New investment approach puts fund on the road to financial stability
STRATEGIC GOAL: Be financially stable and sustainable
Thanks to bold and creative thinking, WCB Nova Scotia’s $1.8 billion investment fund is now on a more diversified path and solid financial footing. Two years ago, the WCB Nova Scotia Board of Directors decided to outsource fund management to a private investment firm. And today, that move is paying off.
“This adds to the stability of the fund and gives us more confidence that we will be sustainable into the future,” says Leo McKenna, Chief Financial Officer at WCB Nova Scotia.
Leo calls the decision to outsource a “radical departure” in the way the investment fund had been managed for more than 20 years.
Under the management of the WCB’s internal financial services team, the fund experienced a long run of good performance. But back then, with $1.5 billion in assets, its size and complexity had outgrown the existing management structure. The WCB also wanted to diversify the portfolio with a larger mix of asset classes and investment managers. All of that required a new way of doing things.
- Achieved investment returns above benchmark, helping us move toward the elimination of the unfunded liability
- Carefully monitored and managed our investment in modernization, including oversight by a dedicated Board of Directors committee
- Continued responsible financial stewardship through our proven investment model
- Initiate discussions with stakeholders on what it will mean to be fully funded, as the funded ratio continues to improve
- Ensure we start to realize the benefits and savings of our modernization
After carefully weighing its options, the Board of Directors decided the best way to achieve its goals was to hand over key aspects of fund management to an external investment firm through an Outsourced Chief Investment Officer (OCIO) model.
“The main thing was to diversify, reduce risk and make sure we were preparing for the future of the portfolio,” explains Maureen Boyd, Director of Financial Services, adding it was also important to protect capital by maintaining good returns without taking on additional risk.
Outsourced model proves to be a good investment
So far, the OCIO experience has been a good one. “We’re seeing some early benefits and have been able to position the fund for the future,” says Maureen.
The fund continues to grow with returns that are slightly higher than before and with less risk. The fund is also far more diversified. Wider exposure has increased asset classes from six to nine and the number of investment managers has increased from eight to 32. All of this makes the portfolio more sustainable for the long term. As well, since the OCIO service provider, Mercer Global Investments Canada Limited, handles all the day-to-day management tasks, WCB’s finance team and Investment Committee is free to focus on more strategic investment decisions.
“We have selected a provider and structured our portfolio so that we know we’ll be well positioned to serve workers and employers in Nova Scotia into the future,” says Leo. “And that’s very satisfying.”
The experience has also been positive for the OCIO service provider. Yvan Breton is a partner at Mercer and works closely with the WCB Nova Scotia team. Yvan says it’s been gratifying to see his company’s ideas helping the WCB fund take advantage of more sophisticated strategies. “We are very happy that we can help WCB implement the best ideas in terms of investment strategies for their pool of assets,” he says. “It’s been a great relationship on both sides.”
WCB Nova Scotia’s OCIO success story has caught the attention of other WCBs across the country.
“The Investment Committee is proud to have played a leadership role in moving forward with this new approach to managing our investment portfolio,” says Chris Power, Committee Chair. “Together, we have been able to position the WCB fund for long term success and sustainability in a volatile market environment. As an investment committee we can focus on strategic goals of portfolio diversification, governance, and performance monitoring in a global investment environment.”
Day to day, as leader of the Finance team, Maureen Boyd has received numerous calls asking for advice and last fall she was invited to share this experience at a major investment conference. All this tells her WCB Nova Scotia is on the right path.