $2.1 million, up 11% from the prior fiscal year end.

Highlights of our key accomplishments in FY2017 include the following:

Excellence in Education & Ethics

Our education programming spanned a variety of large and small events. Our popular monthly Distinguished Speakers Series drew top leaders, including Liz Ann Sonders, Charles Evans, Richard Driehaus, and Gary Brinson, CFA. Taking advantage of our new office location, we launched the Vault Series where we invited experts to speak on niche topics, including market signals for capital flows. At our 2016 Annual Dinner featuring keynote speaker Cliff Asness, we celebrated over 1,000 registrants for the second time. Investing in Innovation and Investing for the Long-Term consisted of panel presentations that also drew a large number of attendees.

We culminated our year with our largest Society event outside of the Annual Dinner: Active vs. Passive, featuring a discussion between Nobel Laureate, Dr. Eugene F. Fama and Dr. Robert Litterman. Over 400 people attended the event in Chicago and more than 200 additional attendees registered for the live webcast. Subsequently, over 2,000 individuals have watched the archived webcast, showcasing the value your Society brings to CFA charterholders globally.

Career Advancement for Members

Two years ago we committed to invest in our members’ careers. Our member-only program offerings have expanded greatly, focusing on development of soft skills and opportunities to explore alternate career paths at our Annual Career Fair and the Industry Roundtables event. During FY2017, we launched a new entrepreneurial series, Starting an RIA Firm. This has proved to be a big success with our members and we will continue to build on this series in the current fiscal year. Finally, we provided our members frequent occasions to expand their professional networks across our educational, professional development, and social events.

Giving Back to Our Community

The Society launched a financial literacy initiative that reached over 900 high school students in under-privileged neighborhoods by partnering with the Economic Awareness Council (EAC). The program experienced a strong start, attracting more than twice as many volunteers as we had targeted. Interest among our members in this program continues to grow and has already nearly doubled from last year’s volunteers.

Upcoming CFA Society Chicago Events
The Society is proud to announce these upcoming events:
  • September 26 : Education Seminars is hosting Water’s Impact On Investing;
  • September 27: Networking with Leadership;
  • October 3: Our next Distinguished Speaker is Ronan Ryan , President of IEX Group;
  • October 4: Starting Your Own RIA (Part 2): Tips for Marketing and Business Development; and
  • November 1: Our 31st Annual Dinner featuring Keynote David Rubenstein, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Carlyle Group is at the Hyatt Regency.

Please visit our website at www.cfachicago.org to register for these events.

Looking Ahead to Fiscal Year 2018

Recently, I and the rest of the Executive Committee had the pleasure of meeting with several leaders of CFA Institute to further plans for the current fiscal year. CFA Institute is pleased with the Society’s efforts and will continue to provide solid support for us to pursue a variety of initiatives for education, branding, and technology enhancements, including a new website in the near future. We came away feeling that clearly, CFA Society Chicago is considered a leader among societies globally – we are well-recognized for our leadership and innovative thinking in education and ethics initiatives.

Over the coming year, you can expect to see efforts focused on preparing our members for the future. Many dynamic shifts are impacting our industry, including evolving investor preferences, technological change, and financial regulations, to name a few. These secular trends make it imperative that we have greater professional dexterity in meeting our clients’ expectations as well as in managing our careers. Our volunteers will continue to play a key role in helping all of us prepare for the future and thrive.

I am truly honored and excited to serve as chairman of the oldest and sixth largest CFA Society in the world. With over 4,700 members, CFA Society Chicago is well-positioned given our abundant resources – talented volunteers, dedicated staff, and financial position.

Very best,
Marie C. Winters, CFA
Chairman, CFA Society Chicago

Distinguished Speaker Series: Mario Gabelli, CFA, GAMCO Investors Inc.

Well known value investor Mario Gabelli, CFA, chairman and chief executive officer of GAMCO Investors Inc. and LICT Corp., addressed a capacity audience of CFA Society Chicago members and their guests at the Standard Club on September 14th. In a wide-ranging presentation, Gabelli drew on his four decades as a money manager to offer his insight and wisdom on the current state of the economy and investment markets. He began by extoling the virtues of a CFA Charter, pointing out that only through the detailed analysis of a charterholder could one understand a business well enough to see how it fits into the economy and how to value it correctly. He encouraged everyone to “keep doing what you are doing” to help our country and make capital markets work even better.

Gabelli touched briefly on two topics he believes need regulatory change. The first was ETFs and the advantage they have over mutual funds because of their tax-efficiency.

He strongly advocated for leveling the playing field with an end to the requirement that mutual funds distribute realized capital gains annually, thereby creating a taxable liability for investors even though they have made no transaction. Every other type of investment requires a sale to generate a capital gain, and mutual fund shares ought to be treated the same.

Second, on tax reform, he said Congress needs to cut the corporate income tax rate to make American firms more competitive with foreign ones.  The protracted debate is only serving to delay new investment that our economy badly needs.

Without going into great detail, Gabelli listed several sectors that he thinks currently offer attractive investment opportunities, including:

  • Infrastructure: Although this is on the top of many favored lists, he pointed out that the American Society of Civil Engineers rates infrastructure in the U. S. as D+, which will require new investment regardless of the political environment.
  • Health and Wellness: Drawing on the trend of an aging population, he recommended investments in vision and hearing care, joint replacement, and obesity treatment.
  • Live entertainment: Gabelli described this as being immune to competition from Amazon (or, more generally, the internet). Noting the high valuations put on sports teams in private transactions, he has calculated that a sum-of-the-parts analysis on Madison Square Garden Entertainment yields a value of zero for the New York Knicks.
  • Equipment rental: A secondary play on infrastructure, but one that he expects to do well even without that tailwind.

Four Tips to Launch a Successful Finance Career

If you’re just beginning your career in finance, you might feel your career path is defined; head down, work hard, and eventually the real career choices will present themselves down the road. This is of course true to an extent – the finance industry certainly demands earning your stripes – but that doesn’t mean you can’t begin opening up doors during those early years.

You may already be studying for the CFA exams, which is an important milestone in the career of most investment professional’s careers. As you navigate the roughly four years that it takes to complete the three levels of the CFA Program, it’s important to do whatever you can to make these as meaningful as possible.

These tips should help you do just that:

Read, and read ravenously.

Read everything in our field that you can get your hands on (including and beyond the CFA curriculum). Try to read broadly across topics and disciplines; for example, if you’re in equities, take time to learn about credit or commodities to make yourself more well-rounded. Ask people you meet what they read and what they enjoyed learning.

An incredible array of opportunities exist in finance, and the more areas and disciplines you know the more opportunities you’ll have. The most successful people spend a good portion of their day devouring information, asking questions and listening.

Avoid networking at your own peril. (And put the phone away).

Not everyone is an extrovert, and that’s okay. Everyone, though, can benefit from the opportunities made through networking, whether for friendship, commerce or career.

You’ve been reading (you have been reading, right?), so you have strong points of view and pointed questions to ask. Put the phone away, be confident and ask smart questions. Most folks love the opportunity to explain what they do, and they will see you as someone willing to take initiative if you initiate a good conversation.

Don’t procrastinate getting an advanced credential.

I think you need at least one advanced credential (if not two) to compete in today’s job market. Both a CFA charter and MBA are highly useful for financial professionals, so avoid a long, protracted process on deciding which one to get. The earlier you begin the process, the higher the lifetime dividend.

In my case, I immediately plunged into the CFA curriculum just a year into my career, and that gave me a big boost. It helped me interview for jobs that I would never have the opportunity to land otherwise. I strongly believe having a CFA charter in your 20s or early 30s will offer more career optionality down the line.

Listen to yourself.

In those first few years, keep a keen eye out for moments where you feel in the flow, or when you are the happiest during your job. Ask yourself what were you doing during those moments and what about that project or job aspect you really liked. How can you structure your future career to include more of those types of situations?

I’d also suggest taking time to reflect on what you want out of a career. While having money and a challenging, important job is great, many folks find that they are happier with more of a work-life balance, and understanding how much of each aspect you need to make yourself happy is key.

So, hit those books! And remember to keep these tips in mind – when that door does open for you, you’ll be poised to take full advantage of the opportunity.

Distinguished Speaker Series: Jean-Marie Eveillard, First Eagle Funds

Value investing makes sense; it works over time, so how come there are so few of us?

On August 9th, CFA Society Chicago welcomed Jean-Marie Eveillard, senior investment adviser to First Eagle Funds, at the Chicago Club. The famed investor behind $110 billion First Eagle Investment Management has long believed that value investing can be a lonely place.

The septuagenarian still follows the advice of Warren Buffet and his predecessor Benjamin Graham. “The best book on investing ever written is [Ben Graham’s book] Intelligent Investor,” he said. Despite the sustained popularity of those pioneers today, pure value investing is becoming increasingly rare, Eveillard said.

Value investors must shun the wisdom of the crowds, and more importantly, they must be right. Sometimes value investing is fashionable, oftentimes it is not. Eveillard estimates that only 5% of the investment industry practices value investing. The limited embrace of a value tilt is partially due to the career risk portfolio managers face when choosing out-of-favor stocks. Sometimes investing in these stocks may take years for an investment thesis to play out, and asset owners are frequently less patient. The fear of losing a job causes herding into more socially acceptable stocks, and this dynamic makes it very hard for an investor to commit to value. This often tilts mutual funds towards becoming “closet indexers”, said Eveillard.

Eveillard discussed how he uses both qualitative and quantitative in his process. As a value investor, he marches to the beat of his own drum, eschewing the tactics used by marketing-focused money managers.

Jean-Marie Eveillard, First Eagle Funds

“I never spent a penny on advertising,” said Eveillard, contrasting his near singular approach to investing to more commercially-minded mutual fund companies. In his talk, which connected his years working in the industry with the thinkers that most influenced him, one area mentioned was the Austrian school of economics, particularly its 1974 Nobel Prize winner Von Hayek. Margin of safety was also mentioned, with Eveillard saying that it was the secret of strong investors.

Interestingly, Eveillard reckoned that a great deal of his success as a portfolio manager didn’t come from the stocks he picked; it came from what he didn’t own. Eveillard cited a number of examples such as Japanese stocks in the late 1980s, tech stocks in the late 90s, both of which he avoided. Eveillard was asked if he thought there is currently a bubble reminiscent of the late 1990s in today’s tech stocks, and Eveillard opined that today isn’t as bad as the dotcom bust era defined by the epic failures of Webvan and Pets.com.

Covering his use of qualitative data, Eveillard told a story about Enron, saying that he asked a research analyst on his team to look into the firm for a possible investment. The analyst found Enron’s statement footnotes incomprehensible, to which Eveillard responded that if that was the case, they’d move onto something else and wouldn’t invest.

Eveillard noted that so many of the numbers you see in accounting estimates are estimates. He said that in the late 1990s, he would often spot crafty CFOs who would observe the letter of the regulation, but not necessarily the spirit. In some ways, Eveillard said, accounting is more a reflection of a cultural mindset, with more conservative, risk-averse cultures taking earnings provisions on potentially low risk items. A good international investor needs to be mindful of the cultural differences in preparing accounting statements.

On the Efficient Market Hypothesis, Eveillard said that “it denies human nature.” He’d often debate the EMH with his academic friends and they would say that although they might agree, they needed to find a new theory before abandoning an old theory.

He mentioned the topic of moat, a means of ensuring that a company has a long run sustainable advantage. One reason that Warren Buffet rarely sells stocks is because it is hard to find companies with sustainable advantages, and once one is identified, an investor simply needs to be patient.

Given the strong outperformance of growth vs value stocks in the US over the past decade and the dearth of dedicated value investors, a change in investor mindset might be needed before value investing returns to vogue. But patient investors such as Jean-Marie Eveillard will be willing to wait it out.