Interactive Investor

ii ACE 40 methodology

Learn how we choose our "ACE 40" investments, who is involved in their selection, our own bespoke asset grouping, the analysis and selection process and finally, the monitoring process.

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Overview

This document confirms how we choose our rated products. These include  Super 60 and ACE 40 investments, Quick Start Funds and Investment Pathways. It also explains who selects them and how we categorise them into different groups. Plus, it details the analysis and selection process and the monitoring process.

If you do not understand some of the terms used in the methodology, we have a helpful glossary at the bottom of the page.

Our selection is derived from the whole spectrum of collective investments and includes both active and passive products. On the active side, we include both open and closed-ended structures, being either single or multi-asset vehicles. From a passive perspective, we look at both Index Trackers and Exchange Traded Funds.

Our rated funds aim to be suitable for all investors, irrespective of experience. We aim to provide a set of high-quality choices, across different asset classes, regions, and investment types.

Our flat-fee pricing means that our investors do not have to have any concerns about any vested interests of ii. Investments are only included if they are, in our opinion, the best option for our customers. We do not make exceptions. This ensures customers can have full faith in our recommendations since there are no commercial or other hidden motives.  

The key principles of Transparency, Choice and Fairness underpin the selection process. There are internal controls in place to prevent conflicts of interest.

Asset Groups and Investment Categories

Super 60 and ACE 40 investments are placed into asset class groups and investment categories. This aims to clarify the choices available to private investors.

Our asset groups include UK investments: UK equities, UK equity income, UK smaller companies and sterling bonds. There are also global options: global equities, global equity income, global bonds and property. For those seeking specific regional exposure to equities, we have:  Emerging Markets, Asia, Europe, Japan and the US. There is also a specialist asset group, which includes commodities. For those seeking a more diversified investment strategy, we have a mixed asset group.

Within each asset group are five investment categories: low cost, core, income, smaller company and adventurous. 

Each is briefly explained in the table below.

Our aim is to limit the total number of funds to roughly around 60 for the Super 60 and 40 for the ACE 40 lists at any one time. We apply a 10% limit either way. As a result of this the Super 60 can contain up to 66 funds. The UK and global equity categories offer a larger number of options and the alternative asset groups fewer, reflecting typical customer demand as well as the range of funds available. The alternative asset groups and the adventurous investment category are primarily designed to appeal to more experienced investors.

Selection Process

Our fund selection process follows the same principles with some additional nuances for our ethical offering. These are summarised in the diagram below, then explained in more detail.

Initial screening

We look at all available tradeable options in the selection process for the ii rated products. Then, using the filters below, pick out an initial list of viable funds for full review and discussion.

The starting point for our ACE 40 ethical offering is to create the broadest possible universe of ethical investments available to the UK individual investor. The list has been built in collaboration with independent experts, SRI Services, and using our data provider Morningstar. This is not a rated list but is rather an extensive list of ethical options available to our investors. The resulting ‘ethical investments long list' is published on the interactive investor website and updated on a quarterly basis. Then, filters are applied to reach the final ACE 40 list of rated funds.

Investment Filters

  • Must be tradeable on our platform 
  • Exclude funds that are either sub-scale or experiencing capacity issues
  • Must be sufficiently liquid to allow for daily dealing
  • GBP version chosen where possible and suitable: unhedged share classes are usually preferred (see footnote 1) meaning investors may be exposed to currency risk
  • Minimum track record of one year - preferably three

Performance analysis

 Performance is analysed over both short and longer time periods. This allows us to identify those actively managed funds and trusts that have historically delivered consistently superior returns compared with their relevant peer groups. In the case of passive funds, the key performance indicator is tracking error versus the relevant market index – the tighter, the better. This ensures these investments provide exactly what they say on the tin.

We examine performance over short, medium and long periods. We look at quintile/quartile rankings relative to their closest peers where appropriate. We are happy to consider funds that may have underperformed recently, but historically have a good longer-term track record. We also consider some funds with short performance track records.

Risk profiling

Outsized historical returns are sometimes generated by managers who take inappropriately high risks. Consequently, the rating process also takes into account risk-adjusted returns.

To do this we quantitatively analyse the risk profile of all candidates using various metrics including Sharpe ratios, information ratios, volatility (Standard Deviation) and gearing where applicable, i.e. investment trusts. We eliminate investments with poor risk characteristics relative to their peers over a specific time period, depending on the strategy. This could be three or five-years or longer.

Final constituents are typically selected because they have delivered consistently superior returns (or lower tracking errors in the case of passive funds) compared with their relevant peer group. However, the list may occasionally include a few deliberately 'contrarian' choices where the investment style pursued by the manager has temporarily fallen out of favour, but where we believe past performance and/or the current investing environment suggest a change in fortunes may be due.

We also evaluate fund capacity and portfolio liquidity by looking at total assets under management (AUM) run by a manager, net inflows as well as portfolio liquidation profiles. 

For investment trusts we also analyse dealing spreads and discount or premium to underlying net asset value.

Cost assessment

We next assess the charging structure of each fund in the universe to ensure that it provides good value for money.

Cost Filters

  • We avoid investments where there is an initial charge.
  • The Ongoing Charges Figure (OCF) must be good value for money and not significantly higher than its peer group average. Exceptions may be made for highly specialised funds.
  • The cheapest share class available is chosen where more than one class exists.

Qualitative assessment

Qualitative analysis allows us to look in more detail at how the investment is run by the manager. We examine how the fund management firm operates, its reputation, management team experience, investment style and process.

We favour managers that operate within a strong, supportive structure, have a clearly defined and disciplined investment philosophy and process and an experienced team that can demonstrate consistent implementation of their process.

Ethical assessment (for ACE 40)

As part of the qualitative due diligence process, we also seek to understand the manager’s approach to ethical investing. This allows us to categorise the manager’s investment style correctly but more importantly, to verify that their approach is actually being implemented within the overall investment process and evidenced in the final portfolio. To support our own analysis we may also seek the opinions of external experts in the field, such as SRI Services.

Ethical Investment Styles for the ACE 40 Rated List

The world of ethical investing is a minefield for investors to navigate. This is not least due to a variety of terms and phrases used by the fund management industry. The lack of common language acts as a barrier and can leave investors scratching their heads.

In turn, this makes it difficult for investors to find a fund aligned with their own personal values. 

To help investors, ii categorises all ACE 40 investments into one of three broad ethical investment ‘styles. However, funds categorised within the same style may do not invest in the same way.

Avoids

Funds that focus on excluding companies, sectors or specific business practices in line with the published fund criteria that may focus on ethical, social and/or environmental issues. Funds in this group vary significantly. Some will exclude only a small number or companies (for example perhaps only a small percent of their possible universe), others have extensive exclusions (50% or more of their possible universe). The most common areas of exclusion are tobacco companies, weapons manufacturers and companies that breach internationally agreed standards - some include multiple additional issues. Passive funds typically fall into this group, generally with limited exclusions.

Considers

Funds that actively consider ethical and/or environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues as part of their investment strategies. Funds in this group vary significantly but typically consider multiple positive and negative issues when deciding where to invest - with many emphasising positive stock selection. Most avoid controversial business practices and focus on sectors, themes and activities that the managers believe to be both financially sound and ethically, socially and/or environmentally beneficial. Many funds also have responsible ownership (stewardship) strategies and aim to improve companies' environmental and/or social practices.

Embraces

Funds that focus on companies or other investment types (eg infrastructure, property) where delivering positive social and/or environmental outcomes is integral to their existence. These funds often refer to focusing on 'delivering positive impacts' as a major element of their investment strategy and purpose. Alternatively, they may simply be entirely invested in a sector (such as renewable energy or social housing) where the potential to help deliver positive benefits is widely recognised. Fund strategies vary and you should be aware that unlike the other two styles additional ethical factors may not always be considered by funds of this kind.

When a fund could fit into more than one category, the highest ranked style will be used. The styles are ranked in the following order: Embraces, Considers and Avoids. For example, if a fund considers ethical, social and governance (ESG) factors, but also avoids investing in tobacco companies, then the fund would come under the ‘Considers’ ethical investment style.

Selection and approval

By this point in the process for the Super 60, we will have distilled the original investment lists to around 260 high quality funds, investment trusts and  passives.  The investments chosen are what we believe are the most suitable candidates for our asset groups and investment categories described above. 

For our ACE 40 list we also consider all the funds on the ethical investments long list. 

The final proposals are then up for discussion and approval at our Fund Working Group (FWG).The FWG is comprised of internal experts from interactive investor and one independent consultant. The FWG can engage with other investment experts as required.  

The selection and approval process is overseen and challenged by the Investment Selection Committee (ISC). The ISC comprises of both internal and independent external experts.  An independent Investment Governance Committee at board level oversees the process undertaken by the ISC to ensure correct procedure has been followed.

Review and refresh

We maintain regular contact with the management houses of all investments on our rated lists. This ensures each investment continues to be managed in line with our expectations. A detailed fund questionnaire is completed every year for constituents of the Super 60 and ACE40.  This covers all the key areas of our due diligence process, with information being sourced directly from the management company concerned.

The lists are monitored continuously for ‘yellow card’ events. Examples include, but are not limited to, fund manager moves, soft closures (where a fund closes to new money) or a major re-rating from external or internal sources. Investments that experience a yellow card event are automatically placed under formal review.

In addition, the Funds Working Group meets monthly to monitor the performance of the lists. Performance is based on peer group rankings over multiple periods. Our approach aims to identify, in a timely manner, those that are struggling. In such a scenario, the FWG assesses whether this is caused by fundamental reasons rather than temporary tactical   reasons. For passive options tracking error and performance is reviewed. We also keep an eye on investment trusts trading at a high discount or premium to net asset value.

Any rated investment identified as a possible concern by the FWG will become subject to enhanced monitoring. If the situation does not improve and we begin to suspect an underlying problem with the investment, it is then placed under formal review.

Once an investment has been placed under formal review, either for performance reasons or because of a “yellow card” event, our analysts will conduct a thorough investigation.

Our goal is to reach a decision one way or another within three months of the date when the investment was placed under formal review. This gives us enough time to discuss our concern with the relevant fund manager and/or allow an opportunity for improvement. We tell customers immediately via the ii website when any investment has been placed under formal review. We communicate again when a final decision has been made to retain or replace the fund.

When a fund is removed, we usually seek to replace it with a new option in the same asset group. This is unless we believe there is still enough choice for investors in that asset group. The shortlist of  investments mentioned above acts as a substitute bench.  This ensures replacements can be made promptly.

The Fund Working Group undertakes a full review every quarter. The review discusses all investments on the list and consider any changes. We also look at potential alternatives. Market events are also considered. Decisions are made and agreed by the committee.  

Any changes that are made will be listed on the ii website, along with a rationale for the change. A quarterly update of the list is part of our regular editorial features.  This also includes a list of all changes made during the quarter.

Once a year we refresh the initial list of all tradeable investment options.  This is to check whether a fund remains fit for the purpose it was originally selected. We also consider any recent fund offerings and significant market events so that our list remains fresh. The danger of not adopting a full review is that you might keep less attractive investments on the list for longer and miss good new opportunities.

Despite these measures to replace and refresh we do not anticipate a high rate of turnover. We expect most funds to retain their rating over several years. This is consistent with our aim of selecting investments that should be suitable for long term investment purposes. We publish our annual reviews for the Super 60 in January and October for the ACE 40.

Governance

The Investment Selection Committee (ISC) is an executive level committee. The ISC provides oversight and challenge to the generation and dissemination of research recommendations. This includes Rated Funds, Model Portfolios, and pathway investments. The role of the ISC is to oversee how the firm’s research recommendations are researched, compiled, monitored, maintained and presented to customers. 

The Investment Governance Committee (IGC) is an independent board level committee. The IGC’s role is to oversee the governance of interactive investors’ investment research. Independent oversight of how the investment proposition is implemented and maintained is essential to ensure that robust ethical, risk and governance focused business practices are embedded into the decision-making process. The IGC’s key responsibilities include: ensuring a strong focus on the needs of retail investors; making sure that customers are treated fairly by ensuring that any recommendations are independent and not influenced by potential conflicts of interest; helping customers take control of their financial futures; and delivering great value.

April 2021

Glossary

Asset Class Definitions

Equities
Also known as shares, equities represent a share in the ownership of a company. The investment return from holding equities is made up of:

  • capital gains (or losses) from the rise (or fall) in price of the share; and
  • dividends, a sum of money paid regularly by a company to its shareholders out of its profits (or reserves)

Investors are able to buy and sell shares in companies across the globe. These include:

  • UK equities: UK equity funds invest in shares listed on the London Stock Exchange. These include shares in large companies in the FTSE 100 index, through to the next 250 largest in the FTSE 250, all the way down to the smallest companies. There are a large range of funds available.
  • UK smaller companies: Funds that invest in UK smaller companies specifically look at the smallest companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. Typically the shares are newer, with a shorter track record. This means they are considered higher-risk than larger, more established shares with a longer track record. The sector also includes Alternative Investment Market (AIM) stocks. AIM is the London Stock Exchange’s international market for smaller growing companies.
  • Global equities: Funds that are called Global Equity funds give investors exposure to markets in all geographic areas across the world. These funds differentiate themselves by having to not only choose which underlying shares to buy, but also how much to invest in each region. 
  • Emerging markets: Countries that have a lower per-capita income and are moving towards becoming more developed. These regions typically do not have an established track record and come with higher risks for investors. 
  • Asian equities: Asian equities include all countries from the region, including very established markets like Japan and Hong Kong, newer developed markets like China and Taiwan and those that are still developing, such as Malaysia and Vietnam. Most Asian funds have larger weightings to the bigger markets and only a small weighting to emerging Asian markets.
  • European equities: European equities include all countries from the region, including very established markets such as Germany and France, newer developed markets such as Poland and Russia and those that are still developing, such as Latvia and Croatia. Most European funds have larger weightings to the bigger markets and only a small weighting to emerging European markets. 
  • US equities: These funds invest in shares listed on stock exchanges in the United States. These include the largest US companies in the S&P 500 index all the way down to the smallest companies in the US that are often members of the Russell 2000 index. There are a large range of funds available.
  • Japanese equities: As the most developed market in Asia, investors often want exposure to Japan separately to other Asian countries. The main Japanese market index is the Nikkei 225. The Nikkei measures the performance of 225 large, publicly owned companies in Japan

Equity Income
Equity Income is a specific investment strategy where fund managers aim to invest in shares in companies that pay dividends – regular annual or quarterly cash payments to investors out of profit or reserves. While most larger stocks pay dividends, smaller companies that are starting out typically do not pay out as much as they reinvest profits in growing their business. Equity income fund managers typically try and invest in stocks that pay larger than average dividends to generate a stable regular income for those investors who want it.

  • UK equity income: UK Equity Income fund managers invest in dividend paying stocks from the London Stock Exchange (typically these will be larger, established, companies) to generate a stable income for investors looking for regular income from their equity investments.
  • Global equity income: Global Equity Income fund managers invest in dividend paying stocks from around the world (typically these investments will be in larger, established, companies) to generate a stable income for investors looking for regular income from their equity investments.

Fixed income
Fixed income is another term for bonds.  These are loans taken out by a government or company which it promises to repay over a fixed timeframe along with a regular interest payment (in effect, the rate paid annually or semi-annually on the loan).  

  • Global bond funds
    Funds that invest at least 80% of their assets in fixed interest securities. 
  • Sterling bond funds
    Funds that invest at least 80% of their assets in sterling denominated bonds (or bonds hedged back to sterling).

Alternative Investments
Most investments are either categorised in the equity or fixed-income sectors. But there are many other ‘alternative’ investments you can choose, and these include commercial property (investments in shops, offices and warehouse) and commodities (raw materials such as gold, copper, oil or agricultural products such as wheat and coffee). These ‘alternative’ investments can play an important diversifying role, having the potential to mitigate losses when equity and/or bond prices are falling. Research shows that a modest allocation to carefully selected alternatives can reduce overall portfolio volatility without materially impacting the overall expected return.

  • Property
    Real-estate assets, usually comprising business premises rather than residential properties.  These typically include retail (individual shops or shopping centres), retail warehouses, offices and/or industrial premises. The fund manager will earn a rental yield on the premises it owns in its portfolio, as well as making a capital gain/loss on any changes in the underlying value of the properties it owns.
  • Specialist
    Funds within the specialist sector are ones that have an investment universe that is not accommodated by the mainstream sectors. This sector contains a diverse range of investment options. A number of these funds are commodity orientated, but it can include a wider range of non-standard financial assets, e.g. infrastructure.  

Mixed asset
Fund managers in this sector have a mandate to invest in assets across a range of different asset classes, e.g. equities plus fixed income plus potentially cash. These funds typically specify the maximum amount they have invested in equities, which allows customers to choose how much exposure they want.


Other terms

Passive investing
Passive investing, also known as index tracking, is where a fund follows a set benchmark (usually a stock market index such as the FTSE 100 or S&P 500) and aims to replicate the performance of that benchmark for investors. 

Ongoing charges figure (OCF)
The annual cost of investing in a fund, expressed as a percentage of the value of your investment. Trading costs (incurred when the fund manager buys or sells investments held by the fund) are not included in the OCF, so the true annual cost will be higher than the stated OCF. The total cost of the fund calculates everything included in the annual running costs. Please note that all performance figures are calculated net of all costs incurred in running a fund.

Risk profiling
Individual funds will generate returns that vary dependent on their underlying holdings and the behaviour of the market as a whole. Risk profiling allows us to measure how a fund performs in different scenarios and whether the returns it achieves are based on higher than normal risks, or good management. The aim is to try and identify funds which achieve good returns for the level of risk they take.

Sharpe ratio 
A useful aid for investors hunting for active funds that stand out from the crowd. The Sharpe ratio is a way of measuring the historical risk-adjusted return on an investment. In other words, how much excess return (over and above a risk-free rate, e.g. yield on government bond) you have received for each ‘unit’ of risk being taken by the portfolio manager. The higher a fund's Sharpe ratio, the better its returns have been relative to the risk it has taken.

The Sharpe ratio is calculated as the return from the investment (for example, over the past three years) minus the risk-free return over that period (for example, from a government bond), divided by the standard deviation of the portfolio’s excess return.  

Information ratio
The information ratio for an actively managed fund is virtually identical to the Sharpe ratio, but the risk-free rate of return used in the calculation is the figure that would be earned on a benchmark index. This benchmark is, in effect, what the asset manager might be expected to hold in the fund if he/she had no view on the market.

The ratio is calculated as the return from the portfolio (for example over the past three years) minus the benchmark return over that period, divided by the standard deviation of the portfolio’s excess return over that benchmark.  

Tracking error
If you are investing in a passive, or tracker fund, which aims to mimic the return on a broad market index by holding a smaller number of assets than there are in the index, you would want that fund to stick as closely as possible to the return on the underlying index. The tracking error for a passive fund reflects the difference between the return on the fund and the return on the underlying index – the lower the tracking error, the closer the passive fund is to its underlying index.

Gearing
Some investment trusts enhance returns by borrowing cash to invest in additional financial assets. At its simplest, gearing means borrowing money to buy more assets in the hope the company makes enough profit to pay back the debt and interest and leave something extra for shareholders. However, if the investment portfolio does not perform well, gearing can increase losses. The more an investment company gears, the higher the risk.

Dealing spreads
The dealing spread reflects the difference between the price at which you can buy a particular investment, and the price at which you can sell it. Ideally, you would want this spread to be as narrow as possible, so that when you finally come to sell an investment you do not sacrifice too much of your gains. The narrower the dealing spread, the more liquid an investment is considered to be.

Premium/discount to underlying (or ‘net’) asset value
The underlying (or net) asset value of a fund is the sum total of the value of all the underlying assets held by that fund, minus the value of all the liabilities (e.g. loans).

Where a fund will price itself at or close to this underlying asset value, an investment trust trades in the market wherever buyers and sellers choose to transact. This price may be higher than the net asset value of the fund (i.e. at a premium), or – more usually – it may trade below the net asset value of the fund (i.e. at a discount).  

A trust trading at a discount or premium to its net asset value can be a good or a bad thing depending on whether you want to buy or sell that trust. Some popular trusts trade at significant premiums, reflecting market confidence in the ability of the manager to carry on outperforming the market. Some trusts that hold illiquid assets trade at substantial discounts, reflecting the illiquidity of the underlying assets.

1  The exception is global bonds, where hedging allows you to take pure credit risk in GBP by eliminating the FX risk, thereby improving the protection characteristics of this particular asset in a broader customer portfolio