One small step for man, one giant leap for man’s kindness – Photos from the Shard

Below are some photos from my Leap from the Shard, which took place yesterday in aid of the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund (RMCTF) and the Outward Bound Trust. A big thank you to everybody who donated!

Before the Descent of the Shard I felt a mixture of fear and excitement. However I was determined not to let the fear creep into my mind and just repeat the preparation and training from the abseil practice last Friday. It was a case of “taking my bottle in my hand and just jumping!” After the abseil down 67 floors of the Shard I felt incredible. It was an unbelievably unique experience.

Commando Spirit and The Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund make a tremendous difference to the Royal Marines and their families. Commando Spirit involves setting tough fund raising goals and once-in-a-lifetime challenges such as “Descent of the Shard” and “Escape the Dunker” to raise life-changing funds for our Royal Marines and their families in need.

A special thanks must go to the incredible team and teamwork that made this happen. The staff at Outward Bound and Commando Spirit, the Sellar Property Group and all the staff at the Shard. However the silent heroes who made it all happen safely and on time were the Royal Marines Display Team, The Outward Bound Mountain Leaders and the guys from ‘Hasler Company’ (injured and recovering Royal Marines).

I have raised 59% of my £25,000 target, all sponsorship is gratefully appreciated! Thank you!

www.justgiving.com/rob-gardner6

Making a bolt for the Shard

View from the top (guests)

View from the top (abseilers)

Descending the Shard

The final descent

Mission complete!

Leap, and the net will appear

Image

Or, if you’re leaping off the Shard, perhaps it won’t.

On September 3rd this year I’ll be taking part in TheLeap, a challenge involving abseiling at high speeds down the newly opened Shard, the highest building in Europe, in the style of a Royal Marine. This is the second in a series of Commando missions organised by the charity CommandoSpirit, which invites high flying business types (their words not mine) to move way outside their comfort zones, and push themselves to the very limits, while raising money for the RoyalMarinesCharitableTrustFund. The RMCTF supports Royal Marines, ex-Marines, and their families after injury, trauma and death. Sometimes the support this charity provides is helping marines recover from physical injuries and trauma, while sometimes it’s financial aid for the families of those who die in active service. Either way, this is a charity that helps those who put their lives on the line for us. A pretty good cause, by all accounts.

 

Last year, I completed theDunker, another of the Commando missions involving the underwater escape from a simulation of a helicopter crash at sea. It may have been out of pity or as a contingent funeral fund, but my friends, colleagues and family helped me surpass my £10k target and raise an admirable £11,000. This year, I’ve set myself the lofty goal of raising £25,000 by doing TheLeap.

There’s something fascinating about the extreme physical and psychological capabilities of men; where are our limits? And what happens if we push them? Not many of us ever get the opportunity to really test our own, but here’s a man who has: PeteGossis an ex-marine, world-renowned sailor, and general limit-pusher. He’s probably best known for his impromptu detour from a solo round-the-world yacht race in 1996, in which he turned his vessel around and sailed it back into the eye of the storm to rescue a fellow sailor. And in 2008 he built a woodenlugger with no modern communication or navigation tools, and sailed it to Australia in celebration of the seven Cornishmen who made the same voyage 154 years ago. His heroism doesn’t cease at the physical, though.

Even considering the clear danger of appearing close enough to Pete for comparison, I asked him to help me fundraise for The Leap by speaking publicly about his adventures. I’m humbled that he accepted and I’m delighted to announce that he will be the keynote speaker at an extraordinary, one-time event on Thursday August 30th at Pinsent Masons’ offices in London.

Please support me (and my Leap) directly, by visiting www.justgiving.com/rob-gardner6

and donating generously to help me raise £25,000!

Lessons in Polar Exploration for Pensions Risk Mangement

In 1911 two men began ambitious expeditions to the South Pole. Despite facing similar conditions during their 1,400 mile journeys, Roald Amundsen secured victory for his team while Robert Falcon Scott and his team suffered defeat and untimely death.
Both men and their teams contended with hostile conditions: freezing temperatures, gale force winds, fierce terrain and no safety nets. Both teams were thousands of miles from help, and without any access to communication. The conditions may have been similar; the two teams’ outcomes were not. Ultra-low gilt yields, Eurozone and regulatory headwinds, Middle Eastern hostilities and lack of sustainable economic solutions mean that pension schemes face a similarly uncertain and unknown climate.
What lessons can we draw from the past to facilitate pension schemes’ success in this new world? How can they create a more certain outcome in an uncertain economic environment?
1. Preparation
Amundsen did not take the task lightly. He spent months training with Eskimos in order to learn key survival skills in the run up to the expedition. He studied the conditions and mapped out the risks. As a result of this research, he began his journey at the Bay of Whales, reducing the distance by 60 miles. He also chose to use dogs instead of modern equipment, knowing that dogs were proven on this terrain (and would be useful as food, if needed!). Given the danger of extreme cold, Amundsen carried four thermometers in case any were broken.
Scott, meanwhile, simply repeated the route of his previous attempt in 1907 with Edmund Shackleton; he started his expedition from the usual spot, McMurdo Sound, and therefore travelled further and tackled tougher terrain. He brought motorised sleds which soon broke as they had never been tested in Polar conditions, and ponies that soon died. Scott was equipped with just one thermometer, which broke shortly into his journey, thus rendering his team ignorant of rapid falls in temperature.
Lessons for Pensions – Following in the footsteps of the successful Amundsen team, a robust Pension Risk Management Framework should be adopted before the journey (to full funding) begins. This involves knowing and quantifying, as much as possible, risks on both the asset and liability side of the pension scheme. Trustees can then map a clear path to meet their ‘Endgame’ strategy whilst minimising the risk placed on the scheme, its members and sponsor.
2. Discipline
Amundsen knew exactly how much distance needed to be covered to complete the journey on schedule. He focused his team on travelling between 15 and 20 miles each day, ignoring calls to cover more ground when the weather was fine and to bunker down when the going got tough. “It has been an unpleasant day – storm, drift, and frostbite, but we have advanced 13 miles closer to our goal,” he remarked in his journal. Even when they were within 45 miles of their target and enjoyed pleasant conditions, Amundsen stuck to the plan and travelled just 17 miles. His discipline paid off as the winning team reached the South Pole on 14th December 1911 having averaged 15.5 miles per day! And arriving safely back on the 25th January 1912 as he planned to from the outset.
Scott’s team reached the South Pole on 17th January 1912 but all died on the way back . They lacked the discipline of their rivals, exhausting themselves when the weather was clear and sitting in their tents when conditions were unpleasant. Some days they travelled 45 miles, on others zero. “I doubt if any party could travel in such weather,” Scott wrote in his infamous diary. It was not so much the conditions as exhaustion and hunger to blame for the defeat.
Lessons for Pensions – For many underfunded schemes, a return to 100% funded status in the next couple of years is unlikely. Instead, a realistic target date should be set with asset allocation based on even-more-realistic return assumptions and clearly articulated risk budgets. Should investment returns turn out better than assumed, trustees should not be afraid to ‘bank’ the excess return by allocating to lower risk/lower return assets. De-risking may provide a self-imposed discomfort in the short-term but, in the long-run, it may prove crucial to the survival of both pension scheme and sponsor.
3. Paranoia
Amundsen did not leave anything to chance. His healthy paranoia meant that his team carried enough food to survive missing a few supply depots. They also placed black stones for a kilometre around the depot, just in case weather conditions threw them off course. This combination of preparation, discipline and paranoia were key to Amundsen’s success.
Scott’s team died, tired and hungry, on the way back within a short distance of a supply depot. Despite taking three times as many men as Amundsen, this group carried one-third the amount of food – not enough to miss even a single supply depot.
Lessons for Pensions – Plan for the best, prepare for the worst. Unknown unknowns are difficult to predict and protect against; however, thanks to advances in financial modelling and quantitative analysis, we can turn some of these into known unknowns. Schemes should stress-test their portfolios against extreme scenarios before any of these scenarios arise. It is far easier to escape the herd before the herd starts stampeding! Moreover, given tighter regulations and plans for central clearing, schemes must carry enough liquid, ‘safe’ assets not only to pay members’ benefits but also to meet collateral and margin requirements.
As Amundsen remarked:

Victory awaits him who has everything in order – luck people call it.

Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.
So, are you an Amundsen or a Scott?

REDINGTON CELEBRATES 6TH BIRTHDAY (16th May 2006)

6 years ago today, Dawid Konotey-Ahulu and I incorporated Redington as a company with one mission: To shape and influence the future of pensions. In our original business plan to the FSA we stated that we wanted to do to pensions what Jamie Oliver had done to school food!

Redington started life in Dawid’s attic and the first few months involved opening bank accounts, buying furniture from IKEA and computers from Dell. The major priority was to complete our FSA registration and to build Redington’s brand. We decided to name the company after an outstanding British Actuary – Frank Redington – whose centenary was being celebrated at the Actuarial Society at Staple Inn on 10th May 2006. Frank’s ‘Immunisation Theory’ heavily influenced our ‘3 Lenses‘ approach to risk management and asset allocation, always striving to create more certain outcomes for our clients. For Defined Benefit pensions this means reaching full funding with the minimum level of risk.

In May 2006, 10 year gilt yields were above 4.5% (and rising), nobody could have predicted that six years on that same yield would be below 2% (and falling). As we continue to build and grow a sustainable business to help our clients with their investment and risk management needs, we are proud to be known as Progressive, Proactive and Creative and our passion for pensions is greater than ever. And it needs to be in these uncertain times! When Dawid and I left Merrill Lynch, we wanted to start a culture with smart, ambitious, passionate, fun and friendly people. We believe we have succeeded and look forward to the next 6 years, wherever gilt yields may go. A huge THANK YOU must go to Frank Schinella, our first client at the Royal Mail (and still a client today), and all of our clients who we are honoured to work with. And of course, a massive THANK YOU to all of my colleagues who work tirelessly and diligently in our pursuit of better outcomes for our clients. We very much look forward to celebrating Redington’s 6th birthday with friends and family on Thursday 14th June.

Hope to see you there!

STEP OUT OF YOUR OFFICE AND TAKE THE LEAP!

“They put their lives on the line for us. And when our Royal Marines need help, we want to ensure they get it. Take on a Commando Spirit Challenge!” – @CdoSpirit

Having walked away in one piece from last year’s exhilarating Dunker Challenge I am delighted to be part of Commando Spirit’s next fundraising challenge – Take The Leap, an eye-watering fast rope abseil from an iconic London landmark (and helicopters)!

High Flyers Wanted For Commando Mission

Bored of sitting in your office while the sun shines? Looking for a thrill that money just can’t buy? This could be it! There are a few remaining places for this once in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t worry about fitness or fear, every step of the way a Royal Marine will be there!

Your Mission, If You Choose To Accept It….

To help Commando Spirit succeed in their mission to raise £1 million for the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund.

To achieve this, each participant is asked to raise £10,000 which will be used to aid the wounded, provide a quality of life to returning marines and, in the worst case, to support the families of those marines who do not make it back.

Why Did I Accept It (Again!)?

It is not just the adrenaline rush (although that is fantastic), nor indeed the money raised for an amazing cause – the camaraderie and training received from the Royal Marines turns this experience into something I will never forget, nor regret.

I would love it if you joined us for this amazing experience!

Further details on www.commandospirit.com , latest news on twitter.com/cdospirit

If you wish to sponsor me, please visit www.justgiving.com/Rob-Gardner6

Many thanks from me and all the other nutters people taking part

Rob

Splash out on an illiquid asset and get some real returns…

Last year I talked about a potential opportunity for UK pension funds to buy Cambridge Water  on an unleveraged basis in order to secure, long-dated inflation-linked cash flows, with a real return significantly above that provided by long-dated inflation-linked gilts. The idea being that as financial markets and economies continue to deleverage, UK pension schemes have the potential to fund the full spectrum of UK infrastructure needs – both in social infrastructure; for example care, education, health and housing, as well as economic infrastructure such as roads, railways, ports, and utilities. The idea has even now found favour with our politicians! Two of our clients saw the opportunity to partner with Cambridge Water, providing long-term capital in return for these long-dated secure inflation linked cash flows, and mandated Redington to approach HSBC. Subsequently we therefore put in an unleveraged bid for the asset. Unfortunately in October Cambridge Water was sold to South Staffordshire Water which is owned by Alinda Capital Partners, the world’s largest independent infrastructure firm. Since then, however, Redington has received a flood of enquiries asking about the Cambridge Water deal and the rationale for its investment profile i.e. combination of inflation linked cash flows with an attractive real return.

Good news for the New Year!  Veolia Group has just announced that it is in the process of appointing advisors and banks for the sale of its three UK water assets.

Veolia Water UK Plc is the holding company for three separate water companies, serving 3.5million customers:

  1. Veolia Water Central, previously Three Valleys Water and by far the largest of the three companies,
  2. Veolia Water East, previously Tendring Hundred Water Services,
  3. Veolia Water Southeast, previously Folkestone and Dover Water Services.

Veolia Environnement SA is the ultimate parent company and has owned the three water companies since 1987. Following a number of profit warnings and a ratings downgrade the Veolia Group is in the process of selling a number of assets in order to reduce its net debt.

Based on prices achieved in recent sales of water companies, e.g. Northumbria Water, Bristol Water and Cambridge Water, the likely sales price will be between 125% and 130% of the regulated asset value equating to an enterprise value of £1.15 – £1.2billion for the combined group. This would likely consist of an equity investment of c.£500m and debt requirement of c.£700m (£500m excluding existing bonds).

For interested Pension Funds there is therefore a window of opportunity to approach Veolia Environnement to discuss the purchase of the individual water companies or to form a consortium to bid for “Central” or even the combined group. The two smaller companies, “East” and “South East” would provide an attractive opportunity for a pension fund to make a 100% acquisition of a UK water only company for an enterprise value of £80-90million i.e. similar in size to the Cambridge Water deal. Note: a pension fund investor will benefit significantly from the growth in regulated asset value, both from additional capex spend and RPI indexation. This is a major driver in long term value of regulated water companies. Veolia Environnement is expected to launch a formal sale process during January and the process is likely to be a two or three stage process lasting 8-10 weeks with access to vendor due diligence reports.

Hopefully Santa has answered my wish list for 2012 by providing pensions funds some (three-in-one) opportunities to act on.

DEAR FATHER CHRISTMAS: A WISH LIST FOR 2012

Dear Father Christmas,

Last year I asked for the following things in my stocking but fear you read my letter upside-down: higher yields, lower inflation, rising markets and stronger sponsors. However, thank you for providing opportunities for pension schemes to become social capitalists and also for improving the communication and collaboration across the industry.

This year, I have left tennis lessons with Rafael Nadal off the list to make room for much smaller gifts:  a Eurozone resolution, lower volatility and the agility to act on opportunities.

Eurozone Resolution
Every year as we await your arrival there are many men dressed up as Father Christmas handing out gifts from their shopping centre grottos.   So it was a nice surprise to see you dressed up as many men to deliver an early Christmas present to the Eurozone this year – €489billion of 3 year loans to 523 banks.  This extra liquidity will certainly buy time for governments to find a solvency solution, such as reviving growth or reducing spending or (somehow) both.
Restoring confidence in the Eurozone will really help UK pension schemes who have been impacted by the rise in UK government bond prices.  This letter may arrive too late for your elves to produce a full Eurozone solution, but perhaps you could provide UK schemes with an opportunity to hedge their liabilities at more attractive prices in the coming year.

Lower Volatility
Economic uncertainty has led to a sharp rise in volatility since you last visited us.  This extra risk has not always been rewarded with increased returns as one would expect.  This means more and more pension schemes are flying below their flight plan to full funding at a time when their sponsor may also be impacted by the ongoing market turbulence.
Please could you bring us some certainty and deliver us from volatility!

Act on Opportunities
One effect of increased volatility has been that pension schemes are looking beyond traditional assets for new sources of enhanced and/or long-term returns.  Having provided some win-win opportunities in 2011, such as the UK’s National Infrastructure Plan, the next year must see delivery of cash-for-projects.
For pension schemes to fill the infrastructure funding hole left by banks and governments, it will require co-operation between a number of parties as well as a thorough understanding of the risks and rewards involved.  Please can you sprinkle some Christmas spirit over these discussions and provide decision-makers with the Agility, Control and Transparency needed to fulfill the country’s infrastructure wish list!
If there is room in your sleigh, I would really appreciate those tennis lessons I mentioned earlier.

Very best wishes,

Robert, aged 33

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