GERMANY - Bernd Wagner, managing director of Universal-Investment, a leading German institutional fund administrator, has confirmed to IPE that he will resign at the end of March.

"My colleague Bernd Vorbeck [another of Universal's four managing directors] will be taking over my duties," Wagner told IPE this morning in an exclusive interview.

Wagner said that although job offers were materialising, he wanted to take a break and think things over before making his next move. He declined to comment on the reasons why he is stepping down. "That wouldn't be appropriate," he said.

IPE first learned of Wagner's imminent departure during a Universal asset manager seminar on January 17. Oddly, Wagner himself was not present at the seminar, but Universal said this was due to "personal reasons."

Under Wagner's watch, Universal has become one of Germany's leading fund administrators, with €65bn under administration. It is also the market leader in so-called ‘master funds'.

Master funds enable institutional investors to centralise back-office administration of funds - for example reporting and risk monitoring. Claimed benefits are greater transparency and reduced cost.

At Frankfurt-based Universal, Wagner is just one of four managing directors with equal status. The others are Vorbeck, in charge of portfolio management, as well as Oliver Harth and Markus Neubauer. But owing to his responsibility for marketing, sales and communication, Wagner was the most visible.

He is also a member of the board at German fund industry association, BVI. "I will be stepping down from that post too. I don't know whether Mr Vorbeck will succeed me there. That will be a matter for the BVI's members to decide," Wagner told IPE.

Prior to joining Universal in 1998, Wagner was chief executive of the German arm of Crédit Suisse Asset Management in Frankfurt.

His resignation has fuelled speculation in Frankfurt about the future of Universal, whose predominance in master funds has been seriously challenged in recent years by INKA, a unit of HSBC Trinkaus & Burkhardt, which is number two in the sector

Universal is currently owned by four German private banks - Berenberg, Merck Finck & Co, Bankhaus Lampe and Hauck & Aufhäuser - as well as Landesbank Baden-Württemberg.

As both Hauck & Aufhäuser and Merck Finck have recently reduced their stakes in Universal, some asset management experts in Frankfurt believe that these shareholders are preparing to exit a business, which, while dominant, is low-margin.