Ding Dong, Hedge Funds Calling

old-door-bell-buttonPrivate Wealth | Sep-Oct 2013

By Hannah Shaw Grove and April J Rudin

Avon made itself into a makeup empire by arming young women with catalogs and sending them out to tell potential buyers across America that its products were better and cheaper than more familiar brands.

What if hedge funds could do the same thing? Well, they soon can.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission voted on July 10 to adopt changes to Rule 506 of Regulation D that will allow hedge funds and other Reg D firms to use general solicitation, such as TV, print and social media advertising, starting in late September. Such advertising has been banned since 1933, but the ban was lifted under the JOBS Act of 2012.

Imagine one of your clients calling up—after a visit by a hedge fund salesperson—and demanding that his or her assets be invested with Bridgewater & Associates or Brevan Howard or Paulson & Co. or some other firm that you’d never heard of. How would you explain the nuances of the strategy, the risks, the costs and the balance required to ensure proper diversification and asset mix?

This is exactly what is about to happen with the JOBS Act changes.

The intent of the advertising ban was to protect the public, which was deemed unsophisticated and therefore unable to understand and evaluate a hedge fund’s structure and suitability. While hedge funds and other Rule 506 firms will be able to advertise their investments to the general public, they’ll still only be able to accept funds from accredited investors—individuals with a net worth exceeding $1 million or an annual income of at least $200,000, although the SEC is considering changing this definition.

While the overarching goal of the JOBS Act is to provide a new source of lending in these tight credit markets and stimulate the economy to create jobs, the act has other significant consequences that will impact ultra-high-net-worth individuals and their relationships with their wealth managers.

“Most industry professionals are only just beginning to realize how transformative this legislation actually is,” says Dara Albright, founder of NowStreet, a leader in financial market reform.

“I believe there will be a tsunami of new financial products being offered and a sea change in the types of investments that a wider and more diversified pool of investors will find appealing,” she adds. “As a growing supply of new emerging businesses and funds proliferate in the market competing for capital, and as investing theologies evolve, more investors will rely on wealth managers to help them distinguish between a solid growth investment and a well-crafted advertisement.”

While most of America is anxiously awaiting all of the potentially positive outcomes of the JOBS Act, in Washington, D.C., the SEC is most likely sweating over how to put measures in place for the anticipated deluge of advertising on every imaginable communications platform:  TV, radio, social media, e-mail, staged events, newsletters, Web sites, conferences, direct mail, white papers and more. It’s not out of the question to expect billboards and skywriting with hedge funds since, until now, they and other private placements have only been allowed to communicate their strategies and performance to a small, highly fragmented market of accredited investors or those with whom they have had a previous relationship. As a result, most hedge funds have focused their efforts on institutional investors and consultants, missing out on the sizable assets controlled by private investors.

Now, carefully constructed media messages put out by smart marketing firms on behalf of their Wall Street and hedge fund clients may very well be bombarding your clients. When that happens, you can expect calls asking not only how they can invest, but why they weren’t invested already.

Of course, many family offices and wealth managers already advise on hedge fund strategies and where and how much their clients should invest. But their recommendations have been based on their vetting and understanding the firms, the managers, the strategies, the lockup periods and the performance—all to ensure the funds make sense for their clients.

Now, carefully constructed media messages put out by smart marketing firms on behalf of their Wall Street and hedge fund clients may very well be bombarding your clients. When that happens, you can expect calls asking not only how they can invest, but why they weren’t invested already.

Avon made itself into a makeup empire by arming young women with catalogs and sending them out to tell potential buyers across America that its products were better and cheaper than more familiar brands.

What if hedge funds could do the same thing? Well, they soon can.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission voted on July 10 to adopt changes to Rule 506 of Regulation D that will allow hedge funds and other Reg D firms to use general solicitation, such as TV, print and social media advertising, starting in late September. Such advertising has been banned since 1933, but the ban was lifted under the JOBS Act of 2012.

Imagine one of your clients calling up—after a visit by a hedge fund salesperson—and demanding that his or her assets be invested with Bridgewater & Associates or Brevan Howard or Paulson & Co. or some other firm that you’d never heard of. How would you explain the nuances of the strategy, the risks, the costs and the balance required to ensure proper diversification and asset mix?

This is exactly what is about to happen with the JOBS Act changes.

The intent of the advertising ban was to protect the public, which was deemed unsophisticated and therefore unable to understand and evaluate a hedge fund’s structure and suitability. While hedge funds and other Rule 506 firms will be able to advertise their investments to the general public, they’ll still only be able to accept funds from accredited investors—individuals with a net worth exceeding $1 million or an annual income of at least $200,000, although the SEC is considering changing this definition.

While the overarching goal of the JOBS Act is to provide a new source of lending in these tight credit markets and stimulate the economy to create jobs, the act has other significant consequences that will impact ultra-high-net-worth individuals and their relationships with their wealth managers.

“Most industry professionals are only just beginning to realize how transformative this legislation actually is,” says Dara Albright, founder of NowStreet, a leader in financial market reform.

“I believe there will be a tsunami of new financial products being offered and a sea change in the types of investments that a wider and more diversified pool of investors will find appealing,” she adds. “As a growing supply of new emerging businesses and funds proliferate in the market competing for capital, and as investing theologies evolve, more investors will rely on wealth managers to help them distinguish between a solid growth investment and a well-crafted advertisement.”

While most of America is anxiously awaiting all of the potentially positive outcomes of the JOBS Act, in Washington, D.C., the SEC is most likely sweating over how to put measures in place for the anticipated deluge of advertising on every imaginable communications platform:  TV, radio, social media, e-mail, staged events, newsletters, Web sites, conferences, direct mail, white papers and more. It’s not out of the question to expect billboards and skywriting with hedge funds since, until now, they and other private placements have only been allowed to communicate their strategies and performance to a small, highly fragmented market of accredited investors or those with whom they have had a previous relationship. As a result, most hedge funds have focused their efforts on institutional investors and consultants, missing out on the sizable assets controlled by private investors.

Of course, many family offices and wealth managers already advise on hedge fund strategies and where and how much their clients should invest. But their recommendations have been based on their vetting and understanding the firms, the managers, the strategies, the lockup periods and the performance—all to ensure the funds make sense for their clients.

Now, carefully constructed media messages put out by smart marketing firms on behalf of their Wall Street and hedge fund clients may very well be bombarding your clients. When that happens, you can expect calls asking not only how they can invest, but why they weren’t invested already.

To better understand the significance of this change, let’s look at what happened when advertising bans were lifted on prescription drugs. At first, pharmaceutical companies were only able to advertise to dispensing physicians. Starting around the late 1990s, they were allowed to directly market to consumers. This meant that patients who once relied on professional advice now could diagnose themselves and start asking for a prescription drug by name. Instead of “I can’t sleep,” patients now say, “I need Ambien.” In the same vein, some clients may now choose to bypass your advice and demand to be invested in a particular hedge fund, the advertisement of which has caught their eye.

We have to assume that hedge funds will come up with significant and high-impact advertisements, distilling complicated concepts and strategies into compelling messages and calls to action.

What is a wealth manager to do? First, begin communicating with your clients and telling them about the change. While many ultra-wealthy individuals are certainly sophisticated, clients will vary in terms of their investment savvy and interest in being involved in the investment process.

“Advisors should use this time to engage with important clients, especially those that already own or have expressed an interest in hedge funds or private equity,” says Elliot Weissbluth, CEO and founder of HighTower. “It’s an excellent opportunity to reinforce your role and the value you bring to each relationship.”

Additionally, it’s worth making an effort to develop both offensive and defensive strategies that can be used across the generations, as the attitudes of retirees, baby boomers and Gen Xers will differ widely. And firms that have a unique perspective on this situation are encouraged to develop original content summarizing their position for interested investors.

When hedge funds are finally allowed to advertise to the public, how might affluent investors perceive their efforts? At first, there may be some skepticism as the media has thrown shade on the industry for years. But we have to assume that hedge funds will come up with significant and high-impact advertisements, distilling complicated concepts and strategies into compelling messages and calls to action.

The demographic shift toward younger wealth also makes this an opportune time for hedge funds to focus on social media, which provides immediate impact and cost-effectiveness.

“Advisors that get in front of those efforts will be able to strengthen and leverage their unique position at the intersection of private investors and the hedge fund community,” Weissbluth says.

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