2017 Industry Innovation Awards

Public Defined Benefit Plan Above $100 Billion

New York City Retirement System

Scott Evans, Deputy Comptroller for Asset Management and Chief Investment Officer
(New York, New York)

Art by Chris Buzelli

Merely a year after Scott Evans retired from managing nearly $500 billion at TIAA-CREF, he says a sense of civic duty led him to the CIO role overseeing New York City’s $181 billion New York City  Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS).

It’s a common theme in hero movies to bring the champion out for one last big match. In some ways, that’s just what Scott Evans did when he came out of retirement to become CIO of the retirement system. “I felt compelled by civic duty to get involved in New York. I thought there were a lot of ways that I could make a positive contribution,” Evans tells CIO.

New York’s pension program is an unwieldy maze of investments. Evans oversees five separate plans that make up the retirement system, each with a unique constituency and custom processes. His mission since taking on the role in 2014 has been to untangle the pension and modernize it to provide plan participants with functionality common to other plans. “The system in New York was burdened in some ways by complexity. It grew unevenly over time, and so it lacked some functionality that is common in other retirement systems,” Evans explains. “We’ve been able to add that functionality and improve services for participants. We spent a lot of time on standardization of protocols, forms, and process—that’s been transformative.”

Evans credits City Comptroller Scott Stringer and the pension staff with much of the heavy lifting. He says that having colleagues that are career public servants and deeply invested in the security of the pension system meant everyone got behind the effort to make things better for participants. Working closely with career staff also provided valuable insights into how the retirement system developed over time, and how it could be improved with minimal disruption.

Much of Evans’ transformation playbook was crafted during his time at TIAA. While there, he refined his approach to manager selection and investment governance. At NYCERS, he’s adapted those lessons for a public plan, filling out the staff on the investment team and creating dedicated teams from existing managers to handle administrative tasks like invoicing and documents management.

Evans tells CIO that pension leaders have to be willing to run their organizations like a business if they want to innovate—looking for opportunities to improve service delivery and reduce overhead. “Broadly, our approach to pensions over the past 20 years has included a lot of steps backward, and individuals have ended up in a variety of vehicles that don’t necessarily serve them well,” he says. “I think as an industry, we have to think more about optimal solutions for individuals.”

When asked about what he sees as an optimal solution, Evans is philosophical. After decades in this industry, he says that ultimately, education is going to be the most critical component of any strategy, because investors must be willing to overcome behavioral bias, regardless of what retirement vehicle they use. “People have to be willing to insure their own longevity,” he contends. “One of the biggest risks people face is that they could outlive their savings. A pension is an insurance policy in a way, but people don’t spend on that insurance for a host of reasons. I’ve been working on this for my whole career, and people don’t want to do it. We have to figure out how to solve for that.”

Public Defined Benefit Plan Above $100 Billion Finalists

  1. Washington State Investment Board
    Gary Bruebaker
  2. California Public Employees' Retirement System
    Ted Eliopoulos
  3. New York State Common Retirement Fund
    Vicki Fuller
  4. Florida State Board of Administration
    Ashbel "Ash" Williams
  • Kim LewFoundation
  • Tom JoyEndowment
  • Brian ReedCorporate Defined Benefit Pension Plan Below $5 Billion
  • Elisabeth BourquiCorporate Defined Benefit Pension Plan Above $5 Billion
  • Matt ClarkPublic Defined Benefit Plan Below $15 Billion
  • Vijoy ChattergyPublic Defined Benefit Plan ($15 Billion - $100 Billion)
  • Scott EvansPublic Defined Benefit Plan Above $100 Billion
  • David HolmgrenHealthcare
  • Bob WatsonDefined Contribution
  • Raphael ArndtSovereign Wealth Fund
  • Jagdeep BachherESG
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