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The active versus passive debate does not tell the whole story

Investment styles are often categorised as active or passive.

An active investor is one who makes decisions about holding one investment over another. Most active investing is done with the use of active, stock-picking fund managers, in other words through mutual funds or an open-ended investment company (OEIC). Passive investors, on the other hand, are willing to accept the market rate of return and usually pay smaller fees than active investors. Most passive investing is done with the use of passive tracker funds and/or ETFs. 

Research demonstrates that the average fund manager does not generate enough excess return over and above the market return to justify their fees. This is used as the primary argument against active fund management and in support of trackers. 

Research also indicates that a certain percentage of active fund managers do outperform. However, as that list of outperforming managers is a moving target, it is clearly a difficult - if not impossible - task to consistently identify when to buy and when to sell those managers. 

On the other hand, tracker funds and ETFs that track indices, display significant tracking errors in the indices they seek to track. Those tracking errors can be well in excess of the fees that active managers charge. In addition, the indexes that passive managers track vary significantly, are decidedly random in their construction and create trading strategy problems for passive funds. ETFs display complexity and counter-party risks that make them very hard for the average investor to fully understand. 

Our investment philosophy is to be neither passive nor active, but to use the best of both and mitigate against the risks of each. Our investment process targets market-beating performance through structured exposure to dimensions of higher expected return and uses methods of portfolio construction and implementation that enhance performance relative to the average investor. We believe that over time:

  • The average active investor will do worse than the market because they are paying the highest fees

  • The average index investor will perform slightly better than that because their fees are lower than the active investor

  • Our investment approach will outperform both due to reasonable fees, exposure to dimensions of higher expected return and intelligent portfolio implementation

Contact our wealth team

South Africa

Cape Town

Regent Square
Doncaster Road
Kenilworth 7708 +27 (0) 21 657 2120


25 Richefond Circle
Umhlanga 4320 +27 (0) 31 536 8843

United Kingdom


Castlewood House
77/91 New Oxford Street
WC1A 1DG +44 (0) 20 7759 7514


5-7 Selsdon Road
South Croydon
CR2 6PU +44 (0) 20 7759 7581



9 Yarra Street
South Yarra
VIC 3141 +613 (0) 8651 4500

Sable International is a trading name of 1st Contact Money Limited (company number 07070528), registered in England and Wales. We are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK (FCA no. 517570), the Financial Services Conduct Authority in South Africa (1st Contact Money [PTY] Ltd - FSP no. 41900) and hold an Australian Financial Services License issued by ASIC to deal in foreign exchange (1st Contact Group - AFS License number 335 126).

Our United Kingdom business, Sable Private Wealth Management Ltd, is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Our Companies House registration number is 222501. Our authorisation can be checked on the FCA register here: Our South African business, Sable Private Wealth (Pty) Ltd, is an authorised FSP, regulated by the Financial Services Conduct Authority under licence number 48122.

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