The following is an interview with Jordi Visser that was originally published in Institutional Investor. It explores how Weiss is reinventing itself around technology, transparency, and providing alternative strategies to individuals and financial advisers.
The hedge fund firm founded by George Weiss 40 years ago is getting an overhaul.
Weiss Multi-Strategy Advisers, with $4 billion in assets, is formally rebranding around its “human plus machine” approach to investment decisions, all-out transparency, and footprint in the retail and financial adviser market.
When Jordi Visser, now president and CIO, joined Weiss in 2005, Visser knew he needed to address how the firm would move beyond its well-known founder, a pioneer in market neutral hedge funds, who was in his late 50s. Visser, who had been head of equity derivatives at Morgan Stanley, was well aware that transitions don’t normally happen in hedge funds. “Either you’ll close down, you’re going to keep doing the same thing you’ve been doing, or you can rebrand,” he said.
Visser strongly believed in the mid-2000s that all hedge funds would need to rethink their strategies and that Weiss was in a good position to do that with a strong brand. And George Weiss was open to change. “We’re not just one of the oldest asset managers in both retail and institutional. George built a long-term legacy and a framework around market neutral that is still fairly unique at a time when people need something that is less sensitive to the market moving around,” said Visser, adding that Weiss is still in the office two to three days a week.
Beginning in 2013, the firm started incorporating technology and hired its first data scientist. Visser, whose original role at Morgan Stanley in the early 1990s involved a lot of coding, approached the executive committee at Weiss about adding analytics into the fundamental investment decision making process.
“Not to do everything from analytics, but to combine the two to make better decisions so it’s not just on the gut,” he said. “Hedge fund managers, particularly organizations that have been around a long time, have been used to making decisions intuitively.” With more data and analytics, Visser said employees got more transparency, including into how Weiss measured performance and what types of trades it was looking for. The firm was also early in providing clients transparency into the strategies, which is now critical to win new business.
The transparency initiative allowed Weiss to get into the business of liquid alternatives, mutual fund versions of hedge funds. In 2014, with bond yields diving to record lows, even going negative in some cases, a client asked for a fixed income alternative that could still provide a reasonable return. Weiss ultimately launched a liquid alternative mutual fund in 2015, which it ran in addition to its flagship hedge fund. During Covid-19, the mutual fund has brought in money every month and it now has $260 million. Although the performance of liquid alternatives as a category has been disappointing overall, the Weiss fund is a 5-star rated fund by Morningstar. Last July, Weiss launched a UCITS version of the fund with Lumyna, an alternatives fund platform in the U.K.
Even though many hedge funds have salivated over selling their products to individuals, many are still too secretive to get over the transparency requirements — including providing position-level details. “There’s a reason you don’t see many hedge funds that have brought their strategies to a liquid alternative,” Visser said.
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