Survey: Pension Funds Looking to Increase Internal Asset Management

pension funds

Pension funds across the world are looking to bring asset management responsibilities in-house, according to a recent survey by State Street.

In addition, a majority of funds are thinking of turning to lower-cost investment strategies.

From ValueWalk:

Over the next three years, a whopping 81 percent of pension fund respondents said they are exploring bringing more asset management responsibilities in-house. A primary reason? Fees and costs were a major issue, with 29 percent saying it was a challenge for the pensions to justify the fees of their asset managers.

An unspoken issue is the relatively low returns, as many hedge funds are both highly correlated to the performance of the stock market as well as underperforming major stock market indices. This leads to the question: why not just primarily invest in an stock index ETF for the primary equity exposure?

As part of this shift to internal investing, 53 percent of the respondents are expecting to use more lower-cost strategies to achieve desired investment outcomes. This would likely include low cost ETFs designed to capture the beta of the stock market.

“Pension funds’ desire to deliver strong investment returns to their participants coupled with improved oversight and governance and is leading to a need for more in-house accountability for asset and risk management,” said Martin J. Sullivan, head of Asset Owner sector solutions for North America, State Street. “However, this undertaking requires pension funds to carefully evaluate how to achieve a balance of in-house and external talent, tools and technologies.”

The survey polled 134 pension executive from the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Kolivakis Weighs In On Restructuring of CalSTRS Investment Staff

The CalSTRS Building
The CalSTRS Building

CalSTRS recently completed a restructuring of its investment staff, which including appointing its first chief operating investment officer.

The restructuring had a purpose: the fund is planning to move a significant portion of investment management duties in-house.

CalSTRS currently manages 45 percent of its portfolio internally. The fund wants to bring that number up to 60 percent, according to a CalSTRS press release.

Leo Kolivakis, who runs the blog Pension Pulse, weighed in on the changes in a recent post, which is printed, in part, below:


By Leo Kolivakis

The shift toward internal management is a smart move and I like the way they restructured their senior staff to implement this shift.

According to Reuters, Debra Smith, the new chief operating investment officer, will oversee the fund’s Investment Operations, Branch Administration, and a new unit comprised of Compliance, Internal Controls, Ethics and Business Continuity. And as stated in the WSJ article above, Smith will report to the investment committee twice a year, giving her a direct line to board members.

Pay attention here folks because this is a great move from a pension governance perspective. I’ve always argued that the head of risk and head of operations at public and private pension funds should report directly to the board of directors, not the CEO or CIO. If there is a disagreement on operational or investment risks being taken, the board can listen to the arguments and decide if the risks are worth taking.

I’ve also long argued that whistleblowers need to be protected and whistleblower policies need to be beefed up at all public pension funds so that employees who witness shady activity can safely report it without worrying about being fired. If some senior manager is accepting bribes from an external fund manager or from a big vendor peddling the latest most expensive software, there should be a way to detect and report this fraud.

Finally, go back to read my comment on why U.S. pension funds are going Canadian. The reason is simple. It makes sense to manage assets internally, saving on fees and having more control over your investments. CalSTRS isn’t the first big state pension fund to do this (Wisconsin is) and it won’t be the last.

Of course, to really go Canadian, U.S. public pensions have to pay their senior investment staff big bucks and they have to separate politics from their entire governance process. When I read articles on how John Buck Co., a real-estate investment firm whose executives contributed substantially to the campaign of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has earned more than $1 million in fees for managing city pension money, I shake my head in disbelief. This is Chicago-style politics at its worst. No wonder Illinois is a pension hell hole!


Photo by Stephen Curtin