ALM, managers selection, design of plans and performance measurement are at present the key products offered by consultants in Belgium. Institutional clients’ knowledge of the market is improving and they are becoming more and more aware of the fact that assets and liabilities should be managed together and not separately.
"In the old days there were very few consultants active on the assets side," says Jean-François Schock, head of marketing and sales at State Street Global Advisors in Brussels
"Pension funds have been using consultants for actuarial work, but on the assets side they were using the local bank or money managers. Now, consultants are becoming more active in this area where international firms are still pretty strong," he says.
At a time when many state companies are moving to the private sector, local consultancy firms like Conac and Pragma have found in structuring new funds from scratch a way of expanding their business.
Paul de Smet, partner at Brussels-based actuary consultants Conac, says: "The consultants working on the investment side were always subsidiaries of international firms, with local people working for them, but usually with specialists brought from the company’s headquarters. At present, although we are mainly doing actuarial work, we have more and more questions for assistance on the assets side as well. In this area, the use of consultants is increasing as clients are looking for systems on portfolio strategy and asset allocation."
However, the also increasing number of mergers and acquisitions within the Belgian market are representing a lot of actuarial work to be done by the big multinational consultancies with global expertise.
Fabian de Bilderling, actuary consultant at Watson Wyatt in Brussels says: "Apart from the actuarial services, we also provide a wide range of products from manager selection to performance measurement.
"We measure performance against benchmarks and not against the market," says de Bilderling. "The reason is that the association of Belgian pension funds is already providing a very good survey each year on the performance of the global market of pension funds so the information we give to our clients is focused on benchmarks." Paula Garrido