Harnessing the power of artificial intelligence will be key for asset managers in 2019

6 Dec 2018
Identifying the relevant signals from the noise will continue to play a critical role in successful investing in 2019.

This is according to Director of Investments at Old Mutual Investment Group, Hywel George, who, speaking about his investment outlook for next year, says that while passive investing, responsible investing and real and alternative sources of return will be key global investment trends in 2019, artificial intelligence (AI) is going to emerge as the most dominant theme for asset managers around the world in the year ahead.

“While there may be some scepticism as to the extent that AI will change our day-to-day lives, it could well turn out to have the most profound and fundamental impact on the way we work and conduct ourselves in all aspects of our lives over the coming decade,” says George. “From an investment perspective, the way asset managers integrate AI into the approach they use to managing money is likely to be fundamental to their future success.”

George highlights that for asset managers ‘Cognitive Augmentation’, in particular, will be an important factor in applying AI. “The human element is still a crucial component. We don’t believe that AI will be a case of machine-only and the winners are most likely to be those who optimise the relationship between human and machine,” he says.

“Within our business, we have collectively identified five key areas where AI will directly impact the way we manage our clients’ assets,” he explains. “Firstly, we have to consider that the data we need to source will evolve – news scrapes, management emotion measures, satellite imagery – and our ability to clean and curate that data will be key.

“Secondly, AI will be able to help us interpret this data and look for themes that will aid us in finding new ideas, and thirdly, AI will help us to design better stock and sector filter screens to identify those companies with the characteristics we favour,” he says.

George adds that the fourth focus point will be on the fact that AI can help with portfolio construction and risk management, by helping to identify risk clusters that were previously hidden. “Lastly, it will also help us in stock-specific fundamental research, finding anomalies that beg questions, and helping dig into issues where we would like more information.”

In addition to AI, George says that passive investing will also play front and centre in the 2019 investment landscape. “Passive or index investing will likely continue to gain support next year in line with global trends. However, we believe there is still a firm place for active investing to make up a substantial component of the mix in a portfolio. Ultimately, the right balance of the two is the ideal solution, with passive investments enabling investors to manage their fee load, while active managers’ stock picking can add value relative to the market.”

George also points out that during 2019 SA investors should look to keep adding real, alternative sources of return outside of regular equity and bond portfolios. This includes real assets such as infrastructure investments, real estate and agriculture, as well as private equity. “Globally, around 20 percent of the assets of the largest pension funds are now invested in alternative assets in some form or another, whereas in SA alternative investments comprise a mere two percent of institutional assets. So we have a lot of work to do to increase that exposure locally to give investors exposure to the long-term, premium real returns they can offer.”

The last, and by no means least important, investment theme that George expects to see grow in significance next year is responsible investment. “People’s perceptions are shifting worldwide, with many becoming more mindful of sustainable investing. With around US$80 trillion of global assets under management, the investment industry has great potential to influence decisions and practices relating to sustainability,” he says. “Encouragingly, ESG funds have really taken off globally, with an almost exponential rise in flows over the past few years.

“Investors are increasingly realising that there appears to be no trade-off between making sustainability an investment priority and achieving competitive returns,” adds George. “The fact that an ESG strategy can add significant alpha makes intuitive sense because integrating ESG into investment decisions means you generally invest in quality companies that make better long-term decisions and thus deliver more sustainable returns over time.”