Ross founded Copylab in 2005 and is now leading the team in the UK and leading the company’s charge into new markets.More articles from Ross Hunter
Copylab exists because fund commentary exists.
I set up the company in 2005 because I experienced first-hand the exhausting nature of producing hundreds of month-end and quarter-end reports: lung-busting activity for the first half of each month; recovering in a darkened room for the second half. As we’ve built Copylab into a global company in eight countries with more than 100 fantastic people, we’ve added more services to our roster. But fund commentary remains by far our most popular service. If commentary occupied a position on a fund manager’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it would be placed at the base of the pyramid, alongside food, water and shelter. It’s the basic need that all fund managers require. And it is often a painful process.
Over the past 15 years, our tremendous team has produced hundreds of thousands of commentaries for dozens of fund managers, large and small. Along the way, we’ve accumulated wisdom through our growing list of successes and diminishing list of failures. This paper shares the main insights we’ve collected over the years. Some of them may be obvious. Most of it is simple. But that’s the great thing – the best solutions are often the simplest ones. I hope you find this paper useful and can find one or two lightbulb moments.
Where better to start than at the beginning?
It may not be a revolutionary idea, but the key to a successful quarter-end process is the planning.
So what does a good plan look like? Here are few things to think about:
And when is the best time to plan? We think that starting the planning for next quarter end is best done when the previous one is still fresh in the mind. So, do your post-quarter-end debrief, agree your changes to the process and document it all.
And finally, the more you can get done before business day 1, the easier it’ll be to hit deadlines when the clock starts ticking again.
A review of the previous quarter sets you up with a better plan for next quarter.
Set up a review meeting for 2–3 days after the end of the last reporting period – when everything is still fresh in the mind. And ask the following questions:
Regular feedback loops improve quality AND efficiency. A great review meeting puts you on a virtuous circle of improvement.
Using a standard template saves a huge amount of time and money for several of our clients. A clear template – with word limits if need be – ensures that writers and fund managers are only producing the text that is needed. No more fund managers writing three times too much. No need to go back to managers who’ve forgotten to mention their trades.
Templates give you great consistency across your funds in terms of quality and quantity of content, tone of voice and brand consistency. Not sure that all fund managers will buy into using templates? Get buy-in at the highest level and use your CIO to sponsor the project.
And if you have multiple portfolios within the same asset class, standardise market backgrounds to be more efficient. Clients do take a keen interest in market background provided the information is not simply a rehash of news headlines. The information should be specifically targeted to the fund in question and contain distinctive insights. Usually, 200–300 words would be a good length.
Ask us for some examples of templates. Or get us to design one just for you.
Companies that don’t innovate get left behind by their rivals.
We’ve worked on dozens of commentary processes over the years. There’s not a single one where we’ve not been able to make enhancements, even to the best processes. We often run health checks for clients to review where they are now, and make suggestions that move them along the pathway to best practice.
We’re open minded to new technologies that help improve quality, save time or save money.
For example, we use Visible Thread to improve readability. Grammarly is useful for proofing and grammar. And there are loads of great online anti-plagiarism tools.
Of course, technology doesn’t have all the answers. Great writers extract the ‘why’ from fund managers that bring the ‘what’ to life. We’ll always need talented writers.
For fund commentary, we see an advantage in writers specialising by asset class, rather than by client geography or client type (institutional/wholesale/retail) or fund structure (separate versus comingled).
A good example of this is our relationship , where one of the Copylabbers has been a consistent commentary writing partner for the European equity team since 2014.
BUT, for some writers, especially younger ones that want to diversify their experience, you might want to ROTATE them every few years onto different asset classes. This maintains writer engagement, broadens their knowledge, avoids key man risk and keeps them minty fresh.
We would also recommend you consider separate teams for writing commentary and marketing content. We pioneered this with Columbia Threadneedle back in 2014. It really helped give the commentary team a clear focus on their role. And the marketing teams could then focus on marketing content without being distracted by commentary requirements every month.