Australia's Aware Super plans London office, hiring

Aware Super, one of Australia’s largest pension funds, is looking to hire top talent for a new London office as it follows industry rivals by expanding its global footprint.

The A$155 billion ($102 billion) fund plans to hire up to a dozen staff for the office that will open by the end of this year, CIO Damian Graham said in an interview. The London team will initially comprise both local hires and seconded Australian employees, with the main investing focus on property, infrastructure and private equity.

The office is expected to grow to 30-40 employees within the next three years, while a U.S. base was also likely at some stage, he said.

“We believe the opportunity set for property and infrastructure is probably a little larger currently in Europe,” said Mr. Graham. “Obviously with what’s happening in the U.S. around the Inflation Reduction Act and some of the policy changes over there, we are focused on ensuring that we don’t take our eye off the U.S. as well.”

The plans are part of Aware’s ambition to boost assets to A$250 billion under management in 2-3 years, Mr. Graham said. Australia’s A$3.4 trillion pensions industry — known locally as superannuation — is experiencing rapid growth, fueled by compulsory worker retirement savings. AustralianSuper, the nation’s biggest pension fund, last week also revealed a big hiring push in New York and London.

The Australian industry is experiencing a wave of local mergers, with the regulator encouraging industry consolidation. Mr. Graham said the fund was positioning itself to have “hundreds of billions” under management in the “not too distant future.”

Still, he concedes that recruiting globally in a competitive market is a big task.

“We believe there are investors out there that are very purpose-led, that are very focused on career and development, and we believe we’ll be able to appeal to them,” he said. “But we’re early days, we still need to prove that out.”

Aware Super, with 1.1 million members, is also adding senior roles in Australia of head of portfolio management and chief operations officer of investments. The fund currently manages about a third of its investments internally, and that portion is on track to grow to about half, Mr. Graham said.