Many financial services make use of a well-structured risk management policy to manage their day-to-day exposure to risk, including exclusive investment entities such as hedge funds. For many years hedge funds were considered the high-stakes bad boys of the investing world; an image that the industry despised and rejected in the public eye, yet celebrated behind the closed doors of their high-rise offices and their swanky exclusive nightclubs. Over the past 36 months the hedge fund community has stepped up their efforts to shed the negativity and weariness that is often associated with them. Of course in some ways this “risky market gambler” perception was always unfounded, especially considering hedge funds use complex strategies and investment vehicles to hedge away systemic and market risk.
Due to their size and unique capital structure, hedge funds were previously allowed to operate outside the stringent oversight of investment regulators, but this has changed over the past decade. While hedge funds continue to abstain from using the comprehensive risk management ‘best-practices’ of other financial services such as banks and large fund managers, they have certainly increased their use of risk management policies. These processes have evolved to monitor not only how their range of investments mitigate inherent market risk for their investors, but also how they conduct their business in general.
The organizational risk philosophy at any particular hedge fund typically reflects the interest-level and commitment of that fund’s top traders and officials. The greater these managers believe in not chasing greater return at the expense of risk compliance, the stronger the fund’s risk policy is embedded throughout the entire fund’s other personnel. Many hedge funds now employ a Chief Risk Officer and have doubled their expenditures on risk management processes and risk compliance. They are increasingly seeking individuals who have obtained at least one risk management certification, focusing on credit and financial risk. These changes are the result of not only clearer minds within the hedge fund management community, but also from changing investor expectations. While hedge fund have always used complex quantitative risk management models to quell investor fears, most managers will tell you that in the past few investors know, or cared to know, how they worked. While this sentiment has not dramatically changed during these past few months, there are changing expectations from investors, especially large institutional money managers, in regards to transparency, risk analysis processes, and how business is conducted. Fund managers typically benefit from long investment time-horizons and leeway from their investors, but even traditionally ‘sticky’ investors are demonstrating a willingness to pull assets out of hedge funds if managers do not comply with the changing risk expectations.
As a consequence of the 2008 financial upheaval the fund community has witnesses the creation of a series of private oversight groups, such as the ‘Hedge Fund Standards Board’. These self-regulatory bodies are creating industry benchmarks and best-practices in risk management, and from which the community can develop their own risk policies.
Hedge funds of all sizes have developed and incorporated risk management policies into their operational and trading strategies. These processes include limits on acceptable losses per trader, controls and limits on the types of investments made, and formal communication and internal policing procedures. These funds offer limited transparency on how they conduct business to anyone outside their inner circle of investors, and thus individual firms are expected to internally police themselves. An predominant precursor of risk in this business is the overuse of leverage, and risk management in this area has become a hot-button issue within the fund community. Many fund managers use borrowed money (funds borrowed against the assets provided by their investors) to maximize the return on their positions, and achieve the above-market gains the industry is famous for. However, this practice leaves the firm and its investors assets exposed to unforeseen market risks. The majority of funds now have risk assessment policies in place that monitor their liabilities-to-assets ratios and prevent individual traders from exceeding leverage limits.