The following article was first published in the Chartered Alternative Investment Association (CAIA)’s Innovation Unleashed: The Rise of Total Portfolio Approach report. 

When a total portfolio approach (TPA) is done well, it allows an investor to design a diversified portfolio that is aligned with investment objectives and balanced across competing trade-offs. The key to its success? An organisational culture built on long-termism and agility, with all employees sharing one clear focus — to deliver good, real returns for the total portfolio over the long term.

GIC’s total portfolio approach 

A total portfolio approach (TPA) is a long-term asset allocation framework which assesses not only individual investments and strategies, but also potential trade-offs from a total portfolio perspective. More information about TPA, where top-down analysis is merged with bottom-up insights, and both alpha and beta return drivers are considered, can be found here.


At GIC, our focus on the long term is embedded in our mandate, which is to preserve and enhance the international purchasing power of the reserves under our management over the long term. Long-termism is deeply ingrained throughout the organisation, from our investment framework to our organisational practices.

GIC’s investment performance metric from our client, the Government of Singapore, is a 20-year rolling real rate of return. This long horizon increases the importance of building a portfolio that is resilient to regime changes and structural trends.

This means that we are focused on fundamental value, rather than short-term changes in price, which are often influenced by market sentiments at each point in time. This enables us to navigate short-term uncertainty, capitalise on market dislocations, and compound returns over time.

A focus on the long term is especially important for TPA as adjustments at the total portfolio level can take significant time and resources to execute. It requires a degree of patience and conviction that only long-term investors possess.


Agility is another important cultural attribute that we prioritise at GIC. It allows us to take advantage of new investment opportunities while managing risk more effectively. We believe that the combination of agile offence and defence is critical to ensure that the total portfolio continues to generate good, risk-adjusted returns over the long term.

At the individual level, we consider one’s ability to make calculated decisions to respond to changing realities in our hiring and talent assessment processes. At the same time, we reward behaviours and mindsets that demonstrate taking a “One GIC” or “a whole of GIC” perspective to find solutions. At the team level, we hire for and encourage diversity of thought in our teams. This expands the collective perspective of teams and enables them to make better decisions.

At the portfolio level, we adapt our strategy to address changing trends and themes. For example, we conduct an annual strategic portfolio planning exercise to determine GIC’s long-term portfolio trajectory to ensure that we have the right organisational structure and resources to execute well. In 2021, it was this exercise which led to an increased focus in infrastructure before the onset of the inflation regime.

We also regularly review our investment strategies to monitor and verify these theses of enduring competitive advantages and portfolio impact. We are prepared to adjust or even cease these strategies to ensure we continue to meet our investment objective.

GIC’s skills-based, active strategies

GIC’s agility is also reflected in our skills-based, active strategies, where bottom-up teams take calculated investment risks based on the capabilities and track record they have established over the years. For example, having been invested in private equity (PE) secondaries funds for a substantial period, we scaled up that strategy significantly in 2016 with co-investments and direct deals. We took advantage of GIC’s capacity for the illiquidity premium that the PE secondaries offer. The team now has more than 10 members across our Singapore, London, and New York offices.

One clear focus

The last part of building a “total portfolio” culture is ensuring the entire organisation is aligned. We believe that all staff should collectively apply their expertise with a singular focus on our mandate. Collaboration and communication are key to achieving this.

The “One GIC” mindset was introduced in 2008 when we brought together our then-autonomous investment entities. These were originally spun out in the 1990s to accelerate their growth as we needed to quickly build capabilities in private markets. We recognised the importance of collaboration and integration as GIC continued to grow and scale. The realignment involved integrating investment teams, reorganising our mid- and back-operations to take on more complex, cross-asset investments, and streamlining our organisational policies.

This was critical in ensuring that GIC’s multi-asset capabilities could be leveraged in a coordinated fashion, allowing for the pursuit of new investment opportunities and development of new capabilities. Today, this spirit of collaboration remains evident in our day-to-day operations.

GIC’s Research Network

Our GIC Research Network was established in 2021 to facilitate the flow of investment ideas throughout GIC. It creates an ecosystem to explore and campaign for thematic ideas that can benefit the total portfolio. This involves building research communities that draw upon the expertise of staff from different asset classes and strategies, fostering greater cross-department collaboration and creating synergies.

Our senior management also takes every opportunity to remind the organisation of our investment objective and focus on the total portfolio. To encourage transparency and communication across teams and ranks, we organise regular cross-department forums, such as our staff conferences or leadership forums, to facilitate the sharing of ideas and rationale of enterprise strategies.

Our focus on the total portfolio permeates all our processes. This includes our compensation framework, where at the group level, we are assessed on a total portfolio basis across varying time periods. For example, GIC’s senior management’s cash incentives are deferred, with pay-outs subject to future portfolio performance. On the investment front, individual deals and strategies are assessed to ensure that they are sized appropriately at the total portfolio level, with clear lines of accountability as outlined in GIC’s investment framework. It is this clarity and alignment which make everyone accountable for the success of the total portfolio.

Singular focus, collective action

At GIC, we believe that a singular focus on delivering good, real returns on a total portfolio basis over the long term is critical to the success of TPA. This requires a culture of long-termism and agility, which will take time to build. For GIC, it is a journey that we continue to be on.