Woodford funds continue to keep the media busy

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Oct 24, 2019
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The news last week that the Woodford Income Focus fund was being closed to withdrawals to prevent a run on its assets caused a flurry of media articles examining the potential repercussions on investors and the wider investment community.

I was contacted on Thursday (17 October 2019) by a journalist from the Sunday Times, who was writing a feature on the topic. If you subscribe to the Sunday Times online you can read the whole article here.

Most of what we discussed on active vs passive investing didn’t make it into the article, but naturally I was asked if PortfolioMetrix had invested in any of the relevant Woodford funds. I explained we hadn’t and why.

Here’s a quote he used from me as to why: “It certainly wasn’t the case I thought this was going to be a big problem down the line for liquidity…but whenever we asked about what happened if they were wrong on a particular position, we could never get a clear answer.”

Investors first, industry second

Quite apart from whether we invested in Woodford, his questioning covered some important topics. He asked what I thought the effect of the Woodford issue was on the industry and whether active managers were feeling any pain.  

This is an interesting question, but it’s not the most important. As should always be the case, clients come first. And in this case, investors have been appallingly treated and suffered mightily. The focus now should be on mitigating the fallout for investors in Woodford’s funds.

The wider implications for investors should also be considered. The huge amount of publicity around the issue has also undoubtedly had an effect on trust between investors and the investment managers. Any profession requires trust between relevant stakeholders and, when it comes to investments and investing, trust is absolutely paramount. Investors will only achieve better outcomes when two things are true: they trust the investment professionals they rely on AND those individuals (and companies) are worthy of that trust.

Active v passive & closet indexers

With regard to active management of funds, we discussed if the negative fallout around this issue will make it harder for active managers who are already feeling competition from the passive alternatives.

My position on this is that passive competition is good for the end investor. Access to passive routes is helping the industry to reduce the impact of the worst part of the active industry, the closet indexers who purport to be active managers but are really just lazily tracking an index while charging a premium. On the other hand, there will always be a place for true active managers – those who do strong company research and take non-index positions that reflect that research.

Fund selection research

In our own portfolios, we use a blend of active managed funds and support these with passives where we can’t build sufficient conviction.

While I firmly believe it’s important to include active managers in our portfolios, there are both skilled and unskilled managers out there so the key is to do quality research to identify them. Research is at the heart of our fund selection process and using a mix of qualitative and quantitative research is central to enabling us to filter managers into the skilled and unskilled.

Diversification 

Proper portfolio construction is crucial too through, with the key here that it’s essential to diversify across different mangers. No decision-making process is ever perfect, so you shouldn’t ever choose just one manager (or asset class, or sector, or currency or country). In my opinion, diversification is absolutely fundamental to investment success…but that’s another story for another day.

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Go to the profile of PortfolioMetrix

PortfolioMetrix

PortfolioMetrix are a multi-award winning, innovative investment manager that provides independent financial advisers with an alternative way to access discretionary investment management for their clients. Our proposition comes at a competitive price and doesn’t compromise the adviser/client relationship. The London winner of the Citywire Wealth Manager Regional Stars award for two consecutive years, voted the WM Small Business of the year, in association with ARC 2018 and, in 2019, have received the accolade of PA Discretionary Manager of the Year. Our proposition offers the convenience of online model portfolios yet delivers customised portfolios, tailored to individual client requirements. Investment performance has demonstrated consistent and reliable risk and return separation of portfolios that doesn’t undermine the financial planning process. This is achieved through our academically-robust, risk-based investment approach. WealthExplorer™ is integral to the PortfolioMetrix customised service. A proprietary owned and designed software system, WealthExplorer™, is purpose built to equip advisers with a broad range of tools designed to deliver unique client insights that add value to the adviser/client relationship and ultimately delivers better client outcomes, when utilised by financial advisers.

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