Comment: Fund boutiques, Real Assets and “Investor Dialogue

The opinions of investors and other investment experts on investor surveys fluctuate: harassment, high expenditure of time against a gain of knowledge – what outweighs? How can surveys provide orientation? Between initiators, participants, and the media, a “window of communication” opens up, which is sometimes used more, sometimes less, despite all criticism. What reasons could there be for this?

One can, without claiming to be complete, identify different initiators of surveys. The degree of penetration of the target group, the scope of the surveys, and the objectives often differ from case to case.

a) Investment companies

In the asset management industry, surveys are a popular tool for target group dialogue – determining one’s position, an attractive means of communication (investors, media, etc.), and highlighting industry trends are some of the keywords in this context. Last month, the investment company Universal-Investment published a fund manager survey with independent asset managers (asset allocation, “real assets” etc.). In the previous year, there were various investor surveys here as well as by Union Investment, DWS, and others. Whether real assets in connection with renewable energies as a target investment or real assets in the form of shares – in general, the trend towards investments in tangible assets seems to be in the foreground.

b) Consultants

Surveys of asset management consultants (Feri, Mercer, etc.) often focus on investors as direct “prospects” for their services and also serve as a means of dialogue and contact with existing customers.

The investment climate, asset allocation preferences, and many other topics are typical questions. Studies are often freely available, sometimes only available for a fee. The cost question usually says little about the quality of the survey; “data cemeteries” with pie charts can be found in many different forms, as can first-class surveys.

c) Media & Associations

Member surveys, reader surveys – the range of possible topics is large, perhaps sometimes a little broader in terms of potential. “A member company survey members” can mean, for example, that not the investor is surveyed, but only product suppliers. Criticism of the general informative value could be expressed under certain circumstances.

Media with a strong reference to investors, for example, often produce interesting studies or short surveys that can reveal industry trends. The point of discussion is often the extent to which one can cleanly separate “public opinion” on a topic from “published opinion” on a topic. Associations such as the federation of german investment companies (Bundesverband Deutscher Investment-Gesellschaften, BVI) or the association of independent asset managers (Verband der unabhängigen Vermögensverwalter Deutschland e.V., VuV) often produce surveys that are followed with interest in the media.

Surveys – communication and further development of industries

Irrespective of whether the above-mentioned potential initiators have a wide range of survey quality, this communication instrument serves to diffuse knowledge, opinions, and trends. Very few surveys meet the requirement of representativeness. Perhaps one makes less high demands on this dialogue instrument. It can be seen as a snapshot, as a trigger for discussion.

Some survey results may be pure trend updates or just pressing trivialities into pie charts. In comparison to a “pure opinion”, additional material for expert discussion results. And progress in industries is generally the result of a free exchange of opinions, no matter what the trigger is (event, article, survey, etc.). Panels – a more or less fixed group composition in surveys – offer an almost ideal opportunity to sketch and discuss mood developments over the long term.

Criticism and further potential in industry dialogue

Usual points of criticism in surveys concern points such as the number of respondents, the composition of the interviewed group, the question posed (open, closed); the list can be continued at will. If you talk to domestic and foreign investors, other points seem equally important: What are the advantages of participating in surveys? What is the quality of the preparation of the results? How much time and effort is required to process the questionnaire?

Many surveys, regardless of the format (short survey or comprehensive study), are criticized, for example, because apart from the presentation of cake slides and “…x percent have said, …y % have said”, the initiators put little additional effort into the preparation and discussion of the results.

Besides, the topic has often discussed that results are often “explained” too little, not in the sense of an all-encompassing, satisfying scientific justification but more in the sense of a continuous “hypothesis formation”: Why do the participants of the survey think like this and not differently? What might be the reasons for this? Admittedly highly speculative questions, but also questions whose processing by the respective survey initiators or by independent experts could offer a great added value.

Outlook: Independent asset managers – indicator and contra-indicator

Independent asset managers, so-called fund boutiques, benefit greatly from the efforts with the above mentioned CISA survey formats or consultant surveys. Since they often do not have a powerful PR apparatus themselves, any help from the industry or associations (VuV, etc.) is helpful. Surveys that repeatedly address the motives, performance, and trends in this area appear constructive. On the one hand, the independents can be a productive “thorn in the flesh” of the industry, so to speak, if they separately highlight or even form trends in the industry.

Critically one can also say that a clear opinion (survey results) in a delimited segment can at be used as a counter-indicator for investment decisions. This additional positive side effect of surveys is often overlooked: The “mass” is by no means always right!


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