New York To Look Into Pension Consultants

Nov 7 2013 | 11:27am ET

New York State has launched an investigation into the advisory firms that help its pension funds invest some $350 billion in retirement funds.

Benjamin Lawsky, the state's financial services superintendent, has issued subpoenas to about 20 such companies in an effort to determine whether there are any conflicts of interest. While New York's pensions are well-funded, Lawsky said the difficulties suffered by Detroit's municipal pension fund have him concerned.

"The recent financial difficulties in Detroit serve as a stern wake-up call, demonstrating why strong oversight of New York's public pension funds is so important," Lawsky wrote to trustees of the state's public pension funds, including those overseeing New York City's pension funds. He plans to investigate "controls to prevent conflicts of interest, as well as the use of consultants, advisory councils and other similar structures."

Those trustees, including State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, told The New York Times that they are cooperating with the investigation.

Lawsky is seeking information about pitches, compensation practices, relationships with  money managers and methods of tracking private investments from the likes of Callan Associates, Russell Investments, Towers Watson and Wilshire Associates, among other, smaller firms.

New York's pensions are no strangers to scandal: DiNapoli's predecessor, Alan Hevesi, was forced to resign and eventually went to prison over a pay-to-play scandal at the state's largest hedge fund, one that ensnared several major alternative investment firms.

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