In my first three posts on this subject I (a) complained about the dysfunctional nature of so many investment committees, (b) speculated about why dysfunctionality seemed to be so widespread, and (c) gave some examples of wayward paths investment committees often wander down.

As I mentioned in the first post, I started speculating about investment committees when I realized that I’d just joined my fiftieth investment committee and that I was every bit as much a part of the problem as everyone else. As I thought more about the solutions families and endowments had tried, and how limited they were (they either didn’t work or were way too expensive for most investors), I wondered if there might not be an alternative solution.

I decided to “invent” the investment committee operating manual (ICOM).(1) The origin of the ICOM went back to 1983, when I was running a large family office. If we met with an investment manager who’d had recent good performance, we could be sure we’d be hit over the head with it. If the same manager had had recent poor performance, on the other hand, we’d hear about everything under the sun except performance: market conditions, interest rate expectations, what the Fed might do, geopolitical events. Soon the time for the meeting would be over.

Fed up with this, we created our own standard agenda for manager meetings and sent it out to all our managers (there were just under one hundred of them). We let them know that this was the agenda we expected them to follow and if they wanted to change it in any way they had to let us know in advance of the meeting.

The ICOM is nothing but a standard agenda for an investment committee. It consists of two key components: a specified agenda for each committee meeting throughout the year, and “seasonality,” that is, causing the agenda to evolve slightly as the year goes by.

An ICOM differs from an investment policy statement (IPS) in that, generally speaking, the IPS tells investors where they want to be, while the ICOM tells the investment committees how to get their investors there. The IPS says, “We want to be in Pocatello.” The ICOM says, “Turn left out of the driveway, then bear right at the intersection,” etc. The ICOM is designed to help investment committees, as we said in our original white paper on the subject, “to maintain their discipline and patience when everyone else has long run out of both.”(2)

Our original ICOM was (a) long, (b) complex, and (c) exceedingly boring. Nonetheless, it’s been used by dozens, perhaps hundreds, of families and endowments. I’ve often had the experience of taking on a new client only to discover that they’d been using an ICOM without ever associating it with Greycourt. More recently, having had more than a decade of experience with the ICOM, I decided to revisit the original version with the idea of simplifying it, keeping what was working best and jettisoning the rest. In my next post I’ll give you an example of what the current version looks like.(3)

(1) I know, I sound like Al Gore. But even today, a decade later, if you Google “investment committee operating manual” all the hits relate to Greycourt or to sites that republished our original white paper on this subject. If you’d have Googled the same term in early 2003 you’d have got bupkis.

(2) Greycourt White Paper No. 31 – Reinvigorating the Investment Committee: Introducing the Investment Committee Operating Manual (September, 2003), available at www.Greycourt.com/White_Papers.

(3) When I try to attach a file to a blog post, many readers find the post has been blocked. Hence the reason for simply including it in the body of the next post. Take that, IT departments!

Next up: The ICOM, Part 5

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Please note that this post is intended to provide interested persons with an insight on the capital markets and is not intended to promote any manager or firm, nor does it intend to advertise their performance. All opinions expressed are those of Gregory Curtis and do not necessarily represent the views of Greycourt & Co., Inc., the wealth management firm with which he is associated. The information in this report is not intended to address the needs of any particular investor.