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With Tocher at the Reins, Stable Value WinsThe 401(k) Race

Cathe Tocher has excelled as a portfolio manager through very good times and bad. She is senior vice president of investments at Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Co., whose five- and four-star Morningstar-rated stable-value portfolios continue to be embraced by the 401(k) marketplace.

A Canadian by birth, Tocher joined the firm's Winnipeg office in 1987 and has been with Great-West ever since. The performance of her portfolios has earned her considerable respect among investors - particularly during the chaos of the financial crisis when she continued to beat portfolio benchmarks.

In an interview with Money Management Executive, Tocher covers her experiences in the industry and her success in dealing with the market downturn. She provided honest answers about her fear during the early days of the crisis and the competitive drive that led her from a potential career in the arts to becoming a distinguished member of the financial community.


MME: Your assets under management and the strategies that you oversee are very impressive. Is it just your group that's gone from $250 million in 1990 to $9.6 billion?

Tocher: That is correct, it's my team, and it's been my focus. My team also works in the general insurance company portfolio, so we are an insurance company first. When we started the separate account business, the focus really was not on retirement services and building up that block of business. My team and I have really been building this from the ground up.


MME: What has really fueled that growth? Is there any one particular strategy or client base?

Tocher: It's the markets that we work in from the separate account side of the business. We have custom stable value in the government space-so that would be defined contribution. That's the biggest piece of our stable-value stable. We have 401(k)s and proprietary funds that have been difficult in the past because we're not a fund shop-we're not a PIMCO-we're an insurance company with this asset management capability.

Thirdly, there's life insurance, which is the second-largest component of our stable of separate accounts. The growth really started with custom stable-value in the defined contribution market in the early '90s. Our way of growing that was really by selling our services as a recordkeeping provider.

At first, managing assets was really just an add on, it wasn't a key focus; the real focus was in keeping assets under administration and our recordkeeping business.

Over time, we've managed the assets we've built by modifing and strengthening them.

We've really delivered in terms of performance, whether that's in the 401(k) market in terms of total returns relative to benchmarks, relative to our peers, in the custom stable-value fund, our customer service, helping to manage client relationships, providing education, or going before client boards. We've really been able to take the time to develop some momentum.

What I was hired for was the insurance company's general account assets, not separate account assets. But I was really given the green light when I started building the business and working with others to do so over time.

One of the big catalysts, quite frankly, was the financial crisis. We generated strong performance results across all of our business lines through the crisis and following the crisis. We were also able to develop the reputation to bring in new clients-so we were getting new business to manage.

We were able to help our clients work out of their bad portfolios, or very aggressively postured portfolios that weren't performing well at all through the downturn.

So, we were able to build a reputation, and now people have a sense for what we can deliver and that we're not kind of a phenomenon of the crisis. We have a long-term track record and a philosophy that is core to how this business is managed. We're credible, and we can compete with the big boys when you look at performance. We've really developed a product that is sound, and we support it with really strong customer service.


MME: Stable value funds are hot again, and people want conservative investments and are afraid of the market's gyrations. Because of the experience of 2007 and 2008, there's been a drop in the supply of wrap coverage for stable-value funds. How have you adjusted your investment strategy in light of these changes?

Tocher: People are afraid, and clients are concerned, as they should be. Stable-value wrap providers are also very concerned, which is interesting because when investment policies are set, and if you're using an outside wrap provider, the wrap provider is very familiar with, and really has signed off on investment policy guidelines. However, as with anything, when things are good for an extended period of time, complacency becomes the buzzword and you don't look as closely.