Unlocking Real Value Blog

Is There An Optimal Size for Asset Managers?

Casey Quirk, the U.S. Institute and McLagan just released a survey which indicated that larger asset management firms are having a harder time rebounding from the financial crisis than their smaller counterparts. (Larger firms are defined in the survey as managing more than $250 billion, medium-sized firms between $50 billion and $250 billion and smaller firms under $50 billion.)

The survey included 96 managers with more than $21 trillion under management, and concluded that revenues at larger firms are down 24% since 2007, compared to down only 4% at medium-sized firms and down 5% at smaller firms.

Coincidence or reality? Probably a little of both I think. There is definitely something to be said about the law/rule of large numbers – as in managing a large mutual fund, as your size grows it does become more difficult to perform well, as you are somewhat beholden to the whims of your investors/clients. And many larger firms offer multiple products, so at any one time some of these styles will be out of favor and inevitably experience outflows. Additionally, they may be hurt if they see clients going to lower-fee products – equity to fixed income, for example.

On the flip side, however, a smaller firm, which only has one or maybe a few strategies, has a viability problem if this style goes out of favor. What has favored many of these smaller firms lately is that that many are in “specialized’ areas such as alternatives and global products, which have been in greater demand as investors seek greater returns in a low-return environment.

Some might argue that medium-sized firms are in the best position, especially if they offer a diversified style mix. These firms would therefore not have the risk of going out of business because they are too dependent on one style that may be out of favor, yet they are more nimble than their larger counterparts and can react more quickly to any market “noise.”

At the end of the day, however, I think it’s too simplistic to say one size is better than another. You can have well run and profitable firms of any size, and you can have poorly run firms of any size. But it would behoove investors and fiduciaries to consider, among other things in their analysis, the size and asset mix of any firms that they are considering investing with so that they can determine for themselves if the firm is well positioned for future success.


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