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Diary of an Investor: Looking the part

We at Wasserdicht Pension Funds have been using BIG Asset Management for what seems like an eternity. I have learned two things about BIG over the years. One is that they spend a very large amount of time and resources keeping people like Agnes, our client director, up to speed about what is going on in the company.

The second thing is that they are not as good as they think they are. Although they believe we hire them because they are the best, in fact we use them because we get a good deal on fees and because, like IBM, people like Wasserdicht staff tend not to get fired for hiring them.

We are a fairly large client, so we get an account manager and pretty good service. But as we are not in the top tier we have to accept that BIG doesn’t always get out of bed in the morning for accounts of our size.

But this might be painting an overly cynical picture of our relationship with BIG. Overall we are happy, and Agnes is an exceptionally talented individual. She is always abreast of what is going on in the Dutch pension fund scene, so we have very good conversations. She also takes detailed notes of our conversations so never seems to forget anything between one meeting and the next.

One thing clients in our size bracket tend to  get is an invitation to an ‘exclusive’ European client conference every spring.

At the most recent event, I am studying the agenda over coffee in the morning in the client suite on the top floor of BIG’s offices together with Ronald, my old friend at Vorkhef Pensioenfonds in Utrecht.

Brian, BIG’s new head of EMEA institutional clients, glides over as we are talking. He hopes we will have a fulfilling day. ‘As you can see we put a lot of effort in these events to make sure we have the right topics and agenda for senior professionals such as yourself.’

‘This is an interesting speaker,’ I say, pointing to one of the bios. ‘Ah, our ex-central banker,’ says Brian. ‘Exceptionally knowledgeable and always to the point. I hope you find his presentation interesting.’

The ex-central banker now occupies a senior non-executive role at BIG, something I imagine does not detain him for more than a couple of days a week but which, probably contractually, obliges him to speak at events like this. I recall that he was involved in a minor controversy in his country, something which has clearly not deterred BIG.

The ex-central banker talks about interest rates, market returns and political risks. Ronald and I compare notes. ‘Full marks on presentation skills, rather empty on content,’ is Ronald’s summary.

This is another thing I have learned that BIG Asset Management excels at: putting impressive people in the right positions to make a good impression, regardless of what they have to say.

Pieter Mullen is investment director at Wasserdicht Pension Funds

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