US Public Pension funds internal capabilities: searching for an alternative financial culture

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Academic Profile

Michael Urban is a DPhil candidate in Economic Geography supervised by Professor Gordon L. Clark His thesis title is 'US Public Pension funds' internal capabilities: searching for an alternative financial culture.' Michael's research focuses on institutional investors and the asset management industry. He holds a BSc in Management and Finance from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland and an MSc in Environment, Politics and Globalisation (Hons) from King's College London.

Prior to his graduate studies, Michael worked as a Junior Product Manager for the private bank Pictet & Cie in Geneva and Zurich, overseeing a range of equity long-only mutual funds investing in emerging markets and thematic niche markets including Socially Responsible Investments (SRI). He successfully completed his CFA level 1 examination.

Michael currently assists Prof Clark in teaching a graduate course conducting tutorials focused on the relationship between Corporate Social Responsibly and global financial markets.

Current Research

There is a growing consensus among scholars and practitioners that private sector asset management services often provide poor value for money. Theoretically, it follows that large institutional investors would be better off increasing their autonomy, taking care of their asset management activities in-house instead of relying on external contractors. However, because the vast majority of US State sponsored Defined Benefit plans operate at a distance from large centres of finance and are subject to the budgetary constraints inherent to public institutions, the consensual assumption is that they cannot optimally function without resorting to privatization. This consensus is, however, largely grounded in conceptual work and lacks systematic empirical evidences to support it.

Michael's doctoral thesis addresses this issue through a collection of four academic papers investigating the relationship of US State and Local pension plans with private sector financial institutions. His research seeks to identify spatial and relational patterns of development of public pension plans' internal capabilities. Michael uses a mixed-methodological approach, using both econometrics and close-dialogue to work on different levels of granularity, moving from a macro-level focusing on geographical and economic determinants of public pension internal capabilities to a micro-institutional level of analysis focusing on organisational culture. The research is multi-disciplinary, drawing upon academic discourses from Economic Geography, Economics and Management studies.