Databases and shadow searches on one side, questionnaires and RFPs on another make together the perfect match in your asset managers due diligence.
The Investment Managers Research Industry is evolving, and like all industries, the change is being driven by the increasing use of technology to optimize the various processes. Managers databases are one of the areas where investors and consultants have embraced the positive change coming from these technology adoptions and are ever more on the look-out for further applications. More information about managers, across asset classes, is now made available and is helping investors find and compare strategies globally with just a few clicks.
Databases, either proprietary to consultants or independent, have existed for over twenty years. When they first started being used, they were available mainly in the US and through desktop tools. Since then, the emergence of the Internet and cloud-based technologies, have allowed them to grow and be used more efficiently by both investors and managers globally. Surprisingly, RFPs and questionnaires did not follow the same trend at all.
Given the large, and ever-growing number of managers and strategies available worldwide, the need for more effective modes to perform manager due diligence processes has been on the rise for some time now. Investors and consultants have been trying to find ways to build shortlists and involve fewer managers in the advanced discussion. They seek to reduce the time and effort needed in the compiling of result lists, and in the analysis and selection of the best ones. For many of them, databases and shadow searches are the first filter in the manager selection.
In order to become more visible and to differentiate themselves, managers are providing more and more data through databases. In the meantime, investors have been requesting more detailed data, especially in advanced stages, to have better transparency and insights into the manager’s Process, People, Products and Performance.
Databases are a fundamental solution, not to be undermined, but RFPs and questionnaires are as important in the asset manager due diligence.
In this article, we will be discussing the seven reasons why RFPs and questionnaires are and will still widely be used by global investors and consultants and how they complement databases to achieve a common goal – help asset owners find their best manager.
1. Asset manager due diligence usually requires UpToDate information about a specific strategy, generally not available in time within databases.
Most institutional databases collect the quarterly data reported by managers. Due to the number of databases and the amount of work required to collect and upload a huge amount of data that might be needed by some investors and not others, the update process is usually delayed by a few weeks after the end of the quarter.
2. Managers prioritize questionnaires and RFPs over filling up databases.
The practice shows that managers RFPs and sales teams give more importance to a specific data request received from an investor or consultant. There are two main reasons for this: 1) receiving a questionnaire or RFP is generally interpreted as being the result of a manager being shortlisted in an ongoing concrete mandate; 2) there is a precise deadline to respect and if the manager doesn’t respect it, the firm will be excluded from the search. Thus, the sales team has (and puts on their colleagues) more pressure to collect and share requested data when there is a specific request/mandate than when it is only about updating databases.
3. Asset owners use databases mostly for quantitative screening.
Managers are aware that asset owners use databases mostly for quantitative screening, and as a result, they put more effort into filling in or updating quantitative data fields. This approach leaves valuable qualitative data neglected in many databases. The only way to find out more about the manager’s culture, quality of organization and people, a.k.a. its qualitative characteristics is by asking specific targeted questions in questionnaires or during calls and meetings.
4. Every investor has specific requests, that can be addressed only through targeted questions.
Even if many questions tend to be very similar across investors, depending on the asset class or type of strategy, every investor usually wants to address some specific issues or specific topics that are more relevant to him. Further requests and more specific data will be required in addition to the data that is generally made available in databases.
5. Investment regulations and standards are different between countries and regions; it is impossible to address all specificities through databases.
Local investment regulations and standards differ from one country to another. For every investor, it is of utmost importance that his manager is capable of proving that the investment strategy complies with his specific local rules or that he is adapting to sudden changes required by local regulators. The investor can adjust his requirements and address these specific issues quickly by asking precise questions in a questionnaire sent to the manager.
6. Many managers prefer sharing in-depth data directly with investors, than revealing them in databases that can be accessible to other allocators or to the competition.
When it comes to private markets or alternative assets and even in-listed assets with regards to some data points, many managers are reluctant to share their in-depth details in widely available databases. They prefer sharing the sensitive data directly with a specific investor or consultant, and this is frequently done through questionnaires or during RFPs processes.
7. Open RFP process is sometimes written into the bylaws for many asset owners’ companies.
One of the reasons why databases and shadow searches cannot replace RFPs and questionnaires in the asset manager due diligence research process is the fact that for many asset owners companies, such as public pension funds, open RFP processes are sometimes written in the bylaws. In such a case, the RFP process has to be open to all managers who qualify to submit a proposal after meeting the minimum requirements even if they are not part of certain databases.
For many institutional investors and consultants, databases and shadow searches are the first step in the asset manager due diligence. They use them to speed up the selection process and reduce the initial number of selectable managers. Since their creation and first use cases, databases have evolved significantly in their usability and efficiency thanks to the use of new technologies.
Contrary to the aforementioned, RFPs and questionnaires have not been following the evolving technologies trend and because of this, they have become far more outdated, stuck in their traditional form.
Databases and questionnaires need to complement each other, but evolution and digitalization of the latter are inevitable if they want to serve efficiently their purpose.