The debate on active versus passive investing has evolved following the growth of transparent algorithmic investment approaches such as smart beta. Advocates of smart beta believe that it offers benchmark-beating returns with lower costs than active management. However, smart beta investing is more complex than many investors perceive and requires careful consideration. Despite this, the widespread availability of these alternative passive strategies has undeniably changed the investment landscape.
Standard Life Investments, the global investment manager, considers the reality of smart beta investing in its latest edition of Global Horizons. The key points evaluated in the paper are:
- The pitfalls investors should be aware of when considering smart beta strategies, including a lack of clarity in investment objectives and limited sustainability.
- As the active versus passive paradigm shifts, traditional market benchmarking will be increasingly superseded by outcome oriented mandates. Transparent algorithmic components such as smart beta have a role to play but should not be used as static allocations.
- Flows in smart beta have been significant and can strongly influence asset prices.
- This presents opportunities to active investors who take a multi-strategy approach and offers new chances in the area of stock selection
Arne Staal, Head of Multi-Asset Quantitative Strategies, commented “advances in technology, the increasing availability of data and the rapid growth of smart beta strategies results in a fast-changing and expanding opportunity set for investors. However, they have more complex evaluations and choices to make, and a wider range of associated costs to assess against desired outcomes. An awareness of the pitfalls in utilising transparent algorithmic investment strategies such as smart beta is increasing but not yet widely discussed. We advise investors to approach smart beta investing with similar levels of due diligence as they would for active managers. Most active managers deliver a combination of smart beta and pure alpha. Those that consciously position their business model to build portfolios through security selection and active allocation to a broad range of strategies will be best placed to achieve better outcomes for clients and benefit from this evolution in asset management.”