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How will asset management look in 2030? 


“THERE ARE two kinds of forecasters,” said the economist John Kenneth Galbraith. “Those who don’t know and those who don’t know they don’t know.” Asset management is a business built on the notion that the future is somewhat knowable, even if in large part it is not. So we must look for omens. Today’s “dishevelled” or “inchoate” borrower should not be expected to pay back its debts tomorrow, as The Economist warned in its editorial of March 28th 1868.
“有两种预测者,”经济学家约翰·肯尼思·加尔布雷思(John Kenneth Galbraith)说过,“那些不知道的人,和那些不知道自己不知道的人。”资产管理这门生意基于一种观念,即未来在一定程度上是可知的,即使它有很大一部分并不可知。所以我们必须找寻预兆。正如本刊在1868年3月28日的社论中所警告的那样,不应指望今天“衣冠不整”或“初出茅庐”的借款方明天会还债。
Speculations about the future are also often helpful in organising thoughts about the present. In this spirit, this special report finishes with some predictions tied to its main themes. Some are extensions of current trends. Others are more speculative—concerning, say, a trend that may reverse or one that could go in a surprising direction.
The first prediction is the least bold. By 2030 the sorting of the industry into a small club of giant asset managers and a bigger one of niche managers will be largely complete. Already in 2020, index-tracking funds and ETFs account for a majority of pooled investment funds in America. In a decade’s time they may make up the bulk of all stockholdings. Investors will mix beta, the market risk, with exposures picked from a menu of smaller specialists which, to survive the industry’s upheaval, must have a truly distinctive approach. These remaining funds might be thematic, based around increased longevity, say, or climate change. Or they could have a particular investment philosophy. Such specialist funds will be global or regional in scope.
A second prediction is that competition in asset management will revolve around products designed for particular needs. The present-day industry is a creature of the baby-boom era. Many boomers have built up assets in workplace schemes in which benefits depend on the size of a pension pot at retirement. Their needs are changing. A challenge to which the industry has not responded well is to find ways for people to draw on their retirement savings without running out of money too quickly, says Mr Taraporevala, of State Street Global Advisors. Quite so.
第二个预测是资产管理领域里的竞争将围绕为特定需求设计的产品展开。今天的行业现状是婴儿潮时代的产物。许多婴儿潮一代人在职场退休金计划中积累资产,其支付的福利取决于退休时养老金账户里有多少钱。他们的需求在变化。道富环球投资管理(State Street Global Advisors)的塔拉波瓦拉(Taraporevala)说,该行业尚未很好地应对一个挑战——如何让人们能够取用养老储蓄而又不会很快把钱花光。此言不虚。
Another challenge is to tailor products to millennials. Their share of wealth is still small, but it will grow. And their preferences are different. For baby-boomers a mutual fund was the only way to invest in equities at a reasonable cost. The technology now exists to buy and sell individual shares at virtually no cost. Low-fee “robo-advisers” mechanically allocate savings to a mix of bond and equity index funds according to preset rules. These advances appeal to a generation reared on smartphones. Millennials have less need of the money doctors who tended to the boomers.
A third forecast is that ESG will not be the saviour of active asset management. By 2030 it will be too mainstream to be a source of differentiation. There is likely to be a surfeit of choices for investors who want even the most exacting kinds of ESG. Despite the increased salience of corporate governance, the big passive funds may ultimately choose not to use their vast voting power to influence firms—a fourth prediction. Securities-market regulators will continue to push them to vote their shares, to fulfil their fiduciary duty to investors. But antitrust agencies will increasingly fret about the latent ability of big funds to soften competition among firms they indirectly own. Trustbusting is moving back to the “big is bad” assumption that governed it before the 1980s. It may prove costly and legally messy for funds to exercise their voting power in a way that satisfies all watchdogs.
Some popular predictions about private markets—that they will be “democratised”, and fees will come under pressure—will turn out to be wrong (or premature). Private-equity fees do look out of whack and big pension-fund managers are more inclined to haggle over costs. Returns on private equity are likely to disappoint. Yet fees for public equity came down because there was a cheaper option: buy the index. Private-equity stakes are not as tradable as listed shares, so there is no index. So fees will stay high.
Other popular predictions will prove correct. Private debt will grow in importance. America will slowly lose its lead in venture capital. The big brand-name VCs of Silicon Valley will retain their lustre, thanks to their record of creating billionaire founders. But more new champions will emerge elsewhere.
Finally, there is China, where the uncertainty is perhaps greatest. Sceptics point to China’s record of allowing foreigners to profit only as long as it takes Chinese firms to copy and supplant them. Asset management is different. Unlike with makers of breakfast cereals, it is hard for consumers to judge the merits of an asset manager. It is equally hard for copycat firms to find out what works and what doesn’t.
That is not the only reason the foreign money doctors will stick around in China. Rich-world banks are increasingly contained by national borders. Businesses are less inclined to set up abroad. Offshoring is being replaced by onshoring. Almost by default, capital markets will become the main avenue for diversifying risk by geography. If China’s leadership wants Shanghai to be a global financial centre and the yuan to be an international currency, it needs to keep channels open. Foreign asset managers will be a crucial conduit.
In the quiet revolution of asset management, one thing will remain constant. Philip Rose’s investment trust was composed of exotic foreign bonds traded in London; his idea inspired Robert Fleming, who mostly invested in America. From the start, asset management has been global. Why change that now?
在资产管理行业静悄悄发生的革命中,有一件事将保持不变。菲利普·罗斯(Philip Rose)的投资信托基金由在伦敦交易的稀奇古怪的外国债券组成;他的想法启发了罗伯特·弗莱明,后者主要在美国投资。从一开始,资产管理就是全球性的。为什么现在要改变这一点?