Exclusive: San Francisco’s CIO Calls Allocators and Industry Leaders to Action during Pandemic

SFERS encourages business to be creative in supporting the COVID-19 relief effort and to ‘utilize the current crisis to lead the human experience to new heights.’

The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS) issued a call to action for businesses to find creative ways to support the United States’ COVID-19 relief effort, suggesting companies may temporarily reorient their facilities to lend a hand to the crisis.

The pension tasked S&P 500 companies to report their own contributions to society’s efforts to stem the pandemic, and suggested several ways that a variety of different sectors can help, such as re-purposing hotels to accommodate patients and health care workers, and using existing supply chains to support the development of medical equipment such as ventilators and face masks.

“Everyone can do something, to help,” SFERS’s Chief Investment Officer Bill Coaker told CIO. “Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Ford, Microsoft, Roche, and many others have already undertaken wonderful ways to help. A small group of young musicians made a musical video on YouTube. Everyone can find their own way to help with their own time, talent, or treasure.”

The pension’s announcement came soon after Microsoft, Tesla, Apple, and Amazon announced their own respective efforts to help stem the pandemic. Apple stated it is actively sourcing scarce supplies necessitated by the medical emergency and pledged to supply 9 million masks. Tesla is engaging with ventilator manufacturers to learn how to produce them in its facilities, Amazon is reorganizing its logistics operations to support the cause, and Microsoft said it is engaging more heavily in telehealth and pandemic-related data projects in collaboration with other partners.

SFERS also tasked a similar objective to its peer institutional investors, including pensions, endowments, and family offices, to publicly voice their support for SFERS’s call to action and join the cause.

“As institutional investors we are invested in many, if not all, of the same companies,” SFERS said in a statement. “We ask that you publicly make the same request of companies listed in the S&P 500 index.”

“The goal is to defeat COVID-19 and save lives,” Coaker told CIO.

As a public pension fund, Coaker said his team’s mainstream avenues of assisting the pandemic relief efforts are shepherded by its fiduciary obligations and adhering to them as best it can in a market downturn.

“The most important thing we can do is preserve our pension plan for existing and future generations. We have held up well,” Coaker told CIO. “We were overweight technology, software, the digital economy, biotech, and other innovation-oriented new economy segments that have held up relatively better. And we were underweight public equity, hotels, and other assets that have been especially hard hit.”

“Another way we can help is by utilizing our platform as a city that is a gateway to the world and a leader in innovation to encourage others to think creatively as to how they can use their own time, talents, and treasure to help others,” Coaker said.

“A third way we can help is by leading by example, by practicing generosity, compassion, and hope. The current situation is very scary. This is the most worrisome health pandemic in a century. But hardship can yield perspectives and talents that under more comfortable circumstances would lay dormant. We can utilize the current crisis to lead the human experience to new heights,” Coaker said.

The relief is also gaining participation from individual investors such as Ray Dalio, who donated $500,000 to the Connecticut Food Bank in light of pandemic. Dalio’s flagship Bridgewater Fund reportedly lost 20% from pandemic-related drops, and Dalio himself predicted US corporations will lose $4 trillion because of the virus.

Companies at this time should “keep themselves, their own employees, and their loved ones safe and well,” Coaker said. “Then utilize their own creativity, reach, and network to help health care professionals and people impacted by the virus and job loss.”

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