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Roundtable: Dutch pensions, family offices struggle to find ESG in hedge funds

 

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Over the last five years, the number of hedge funds in the Netherlands has more than doubled, from 17 to about 40. Some of them, like Saemor and WinCap, have seen a growing interest from local and international investors, also due to their returns in 2014 (14% and 8.5% respectively by August) and their low volatility or correlation.

The Netherlands is also the home of some large and sophisticated pension funds. One of them is Univest, the pension fund set up by Unilever. Over the past year, Univest has transitioned from the hedge fund of funds structure to currently 70% direct investments. This has served the institution well, as it views the global hedge fund community as “enormous talent pool” that their internal staff can now also access and interact with more closely.

However, if there is one thing Univest is not interested in seeing in a hedge fund, it’s beta. The pension applies a beta constraint of 0.2 to its hedge funds portfolios, which means that “most of the long/short equity funds available in London, for example, are not interesting for large diversified institutional clients given their high beta and costs.”

The other aspect Univest is looking for in a hedge fund is adherence to certain ESG (Environmental, social and corporate governance) standards. This is important to Unilever, because the principle of sustainability should be reflected not only as a corporation but also in its pension plans' investments, and therefore also in the hedge fund pools. How does Univest implement ESG with hedge funds? What is an appropriate approach? What are they looking at? Why is tax (i.e. are the managers paying a fair level of personal taxes) an issue?

The fight to get hidden hedge fund costs “above table”

And how about cost? While in general hedge fund managers have become fairly transparent about fees, they are not always willing to be forthcoming with all the expenses. This is also a reason pensions tend to work with large external operational due diligence firms who, amongst other tasks, will split out all costs, including hidden fees.

The Dutch pensions are not the only investors looking for sustainability in alternative investments. The new Privium sustainable alternatives fund, sponsored by a multi family office, has been set up in the fund of funds format with a broad mandate. The fund can invest in microcredit funds, sustainable real estate and sustainable hedge funds. However, the manager admits that until now, his team has “not yet found the hedge fund that meets our sustainability criteria”. This sounds like an opportunity for hedge funds willing to step ahead and cooperate with those investors on the ESG side.

The Opalesque 2014 Netherlands Roundtable was sponsored by ABN AMRO Clearing and Eurex, and took place September 9th in Amsterdam with:

  1. Thomas Heidstra, Portfolio Manager Hedge Funds, Univest (Unilever Pension Fund)
  2. Gildas LeTreut, Global Head of Prime, ABN AMRO Clearing
  3. Sven Bouman, Founding Partner and CEO, Saemor Capital
  4. Iwan Vink, Founder and Managing Director, WinCap
  5. Ruud Smets, Partner and Portfolio Manager, Theta Capital
  6. Mark Baak, Director, Privium Fund Management
  7. Lothar Kloster, Head of Buy Side Relations, Eurex
The group also discussed:
  • Are there strong empirical links between ESG factors and stock price returns?
  • Which costs are sometimes charged to a fund that shouldn’t?
  • Are we at the end of a valuation cycle for deep value strategies?
  • Why should a hedge fund should return at least 10%+ per annum?
  • ABN AMRO Clearing: A different type of prime broker
  • Eurex’ new Euro Swap Future and how Eurex' cross-margining can potentially offset up to 70%
  • The great rotation: Why hedge funds of funds are coming back into fashion
  • “Not a separate asset class”: Why more investors are using hedge funds as a better way to invest in traditional assets

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