Historically reserved for institutionalinvestors and ultra-high-net-worth clients, alternatives are now becomingalmost mainstream in high-net-worth and mass-affluent client portfolios.Providing access to these complex investment strategies enables financialadvisors to deliver more robust investment solutions and differentiate theirproduct offerings in the increasingly competitive marketplace for financialadvice.
However, what an alternatives allocation includes and how these strategies arebeing used in portfolio construction differ widely within the wealthmanagement industry. Here, Eric Mogelof, PIMCO’s head of U.S. globalwealth management, and Aimee Almeleh, an account manager specializing inalternatives, discuss the ongoing evolution of alternatives strategies.
Q: What exactly are alternative investments?
A: While most investors can agree on the definitions of a stock and a bond,there is little consensus on what defines an alternative investment.
Some investors go strictly by investment vehicle, with public funds fallingunder traditional investments and limited partnerships or private equitydrawdown vehicles viewed as alternatives strategies. Using this definition,however, can be limiting, as non-traditional investments can be wrapped inpublic funds; for example, interval funds, which are increasingly popular withfinancial advisors, use fund structures with liquidity features similar tothose of some limited partnerships. Other investors distinguish betweentraditional and alternative investments based on whether the securities arepublic or private. And still others define anything outside of stocks andbonds as alternatives.
At PIMCO, we typically frame the discussion of alternatives around what typesof assets are being bought and sold and how investment returns are generated.This offers flexibility in evaluating potential investment solutions. Forexample, an alternatives strategy may include only public market securitiesbut employ a long/short trading or arbitrage strategy. A drawdown vehicle thattakes exposure to privately negotiated and structured debt or illiquid realestate securities may also be an alternative investment. Yet another could bean interval fund that invests in both public and private market securities anduses leverage to try to optimize returns.
We think the most important features of an alternatives strategy are how it isexpected to behave within a portfolio and what risks an investor is taking toachieve that outcome.
Q: Should every client consider including exposure to alternatives in aninvestment portfolio?
A: Before considering any investment, and especially alternatives, financialadvisors will want to develop a deep understanding of a client’s overallfinancial situation, key investment objectives, risk/return profile and near-to medium-term liquidity needs. Based on these factors, financial advisors canthen determine whether a specific alternatives strategy may be appropriate fora client.
Certain alternative investments – such as hedge funds and private equityheld in a limited partnership – are only available to investors who meetminimum net-worth and income requirements. Many alternatives managers alsoestablish high investment minimums, typically upward of $5 million. Theserequirements have historically served as barriers for many investors, evenwhen alternatives strategies may have been appropriate from a portfolio andrisk/return perspective.
More recently, however, an increase in interval funds, tender-offer funds andnontraded REITs (real estate investment trusts), as well as the rise of newfinancial technology (fintech) platforms, have helped“democratize” alternative investments, making them available to amuch broader universe of investors. These offerings have preserved some of theattributes we consider typical of alternatives strategies, but in fundstructures. In addition, many distribution firms are streamlining thealternatives subscription process and significantly reducing investmentminimums to levels that are accessible for a larger range of investors.
Q: How are advisors using alternatives in portfolio construction, and whatobjectives are they pursuing?
A: We see three key reasons why financial advisors are utilizing alternativesin their client portfolios.
First, alternatives may offer higher return potential; we see this motivationmost in ultra-high-net-worth client portfolios. This higher-return potentialis often driven by investing in less liquid and/or more complex assets, alongwith greater concentration in high-conviction ideas. Returns may also bedriven by the use of leverage to varying degrees.
Second, alternatives have potential diversification benefits. Somealternatives strategies take different risk-factor exposures than traditionalstocks and bonds. This may help build portfolio resiliency and mitigatedrawdown risk.
Third, exposure to the esoteric asset classes in alternative investments canprovide alternative betas – non-traditional investment exposures –that are not easily replicated or accessed in other ways.
Among advisors using alternatives for their clients, we see allocationstypically ranging from 10% to 30% of portfolios. For ultra-high-net-worthportfolios, we have seen allocations as high as 50%.
In sizing alternatives allocations, we go back to understanding client goalsand objectives. We see advisors building diversified alternative portfoliosthat span hedge funds, alternative risk premia, private equity, private creditand real estate strategies. We think alternatives allocations should be largeenough to move the needle for an investment portfolio but also maintaindiversification across strategy, liquidity and asset class exposures.
Q: What else should advisors consider when allocating to alternatives?
A: Manager selection is always relevant in portfolio construction, but whenconsidering strategies that offer lower liquidity and/or exposure to uniqueinvestment betas, manager selection may be critical.
Financial advisors should consider an investment team’s capabilities andprocess to determine whether returns are generated by skill or luck andwhether those results are repeatable. In addition, top-notch operational andrisk infrastructures are essential as alternatives strategies oftenincorporate derivatives and esoteric assets. Legal and compliance functionsalso need to be assessed given the increasingly complex legal and regulatoryenvironment for alternatives.
Q: How is PIMCO approaching alternative solutions for wealth managementclients?
A: Alternative investment strategies, when used prudently, can be an importanttool in both preserving and growing client portfolios, in our view.
We envision a future where alternatives are accessible to more investors andfinancial advisors can integrate alternative solutions into client portfolios,where appropriate, with few or no barriers to entry.