Italian Pension Fund Cuts Hidden Costs with Fund Hosting Platform
With investors honing in on the potential for greater operational efficiency, external fund hosting services are becoming increasingly popular, with a diverse range of banks, asset managers and platform providers getting in on the act.
Q: What were they key reasons for you to adopt the new structure?
There were two compelling reasons to move towards this SICAV structure. The first was administrative cost. For example, if you have different mandates in place then each portfolio manager is buying and selling different assets, each purchase and sale has a direct impact on the balance sheet and each movement has to be recorded in the accounting book (thousands of movements each year). In a SICAV you can net out those activities because all the movements (sales, purchases, etc.) are inside the SICAV and we only have to record the movements related to the SICAV shares purchased or sold.
The second reason was tax. If you have several different mandates with different funds and are incurring profits in some and losses in others, then under the Italian tax code we can’t offset the profits against the losses. If those mandates are in one vehicle, like a sub-fund in a SICAV, then we pay taxes only on the net outcome – and even that only happens when we take a dividend (so not on profits that haven’t yet been paid out).
The third advantage is that it simplifies manager selection. While Italian pension funds are subject to European laws on public procurement procedures, which make selecting portfolio managers a long and bureaucratic process, a Luxembourg SICAV does not have to follow that procedure. Our manager selections is technically being conducted through the SICAV provider, even though we are fully involved, eliminating the need to go through public procurement.
Q: Do you have your own dedicated ManCo or a sub-fund within an existing ManCo? Tell us a bit more about the structure.
This is a typical umbrella SICAV with several sub-funds, and we are one of the sub-funds. Within that one sub-fund we have nine mandates; having multiple sub-funds was also possible but would have been more expensive. It was important for us that we created our own sub-fund, rather than using one that already existed, so that we could have it customised fully to our needs. We want to choose our own portfolio managers, set our own investment guidelines and change them over time. In the last few months, for example, we customised our guidelines to implement ESG factors inside the investment guidelines.
This is not always the case with the other Italian casse [casse di previdenza – first pillar pension schemes for various professions]. We see other casse that have used a SICAV structure but with, I think, less control.
Q: How did you select the provider for the SICAV?
We contacted five different banks and financial institutions that we knew may be able to offer it and reviewed their proposals. One key difference between the providers was cost. Another was the amount of vertical integration that they could offer: the one we selected offered a very integrated operation with all of the relevant services; a ‘one stop shop’ with custody, fund administration, banking services and so on. Importantly, we have not used the firm’s asset management services – this helps to avoid conflicts of interest.
On that point, a third difference between the providers was the amount of flexibility we would have in terms of the asset managers we might want to use: one of the providers we approached was proposing an Italian investment platform which had already on-boarded several managers and would have required us to choose from those managers. We didn’t want to be constrained like that.
Q: Have you found that all asset managers you’d want to invest with are happy to work with this type of structure, or have there been any issues?
Generally this has all been straightforward. There have been a few issues with technical aspects – for example, we do all of the currency hedging at the SICAV level (the provider wanted to do all of the hedging themselves) but some managers use a different platform for hedging and wanted to suggest that.
One area that is more difficult is private markets. In the last few years we have invested in private debt and private equity funds, which cannot be included in the sub-fund we have now. At the moment, due to the relatively small amount invested in private markets (<€60 million), we think that now is not the moment to consider creating a new sub-fund for this. Making a sub-fund under the SICAV just to include several Alternative Investment Funds would be more expensive, due to the duplication of fees at fund and SICAV level.
Q: Do you see a momentum in Italy now, with pension funds moving towards platform solutions? What is driving that, do you think?
Yes, there does seem to be more appetite now in Italy for this type of approach. The tax advantages, the savings on trading costs, the efficiency in terms of the fees that we pay, the simpler procurement procedures for manager selection – these are all very attractive. In terms of overall efficiency, the current cost for all administrative costs relating to the sub-funds is very competitive relative to the standard approach of investing in different external funds.
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