The Lewis Carroll poem The Hunting of the Snark (An Agony in 8 Fits), follows the misadventures of a group of seafarers, amongst them a banker and a broker, as they search for the elusive mythical beast. We are warned at the outset that catching Snarks is all well and good, but beware if your Snark is a Boojum, because - well, we’ll come to that.

Alpha looks set to become as equally elusive in the next 20 to 30 years as investors switch to passive investing and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in greater numbers, and the amount of information available to all market participants increases.

Suzanne Duncan, financial markets industry leader at the IBM Institute for Business Value, argued at the Fund Forum in Monaco this week that some 85 to 90 percent of investment returns in the next 20 to 30 years will be beta returns, as investors become increasingly disillusioned with paying for actively managed funds that fail to deliver.

“Only 15 percent of long-only active managers have outperformed their stated benchmark over the past 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 or even 40 years,” she says. Yet some 70 percent of the world’s assets under management is currently invested in traditional long-only active strategies.

Duncan believes alpha will become increasingly hard to find as transparency – that is, nearly instantaneous and accurate information – increases. “Some academics are sceptical that there is such a thing as alpha anyway,” she says.