(Pictured: Catherine Nance)
With the recruitment of David St John, the former UniSuper CIO and current super fund investment advisor, PwC has signalled its intention to expand its services to big super funds and fund managers in direct competition with the traditional asset consulting firms.
The global accounting and advisory firm is looking to provide a different style of advice to super funds and similar organisations, according to Catherine Nance, who has been with PwC for about 12 years, since it bought her former boutique consulting business, Williamson Nance.
PwC recruited Stephen Jackman, the former Mercer consultant and researcher, in early 2014, and St John this month, to lead a seven-person team based in Melbourne. Jackman and St John previously worked together at Mercer.
Nance said: “I think that independence will increasingly become an issue for consultants. And we bring a wider body of expertise to the table because of the breadth of PwC’s business. We’re not looking to usurp the traditional asset consultants. We’re looking to add value in the areas that we can.”
Nance, a well-known actuary, moved from Perth to Melbourne not long after PwC acquired the firm that she and Peter Williamson had founded. Both she and Williamson remain on various super fund boards, as does St John. Nance is on the GESB and Treasury Corp of WA boards and St John will retain his LegalSuper investment committee position after joining PwC.
She said: “With Stephen [Jackman] and David [St John], coupled with the ability to tap into all parts of the PwC group, we think we can offer a wider range of services to our clients… We actually have an excellent track record but we’ve tended to fly under the radar in the last few years. I thought, a year or so ago, that we could do more for our clients.”
Jackman, who famously led the team which developed the global Mercer manager database (GIMD), said that PwC already provided traditional asset consulting to about a dozen big super funds. In fact, PwC provides various services to an estimated 40 per cent of the whole industry fund universe. David Coogan, the national superannuation practice leader, for instance, has been the honorary treasurer of AIST for many years and is current chair of the finance and risk committee of AIST.
St John said that there was a gap in the market, with some super funds looking for something different from the traditional asset consulting model. “What we offer is genuinely tailored advice, not generic advice,” he said. “I don’t want this to be taken the wrong way but we are offering an elite consulting service.”
One of PwC’s specialties is advice on governance structures, which is increasingly in demand as big funds look to insource some of their investment processes.
While it does provide manager selection services when required, Nance admitted that this was not a strength for the organisation compared with some other consulting firms, such as JANA and Frontier, the two biggest in Australia.
“We want to add value for our clients. We think we have a different perspective. We’ve seen the world from the other side and we have a set of fundamental beliefs that we all agree upon.”
Nance said PwC looked to provide a premium service focussed on the key drivers of investment performance, which often entailed independent reviews of investment arrangements and second opinions on key investment decisions.
Services include reviews on: product design; decision making strategies reviews; internal resourcing; asset allocation; portfolio construction; fees; quality of reporting; timely implementation; and, traditional investment consulting services.