Today’s fund administrators are capable of doing much more for investment managers than just assisting with back-office responsibilities. As demonstrated by The Gemini Companies (Gemini), modern “fund administration 2.0” which involves working closely with managers to actively assist with launching, managing, and growing funds.
Recently, Gemini facilitated a rare transaction that enabled a manager to launch an alternative mutual fund without having to create an investment company from scratch. Instead of bringing a new fund to market, the manager saved a great deal of time and money by assuming, with Gemini’s help, the role of investment advisor for an SEC-registered mutual fund that already had an established track record (and a five-star rating from Morningstar).
A Deep-Rooted Partnership
The teams at the investment management firm and Gemini have worked closely together for more than seven years. The management firm’s president served as a partner, executive vice president, and managing director of another alternative mutual fund manager prior to establishing his own shop in 2015. During his tenure at his previous firm, the manager and his colleagues noticed that their sub-advisors’ managed futures strategies performed well during the 2008 financial crisis. They decided they wanted to launch a managed futures mutual fund that incorporated strategies from five high-quality investment managers. At the time, the pain of the financial crisis was fresh, and alternative mutual funds, also known as “liquid alts,” were rare.
“At a time when everyone was gun-shy, Gemini was the only series trust provider which was willing to do what we wanted them to do—create a trend-following program and put it in a mutual fund,” recalls the manager. “We knew that Gemini had been expanding their services to other alternative managers, and they understood the nuances and leveraging requirements of alternatives. Seven, eight, or nine years ago, that was unusual.”
Working together, the industry’s first multi-strategy managed futures mutual fund was launched within the Northern Lights Fund Trust, with additional sales, marketing, and distribution assistance provided by Gemini. Thanks to Gemini—which, among other things, introduced the manager to custodians and independent broker-dealers with which they do business—the fund grew to more than $1 billion in assets under management in just 11 months. “Then, we launched half a dozen other funds in the Northern Lights Fund Trust, and we grew alongside Gemini as they expanded their staff,” says the manager.
‘Have I Got a Fund for You’
The manager founded his own firm in 2015 and describes it as “more of an advisor than a mutual fund manager.” The firm offers financial education, investment management, retirement planning and philanthropic guidance services for wealthy families and entrepreneurs, and builds customized financial solutions to help investors achieve their goals.
In 2016, an opportunity arose for the firm to launch one of its investment models within a mutual fund. A New York-based, SEC-registered investment advisor specializing in risk-managed investing had been acquired by another investment advisor in 2013, but still managed a mutual fund in Gemini’s shared mutual fund trusts. The investment advisor’s parent company decided it no longer wished to pursue the strategy in that fund, so the advisor contacted Gemini and redeemed all the assets under management—approximately $250 million—over the course of a month.
While the assets had been liquidated, the fund itself remained intact, and so was its track record and five-star rating from Morningstar. Andrew Rogers, CEO of The Gemini Companies, contacted the manager who had recently founded his own firm and suggested that his firm apply to become investment advisor to the abandoned fund and amend the fund’s investment strategy to align with one of his firm’s models.
A Transaction that Gemini Understands Well
Prior to reaching out to the manager, Mr. Rogers and his colleagues at Gemini had already helped several other managers assume the role of investment advisor for other existing mutual funds. “A manager may have a great strategy that they want to take to market, but by taking over an existing fund, the manager gains an experienced board, a track record of operations, and the infrastructure behind the scenes that’s already in place,” says Mr. Rogers. While completing regulatory filings and obtaining shareholder approval for this type of deal require patience from managers, they can immediately take advantage of their funds’ existing selling agreements once those processes are complete, enabling them to raise assets faster and decrease expenses for shareholders.
Mr. Rogers points out that creating a fund from scratch can take four to six months in a shared fund trust or another existing trust, and six to nine months in a new trust. However, launching a fund by taking over as investment advisor to an abandoned fund can take just 30 to 90 days.
Gemini: An Engaged Partner
Having worked closely with the manager for many years, Mr. Rogers was confident that the manager and his colleagues could benefit shareholders of the abandoned fund. In addition to offering investors a more diversified alternative investment vehicle, the manager proposed reducing the fund’s management fee from 75 basis points (bps) to 65 bps, while keeping in place the fund’s existing expense ratio cap of 1%.
“When you come in as an investment advisor, you have to do SWOT (strength, weaknesses, opportunity, and threats) analysis and figure out how your strategy measures up from a cost perspective and as a fiduciary to the fund,” says the manager. “This fund went from a single alternative strategy, which was long/short equity, to being a multi-manager alternative mutual fund—with long/short equity accounting for almost 50% of its portfolio. It’s now a more diversified mutual fund with lower costs for investors.”
For the manager, the capability to utilize the abandoned fund’s Gemini-negotiated selling agreements was an attractive attribute. “It’s one thing to launch a fund and put $1 million into it, but to break even you need to have $25 million or more depending on the expense ratio,” he explains. “You need selling agreements with various custodians and a whole host of related line items checked off before you raise money.”
Crossing the Finish Line
After the fund’s board approved the contract, Gemini outsourced the printing and mailing of shareholder prospectuses for the new fund to a solicitation agent, which also supervised the voting. On December 2, 2016, the manager’s firm surpassed the 51% approval threshold among fund shareholders to become the new investment advisor and begin managing the portfolio.
The manager is grateful to Gemini for helping his firm seamlessly manage the process of bringing the new fund to market. “I know the bad things that can happen when you launch a mutual fund, which is why the opportunity to take over a fund that was already launched and had no upfront legal fees associated with it was so attractive,” he said. “I know the people at Gemini, and I know the quality of their work, so I trusted them to guide us through the process, and as expected, their help was invaluable.”
The new fund kept the abandoned fund’s Morningstar category rankings. The fund also remains in the Northern Lights Fund Trust. “For me, there’s no reason to move out of the shared trust—Gemini provides services we need, including ongoing monitoring from an advertising perspective, which is critical because we want to make sure we’re complying with the SEC’s marketing rules,” the manager said.
The manager estimates that his firm saved between $50,000 and $100,000 in startup expenses and at least 90 to 120 days over the traditional fund-launch route, and he says his firm stands to save more time and money over the long term. “The fact that the fund already had several selling agreements in place was crucial because it’s especially hard right now to get a mutual fund on a custodial platform,” notes the manager. “They’re not looking to take on new funds until they figure out how the Department of Labor’s proposed Fiduciary Rule is going to affect them, so to become an advisor to a product that’s already on those platforms is very important to our future success.”
Fund Administration 2.0
Gemini did for the manager what it has done for many other clients in the past—act as an engaged partner to help launch, manage and grow a fund. “As more managers learn about the process of taking over an existing fund, and the advantages of entering the mutual fund market this way, there may be more managers in our trusts who would be willing to do what this manager has done,” says Mr. Rogers. “If and when they are, we’ll be ready to deploy Gemini’s engaged teams to make sure everything is executed properly.”