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Decentralized investment management: evidence from the pension fund industry


  • Blake, David
  • Timmermann, Allan
  • Tonks, Ian
  • Wermers, Russ


The past few decades have seen amajor shift from centralized to decentralized investment management by pension fund sponsors, despite the increased coordination problems that this brings. Using a unique, proprietary dataset of pension sponsors and managers, we identify two secular decentralization trends: sponsors switched (i) from generalist (balanced) to specialist managers across asset classes and (ii) from single to multiple competing managers within each asset class. We study the effect of decentralization on the risk and performance of pension funds, and find evidence supporting some predictions of recent theory on this subject. Specifically, the switch from balanced to specialist managers is motivated by the superior performance of specialists, and the switch from single to multiple managers is driven by sponsors properly anticipating diseconomies-of-scale within an asset class (as funds grow larger) and adding managers with different strategies before performance deteriorates. Indeed, we find that sponsors benefit from alpha diversification when employing multiple fund managers. Interestingly, competition between multiple specialist managers also improves performance, after controlling for size of assets and fund management company-level skill effects. We also study changes in risk-taking when moving to decentralized management. Here, we find that sponsors appear to anticipate the difficulty of coordinating multiple managers by allocating reduced risk budgets to each manager, as predicted by recent theory, which helps to compensate for the suboptimal diversification that results through an improved Sharpe ratio. Overall, our results indicate that pension fund sponsors, at least on average, rationally choose their delegation structures.

Suggested Citation

  • Blake, David & Timmermann, Allan & Tonks, Ian & Wermers, Russ, 2010. "Decentralized investment management: evidence from the pension fund industry," MPRA Paper 35767, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:35767

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sandeep Kapur & Allan Timmermann, 2005. "Relative Performance Evaluation Contracts and Asset Market Equilibrium," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 115(506), pages 1077-1102, October.
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    6. Blake, David & Lehmann, Bruce N & Timmermann, Allan, 1999. "Asset Allocation Dynamics and Pension Fund Performance," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 72(4), pages 429-461, October.
    7. Carhart, Mark M, 1997. " On Persistence in Mutual Fund Performance," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 52(1), pages 57-82, March.
    8. Jonathan B. Berk & Richard C. Green, 2004. "Mutual Fund Flows and Performance in Rational Markets," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(6), pages 1269-1295, December.
    9. Dilip Mookherjee, 1984. "Optimal Incentive Schemes with Many Agents," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 51(3), pages 433-446.
    10. Ian Tonks, 2005. "Performance Persistence of Pension-Fund Managers," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 78(5), pages 1917-1942, September.
    11. Christopherson, Jon A & Ferson, Wayne E & Glassman, Debra A, 1998. "Conditioning Manager Alphas on Economic Information: Another Look at the Persistence of Performance," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 11(1), pages 111-142.
    12. Joseph Chen & Harrison Hong & Ming Huang & Jeffrey D. Kubik, 2004. "Does Fund Size Erode Mutual Fund Performance? The Role of Liquidity and Organization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1276-1302, December.
    13. Coggin, T Daniel & Fabozzi, Frank J & Rahman, Shafiqur, 1993. " The Investment Performance of U.S. Equity Pension Fund Managers: An Empirical Investigation," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 48(3), pages 1039-1055, July.
    14. Robert Kosowski & Allan Timmermann & Russ Wermers & Hal White, 2006. "Can Mutual Fund "Stars" Really Pick Stocks? New Evidence from a Bootstrap Analysis," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 61(6), pages 2551-2595, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:pal:assmgt:v:19:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1057_s41260-017-0057-4 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Donnelly, Catherine & Guillén, Montserrat & Nielsen, Jens Perch, 2014. "Bringing cost transparency to the life annuity market," Insurance: Mathematics and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 14-27.
    3. Groenborg, Niels & Lunde, Asger & Timmermann, Allan G & Wermers, Russ, 2017. "Picking Funds with Confidence," CEPR Discussion Papers 11896, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    4. Joyce, Michael & Liu, Zhuoshi & Tonks, Ian, 2014. "Institutional investor portfolio allocation, quantitative easing and the global financial crisis," Bank of England working papers 510, Bank of England.
    5. Boubaker, Sabri & Gounopoulos, Dimitrios & Nguyen, Duc Khuong & Paltalidis, Nikos, 2017. "Assessing the effects of unconventional monetary policy and low interest rates on pension fund risk incentives," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 77(C), pages 35-52.
    6. Dirk Broeders & Arco van Oord & David Rijsbergen, 2015. "Scale economies in pension fund investments: A dissection of investment costs across asset classes," DNB Working Papers 474, Netherlands Central Bank, Research Department.
    7. Blake, David & Caulfield, Tristan & Ioannidis, Christos & Tonks, Ian, 2014. "Improved inference in the evaluation of mutual fund performance using panel bootstrap methods," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 183(2), pages 202-210.
    8. Dirk Broeders & Arco van Oord & David Rijsbergen, 2017. "Does it pay to pay performance fees? Empirical evidence from Dutch pension funds," DNB Working Papers 561, Netherlands Central Bank, Research Department.
    9. Andonov, Aleksandar & Eichholtz, Piet & Kok, Nils, 2015. "Intermediated investment management in private markets: Evidence from pension fund investments in real estate," Journal of Financial Markets, Elsevier, vol. 22(C), pages 73-103.
    10. Rossi, Alberto G. & Blake, David & Timmermann, Allan & Tonks, Ian & Wermers, Russ, 2015. "Network centrality and pension fund performance," CFR Working Papers 15-16, University of Cologne, Centre for Financial Research (CFR).
    11. Lejeune, Miguel A. & Shen, Siqian, 2016. "Multi-objective probabilistically constrained programs with variable risk: Models for multi-portfolio financial optimization," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 252(2), pages 522-539.
    12. repec:spr:annopr:v:262:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s10479-015-2044-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. repec:eee:ecolet:v:156:y:2017:i:c:p:36-41 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Broeders, Dirk W.G.A. & van Oord, Arco & Rijsbergen, David R., 2016. "Scale economies in pension fund investments: A dissection of investment costs across asset classes," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 67(C), pages 147-171.
    15. Niels S. Grønborg & Asger Lunde & Allan Timmermann & Russ Wermers, 1303. "Picking Funds with Confidence," CREATES Research Papers 2017-13, Department of Economics and Business Economics, Aarhus University.
    16. Boubaker, Sabri & Gounopoulos, Dimitrios & Nguyen, Duc Khuong & Paltalidis, Nikos, 2015. "Assessing the effects of unconventional monetary policy on pension funds risk incentives," MPRA Paper 73398, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Aug 2016.
    17. Gabriele Zinna, 2014. "Price pressures in the UK index-linked market: an empirical investigation," Temi di discussione (Economic working papers) 968, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
    18. repec:eee:finmar:v:36:y:2017:i:c:p:17-39 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Decentralized investment management; diversification loss; coordination problems; fund manager skill; pension funds;

    JEL classification:

    • G11 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Portfolio Choice; Investment Decisions
    • G23 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Non-bank Financial Institutions; Financial Instruments; Institutional Investors


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