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Pension funds

Managers trim fees to keep U.K. fund assets

Consolidation in public funds is leaving fewer contracts

Sam Gervaise-Jones
Sam Gervaise-Jones expects a drastic reduction in managers after the pool is established.

Updated with correction

Money managers are shaving fees well in excess of 10% in order to secure the business of local government pension schemes that are in the midst of consolidating about 213 billion ($266 billion) into eight asset pools, local fund officials say.

By April 2018, the U.K.'s 89 LGPS funds will have pooled the majority of their assets, following a requirement by the U.K. government in 2015 that they collaborate with the aim of increasing scale and reducing costs. In a 2014 paper, the government estimated pooling could save 660 million a year.

Consultant bfinance estimates the consolidation of 10 funds into one medium-size pool, the 23 billion Bru-nel Pension Partnership, initially will save a total 16 million yearly on costs including investment management across all the funds. Savings are set to increase to 70 million a year over time.

Individual pension funds of the Brunel pool are serviced by 75 fund managers, with 150 different investment mandates, according to information from the Brunel pool's website. Sam Gervaise-Jones, head of client consulting, U.K. and Ireland at bfinance in London, anticipates that individual contracts will fall to 30 to 50.

Mark Mansley, chief investment officer at the 2.7 billion Environment Agency Pension Fund, Bristol — which belongs to the Brunel pool — speaking on behalf of the EAPF rather than the pool, said: “Fee savings will emerge and will be reasonable in scale, and some savings will emerge ahead of any formal restructuring and tendering. At this stage, I am fairly hopeful that the fee savings anticipated in our business plan will be achieved or exceeded. I understand some fee savings have already been offered to some LGPS funds.”

Executives at funds involved in other pools share a similar experience.

“Across the LGPS there is anecdotal evidence of investment managers in listed markets reducing their fees in anticipation of pooling and we, as a fund, have some experience of that too,” Peter Wallach, director of pensions at the 5.6 billion Merseyside Pension Fund, Liverpool, which belongs to the 35 billion Northern Pool.

And Colin Pratt, chief investment officer at the 3.1 billion Leicestershire County Council Pension Fund, Leicester, part of the 34 billion Central pool said: “(The) majority of the asset managers, which will end up winning the business, will probably be paid lower fees than they are currently getting from their LGPS clients.”

However, Mr. Pratt does not see the move “as an attempt to squeeze competition out, as the fee reductions that have been volunteered are not significant enough to do this.”

Pension executives would not provide details of fee reductions on the record, but sources said some were expecting savings of more than 10%.

A number of money managers contacted for this article were not available to comment by press time on the size of the business they were expecting to lose or how much they were cutting fees.

But Sherilee Mace, institutional business development director at Insight Investment in London said: “For asset managers, there is clearly the potential impact of lower fee rates, resulting from the greater buying power of larger asset pools. For the successful managers this might be partially offset by larger mandate sizes.”

“There will also be a reduction in the number of asset managers who manage mandates on behalf of LGPS,” she said.

Moving more assets in-house

Money managers contending with losing business to peers might also have to deal with the possibility that LGPS executives might prefer to bring the management of certain assets in-house as a result of pooling.

Mr. Gervaise-Jones said: “For those pension plans building a pool around a mix of internal and external management, I expect a gradual increase in assets managed internally.”

Last November, the Local Pensions Partnership — an asset/liability partnership among the London Pension Funds Authority, Lancashire County Pension Fund and Royal County of Berkshire Pension Fund that was set up in January 2016 and now has 13 billion in assets — dropped four of seven external managers: Baillie Gifford, Natixis Global Asset Management, Morgan Stanley (MS) Investment Management Inc. and AGF Investments Inc. Instead, executives chose to bring 40% of its activity in-house.

LPP's spokesman said the pool did receive better fee rates than its members would have individually. “However, much of this came from offering greater (in size) mandated to the managers used,” he said.

Natixis was not one of those firms cutting its prices. Euan MacLaren, head of U.K. & Ireland institutional business at Natixis Global Asset Management in London, said: “Natixis ... did not offer reduced rates to LPP as compared to its other pension clients.” The other three managers did not respond by press time.

For those pools choosing to stick with external money management, sources expect to see pooled assets organized according to asset classes or according to the level of income the asset classes are expected to generate.

“The pool may choose to treat high-dividend equity, credit and private equity as one subfund,” Mr. Gervaise-Jones said.

Alternatives are also attracting more competitive fees. Mr. Wallach said: “In unlisted markets or alternative assets, we are seeing managers providing fee discounts on new funds.”

However, sources at pension funds said lower fees are not a deciding factor when choosing a money manager, and that they would prefer to pay higher fees for better performance.

And the cost of consolidation and associated transaction costs might render the exercise of transitioning to mutual managers too expensive anyway, with some funds likely to stay with their existing managers.

Mr. Wallach said there is very limited overlap of managers in the Northern Pool due to the three member funds having different implementation of their investment strategies. “We do not anticipate dispensing with any managers as an immediate consequence of pooling,” he said.

Mr. Mansley added transition costs will give quality existing managers some advantage.

This article originally appeared in the February 20, 2017 print issue as, "Managers trim fees to keep U.K. fund assets".