Historically, the active vs passive divide has been primarily a question of how to invest within an asset class. Is it better to utilize an active manager who will try to outperform an index (at the risk of underperforming it), or simply buy the index itself in the form of a fund that at worst should simply “underperform” by the margin of a very small fee. Either way, most investment managers will still implement a remarkably similar asset allocation – regardless of the active vs passive divide – based on the principles of Modern Portfolio Theory.
Yet a deeper look at MPT reveals that in reality, it may have never been intended as a model for strategic asset allocation in the first place. Markowitz himself advocated in his original research that MPT should not be implemented simply by looking at long-term historical averages, but instead by adjusting the statistical analysis of risk and return based on nuances not taken into account by formal computations alone.
The end point of this dynamic is that the active vs passive divide of investment management is actually split on two different dimensions: to be active or passive within asset classes, and whether to be strategic or tactical amongst them, leading to four quadrants of investment management styles depending on which combination(s) the advisor chooses.
Ultimately, this means that going forward investment managers must be more cognizant to frame their approach based on both dimensions, and recognize clearly where they can – or cannot – add value for clients. So what’s your investment management style? Tactical active, Strategic active, Tactical passive, or Strategic passive?