Our investment approach focuses on three primary areas:
- Investment Menu Design
- Investment Manager Selection & Monitoring
- Total Cost Benchmarking
We typically advise the use of a core investment menu, balancing an appropriate number of asset classes to give participants strong diversification options across multiple categories, but without overcomplicating the menu with too many choices. We typically advise the use of a blend of low cost passive management and high quality active management as part of this menu. Beyond the core lineup, we suggest the use of asset allocation models and/or Target Date Funds for participants who prefer a low cost diversified solution. We also evaluate directed brokerage, risk based models and other advisory options that committees may wish to include in their plan based on their unique circumstances.
With oversight of more than $20 billion in assets (which includes assets under management), Oxford has the scale and resources to provide much deeper manager analysis than boutique consultants, but without the conflicts of interest present in bank and brokerage firm advisory models. We establish manager selection and watch list criteria for each category to be included in your plan, and then help you monitor performance against this criteria every quarter. Oxford’s manager search due diligence process includes:
- thorough reviews of a manager’s data
- examination of relevant documents
- meetings and conference calls with portfolio managers and their representatives
- on-site visits are usually conducted as well
Before any manager can be recommended to a client, the analyst(s) covering the manager must present the manager to Oxford’s Investment Strategy Group for approval. A complete due diligence review of a manager will consist of a thorough analysis of the following three key areas:
- organization (stability, resources, reputation, philosophy)
- style (growth, value, core)
- performance (return, risk, consistency)
Oxford establishes criteria for a formal watch list as part of our process. Our quarterly reports then refer specifically back to these criteria. We typically set expectations in advance for each manager, focusing on performance against peer groups over one-, three- and five-year rolling time periods. We also maintain performance targets against benchmarks and risk metrics. If a manager underperforms or is subject to organizational changes, Oxford adds the manager to your next meeting agenda for your review. Oxford performs additional levels of due diligence on that manager prior to your meeting, makes a formal recommendation to the committee regarding the manager, and then documents any decisions in a follow-up letter after each meeting.
Termination decisions require a combination of quantitative analysis and seasoned judgment, which is core to our philosophy. Even the best active money managers will have periods of underperformance, and it hurts plan participants to terminate a manager and “chase performance” just before a high caliber fund rebounds and again delivers attractive returns. We closely monitor organizational changes. Departures of key personnel, including less visible but important analysts along with the lead portfolio managers, is often a trigger for us to recommend a manager change. We also perform on-site due diligence, especially when a fund triggers our internal watch list criteria based on relative performance to benchmarks and peer groups, along with a manager’s risk adjusted returns.
On-site visits are a luxury afforded to our research team by Oxford’s scale. Most boutique consultants cannot perform this type of due diligence, especially with international based funds. We visit our recommended managers in their primary locations, including Europe and Asia. When on-site visits demonstrate that a manager’s portfolio does not match the “story” of their philosophy, we are quick to recommend an exit. For example, small cap managers drifting into mid and large cap stocks, or a value manager starting to chase returns from stocks with high growth rates but also high valuation, are triggers for us to examine other more consistent options.
Lastly, we use an independent research firm to provide benchmarking analysis of our clients’ overall retirement program. By reviewing your costs independently and systematically, we ensure the company and plan participants receive high value relative to the fees paid to all providers (primarily your consultant, ministration platform and money managers). Our current plan clients consistently share that our full review of plan costs has been invaluable to them. This process has unique challenges and risks, but Oxford is well versed in how to navigate the difficult landscape of appropriately benchmarking client’s cost structures to similar plans. We assure genuine “apples to apples” comparisons to confirm and document that participants receive high value at a reasonable cost.