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Managed funds are for people with at least $10,000 to invest, who are mortgage and debt free and who do not need their money back over the next few years.
Good reasons to invest in managed funds
Expertise - Fund managers invest large amounts received from individual investors in listed companies and other investments and can afford to employ specialists to analyse, select, monitor and sell investments.
Inside knowledge - Fund managers have easier and more extensive access to company directors and managers and can thus form a better picture of company strategy, developments and prospects. (This access of course gives fund managers an unfair advantage over retail investors.)
Diversification - Managed funds provide diversification even when you are investing small amounts.
Exposure - There is a huge range of different investment asset types available, far too many, in fact. Managed funds are one way of gaining exposure to investments that are not otherwise easily available, such as offshore markets or commercial property.
Size - The large pool of money means the manager can get better deals than one person with limited funds.
Access - Generally you are able to access and withdraw your money simply and promptly, when you want it.
Sleep easy - You don’t have to be bothered with ongoing buying and selling decisions (of individual stocks).
Recommendation - Even the world’s number one investor, Warren Buffett, says the best thing an average investor can do is buy an index fund that mirrors the market.
And some reasons to be careful!
Structure and Governance - Most managed funds are unit trusts with a trustee and a management company. Neither party gets very much public scrutiny and they are difficult to remove if they are not performing. There is no requirement for managers to account to unitholders in an annual meeting type forum and accountability generally is not the same as with a public listed company.
Investment Statements - Like the Product Disclosure Statement for Australian funds, New Zealand's Investment Statements fail to provide a straightforward and reliable means of assessing the merits of a fund and comparing it with others. These statements appear to be written by lawyers to protect their clients from liability. Little consideration is given to the reader. (We note that as of June 2012, the Financial Markets Authority has issued guidance on improving the effectiveness of Investment Statements).
Fees - There is no clear and consistent presentation of fees and other costs and no means of comparing fees across funds. Fees can be substantial, particularly for small investments and it is thus a real drawback that fees and net returns are not available and comparable.
Access - Yes it features above, but it can be and also has been a problem with many funds, particularly in falling markets. Easy access also has the disadvantage for open funds in that liquidity must be maintained to meet redemptions.
Performance – Theoretically having a team of professionals should offer you net returns in excess of what you may be able to achieve on your own. But without KiwiSaver of the last few years, there has been little real growth in managed funds and that is to some extent a reflection on performance.
Having said that, we still believe managed funds should be regarded as part of a portfolio, particularly if you are a novice or inexperienced investor.
Understanding managed investments
We suggest you start by reading an IFSA guide to understanding managed investments. IFSA was the Investment & Financial Services, the peak body for the managed funds industry in Australia, now called Financial Services Council. Its members are the fund managers. (We acknowledge this is an Australian publication written by an organisation with vested interests, but nonetheless it is a reasonably coherent overview of managed investments.)