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Breaking up is hard to do

In July, Dutch transport pension fund Vervoer sued its former fiduciary manager Goldman Sachs Asset Management (GSAM) for a number of breaches of contract, filing a €250m lawsuit in the UK High Court.

Vervoer’s claims, detailed in a 50-page document, present a veritable laundry list of grievances and alleged instances of foot-dragging, misleading statements and negligence respecting GSAM’s oversight of an alpha LIBOR investment vehicle and the scheme’s global high-yield bond portfolio.

The case is a dramatic one for obvious reasons, but there is also the added spice of previous history, not to mention a dash of irony.

Vervoer and GSAM also made headlines back in May 2006, when the pension fund first appointed the asset manager to run the entirety of its assets, which then stood at about €5.4bn.

At the time, it was the largest fiduciary mandate ever awarded in the Netherlands. And, until then, no other Dutch pension fund had outsourced the entire management of its investment strategy to a fund manager.

Although the concept was by no means new in the Netherlands, the deal sparked a nationwide debate on the pitfalls and possibilities of fiduciary management, and the budding Vervoer/Goldman Sachs love affair came to be seen as a litmus test for the idea.

In an interview with IPE magazine in July 2006, chief investment officer Patrick Groenendijk - perhaps responding to concerns that both parties had bitten off more than they could chew - took pains to point out that, at Vervoer, fiduciary managers were only as good as their last investment decision, and as such were technically on a day’s notice of dismissal. “As a general principle,” he said, “it’s all on a 24-hour-notice basis.”

He also predicted Vervoer’s relationship with GSAM would endure.

“I don’t expect us to revisit our decision every two weeks, but it is always good to keep people on their toes and to, once in a while, look at how things are,” he said.

“And they’ll definitely have to come up with a good performance to keep the mandate for a long time. We have found a fiduciary management partner who has the skill set to manage and oversee our pension fund for many years.”

What a difference six years can make.
 

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