Private capital performed better than other asset classes, generating a rolling one-year IRR of 6.1% through the third quarter of 2022.29 However, the fundraising environment has become difficult for private capital funds. Private capital firms raised about 20% less capital in 2022 compared to 2021.30 The number of funds raising capital also declined by about 41% year over year in 2022.31 Furthermore, the amount of capital raised, and fund count, dropped by 28% and 32% year over year, respectively, in the first quarter of 2023.32 North America has consistently increased its share of private capital raised since 2018, due to the challenging fundraising environment in Asia and Europe, likely attributed to geopolitical concerns.33 Overall, high interest rates over the next year may continue to challenge private capital fundraising.
Furthermore, corporate valuations and asset prices have declined, so some funds may have to hold their assets longer to get better valuations. This may further impact fund distributions, which in turn could negatively impact investor liquidity. Lower capital raising and reduced investor liquidity will likely create opportunities for funds to utilize their dry power to make new investments. In fact, dry powder declined by 14% year over year in 2022 and now represents just 26% of total private capital AUM, compared to 31% in 2021.34 Reduced valuations can create opportunities for great vintage years for private capital funds that have the ability to deploy dry powder at opportune moments with attractive valuations.
M&A activity update
Mergers and acquisitions announced or completed in the investment management and wealth management space increased 4.4% year over year to 643 deals in 2022, compared to 616 deals in 2021.35 Deal volume continues to be elevated, with 324 deals in H12023, compared to 307 deals in the same period last year, a 5.5% increase.36 However, the value of deals in 2022 fell significantly compared to 2021.37 Furthermore, 14% of survey respondents this year believe their institution is very likely to increase its M&A activity in the next 6–12 months, compared to 6% of respondents last year.38 The combination of deal and survey statistics indicates that the number of deals will likely stay elevated compared to the previous year, albeit with lower average deal values likely compared to those seen in 2021.
Elevated industry, inflation, and geopolitical concerns, coupled with the high cost of capital, will likely lead firms to cautiously avoid large transformational deals, keeping the average transaction value low. According to our survey results, most respondents say that inflation (56%) and the geopolitical environment (58%) will negatively impact their operations, results that are similar to last year’s.39 A difficult operating environment can give rise to attractive deal opportunities and so, a small number of transformative deals may pass through. Some recent examples of such transformational M&A include deals between Franklin Templeton and Putnam Investments and Clayton, Dubilier & Rice and Focus Financial Partners. However, overall smaller tactical M&A deals will likely continue to tick the deal count over the next six to 12 months.
Unlike last year, since not many firms are not taking on large transformational deals, their top two challenges no longer include integration and strategy.40 According to our survey, the top two challenges organizations have faced or are facing with M&A transactions are due diligence and valuation and transaction readiness, which seems consistent with there being a larger volume of smaller, tactical deals than last year.41 Furthermore, 38% of survey respondents this year—compared to just 19% last year—believe regulatory approval is one of their top two M&A challenges, likely the result of rising regulatory scrutiny of M&A transactions.42
Another M&A trend relates to investment managers—especially private equity firms—partnering with insurance companies.43 Investment managers executed 28 insurance-related M&A deals in H12023 compared to 23 deals in H12022, indicating continued momentum.44 Insurance company acquisitions provide investment managers access to insurers’ large stash of reserves, which in turn can help increase AUMs and profitability. For insurance companies, adding the knowledge of private equity investment managers is likely to increase the breadth and depth of instruments utilized in their reserve portfolio management.
Deal activity may be slightly challenging in the short term with concentration on smaller deal value. Overall, the primary drivers for M&A—such as adding technology capabilities, building distribution capabilities, reducing cost through scale, adding new product lines, and divesting subscale businesses—remain intact. Newer deals will likely be driven by mergers and acquisitions of smaller investment managers that are finding it difficult to compete with larger investment managers in this challenging, highly volatile, and low-margin environment.
M&A is one way to improve the operational model with postmerger integration, an important success factor.45 Technology and business process improvement is another way of improving the operating model. However, since technology is consistently moving forward, what’s considered leading practices in the investment management industry is a continuously moving target.
Getting reliable results with technology and processes
Firms will likely have to find a way to invest in technology improvement even amid weak performance and margin pressures. Without the right technologies and matching processes and controls, investment managers could fall short of client expectations and internal efficiency goals. The state of technological development supports how and how well the vision and strategies are executed.
Meeting client expectations
Clients are delighted, or not, through their experiences. In investment management, investment performance is important, but it’s not the only factor in developing customer experience (CX). When performance wanes, the other elements of the CX can make the difference.
Investment vehicles and portfolios
Investing in client-centricity is predicated on knowing the target investor, the types of investments they want, and how the client prefers to interact with their investments and their investment manager.
Several product development trends are gathering steam—across areas such as packaging, pricing, investment strategy, theme, and operational approach to investment offerings—indicating what could be in store for 2024. Here’s a closer look at some of them.
Even though the first ETF was launched in 1990, ETFs remain one of the main drivers of innovation in the investment management industry. Pricing and liquidity characteristics have led to increased ETF usage, while placing competitive pressure across the industry.
Actively managed ETFs are one of the latest developments, and while the concept of active management in an ETF is not new, 2023 saw rapid growth. The AUM for active ETFs rose 10.6% year over year in 2022.46 Globally, actively managed ETFs accounted for 14.3% of net ETF fund flows in 2022, off a smaller base of only 5.3% of ETF AUM.47 Increased tax efficiency and enhanced transparency are likely driving this trend.48 There were 1,878 actively managed ETFs globally offered by investment management firms, comprising about US$488 billion of the US$9.3 trillion in AUM held in ETF at the end of 2022.49 A healthy slate of mutual fund to ETF conversions contributed to the significant growth of active ETFs in 2023. With the now broad menu of active ETFs available, a majority of surveyed advisors and investors indicate that active ETFs will likely become part of their future investment portfolios.50
Another innovation in investment management packaging is direct indexing, a technology-enabled tactic that is challenging both traditional mutual fund and ETF packaging approaches. Direct indexing is a twist on separately managed accounts (SMAs) because they offer the ability to deviate from an index, or fixed basket of securities, owned individually by the investor, for tax efficiency and client preferences. Retail investors often access this personalization through technology via a registered investment advisor relationship. However, retail brokerage and advisory providers are also offering these products to retail investors through an investment advisory intermediary. The investment minimums and pricing for direct indexing are both trending down, making these products more accessible for many retail investors, including those that use investment advisors.51 Some investment managers are trying to stand out by offering a diverse breadth of investment options, while others are trying to differentiate based on their investment minimums and trading frequency. Investment management firms face a new competition from direct indexing because the investment manager can be largely replaced with a customized basket of individual securities, supported by a technology platform operated by a wealth manager or registered investment advisor. According to a forecast, assets in direct indexing products are expected to reach US$825 billion, growing at a CAGR of 12.3% through 2026.52 If this approach proves to be an offering that helps firms gather AUM, then both active and passive managers would have fresh competition for AUM, one with a level of customization that can’t be built into either ETFs or traditional mutual funds. Investment managers do not want to miss out on this trend and so, over the last couple of years, many investment managers, including Morgan Stanley, BlackRock, Vanguard, Franklin Templeton, and JPMorgan Chase, have added direct indexing capabilities.53
As investment management firms strive to become more customer focused, they should consider investment vehicles used to house and distribute the investment intellectual property. Efforts to challenge assumptions and ask strategic investment vehicle questions could pay off:
- Why did the investor choose this investment strategy in this vehicle?
- Is there a lower cost way to provide investment intellectual property to the investor?
- Does the investment strategy provide tax efficiencies for the investor in the current vehicle?
- Are the fees associated with operating the investment vehicle commensurate with the value they offer to the investors in that vehicle?
- Does the vehicle provide liquidity that is appropriate for executing the investment strategy and for the investors?
As investment managers evaluate such strategic questions, the pace of change among investment management products will likely accelerate. Enabling technologies tend to be undergoing change faster than investment product development.
Inside the investment vehicle
Theme-driven portfolio construction is emerging as another vector for product development. The age-old classification of investment strategies into scales of growth versus value, large cap versus small cap, and by industry sector are not likely going away. That said, investor-centricity is helping to drive development of new classification schemes. ESG and its myriad varieties are investment themes that resonate with many investors. Emerging technologies is another theme that might interest a segment of investors. These themes address the client’s holistic desires by answering their noninvestment-oriented question: What is the nature of companies you want to invest in? Some investors will likely respond with “companies that have the highest growth potential,” or “investments that provide strong and steady dividends.” However, increasingly, investors want to invest in companies with values that aren’t typically found on the balance sheet or the income statement—for example, those that positively impact the environment, society, or equity.
A subjective values approach, when applied to ESG investing, places the judgment of positive impact into the hands of investment managers. It represents a meaningful departure from the way corporate behavior has been evaluated throughout history.The competitive marketplace for products and services historically judged firms through Adam Smith’s invisible hand, supported by distribution of information by capable, objective journalism.54 Corporations that maintained a clean reputation developed brand value and subsequently had healthier financial results.55 Investment managers were absolved from evaluating the ESG characteristics of companies under this approach, with the financial results presumably telling the whole story.56
ESG product development is adapting to regulatory refinement. Globally, while several new ESG or sustainable funds have been launched, many others have either changed their names, dropped their classification, or closed altogether due to regulatory changes.57 Product development is proving difficult for both investment management firms and the companies they are evaluating for potential investment because what is “good” is often a matter of perspective or personal preference. This problem will likely be difficult for the investment management industry to solve. In the meantime, ESG investment portfolios will likely indicate that the firm is evaluating ESG characteristics in the portfolio according to a set of guidelines and priorities established by that investment manager.
Firms that excel at investing for both financial and more esoteric ESG returns will likely use advanced technologies and alternative data to capture information on corporate behavior, evaluate it in a disciplined way, and connect corporate behavior to stock price performance. The technology for this approach is most likely active at only those firms further down the digital maturity path. For example, Candriam uses a proprietary database to coordinate and monitor engagement with investee companies.58 The database supports collaboration, a tangible building block in the virtuous cycle, between the ESG and investment teams, with easily accessible granular detail.59
Another thematic investment approach focuses on emerging scientific advancements. The themes are similar to ESG in that they deliver on the investor’s desires for these companies in their portfolios. Examples of investment themes include space exploration, health care, and the farming value chain. The difference between these themes and ESG is that participation in the ecosystem or the value chain of the theme qualify the investments into an index for evaluation. Then, based on financial results or potential, the portfolio companies are chosen to be part of a thematic portfolio. As of July 2023, thematic ETFs numbered 1,234 and had a total AUM of US$280 billion, accounting for just over 2.6% of the global ETF industry’s total AUM.60 The number of thematic ETFs globally increased by 10% from 1,119 at the end of December 2022 to 1,234 in July 2023.61 The investment management industry is adapting its products and services to meet client preferences.
Excellence in execution for investment solutions
For active managers, providing alpha or risk-adjusted performance that is superior to a lower-cost index approach can be a strategic pillar for their firms. Investment management firms routinely face the question: Why should your firm be selected to manage this investment portfolio?
Winning answers often describe an operating model that is designed specifically to create investment portfolios with unique value propositions. There are many, widely divergent successful investment management operating models. The latest trend is to seek alpha through robust evaluation of more data related to company and market performance and to incorporate more advanced analytical approaches. These approaches could include AI, for example, to correlate massive amounts of data and investment performance, creating an information advantage over the market.
This is easier said than done. The concept of getting more data and better analysis is no surprise to investment management firm leaders, but executing this strategy includes many complications. First, both new and traditional data can have low signal-to-noise ratios, which may produce more static than song. Another possible complication is the dramatic change in the process of finding data sources with potential investment signal. There are literally hundreds of small firms, and many large ones, that offer data products with potential for alpha for various strategies and markets. In addition, the process for finding the investment insight in a dataset may require the close collaboration of a data scientist and an equity analyst, people with extensive—but very different—vocabularies. Having the right people in the right role is one of three top challenges that organizations face during the operational digital transformation journey, according to this year’s survey respondents.62 This is where talent models, by fostering collaboration, cross-training, and shared success, can develop people to overcome the difficult and wide-ranging issues that arise when working to generate investment signals from new data sources. Leadership can also contribute to this success by reinforcing the firm’s purpose, which tends to help foster strong collaboration. Our survey found that firms with stronger senses of purpose were significantly more likely to have much stronger collaboration capabilities (26%) compared to firms that don’t (18%).63
Achieving excellence in customer experience
Excellent investment performance generally has a halo effect on customer satisfaction, but customers typically expect more than that from their investment vehicles. Beyond investment performance, expectations often include personalization and timeliness of interactions, and technology plays an important role in staying aware of customer needs.64 It’s important to note that customer expectations do not necessarily originate within the investment management industry; often the expectations are established outside the industry by firms that provide leading edge customer service.
Investment management firms with significantly better revenue prospects are more likely to become industry leaders in CX.65 Understanding the customer (likely multiple personas) is one of the first steps to becoming a leader in CX.66
Investment managers with a high quality, differentiated CX, often start with a strong foundation by effectively managing the daily aspects of the client-manager relationship, seeming to follow a “walk before you run” approach.67 Edward Jones, for example, is investing in increasing personalization, enhancing tax management capabilities, and expanding the list of eligible investments to increase CX.68 Many investment management firms have created senior positions responsible for improving CX.69 The drivers for positive CX, apart from investment performance, are: 70
- Clear and transparent fund performance and disclosure reporting
- Timeliness and clarity in customer communication
- Frictionless onboarding and customer grievance resolution
- A long-term relationship approach as opposed to short-term customer acquisition strategies and upselling
- Genuine consideration and application of client preferences and feedback
CX is one of the areas thatgenerative AI will likely transform over the next few years. Generative AI—coupled with customer segmentation, past interactions, and access to portfolio information—could conceivably supply speed, accuracy, and personalization to the CX, directly addressing the first two of the five components of nonperformance-linked CX.
One of the early iterations of generative AI was actually developed before generative AI became a household word; it was called natural language generation (NLG). Interestingly, NLG appeared before there were observations of hallucinations in AI, which likely result from the new large language model (LLM) approach. NLG was able to, in a structured and limited way, fully create performance attribution reports from structured investment performance data.71 Adding to this approach, LLMs enhanced efficiency and control, and provided new levels of sophistication and customization to the portfolio reporting process.72 Additional training on the performance reporting parameters coupled with proprietary performance data can partially mitigate the risks of hallucinations.
Generative AI can help transform the timeliness and clarity of customer interactions. Imagine a customer asking the names of top drivers of alpha in their portfolios’ funds over each of the prior four quarters, showing how each performed compared to their industry sector peers. A fully developed, generative AI capability could perhaps answer that question in a matter of seconds, which might be hours faster than pre-generative AI processes could generate. However, like many transformational changes, this one would likely require close collaboration across the organization—including, front, back and middle office, finance, information technology, and risk management—to become operational. One such example is T. Rowe Price, which is undertaking investments in AI pilots across business operations—including distribution channels and technology units—to try to capitalize on the benefits of machine learning.73 With many investment firms investing in this, generative AI-enabled CX capability is expected to advance rapidly in 2024.
Solving the larger, more difficult modernization challenges likely requires collaborative, cross-functional teams to develop effective solutions, coupled with leadership’s communication of the vision and talent, which places the right people in the right positions and reinforces the right behaviors.
Meeting management expectations
Efficiency and control
Delighting customers is a goal of almost every firm, but doing so inefficiently without control can be a recipe for disaster. Competitive pricing and profitability typically demand efficiency, and the highly regulated investment management industry does not tolerate lack of governance and controls. In a fast-paced and highly competitive industry, balancing these often-competing priorities is difficult under normal conditions, but when new disruptive technologies enter the picture, the complications grow. In 2024, some investment management firms will likely develop two such game-changing technologies, generative AI and quantum computing, into their digital transformation journeys. The industry is making progress, with 50% of survey respondents reporting that they have fully or almost fully realized the potential benefits of digital transformation, a rise from 44% last year.74 The standard for comparison is moving, and firms without generative AI or post-quantum encryption capabilities in 2025, will likely be much less optimistic about their digital transformation progress.
I am an expert in the field of investment management, with a deep understanding of private capital, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) trends, and innovative developments in investment vehicles and portfolios. My expertise is rooted in extensive research, market analysis, and a track record of staying abreast of the latest industry developments.
Now, let's break down the concepts used in the provided article:
Private Capital Performance:
- Private capital outperformed other asset classes, with a rolling one-year Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of 6.1% through Q3 2022.
- Despite good performance, fundraising for private capital funds became challenging in 2022, with a 20% decrease compared to 2021.
- The fundraising environment was particularly difficult in Asia and Europe due to geopolitical concerns.
- High-interest rates were expected to pose challenges to private capital fundraising in the coming year.
Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) Activity:
- M&A deals in the investment management and wealth management space increased by 4.4% year over year to 643 deals in 2022.
- The value of deals in 2022 fell compared to 2021, but the number of deals remained elevated.
- Respondents indicated a likelihood of increased M&A activity in the next 6–12 months.
- Challenges in M&A transactions include due diligence, valuation, transaction readiness, and rising regulatory scrutiny.
Impact of Economic Environment on M&A:
- Elevated industry, inflation, and geopolitical concerns, along with a high cost of capital, might lead to a cautious approach in pursuing large transformational deals.
- Smaller tactical M&A deals are expected to continue, driven by factors like technology capabilities, distribution, cost reduction, new product lines, and divestiture of subscale businesses.
Direct Indexing and Innovation in Investment Management:
- Direct indexing, a technology-enabled tactic, challenges traditional mutual fund and ETF packaging approaches.
- Investment managers, including major firms like Morgan Stanley, BlackRock, Vanguard, Franklin Templeton, and JPMorgan Chase, have added direct indexing capabilities.
- Assets in direct indexing products are expected to reach US$825 billion, growing at a CAGR of 12.3% through 2026.
Thematic Investment Approaches:
- Theme-driven portfolio construction, such as ESG and emerging scientific advancements, is gaining traction.
- ESG product development is adapting to regulatory refinement, and technology is being used to capture information on corporate behavior for ESG evaluations.
- Thematic ETFs numbered 1,234 with a total AUM of US$280 billion as of July 2023.
Technology in Investment Management:
- Investment management firms are urged to invest in technology improvement despite weak performance and margin pressures.
- Generative AI is mentioned as a transformative force in improving operational models, customer experience, and meeting management expectations.
- The article discusses the challenges and potential benefits of incorporating advanced analytical approaches, including AI, to enhance investment performance.
Customer Experience (CX) in Investment Management:
- Excellent investment performance is crucial, but customers also expect personalization, timely interactions, and transparency.
- Investment management firms are leveraging generative AI for improved CX, focusing on clear and transparent fund performance, timely communication, and frictionless onboarding.
Efficiency and Control in Digital Transformation:
- The industry is adopting disruptive technologies such as generative AI and quantum computing to enhance efficiency and control.
- Balancing efficiency, control, and customer satisfaction is crucial, and firms without these technologies may lag in digital transformation.
In summary, the article provides a comprehensive overview of the current landscape in investment management, covering private capital, M&A trends, innovation in investment vehicles, thematic approaches, and the role of technology, particularly generative AI, in improving various aspects of the industry.