Staying calm amid market volatility

Staying calm amid market volatility

As outsourced chief investment officers (OCIOs), we build portfolios designed to support and maintain our clients’ real spending power while taking advantage of their longer-time horizons. As such, while periods of volatility like we’ve seen this year aren’t easy to live through, our goal is to build our portfolios to weather storms such as this.

Governance checklist

A key part of our process is to periodically review and ensure our clients’ portfolios are prepared to withstand potential prolonged periods of volatility. We use the below checklist and hope it will serve as a beneficial tool in your own discussions.

✓ Review and confirm your risk tolerance

It’s easier to be a long-term investor when markets are generally trending up. It may be helpful to speak as a committee or with your OCIO or consultant to understand what different stress scenarios (for example: markets this year, persistent inflation, slowing growth) could mean for your portfolio. These discussions can help illustrate the potential implications for asset values, spending needs and liquidity needs to gauge committee comfort with the portfolios’ positioning.

✓ Review and confirm your rebalancing policy

Some endowments and foundations use calendar-based rebalance schedules, some use market-value based rebalance schedules and some use a mix of the two. Regardless of your policy, it may be a good idea to review your policy with your investment committee and either confirm comfort with the current policy or decide on a new plan for rebalancing in the event of continued market volatility. When markets sell off, emotions can run high, so having these discussions in advance may help ensure portfolios can be managed seamlessly during turbulent times.

✓ Review and confirm your spending policy

Portfolio values, market performance and realized inflation have all been volatile and changing over the last year. If target spending is tied to the current portfolio value and/or inflation, depending on the time frame or valuation date used, you may be looking to spend a higher or lower amount in the coming months. In addition, with higher inflation, grant recipients may ask for higher amounts to realize their objectives or organizational expenses may tick up given higher wages and costs. Meeting spending needs may be further complicated in the event of a further market sell-off if your portfolio has a significant allocation to illiquid investments. Reviewing your spending policy and discussing your expected spending needs may help in the event we continue to see prolonged volatility.

✓ Review and confirm your liquidity needs

This brings us to liquidity and funding portfolio cash needs. Historically, liquidity needs can become a challenge for some institutions in the event of a sharp market sell-off. You could see margin calls, capital calls, increased need to fund operating expenses from the portfolio and grant payments due at the same time the portfolio values are depressed. Plus, selling assets after a period of tough performance can lock in losses, making it harder for portfolios to recover. Reviewing in advance and ensuring the portfolio has enough easy-to-access liquidity to meet likely payments and discussing how you might fund those payments in the event of a market sell-off may be beneficial to prevent last minute discussions and decisions.


As long-term investors, endowments and foundations are often well-positioned to maintain their real spending power to support their missions. Reviewing and planning for potential volatility through a series of simple, deliberate governance checks can help the stewards of endowment and foundation capital deliver on their important missions.

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