The UK’s biggest pension pension scheme has appointed Dominic Gibb as its new chief financial officer.

Gibb joins the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) from Lehman Brothers, where he had worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers on the winding up of the UK operations of the failed US investment bank. He was financial controller for Europe, the Middle East and Africa for the bank before its collapse in 2008.

Gibb replaces Jennifer Halliday, who resigned from USS on 31 March 2017.

His appointment was announced as the £60bn (€68.4bn) scheme faces an uncertain future. The Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) today said its members had voted in favour of strike action in a dispute over changes to USS’ benefit payments.

Universities UK (UUK), the representative organisation for higher education employers, wants to switch the scheme from defined benefit to defined contribution in an effort to control rising contribution costs.

University staff vote for strike action

Nearly all of the UK’s universities face disruption next month after staff voted for strike action. On a turnout of 58% of its members, the UCU said 88% had backed a walkout, which would affect 61 of the country’s 68 higher education institutions.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Universities will be hit with levels of strike action not seen before on UK campuses if a deal cannot be done over the future of USS pensions. Members have made it quite clear they are prepared to take action to defend their pensions and the universities need to work with us to avoid widespread disruption.

“Even at this late stage we urge universities to work with us to reach an agreement that protects the defined benefit element of USS pensions.”

In response, a UUK spokesperson described the ballot result as “disappointing”, and said that not reforming the scheme would be ”a dangerous gamble”. 

The spokesperson added: “A solution to the significant funding challenges facing USS needs to be found. UUK’s priority is to put USS on a secure and sustainable footing while offering attractive, market-leading pensions – the very best that can be afforded by both employers and employees.” 

USS reported an official deficit of around £5bn following its 2017 actuarial valuation, but other valuations have put the shortfall as high as £12bn-£17bn. It said the cost of funding future pension benefits had increased by 35% and that contribution increases of six to seven percentage points could be required.

Public pension pool hires ex-Nestle investment chief

LGPS Central, the asset manager set up to run £42bn of assets for nine local government pension schemes (LGPS), has named Duncan Sanford as interim deputy CIO.

Sanford left Nestlé Capital Management last year after a restructuring led to the international food and drink company shutting down much of its internal investment operations.

LGPS Central has also hired two staff from the West Midlands Pension Fund (WMPF), one of the founder members of the asset pool. Mike Hardwick has joined as investment director for infrastructure and property, having most recently run alternatives at WMPF, while Michael Marshall is set to join as director for responsible investment and engagement. He is currently the responsible investment officer at WMPF.

Finally, Omar Ghafur has joined as investment director for private equity. He was previously in charge of private investments for a charitable foundation, according to a press release from LGPS Central.

Jason Fletcher, CIO, said the appointments were “critical to our delivery of the risk-adjusted return after costs that our partner funds require to meet their future commitments”.

LGPS Central announced on Friday that it planned to roll out 10 investment vehicles for its pension fund clients.

Investment director exits Railpen

Ciarán Barr, investment director at RPMI Railpen, is to leave the multi-employer scheme for the railways industry later this year.

RPMI Railpen announced on Friday that Barr would step down from the investment team during the first half of 2018, having worked at the group for nearly nine years.

During his tenure Barr oversaw the transformation of RPMI Railpen’s investment strategy alongside fellow investment directors Paul Bishop and Richard Williams and former CEO Chris Hitchen.

The departure is the latest in a series of senior staff changes at the railway industry scheme. Chris Hitchen stepped down as CEO last year and is now overseeing the creation of the Border to Coast Pension Partnership as chairman. Philip Willcock will take over as CEO next month.

Paul Sturgess joined last year from Equiniti as managing director for its administration arm, while deputy CEO David Maddison became managing director for the scheme, tasked with leading support for the trustee board. Julian Cripps was appointed managing director responsible for the investment arm in 2016.

John Chilman, chair of Railpen’s trustee board, said: “I, and my fellow trustee directors, would like to thank Ciarán for the contributions he has made to the success and sustainability of the Railways Pension Scheme. He has always put the interests of our members and employers first and the scheme has benefited from his thinking.”