IFM’s first chief strategy officer to ‘deliver solutions better suited’ to LPs’ needs

Luba Nikulina joins IFM’s London office following 17 years at WTW, where she was most recently global head of research.

IFM Investors has hired its first chief strategy officer in a bid to innovate and create “better solutions for investors”, newly-appointed Luba Nikulina told Infrastructure Investor.

Nikulina has moved from being global head of research at WTW, formerly known as Willis Towers Watson, a position held since 2019, although she has worked across the group’s private markets research unit since 2005. She has joined IFM Investors’ London office and its global executive team to focus on private markets solutions that meet the needs of IFM’s Australian investor ownership and its global pension fund clients, IFM said in a statement.

Asked what this would materially mean for her role, Nikulina responded: “There is definitely significant demand for new investments. Thinking about the whole systemic risk and climate change, decarbonisation of the economy, technology and digitalisation, there is just a massive amount of investment that’s needed, and a very significant part of it should be in private markets.”

She continued: “There is definitely scope for more innovation, creating better solutions for investors to get access to this growth opportunity. So my mandate will be to look into institutional investors’ demand across the world and help [them take part in this] growing market.”

IFM has managed the open-end Global Infrastructure Fund since 2004 and an open-end US infrastructure fund since 2018. Earlier this year, it launched the open-end IFM Net Zero Infrastructure Fund, an energy transition-focused vehicle that is thought to have an initial target of $3 billion.

However, Nikulina added: “There is potential to do something different on the return scale of the spectrum and what type of assets you put together in an investment vehicle. All of this is just absolutely ripe for innovation.”

In October 2020, IFM committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions across its global assets and the organisation itself to net zero by 2050. Nikulina said a focus on climate and how better to tap the investment opportunities of climate change will be high on her agenda.

“There is a massive demand for the decarbonisation of the economy and infrastructure is clearly at the core of it,” she outlined. “If we want to reduce carbon emissions, we will need to revamp the infrastructure, and it’s not going to happen if the models are the same as they were in the past. Essentially, you need to do something with the existing assets to help them decarbonise. Then you also need to be investing in new technologies.”

Nikulina added that solutions would have to be tailored towards investors’ different requirements, with some preferring the focus on return and others on yield. She also said that Melbourne-headquartered IFM had chosen to base the new role in London because it envisaged most of the growth in this respect to come from Europe and North America.