Inside Money

Business writer David Chaplin blogs on personal finance

Inside Money: Pipe dreams - how to fix the money leaks

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Anew report from consultancy firm Mercer has found returns could be lifted by between 1-1.5 per cent if investors tidy up the back-office a little.  Photo / Thinkstock
Anew report from consultancy firm Mercer has found returns could be lifted by between 1-1.5 per cent if investors tidy up the back-office a little. Photo / Thinkstock

Despite the award ceremonies and occasional massive performance fees, investment management isn't generally perceived as a glamourous business.

The world's most famous investor, Warren Buffett, for instance, has made his fortune out of dull.

George Soros, the world's second-most famous investor, is also a bore fan, droning on that:

"If investing is entertaining, if you're having fun, you're probably not making any money. Good investing is boring."

But compared to those who fiddle with the nuts-and-bolts of funds management, Buffet and Soros are high-risk thrill-seekers.

As Ross Asset Management (RAM) clients discovered, however, the tedious back-office details can be just as important as the front-line intellectual efforts.

The RAM case demonstrated how procedural issues can compromise security but a new report from consultancy firm Mercer has found returns could be lifted by between 1-1.5 per cent if investors tidy up the back-office a little - suggesting changes including less portfolio turnover, greater alignment of executive incentives with shareholders long-term aims and a cultural shift away from 'short-termism'.

While it's aimed at institutional investors - superannuation funds, insurers etc - the Mercer report, titled "Behaving Like an Owner: Plugging Investment Chain Leakages", provides an interesting insight for regular people into the boring behind-the-scenes investment processes.

The paper tracks the 20-year "journey" of $100 through the investment system based on four sets of assumptions ranging from a pure passive play to an idealised scenario where the 'leaks' have been plugged.

According to the Mercer analysis, over two decades a passive journey through the current inefficient system would've turned the $100 into $256.16, compared to $250.35 earned via an actively managed trip.

Improving back-office investment operations, however, would've transformed the $100 from between $270.65 to $312.18, depending on how far the fix goes.

The report says, while traditional investment activities (ie deciding what to buy) will always remain important "a focus on leakages serves the best interests of ordinary people saving for their retirement years".

"That is, many savers and their agents, the asset owners, may not be accumulating pension pots at the rate they could be," the paper boringly says.

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