Smart Beta: Smoke and Mirrors or the Next Generation of Investing?

DSC_2604Smart Beta – is it a bad fad or here to stay?

On February 23, two panels set out to discuss that question at the University Club.

Moderator Ben Johnson, CFA, Director of Morningstar’s global ETF research kicked off the discussion with a brief introduction into Smart Beta.

Ben said that the strategies of smart beta don’t necessarily feel smart over the full cycle. Right now there are 539 Exchange Traded Products (ETPs) doing smart beta, with $424 billion in assets and ETPs represent just one wrapper of the strategy. 21% of all ETPs are in the US, and 20% of all total new asset flows are going into smart beta products. The size of smart beta means that it’s too big of a market to ignore. Similarly, in the increasingly crowded ETP space, over a quarter of new launches involves smart beta funds. “This has been an organic growth story,” Ben said. Ben introduced the first panel and asked them to level set the conversation by defining what smart beta means to them.

DSC_2601Craig Lazzara of S&P Dow Jones said he prefers the term “Factor Indices” over smart beta. He quoted Voltaire and said that the saying “The Holy Roman Empire is neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire” applies to smart beta. He encouraged the audience to read William Sharpe’s The Arithmetic of Active Management, which concluded that the average active manager’s return will be less than the average passively managed dollar, a conclusion that helps support the smart beta premise. Craig’s definition of smart beta is simple: Indices that try to deliver returns (or a pattern of returns such as low beta, high volatility, etc) of a factor, not of a benchmark.

Craig went on to say that smart beta factor indices allow a user to “indicize” returns of an active management strategy. “Twenty or thirty years ago, you’d have to pay an active manager to get these kinds of returns,” Craig said. And now with smart beta products, you don’t.

Eugene Podkaminer of Callan Associates began his remarks by saying that he was skeptical about smart beta and thinks that the name smart beta is “stupid”. He said that there is a lot of confusion around smart beta, how strategies are packaged and sold and what is under the hood. Smart beta has been driven largely by retail investors, who are susceptible to return-chasing behavior and clever marketing, while institutional investors with longer time horizons haven’t been as involved. “When you open the hood of a smart beta investment, it’s a different story,” said Eugene, who said he is interested in smart beta from a risk factor allocation perspective.

One important question that needs to be asked of smart beta, according to Eugene is “are you confident that the returns from these factors will continue?”

Trey Heiskell of Blackrock said that smart beta is both old and new. Like Eugene, he also hates the term smart beta and prefers ‘factor-based investing’, which he believes to be a more accurate name. “There is a shift from alpha to smart beta happening right now,” Trey said. And much of its growth is due to the context of the market we are in, with retail investors dissatisfied with the recent underperformance of active managers and growing adoption of ETFs. These are some of the main factors driving the growth in smart beta.

Craig agreed with Trey about smart beta being both old and new, saying that “these strategies have been around for years, packaged differently”.

Once, Craig was asked “What is it that ETFs allow large institutional investors to do that they can’t already do?”

DSC_2612“Absolutely nothing,” he answered. But as a retail investor, now you can get the benefits of factor exposure you want cheaply and easily without dealing with an active manager.

Eugene gave an update on how Callan’s process has evolved and said that now they are very risk and diversification-focused, and when evaluating a potential investment, more interested in its covariance with other investments than its forecasted returns. You need to have a robust set of tools to determine what your factor exposures are, such as a risk model. Some advantages of smart beta ETFs are that they are liquid, transparent and cheap. He said that the question “Why am I paying so much for hedge funds,” will continue as risk factor-based investing grows in popularity. “Indexing and smart beta have chipped away at what we call alpha,” Eugene said.

Craig said that investors need to think about their investments not as a portfolio of stocks, but as a portfolio of attributes. He thinks investors need to consider how they might use smart beta to avoid or minimize paying active management fees.

Eugene stated that smart beta does have some problems. Just because the portfolio appears to perform well in the past, the returns won’t necessarily continue. “Backtests by definition look good,” Eugene said. Smart beta needs to be forward looking, it has to be ex-ante, he said. Investors are trying to build portfolios that work well in the future, and you need to forward-looking economic rationale for any investment you make, which also must apply to smart beta products. Smart beta puts the onus of complex portfolio management tasks on the individual, who now must answer “Why did I make that tilt” instead of asking that same question to a manager.

Trey responded that while an economic rationale is important, it is dangerous to be hyper-focused on short term performance of smart beta.

Craig noted that it is important to watch out for spurious correlation, giving an example of extensive data mining leading to a researcher to conclude that butter production in Bangladesh is a strong leading indicator of the S&P 500.

Trey said that just because it is smart beta, it doesn’t mean you’re excluded from doing your own due diligence.

Eugene posed a philosophical question and asked “Can all market participants do the same thing at the same time? And can everyone be in smart beta at the same time?” This isn’t possible. There has to be someone on the other end. We can’t all be in low volatility products. Why ought to these risk factors continue to deliver these kinds of returns? And how many factors truly exist? At Callan, they don’t believe that there are hundreds of investible factors, they look at about 10.

DSC_2605Trey said that better product definitions on smart beta from index providers are coming up. “Smart beta is the gateway drug to explicit risk factor investing,” said Trey.

Eugene said that smart beta is interesting like a bicycle is interesting, while risk factor investing is more like a race car. “Everyone hates fixed income benchmarks,” Eugene said, saying that that may lend itself well to a smart beta product.

Michael Hunstad said that Northern Trust has been doing factor based investing for 20 years and smart beta is definitely not new. “The hard part with smart beta is making a lot of decisions that were formerly made by your portfolio manager”, Michael said. Some of these decisions are “what factors do I choose?” There are many smart beta providers also, and there are some big considerations involved that clients need help and guidance with.

“Where does smart beta go in my portfolio,” is a very good question. It’s not exactly active, yet not totally passive either. The old way of deciding a manager allocation was by making a list, and allocating to the manager who performed best. This doesn’t work with smart beta, and the selection of products is tough. According to Michael, smart beta is two things:

1) A source of excess return
2) A risk paradigm

If smart beta risk factors are independent sources of return, then they are also independent sources of risk.

Mehmet Beyraktar counted himself among the many in the panel who dislikes the term smart beta, and said investors need to question how the products complement their existing portfolios, and the challenge of smart beta is how to integrate. He said that a big part of the investment process is obtaining the right tools to get transparency into smart beta investments and a means of calculating exposure to risk factors, such as a factor-based risk model. Not that much research is available into how risk factors and smart beta will perform is available just yet, he said.

Ben offered an exchange he heard between a Middle East-based client and an advisor, where the advisor asked how long the client’s time horizon was, and he responded “We measure in generations.” The client then asked “How often do you look at performance?” and the client said “quarterly”, a huge mismatch between the evaluation period and the investment horizon.

Michael told a story about an investor who thought he could use PMI to make a tactical call on the market. There certainly are leading indicators, but the hard part is determining when they will play out. He said that he doesn’t have much confidence in anyone’s ability to time cycles and market behavior. But multifactor products are the wave of the future in dealing with cyclicality. With smart beta, there is a concentration risk on one end of the allocation spectrum and a dilution risk on the other end. If you simply allocate equally among all the risk factors, you probably will end up with an investment that looks very similar to a cap-weighted benchmark.DSC_2610

 

 

Creating a Stronger Career by Building Your Personal Brand

DSC_2568Managing a brand comes down to two main points:

  • How do others talk about you?
  • And even more importantly: How do you talk about yourself?

Executive coach and Make the Leap! Coaching founder, Curt Wang, brought powerful insight into how financial professionals can learn to brand themselves by finding their strengths and unlocking what they really want out of a career. As he made his way to the stage, Samantha Grant, CFA joked that “Curt is an overachiever and should fit in well with this crowd.”

Curt says “A lot of people hear the word ‘branding’ and say ‘Isn’t that something that corporations do?’” Corporations are certainly at the forefront of branding and messaging, but it’s essential for individuals to find their own brand identity too. Branding helps employers, clients and colleagues visualize who you are and what you do well.

“When you hear the word Volvo, what comes to mind?” Curt asked. “Safety,” everyone shouted out. What about your name? What do people think when they hear your name? There was a pause as the audience contemplated the question. Curt continued. “There are five tests of a great brand,” he said.

  • Value
  • Fit
  • Credible
  • Unique
  • Sustainable

DSC_2575If others don’t know what makes you unique as a person and as an employee, they may pass you by. Sears was one of the top retail outlets in the country for years. Now they aren’t. What changed? They tried to be all things to all people. Whereas most shoppers know that Home Depot is the best place for building supplies and Best Buy has all the latest and greatest electronics, Sears tried to do it all. This left a fuzzy impression in shoppers’ minds about Sears and what it represents. Sears represents an example of a bad brand strategy, the opposite of the clarity found in Volvo’s clear “safety first” messaging.

For those in transition, Curt advised them to not “use all of your best contacts right away, when you’re the least clear about yourself and what you want to do.” Instead, first you ought to figure out what your brand is and exactly what kinds of jobs you are targeting, thus avoiding the fuzziness that comes without having a clear brand identity. Every time you are networking, they really are interviewing you even if they say that they aren’t. If you do a good job and wow them in the conversation, then they may pass your name on to a hiring manager.

Curt showed a series of stock images of doctors and asked us which one we would choose. The audience was about an even split between the choices, with some selecting one because “he looked smart” and others choosing an older doctor because he “looked experienced”. The lesson was that if you don’t manage your brand, people will make assumptions about you. Your position or title alone is not your brand. It’s certainly part of it, but not all of it. Focus on your unique strengths and sell that to employers.

DSC_2572There is a sea of change currently taking place within the corporate world and how young people approach work. Specifically, within Big 4 accounting firms Curt noted that in the past you would see four out of five young hires looking to work their way up the ladder to make partner, working long days and nights in order to make that goal a reality. Nowadays, Curt says, four out of five young Big 4 hires do not want to make partner, with many desiring a different career path entirely. Some employees focused on work / life balance may only wish to work 40 to 50 hour weeks compared to the 80+ hour workweeks other associates might labor through in order to make partner. The shift in thinking has happened because there used to be one well-defined path to the top, and now there are many paths to success. Not all of these paths involve working long hours for many years at a single employer.

In building your brand, your number one goal should be articulating what you are great at. Companies actually want employees to take control of their career because it creates higher engagement and reasons to stay at the firm, not employee turnover as you might initially suspect. In order to articulate what you want from your career, it might be helpful to recall some of your favorite things that you have worked on and why. What do those favorite projects say about you and your ideal career? What strengths did you exhibit during these projects? When did you feel like you were ‘in the zone’ while working? What would it take to become a world-class version of yourself? What would others say you are the go-to person on and why?

After discussing these questions in small groups amongst ourselves, Curt left us with some homework. We were to determine what our top five strengths are, figure out what are our transferable skills for future opportunities would be, and answer the following:

What are the three main components of my personal brand positioning?

  • I am an expert in _____
  • The value of my expertise to people / organizations is _____
  • I am uniquely qualified because _____

For professionals of all career levels, developing branding skills is a great way to sharpen our focus for job opportunities, determine our passions, and further engage with our work. Curt gave us the tools to do just that.

For more information, please visit http://www.maketheleapcoaching.com/.

CFA Society Chicago Book Club: “The Age of CryptoCurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money are Challenging the Global Economic Order” by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey

Bitcoin with its underlying blockchain technology is by far the most controversial and least understood of the fintech innovations revolutionizing financial services. Since it was conceived in 2008 it has generally been viewed with suspicion, even outright derision. But both the currency and the technology are gaining legitimacy and there’s growing interest in its potential, as shown by these informal indicators:

  • Strong growth in startup funding by top VCs and investors: bitbetween 2013 and 2015 venture investments grew from $95M to $622M per this recap http://www.coindesk.com/bitcoin-venture-capital/
  • Improvement in price volatility (but still far from stable): high/low in 2013 was $1,147/$13, and in 2015 was $456/$214
  • Robust discussions at the 2016 World Economic Forum, European Parliament, IMF, CFTC and other venues to consider the value, drawbacks and risks of bitcoin and blockchain
  • Continuing evolution of regulations: New York’s BitLicense requirements, IRS and CFTC rulings, general openness in the UK, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Romania and elsewhere

At the February CFA Chicago Book Club meeting we discussed Paul Vigna’s and Michael J. Casey’s excellent book on all things bitcoin and blockchain. The two Wall Street Journal reporters thoroughly explored the origins, mechanics, personalities, motivations, recent developments and future of this fascinating technology.

There’s a shroud of ambiguity around bitcoin. It can be characterized as a currency, commodity, payment protocol or an expansive platform for trading anything of value, and the authors clearly explain each of these perspectives. They also describe the underlying technology and its two key breakthroughs: a universal ledger that captures every transaction and is continuously verified, and an incentive system for “nodes” to maintain the ledger. Bitcoin exists as a chain of digital signatures. Owners privately transfer coins by digitally signing a hash of the previous transaction and the public key of the next owner, adding their signatures to the end of the coin. Note, a “hash” is just a long string of characters and hashing is a common technique used in encryption and data-storage. The open source blockchain code tells computer nodes how to collaborate in maintaining the integrity of the universal bitcoin ledger via a process called mining.

Everyone’s heard about bitcoin “miners” who dig up newly minted electronic currency, but mining is really a misnomer. Networked computer nodes do the work of confirming that transactions are valid, verifying the ledger is correct, getting all other nodes to agree, closing the previous block of transactions and opening a new one. While doing so they can earn new bitcoin as a reward. There’s more to it, but essentially this is mining. The sequential blocks of transactions form the chronological blockchain ledger. One block, or group of transactions, is closed and a new one is opened every 10 minutes or so. Anyone with a computer and internet access can establish a node and mine, but to increase the likelihood of earning bitcoin miners employ massive computer power. There are dedicated server farms in the U.S. and abroad using computers designed just for this purpose. China is especially active in bitcoin mining.

The origins of bitcoin have contributed to its mystique and notoriety. A person or group named Satoshi Nakamoto conceived the open-source computer code on October 31st, 2008, by posting on a message board for cryptographers. It caught the attention of Hal Finney who dabbled in encryption technology in his off hours. He and Sathoshi worked to get the open-source protocol running in 2009, and slowly others began to adopt and use bitcoin. The cryptocurrency also appealed to “Cypherpunks”, an anarchic, libertarian group concerned with privacy protection and subverting the power of banks and governments to create economic crises and serve corporate interests at the expense of citizens. Satoshi’s true identity and motivation for introducing bitcoin aren’t known. He or she essentially disappeared in 2011 and past communications were encrypted, sparingly worded and didn’t elaborate on philosophy.

The current system for handling credit card transactions illustrates the problem bitcoin intends to solve. The authors walk through an everyday coffee purchase: seven entities are involved, including the merchant, front-end processors, payment processors, banks, credit card associations, clearing houses, etc. These entities share our banking and personal information, and of course earn fees which are paid by the merchant and ultimately you and I. Fees can total 3%, and much more when traveling abroad. This same transaction using bitcoin is strictly between the merchant and purchaser. The universal ledger confirms funds are available and validates the transaction. No personal information is shared because bitcoin is encrypted. No third party intermediaries are needed and no transaction fees are charged. In this scenario there’s no need for banks, credit cards, payment processors, dollars, euro or yen. Bitcoin proponents envision huge economic benefits from eliminating transaction fees.

A growing list of merchants accept bitcoin as payment for some or all of their products, including Dell, DISH Network, Microsoft, Expedia, Overstock, Newegg and many others. However, there are good reasons to be skeptical. Public perception suffered after several hacking incidents. For example, Mt. Gox, an early bitcoin exchange lost 650,000 of its client’s bitcoins and finally collapsed, impacting 127,000 users. Silk Road was another high-profile debacle. It was an Ebay-like site for trading in illegal drugs and assassinations that used encryption to hide web traffic and the anonymity of bitcoin to keep transactions private. Its operator, Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison for money laundering and trafficking narcotics. There’s also conflict within the bitcoin community itself, most recently related to a proposal to expand bitcoin transaction volume capacity, which is a small fraction of established payment systems. The argument exploded very publicly into death threats, virus attacks and censoring bitcoin discussion boards. Breakdowns like these, coupled with extreme price volatility in past years and other concerns damage public trust in bitcoin as a reliable currency.

Trust is a recurring theme in the book. In our current system banks and other central institutions maintain the central ledger that establishes the essential trust in who owes what to whom. Various parties in this system dedicate enormous resources to verify their records match and confirm trust. But with bitcoin, trust is automated. To be effective as currency bitcoin must be widely held and widely accepted. It’s the classic “chicken or egg” dilemma. Money must be a unit of account, a store of value and a medium of exchange, three conditions banks are currently tasked with safeguarding. But there’s an enormous cost for this in money, privacy, and economic damage banks are perceived to cause in crises. The authors deftly explore multiple perspectives on trust and the central role of banks:

  • In developing countries millions of people lack access to banks. Bitcoin may be an ideal solution for countries with limited banking infrastructure, weak legal systems, 10%-20% fees on transfers from citizens working abroad and a high degree of self-employment.
  • Russia’s and China’s national security depends on controlling their national currencies, so unregulated and encrypted bitcoin may be a threat to government’s hold on power.
  • Developed countries incur hundreds of billions in transaction fees that could be used productively. But unlike bitcoin, the incumbent system allows for Keynesian intervention during crises to offset currency hoarding.

To the extent bitcoin has obstacles; the underlying blockchain technology has opportunities. Financial institutions are using it to create more efficient financial payment, trading and settlement systems. Major firms actively exploring blockchain solutions include Bank of America, Banco Santander, IBM, ING, Mizuho, NASDAQ, PwC, UBS and many others. Meanwhile, startups like Next, Ripple, Mastercoin, Ethereum, BitShares, Counterparty, Stellar and others are developing digital asset exchanges for peer-to-peer trading. The authors explore a variety of blockchain applications that extend beyond digital currency. Decentralized autonomous corporations (DACs) are similar to crowd-funding but DAC shareholders participate in ownership and any increase or decrease in value. Reputation markets for restaurateurs, contractors, freelancers, etc. use blockchain to hold their record of customer reviews, which can then be securitized to monetize goodwill. Voting can use an encrypted private key to send a tiny amount of bitcoin to a polling wallet. Votes are time-stamped and permanent in the blockchain to prevent fraud. Smart contracts, where bitcoin payments are made to a neutral wallet and disbursements are triggered automatically. Examples include homeowner’s escrow for insurance and tax payments, and credit default swaps where a credit event automatically triggers payment to the CDS owner. Smart property, where digital ownership tokens are assigned as property deeds, titles and certifications of ownership, makes them easily tradable with other digital asset claims. There are endless applications using the blockchain platform, and it’s seen by some as the internet all over again.

Blockchain clearly has a very bright future. As for bitcoin as digital currency, the authors present several future scenarios and discuss potential government reactions and the impact on various stakeholders:

  • Bitcoin is adopted worldwide: The UK, Canada, Switzerland and Singapore are poised to lead due to their innovation-friendly regulations. The U.S. would take a back seat given the restrictions here. Banks and governments would have greatly diminished power. Millions of unbanked people in developing countries would gain access to an efficient financial system.
  • Bitcoin is not adopted: The obstacles to realizing the grand vision are never overcome and a ‘just good enough’ option with lower fees and greater efficiency takes hold within the existing system.
  • Hybrid system: Bitcoin grows alongside the existing system and national fiat currencies continue to be used. Exchanges are needed to convert to and from digital currency. Blockchain technology is used by institutions to improve transaction confirmations, payment systems, etc. Credit card companies, payment processors and currency traders could disappear. Or bitcoin could be adopted principally for online and certain other types of commerce.
  • Multi-coin world: Currency itself becomes less important. The principle means of exchange could be smart property trading on blockchain-based exchanges where property items are divided to level needed. Commerce becomes a form of barter without the limitations of trading physical property. The authors posited selling half a horse for a flight to LA!
  • National cryptocurrency: Countries launch their own digital currency using blockchain technology. People trade currency peer to peer without intermediaries, but control is still centralized leaving the state as the ultimate counterparty. Governments retain the ability to use policy measures to stimulate the economy. Cross-border transfers of digital currencies are difficult to restrict which undermines capital controls. The U.S. digital dollar has an enhanced role as a reserve currency, but the Fed is more accountable to the global marketplace. For example, if the U.S. digital dollar were mismanaged other currencies would become favored.

Regardless which of these scenarios is realized, bitcoin and blockchain have staggering potential to reshape financial services and other areas of the economy. They can no longer be dismissed as a fringe, radical movement. It will be fascinating to observe this space in the coming months and years.

 

Upcoming Schedule:

March 15, 2016: My Side of the Street: Why Wolves, Flash Boys, Quants, and Masters of the Universe Don’t Represent the Real Wall Street by Jason DeSena Trennert

April 19, 2016: While America Aged: How Pension Debts Ruined General Motors, Stopped the NYC Subways, Bankrupted San Diego, and Loom as the Next Financial Crisis by Roger Lowenstein

May 17, 2016: TBD

To sign up for a future book club event, please click here:

http://www.cfachicago.org/apps/eve_events.asp

Distinguished Speakers Series: John Rogers, Jr.

On February 10th CFA Chicago’s DistinguishedRogers Speaker Series advisory group hosted John Rogers, Jr., Chairman, CEO and Chief Investment Officer of Ariel Investments, the largest minority run investment firm in the US. A question and answer format was used, with Kerry Jordan, CFA, Chairman of the CFA Society Chicago, posing questions to Mr. Rogers.

In a wide-ranging question and answer session, Mr. Rogers responded to questions concerning the role of the Board of Directors of public companies, investment committee best practices, the best measure of investment success, and the current state of the market.

Mr. Rogers, who currently serves on the Board of Directors of Exelon and McDonald’s, stressed that board members must act as independent agents and have knowledge of who the outside shareholders are. Board members need to ensure that outside shareholder concerns are being heard. He argues that board members become more valuable the longer they serve; making term limits a bad idea.

Mr. Rogers’ thoughts on what “best practices” should be for Investment Committees can be summarized as follows:

  • Small size
  • Limited role (trust management to make day to day decisions)
  • Include independent thinkers

Investment performance needs to be monitored; however Mr. Rogers stressed that successful short-term performance does not mean that you are outperforming.  More than a three-year track record is required.

When asked about his key thoughts about the current market Mr. Rogers stated that this is a stressful period similar to 2008-09 and that during this period, it is important to keep in touch with “thought leaders” to see what they are thinking.  Analysts must remain free to recommend anything even though it may be out of favor.

Mr. Rogers stressed that the city culture of Chicago is one of “giving back”.  The Ariel Community Academy is a school in Chicago that fosters financial literacy.  This is knowledge that is sorely lacking, especially in minority communities.  Mr. Rogers, who became interested in stocks at an early age, thinks it is important to get kids to think about stocks.

Questions from the audience centered on active versus passive management and the future of mutual funds.  Mr. Rogers believes that a large portion of any portfolio should be in index funds and wondered how hedge funds can outperform in this market given their fee structure.

Mr. Rogers also believes that despite the emergence of ETFs and other investment instruments, there will always be a role for mutual funds in any portfolio.  There is a role active management can play.  Mr. Rogers concluded with the thought that he is optimistic on the market and there are big bargains out there to be found.

CFA Chicago’s Winter Whiskey Warm Up

DSC_2341_Whiskey

The CFA Chicago Social Advisory Group recently hosted a whiskey tasting to break from the cold and market doldrums. On January 20th, 2016, members of CFA Chicago along with  members from other CFA societies including San Francisco, Boston, and New York, joined current candidates and other investment professionals to enjoy the Winter Whiskey Warm Up at Sidebar Grille.

Always looking to expand their knowledge base, investment professionals dedicated themselves to fully fleshing out the differences between Bourbon, Rye, and Scotch. Attendees were welcomed with a Knob Creek Old Fashioned and were given tickets to redeem for signature cocktails including: Knob Creek Old Fashioned, Cutty Cooler, Rye Sazerac-Absinthe Spritz, and Caskmate’s Coffee.

Between enjoying a few whiskey based drinks,DSC_2332_Whiskey participants were able to learn more about each of the whiskeys. Four tables were arranged to allow a representative to share a couple offerings. Eli Johnson of Beam Suntory outlined the differences between the Japanese whiskey, Hibiki Harmony, and Knob Creek, traditional Kentucky bourbon. Cathy Gassner of Brown-Forman highlighted the dissimilarities between Woodford Reserve’s bourbon and rye offerings. Caroline Duff of Irish DSC_2334_WhiskeyDistillers shared two offerings from Jameson that diverged from the common perception of “Jamo.”  Jameson Caskmates and Black Barrel Reserve offered a smoothness and subtlety that is not always available in Irish whiskeys.  Jillian Farrell of the Edington Group shared two scotches, the Cutty Sark Prohibition and Highlands Park Dark Origins, and offered insight on their finish and where they are distilled. Many guests agreed that the research was DSC_2337_Whiskeynot complete without sampling each offering.

Movement between the whiskey tables, appetizer array, and bar afforded numerous opportunities to interact with others. Topics of conversation ranged from investments and careers, to sports, current events and everything in between. For reasons that aren’t immediately clear, conversations at the end of the event flowed much more freely than those at the start.