The Public Pension Investment Management Program
In the summer of 2010, UC Berkeley Executive Education and the State Association of County Retirement Systems (SACRS) launched the inaugural Public Pension Investment Management Program, beginning a partnership that has spanned 10 years and transformed roughly 300 participants.
The State Association of County Retirement Systems (SACRS) is a nonprofit association comprised of 20 retirement systems in California that are county sponsored. These counties, back in 1937, decided not to be a part of the standard State of California CalPERS retirement system. Instead, each retirement system is run locally by a local board of trustees and manages multi-millions of dollars of retirement funds. Many trustees have day jobs such as being a county Sheriff or general service employee of the county. Trustees might work in the County Auditor Controller's Office or a trustee can be an appointed local member of the community. Many of them came into their 3-year trustee role as valued members of the community but without an investment background. Currently, trustees are required to have 24 hours of investment education. As an association, SACRS was created so that trustees from the 20 member retirement systems could network and share information, create opportunities for education and learn to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities. SACRS’ main focus is to educate all types of trustees and staff members or people who are interested in their retirement system’s funding.
Although SACRS holds two bi-annual educational conferences, they realized they had members who were newer trustees that lacked basic knowledge on public pension investing, as well as trustees that had been on the board for a while that needed a refresher. SACRS decided to raise the bar and give trustees a more intense, focused opportunity for members to gain new in-depth investment knowledge on current, successful investment models and strategies from an academic point of view. Ten years ago, Berkeley Executive Education and SACRS started a partnership to create a customized program called the Public Pension Investment Management Program (PPIM), with a specialized curriculum that covers hot topics, new investment strategies, and theory.
During PPIM, SACRS members spend four intense days updating their investment savvy, gaining new knowledge, following trends, integrating new methods into their current plan administration and growing relationships with their peers. The trustees enjoy the classroom setting at the Haas School of Business as it gives them the ability to ask individualized questions directly to world-renowned UC Berkeley faculty, as opposed to a more impersonal large conference setting. After attending PPIM, trustees are able to make much better-educated investment decisions as they apply their program training to their county retirement funds.
“Our ten-year partnership with Berkeley Executive Education gives us a way to create aha moments where things start to click. By the fourth day of PPIM, it’s great to see trustees able take the information that they’ve gained and equate it to something that they're doing at their own board level back home. That part, those moments, are really rewarding,” proudly says SACRS Administrator, Sulema Peterson.
“We just completed another great experience with SACRS. The SACRS trustees take their roles seriously and are enthusiastic about learning about best practices and asset management. Sulema Peterson goes out of her way to make sure her attendee’s every need is anticipated and well cared for," adds Kristina Susac, Vice President for Berkeley Executive Education.
Over the years, SACRS and Berkeley have evolved PPIM into a program with two levels. One year focuses on more beginner-level topics designed for newer trustees and the following year shifts to more advanced topics aimed at attendees who have served multiple trustee terms or have previously attended PPIM.
“With a group between 30-40 trustees, we love the relationship component that trustees build while they're at Berkeley. We all stay at the same hotel. Every evening we have a reception that gives people an opportunity to talk about the day, and then we go to dinner together. There's no planned dinner, it's all impromptu, and we either walk or ride-share to dinner. That's where the networking and relationship bonding happens,” shares Sulema. “Trustees appreciate the relationships that they build here. Then, when those trustees come to our SACRS conference later in the year, they already have established relationships with people who went through the Public Pension Investment Management Program together.”
Adds Sulema, “The partnership between SACRS and Berkeley is thriving. Year after year, we keep coming back to UC Berkeley because it's a great program. Professor Greg La Blanc and his team are phenomenal at what they do. It's convenient and affordable. We like having a reasonable travel option for most of the trustees that attend. It's a flight to SFO instead of spending their retirement fund money to travel to the East Coast for training. Additionally, we believe since we're a California nonprofit association we should keep our dollar in California and use it to support a public school.”
“In the future, due to the high quality of the training, I could see us making this program available to non-SACRS board members that don’t have an investment background,” believes Sulema. “Other trustees who sit on boards also need investment information. They need to be here, in the classroom…learning, so they can make the best-educated decisions with their funds on behalf of their members.”
“We are thrilled to be partnering with Berkeley Executive Education to be offering education for trustees who are making huge decisions on behalf of retirees in the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Marin, Mendocino, Merced, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Tulare, and Ventura,” says Sulema. "Every year a new trustee or maybe even an advanced trustee tells us: I saw that, but I didn't know what that was and now I do UC Berkeley Executive Education is a great place to help deepen our trustee’s financial backgrounds and bring new insights into investing” Sulema concludes.