“They probably have the strongest client base and breadth and depth of consultant [staff],” he says. Frontier is making a big effort to showcase the depth of experience in the business. Trafford-Walker, who has worked with some Frontier clients since the mid-1980s and been involved in the execution of their investment strategies, acknowledges the difficulties of succession. “People get attached to people,” she says. Global consultants are much larger organisations. Staff members on the ascent can rise through domestic offices or move through the ranks offshore and be posted to a senior position in Australia. Succession is not as clear as it is in the domestic firms. As consultants broaden their research scope and strive to deliver specialist knowledge, they need to hire and retain talented people. Losing them can threaten this business model. “If you get people right it leads to success,” Mather says. Arriving at the helm of the Australia and New Zealand business from London in May 2010, Mather has encouraged staff to take ownership of their ideas and make them a compelling offer for clients. “I have tried to change the culture of the business to be more innovative and free-thinking,” he says. It is important to make sure that opportunities for staff to further their careers are visible. Motivating people through nonfinancial means – by making them responsible for the success of their ideas and running “soft” profit-and-loss tallies within teams – is important.

And even though consultants can’t reap the same pay as the funds managers they rate, remuneration must be competitive. Miller says the best way to retain talented people is through a strong corporate culture focused on investment research. Proof of Towers Watsons’ supportive environment for researchers is that no staff member has ever left to join a competitor. Junior staff know the way to progress through the business is by completing meritorious research. Perhaps Cambridge Associates can make the most convincing claim to deeply valuing its employees: the company has never fired an employee for “economic reasons”, such as costcutting in rough markets, Snyman says. Senior people took pay cuts instead as Cambridge looked for other ways to save money. “Many consulting firms had big lay-offs during the financial crisis,” Snyman says. “Nine months later, they were on recruitment drives.” Liu relocated from the company’s Menlo Park, California, office to Sydney in May.

“It’s largely the culture that has convinced me this is a place to stay for a long time,” he says. When was he hired into the California office, located near the venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road, his direct boss was a 25-year veteran of the company. “He mentored me for the first four years. That’s quite a common practice across the firm.” The consultant’s ideas and those of its clients were shared with the newcomer. Responsibilities were given later. “After a few years I was given the option of leading the relationship.” Most consultants spoken to for this story participate in the Pete Lee survey measuring investors’ satisfaction with the advice they receive. Sure, this qualitative feedback is nice, Trafford- Walker says. But as a measure of success it isn’t as important as the real returns superannuation fund members receive – particularly because many of these people rely on funds because they can’t manage retirement savings themselves. “We’re here to earn good returns for members. That’s how I judge myself,“ she says. “A client is a client, but it’s the nurses in HESTA and builders in Cbus that receive the returns.” Frontier’s clients may not accept all the investment advice they receive. Nevertheless the most important measure of success the consultant makes is clients’ aggregate performance over the medium-term.

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