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Universal's head Wagner on brink of standing down – sources say

GERMANY - Bernd Wagner, managing director of Universal-Investment, a leading German institutional fund administrator, is stepping down, industry sources have told IPE.

According to the sources, who spoke on the condition of strict anonymity, Wagner’s departure date is still being negotiated internally which is why Universal has not confirmed it nor given further detail.

IPE learned of Wagner’s surprise departure following a Universal asset manager seminar in Frankfurt one week ago. Wagner himself did not attend the seminar for personal reasons and Bernd Vorbeck, another Universal MD, filled in for him.

Contacted repeatedly by IPE for comment, a spokesman denied that Wagner was leaving: “As far as I know, he’s still with us. He was absent at the seminar but since then he has been back at his desk every day.”

In a telephone conversation last Friday, Wagner also told IPE: “As far as I know I’m still with Universal…If there is a change I will contact you.”

However, word of Wagner’s imminent departure has since spread to Germany’s institutional market, with two additional sources telling IPE: “We are now certain that he’s going. It’s just a question of when.”

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

Pioneered by Universal in the early 1990s, a master fund enables an institutional investor to centralise back-office administration of his funds - for example reporting and risk monitoring. Claimed benefits for the investor are greater transparency and reduced cost.

But Universal’s predominance in master funds has been seriously challenged in recent years by INKA, a unit of HSBC Trinkaus & Burkhardt that is the number two in the sector.

Other major master fund providers include Allianz Global Investors, Metzler Asset Management as well as Bayern-Invest, Helaba Invest and Deka FundMaster. The latter three are controlled by state-owned Landesbanken and Sparkassen (savings banks).

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