Alternative Investment Funds, popularly known as AIFs, have started to catch investors’ fancy specially the HNIs. The recent success of several of these funds in collecting money from investors is a proof of that. What’s the reason for this attraction? Here’s a primer to get you started.
One of the instruments from the investment management space is the Alternative Investment Fund or AIF. Just a few months ago, a popular fund manager collected close to Rs. 300 crores in a Category 3 AIF.
Now, don’t go by the name, which, least to say, is confusing. The important thing to understand is that the AIF presents a fairly open opportunity to invest in anything and everything with a customised strategy of its own.
To understand this better, you will have to appreciate what the other popular investment options have to offer. The 2 that are quite well know are – Mutual Fund and PMS.
You are well aware of what a mutual fund is. It is an open ended pool of money collected from several investors which is further invested in various assets on our behalf.
The advantages of a mutual fund are well known as also the fact that it is a great investing tool for small, retail investors. The costs, starting with small amounts (as low as Rs. 500) and a ready diversified portfolio are the quick counts.
Having said that, a mutual fund has to comply with several restrictions and guidelines laid down by SEBI. An example is the maximum exposure that can be taken in a stock. A mutual fund usually maintains a fairly diversified portfolio of stocks and cannot become too concentrated. The total expenses are also capped for a Mutual Fund.
The other option is a Portfolio Management Service or PMS. A PMS allows you to hire a fund manager to build and manage a personalised portfolio for you. There is total flexibility in a PMS. Based on a predefined strategy, you can pretty much choose which stocks or other investments to own or not.
Unlike a mutual fund, where all investors’ money is pooled into one account, you have a separate portfolio account in a PMS. You can choose to pay a fixed fee to the manager or a variable fee based on performance or a combination of both.
However, this “separately managed custom portfolio” facility comes at a higher cost than a mutual fund. The minimum ticket size to get a PMS account is Rs. 25 lakhs. As you read this, most PMS offerings now have a minimum of Rs. 50 lakhs to 1 crore.
Having broadly covered the 2 instruments, it will be easier to give context to what an AIF is.
An Alternative Investment Fund is a hybrid of a mutual fund and a PMS.
Like a mutual fund, an AIF is a pool of funds however, from an investment management point of view, it can pretty much act like a PMS and more. When you invest in an AIF, your investment is represented by units – the same way you get units in a mutual fund. Then an AIF follows a predefined investment strategy for money management.
That is where the lure of the AIFs is. There are no restrictive conditions or guidelines applicable to an AIF. An AIF can use its flexibility to play concentrated bets and take high risk.
An AIF can afford to play far more complex and technical strategies including leverage (borrowed money), making private investment in public companies (PIPE) and use complex hedging. For perspective, a hedge fund is an AIF by structure.
The minimum amount of investment in an AIF is Rs. 1 crores and that makes it accessible only to those with a high networth.
A comparison of various categories of Alternative Investment Funds
The question still is why would you go for an AIF and not a PMS?
So, yes, I understand you would like to go for a more flexible style and/or strategy for managing your portfolio and a mutual fund may not offer that with its restrictions and one for all investment mandate. But why an AIF and not a PMS?
Look at the downsides of the AIF. Unlike a PMS, you don’t have a separate account to track for yourself and see on any date the current status of your portfolio including the underlying investments. In fact, an AIF can also be costlier than a PMS (which is costlier than a mutual fund), given the fact that it is more expensive to operate.
Well, as mentioned before, some strategies (such as using complex hedging and or leveraging) can be best executed in an AIF format and not a PMS. The AIF format allows the pooling of money thus giving it a scale that may be required to make larger investments such as Private Equity or Debt in Public Companies.
You may also want to make investments in startups and be a part of an Angel Fund or may become a partner in a VC Fund to invest in unlisted businesses. An AIF is the structure you need to invest in.
In that way, an AIF allows you to access a wider investment universe beyond the listed business stocks and mutual funds. There aren’t more than 2o0 to 300 quality listed businesses that one can invest in.
If one of those strategies suit your investment portfolio and / or your risk profile, Alternative Investment Funds may make sense for you.
Taxation of Alternative Investment Funds
There is one more thing on the taxes. For Category 1 and 2 AIFs, the fund is not taxed but the investor has to pay the relevant taxes.
Any buying and selling within a Category 3 AIF (the more popular option) is treated as income and taxed as regular business income at the fund level. It is tax free in the hands of the investors.
With an AIF, you have to ensure that it works out tax efficient too.
However, none of these stops more and more AIFs being launched. As you allocate your investment capital to various investment instruments, make your choices smartly.
Do you prefer Alternative Investment Funds? Happy to read your comments and feedback.