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Digital Subscriptions > The Hedge Fund Journal > Issue 132 – May 2018 > Perspectives


Industry leaders on the future of the hedge fund industry



Alfred W. Jones opened the doors of the world’s first hedge fund firm almost 70 years ago. He could not have known it at the time, but his innovations would sow the seeds of a new industry that would change the face of investing.

The story of the hedge fund industry since then has been one of continued growth and innovation. Today’s hedge fund firms trade in everything from vintage wines to risk factors, using cutting-edge mathematics to manage risks and even to execute trades—the stuff of science fiction in Jones’s days.

At the same time, the industry’s investors have changed. The benefits of hedge funds are no longer restricted to the few. Pensions, university endowments, and sovereign wealth funds now number amongst the industry’s largest investors. The industry is also increasingly open to retail investors, meaning that everyday investors are able to access the same financial innovation and rigorous risk management that was once only available to the wealthiest investors.

Many have questioned what the future holds for the hedge fund industry, given its history of innovation. What kind of products will hedge fund firms offer to their new investor? How will they reconcile profits with social responsibility? Will hedge fund firms even exist in the future, or will they have been replaced by artificial intelligence systems? If they do still exist, and are still staffed with humans rather than machines, how will hedge firms navigate the coming generational change in leadership?

The Alternative Investment Management Association (AIMA) and Aberdeen Standard Investments (ASI) decided to answer those questions. We are delighted to introduce Perspectives: Industry Leaders on the Future of the Hedge Fund Industry, our look at the future of the hedge fund industry

This paper is based on conversations with 25 of the leading figures in the hedge fund industry, from founding principals at hedge fund firms, to senior management at multi-asset managers, to industry academics. Collectively they represent close to 300 years of leadership experience in the hedge fund industry and over $500 billion in assets under management. We would like to thank them again for their participation in this paper, and for sharing their insights with us.

The picture those individuals painted in our conversations was of an industry embracing change while staying true to its primary focus of delivering for investors. They were excited about the challenges they faced and optimistic about their ability to evolve and remain valued partners to their clients. Far from failing to embrace change, hedge fund firms are thriving on it, exploring new ways of protecting and growing the capital of their investors.

This paper is also the result of the dedication of the members of AIMA’s Research Committee, who sifted through hundreds of pages of interview transcripts and spent months writing, editing, and rewriting dozens of drafts. We would like to take this opportunity to thank each of them for their efforts.

Andrew McCaffery

Global Head of Client-Driven and Multi-Manager Solutions Aberdeen Standard Investments (ASI)

Jack Inglis


The Alternative Investment Management Association (AIMA)

Executive summary

1 . A paradigm shift

The hedge fund industry is experiencing a significant transformation. In the past customers tended to use unconstrained investors such as hedge funds to achieve alpha, while relying on traditional active and passive fund managers for beta. This industry model is now being replaced by a new range of investment solutions, each tailored to the needs of an increasingly diverse investor universe.

Collectively, these new solutions constitute a paradigm shift in the hedge fund landscape.

Central to this shift are ‘smart beta’ and ‘alternative beta.’ These products have emerged from years of financial innovation, and offer investors access to the benefits of alternative investments—from diversification to the maximisation of returns—at a much lower cost than has historically been possible. Banks and mainstream fund managers are replicating these hedge fund techniques. However, thanks to their experience pioneering these solutions, hedge funds will be well placed to use them to meet investors’ risk and return goals.

2. Enduring alpha, enduring value

Despite what some critics have said, alpha is not becoming impossible to produce. Alpha has, and always will be, the rarest form of returns. Purely picking individual securities to gain an edge is increasingly difficult, given the wider availability of once-valuable financial information and the fact that markets are more efficient than in the past decades. Further, recent years have witnessed some investment strategies quickly delivering returns. Consequently, expectations of immediate success from other investment strategies have risen among investors; the majority of investment strategies must now work on compressed time horizons. Some of those strategies simply cannot realise optimum performance in such short timeframes.

Hedge fund firms can still deliver alpha through a combination of skill, knowledge, market timing, and judgement. They will need to compete harder to produce alpha, and evaluate ways of using different investment timeframes to maximise their advantage when doing so. Given the rarity of the skill needed to deliver alpha, investors will continue to pay a premium to those who can deliver it consistently.

3. Man and machine learning

Artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge quantitative techniques will soon become crucial to the hedge fund industry. Both systematic and discretionary hedge fund firms will need to use machine learning (a subset of artificial intelligence) in order to process information and make the best investment decisions possible. Artificial intelligence will be particularly important in short-term trading: firms operating in this area will likely need sophisticated artificial intelligence capabilities.

The complexity of financial markets data means that, for the foreseeable future, artificial intelligence will not be able to make accurate long-term financial predictions. As such, it will not usurp the integral role of humans in the investment world. However, hedge fund firms that do not develop artificial intelligence capabilities to aid their human employees may soon find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

4 . Investing, responsibly

Whilst good governance has always been important to investors, different forms of responsible investment are now increasingly becoming more widely adopted across the hedge fund industry.

Today’s investors expect their investments to reflect their values and to account for longterm environmental risks; hedge fund firms are responding to investor demand.

While responsible investment can, in some cases, act as a constraint on a manager’s ability to generate profits, new technology is allowing hedge fund firms to implement responsible investment at a low cost. Some hedge fund firms are exploring whether the use of responsible investment can deliver outperformance. While not every hedge fund firm will adopt responsible investment in the near future, the confluence of investor demand, improving data, and technological capacity will likely push more managers to offer their investors a greater level of responsible investment opportunities.

5. The firm of the future

The shift towards systematic investing is pushing the hedge fund industry to hire new talent. Many hedge fund firms now hire highly quantitative talent— such as mathematicians, physicists, and computer scientists—instead of the traditional business school graduates. They are also moving beyond the industry’s traditional talent pools and hiring from a diverse range of identities and backgrounds. This is pushing hedge fund firms into direct competition with the technology industry for the brightest talent.

In order to get the most out of this talent, and to lure it away from the technology industry, hedge fund firms are changing how they work. In order to succeed in the future, hedge fund firms are encouraging internal collaboration and flattening their internal hierarchies.

Further, many hedge fund principals are now looking to institutionalise their firms and ensure a smooth handover to the next generation of leaders. As such, succession planning is becoming more common in the industry. Selling a portion of the management company ownership to external shareholders is one strategy being used by hedge fund firms to drive growth.

6. Partnering with investors

Hedge fund firms will focus on building closer relationships with their investors. As the hedge fund industry evolves and investor demographics become increasingly heterogeneous, multi-managers, with their resources, experience and infrastructure, are well placed to help investors access new opportunities tailored to their needs. There will also be greater development around co-investment options (in which a hedge fund manager invests in opportunities alongside its investors, working exclusively together on high conviction investment strategies), an even greater level of transparency, and true knowledge sharing as managers and investors align their interests more closely.

The hedge fund firms that are most likely to be successful will be those that prioritise how they are perceived by investors and the wider market.

Central to such an outcome is the importance of trust, not only between hedge fund firms and their investors, but also between the industry as a whole and the wider public.

7. Sustainable success

Hedge fund firms are being forced to focus more on their business and distribution models, as they face increasing competition both from each other and from traditional asset managers. Hedge fund firms can no longer only focus on their investment products—they must think about how best to run their firms as institutionally-friendly asset management companies. As competition for capital flows intensifies, retail investors are likely to become an increasingly important source of growth for hedge fund firms. This is driving hedge fund firms to rethink their distribution models.

Consequently, firms are exploring how to deploy best-in-class digital and mobile technologies to deliver the most cost-competitive solutions possible to their clients.

Introduction: The hedge fund industry is at an inflection point

Changing investor expectations are forcing hedge fund firms to rethink the investment solutions that they offer. The pace of technological change and the rise of artificial intelligence is leading some to question whether the hedge fund proposition will even exist in a few years. Responsible investment, meanwhile, is becoming more of a priority for hedge fund firms, as they gradually overcome their reluctance to constrain themselves. All of these changes are in turn forcing hedge fund firms to re-evaluate their own inner workings, from how they service investors through to how they build a business that outlasts its founders. For the purposes of this paper, the term ‘hedge fund firm’ includes diversified alternative investment management firms that provide investment management services including a variety of fund products, such as pure hedge funds and liquid alternative products. The paper is based on the views of some of the leading figures in the hedge fund industry, including the leaders of asset management firms and renowned academics from around the world.

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Informing the Hedge Fund Community. With access to some of the industry’s biggest names and an astute and talented group of writers and contributors, The Hedge Fund Journal has established itself as a trusted source of information on the hedge fund industry.