What Is an Investment Mandate?

Definition & Examples of an Investment Mandate

Investment adviser discussing an individual's investment mandate with her during a meeting.
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An investment mandate is a set of instructions laying out how a pool of assets should be invested. The mandate sets out rules and guidelines for how money can be invested. These rules then inform the choices of an investment manager.

Learn about the different types of investment mandates and whether you need one.

What Is an Investment Mandate?

An investment mandate is an order to manage a pool of funds using a certain strategy and within certain risk parameters. The mandate can vary, and depends on the goals the owner has for that money.

Investment mandates play a big role in the control of pooled funds. They may include rules on:

  • Priorities and goals
  • Benchmarks
  • Acceptable levels of risk
  • Types of funds to either be used or avoided
  • Any other guidelines for how assets should be managed

Mandates can be used for private investors working with financial planners or for funds run by professional managers. Index funds have investment mandates. So do exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and university endowment portfolios. 

When they are used, mandates direct those in control of these investments and help guide their decision-making.

Alternate names: mandate, fund mandate

How Investment Mandates Work

Whether they are used by private investors or the managers of large funds, investment mandates work by laying out a framework for how a manager can allocate and invest capital. The manager must follow the guidelines laid out in the mandate when choosing assets to buy, hold, or sell.

For example, say a client approaches a wealth management firm with $500,000. The client intends to use the money later that year and wants it kept safe until then. The client is laying out a mandate: to preserve the capital, rather than risk losing it in order to grow. This mandate is known as capital preservation.

Stocks are too volatile for capital preservation, even if they would be suitable for a different mandate. For example, shares of a firm such as Johnson & Johnson, one of only four S&P 500 firms with a Triple-A bond credit rating, should be worth considerably more money in 10, 15, or 25 years. But in the short term, they could be worth less, which would not preserve the client's capital.

The wealth management firm can then tailor the client's portfolio to the mandate. Seeking to preserve capital within a short time frame, they can choose low-risk, low-volatility investments and cash holdings.

Investment mandates are also used by the managers of large funds to guide how they choose the securities that they include in their funds. For instance, funds with a mandate to offer as much growth as possible will invest in high-risk, high-reward stocks, rather than a mix of stocks and bonds.

Investors often choose where to put their money based on a fund's mandate.

Types of Investment Mandates

An investment mandate can restrict a portfolio manager to specific asset classes, geographic areas, industries, sectors, valuation levels, market capitalizations, and more. 

  • A small-capitalization stock investment mandate means finding attractive firms that are below a certain market cap size. 
  • A low-turnover investment mandate usually means restricting the percentage of the portfolio that can be sold in any given year to 3% or 5%.
  • A global investment mandate means you should own stocks both in your home country and abroad.
  • An international investment mandate restricts the portfolio to firms headquartered or doing business mostly outside of your home country. 
  • A long-term growth mandate prioritizes the long-term capital appreciation over things like current income or volatility risk. Stocks are a common investment holding for long-term growth.
  • An income investment mandate prioritizes current passive income from sources such as dividends, interest, and rents over long-term growth. 
  • An Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) mandate instructs managers to invest in securities that are ethical, socially responsible, and sustainable. They generally avoid shares of companies that earn their money from things such as fossil fuels, guns, and prison labor . They often make things such as ethical and inclusive leadership, environmental protection, and community investment a priority.

Any of these mandates can be used by individual investors or by fund managers to guide how their money is invested in order to meet short- or long-term goals.

Do I Need an Investment Mandate?

Mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and other pooled assets always have investment mandates. These not only guide how the accounts are run, but they also let investors know how their money will be used. This helps investors decide where to put their capital.

Individual investors should also have investment mandates. The mandate you decide upon for your own accounts should fit with your current situation, goals, and Investment Policy Statement.

If a financial manager is in charge of your accounts, they need guidelines in order to do their job. Once they can see how you intend to use your money, your timeframe for investing, your level of risk tolerance, and any ethical rules you have for where your money is used, they will be able to guide you towards the right choices.

Even if you are investing on your own without a financial advisor, drawing up an investment mandate can help you manage your money and make the right decisions. Investing can be emotional, and you can't predict what the stock market will do. Setting out a framework for where and how you will invest, when you will buy and sell, and what goals you are trying to reach will help you make smart choices.

Key Takeaways

  • An investment mandate is a set of rules laying out how a pool of assets should be invested.
  • They may include guidelines on priorities, goals, benchmarks, risk, and types of funds to either be chosen or avoided.
  • Mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and other pooled assets always have investment mandates.
  • Individuals should also have investment mandates to ensure that they invest their money wisely.