For an unexpected treat – turn left at Robert Mugabe

2013-01-26 11.30.09 HDRSometimes you find something in the course of your working day that cheers you up. Yesterday around 5pm I was flagging, I had much still to do and I had been at it since the early hours. I suspect that you will remember such a moment.

I decided to take half an hour to recharge batteries, made myself a cup of tea and idly flicked onto to see if anything was going on. A fellow I know called Andrew Slater had posted an article, he’s a bit of a geek I thought –  hope it’s not full of algebra and banking jargon. What I read was a pure delight, the undiluted response to a happy outcome that delighted me as much as the experience described delighted Andrew. I won’t ever think of him as a geek again!

I hope that when you read his piece it will cheer you up- as if you needed cheering up!

To my British ears it was a little disconcerting to hear his name at all, let alone said in such measured tones. But the voice from the satnav was clear: “Turn left at Robert Mugabe Avenue.”

I was in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, to see a pension fund client and research some local managers. I had arrived the day before with a colleague; it was my first visit to the country. As we approached the city outskirts we stopped at the traffic lights – locally called robots – and a red Ferrari convertible drew up alongside with the roof down. We decided Windhoek wasn’t Johannesburg, relaxed, and wound down the windows.

The preceding drive from the airport was beautiful and both familiar and alien. It reminded me of Utah in the United States: red sandstone rock twisted at convoluted angles underneath the big sky with a mountain range in the far distance. The vegetation however was different. If you get the chance to visit, Joe’s Beerhouse is the place to grab a drink in town.

We were meeting with the investment committee of the pension fund. We may have been in one of the least densely populated countries on the planet, but the trustees were as sharp as you would find anywhere. But like the vegetation there were plenty of reminders you were not back in the UK. For a start the pension scheme has a healthy surplus. I had to press rewind on my mind to remember the last time I advised in that situation in the UK! The investment problem was not how to deal with low interest rates but how to deal with a surfeit of performance. Financial crisis, what financial crisis?

The total fund – equity, fixed income and alternatives combined – achieved an impressive (double digit and then some) return over 2012, admirable in both absolute and relative terms. We discussed the excellent performance from mangers in Namibia and the continent (that is Africa, not Europe). We discussed the performance of developed market managers: shall we just say currency movements saved the day. And there was a very interesting investment in providing community credit finance. There has been talk of such activity in the UK, so it was refreshing to see it in action. And it made a change from the accountant-driven de-risking agenda that is the convention back at home. Have we gone wrong in the UK to see pensions through such a distorted lens?

After the meeting I went with colleagues to Nandos for lunch. I began to wonder which way around the labels ‘developed’ and ’emerging’ should be applied. Perhaps it was because the summer tropical sun was shining bright. Perhaps it was we had proper Peri Peri sauce with decent heat to it. Or perhaps it was I had been reminded what a pension scheme should really be about.



About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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