UCA Funds Management, the Uniting Church of Australia’s $1.1 billion ethical investment arm, has recruited James Cook from ANZ Wealth to head up its investment team.

Cook was named UCA Funds Management director of investments on Wednesday August 23, 2017. The leadership role had been vacant for six months following the unexplained departure of Benjamin Pedley, who was in the role for less than a year having joined UCA Funds Management in May 2016.

Cook comes from ANZ Wealth, where he spent more than 10 years and most recently held the role of head of tailored portfolio solutions.

In his new role, Cook will be responsible for the formulation of investment strategy and overall management of UCA Funds Management portfolios. He takes leadership of the six-person investment team at a time when UCA Funds Management is growing its funds under management and diversifying its portfolio.

UCA Funds Management chief executive Michael Walsh (pictured) told Investment Magazine that while roughly two thirds of the assets managed by the organisation are currently in its enhanced cash account, that a growing number of clients are taking its advice to allocate more to their growth asset strategies – which include Australian and international equities as well as a listed property fund.

“We give advice to our wholesale clients to look at matching their long-term liabilities and think about moving out of cash into higher income generating assets that can provide some franking credits and capital growth to protect them from inflation,” Walsh said. “More of our clients are doing that now, which is a good thing.”

Walsh said Cook’s strong economic and investment background will be an asset to the investment and senior management teams.

“James is a highly experienced senior investment manager, with a strong background in portfolio management. He has led investment teams through organisational change, periods of strong business growth as well as day-to-day operations,” Walsh said. “His experience working with charitable organisations will also be an asset to our investors, many of whom are from the not-for-profit sector.”

Cook has more than 30 years of experience in the investments industry, with previous roles including six years as executive director of the Wine Investment Company. Cook has also previously run analyst and portfolio manager teams across diversified portfolios, international and domestic equities for Norwich Investment Management and Portfolio Partners.

Insourcing for ethical control

UCA’s existing investment team of five staff will report to Cook.

Investment analyst Matthew Ball and investment specialist Bridgette McDonald were also added to the team in the past three months. They join investment analyst John Fernie in assisting senior portfolio manager Noel Bryant, who manages UCA’s enhanced cash portfolio and listed property trust, and portfolio manager Tim Starke, who runs Australian equities.

The team manage UCA’s entire $1.1 billion portfolio in-house, with no mandates out to external fund managers.

“Our model is to invest directly across major asset classes, we have no money in microcaps, emerging markets or other exotic strategies,” Walsh said. “That is about matching the quality of our investments to the pretty conservative risk-return profile of our client base.”

Walsh noted that the 100 per cent insourced investment model puts UCA ahead of the curve of many of its larger peers who have in recent years started to shift responsibility for more of their assets in-house.

“Many of the larger super funds now realising you can build a strong investment culture with an internal team and that it also makes it easier to develop a strong ethical investment policy,” he said.

UCA Funds Management describes itself as a social enterprise of the Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. Established in 1985, it can lay claim to being Australia’s first dedicated ethical funds manager. Roughly three quarters of its assets are managed on behalf of institutional clients that include churches, charities and faith-based organisations. The fund’s retail investor clients are predominantly parishioners and staff of its wholesale clients.