We're not all cut out to be investors. We trade too much, continually buying, selling and shuffling assets around, all the while thinking we're being proactive.

Unfortunately, investment activity alone does not constitute a 'hands on' investment attitude. In fact, the unnecessary churning that racks up fees and muddies investment goals is usually detrimental to our portfolios.

For most of us, delegating responsibility to a fund manager is the best way to strike a balance between being too active or too passive. By picking the right fund manager and keeping a watchful eye on performance, most investors can cut down on superfluous investment decisions while maintaining tight control of their money.

Evaluate Past Performance
Performing due diligence is vital to hiring the appropriate fund manager. To find the fund manager that best fits your needs, carefully examine the fund's prospectus to evaluate:

  • Variability and consistency of returns;
  • Absolute returns, past returns, and returns on a risk-adjusted basis;
  • Performance in the context of the fund's asset class and in the context of its peer group;
  • Performance relative to the appropriate benchmarks, including the up and down market-capture ratio (how much of the positive/negative rates of returns the portfolio manager is capturing);
  • Amount of assets under management and the amount of time (in years) required to rack up a positive track record;
  • The consolidated asset size (not the individual transactions fees).

I want to elaborate on this last point because it's often overlooked. Instead of fixating on individual transactions fees, look at the negotiated assets-based fee, which should cover portfolio management fees, trading costs, custodial fees, investment management consulting, and any other operating expenses. Management compensation should be largely comprised of performance-based fees, so your interests and the manager's interests are closely aligned.

Monitor Ongoing Performance
Don't hand over control of your portfolio and then put it on automatic pilot. You should never be passive about the management of your wealth, even if you're paying someone else to manage it for you. Be sure to perform regular performance reviews of your portfolio and take care to place performance in the wider context of your long-term policies as well as the overall market conditions. Your manager should make all underlying investment activity available to you.

To evaluate manager performance, consider:

  • What were the market conditions during the performance review period?
  • Did the tangible results meet your expressed goals?
  • How much risk did the manager shoulder to reach those results? Are you comfortable with this risk level? Was the risk too low, or too high?
  • Are you moving closer to your objectives or drifting further away?

Insist on transparency of trades, so you can measure performance not just in terms of gains or losses but also in terms of returns and risk. Transparency provides the groundwork for you to evaluate manager performance and compare it to your investment strategy.

Reporting of performance should be on both a composite basis and on an individual manager basis. Reporting also should allow for varying levels of analysis along each asset class and each asset style, and on a gross- and net-of-fee basis.

Finally, calculate your returns on both a time-weighted and dollar-weighted basis. The time-weighted rate of return is a superb method to evaluate the money manager's performance because it minimizes the effects of cash flows. Dollar-weighted rates-of-return measure the portfolio's total growth.