'The first investment should be training'

Finance specialist Biman Mittra tells David Ainsworth how charities should decide where to put their money.

Biman Mittra is in little doubt about the best place to start if you are a charity trustee new to the world of investment management.

"Get on a good course," he says. "There are a couple of very good ones, such as the Foundation and Endowment Asset Management course at London Business School, that build up your knowledge from scratch."

Mittra knows his way around the stock market. Before becoming finance director for children's charity Coram, he was a private equity specialist and serial entrepreneur.

"You need to ask some fundamental questions about your objectives," he advises. "You need to remember that you have to outperform inflation and you need to be very clear about your tolerance for risk."

Once you have sorted that out, he says, you can begin to work out where to put your money.

"If you want to earn 5 percentage points more than inflation, for example," he says, "you can't put all of your money in cash and Treasury bonds. You have to look at riskier assets."

Whatever you want to do, he says, you should diversify. Money needs to be divided among different asset classes - which could include property, bonds and hard and soft commodities such as metals, oil and foodstuffs, among others.

An investor needs to consider how much money to leave in the UK - which is where a lot of charities have most of their investments - and how much to invest abroad.

Other factors that will determine an investment policy include how long you can invest for and how important a regular income is.

"You can earn money both from the growth of total value in your investment and the dividends from it," he explains. "Income is often an important part of what you earn.

"If you get income and reinvest it, that locks in some of your profit. But you may need to take cash out of your investment regularly."

Another consideration, he says, is how your fund is managed. "A novice needs a good fund manager," he says. "But how do you find one? Do you want to have an active manager who is trying to beat the market?"

Another option is an exchange-traded fund, which matches the market and is much cheaper than an active fund manager.

"But whatever you do," he says, "take a training course."

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