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Diary of an Investor: When bigger isn’t better

These days, we at Wasserdicht Pension Funds are something of a rarity as the asset management bureau of a standalone company pension fund. Many of our brethren in the Netherlands have merged with a larger industry scheme or outsourced their investments to a fiduciary manager.

I read the other day that there were over 650 pension funds in the Netherlands at the end of 2008, but that fell to 365 at the end of last year. 

This is not to say that our trustees have not discussed joining a larger scheme, both among themselves and with the regulator. But the conclusion has always been that we are better off independent. As our chairman of trustees puts it, “bigger is not always better”. 

As I have also told the regulator several times, as a multinational we also have economies of scale. We share knowhow with our colleagues on the Wasserdicht international pensions committee and we have also created virtual pooled funds with our custodian.

In January we received a visit from Agnes, our account director at BIG Asset Management, which we recently awarded a new mandate. We discuss the transition arrangements and arrange a conference call with the portfolio management team in London.

I have known Agnes for a while as she previously worked at one of the Dutch investment managers. She always gets down to business. ‘I know everyone says it these days but we really do aim for a consultative relationship with our clients,’ she tells Gerd, our head of investment research, and me. I’m certainly not just here to pitch you new products.’

Agnes also wants to know where we stand on consolidation. ‘Well, first of all, don’t worry,’ I say. ‘Having just given you several hundred million euros we are not in a hurry to join one of the industry-wide schemes.’

‘You must have to work to prove to the DNB that the trustees are of the right calibre and that they understand the investments we are making,’ says Agnes.

‘We spend quite a lot of time in internal training sessions with our investment committee but they are a clever group of individuals and they understand most things,’ I reply.

But where do you stand on consolidation?’ I ask. ‘Would you prefer fewer relationships with larger clients or more relationships with smaller clients?’

‘Speaking for myself, I prefer to deal with larger and more sophisticated funds but the firm would probably prefer the more profitable route of a large number of smaller clients.’

As she leaves, I ask Agnes about BIG’s own plans to acquire a US manager. ‘I’ll tell you next time I see you,’ she says. ‘We are setting up committees to co-ordinate the internal communication of the acquisition. The first meeting is next week to create a committee to co-ordinate the sub-committees.’

 Pieter Mullen is investment director at Wasserdicht Pension Funds

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