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A Q&A with ICPM's Keith Ambachtsheer and Rob Bauer

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Ten years since the start of the Rotman International Centre for Pension Management (ICPM) of Toronto University, there has been a change of guard. Maarten van Wijk and Sameer van Alfen interview its founder Keith Ambachtsheer, who is standing down as its director, and his successor, Rob Bauer [pictured] of Maastricht University.

Q [to Keith Ambachtsheer]: You have founded ICPM. Are you proud of what you have achieved over the past 10 years?

A: Certainly, the research institute is unique. We have created close ties between the academic world and the professionals through all sorts of pensions organisations participating in our institute. I spotted this model, with close contact between academics and providers, for the first time in the Netherlands in the 1990s. In my opinion, it was very special that, at the time, Jean Frijns was both director of the civil service scheme ABP and professor at Amsterdam’s Free University.

I wanted similar connections in Canada. I think, as an institute, we are unique. In the Netherlands, there is Netspar, but that is predominantly for the Dutch market. We operate internationally, with 38 participants from 12 countries. However, they include many Dutch organisations, such as APG and PGGM, the asset managers of ABP and PFZW, respectively, as well as regulator De Nederlandsche Bank.

Q: What is the core task of your institute?

A:  Developing a sustainable pension, as well as pension institutions that are able to deliver this.

Q: Why are you quitting now?

A: I have been working here 10 years – that’s a nice round number. And taking care of a proper succession is part of good management. I will remain involved as emeritus director in the background. I have a transitional role by co-organising discussions for the institute, and I will also remain editor of our scientific magazine.

However, I aim to spend my surplus time with clients of my advice bureau KPA Advisory. And I also want to get engaged in politics. I am already involved in establishing a pensions system for the province of Ontario, and I’d like to devote more time to this.

Q: Are you pleased with your successor?

A: Rob is a natural successor. From the beginning, he has been involved in ICPM, initially with ABP, where has was director of research at the time, and later with Maastricht University. For Toronto University, it is special that somebody who is not connected to the faculty is to become director. Rob knows the European pensions sector well, and we will make him even more familiar with research results from the US and Australia.

Q [to Rob Bauer]: Did your appointment as director of ICPM come as a surprise?

A: Not really. Since the founding of the institute in 2004, I have been involved as a board member. In recent years, ICPM has been contemplating what would happen when Keith stepped down. Last year, I was asked whether I was interested to succeed him.

Apart from that, in 2004, I was still working for ABP, as head of the research department for strategic investment policy. Nowadays, I am working three days a week at Maastricht University as professor of finance, focusing on institutional investments. And sometimes I do jobs for pension funds.

Q: What are, in your opinion, the biggest achievements for the institute and your predecessor?

A: Keith Ambachtsheer’s vision on pensions is clearly reflected within the ICPM. It could be best summarised as “integrated thinking” – considering all relevant parts within a pension fund as a single, integrated unit, whether it is about investments, liabilities or governance.

I also think that ICPM’s international approach is a big strength. Board members of pension funds tend to focus on local subjects, and consultations with other board members chiefly happen within the local context. But sparring with colleagues from other countries often delivers surprising and interesting insights.

Q: What can we expect to see from your directorship at ICPM?

A: I don’t think it would be appropriate to go into this now. In the coming months, we will look at what is working well and what might be improved. For this, I will have a dialogue with our research partners. However, pension funds, scientists and bodies such as the OECD have told me they appreciate that they can have consultations within our panels without commercial parties. I can imagine we will extend this service in the coming years.

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