Being a fund of funds (as opposed to holding equities or fixed interest directly), JIFT’s stewardship applies at two distinct levels: at the Jupiter portfolio level and at the underlying fund level.
JUPITER FUND OF FUNDS PORTFOLIOS
All portfolios adhere to precisely the same investment philosophy and process. The objective is to deliver superior returns to clients after fees, allowing them to compound wealth over time. All prioritise transparency and simplicity, allowing retail clients to understand where their savings are invested: so complex, opaque, levered, exotic and structured underlying funds are typically avoided. The portfolios price daily, therefore most underlying funds and assets held are highly liquid. Turnover is generally low. JIFT prioritises extensive intermediary contact with two client roadshows annually, coupled with online content which uses ordinary language, avoiding excessive financial jargon.
FUND LEVEL MONITORING
The JIFT investment process is designed to identify active managers who generate repeatable post-fee alpha. This is a rare skill and where found, is usually the output of a robust investment process. The team selection process has a strong bias towards fund managers who are long term investors. This is an important stewardship consideration. Our fund managers often invest in a relatively limited number of companies, which also provides focus on the active ownership aspect. It is important to note that how managers conduct their company selection and ownership duties differs widely, particularly with reference to the size of assets invested, investment process and asset class. What is laudable for one manager may not be appropriate for another. Moreover, responsibility for adherence to stated processes, policies and disclosure resides firmly in the domain of the manager.
We consider that the stewardship profile of JIFT is strong because we do not tend to invest in funds with high turnover, in those using significant derivatives or leverage, in passives, factor-driven strategies or structured products. The Jupiter Merlin team engages in a year-end data gathering exercise which requests the provision of a range of data, from pure voting statistics through to ESG & engagement reports for the previous year. Taking all the funds held within Jupiter Merlin, 93% are signatories of the UN PRI and 95% are signatories of the UK Stewardship Code; 93% did not engage in stock lending and votes were placed on 98% of resolutions of the underlying companies held within the Jupiter Merlin Portfolios. We generally avoid managers who exclude whole sectors and/or companies with poor ESG rankings (beyond complying with European legislation to exclude cluster munitions manufacturers) and instead seek funds which fulfil their stewardship responsibilities on behalf of clients, incorporating ESG analysis into their investment process.
Once selected, ongoing monitoring of underlying managers is robust. JIFT operates a rolling six monthly programme of fund manager interviews. In addition, regular communication takes place between these meetings. This is complemented by ad-hoc onsite visits to their places of work. Current portfolio holdings are reviewed, exploring how managers have adhered to their investment philosophy and process and fund changes are examined. Voting records and details of effective engagement with investee companies form part of the data acquired by JIFT. The meetings allow JIFT to discuss specific company examples, finding out how managers have deployed their stewardship policies and signatory duties on behalf of their clients as well as discussing how the fund manager has performed and is likely to perform in the future. Particular attention is paid to:
How fund managers articulate and evidence their engagement strategy, with a focus on demonstrating outcomes.
The financial metrics, especially valuation and leverage of investee companies, and of the fund versus
the respective benchmark.
The evolution of sustainability and governance within their own investment process, company and associated agents.
We recognise that disclosure of ESG outcomes is constantly evolving: it differs widely by asset class, region, fund house, fund team and portfolio manager. What is tailored, invaluable best practice for one, may be irrelevant for another. Moreover, many definitions have yet to be defined or adopted in a standardised manner by investors or companies, particularly within climate change. We believe that we can add value through encouraging and engaging with underlying managers. We challenge underlying fund managers individually to disclose and demonstrate how they exercise their duties as owners of investee companies, particularly where companies with poor ESG scores are held.
Finally, challenging managers on their stewardship credentials would be a threadbare and ineffective conversation without data. The Merlin ESG database covers every fund held within the Portfolios and is updated annually and ad-hoc where pertinent reports have been gleaned verbally and/or investee managers disclose updated data. It incorporates valuable ESG information ranging from RFPs to detailed working examples of engagement output, whether successful (where change was delivered and a position held/added to) or unsuccessful (potentially prompting liquidation of that position). Our engagement with investee managers can be a catalyst of material evolution on their behalf and our team is frequently requested to talk to investee Governance specialists and their consultants.
JIFT’s ability to explore these areas constructively is enhanced by embracing the manager-led, in-house intelligence from Jupiter’s own Governance and Sustainability Team (GS Team). The team provide JIFT with a rich seam of pertinent company and ESG expertise, affording a better informed and more effective debate when evaluating and monitoring investment and governance activities by underlying fund managers. JIFT also have a permanent seat on Jupiter’s Stewardship Committee which provides a platform to co-ordinate and review engagement undertaken by our active managers each quarter.