GERMANY - International consultant Watson Wyatt has broken ranks with its peers by welcoming a questionnaire from German fund industry association BVI.
The BVI had sought detailed information about the consultants' business.
In early August, the BVI sent out the questionnaire to 18 consultants in Germany. They were asked to provide significant detail about their business, including business model, pricing, and ranking in the institutional market.
Investment consultants queried at the time by IPE said they were not keen on the questionnaire, which sought sensitive information. Said German house Alpha Portfolio Advisors: "We don't really see the point of this, as we are already as transparent as we need to be."
Alpha said it would not return the questionnaire, while other German consultants like Faros and FERI said it would only answer questions that were not sensitive in nature.
Yet Watson Wyatt's Frankfurt office applauded the BVI's move. "We are the only consultant that has declared ourselves completely willing to complete the questionnaire and assist the BVI in his efforts to make the German consulting market more transparent," said Zeljko Tipuric, senior investment consultant in the office.
He added: "I fully understand asset managers when they ask for more transparency from consultants. This is particularly true of those asset managers who, as part of a search conducted by a consultant, fill out the same questionnaire five times but get different reasons for why they are rejected."
But Tipuric also said his firm had not returned the questionnaire as it had not yet received confirmation from the BVI to do so. Following the controversy stirred by the questionnaire, the BVI has put the issue on hold.
Meanwhile, IPE has learned that Heissmann, a German pensions advisor which also provides investment consulting, sought to play a role in the consultants' response to the BVI.
Alfred Gohdes, managing director at Heissmann, confirmed his involvement but dismissed the implication that his firm's intention was to co-ordinate a response to the BVI from the consultants.
"Our intention was to simply ensure that the consultants knew who was fielding which question. What they said in their responses was entirely their business and therefore not divulged or coordinated by us," he told IPE.
Gohdes also said that while Heissmann was certainly willing to be even more transparent to asset managers, it was obviously not alone that it could not afford to answer sensitive questions about its business for competitive reasons.