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The Risk Specialists
Larissa Benbow, 34
Head of Investments, HBOS Pension Scheme
Risk is Benbow's business. She has studied it, modeled it, and managed it, along with the assets of the pension fund attached to one of the United Kingdom's largest high street banks. But it wasn't always so. Benbow enrolled on a degree course in her home city of Melbourne, combining architecture and math, but soon realized designing gutters—the first project—was not her thing. A commerce degree and some travelling later, she arrived in the UK and immediately started a project of risk modeling for a charity, then moved to the financial sector "proper," working at (now-defunct) fund manager Gartmore, then Sungard.
"I was on a very steep learning curve, but the risk-modeling experience has proved invaluable," says Benbow, now responsible for managing £9.5 billion. This rings true: The fund was up 16% in 2011, a very volatile year. Benbow attributes this to the level of diversification in the fund, a non-traditional approach, and (typically understated) "a degree of luck." Like most Australians, Benbow is a keen sportswoman and she competed with the Great British softball team even before becoming an official citizen of the Isles, much to the chagrin of her Australian grandmother. Benbow is committed to the UK, for the moment at least, having turned down jobs at Australian superannuation funds to stay in Europe. "I get to meet and work with some of the brightest people in the industry and listen to their views on the market," she says, which, for the moment, beats the beaches and large skies of home.
The Risk Specialists: A group uniquely focused on risk management post-2008, the Risk Specialists, when spoken to often speak in soft tones, as if they're scared the markets will hear them and confirm their worst fears. "Things all correlated to one," they whisper. Traditional asset allocation did nothing to stop massive drawdowns. Out of these concerns, this group—perhaps above all others—is pioneering new thinking around how asset owners of all stripes must respond to the revelation of past risk management failures.