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Taking on tri-borough: Interview with Phil Triggs

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The combined assets under management by the pension funds of Westminster City Council, Hammersmith & Fulham LBC and Kensington & Chelsea RBC stood at £2.74bn at the last triennial valuation in March 2016.

Phil Triggs, newly appointed as the director of pensions and treasury for tri-borough, is used to dealing with large portfolios; in his current role as pensions director at Surrey CC, he advises elected members on a fund worth £3.2bn. 

But the challenge for Mr Triggs, he says, is not the value of the assets under management but dealing with three funds that are “different in terms of profile”.

The pensions function is one part of the tri-borough arrangement that was not separated earlier this year, whereas the shared children’s services, adult social  care and public health services were separated.

Mr Triggs says on the investment side the three funds are “still very much separate entities” but that the arrangement for pensions is “collaborative in terms of the resourcing”.

“We’re all based in one office but there is a team of staff that are equipped for the entire tri-borough,” he says.

Mr Triggs will join tri-borough on 1 December. There are more changes afoot at Surrey, where his successor has yet to be appointed. The pensions committee recently appointed Tim Evans (Con) as its chair after Denise Le Gal stood down after eight years in order to chair the Brunel Pensions Partnership.

The tri-borough role was previously held by Jonathan Hunt, now a managing director at Scottish investment Bank Noble & Co, from October 2010 to June 2015, and then George Bruce from March 2016 to November 2016. Interim directors have been running the operation since then. 

“It’s a flagship fund of London, the tri-borough,” says Mr Triggs. “It’s a big role to fulfil and a natural progression from Surrey.” 

Mr Triggs has spent the bulk of his career working for county funds, having been investment manager at Buckinghamshire CC from 1999 to 2003, group investment manager at Warwickshire CC from 2003 to 2012, and strategic finance manager of pensions and treasury at Surrey CC from 2012 to the present. 

Of his new role, Mr Triggs says: “I’ve got to be aware very much of how each authority works, the practices, the culture, the approach, the mix of personalities on the various committees and all of the contributions that are made from all of the parties, so it’s a steep learning curve.” 

Working for three funds at once could have its challenges, especially in an era where collaboration is extending from administrative arrangements to investments.

For example, all three borough funds are members of the London Collective Investment Vehicle, whereas Surrey CC was a member of the Border to Coast Pension Partnership, and governance arrangements in each pool are slightly different, not least because the London CIV has 33 voting members; far more than any other pool. 

However, public statements made by Kensington & Chelsea RBC suggest it may have a less enthusiastic approach to the pool than the other two tri-borough funds. 

Kensington & Chelsea RBC said in its 2017-18 investment strategy statement that it was formally committed to the CIV, but that it will transition assets into the pool only “when it is satisfied” that the arrangement “ensures the maximum benefit for the fund, in terms of return, management costs and the appropriateness of governance arrangements”. 

Mr Triggs says funds’ pooling decisions are ultimately made by committee members and that senior officers only make recommendations.

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