05/18/2024

4400 registered foals, and only 16 or 18 of them make it to the Derby ― John Sosby, Claiborne Farm

Our spring 2024 Outsourced Chief Investment Officer (OCIO) update features one-hundred-two service providers with pertinent particulars on each.  We include names, numbers, emails, titles, and at least one client service professional ready to take your call.  What could be easier?

Our goal is to help families and institutions locate, review, and connect with full-service discretionary outsource investment managers.  These firms care deeply about their customers.  Our directory makes it easy for prospective clients to reach them.

What a year

For the year ending December 31st, 2023, total OCIO AUM hit a record $4.1 trillion dollars on $686 billion in new business, a whopping twenty percent gain.

In Derby lingo, a few entrants dropped off the board and others jockeyed for position, but the favorites finished in the money, and the payouts were impressive.

Our latest OCIO directory hosts a crowded field so we assembled this chart to provide some context, grouping the firms by size, number, and a few growth-per-group statistics. *

Winner takes all

Here’s what caught our attention. Twenty-three firms on our list manage most of the money, about eighty-four percent – the twelve largest control sixty-four percent – while the remaining seventy-nine providers divvied up the rest, approximately $681bn.

As for new business in 2023? Almost three-quarters of last year’s gain accrued to the twelve largest firms, thirteen percent went to the next eleven, and those dogged seventy-nine fought for the remaining twelve percent, roughly $83bn.

As in past years, the largest source of new OCIO mandates in dollar terms came from corporate pensions.

For most OCIOs, however, the corporate defined benefit world is a land apart and out of reach, actuarial, regulated, and liability driven, with big-ticket AUM on offer – about $1.32 trillion among the top 100 US plans in 2023, according to the latest Milliman corporate pension report.

Many firms, many flavors

Each firm has its own culture, investment style, and biases.  Some firms focus on indexing and liquid markets, others on alternatives, still others on ESG.  Some customize portfolios, others don’t.

But biases affect risk, allocations, and outcomes.  Alternatives including venture capital and private equity have outperformed in the past and may do so again.  However, there’s a trade-off in liquidity and transparency.  Before choosing an OCIO, know which way they lean.

According to a 2022 University of Chicago paper, “Venture capital performance remains remarkably persistent across funds raised by the same general partner.  In contrast, buyout funds’ performance persistence becomes noticeably weaker over time.”

If it’s liquidity you want, check the fine print for lockups, redemptions, gates, and fees.

Failure to communicate

Here’s one last point to keep in mind.  “Lack of adequate communication – particularly regarding performance – is the single biggest challenge and the most common source of dissatisfaction within OCIO relationships.”  FundFire.

When we speak with family heads and board members who are considering a change in OCIO providers they usually cite poor performance.  But when we dig deeper, we find it’s rarely about returns, but about a change in their client service representative and frustration with the current dialogue.

Relationships are ruptured.  Communication goes awry.  Clients are unhappy.  Good news and bad, the messenger conveys the message.  Whether the goal is client retention or a new business win, it usually comes down to delivery.

Final thoughts

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. The asset management business is hyper-competitive, hard to differentiate, and expensive to scale. We have yet to see an independent Outsourced Chief Investment Officer firm reach $100 Billion AUM through organic growth. Most of those on our list will never reach $20 Billion.

With the amount of talent and resources available on Wall Street, the chances of building top-ranked, enduring investment teams capable of vaulting over the competition are slim to none without superior technology, blockbuster products, or a relentless M&A machine.

If the goal is to deliver exceptional performance, service and solutions and be there for the client twenty years from now, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Talk to your competitors. Some might make fine partners.

Our latest OCIO Company Directory

(download OCIO Directory as PDF)

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I worried about so many things during my life, but the really tough hits I never saw coming. — Anonymous

Our 2023 endowment performance report features ten-year investment returns for one hundred thirty-eight US and eight Canadian institutions, the latest available.  In addition, we include one-year returns for 2023, 2022, 2021 along with AUM, as of their respective fiscal year-ends.

NACUBO and Commonfund released their annual endowment study two weeks ago chock full of facts and figures.  Chief among them, the 688 participating U.S. college and university endowments and affiliated foundations returned 7.7 percent, net of fees, for fiscal 2023.  Trailing 10-year returns averaged 7.2 percent.

NACUBO noted that “Historically, institutions with larger endowments often have secured better one-year investment results than those with relatively smaller endowments.  The reverse occurred in FY23, owing to smaller institutions’ substantially larger allocations to publicly traded securities.”

All this is nice to know, but in our line of work, acquiring talent and capabilities for institutional and family office clients, we like hard data on the individuals who drive the investment decisions.  Returns may be historical, but they are useful cues to an investor’s process and discipline.

As it turns out, of the 688 institutions in the NACUBO study, including 138 endowments over one billion AUM and 77 between $500 million and a billion, only about a third have an internal chief investment officer or designated investment head, mostly those in the above mentioned half a billion and up categories.  These are the ones that catch our eye.  The rest use OCIOs, investment committees and consultants, RIAs, brokers, and well-meaning volunteers.

The lay of the land

Institutional investors had a lot on their minds the last few years: Covid and a market crash in 2020, meme stocks and valuation- frenzy in 2021, war and rates in 2022, and bank busts in 2023.  But other than the specter of rate increases, no one saw these disruptive outliers coming.

And yet, the best investors somehow find a way to outperform.  After years of recruiting investment talent, we’ve observed that top performers tend to stay on top, despite the occasional speed bumps.

Cambridge Associates concurs. In a 2022 paper on investment advice for the entrepreneurial mindset, CA studied equity portfolio managers over a twenty-year span and found that, “On average, “successful” managers underperformed about one quarter of the time over any rolling three- and five-year periods.”

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find good data on nonprofit CIOs with twenty years or more of tenure, but ten years is doable.  Hence our emphasis on ten-year performance.

We also list the current endowment CIO or designated head of investments, although often performance was baked in by the prior CIO.

Paula Volent for example, now at Rockefeller University, was for twenty years the CIO at Bowdoin College and her fingerprints linger on Bowdoin’s latest 11.7% ten-year return, topping our charts yet again.

Where are the women?

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It Takes Guts

by charles | Comments are closed

01/23/2024

The cautious seldom err or write great poetry. – Howard Marks’ favorite fortune cookie, Dare to Be Great II

J.P. Morgan Chase is king of the realm these days, but during my time at Chemical Bank there were other big dogs on the “Street.”

The neoclassical, money-minting, “House of Morgan” sat kitty-corner to our headquarters at 20 Pine.

Next door, David Rockefeller’s baronial fiefdom, the sixty-story, glass and steel slab, One Chase Manhattan Plaza, towered over Chemical’s pre-war high-rise and Jean Dubuffet’s tangled abstract, Group of Four Trees, flipping us off from the courtyard.

And uptown, Manufacturers Hanover lent to the corporate elite from their Park Avenue perch, eyeing with distain Chemical’s middle-market rabble. While high above the fray, Walter B. Wriston’s Citicorp lorded it over us all.

But in the end, Chemical smelled blood, devoured their unwary prey, and for desert had its way with the Morgan name. If you can’t beat them, eat them. J.P. would understand.

That thing called “edge”

Mark LaMonica, Director of Product Management at Morningstar, describes the elusive, hard to define attribute called “edge” as better information, analytics, or behavior. But no one in the investment industry ever built a great business without another edge we call “guts,” the confidence and courage to take a chance.

With vast, industry-wide reserves of talent and resources, the odds of any single firm vaulting organically over the competition are slim to none without disruptive technology, blockbuster products, or an unbeatable track record.

But, disruptive technologies and blockbuster products – computers or ETFs – come around maybe once every fifty years, as Angelo Calvello points out in Institutional Investor. And, while consistent, multi-decade investment superiority isn’t impossible, it’s exceedingly rare.

Promises kept

Jon Hirtle, executive chairman of OCIO firm Hirtle Callaghan considers investment management a mission and describes the stewardship of client wealth as “promise-driven” investing.

When we ask our clients which risk matters most, they almost always place “mission failure” at the top of the list. Serious investors care deeply about keeping their promises.

Those promises can be tallied up to calculate a “required return.” Achieve that required return and we can fulfill our promises; fail to achieve it and we are likely to disappoint the people and causes we love.

But here’s the challenge. To endure and deliver on those promises made, which course can overcome the all-too-common clutch of complacency?

M&A or the highway

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We’ve come a long way, baby

by charles | Comments are closed

01/08/2024

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.Mark Twain?

My grandmother, born in 1896, used to describe recessions as panics – economic brushfires stoked by a bank collapse or two and lurid headlines of panicked customers storming the ramparts, window jumpers, and families in ruins.

The newspapers had a field day flogging the latest hearsay and then it all blew over, but rumors and innuendo were never good for business and banks were always suspect.

It wasn’t until the countrywide “Bankers Panic” of October 1907, triggered by a massively leveraged attempt to corner United Copper Company stock, that political and business sentiment finally coalesced around legislation leading to the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.

As an aside, the right to vote “without regard to sex,” otherwise known as the 19th amendment, passed final muster on August 18, 1920. And it was not long after that my grandmother accepted a steady teaching position at Michigan Agricultural College (aka Michigan State University) and cast her first ever vote for Calvin Coolidge in the 1924 presidential election.  Progress in fits and starts, but progress, nevertheless.

Bygone family conversations came to mind as I scanned the headlines last week.  Labor market healthy.  Don’t be so sure.  Stock market shaky.  What to do?  Rates?  Who knows.  And beware a looming venture capital apocalypse.  Retreads, recycled, reprinted.

But, inevitably, far from that madding crowd, each new generation of investors and entrepreneurs has something inventive in mind, quietly creating those next big things, building a better tomorrow.

In our line of work, acquiring talent and capabilities for institutional and family office clients, we see a steady flow of quality candidates, OCIO mandates, and appealing acquisition opportunities.

2024 is looking good.  Recruit, consult, connect.  We’re here for you.

– Charles Skorina

*Images: The 1907 Crisis in Historical Perspective, The Center for History and Economics

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Breaking news: Sunrise tomorrow

by charles | Comments are closed

12/23/2023

The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true. – J. Robert Oppenheimer

In the late 80’s Don Valentine, founder of Sequoia Capital, asked me to stop by his office for a chat. I was recruiting for venture capital firms at the time while writing on the side for the San Jose Mercury News and had quoted him in previous pieces.

Once we settled in he announced with gruff solemnity that there was too much money chasing too few good startup opportunities. And that was not likely to change.

Keep in mind, this was only a few years after Sequoia had bankrolled Atari, Apple, and Cisco Systems. But for some reason he voiced deep concern. (Rising valuations and increased competition might have also sullied his mood.)

Whatever his reasons, we all know what happened in the decades that followed: invention and innovation, blockbusters and unicorns, thousands of jobs, billions in wealth. Silicon Valley’s cauldron of creation.

And yet, despite America’s world-beating record of entrepreneurial alchemy “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” to quote the inimitable Yogi Berra. You would half think the media pundits were praying for a recession, better yet, end-of-days.

Fortunately, the American consumer seems to have other plans. Hiring is brisk, investment performance strong, inflation down, startups pitching, and rates plausibly dropping.

“Since the Great Depression of the early 1930s there have been 14 US recessions.” Yet, despite the challenges, with each rebound life just gets better.

We’re betting on a sunrise tomorrow.

All the best for the holidays. And here’s to a fine 2024.

 — Charles Skorina

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