“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, then you don’t understand it yourself” Albert Einstein

This quote from the famed physicist pretty much sums-up how 45% of Asian Institutional investors (and I) feel about some active quant strategies[1].  Transparency is the key to adoption, and if quantitative managers want Asian investors to trust their strategies, they must first make sure they’re understood.  The right set of analytics can help you develop a consistent quantitative communication with investors and turn a black box into a glass one.

Asian investors, like their counterparts everywhere, have a large (regional) home bias. In Asia this means dealing with short data histories, multiple markets, currencies, regulatory regimes (and interventions), reporting frequencies, and accounting standards (not to mention languages).  Add to that the fact that many of the regional (emerging) markets are still dominated by retail investors (in terms of volumes), and what is a complex data set in a developed market like the US, quickly becomes a chaotic one.  Now try and explain chaos math to a six-year-old!

That is not to say that active quantitative strategies do not have a place in an Asian investor’s investment plan.  They do.  But given their asset allocation, to-date they have been much more exposed to the fundamental investment style than the quantitative one, making the latter more of a novelty item for them and one limited to the active developed market portion of their allocation.  When it comes to active Asian strategies, the quant years are still to come. And they will. Faster and stronger than in the 2003-2007 Quant Era of the West.

The ‘quantitative versus fundamental’ pitch is not the correct one to use with Asian institutional investors looking to identify the right active manager for them.  Their focus in on ‘skill versus no skill’, in any investment style, and they do not operate in the Win-Lose quadrant of active management, but in the Win-Learn one.  Over the last five years (and more for some), Asian institutional investors have retooled their investment process and adopted the same processes as some of the world’s most sophisticated managers with a single goal in mind: identify, engage with, and hire skillful managers – internally or externally.

This has put the burden of proof squarely back on the manager’s shoulders (where it belongs).  This game will be won by those with a transparent investment process, who consistently construct portfolios that are the best representation of their stated investment thesis, and deliver measurable results in accordance with predicted returns.  To them will be accorded the spoils of institutional mandates that come with a higher conviction of repeatability.

Turning up to an institutional pitch without the right set of analytics to verify your claims, is a bit like bringing a knife to a gunfight (to quote Indiana Jones).  And if you want to claim that you are different from all the other managers, you better put your math where your mouth is.  No better way to do that then with the most flexible analytics provider in the business.

[1] Based on a study by Greenwich Associates quoted in a Bloomberg article on data science and the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in investment management. 

Olivier d'Assier

Olivier d'Assier is Head of Applied Research, APAC, for Axioma and is responsible for generating unique regional insights into risk trends by leveraging and analyzing Axioma's vast data on market and portfolio risk. d'Assier's research helps clients and prospects better understand and adapt to the evolving risk environment in Asia Pacific.