As the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt across organizations, economies, and markets, hedge funds should evolve their investor relations processes in response to this on-going crisis. In the short term, there are proper protocols managers should consider immediately to enhance their communication strategies. While most investors are currently focusing on their existing manager relationships, roadshows and face to face meetings won’t be realities in the medium term and hedge funds should begin preparing for “virtual due diligence” requests. On the bright side, many technology tools are accessible to help hedge funds strengthen their digitization and communication strategies to remotely perform the investor relations function efficiently. The steps and tools to accomplish this potential “new norm” will be thoroughly examined in this report.
Understandably, communication during a pandemic isn’t most people’s core competency. Though many managers are likely overwhelmed in certain areas of their business, unfortunately, communication can’t be overlooked.
Immediate Actions to Consider
- Form a dedicated communications team
- Increase the frequency of performance updates
- Develop and write weekly commentaries
- Provide risk reports or portfolio transparency
- Look for precious advice from investors
- Broaden the scope of investor letters
Managing investor relations during this crisis requires increased attention and additional resources as we strive to find normalcy and continue to charter these unknown waters. Hedge funds should provide frequent, clear, and consistent updates to all investors not only on performance but also on measures taken to efficiently operate business-as-usual. Now isn’t the time to disappear but rather to proactively reach out to investors as crises create the conditions to reinforce or erode trust and reputations.
With this in mind, there are a few measures that managers can take now to get on the right path along with some items we feel require immediate attention. First, we recommend forming a dedicated team responsible for centralizing communications with investors. Ideally, this team should include stakeholders from key areas of the business. In addition to communicating with investors, this team should also interface with counterparties, service providers, and the media.
The goals and operations of this team may vary but we would recommend beginning by taking inventory of all existing investor communications and evaluate, based on their specific investment strategies, which content should be made available to investors more frequently for the duration of the crisis. While increasing the frequency of performance estimates might not be appropriate for all strategies, doing the opposite has the potential to permanently damage relationships.
From there, the team should decide what other content could be made available to investors to help them navigate this challenging environment. Consider sending weekly commentaries summarizing performance, portfolio positioning, and market dynamics. Even Howard Marks from Oaktree Capital Management has augmented the cadence of his popular memo. Providing position-level data or comprehensive risk reports to all investors should not be off the table either.
While investors will be looking for guidance from managers in their specific areas of expertise to inform their broader portfolios, hedge funds should carefully listen to their investors who are likely to provide precious advice, valuable information, and unique perspectives.
In addition to topics usually covered in their monthly letters, managers should broaden the content of this important communication. This includes discussing any adjustments to their strategy in response to fast-changing market and liquidity conditions. Commenting on the impact of operating under their BCPs on all functions across the firm. Providing color on the status of their service providers and their abilities to perform as well as counterparty diversification and any steps taken to further reduce this risk.
Finally, with most teams operating remotely, managers shouldn’t ignore internal communication and should look to maintain corporate culture by regularly updating employees on key decisions and the evolving situation through a centralized and highly visible channel.
Technology is a strong ally to help organizations operate business-as-usual when business, in reality, is anything but. With digitization and automation impacting all facets of the investment management industry (i.e. Research, Trading, Risk Management, Middle Office, Compliance, Investor Relations), this moment represents a great opportunity for hedge funds to further embrace these tools to enhance their investor relations processes.
Digital Tools to Leverage Now
- Leverage CRM platforms to update investors comprehensively
- Set up deal rooms to centralize all investor information
- Use meeting links to efficiently schedule investor videoconferences
- Schedule webinars for monthly updates and other developments
- Deploy interactive dashboards or open up internal tools to investors
- Redirect internal communications through collaboration platforms
- Distribute information to clients on the channels they are on
At this point, most hedge funds rely on CRM platforms (e.g. HubSpot, Salesforce, Copper) over spreadsheets to centralize information about investors and communicate with them efficiently. Interacting with investors in normal times, not to mention in crisis environments, without a CRM is a risky proposition. While email marketing is just one of the many valuable features of these platforms (e.g. Contact Management, Interaction Tracking, Pipeline Management), it ensures that investors, large and small, receive the same information.
Recognizing that investors’ inboxes are as full as their schedules, managers should set up deal rooms (e.g. Box, Intralinks, Edgefolio) to centralize all crisis-related communications (e.g. Weekly Commentaries, Performance Updates). These tools convey the message and further ensure that large investors are not favored over smaller ones in terms of information flow. Deal rooms should also be used to securely share marketing and due diligence documents.
While management (i.e. CIO, COO, CRO) must be available for investor meetings, it shouldn’t disrupt other key areas of the business which require increased attention. Consider using calendar links apps (e.g. Calendly, Boomerang Calendar) to schedule one-on-one meetings by selecting appropriate time slots during which senior team members will give investors their undivided attention. Moreover, the self-service feature of these tools will help clients schedule meetings without the back-and-forth emails saving all valuable time.
At the risk of stating the obvious, managers should sign up for video conferencing services (e.g. Google Hangout, UberConference, Zoom) and use these platforms for external and internal meetings. Ideally, these platforms can be used to facilitate webinars in place of monthly investor calls and offer recording capabilities. Managers should also consider organizing additional webinars featuring team leaders to discuss key developments in their respective areas.
While static documents (e.g. .pdf, .xls) might be sufficient to convey the first level of information, managers should look into deploying password-protected dashboards (e.g. Tableau, Microsoft Power BI, Plotly) to provide investors with more granular and interactive data. Just like many technology companies have removed paywalls or extended their services in response to the crisis, managers should consider making certain of their proprietary analytical resources (e.g. Research Platforms, Risk Analysis, Market Monitors) available to investors to help them navigate these markets.
Hedge funds should consider redirecting internal communications to collaboration software (e.g. Slack, Microsoft Teams) and reserve emails to communicate externally. Such platforms allow companies to organize conversations in channels which can be divided up by teams, functions, or projects instead of inefficient email threads. Besides enhancing internal collaboration, one important benefit is to refocus inboxes on important emails from external stakeholders, primarily investors.
Let’s face it, now is not the time to be anti-social. Clients are at home consuming news and content from a whole strewn of channels and newsfeeds. It’s more important than ever before to be present on these digital feeds. Hedge funds should be leveraging communication and content distribution channels like LinkedIn and Medium for the deployment and publication of their timely commentaries and long-form articles. Hedge funds like Two Sigma, Bridgewater Associates, and AQR Capital Management are solid examples of this by continuing to be present on their social channels.
As a hedge fund, it is imperative to take action sooner rather than later. Clients are hoping to make sense of these trying times by actively seeking out answers and if a manager is not present, someone else will be. The investor relation strategies and processes managers implement now will help assure they are prepared for whatever becomes the new norm. To be ready not only for today but for the future, managers should form a dedicated communications team that focuses on increasing the publication frequency of performance updates and weekly commentaries. To support these new communication strategies, there are several digital tools managers should and can leverage. For instance, a firm’s already-in-place CRM platform should have the ability to update investors comprehensively and deal rooms should centralize all investor information. To connect more efficiently with clients, use meeting links for easier scheduling and webinars to broadcast monthly updates. Engage with clients wherever they’re found which includes social channels like LinkedIn. Finally, consider deploying interactive dashboards or opening up internal tools for the benefit of investors. Gestures like these will be remembered.
Lastly, living through a worldwide crisis should remind us all of how important and strong our local communities, charities, and medical research initiatives are. But it’s also a wake-up call on the strain each of these groups can come under during these times. If a manager or hedge fund find themselves in a position to help their local communities, charities, and/or medical research initiatives, the answer should always be yes. Once all is settled, the actions you take today will be remembered tomorrow.
About the Author
Edouard Robbes is a Partner at Thalēs where he leads the firm’s manager sourcing, capital introduction, and capital raising efforts. Before Thalēs, Edouard held a similar position at Société Générale in New York. Prior to this, he was a hedge fund analyst and portfolio manager at AXA Investment Managers and began his career in 2002 as a hedge fund analyst at SG Asset Management. Edouard received a B.S. in Economics and a M.S. in Finance from Université Paris-Dauphine, France.
The views expressed above are not necessarily the views of Thalēs Trading Solutions LLC or any of its affiliates (collectively, “Thalēs”). The information presented above is only for informational and educational purposes and is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any securities or other instruments. Additionally, the above information is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for investment, accounting, legal or tax advice. Thalēs makes no representations, express or implied, regarding the accuracy or completeness of this information, and the reader accepts all risks in relying on the above information for any purpose whatsoever.