By Aimee F. Kish, CAIA and Leanne ten Brinke, Ph.D. on behalf of TeamCo Advisers
Emoji is widely considered the fastest growing language in the world. Deemed the first truly global vernacular, Emoji has spread dramatically since its creation in 1999. The language consists of static objects, gesturing hands, depictions of actions, and a multitude of facial expressions that are used to tell intricate stories and convey complex emotional experiences. An emoji describes internal, psychological experiences more quickly than verbal explanations and transcend barriers of culture and language by relying on the universal nature of emotions, a concept initially put forward by Charles Darwin in 1872. More recently, research by Paul Ekmanand colleagues has established that people globally express emotions with the same involuntary muscle movements1. Moreover, people are adept at interpreting genuine emotional signals; it takes only a fraction of a second to recognize whether someone is feeling happy, sad, or angry, and reading faces often provides information that words alone cannot convey.
The importance of comprehending and responding to nonverbal signals has sparked a science which has grown dramatically in the last 40 years, allowing researchers to decipher not only emotion, but personality traits and credibility from the examination of a subject’s behavior. Behavioral analysis has been leveraged in a variety of domains, from improving interview and interrogation techniques to designing more effective advertising campaigns. In collaboration with researchers at University of California, Berkeley, TeamCo has incorporated behavioral analysis in investment management due diligence. TeamCo believes that behavioral analysis is an insightful addition to the process of evaluating hedge fund managers, as it often exposes key facts and qualities about a hedge fund manager that might ordinarily remain veiled.
TRANSLATING NON-VERBAL BEHAVIOUR CASE STUDY:
Due diligence within the hedge fund world is a time-consuming, costly endeavor. There are as many philosophical and methodological variations to conducting due diligence as there are investors, often with an overt emphasis placed on the quantifiable and verifiable metrics inherent to risk and return analysis.
Regardless of where emphasis is placed (historical performance, back office structures, governance
controls, manager pedigree, fund terms) hedge fund due diligence is an all-encompassing necessity and it
is, therefore, incumbent upon hedge fund investors to ensure that resources are allocated wisely. Despite
careful screening, the imperfect nature of due diligence and quantitative analysis may allow unwanted high-risk managers to slip through the approval process and into client portfolios. Furthermore, in the world of hedge fund investing, a bad decision can damage a program far more than a good decision can be helpful.
In addition to rigorous quantitative analysis, TeamCo believes that the consideration of certain personal
attributes of the hedge fund’s key people is vitally important. Key people control the investment decisions, set the firm’s culture, drive the firm’s day-to-day operations, and are ultimately responsible for its success or failure. Despite this importance, careful investigation of these personal attributes (such as leadership, integrity, and intellect) is a disproportionately small segment of total fund due diligence for most hedge fund allocators. TeamCo posits that the most important form of risk mitigation involves evaluating key people of the hedge fund according to a rubric of psychologically meaningful behavioral criteria.
Behaviour analysis takes into account the movements of the face and body and their underlying meanings
during social interactions. These expressions can be consistent with what the individual is saying verbally, or they can diverge when a person conceals or falsifies a feeling (i.e. emotional leakage). In a due diligence application, skillful presenters, as are many hedge fund managers, can seem confident, intelligent, and trustworthy on the surface. Yet, when examined closely, can show signs of deception, fear, or other emotions indicating the need for deeper analysis. For example, it is widely known that happiness is revealed by the contraction of muscles around the mouth, pulling the corners up into a smile. Such an expression may occur as a manager states that the numbers for the current month “look good.” A genuine expression of optimism, however, should involve not only muscles around the mouth, but also activation of muscles around the eyes, creating crow’s feet in the eye corners (see Exhibit 1: Falsified vs. Genuine Smiles). In the absence of this tell-tale signal of authenticity, the statement may take on a whole new meaning.
In addition to fluctuations in an emotional state, patterns of verbal and nonverbal behavior can provide insight into enduring personality traits and social orientations which can aid in predicting how a person may react when faced with certain obstacles in the future. These potential predictions can affect the due diligence process; in practice, an allocator alerted to confidence in a manager may want to consider probing whether or not the confidence is overstated. This can indicate areas or topics for further targeting. Armed with this understanding of fluctuating emotional states and their connection with enduring personality aspects, one can extract a multitude of meanings from even a brief interaction. For example, one intuitively knows that dominant individuals tend to take control of social interactions; however, the skilled interviewer will be able to identify a dominant individual more precisely based on their behaviors (such as more often interrupting others in conversation, adopting more expansive postures, or expressing their emotions more freely than submissive individuals) as seen in Exhibit 2: Dominating Without Words.
Even without facial expressions
or verbal cues, the body can still
communicate to others.
Expansive postures are associated with
feelings of pride and dominance.
LOUDER THAN WORDS
While a careful review of investment strategy, performance, and infrastructure is critical to any due diligence process, behavioral analysis can supplement that process and add valuable information to an assessment of allocation risk. Through behavioral analysis, an allocator can gather insights into a manager’s stable psychological traits—the way in which a manager generally thinks, feels, and behaves—as well as his/her dynamic psychological states—how a manager thinks, feels, and behaves with regard to a particular topic.3 Below, Exhibit 3: Dynamic Psychological States vs. Stable Personality Traits outlines examples between the different, but related, aspects of stable and dynamic behaviors.
Exhibit 3: Dynamic Psychological States vs. Stable Personality Traits
Desirable stable leadership traits, such as emotional intelligence and confidence, can be read in the mimicry of gestures (unconsciously mirroring facial expressions, speech, or movement during a conversation), appropriate facial expressions (matching facial expressions of emotion with verbal cues), open postures, and empathic gestures (movements used to stress a word or idea in a message, such as pounding a fist on a table). For many managers, being able to communicate information in a dynamic way as well as relate to and incorporate the audience is integral to a success; a hedge fund manager needs to instill passion in their employees and establish valuable relationships with potential investors and current clients.
Conversely, certain undesirable traits can denote potential risk to investment. For instance, potential indicators of deception, evidenced by negative psychological states, include emotional leakage (inappropriate affect displays), signs of mental taxation, or a lack of cooperation (avoiding questions or offering combative responses). Similarly, psychopathic stable personality features are associated with both a propensity for engaging in deception and with poor leadership outcomes. Indicators of psychopathy may include impulsiveness, aggression, and callousness—reflected in signals of impatience, excessive anger displays, and the lack of emotional concern for others.
While deception and aggression are in and of themselves not indicative of future hedge fund performance,let alone failure, just as leadership traits are not wholly indicative of success, being aware of these stable traits in a hedge fund manager can influence investment decisions. When considering an allocation to a manager, the knowledge that the key people at the fund show signs of undesirable stable traits or deceptive fleeting states may indicate that more due diligence is required to gain comfort with the investment. In conducting interviews with these individuals, behavioral analysis can reveal potentially deceptive statements and sensitive issues—allowing interviewers to direct questioning toward topics that possibly pose greater risk to an investment. Once invested, remaining cognizant of how a hedge fund manager presents him/herself or displays nonverbal behavior related to a certain position, period of performance, or personnel changes can offer helpful insight into the direction a fund may be heading and may further inform allocation decisions.