The Trillion-dollar payoff

Accountants, administrators, lawyers and prime brokers are scrambling to service the $1 trillion hedge fund industry. We tell you who is winning the race in our first-ever Alpha Awards™.

Click here to see the ranking.

If a hedge fund wants to expand from $500 million to $3 billion and from one investment strategy to four or more, what should it do?

Five years ago that question would have seemed far-fetched. Now, says Richard Portogallo, global head of prime brokerage at Morgan Stanley in New York, it’s a question more and more hedge fund managers are asking.

As managers try to appeal to the growing pool of institutional investors allocating money to hedge funds, their priorities are shifting. They need to be bigger so they can absorb more capital, and they need stronger infrastructures that can accommodate rapid growth and expansion into new products and asset classes. To accomplish this, many hedge fund managers are turning to service providers that “understand the industry from a bottom-up perspective and can help them grow their businesses,” says Portogallo.

Hedge funds have always looked to prime brokers, law firms, accountants and administrators for the key services they need to function. Now these service providers are expanding their businesses to cater to the changing and growing needs of hedge funds.

The hedge fund industry crossed the $1 trillion threshold earlier this year, doubling its assets under management from just five years ago, according to Hedge Fund Research, a Chicago-based data provider. The number of funds of hedge funds and single-manager funds now exceeds 8,200, compared with 3,900 at the end of 2000. Many industry experts think hedge funds will reach $2 trillion in assets within the next few years. Pension funds, endowments, foundations and other institutional investors are driving the growth, representing about 30 percent of net new flows into hedge funds in mid-2004, compared with less than 5 percent in 2000, according to a study by Bank of New York and Casey, Quirk & Associates, a Darien, Connecticut, investment management consulting firm.

With all this growth, hedge funds have become the clients of choice for Wall Street -- and for good reason: They are more active, frequent traders than traditional asset managers. Hedge funds deploy their capital globally, scouring foreign markets for investment opportunities across new products and asset classes, especially as the performance in established strategies such as convertible arbitrage has fallen off in recent years. Big, sophisticated hedge funds tap pricey investment banking expertise as they move into the private equity market or pursue leveraged buyouts. Many of the biggest hedge fund managers are pursuing multiple investment strategies to generate returns and diversify their portfolios. All this translates into more work and opportunity for hedge fund service providers.

“A single-strategy $2 billion hedge fund may have the same basic legal needs as a $500 million hedge fund, but if a hedge fund complex has multiple funds with differing strategies, the amount of work quickly multiplies,” says John Tavss, head of the alternative investment practice at Seward & Kissel, a New Yorkbased law firm that has been advising hedge funds for more than half a century. Seward & Kissel helped onetime journalist Alfred Winslow Jones set up the first hedge fund in 1949 and still represents A.W. Jones & Co., which now primarily manages funds of hedge funds.

The hedge fund service provider industry is undergoing its own transformation. “Service providers are becoming bigger and stronger because hedge funds are getting bigger and stronger,” says Jean-Louis Juchault, founder and chief executive officer of Systeia Capital Management, a $1 billion, Paris-based hedge fund that’s active in convertibles, mergers and acquisitions and event-driven strategies.

Service providers are expanding their relationships with hedge funds so they can increase their market share or cross-sell more services. Lawyers are providing expertise on swaps contracts and other customized transactions. Full-service fund administrators, which provide net-asset-value calculations and portfolio accounting, are offering more-extensive and independent portfolio pricing services to their clients. Auditors are spending more time verifying the accuracy of fund accounting and assessing the tax implications of potential transactions as hedge funds move into more-illiquid products and asset classes. Many hedge fund service providers are also extending their services across traditional lines of business, with some fund administrators offering tax preparation services and global banks moving into fund administration.

The changing regulatory landscape is also creating oppor-tunity and demand. Last year the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that advisers to onshore hedge funds with at least $30 million in assets, 15 or more clients and whose funds have investor lockup periods of less than two years must register as investment advisers by February 2006. As a result, the majority of currently unregistered U.S.-based hedge fund advisers will soon be compelled to register and fulfill a range of legally mandated compliance obligations.

As hedge funds grow in size and sophistication, client service has become the industry mantra. That means a “commitment to help us on any level -- technology, integration with the rest of the firm or consulting services -- at any time,” says the chief operating officer of a U.S. East Coast hedge fund with more than $2 billion in assets. Of course, not all service providers are created equal. “Many overpromise what they can deliver,” says a manager of a multibillion-dollar hedge fund, based on the West Coast, that invests in multiple asset classes. “This is an industry ripe with overpromise.”

To determine which firms have or haven’t delivered on their promises, Institutional Investor went directly to the hedge fund managers that use their services. This summer we surveyed more than 600 hedge funds, representing more than $675 billion in single-manager hedge fund assets. We surveyed more than half of the 100 biggest single-manager hedge fund firms, as well as almost 100 funds of hedge funds. We asked them to rate their accounting firms, fund administrators, law firms and prime brokers on dozens of specific service issues -- everything from competitiveness of rates for securities lending to accessibility of senior management.

Our inaugural Alpha Awards (as originally published in Institutional Investor’s Alpha magazine) rank the top prime brokers, law firms, fund administrators and accounting firms as rated by their hedge fund clients. In addition to ranking the top firms based on overall quality of service, we rank the leading service providers in 23 more specialized categories, such as securities lending for prime brokers and regulatory compliance for accounting firms. For more information on the methodology, see “Compiling the Ranking” on page 76.

In most categories the biggest and most established service providers scored best. This suggests the importance hedge funds place on working with firms that know their businesses and have proven track records. But knowledge and reputation can’t make up for mediocre service. Managers know that a winning strategy can capsize because of shoddy accounting or financing that dries up just when it’s needed most.

In prime brokerage Morgan Stanley takes top honors by a wide margin over Credit Suisse First Boston and Goldman, Sachs & Co., which place second and third, respectively. The hedge funds we polled say they prize client service above all else, followed by operations, reporting and technology and securities lending. Morgan Stanley finishes at or near the top in all of those categories.

When it comes to law firms, hedge funds care most about the depth and breadth of experience related to their business. Although Sidley Austin Brown & Wood scores highest in that area and in quality of service, hedge fund heavyweight Seward & Kissel edges out Sidley Austin for the No. 1 spot by doing better in fees and brand image. Both firms have a sizable margin over third-ranked law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

Rothstein Kass & Co. is the leader among accounting firms. Goldstein Golub Kessler places second in that category, followed by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. The managers we surveyed rate International Fund Services, which is owned by financial services giant State Street Corp., as the top fund administrator, followed by Goldman Sachs and Citco Fund Services. IFS administers about $120 billion in hedge fund assets, less than half the level of assets serviced by New Yorkbased Citco, the world’s biggest hedge fund administrator.

As the hedge fund industry grows, managers are adapting their organizations and their investments to appeal to the pension funds and other institutional investors driving the market. “Institutional money is stickier,” says Morgan Stanley’s Portogallo. “That tends to be better for the manager over the long term, but institutional investors demand more due diligence, ask more questions and want more details about the allocation of their capital.”

Managers who want to attract institutional money need to be willing to provide greater transparency, reporting, portfolio risk analytics and operational controls. “Institutional investors can afford to tolerate more modest returns than can high-net-worth investors,” says Reiko Isaac, CEO and founder of Amber Partners, a Bermuda-based firm providing operational risk due-diligence services to hedge fund managers and investors. “But one thing they cannot afford is to invest in a hedge fund that blows up for noninvestment reasons.”

No investor wants to get caught holding the next Bayou Management. According to a complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the Stamford, Connecticutbased Bayou allegedly set up a phony accounting firm to audit its financial statements as part of a plan to hide investment losses and induce investors to put more than $300 million in Bayou’s funds.

Many managers are being proactive, asking their auditors to conduct reviews of their funds’ internal accounting controls to satisfy institutional investors, says Howard Altman, a comanaging principal in charge of the hedge fund practice at Rothstein Kass in Roseland, New Jersey. “In some cases hedge funds may also want to be prepared to sell their business to an institution,” he adds. “They want to have everything in their house in order for that eventuality.”

The biggest hedge fund firms have become institutions in their own right, with sprawling infrastructures. Five years ago only 32 hedge funds had $1 billion or more in assets, according to Hedge Fund Research. Today more than 200 do. Even more startling is the percentage of total hedge fund assets those funds control -- more than 51 percent at the end of 2004, up from 12 percent in 2000.

AS HEDGE FUNDS INCREASE IN SIZE, THEY ARE catering to the demands of their larger investors. “Institutional investors often require a detailed breakdown of the causes of performance,” says Ron Suber, manager of global clearing sales at Bear, Stearns & Co. in New York. “And because they want it, prime brokers need to deliver it.” Bear Stearns ranks No. 4 among prime brokers in overall quality of service.

Hedge funds are strengthening their daily operations. “We see leading clients looking increasingly institutional -- more like businesses that happen to be hedge funds than a group of traders,” says Philip Vasan, New Yorkbased global head of prime services at CSFB.

David Swain, chief financial officer at CQS, a $5 billion London-based hedge fund manager specializing in convertible and capital-structure arbitrage strategies, says that many large hedge funds like his have decided to bring more operations in-house to support their activities as they grow. But he also points out that different strategies have different service requirements. “A long-short equity fund can rely on one or two prime brokers and its administrator to handle billions of dollars under management,” says Swain. “If a hedge fund has a more fixed-income or structured bias, it needs more.”

As hedge funds head into new markets and strategies, the firms that service them have more ways to differentiate themselves. With more hedge funds venturing into private equity, for example, brokers “must be able to finance assets that range from straight equities to receivables on a securitized note for a nonpublic security,” says Jon Hitchon, Deutsche Bank’s London-based head of global prime services. Voters rate Deutsche Bank the top prime broker for financing.

Prime brokers are the service providers with the most intimate relationships with their hedge fund clients. Financing and securities lending remain the most lucrative areas of their business, but competition has reduced margins and made growth in volume more important, forcing prime brokers to spend more money on automation and technology. They are also integrating their services across geographies and across equities and fixed income to respond more effectively to clients whose strategies are not straitjacketed by traditional asset-class boundaries.

What’s at stake is critical. Last year investment banks reeled in $25 billion from hedge funds, more than one eighth of total banking revenues, according to CSFB bank analyst Marc Rubinstein in London. About $19 billion of that came from sales and trading and $6 billion from prime brokerage. The importance of hedge fund business across bank divisions means that investment banks are pulling out all the stops to service these clients. “We look at our overall firm footprint with the hedge fund in prioritizing our highest-touch clients,” says CSFB’s Vasan.

The broad-gauge changes in the industry have made hedge fund size increasingly important, even for start-ups. As a result, it doesn’t pay for new fund managers to pinch pennies when picking service providers. What’s critical is getting a fund launched successfully, attracting appropriate investors and performing well. “The manager is making a huge entrepreneurial leap, and it’s a moment of intense personal and professional vulnerability,” says Alex Ehrlich, global head of prime brokerage at fifth-ranked UBS in New York. “He is trying to do what will give him the greatest sense of comfort that they will be successful.”

The skew toward larger hedge funds across the industry means that smaller hedge funds have a steeper hill to climb. “There is a growing division between the haves and have-nots,” says Deutsche Bank’s Hitchon.

Funds of hedge funds are actively fueling this trend. Five or six years ago, a fund of funds with $500 million was considered large. Now many fund-of-funds firms have several times that and prefer to allocate money in chunks of $25 million or more. A hedge fund with $100 million in assets can’t command as much attention as it once could. “That’s changed the game in terms of what is viewed as attractive to big investors,” says Seward & Kissel attorney Tavss.

This shift in orientation benefits hedge fund service providers. Institutional investors, for example, want to see hedge funds put in place basic controls like independent net-asset-value calculations and independent valuations of securities. “They’re used to the infrastructure and oversight responsibilities of a pension plan,” says Gary Enos, head of State Street’s alternative investment servicing group, which includes IFS.

Full-service fund administrators are consequently gaining new clients as onshore hedge funds, which traditionally have performed their own fund accounting and portfolio valuation, outsource those jobs. Fund administrators are also able to charge higher fees for the valuation of illiquid and hard-to-price securities, as the cost of servicing specialized funds is rising.

And even the bigger hedge fund complexes are making greater demands in the investor relations area. “We expect more from our administrator in how they manage the information they give us and how they service the shareholders of the fund,” says Martin Pabari, head of product control at CQS. Pabari is responsible for ensuring the accurate reporting of his firm’s trading profit and loss statements.

Institutional investors aren’t the only ones concerned with the risks associated with a hedge fund going belly up. “Five years ago, when a hedge fund was often just a manager and ten sophisticated, high-net-worth investors, the headline risk wasn’t as important,” says State Street’s Enos. “When you have boards and shareholders to protect, the diligence you do changes. No one wants to be the service provider for the next failed hedge fund.”

The fund administration business has consolidated in recent years as the need for scale has become more important. Administrators have also found that servicing their hedge fund clients’ basic needs can be a conduit to new business.

“It’s a relationship-driven business,” says Robert Schultz, head of alternative fund services for North America at HSBC Holdings, the second-biggest hedge fund administrator. “You’re able to cross-sell more banking products to those clients, so it’s a good way to increase the share of revenue from a client.” Schultz is the former president and CEO of Bank of Bermuda in New York, which HSBC bought last year.

As service providers vie for clients, they are not being held back by their traditional boundaries. Fortis, a Brussels-based bank that bought Dutch private bank and trust and administrative services firm MeesPierson in 1997, has been providing credit to funds of funds for seven years. “Everyone wants to keep clients under the same roof -- it creates access to hedge funds and consolidates relationships,” notes Lisa Welden, director of business development at Fortis Prime Fund Solutions (USA) in New York. “If we get financing business from a fund-of-funds client we administer, we’re more comfortable making loans to them, and we may not need to charge them high minimum fees for custody services.”

Hedge fund registration is a fresh summons for a range of services from lawyers, accountants and administrators. U.S.-based hedge funds are turning to their outside legal counsel for help in registering and drafting written compliance procedures and codes of ethics. Documentation isn’t likely to be the biggest registration-related expense, however.

“The cost is not just getting some papers drafted by lawyers,” says George Zornada, a partner in the investment management and securities law practice at law firm Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham in Boston. “It’s instituting the whole compliance infrastructure. That’s expensive, and that’s a new world for many hedge fund operators.”

The required infrastructure covers a lot of territory. A registered investment adviser must have a chief compliance officer, although that person doesn’t have to be an attorney or accountant. Meeting other compliance obligations could run the gamut from purchasing new recordkeeping systems to establishing formal assessments of the quality of broker executions and valuation procedures for illiquid securities. Anthony Artabane, who leads the global alternative investment practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York, points out that investment advisers with long-short equity funds and other strategies that are relatively easy to administer and audit could pay $70,000 to $100,000 to register and set up a comprehensive compliance program. For the largest hedge funds, the cost could range from $500,000 to $1 million or more, depending on the fund’s structure and the complexity of the products and strategies it uses.

Many hedge fund managers gearing up for registration are testing the waters with mock audits that simulate the real exams carried out periodically by SEC inspectors. Law and accounting firms and consultants conduct these exams on-site at the hedge fund. A mock exam can last a few days or a full month and cost $40,000 to $150,000 or more, depending on the size and complexity of the hedge fund, says Zornada.

Hedge fund compliance needs will continue after the registration deadline, as funds begin facing real SEC audits. The SEC’s requirement that registered investment advisers conduct annual reviews of their compliance programs also guarantees that hedge funds will continue to turn to attorneys, accountants and other vendors to help them with periodic evaluations.

Artabane of PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests that another area likely to draw attention in coming years is hedge fund corporate governance. With institutional investors and regulators demanding more transparency, hedge funds currently organized as partnerships could come under pressure to have boards of directors and rethink their compensation structures. “Hedge funds may have to hold themselves to a higher standard,” says Artabane.

Accountants, lawyers and other service providers will undoubtedly be standing in line, ready to help them do it.