February is not the time to visit Toronto. Stepping outside the airport I am reminded how seriously cold it gets in Canada. Winters are mostly pretty mild in the Netherlands so we don’t get to skate on frozen canals like in the Old Master paintings.

I am here with our chairman of trustees, Ronald, to meet Cliff, who heads the pension plan of our Canadian operations, along with his trustees and his team. We are looking in detail at our Canadian fund, and Cliff has also organised study visits to some other pension plans.

‘It’s good to get away from the ultimate forward rate, real and nominal contracts and all that new stuff,’ says Ronald. ‘The government and the regulator really know how to make our system far too complicated.’

On Monday morning, we sit down with Cliff and his team to discuss the Canadian economy, equity and bond markets and, of course, infrastructure. Then we look at regulation and how the other pension funds have set up their internal operations. ‘We focus on creating strong, internal structures, achieving economies of scale where possible, and we also pay our people well,’ says Cliff.

Ronald is interested to note the differences between the regulatory approach of Quebec and the other Canadian provinces. ‘One for our friends in Brussels to take note of,’ he leans over to whisper.

In the afternoon, I give a presentation about the Dutch situation to our Canadian colleagues. ‘Despite the best aims of the politicians and the regulator, the system just gets more and more difficult for us to manage,’ I tell the group. At least we are all agreed that we don’t want US-style 401(k) plans.

After dinner with some investment consultants in the evening, we head out the next day to see some other funds. Our second stop is at one of the local public pension funds where the CIO is a friend of Cliff’s and we spend most of the time sharing experiences about private equity.

They have a sizeable team, and we talk about where they think the market is going.
Ronald is no fan of private equity, and our experiences in Holland have been mixed to say the least. But we leave with some interesting ideas and questions to ask potential managers. I also make a note to put private equity on the agenda for our next international strategy meeting.

Cliff and the public fund are also interested to hear about our co-operation with Pension Københaven, and how we are working with them in developing interesting co-investments.
We say goodbye to Cliff before we drive off to the airport. ‘Seriously, why do you always come to Canada in the winter,’ Cliff jokes as Ronald and I look at the snow. ‘Summer is great here, and you get to experience the great outdoors.’

‘You never know,’ I reply. ‘I might persuade my wife to relocate someday. What was it you were saying about salaries over here?’

Pieter Mullen is investment director at
Wasserdicht Pension Funds