Current challenges for the fiduciary manager. White paper published on the occasion of the 4th WorldPensionSummit

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1 Current challenges for the fiduciary manager White paper published on the occasion of the 4th WorldPensionSummit

2 Wouter Pelser, Chief Investment Officer MN Introduction About twelve years ago the first fiduciary mandates were awarded in the Dutch market. By now a large majority of Dutch pension scheme assets is managed using the fiduciary management model. Later, the concept has been successfully introduced in other countries, most notably in the UK. Other countries where the model is used are Germany, Italy, Australia and Japan. However, so far the market share of fiduciary management outside the Netherlands and the UK is still relatively small, although it is growing. What actually is fiduciary management? We at MN, a leading fiduciary manager in the Netherlands and the UK, see it as a governance solution in the field of pension investment management, that supports trustees with a holistic approach to the management of pension assets relative to the pension scheme s liabilities. Its primary aim is achieving the scheme s long-term goal in a risk-controlled and cost-effective manner. We believe it has five determining characteristics: dynamic balance sheet management, putting trustees in real control through good governance, a holistic approach, transparency and aligned interests, and delivering the benefits of economies of scale. The concept of fiduciary management has evolved over the years, having been improved and adapted based on experience, market development, a changing regulatory environment and client feedback. And it is still evolving today. In this paper we d like to give you our latest insights on this continuing evolution by zooming in on four important current challenges. 2

3 Interaction with the client: managing a real two-way street The first challenge is the growing importance of managing the apparent contradiction of vision versus empathy. Fiduciary management services delivered to the pension scheme are not a one-way street. What is asked for nowadays is a fiduciary manager that has a strong own vision and can be considered as an authority on pension investment management, which at the same time is highly empathic and able to appreciate the client s needs and wishes. This appreciation should include the broader environment that the pension scheme trustee has to operate in, with many regulatory and societal issues that may impact the trustee s agenda just as much as more narrow investment questions. Dealing with this apparent contradiction requires a set of different competencies of the fiduciary manager. Strong own views, but also the empathy to make advice always client-specific and the flexibility to adapt to special needs. This makes fiduciary management a real two-way street and stimulates the dialogue and the interaction with the client. This should be seen against the background of a development from trust me, to show me, to prove me to help me. In the first phase, the fiduciary manager said trust me : I know what I am doing! That was often sufficient for the pension scheme. However in the second phase, the pension scheme said show me : I like to see what you are doing. In the third phase this call got stronger and the pension scheme demanded prove me : I want you, fiduciary manager, to not only show me but also prove me what you are doing. This was during the time when the trustees themselves more than ever had to prove that they were in full control. The tone however is now changing to help me : trustees still want to be in full control, and they should be, but additionally there is a call for support and guidance. Trustees have a very demanding role. They want to be understood, but also proactively guided by the vision of the fiduciary manager based on the knowledge he possesses of the (pension) investment environment. This is where the point of managing the balance between vision versus empathy comes in. We see this as the right attitude to respond to the trustee s call for support and guidance. In the meantime, we will always keep showing and proving what we are doing and want to enable the trustee to be in control. This together should also improve the mutual trust. 3

4 Product strategies and mandates: opening the black boxes The second challenge is dealing with what we call opening the black boxes. For a long time, a bottom-up investment process per asset class was the dominant approach in pension investment, where products could be very complex and perceived as black boxes by trustees. Products were largely developed inside-out. Mandates sometimes contained a large degree of freedom and were usually not set up with the role of the product in the total portfolio in mind. This has already turned to a more top-down approach, where the black boxes were opened by designing a strategy for each product that focused on transparency, less complexity, building the right benchmark and efficient implementation at low cost. Key is that the strategies behind the products are explainable and in line with the role the products have in the total portfolio. Benchmark choices are client-specific and soundly thought through. In total, it can be said that there is outside-in product development. Fully realizing and optimizing the total set of product strategies and product mandates at a high ambition level of quality is still a major challenge for many fiduciary managers. Looking forward, a danger may be that mandates could at some point become too strict and not leave enough room for unexpected situations. This point is especially relevant from a risk management perspective. Sometimes, when this is specified as a target, it could also hamper achieving the required excess return. Because of stricter mandates, the trustee has gotten more control on the individual positions in the portfolio. While this is generally a good development, predefined rules are not always able to realize the overarching goals in every situation. This means the individual asset manager that is managing part of the pension scheme s portfolio should also be aware of the goals, so he can warn in time if he feels the mandate no longer gives the room that is necessary to realize these goals. This supports our earlier call for fiduciary management as a two-way street with ongoing dialogue and interaction with the client. 4

5 Investment organization: optimizing the full investment value chain The third challenge is a strong focus on the overall objective of the pension fund and designing the full investment value chain with the purpose of realizing that overall objective in mind. Now, letting the overall objective take center stage may not exactly sound as a new development: has this not been the key characteristic of the whole fiduciary management model all along? Indeed, but much valuable work is still being done in fully and consistently implementing this throughout the whole investment value chain. We ll give one key example. Fiduciary managers have traditionally had teams that focus on selecting and monitoring asset managers. Usually there are specializations within asset classes, such as teams that select only or mostly fixed income or private equity managers. They may select and monitor both external and internal (in-house) asset managers. The majority of their time is spent with the following activities: exploring the universe of available managers, selecting managers, constructing a portfolio of selected managers, monitoring and visiting managers, and inevitably sometimes firing managers. These activities are still needed today and in the future. We believe however that the challenge for these teams is to move to fully integrated product management. As we have seen, product strategies and mandates will have been designed, at an earlier point in the investment value chain, that explain the role of the investment products in the total portfolio and give further specifications, restrictions and guidelines. We believe the core task for the mentioned teams is to take the product mandates as a given, execute these mandates, with good first line risk management, and report back on the mandates. They will, of course, execute the product mandates by selecting asset managers that can manage (part of the) allocated assets for each product. For example, a team can appoint five asset managers that together manage the allocated assets for a product. However, the teams themselves remain the first responsible for executing and reporting on the given product mandate. This implies a much broader responsibility than the traditional idea of only manager selection and monitoring and will also require a change in mindset. It also implies that questions about investment performance from a colleague who manages the total client portfolio cannot be answered with ask the back office, but will be answered with: yes, I am responsible for fully informing and explaining that to you. We see this move to fully integrated product management as an important part of fully designing the whole invest value chain with realizing the overall objective of the pension scheme in mind. There is still room for fiduciary managers to improve themselves in this area. 5

6 Added value of asset managers: defining the role of internal asset management The fourth challenge is clearly defining the role of internal asset management. The views on this have changed significantly over the years. To execute the mandates, internal as well as external asset managers can be appointed. Internal asset managers are in-house teams that are part of the same organization as the fiduciary manager and manage part or all of the assets. Large differences in the use of in-house teams can be seen internationally. For example, the large Canadian pension funds are well-known for their preference for predominantly using in-house teams. On the other hand, many of the UK consultants turned fiduciary managers have no internal asset management capabilities whatsoever and fully rely on external parties. In the past, there were generally no very articulated views on when internal or external asset management was most appropriate. The situation at many fiduciary managers had largely historically grown that way. The global financial crisis of 2008 and other events that have put strong downward pressure on pension schemes funding ratio s have accelerated a change in this situation. Pension scheme trustees have felt an increasing need to show they are in control and fiduciary managers have come under increased scrutiny. This has impacted the current views on the role of internal asset management and it has become a very important topic in the market. Fiduciary managers now need to be able to make a very strong case to use in-house teams at all. Many times the principle of external asset management, unless.. has been proclaimed. This means the default is to look for an external manager, unless the direct advantage of internal management can be proven beyond doubt. This puts the burden of proof in the fiduciary manager s court. Some have even argued for not using any in-house teams at all as the best solution, to guarantee impartiality in selecting the most suitable managers. However, we believe that is a simple and too crude solution for a complex question that is often not in the best interest of the pension scheme. We believe that a more nuanced view on the role of internal asset management is evolving. This view is not based on the idea that fiduciary management and asset management are separate services, but rather takes an integrated perspective and focuses on the role that internal asset management can play within the fiduciary management services. It is not based on distrust about possible commercial motives of the fiduciary manager, but focuses on a cooperative partnership with the pension scheme and the question of under what conditions internal asset management may contribute to the quality of the fiduciary services and the overall objectives of the pension scheme. We believe that the contribution of having internal 6

7 asset management capabilities can first of all lie in the added value to the strategic investment and policy advice. For good advice, up to date knowledge of markets and investment products is fundamental. This knowledge and experience is useful in many areas. One example is the development of good product strategies and mandates. Evaluating external managers is also easier with the available knowledge of in-house teams. Other possible advantages of internal asset management for clients lie in the ability and flexibility to make tailored-made products and not unimportant the possibility to achieve a lower cost level. On the other hand, we believe the client may in general be better served with external managers when the investment products are more specialist, less liquid and based abroad, and carry increased reputational risk. While other parties may arrive at a different framework, we believe such a nuanced view on the role of internal asset management within the total fiduciary management model will be more commonplace in the near future. 7

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