RPA: Key Takeaways and Learning from our experience in implementing first pilot of RPA in IB Finance business:

I would like to start with opening statement acknowledging that  we are still in the early days of robotic process automation, where many of us are sold on the concept, but are waiting to see positive results in real execution and benefits.

The good news is that we have taken the leap in this sphere to see the first example for forward looking organization and maybe we would be ready to share war stories!!!

The project, troubles and all, is a valuable story for others to hear as they ponder their own steps into the brave new world of RPA.

Few takeaways from experiences of this rapid RPA engagement:

 

  1. RPA automation through any tool will not meet all of our business requirements, so we need to focus on selecting smartly process to automate, it need not be complex process at first instance and it should not be target to automate all parts of process. May be target of 60-70% should be considered as big success.
  2. Different RPA tools have varying capabilities and no RPA tool will meet all of business requirements so we need to configure and utilize its functionalities smartly. Remember it is still evolving so they will catch up with any functionality or feature they are currently lacking. May be organizations in excitement are getting too emotional and trying to capture and make first time right too early
  3. The selection of projects on initial projects at-least should focus on areas where we can gain faster rather than focusing on areas of pain. One of the main objectives of automation is efficiency gains or to generate business savings. These business savings can then be invested in automating more complex process in later phases.. not in phase 1.. it is too soon
  4. RPA projects should be driven by the organization, not as an isolated business division led project. Engaging broad audience while sharing common vision and goals is critical. It can help remove many delays and blockers
  5. There should be a system to learn the lessons from failures and success of other departments/units and organizations. We spend a lot of time learning hard way. Is it necessary to inflict all tough lessons on yourself
  6. The automation time cycle for any project should not be large and in no way longer than 3 months. We should identify a process in a way that 80% of the real process can be automated in a time frame of 4 to 6 weeks. These should be moved to production immediately with little efforts, consider having a proof of concept which can be converted to “production ready” state
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Why is the National Emergency of 1975 seen as one of the most controversial times in the History of India?

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Decoding Index of Industrial Production

 

Index of Industrial Production is a very important economic indicator to gauge the industrial activity of an economy. It measures the status of production for the industrial sector of an economy in a given period of time, in comparison with a fixed reference point in the past. The base of IIP and the weights assigned to different sub-sectors with in are revised from time to time depending on the changes in the economic structure and to attach a meaning to the current dynamics . The current base is set to 2004-2005 and is revised from earlier base of 1993-94.

The IIP, numbers are released every month in India and generally seen as an important but short-term indicator of whether industrial activity in a country has risen or dipped. They are also regarded as the leading indicators for the estimation of the GDP of the country as they serve the basis of estimating how the growth in GDP would look like in coming quarters.

IIP numbers are divided and recorded under four main categories Basic goods (45.7% weight), Capital goods (8.8% weight), Intermediate goods (15.7% weight) and Consumer goods (29.8% weight). Consumer goods is further breaked down into Durables (8.5% weight of total index) and Non-durables (21.3% of total index weight). In India, IIP covers areas in mining, manufacturing and electricity, however as per UN statistics it should also include some other areas like Constructions, energy, gas etc.

Since, industrial activity contributes about a quarter of our GDP, this indicator is keenly followed by economists, markets and policymakers. A higher growth in industrial activity, reflected by movement in the index, will naturally lead to better growth for overall GDP. Neverthless, to say this further reflects on the sentiments of the stock markets and leads to changes in stock values depending on how IIP fairs. A continual contraction of IIP index will also put pressure on the RBI to relook its monetary policy, as in days of contraction, it will come out to possibly ease the interest rates to boost the GDP.

 

Health check of economy-Key Indicators

The recent economic turmoil in global economy in general and Euro crisis in particular, have led me to look in detail various economic indicators that can help understand where we are standing and where we are heading. This curiosity has helped me delve little deeper and list down various leading and lagging economic indicators, the study and tracking of which can help us understand better the economic world around.

What are economic indicators? Wikipedia says: An economic indicator (or business indicator) is a statistic about the economy. Economic indicators allow analysis of economic performance and predictions of future performance. One application of economic indicators is the study of business cycles.

Well theoretically, all indicators are divided as leading and lagging indicators, but various studies by eminent economists and the recent turmoil’s in global markets and failure of predictions by US Fed Chairman Ben Benarke have raised doubts over the efficacy of leading indicators. The gist, according to economist Pedro Amaral, is that most of the leading indicators don’t actually turn much in advance of a GDP downturn, and don’t have a ton of value. So, without going into much details of leading and lagging indicators, I am here by listing few of the very important economic indicators, track of which can help us manage our lives more better…

  •  IIP or Index of Industrial Production, in some countries it is published by name of PMI (Purchasing Managers Index) – Look for trends in growth of major segments like manufacturing, mining, electricity etc. Look out separately for trends in Capital goods index, intermediate goods and consumer durable and non durable
  • Stock Market Indices are good leading indicators as they reflect what general market is expecting in future of the state of economy and business. Look for stock market returns, volatility and outlook
  • GDP or Gross Domestic Product. Look for real GDP growth rates. Previous trend plus future outlook (forecasts)
  • Business Confidence Index
  • Growth in Infrastructure
  • Wholesale Price Index (WPI) – reflects inflation in economy, constitute of food articles, primary articles, all commodities.
  • GDP Deflator – ratio of nominal GDP to Real GDP
  • Fiscal Balance as % of GDP
  • Balance of Payment – Exports (% growth) – Imports (% growth), further dive into capital account and current account status and trends.
  • External Debt as % of GDP – look for ratios like Public Sector debt as % of GDP and Credit to GDP ratios
  • Consumer Confidence Index as well consumer spending trends
  • Residential Property Sales
  • Unemployment rate – look for unit labor cost, percentage change over previous periods, change in total labor force
  • Money supply – changes in narrow money and Broad money over previous periods
  • Bond yield curves – 3 month interest rates vs. 10 year govt. bonds
  • Income and wages trends in economy

Why Should Insurance firm Invest in Private Equity?

Key Points:

  • Investment strategy and strategic asset allocation for Insurance Company largely depends on the cash flow requirements to meet expected future claims
  • The basic principles of strategic asset allocation for an Insurance firm need to intelligently balance the long-term investment returns and cash flow requirement to meet claims in near future
  • The cash flow requirements and hence investment objective differs for the life insurance business, property & casualty business and health insurance business, this demands to adopt different approaches for asset allocation in private equity by an Insurance firm
  • Asset allocation to private equity can help Insurance companies generate long-term superior risk-adjusted returns than compared to traditional investment avenues
  • A lower correlation of Private equity with other traditional investments can help generate a good diversification strategy for Insurance investments
  • A portfolio mix of small to medium buyouts, secondaries, mezzanine and distressed debt can help mitigate the J-curve effect and generate cash flows in relatively shorter period
  • Different restrictive regulations like Solvency II, Basel III, external ratings, internal risk capital requirements and other local country laws restrict investment in PEs by Insurance firms

Background & Introduction

An Insurance company can be classified on the basis of nature of the insurance business it falls in, which can be either life insurance, Property and Casualty (P&C) or Health insurance business. The cash flow requirements to meet their future expected claims varies depending upon what business segment they are catering to, and hence their investment objectives and strategies.

An assortment of United States coins, includin...

An assortment of United States coins, including quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 A typical insurance company is been investing with certain overall strategies in mind, such as matching assets to liabilities in terms of maturity and interest rate risk, including managing duration; liquidity requirements; and overall risk appetite/volatility tolerance.

In addition, in order to stay competitive compared to its peers, an insurance company must also achieve a satisfying return on its investments. Furthermore, these returns should not vary too much from year to year since both policyholders and shareholders prefer stable and predictable investment profits and returns. All these requirements mean that insurance companies have to constantly look for ways to  improve  the  risk-return  profile  of  their  investment  portfolios,  which  becomes  particularly important in a volatile interest rate environment.

The risk return profile can be managed by strategic asset allocation across four major assets classes: Fixed Income, Stocks, Real Estate and Alternative Vehicles. The portfolio mix of the insurance companies varies over time and is based on certain macroeconomic and industry specific factors, also taking into account the general state of the global economy, industry trends, market and political events.

Historical Asset Allocation Snapshot

Looking at the historical asset allocation mix, in year 2010 the majority of insurance companies’ investments were in bonds or 73.2% of total cash and invested assets (Bonds include categories such as corporate debt, municipal bonds, structured securities, U.S. government bonds and foreign government bonds), this followed by investment in common stock (10.3% of total assets), Mortgages, First Liens and Real Estate (7.1%), Cash and Short Investments(4.3%), Others(3.86%) and the remaining 1.24% in private equity and hedge fund. The private equity and hedge fund investment taken together accounted for $61.6 billion (or 1.24%) of the total invested capital by insurance companies[1].

Asset Allocation of Insurance Industry in 2010

 

The inclusion of private equity in an insurance company’s asset allocation demands different approaches for different product segments ((i.e. Life, Property & Causality, Health etc.). As of year-end 2010 Life companies accounted for the majority of industry Private Equity Investment in terms of book adjusted carrying value, at 71.9%[2]. Property/casualty companies represented the second-largest, at 23.6%. Life insurance companies do more to integrate the asset and liability sides of the balance sheet than other financial institutions. Longer time horizon products require asset/liability management risks to be managed on an ongoing basis

As per recent survey by Preqin the Insurance companies represent one of the largest investor types by total assets under management, managing an aggregate $16.2 of which close to 2.7% is allocated for investment in PE. This is indicative of the relatively low-risk investment approach that insurance companies take in order to maintain the necessary levels of liquidity required as a result of the variable nature of their liability payments.

Insurance investment in PE

Private equity funds and hedge funds are generally illiquid with significant restrictions on transferability. In addition, private equity funds can only distribute cash when the underlying illiquid investment can be sold. Private Equity Investment by insurance companies increases when the need to hold cash and liquid securities is overshadowed by the need for stronger returns. Currently 322 of the 4,455 U.S. insurance companies are active in the private equity asset class[3]. The insurers’ $61.6 billion investment in 2010 is compared with estimates of total private equity and hedge funds’ capital of approximately $4 trillion[4].

Issues faced by insurance companies in investing private equity

  • Liquidity requirement: Insurance companies typically seek out investments as part of their overall investment strategies which can provide them with significant current income streams and require the ability to opt out of investments they wish to avoid. The liquidity requirement varies across different business segments; Life companies have a lesser cash requirement to meet the claim as compared to P&C companies.
  • Risk Appetite: Risk appetite of insurance companies is different from other institution such as pension funds and endowments. Having a different risk appetite endowments and pension funds invest heavily in private equity.
  • Negative J-Curve: Capital outflows to fund investments during the commitment period, combined with fund organizational expenses, due diligence expenses, transaction fees, management fees and other costs borne by investors, produces what is termed as the “J-Curve” effect of private equity, leaving investors with initial negative returns. Insurance companies with current income needs in particular, mitigating the “J-Curve” can be of significant importance.
  • Regulations: A recent survey conducted by Preqin shows that 79 %[5] of the insurance companies have not changed their level of exposure to the asset class as a result of new restrictive regulations. But a number of investors believe that they may be affected in future as result of impending Solvency II regulation.

How Private Equity Investment can help to improve risk-return profile.

Investment of insurance companies in private equity funds help in obtain higher returns, increase diversification (there by reducing risk), and increased access to emerging asset classes. These investments fit within an overall framework of asset-liability management that balances risk and return while providing for the overall liquidity needs of the insurer. The long-term nature of insurers’ liabilities, especially compared to those of banks and broker-dealers, lends itself ideally to longer-dated or illiquid investments such as private equity and hedge funds. Detailed reporting and valuation guidelines provide state insurance regulators the necessary tools to examine these investments for appropriateness at a given insurer.

Other benefit of investing in private equity over the traditional asset classes can be illustrated as follows:

Higher Returns:  Private equity investments generate higher returns in the long run as compared to other asset class. The US State pension funds 10 year asset class returns for 69 funds for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011 shows that the private equity has outperformed the other asset classes.

                              10th to 90th Percentile Distribution of State Fund Returns

Source: NACUBO (“National Association of College and University Business Officers”)

The capacity to earn excess returns in traditional asset classes has been a challenge for many years. The excess returns for 10 years ending June 30, 2011 is shown in the chart below:

Distribution of Excess Return for 10 Years ending June 30, 2011[6]

 

  • Unfunded Commitments One important aspect unique to private equity investing is unfunded commitment. When investors subscribe to a private equity fund, their commitment is typically not fully or immediately paid-in; instead, capital is “called” or “drawn-down” over time as investment opportunities arise. This unfunded capital can be invested in short term liquid securities which can generate additional nominal returns.

  • Tax Benefits:  There is no established research available on this, but the way limited partnerships are structured and the tax-heaven geographies where these are registered are can provide various tax benefits in long run which adds upon to the expected return from investment.

Solution to the problem faced by the Insurance companies

The problem of negative J-curve and the current income requirement faced by the insurance companies while investing in private equity funds can be mitigated by inclusion of secondary/seasoned investments along with the primary investments.

Secondaries/ seasoned primaries can help smooth the “J-Curve” effect and provide for earlier draw downs of capital and earlier returns of capital.  In addition, secondaries/ seasoned primaries offer more asset visibility (i.e., is not investing in a blind pool of assets) and reduced manager risk and have the ability to achieve additional vintage year diversification in a shorter commitment period.

Second method to mitigate the “J-Curve” effect for investors is the inclusion of mezzanine and distressed debt funds in client portfolios.  The current income paid out by mezzanine funds and the relatively shorter holding periods exhibited by distressed debt funds relative to buyout investments, both help to mitigate an overall portfolio’s “J-Curve”. Distressed debt funds exhibit return profiles similar to those of buyout funds, but tend to provide investors with unique diversification benefits during downturns in the economic cycle.

Third method to mitigate the “J-Curve” effect on client portfolios is the inclusion of direct co-investments. Co-investments enable investors to put capital to work quickly and have historically tended to return capital within a few years of making the investment, thus serving to further mitigate the “J-Curve”.  Additional benefits of co-investments include:

  • Co-investments enable investors to capitalize on their relationships with premier private equity funds to generate high-quality deal flow;
    • Co-investments allow investors to invest alongside private equity investors who have deep domain expertise;
    • Co-investments provide investors with the ability to closely manage a portfolio by determining the investment pace and portfolio composition on a portfolio company level; and
    • Co-investments allow investors to invest in selective high quality deals at substantially reduced fees thereby potentially enhancing the overall portfolio returns.

Overall, Insurance industry is working in very tight regulatory regime and the very nature of their business demands a lot of money to be kept in near liquid investments. However, a multi-step strategic asset allocation and a small percentage of the total asset investment in alternatives viz., private equity can help these companies generate higher risk-adjusted returns, reduced risk through diversification and access to additional and emerging markets. Further, from private equity offering perspective a multi-layered portfolio mix spreading out to two-three vintage years  topped with secondaries and mezzanine investment can help mitigate the “J-curve” effect and can address the liquidity requirements in mid to long term. Private equity investing is a long-term engagement, which promises strong returns with a favorable risk-return relationship.


[1] Source: NAIC Capital Market Special Report-Analysis of Insurance Industry Investment Portfolio Asset Mixes

[2] Source: NAIC Capital Market Special Report-Schedule BA – Private Equity and Hedge Funds

[3] Source: Preqin Special Report: Insurance Companies Investing in Private Equity

[4] Source: NAIC Capital Market Special Report-Schedule BA – Private Equity and Hedge Funds

[5] Source: Preqin Special Report: Insurance Companies Investing in Private Equity

[6] Source: Cliffwater LLC-Trends in State Pension Asset Allocation and Performance

Black Scholes Model and its frailty

 

Sharing an interesting article came across on the frailty of Black Scholes model. Rather frailty, its more about how abuse of a complex mathematical theory can lead to disastrous results. Writer has presented this on backdrop of sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008. Link.

 

Prisoner’s Dilemma

 

Although being out of prison is necessary to n...

Although being out of prison is necessary to negative liberty, this is insufficient to guarantee positive liberty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The concept of Prisoner’s Dilemma as taught in Economics book of CFA Level 1 has left a great impression on me. I have recently encountered an interest blog illustrating this in further detail and thought to share this with you.

 

Enjoy reading and be amused….

 

 

 

Stock Selection.. Warren Buffett way… Part 1

 

Lehman Brothers Rockefeller centre

Lehman Brothers Rockefeller centre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

There is much written and spoken about Warren Buffett and his success as an investor. No doubt Buffett is most successful, respected and worlds greatest investor in today’s time.

 

Whenever I look at successful people, I feel curious about what is that these people do, which others (majority) didn’t. Though there are many other successful investors in world, but the elements of Buffett’s philosophy is something which has always inspired me. If you study Buffett’s stock selection philosophy you find a sense of simplicity, lot of patience and discipline in them. I believe this sense of simplicity, patience and discipline is the only thing which makes him different from others.

 

I will summarize some of the elements of his philosophy and try to emulate this for stock selection in Indian Market. I am not sure how many stocks would be shortlisted by this process, but I will try to select at least 10 stocks derived from Buffet’s philosophy. Once identified, I will create a dummy Portfolio in Moneycontrol site and track them for their performance. ( I wish I had enough money to actually Invest some in this portfolio).

 

Warren Buffett follows a value investing strategy that is an adaptation of Benjamin Graham’s approach. Buffett seeks to acquire great companies trading at a discount to their intrinsic value, and to hold them for a long time. Buffett has always insisted on understanding the business and margin of safety. He says, that if you do not understand the business, do not take a position in the stock. Buffett stated “We want businesses to be one (a) that we can understand; (b) with favorable long-term prospects; (c) operated by honest and competent people; and (d) available at a very attractive price.”

 

Let us try to explore this more by seeing what he has done and what he has not done.

 

1. He prefers to invest in businesses, which manufacture products that people can’t or don’t want to live without, such as toothpaste, soaps, soft drinks, cars and computers.

 

2. The companies that are given to speculation or hype are often disregarded.

 

3. Buffett’s primary concerns includes –

 

3.1 a company’s financial stability, quality of management and simplicity of business.

 

3.2 Ability of company to pass on its cost to customers. He believes that a company should be able to adjust its prices to inflation because it enables it to make profits in varying economic climates.

 

3.3 The enduring moat – USP of company, i.e, one critical quality that its competitors can’t overtake, regardless of money they are willing to spend.

 

3.4 Save Cash , be liquid – Buffett says that he has learned habit of saving from his grandfather and states”Cash cushions you in bad times and gives you chance to buy aggressively when others are down”. Buffett and his company follow this message religiously. He either keeps cash or buys US Treasury Bills. This helped his firm after Lehman Brothers collapsed.

 

To be Continued..

 


 

Disclaimer: This post is inspired from various news items published in financial daily The Economic Times, online portal Rediff Business and also inspired from the book titled The Guru Investor by John P. Reese, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Author suggest the reader to do their own due-diligence before they apply any of the methods presented here in investing. This article is only for educational purpose and does not endorse the suggested methodology as the only and most appropriate way of investing.

 

 

 

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