But at the same time, the extent to which this qualifies as success within the context of the broader asset management industry is open to question. Yes, such inflows are not to be sneezed at; yet in comparison, the ETF industry recorded inflows of $68.1bn into US listed products in January alone (with US equity ETFs recording inflows of $30.8bn and even less favoured fixed income products gaining $9.3bn of new assets, according to ETF.com).
Communications by the hedge fund world have always been something of a dichotomy. At a broad level, usually via one of its trade bodies, the industry has never been shy of promoting itself, particularly the amount of investor assets it is responsible for. It also benefits from a range of mercurial figureheads – be these prominent market commentators like Ray Dallio; industry leaders such as Alan Howard; or those activist managers like Bill Ackman and Carl Icahn who utilise the media to pressure their targets.
Yet these tend to be the exceptions rather than the rule; for the most part, the majority of hedge funds have been comfortable steering under the radar, focusing on their own activities but undertaking little in terms of self-promotion, thereby maintaining something of an air of mystique around their practices and means of generating returns. In contrast, one cannot accuse ETF providers of being shy in promoting themselves or their products.
Past approaches may have served the hedge fund industry reasonably well in days gone by, but times have changed. Brand has become increasingly important to business development, there is a constant focus on industry transparency, and media scrutiny is intense when it comes to best practice and the consistent delivery of outperformance. Within such a context, non-engagement is increasingly not a viable option.
Interestingly, were hedge funds to act now, they would be doing so from a position of some strength – while recent Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) findings have been quick to criticise investment consultants for a failure to identify top performing funds, the CMA did note that hedge funds were an exception to this rule, something which both individual hedge funds and the industry as a whole could build on. To that end, those who take the leap and seek to promote their capabilities more proactively will likely benefit given the much more favourable market environment whilst also enjoying “first mover in advantage” in an industry that has proved more reticent than most to engage.