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Consultants entered USS mandate competition

UK – Two investment consultants entered the USS long-term, said Nick Fitzpatrick, head of global investment consulting at Hewitt Associates, which helped organise the contest.

Fitzpatrick told around 100 attendees at the award presentation that the Universities Superannuation Scheme and Hewitt had wanted competitor firms to submit and that two had. Speaking on the sidelines of the event, he said that there was also an entry on a personal basis from an employee of a consulting firm. He declined to say which firms they were.

Watson Wyatt spokesman Paul Deane-Williams said Watson did not enter the contest. “Our view was that while it was good, in that it aimed to promote longer-term thinking, it was more focused on the fund management industry.” He said it was interesting that some of the ideas coming out of the competition tallied with Watson’s own approach, “which we have implemented for a number of funds already”.

Hewitt’s Fitzpatrick said USS and Hewitt initially did not know what level of interest there would be in the competition. “When you throw a party you never know if anyone will turn up,” he said. In the end there were 88 entries.

He said that, faced with the current problems in the pensions field, it was “difficult to have much pride” in the industry. There was a “disconnect” with the consumer, he added. The industry was “very much stuck in an administrative structure which makes it very difficult for new ideas to emerge”.

UK treasury minister Ruth Kelly announced that the government would sponsor an academic to investigate the entries. Kelly, chief secretary to the treasury, said the competition had contributed to the “old and frustrating debate over the workings of the City London’s financial_district”.

Kelly called for greater engagement between the pensions industry and government. “We at the Treasury are completely open to people coming to us with ideas,” she said. She called for “creative thinking” from the industry.

She said there were five questions “on the table”. They covered: investment time horizons, the role and experience of trustees, the scope of advice, asset allocation and shareholder activism.

“I do not have answers to any of them at the moment,” she said. The industry would have to await the government’s review of the Myners report.

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