Risk Management Policies In Financial Services: Hedge Funds

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.Due diligence in many aspects of the hedge fund business has increased since the 2008 financial crisis. Fund managers are now acutely mindful of their brokerage trading connections, as well as the structure of asset-custody with transaction partners. Since the 2008 financial crisis hedge funds have learned the hard way that counter-party risks certainly do exist in the financial services sector, and the domino effect resulting from the collapse of Lehman Brothers demonstrated that even the best and brightest can be left exposed.

When It Comes To Life Insurance, Less Is More

Let’s face it, not everyone needs life insurance. Determining whether you really need it is the first step towards making the right decisions regarding the types and amounts of coverage to choose. And, to be blunt, life insurance is really meant for your family and loved ones, or anyone else who relies on your income. That being said, the type of insurance that you need the most just happens to be the least expensive.Reasons You Buy Life InsuranceLife insurance was originally created so that, if you die, your loved ones could continue to live the same kind of lifestyle that they currently have. That being said, life insurance is simply a means of replacing your income if you die. Period. That is all it is really meant to do. If you don’t have anyone who depends on you to provide for them, or you don’t have earnings, you don’t have nearly the same need for protection as someone who is working and might be supporting a young family for example. The need may still be there due to other financial obligations, but again, it is not necessarily so great.Two Flavors To Choose FromOnce you have decided that you need coverage, you have to select the type that best suits your needs. Life insurance comes in two basic forms: term and permanent (also called “whole life”). The overwhelming majority of cases that I write consist of term coverage as it is the type of protection that fits most people’s needs.Keep It Super SimpleTerm life insurance is insurance against the risk of your dying during the term of the policy. As a policy holder, you pay your premiums regualrly and if you die during the time frame, or “term”, that your insurance is in force, your beneficiaries will receive a payout equal to the face amount of insurance you bought. The ‘term’ is the length of time the policy is guaranteed to remain in force at the premium you have been approved for. Policies are typically issued for 10, 20, or 30 year terms. At the end of the guaranteed term period you can renew your policy, let it lapse, or buy another policy. The major benefit of term insurance is that it’s very inexpensive in most cases and is very simple to understand.Permanent, or cash-value insuranceThe other choice is cash-value insurance. People are initially attracted to cash-value insurance because it can allow them to save a small amount of their premium and can ultimately be “paid up,” which means the insurance will have enough cash value that the policy will remain in force without further premium payments. The theory behind this type is that, if you pay for life insurance for 20, 30, or 40 years, you might as well get some of your money back.Sounds good, right? The problem is that cash-value insurance usually isn’t a very good investment, even if you hold the policy for many years due to the higher fees associated with it and the relatively low rates of return you will earn. It’s and even worse option if you only keep the policy for a few years and have to drop it due to job loss or some other financial hardship. These policies build value very slowly and it takes years to amount to much.While permanent policies do have their place in financial planning on rare occasions, they do not suit the needs of most people. If your financial planner is recommending you to take this type of coverage I suggest that your financial planner not be the same person from whom you are buying the insurance.The Bottom LineThe bottom line is that you need to simplify your financial plan as much as possible, and cash-value insurance is complex and is not properly suited for the needs of the vast majority of people. Instead, opt for an affordable term life insurance policy and use the money that you would’ve otherwise spent on he high premiums of a cash-value policy to invest in an option that’s tax favored. Investment accounts such as your employer’s 401(k), or an IRA are good options to consider.Hopefully you consider my advice when it comes to shopping for your life insurance, and you will consider a term life policy. Be sure to verify with your agent that the policy cannot be canceled as long as you are current on your premiums. Also, only choose policy that is guaranteed renewable. You have no way of knowing what your health will be like at the end of your term and it is comforting to know that you can keep the policy should you need to, without having to under go a medical exam.

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