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New leadership prompts strategy review at ICPM

A decade since the formation of the Rotman International Centre for Pension Management is a good time to review the organisation’s raison d’etre. Amanda White spoke to ICPM chair, Barbara Zvan, chief investment risk officer of Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, and the outgoing and incoming executive directors, Keith Ambachtsheer and Rob Bauer.


“There is not a day that goes by there isn’t a pension story in the press. There is a lot of change in the pension community,” says Barbara Zvan, chief investment risk officer of Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan “This is an analogy for us too, there is a whole bunch of change at ICPM,” she says of the organisation she chairs.

The International Centre for Pension Management at the Rotman School, University of Toronto, is a research-partner driven organisation, with 39 organisations from 12 countries now signed up.

It was formed 10 years ago as part of the Rotman School of Management of the University of Toronto under the leadership of Keith Ambachtsheer, with the idea the pension fund research partners would fund it and drive the research and discussion-forum agenda. Pension design and management remain the dual focus.

A decade later the organisation has funded 35 research projects, delivered 20 discussion forums in nine different locations, published 11 issues of the International Journal of Pension Management made up of 92 articles. And the Rotman-ICPM Board Effectiveness Program will be held for the fifth time this coming December.

Ambachtsheer will step down as executive director this year with Rob Bauer, professor of institutional investment at Maastricht University School of Business and Economics, taking the helm.

“In the past 10 years we have achieved a lot, including regularly bringing a big group of people from international organisations together. We’ve built a community,” Bauer says.

He sees one of the challenges as keeping the entire group engaged with the dual pension design and investment elements.

“We talk about pensions and investments in an integrated way, and our agendas are based on feedback from our members.”

Bauer was an ICPM board member representing the giant Dutch pension fund ABP in 2004 when the organisation was borne, and has been part of ICPM since the beginning.

Bauer and Ambachtsheer have had a close working relationship since, sharing common ideals and strategic thinking with complementary skills and competencies.

Zvan was appointed chair this year, replacing Don Raymond, who was chief investment strategist of CPPIB and chair since 2008, but left the fund to join a service provider.

One of the defining characteristics of the ICPM forums is its strict “Door Policy”, keeping the group closed from the distractions of fund managers and other service providers. It’s for and of the asset owner.

Zvan is joined in leading the board by co-chair Tim Jones, chief executive of NEST in the UK.

“The coalition of 39 research partners representing the most influential pension funds in the world affords us the opportunity to foster meaningful dialogue and to cultivate innovative thinking from some of the greatest minds in the industry. These interactions allow us to strengthen and promote best practices in our industry,” Zvan says in the annual report.

Bauer, Zvan and the entire board are taking the opportunity presented by new leadership to look at the offerings of ICPM and will conduct a strategic review over the next six months.

While there is no doubt the four tools and the mission of fostering effective pension design and management will remain core, how they are delivered will be re-examined, with member input of course.

Ambachtsheer is proud of ICPM’s many achievements over the past decade. He points to the funding of a number of past and ongoing research projects that focus on the relationship between the performance of pension organisations and such factors as scale, structure, operating costs and governance quality.

In addition, preferred access by ICPM-funded researchers to the extensive CEM database has been helpful in this work.

“As a result of this research, large funds are understanding the business they are in,” he says. “Good governance and insourcing enhances performance and reduces costs.”

For Ambachtsheer the dream is not over. He will continue as emeritus director of ICPM leading the Board Effectiveness Program and editing the journal.

And he’s not one to think small. His ideas of what the next phase of ICPM might be include whether it has a role in collaboration.

“When I think about where do we go from here I see that the long-horizon topic is something covered by many organisations – PRI, ICGN, OECD, CFA,” he says. “Do we let a thousand flowers bloom and see where it goes, or is there an information exchange possibility?”

The future, as always, remains to be seen.



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