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Monday, April 1, 2024

April Fools For Fundsters
Guest Column by: Neil Bathon

Editor's Note: MFWire interrupts our regular news coverage to bring you this special annual April Fools' Day message from the folks at Fuse Research Network. If you need a few laughs and a break from the news, read on ...

Thomas Neil Bathon
Fuse Research Network
Founder, Partner
And yes, to be clear, this article is fake news. But what if ...

News You Can Use: Top News Items Selected By FUSE

McKinsey Releases New Groundbreaking Report for Asset Managers

Today, McKinsey & Company's Wealth & Asset Management group released a cutting-edge report aimed at providing U.S. asset managers a roadmap to success in 2024 and beyond. John McCarthy, the report's author, outlines the key differentiators for the winners of tomorrow. "The institutionalization of retail investments will drive the democratization of private investments. To successfully distribute these offerings, leadership will leverage data analytics for next-best-action decisions. Firms must embrace omnichannel marketing, create synergies within distribution, and enhance the client journey." The report concludes that future profitability requires the use of AI to create 'efficiencies,' particularly in the generation of personalized client content.

Endowments Commit to Pershing Square's Closed-End Fund Offering

The recent decision by the endowments of MIT, Harvard, and Penn to invest in Pershing Square's new closed-end mutual fund carries with it an undercurrent of complexity beyond mere financial interests. Sources close to the matter have suggested that this investment move may also be intricately linked to Bill Ackman's well-publicized campaigns against certain policies and practices at Harvard. By securing a "significant" stake in Ackman's fund, these endowments are gaining strategic leverage that can be used to (1) align investment strategies more closely with their own goals and (2) through board representation, these institutions can influence Ackman in an effort to sway his public critiques of their institutions.

Researchers at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business Propose Developing a Suite of Model Portfolios Based on the 16 Myers & Briggs Personality Types

Researchers at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business are in the final stages of developing model portfolios tailored to the 16 Myers & Briggs personality types. Led by the eminent Dr. Emily Johnson, this initiative aims to uncover the intricate link between individuals' personality traits and their financial behaviors. The team is poised to revolutionize investing by offering bespoke portfolios that can cater to every nuance of human personality, promising to usher in an era of unparalleled customization.

Barron's Introduces Top Payout Ranking

Expanding on its popular "Top Advisor Rankings," Barron's has introduced the "Top Advisor Payout Rankings" to spotlight U.S. Financial Advisors who earned a significant one-time compensation by spiriting away clients to a new broker/dealer. "We look at more than just the amount paid to the advisor," noted a Barron's spokesperson. "Our methodology also evaluates how successfully the advisor avoided having the news of their shift from reaching the ears of their own clients." The criteria for determining the rankings include factors such as length of tenure with the previous firm (longer is better) and use of the phrase "in the best interest of our clients" in the press release. Plans are underway for a Hall of Fame to recognize advisors who have completed more than two switches in the last 15 years.

Vanguard's Plans for an ETF-to-Mutual Fund Conversion

In a groundbreaking move that has stunned the financial world, Vanguard, the titan of low-cost investing, has unveiled plans to execute the industry's inaugural ETF-to-mutual fund conversion. "This is a game-changer," remarked a senior analyst at Cerulli, stating the obvious. "There are certain possible advantages that come with the mutual fund wrapper that might simply be too difficult to replicate in newer vehicles." While specifics remain shrouded in mystery, many are speculating about the implications of such a move. "For most asset managers, the ETF marks a turning point in our industry. It marks the point at which portfolio holdings and fees / revenue became way too transparent, so this is promising," added a veteran of the asset management industry.

New Partnership Announced — SS&C Technologies and Institutional Shareholder Services

SS&C and ISS are reportedly ready to announce a data analytics offering to support intermediary distribution optimization for U.S. investment firms. The service combines the fading consortium offerings of the two firms into a brand new online dashboard-enabled application and will go under the name IS4&C Opportunity Identifier +. A unique feature of the reformatted product is a pricing structure that ties to utilization and impact, with fees ranging from $10k to $250k per year. Additional consulting services that are required to train internal staff on the use of the tool start at $150k — and is positioned as a small incremental investment that is necessary to achieve a positive ROI on the initial investment.

New Compensation Components

According to a recent FUSE survey, 83.2% of organizations have or are planning to add an additional component to compensation plans to offset decreasing bonuses and raises. Some of the most popular new pieces of these rewards programs include:
    1. Bring your emotional support animal to work day
    2. Friday casual dress day
    3. Extra PTO days that must be taken on Mondays and Fridays
    4. Preferred Parking Spot Lottery (also just on Mondays and Fridays)
    5. "Skip a Zoom" meeting passes where one can simply dial in via telephone

American Century Dominates Growing Audience

American Century, which has a reputation as one of the most successful global asset managers of the last 5 years in terms of organic growth, announced the launch of a new suite of 13 products — SwiftFunds. Comprised of various quant-driven, low-cost equity (i.e., SwiftGrowth ETF) and fixed-income (i.e., Fearless Bond Fund) strategies, these investment vehicles guarantee "sensational" returns. Jonathan Thomas, CEO, exclaimed, "We are never, ever getting back together with underperformance. Additionally, we've always sought to provide 'Taylored' solutions to all investor segments. Our SwiftFunds will shake up the market this era and into the next, attracting the female demographic like no other products."

Consulting Firm Seeks 3rd-Party Advice

It has been reported that McKinsey chose BCG to assist in the determination that 3,000 McKinsey consultants would be terminated for underperformance. This is a meaningful deviation from the standard McKinsey playbook (i.e., automatic 20-percent reduction in staff) that would have resulted in 9,000 departures. Similarly, Bain & Co. has been retained to provide strategic guidance related to the perceived conflict of interests that arise from representing "opposing" parties — the FDA and Purdue Pharma have, thus far, withheld comment. McKinsey released a statement that its inability to properly anticipate such issues should in no way have been seen as impacting its advice to fully leverage each engagement for the benefit of all subsequent projects.

Asset Manager Distribution Comp Now in Bitcoin

BlackRock and Fidelity have announced that employees will now receive 50 percent of their discretionary bonuses exclusively in Bitcoin. This unconventional move will take effect on June 30th, marking a major shift in how compensation is structured within the asset management industry. Both companies cited a desire to align with the growing trend of digital currencies and provide employees with an opportunity to participate in the crypto economy. The details are still being finalized on how the two behemoths will accommodate the DoL's concerns about Bitcoin in employer-sponsored retirement plans.

Internal Wholesalers Unionize in Push for Better Work-Life Balance

Internal sales desks from around the country have unionized to push for a 4-day work week and to be fully remote by 2026. Leveraging tactics learned from their most recent sales training sessions, internal wholesalers hope to come up with a strong presentation to convince their heads of distribution that a 4-day remote work week is the right approach for a fully optimized internal sales desk. The newly formed group, the Remote Union of Sales Experts (RUSE), believes that working 80 percent of the time with no reduction in compensation is more than reasonable, noting that Friday is a slow day for calls anyway. One of the additional demands is expected to be the requirement to provide an automated robo-caller system that can more quickly reach 90 FAs and leave voice mail messages for 85 of them.

BlackRock Clarifies 'ESG' Position

Speaking at a meeting of the Texas State Board of Education, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink said that instead of using the phrase "environmental, social and governance," his company has begun using the phrases "Energy Solutions Group" and "Education Standards for Growth" to more clearly show how fully in sync his firm is with client interests. These refinements to the traditional view of ESG come on the heels of the Board's announcement that they intend to withdraw $8.5 billion from BlackRock's care. Fink went on to denounce the notion that BlackRock jumped on the ESG bandwagon with anything other than capitalist intentions. To emphasize this point, it was noted that BlackRock's spot Bitcoin ETF (another unproven investment thesis) has $20 billion in AUM. In unrelated news, the person responsible for assisting in the production of Larry Fink's annual letter to clients has left the firm given what is now seen as unforgivable gaffs in the 2020 note such as "making sustainability integral to portfolio construction and risk management; exiting investments that present a high sustainability-related risk, such as thermal coal producers; launching new investment products that screen fossil fuels; and strengthening our commitment to sustainability and transparency in our investment stewardship activities."

Business Insider Awarded Pulitzer Prize for Integrity in Financial Journalism

The Pulitzer Prize Board announced a first-of-its-kind award to honor Business Insider for its coverage of the asset management industry. The Board cited the publication's success in crafting headlines that simultaneously pique the reader's curiosity while concealing any meaningful information within a heavily linked article. Announcing the award on social media, Business Insider posted, "You won't believe who just won a Pulitzer." In a related move, the Financial Times has been heard to be in discussions about possibly eliminating all copy — other than the headline — on 50 percent of its articles. FUSE NOTE: Such a change at Ignites will go unnoticed by 50 percent of industry executives.

Neil Bathon is founder and partner at Fuse Research Network, a consulting and research firm that supports asset managers. 

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