Horlick launches an active return to asset management

Fund managers beware - Nicola Horlick is back. Mrs Horlick, who hit the headlines last year following her abrupt departure from Morgan Grenfell Asset Management, was firmly back in the media glare yesterday with the launch of SocGen Asset Management, her new fund management company.

The launch looks likely to ruffle the feathers both of established City names and of newer entrants such as Virgin.

Mrs Horlick aims to persuade retail investors that actively managed funds - such as her own - are a better buy than the tracker funds popularised by Virgin boss Richard Branson. She also hopes to steal lucrative pension fund management business from big hitters such as Mercury Asset Management (MAM) and Morgan Grenfell Asset Management, her former employer.

SocGen Asset Management, backed by Societe Generale, the leading French bank, launches its first unit trust and PEP wraparound - a UK growth fund - next month. More products are due for launch in the coming year, and SocGen also plans to provide Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs). ISAs will replace PEPs and Tessas and have courted controversy, as well as criticism from Mrs Horlick, for their pounds 50,000 cap on investments. "Personally, I think it is a mistake to have a cap at their level - pounds 100,000 would be better," she said yesterday.

Mrs Horlick is joint managing director of SocGen Asset Management, as is John Richards, formerly of MAM. The two MDs have set themselves a target of attracting pounds 5 billion within five years. When Mrs Horlick left Morgan Grenfell Asset Management, she was responsible for pounds 18bn of funds.

With the launch of SocGen, Mrs Horlick hopes to revive the flagging popularity of actively managed funds. Actively managed funds - which consist of a selection of hand-picked stocks - have fallen out of favour in recent times by consistently failing to outperform tracker funds. Tracker funds - as the name suggests - simply track the level of an index such as the FTSE 100.

Mrs Horlick said: "John [Richards] and I strongly believe that active management can produce results. The industry as a whole may not have beaten the equity index, but you can do it."

SocGen Asset Management will not be hampered by its relatively small size, according to Mrs Horlick. Indeed, she believes it could be an advantage. "When you get to a certain size it becomes difficult to move in and out of stocks and shares," she said.

- Lea Paterson

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