This month I celebrate 10 years as investment director of the Wasserdicht pension funds and it is heartening to receive warm congratulations from so many friends in the Netherlands and abroad.
It has been an interesting decade. As a Netherlands and Germany-based multinational and a global leader in water technology, we have pension funds in a handful of countries around the world.
At home in the Netherlands we have managed to survive as an independent company pension fund, which is increasingly a rarity in our country thanks to pressure from the regulator, which would like to oversee fewer funds.
As a company-sponsored fund, we obviously work closely with corporate finance to help them understand the balance sheet risks involved in pensions, both at home and globally. We have held quite a few intensive training days to help staff understand how pensions work.
Last year, we came out well in a management consultancy report that looked at the efficiency of our global pension operations. But before leaving for a wine and food weekend in northern France with my wife to celebrate my work anniversary, I have been asked to look at a proposal from the corporate finance department about the future of our investment operations.
Now, following the recent acquisition of a water logistics company that has considerable underfunded pension liabilities in the US and the UK, they are undertaking another efficiency evaluation of all departments, including pensions investment.
The “preliminary proposals” say there are “considerable efficiency gains to be realised through the merger of pension and investment risk management on a global basis”. Not only that, but “consideration should be given to the relocation and centralisation of the domicile of European pension funds”. This, in plain language, means they want to move the domicile of pensions to Belgium in a pan-European vehicle.
Since our global pension funds are largely of a similar size, and given their globally diverse nature, we have consciously avoided the complexity of bringing them together. Still, we do a notional form of pooling with our global custodian and look for efficiencies wherever we can – for instance, with our passive managers and some active ones, and netting of positions when we make big changes to portfolios.
While there is nothing wrong with the idea of moving our domicile to Belgium, few Dutch pension funds have actually made this step. Most fear the accusations of regulatory arbitrage, since the Belgian regulator has a reputation of being less tough than ours.
Later, when I read the anniversary greetings from my contacts on LinkedIn, two names stand out: Lars and Paul from the management consultancy that conducted the efficiency evaluation last year. It looks like we will be working with them again.
Pieter Mullen is investment director at Wasserdicht Pension Funds