Horlick claims ABN `got carried away'

Nicola Horlick yesterday claimed that ABN Amro became carried away with its plan to recruit her and her fund management team from Morgan Grenfell Asset Management.

She believed the talks she had with ABN Amro, the Dutch bank, were informal and preliminary. "But the fact that ABN was very keen to hire us is no real surprise because in our bit of the industry we had the best record, the best team of people and... they got very carried away with the idea. I am absolutely adamant no one [from MGAM] was anticipating going to ABN," she said.

However, in an interview on Woman's Hour on BBC radio yesterday, Mrs Horlick admitted she had discussed the possibility of moving to ABN Amro to set up an operation which would give a key role to Keith Percy, the man who hired her at MGAM. He resigned as a result of the Peter Young scandal at MGAM last year.

"I'm not saying we didn't discuss the possibility. We did... but I think that's perfectly reasonable. It is a free country. People, if they are unhappy in somebody's employ, are perfectly entitled to think about whether their future lies within the organisation or elsewhere," she said.

She said the logistics of the situation made suggestions that she and her team were going to move en masse "ridiculous".

Meanwhile, figures released yesterday showed that MGAM was among the top performers among big-name pension fund managers last year, while the controversial PDFM funds made a late spurt in the fourth quarter to regain a little of the ground they had lost earlier in the year.

MGAM was in sixth place overall, beaten by several much smaller funds, according to a survey of pension funds by CAPS and the actuaries Bacon & Woodrow.

But of the larger pooled pension funds it showed the best return, of 12.2 per cent. MGAM has pounds 934m under management.

Pooled pension funds tend to be a small proportion of a manager's total funds, but since their performance is publicly measured by surveys they are used as shop windows for their companies.

The survey also shows that Scottish Amicable, which next week gives more details of its plans to demutualise, had well below average performance last year. Its rate of return was 8.5 per cent, compared with the median of the 71 pooled pension funds surveyed of 10.7 per cent.

ScotAm's performance was held back by a negative rate of return of 0.2 per cent in the fourth quarter, compared with PDFM's growth of 2.7 per cent during the same period, taking PDFM's annual rate of return to 8.1 per cent. PDFM has been under the microscope since Tony Dye, its top manager, took his funds heavily into cash in the belief that the stock market was about to crash.