In the latest leakage of talent from a major asset consulting firm, Ben Griffiths, the head of Australian equity manager research at Willis Towers Watson, is leaving to go to a big fund.
The leakage of talent at Australia’s major consultants to super funds seems to be continuing unabated. With a particularly big job in the offing at HESTA – that of CIO – rumours abound about whether a senior consultant may soon fill that role too.
Griffiths, who has been at Willis Towers Watson and its predecessors since 2003, will take up a role at the $75 billion NSW Treasury Corp within the equities team headed up by Peter Laity. It is understood he will concentrate on international equities.
At Willis Towers Watson, Griffiths has also been involved in global, emerging market and smart beta equity manager research. He also engaged with the consulting firm’s global team to assist manager selection and asset allocation for Australian clients.
The investment team at T-Corp is being completely overhauled after a spill of key positions last year by the new chief executive, David Deverall. The most recent hire before Griffiths was that of Stewart Brentnall from ANZ last month, who effectively replaced Mark O’Brien as CIO.
Some other senior asset consultants to leave for roles at funds in the past year or so include Graham Miller, Willis Towers Watson’s former head of investments, who went to Telstra Super, and Ian Patrick, former managing director of JANA Advisers, who became CIO of Sunsuper. Frontier has also lost several consultants either to funds or other service providers, while Mercer last year lost its head of investment consulting, Graham Mather, to fund manager Schroder.
Meanwhile, the big global consulting firm Cambridge Associates, which has traditionally specialised in alternative asset classes but in recent years has gone mainstream as well, has laid off an estimated 48 staff globally.
It is understood the Australia and New Zealand business, however, is not affected by the staff cutbacks. Locally the firm, headed up by Eugene Snyman and Travis Schoenleber, has been doing well in the past couple of years.
But not so elsewhere, according to the Wall Street Journal. A report published on March 14 said that David Druley, the Cambridge chief executive, told staff on an internal call that the firm was increasingly transitioning from a consulting to an investment firm.
It has an “Outsourced CIO” service, which the Journal says has about US$20 billion invested. This service, which is like an implemented consulting business, is offered to both institutions and high-net-worth individuals. Rival consultant Willis Towers Watson also has an OCIO service in the UK. Neither are known to market funds management in Australia or New Zealand. Mercer offers investment trusts, which it pioneered in Australia.
The Journal reported: “We overstaffed, and as we start to be more of an investment firm and less of a consulting firm we need to make room” for investment experts, Druley said on the call, according to some of the people.
“The layoffs altogether comprise nearly 50 of Cambridge’s roughly 1,300-person workforce, including a handful of employees who were laid off in February. Cambridge hasn’t had layoffs in the past decade, including during the crisis, said current and former employees. Druley said some hires, particularly of experienced investors, are planned. The Boston-based firm plans to open an office in New York, he said.
“We will continue to invest in our business to maintain our consistent record of positive growth… The firm said it expects its head count to be back around 1,300 by year-end.”
Greg Bright is publisher of Investor Strategy News (Australia)