(pictured: Carol Austin)
Carol Austin, who recently finished a five-year stint as a guardian of the Future Fund, is setting up an organisation which will act as a source of investment and business information and advice for charities.
The group, which she says is currently a “loose collective” of experienced investment people, will also potentially help charities to access asset classes such as infrastructure and commercial property.
The ‘charity hub’ will provide a range of investment templates to be selected depending on a charity’s risk profile, as well as advice on business matters, including IT.
“A lot of charities need regular income but they are not necessarily as concerned about liquidity,” Austin said. “There are investment products they may not be aware of but which can help them preserve their capital and provide an income for their charitable works.”
Austin became a director of the Grattan Institute in April, after finishing up at the Future Fund, and is on the investment advisory committee of the General Sir John Monash Foundation. At the Foundation she has been working on a new investment policy statement with Alan Schoenheimer, a former chief executive of Russell Investments. She is also a director of HSBC Bank Australia and remains a part-time consultant to Contango Asset Management.
Work by managers and researchers, many of whom are retired from full-time work, will be on a pro-bono basis, Austin said. There were a lot of good and knowledgeable people, people who were well connected, who had retired but want to keep their hand in.
“We’re not licensed to provide advice so we are really just offering our services as a health check for organisations,” she said. “It’s a group who wants to make the charity industry more efficient.”
For instance, James Purvis, former asset consultant and fund manager, is working on a template for evaluation of investments. Gary Bailey, former MLC, Fidelity and Wellington fund manager, is looking at ways the group can communicate with charities and allow research and information to be shared. Another “couple of people from wealth management” are looking at risk tolerance measurements.
Austin had 11 investment industry people at her first meeting and expected to expand the network over coming months.
“I want to create a clearing house of contacts and information which charities can use,” she said. “It is possible we can also negotiate with managers and product providers on behalf of a number of charities.”
Often, charities are too conservative with their investments, which makes it difficult to preserve capital, and sometimes they get into products and strategies which are too risky as they try to make up for low returns.