It has long been the standard of institutional investors (such as endowments and pension plans) working with consultants to put in writing a comprehensive understanding of the institution’s investment objectives and how those objectives are going to be met. This document is commonly known as an Investment Policy Statement (IPS).
An IPS is just as critical for individual investors for a number of important reasons. For one, it helps your portfolio manager gain a clear understanding of your risk tolerance and financial objectives. It serves as the long-term roadmap for meeting those objectives. Individuals have a tendency to follow our emotions, sometimes making emotion-driven investment decisions. Thus, an IPS can help you stay the course and adhere to long-term investment plan.
Below we discuss important considerations to include in the process.
"Taking the time to carefully craft your plan, document it and reviewing it carefully makes it easier to discover if you have forgotten to include any important considerations or include them in discussions with your portfolio manager."
Components of an Investment Policy Statement
An IPS should include a comprehensive discussion of your investment objectives. And while this seems like this would all about the numbers, it is more a story about your life goals (retirement, paying for the children’s college education, taking vacations, buying homes, etc.) and how you feel about taking risk. A narrative of who you are, how you earned the money being invested and your future goals for your life are all important components. The more details you know and have documented, the better positioned you are for creating a roadmap to success.
From the narrative, the portfolio manager gets details that help in designing the portfolio asset allocation. Key components include:
· Timing of the investment objective
· Cash flow needs
· Tax situations
· Risk tolerance – how much loss do you feel comfortable sustaining
· Any restrictions or preferences in investments
· The legal structures of the accounts being managed
The next part of the IPS is the investment plan to meet your investment objectives. This is the design of the portfolio and typically includes the types of investments that will be included in meeting your goals – the asset allocation. To give the portfolio manager the ability to manage in different market environments, ranges for each investment or asset class are provided for flexibility.
Around the investment plan or asset allocation, reasonable expectations of risk and return can be outlined. Taking the time to carefully craft your plan, document it, and reviewing it carefully makes it easier to discover if you have forgotten to include any important considerations or include them in discussions with your portfolio manager. It also is also a tool to help keep you and your portfolio manager on the same page, and avoid potential misunderstandings over the direction of your investment portfolio.
An Investment Policy Statement is a working document – dynamic not static
It is important to remember that an IPS is a working document. This means that it should be reviewed on a regular basis. It is very important that any life changes and new financial goals be reflected in the plan. Life often takes new turns (e.g. getting married, having children, selling a business, taking care of a parent), and making sure your portfolio manager is aware of these changes is important in achieving your objectives.
With a clear IPS in place, your investment plan and strategy will be the driver during periods that might otherwise trigger emotion-driven investment responses. Having a roadmap will serve you well in meeting your lifetime goals.