Browse Analysis of Managed and Structured Products

20.1 Introduction

Learn about alternative investments, including their categories, benefits, risks, and structural features. Discover how these investments can enhance portfolio performance.

Introduction to Alternative Investments

Alternative investments have been around for many years and are gaining popularity among different types of investors. While historically limited to high-net-worth individuals and institutional investors, retail investors are now increasingly getting access to these products, thanks to new regulatory approvals and evolving financial markets.

Main Categories and Sub-categories of Alternative Investments

Alternative investments can be broadly categorized into the following main types:

  • Hedge Funds: Investment vehicles employing complex strategies aimed at generating high returns.
  • Private Equity: Investments in private companies not traded on public exchanges.
  • Real Assets: Investments in tangible assets like real estate, infrastructure, and commodities.
  • Alternative Mutual Funds: Mutual funds using alternative strategies, giving retail investors access to these strategies.
  • Fund of Hedge Funds: Investments in a portfolio of different hedge funds to diversify risk.

Benefits of Adding Alternative Investments to a Portfolio

Alternative investments can bring several benefits to a portfolio, including:

  • Diversification: Alternative assets often have low correlation with traditional stocks and bonds, providing improved diversification.
  • Enhanced Returns: Some alternative strategies aim to generate higher returns compared to conventional investments.
  • Risk Management: Hedge funds and other alternatives employ different strategies that can mitigate various types of risks.

Risks of Investing in Alternatives

Despite their benefits, alternative investments come with their own set of risks:

  • Liquidity Risk: Many alternative assets are less liquid compared to traditional investments.
  • Operational Risk: Management and operational complexities can introduce additional risks.
  • Leverage Risk: Use of leverage can amplify both gains and losses.
  • Lack of Transparency: Some alternative investments offer limited transparency into their operations and holdings.

Alternative Investment Structures

Hedge Funds

Hedge funds are private investment funds that employ a range of strategies to generate returns. These funds aim to maximize returns by leveraging, short selling, derivatives use, and more.

Alternative Mutual Funds

Alternative mutual funds in Canada now allow retail investors access to sophisticated strategies that were once reserved for institutional investors. These funds are subject to regulations similar to those governing conventional mutual funds.

Fund of Hedge Funds

This investment vehicle pools money to invest in multiple hedge funds, allowing for diversification among different hedge fund strategies.


Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) that use alternative strategies are becoming more popular as they provide liquidity, diversification, and lower minimum investment thresholds.

Comparing Alternative Mutual Funds with Conventional Mutual Funds and Hedge Funds

Feature Alternative Mutual Funds Hedge Funds Conventional Mutual Funds
Investor Access Retail and Institutional Usually Institutional Retail and Institutional
Regulation Strictly Regulated Lightly Regulated Strictly Regulated
Investment Strategies Diverse (including use of leverage Highly Speculative Traditional (long-only equities
and derivatives) and bonds)
Transparency Generally High Generally Low High
Liquidity High Varies (often low) High

Key Terms

Here are some key terms that are connected to alternative investments:

  • Accredited Investor: An individual or entity recognized as financially sophisticated and having a reduced need for the protection provided by certain government filings.
  • High-water Mark: A threshold that investment funds must achieve before they can collect performance fees.
  • Hurdle Rate: The minimum amount of profit or returns an investment manager must generate before earning performance fees.
  • Drawdown: A measure of peak-to-trough decline during a specified period of an investment.
  • Efficient Frontier: A portfolio that offers the highest expected return for a defined level of risk.


Hedge funds and alternative mutual funds have become integral parts of the modern investment landscape. They offer strategies that can potentially generate substantial gains while diversifying and managing the risks in a portfolio. Nonetheless, investors must carefully consider the risks and ensure that these types of investments align with their financial goals and risk tolerance.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What is an alternative investment?

A: An alternative investment is a financial asset that doesn’t fall into the conventional categories like stocks, bonds, or cash. Common types include hedge funds, private equity, real assets, and alternative mutual funds.

Q: Why should I consider adding alternative investments to my portfolio?

A: Adding alternative investments can enhance portfolio diversification, improve risk management, and potentially offer higher returns.

Q: What are the main risks associated with alternative investments?

A: The main risks include liquidity risk, operational risk, leverage risk, and lack of transparency.

Q: How are alternative mutual funds different from hedge funds?

A: While alternative mutual funds are subject to similar regulations as conventional mutual funds and cater to retail investors, hedge funds are less regulated and usually cater to institutional investors with more speculative strategies.

CSC® Exams Practice Questions

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## What is one of the main characteristics of hedge funds? - [x] They are historically available only to high-net worth and institutional investors. - [ ] They are primarily designed for retail investors. - [ ] They are required to follow strict investment regulations like mutual funds. - [ ] They can only invest in government bonds. > **Explanation:** Hedge funds have traditionally been accessible mainly to high-net worth individuals and institutional investors due to the high minimum investment requirements and regulatory criteria. ## Which financial vehicle recently expanded retail investor access to alternative strategies in Canada? - [ ] Real estate investment trusts (REITs) - [ ] Conventional mutual funds - [ ] Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) - [x] Alternative mutual funds > **Explanation:** The introduction of alternative mutual funds in October 2018 allowed retail investors greater access to alternative investing strategies that were previously confined to hedge funds and institutional investors. ## What is a benefit of adding alternative investments to a portfolio? - [ ] Reduced overall returns - [ ] Increased correlation with stock market - [x] Diversification benefits - [ ] Higher operational risks > **Explanation:** Adding alternative investments to a portfolio can provide diversification benefits, reducing the overall risk of the portfolio by having assets that may behave differently from traditional investments. ## What is a key risk associated with investing in alternatives? - [ ] Fixed returns - [ ] Tax inefficiency - [x] Operational risk - [ ] 100% liquidity > **Explanation:** Operational risk is a significant concern in alternative investments due to complex strategies and less regulation compared to traditional investments. ## What structural feature is common to hedge funds, alternative mutual funds, and funds of hedge funds? - [ ] Daily liquidity - [ ] Retail investor focus - [x] Flexible investment strategies - [ ] Strict compliance with mutual fund regulations > **Explanation:** One common feature among hedge funds, alternative mutual funds, and funds of hedge funds is their flexible investment strategies, which allow them to pursue various investment opportunities. ## What is a "high-water mark" in hedge funds? - [x] It ensures that fund managers get performance fees only if fund value exceeds its previous highest value. - [ ] It guarantees a minimum return on investment. - [ ] It is a government-imposed investment limit. - [ ] It indicates the highest risk taken by the fund. > **Explanation:** The high-water mark is a method to ensure fund managers are compensated for genuine performance by only receiving performance fees if the fund's value exceeds its previous highest value. ## What is the accredited investor criterion? - [ ] A criterion that applies to all retail investors. - [x] A financial threshold that determines who can invest in higher-risk, higher-reward investments. - [ ] It specifies the maximum amount any investor can invest in alternatives. - [ ] Related to investments in government-backed securities. > **Explanation:** Accredited investors meet certain financial thresholds (e.g., net worth, income) set by regulatory authorities, allowing them to invest in high-risk, high-reward investments like hedge funds and private equity. ## What differentiates alternative mutual funds from conventional mutual funds? - [ ] Alternative mutual funds can only invest in government securities. - [x] Alternative mutual funds can use leverage and short selling strategies. - [ ] Conventional mutual funds have higher management fees. - [ ] Conventional mutual funds face lower liquidity risk. > **Explanation:** Alternative mutual funds have the flexibility to use leverage, short selling, and other advanced strategies that are typically not used by conventional mutual funds. ## Why was the introduction of alternative mutual funds significant for retail investors? - [ ] It restricted the investment options for retail investors. - [ ] It prevented access to alternative investment strategies. - [x] It provided retail investors access to hedge fund-like strategies. - [ ] It made it mandatory for all mutual funds to adopt alternative strategies. > **Explanation:** The introduction of alternative mutual funds allowed retail investors, who previously had limited access to hedge fund strategies, to benefit from these sophisticated techniques. ## Which document typically outlines the rules and investment strategies of a hedge fund? - [ ] Investment brochure - [ ] Bank statement - [ ] Certificate of deposit - [x] Offering memorandum > **Explanation:** The offering memorandum is a document that provides detailed information about the investment's strategies, risks, and rules, which is crucial for potential investors to review before investing.

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