David Swensen Insight

Archive for the ‘conflict of interest’ Category

Quoted from David Swensen’s interview with WJS …

Fund of funds are a cancer on the institutional-investor world. They facilitate the flow of ignorant capital. If an investor can’t make an intelligent decision about picking managers, how can he make an intelligent decision about picking a fund-of-funds manager who will be selecting hedge funds? There’s also more fees on top of existing fees. And the best managers don’t want fund-of-fund money because it is unreliable. You need to be in the top 10% of hedge funds to succeed. In a fund of funds, you will likely be excluded from the best managers. [Mr.] Madoff also relied enormously on these intermediaries. He wouldn’t have had nearly as much resources were it not for fund of funds.

What do you think? Is it too strong a statement? Or is it right on target? Please share your thought.

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Pimco mimicking Yale

Pimco mimicking Yale

Here is the second paragraph of the Bloomberg report:

“The richest colleges beat market indexes in the decade through June 2008 by loading up on hard-to-sell assets such as private equity and real estate, while cutting stocks and bonds, a style pioneered by Yale University’s David Swensen. Pimco is refining the model to appeal to investors who want more flexibility to sell assets quickly to raise cash.”

Students of David Swensen understand that the Master avoids liquid assets because “market players routinely overpay for liquidity.” Serious investors benefit by avoiding overpriced liquid securities. Instead, they locate bargains in less liquid markets. This wisdom is borne out by his track record over the last two decades.

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“They are the cancer of the institutional investment world.” – David Swensen, Yale endowment CIO

Would you consider forming a partnership with someone you don’t know, in which you would contribute the money and that someone would conduct a business that you don’t understand, and do the accounting as well?

Most business owners would respond with a resounding “No!” The reason is obvious: such an arrangement is the surest way to lose money.

Yet, many of these same business owners would jump at the opportunity when presented with an “exclusive” offer to invest in a hedge fund that promises to make money in good times and bad through a magic “black box” formula.

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In a recent interview with Yale Alumni Magazine, David Swenen had this dialog with the reporter.

Yale Magazine: Unconventional Success delivered a scathing critique of the mutual-fund industry. You rightly pointed out that the vast majority of mutual funds charge high fees, trade too frequently, and under-perform the markets. How did the industry react?

Swensen: I’ve heard stories of people in the fund management business being irate about the book. That’s not surprising. The mutual fund industry is not an investment management industry. It’s a marketing industry. And if somebody interferes with your marketing, you’re not going to like that. So I was pleased to hear that there were senior people in the industry who were very, very unhappy with me and my book.

Get my white paper: The Informed Investor: 5 Key Concepts for Financial Success.

David Swensen:

Avoid the fee-ing frenzy!

A woman banks at Wachovia. Let’s call her Marion. When Marion needs to rollover her 401(k) into an IRA account, she naturally asks a Wachovia financial advisor for help. He helps her open an account and recommends she buy the Evergreen Asset Allocation Fund (EAAFX). Is there anything wrong with this picture? Plenty!

First, the fund has a sales charge (front-end load) of 5.75%. Her 401(k) balance is $100,000. This means, the advisor takes $5,750 just for the act of opening the account for her.

Second, the fund has an expense ratio of 1.27%. This expense ratio includes a 12b-1 fee of 0.25%. This means the advisor will continue to collect about $250 every year for as long as Marion is invested in the fund. The fund manager will collect $1,020- every year!

Third, the fund is actually a fund of funds. Money in the fund is simply divided up and invested in a numbers of other funds, each of which has another layer of managers and fees ranging from 0.39% to 1.02%.

In fact, there are superb funds that don’t charge front-end load and have low expense ratios. But financial advisors who work on commission may never tell you about what’s a better choice for you. No wonder Jack Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group laments, “Too much salesmanship and too little stewardship.”

Ninety percent of financial advisors are ‘product pushers’ on commission. Conflict of interest runs rampant. How can people like Marion, and people like you, protect themselves against what David Swensen calls a fee-ing frenzy? The answer is, by going with a fee-only advisor.

What is fee-only?

Fee-only means the advisor doesn’t take commissions, product incentives, or third-party payments as hidden compensation.

Why fee-only?

Just because someone is a fee-only advisor doesn’t make him or her automatically trustworthy. But fee-only advisors are more likely to be trustworthy and transparent in their dealings because they avoid conflict of interest. 


Michael Zhuang is principal of MZ Capital, a fee-only independent advisory firm applying David Swensen's insights for clients. He is also a regular contributor to Morningstar Advisor. To use his wealth management services, schedule a discovery meeting (phone call) with him.

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