Asset consultant Watson Wyatt has made two senior appointments, including a former executive of Sovereign Investment Research, as it goes against the prevailing industry trend of job cuts.

Former co-head of alternative investments at Sovereign Investment Research, Ross Barry, started at Watson Wyatt late last week. Barry’s new title is head of portfolio construction and diversity, and his appointment marks the replacement of Michael Blayney, the former head of the Portfolio Construction Group who departed suddenly in October to become a portfolio manager at Perpetual Investments.

Graeme Miller, head of investment consulting in Australia, said Barry would fulfil most of Blayney’s functions, but at this senior level it was rare to get a one for one replacement. Given Barry’s background, he would focus more on alternative assets, Miller said.

Barry has spent the past six years working closely with Sovereign’s managing director and founder, Ray King, developing alternative investments programs. Previously he has worked as an asset consultant with Total Risk Management, a propriety trader with Bankers Trust, and an economist with the Federal Treasury. He also has a PhD in Applied Finance from Macquarie University, where his research focussed on alternative investment strategies.

“Ross is widely acknowledged as one Australia’s pioneers and foremost experts in alternative assets,” Miller said.

Watson Wyatt has also hired Anna Weickart, who started yesterday and will be a manger research consultant, specialising in Australian equities, as well as a member of the listed property manager research team. Weickart joins asset consulting from funds management, in a move that was once uncommon but has become less so as more financial institutions continue to cut staff. Her previous role was as a product manager/specialist in the Real Estate Securities Division of Macquarie Funds Management Group.

Discussing the business of investment consulting, Miller said that in difficult times clients were looking to their advisers to help them navigate the stormy waters.

“In that sense, in the last six months we’ve been busier than we’ve ever been,” he said. Most of Watson Wyatt’s clients are on retainers, and so the business is not as dependent on funds under management as the fund-of-funds or funds management businesses are.

“The flipside of investment consulting is that while we do not share in the excesses of the boom times, we do not suffer as much when markets are falling,” Miller said. Watson Wyatt’s Investment Consulting division has about 30 staff in Australia. “We’re more well resourced than we’ve ever been, and we will continue to expand while others around us are shrinking,” Miller said.

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