Aon has failed to grow its fiduciary business in the Netherlands in recent years, despite allocating resources and significant effort to this end. According to the firm, it turned out the UK-based fiduciary model it planned to offer to Dutch pension funds did not fit their needs.

“Since 2017 we have endeavoured to increase our fiduciary footprint in the Netherlands,” a spokeswoman for Aon said.

“This approach is based on the UK fiduciary model, but last year we concluded that this model deviates too much from the Dutch model. We are now looking for other opportunities to realise our ambition to grow our fiduciary management business in The Netherlands,” she added.

Aon declined to elaborate on what exactly makes the UK fiduciary model so unappealing to Dutch pension funds. According to other investment consultants, it means a fiduciary manager gets almost complete freedom in designing the investment portfolio of a pension fund.

In this model, the fiduciary manager can decide autonomously in which assets to invest and with which asset managers to work. The pension fund only provides very limited guidelines.

This contrasts with the approach that is most common in the Netherlands, whereby fiduciary managers tend to only offer advice on manager selection and investment policy, with the decision-making authority continuing to rest with the pension funds’ boards.

This also has to do with pensions regulator De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB), which requires pension funds to be “in control” of their investments, also when they have outsourced these capabilities to external parties.

Last December, the DNB issued an official warning to one pension fund because it had left too much discretionary power with its external asset managers.

United Pensions is only fiduciary client

The firm currently only has one Dutch client for its fiduciary management business – United Pensions, the Belgian multi-client pension fund of Aon Hewitt. The fiduciary assets of this fund have grown from €216m in 2019 to €750m because of a growing client base for United Pensions.

Investment consultants that help pension funds with their search for a fiduciary manager say they have never seen Aon on their customers’ long- or shortlists.

Aon had voiced its ambitions on the Dutch fiduciary market several times over in the past few years. In 2017 then-CEO Pascal Hogenboom said it wanted to grow its investment advice and fiduciary management activities in the country.

In the same year, it appointed Marlon Sahetapy to spearhead the growth efforts. However, these have amounted to very little, and Sahetapy quietly left the firm in 2020. He currently works for the Impact Innovation Institute.

Aon declined to comment on Sahetapy’s departure. “We do not comment on departures of individual employees. Our ambition remains to grow our fiduciary business in the Netherlands with the team that Aon currently has in place,” the spokeswoman said.

Difficult market

Foreign fiduciary managers have been struggling to increase their footprint in the Netherlands or even to hold on to their existing clients, as reported in this month’s issue of IPE Magazine.

Ahold Delhaize Pensioen’s recent announcement that it will be switching its fiduciary management mandate from France’s AXA Investment Managers to Achmea Investment Management can be seen as a confirmation of this trend.

To read the digital edition of IPE’s latest magazine click here.