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The JOBS Act: The JOBS Act Will Accelerate the Institutionalization of Hedge Funds

This guest post from the Margolis Advisory Group, co-authored by River Communications, is reprinted with permission.  The Executive Summary appears below and the full text is available here.

The JOBS Act is bringing change to the hedge fund industry, and, most likely, this change will accelerate the trend towards institutionalization. The lifting of the “advertising ban” opens the playbook, allowing hedge funds to engage in a wide range of strategic communications and marketing activities. For some, this will offer a new opportunity to compete for assets with traditional managers adept at managing their brands and marketplace perceptions. Others will resist, possibly to their detriment, as funds will no longer have the luxury of hiding “under the radar.”

Hedge funds who embrace the new, less restrictive environment will need to build mature, comprehensive strategic communications programs. The best practices include:

  • Revisiting the brand and value proposition on a regular basis to ensure it accurately and effectively reflects a “firm’s DNA.”
  • Implementing a consistent process that provides for the regular refreshing of value-added content to communications vehicles.
  • Creating content that provides true thought leadership, enhanced with proprietary surveys, and investment & industry commentary.
  • Considering a broad range of distribution and engagement vehicles to build awareness of the firm, including: web and mobile devices, public relations, marketing communications, targeted advertising and investor communications.

Hedge funds have thrived by embracing and even becoming catalysts for change. In this hyper-competitive industry, it is commonplace to expend disproportionate resources to capture even a minimal investment performance advantage. Because of this, it is surprising that there has not been more enthusiastic support in the trades for what is potentially the next major shift for the industry: the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act or JOBS Act.

Passed with little fanfare, the JOBS Act lifts the ban on advertising for hedge funds (among other provisions) and has the potential to transform how managers market their firms, build their brands and communicate with their investors. Yet, much of the discussion in the trades and on the hedge fund industry speaking circuit has downplayed the potential impact of this provision as being only meaningful to the smaller funds. Large funds—as the typical explanation goes—believe they do not need to proactively market, as they commonly market off their mystique of exclusivity and will prefer to remain “under the radar” to protect their proprietary investment strategies. Furthermore, the larger funds are already staffed for one-on-one sales, and many in the hedge fund industry are under the false impression that sales are only based on individual contacts or “having the Rolodex.”

The fact is, change is coming to the hedge fund industry, and many managers will continue to adapt to the ongoing evolution as they always have. Most likely, this change will accelerate the trend towards resembling traditional managers—for hedge funds can now adopt advertising and marketing techniques, as well.

Consider the trends we have observed in the hedge fund and institutional asset management space, especially since the market declines of ’07-’08. New regulations have increased the demand for information on leverage and counterparty risk; the migration from single to multi-prime brokers has occurred, and institutional investors are demanding more transparency in investment operations, risk and administration. Perhaps, most significantly—the largest institutional investors have been allocating funds almost exclusively to the largest hedge funds.

According to “The Evolution of the Industry: 2012,” an annual KPMG/AIMA hedge fund survey, institutional investors now represent a clear majority of all assets under management by the global hedge fund industry, with 57 percent of the industry’s AUM residing in this category. And, the proportion of hedge fund industry assets originating from institutional investors has grown significantly since the financial crisis.

As a result, we are seeing a continuation of the institutionalization of hedge funds. The KPMG study confirmed this with survey data indicating that investors demand hedge funds look and act more like traditional institutional managers from an operational standpoint. In addition, 82 percent of respondents reported an increase in demand for transparency from investors, while 88 percent said investors are demanding greater due diligence.

Our own experience consulting with hedge funds and traditional managers has confirmed other indications of this trend, as well as with all investors—large and small—demanding greater operational efficiency; cost reduction; and models that enhance overall risk management, such as the move from single to multi-prime relationships; all delivered in an open and transparent way.

For hedge fund managers to attract large pools of money, they will increasingly need to be more institutional and transparent with all investors. This is a significant cultural shift for these firms. Not only do many hedge funds lack a strategic communications infrastructure, but the concept of such openness still runs contrary to the DNA of most firms.

The question then becomes: how should hedge funds that embrace a more open and inclusive communications strategy implement programs that will help them achieve this goal? The answer is they will need to develop an approach to communications that is similar to traditional institutional asset managers.