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CIBC looks to score with hiring of key fund manager

INVESTMENT FUNDS REPORTER

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce's money management arm has wooed a key executive from Mackenzie Financial Corp. as part of an aggressive push to gain share in the mutual fund industry.

Suzann Pennington, a veteran manager who has been overseeing Mackenzie's Saxon brand funds since 2009, will become head of CIBC's 15-member team of Canadian equities managers and analysts.

"It's a move that we've made to try to improve our whole offer to investors and advisers," Steve Geist, president of CIBC Asset Management Inc., said Thursday in an interview. "We have gone from losing market share to gaining market share ... She is a fabulous addition to keep that momentum going."

Dan Hallett, a fund analyst at HighView Financial Group, described Ms. Pennington's departure as a "significant loss" for Mackenzie and a coup for CIBC. "They have hired someone who is pretty well known in the fund industry," he said.

CIBC, which has $52-billion in fund assets, had its best year in the fund business last year when it attracted $2.4-billion in long-term net sales, said Mr. Geist. "We have already broken that record in less than six months this year with $2.5-billion in net sales."

However, the bank dropped to No. 4 from No. 3 in fund assets among the major banks after Bank of Nova Scotia earlier this year acquired DundeeWealth Management Inc.

CIBC executives attributed the bank's rising net sales to an improvement in fund performance that followed an overhaul of CIBC's Canadian money management team. Ms. Pennington is among seven new hires over the past year. Other additions have included manager Colum McKinley from Sionna Investment Managers and Larry Smith, a former Scotia Capital metals analyst.

"We want to be one of the top-performing bank-sponsored asset management firms," said Duncan Webster, who came onboard three years ago as chief investment officer of CIBC's money management arm.

Ms. Pennington, who will stay with Mackenzie until May 13, said she was ready for the move. "It's a bigger responsibility for me with a bigger team," she said.

The Saxon funds became part of Toronto-based Mackenzie Financial after Mackenzie's parent company, IGM Financial Inc., bought Saxon Financial Inc. in 2008 for $287-million. The acquisition included institutional assets run by its Howson Tattersall Investment Counsel Ltd. unit.

Ms. Pennington, who joined Saxon in 2005, was the chosen successor of the firm's co-founders Richard Howson and Bob Tattersall, who had ran the value-style mutual funds for two decades.

© 2007 The Globe and Mail. All rights reserved.

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