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Dundas Global turns focus to UK market

A FUND management business led by two of Scotland's foremost investment professionals has turned its attentions to the UK after scooping portfolios worth hundreds of millions of pounds in Australia.

ALAN McFARLANE: Jointly established Dundas Global Investors in 2010 after selling boutique business for £80 million.

Edinburgh-based Dundas Global Investors was established in 2010 by Alan McFarlane, who netted around £80 million after the Walter Scott & Partners business he ran was sold to Mellon Financial in 2006, and ex-Aegon Asset Management managing director Russell Hogan, who quit in 2001 to study theology.

The company has ambitions to grow much larger, confident that its income-focused portfolios are in tune with the entry of the babyboomer generation into retirement.

Mr McFarlane said: "We are built to manage scale. We are not built to be a small-amount-of-money-high-fee boutique.

"We are built to be a large-amount-of-money-low-fee boutique."

Mr McFarlane has experience of building scale, having helped Walter Scott become a £14 billion house as its chief executive, before leaving in 2009. Mr Hogan, managing partner at Dundas Global, oversaw £34bn of assets when he ran Aegon, which at the time he left was the third biggest fund management company in Scotland.

Dundas Global has thus far built up a relatively modest £320 million in assets. Just £39m is in the Heriot Global Fund for UK retail investors that was launched in what Mr McFarlane describes as a "coming-out party" a year ago.

Some 80% of funds are from Australian investors. Dundas Global is a mixture of old-school and ultra-modern. It is set up to tackle the very current issue of how babyboomers will finance potentially long retirements. To this end the focus is on providing a dividend stream that at least matches inflation with increases in capital values that also keep pace with prices.

The firm is applying modern technology to build a global portfolio from the confines of its Northumberland Street office. Such was the amount of cabling needed that the street outside its New Town base had to be dug up. But Dundas's five-strong partnership structure harks back to the way financial services was run before 1980s liberalisation imported more cut-throat approaches from the United States.

Mr McFarlane acknowledged the similarity in its approach with pre-Big Bang City of London. "It is a partnership. We are in it for the long term."

He noted approvingly the achievements of Ballie Gifford, the partnership that runs £105bn from its base in the shadow of Calton Hill and said: "I think ownership has played a very great part in that success."

Dundas Global is also old fashioned in its determination to keep its fees low, an approach Mr McFarlane said was nothing to do with regulatory changes in the UK that have seen other firms cut their cut of investors' returns.

"We have not foresworn profitability. We have are going down a different route to achieve it," he said.

The firm currently applies ongoing charges of 0.8% a year to the holdings of smaller investors.

Mr McFarlane, a veteran of fund management companies including Ivory & Sime, further keeps costs down by doing as little travel as possiblle to quiz executives around the world. He said the company is already profitable although he noted that pay at Dundas Global is not on a par with some of its rivals. "It is not the kind of sums people along at Newton (part of BNY Mellon, purchaser of Walter Scott) will be making."

Dundas Global is seeking to carve a niche promoting global portfolios that aim to generate income and capital returns that beat inflation.

This steers a course between traditional income funds, that typically prioritise investing in stocks that yield more than the market, and other funds that aim for capital growth.

Mr McFarlane said Dundas Global has been set up to cater to the changing nature of retirement provision as defined benefit pensions, where pensions are based on a salary in employment, are replaced with defined contribution schemes where a pot of money is built up to see people through old age.

"DC changes the nature of the savings contract," he said. "A very different cohort of investors will emerge."

Meanwhile life expectancy continues to grow and Mr Macfarlane said: "I look at all my friends that have been retiring. Many have DB schemes and have nothing to worry about. Many have DC-based lump sums and have plenty to worry about."

Mr McFarlane insists said that both income and capital "need a fair chance of beating inflation".

The Dundas Global team aim to find the stocks most likely to grow their dividends, whether or not that produces a high yielding portfolio initially.

The firm started slowly with Mr McFarlane and "two young guys" who are now partners in the firm, building a research system and setting up spread sheets.

Its first investment decision was made in August 2011 and at the end of that year Australia's Apostle Asset Management approached the firm about running money.

With Dundas Global's attention turning to the UK, it could be assumed the Budget announcement of rule changes making it easier for people to go without purchasing an annuity in retirement will boost the market the firm is targeting.

However, Mr McFarlane is cautious about the likely impact noting that in countries with similar systems annuities remain popular.

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