Fund reports are one of our specialities here at Copylab. Often we conjure them up out of the dry facts and figures, but we also regularly get to interview the fund managers themselves. Here’s how to get the best out of that invaluable face-face time:
1. Book the appointment
Fund managers tend to be busy people, so book well in advance of any deadlines, be flexible with your availability and expect the occasional short-notice cancellation. Unless it’s absolutely unavoidable, try not to be the one who cancels or rearranges. Ensure both you and the fund manager are totally clear about the purpose of the interview.
Make sure this doesn’t enter snooze mode.
2. Be prepared
Before you begin the interview, make sure you are well prepared. Read previous relevant fund reports, internet search for any recent articles about the fund or its manager. This way, you’ll know what to ask about. You’ll have a better picture of how the fund has been doing recently, what areas it covers and you’ll hopefully avoid clangers like asking about the Japanese holdings, when the fund doesn’t have any.
Coffee, notepad, pen. Three essential items for any interviewer.
3. Get a list of the companies held in advance
Before the interview, ask for or compile a list of the fund’s biggest holdings and latest acquisitions. This gives you a chance to familiarise yourself with the company names. For a fund with lots of foreign or less well-known holdings, this is vital. Armed with this list, you won’t make mistakes or waste precious interview time asking once again how to spell Schweitzer-Mauduit.
4. Begin with an overview
A few icebreaker questions, something topical or the good old weather, will get the conversation started and then it’s time to find out what’s generally going on with the fund. What notable events or political changes have had an effect on the fund? What major market moves have occurred in this region or sector? In a nutshell, what is everyone in that market talking about?
5. Ask for the good news
What were the top contributors to performance? Which companies have performed well? Was anything truly stellar? And what are the reasons for the moves upwards? A drug company may have made a major breakthrough, or a dramatic takeover bid could be on the cards. It’s important to capture the fund manager’s enthusiasm here. Sometimes companies have been patiently held for a long time and the payoff is genuinely exciting.
Also, don’t forget that strong performance can sometimes have derived from the manager’s decision to avoid holdings which have pummelled everyone else’s returns.
6. Then there’s the bad news
It’s important to find out about the bad news too, but tread carefully. Usually, time, effort and patience, as well as money, has been spent on companies and it is a disappointment to the manager when they underperform. Try to gain a good understanding of the reasons behind the losses or poor returns. Does a company face a unique challenge? Or has it been brought down because the whole sector has been hit?
Again, not having held a particular stock or sector which has done well may have been the cause of underperformance against the benchmark.
7. What’s new?
If new acquisitions have been made by the fund, find out why. What’s the manager excited about? What’s the potential for this interesting new holding? Why is it a compelling new area for investment?
Ask if there’s anything else on the horizon that investors in this fund should be aware of: up-and-coming elections, new economic measures, other major developments or relevant news. If there’s time, take the chance to talk more generally with the fund manager about the economy or investing. Some fascinating new topics, opinions or leads may emerge.
8. The email chaser
Make sure you have a way of contacting the manager after the interview, an email address may be best. This is so that any follow-up questions or questions you’ve forgotten to ask can be resolved as quickly as possible.
9. Fact check
When you’ve written up the interview, double-check company names and spellings and any facts or figures you’ve quoted. Even if you have to go back and ask again, this is much better than getting critical details wrong.
When you’ve published the piece and realise you mispelled the interviewee’s name.
10.The follow up
Always find out how your finished report has been received. Don’t accept silence as a sign that everything is fine. Check with the fund manager directly, or with the person who commissioned the report. This way, if anything isn’t satisfactory, you can get feedback and make any necessary improvements as quickly as possible.