how to find consultant in umbrella funds

Sanlam Employee Benefit’s head of special projects David Gluckman penned the following in response to a recent article published as part of a Sygnia marketing campaign.

Consistency is the only currency that matters” is a well-known slogan of one of South Africa’s leading asset managers.

At the other end of the spectrum, a new player entered the commercial umbrella fund market less than 4 months ago proudly announcing “one all-in fee as a percentage of assets under management” and illustrating projected cost savings to clients adopting this model versus the competing leading commercial umbrella funds. Besides some fees such as costly hedge funds being over and above the so-called “one all-in fee”, importantly all these projections assumed there would be no need to separately pay for the services of a consultant. Today the message is slightly different and we should now understand that these projections were never accurate in that the true intention was always to leave “financial room for the employment of independent consultants.”

But the new player does raise some valid questions as regards the most appropriate governance model for commercial umbrella funds. These questions are important given the massive growth in this market (see graph below).

Two recent experiences highlighted to me that a very important question to explore is what will in the future be the role of the consultant in commercial umbrella funds.

  1. One highly respected independent consultant to a large book of Sanlam Umbrella Fund clients (and who also has many clients participating in other major commercial umbrella funds) raised the issue with me at our 2016 Sanlam Employee Benefits Benchmark Symposium, and said he is worried about the sustainability of his business given the increasing power of the major commercial umbrella fund sponsors.
  2. Various senior Financial Services Board officials also raised the matter in an April 2016 workshop with Sanlam Umbrella Fund representatives, essentially asking whether consultants introduce an extra and unnecessary layer of costs. They wanted to explore whether Sanlam could instead provide these advisory services thus savings costs for the ultimate clients of umbrella funds being the members.

The Sanlam Umbrella Fund governance model was structured consistently with thinking as set out in my paper entitled “Retirement Fund Reform for Dummies” presented to the Actuarial Society of South Africa as far back as 2009. In that paper I argued:

The role of intermediaries (aka consultants) requires particularly close scrutiny. I would argue their role is a particularly vital one if we want to create a culture of effective competition.

Rusconi argues “In the institutional space, however, savings levels are less likely to change and marketing is more about attracting another provider’s customer than about motivating additional savings”.

Such arguments emanate from the premise that intermediaries do not add value to consumers – an assertion that I would challenge. My view is that there are both good and bad intermediaries, and we need to find a model where market forces will push in the direction of forcing intermediaries to continually “up their game”.