NYC Pensions Begin ‘Critical’ Reforms

Understaffing, inadequate technology, and risk management issues are among the problems being tackled by New York City’s Bureau of Asset Management.

When Scott Evans first arrived at New York City’s Bureau of Asset Management, half of the leadership positions were missing, the staff that did exist was “egregiously undercompensated,” and the office itself was “embarrassingly abominable,” with working conditions no better than those found in a college dorm.

As the CIO summed it up at the common investment meeting for the city’s five pension funds on Wednesday: “We need to show our employees respect.”

“If you don’t have good people, you can’t succeed,” Evans said. “I want every employee to feel we are going to make a long-term investment in them.”

“If you don’t have good people, you can’t succeed. I want every employee to feel we are going to make a long-term investment in them.”This focus on talent development and recruitment comes after a 398-page review of the bureau’s operations highlighted understaffing as an area in need of “critical” attention.

The report, conducted by Funston Advisory Services, consisted of 240 recommendations to improve the Bureau of Asset Management, which oversees investments of New York City’s $160 billion pension funds. Other areas rated as “critical” by the consultant included risk management and information systems.

Already, Miles Draycott has been brought on as the bureau’s first chief risk officer to tackle operational risks, while new Strategic Initiatives Director Cara Schnaper is focusing on areas including technological needs and reporting processes.

“Right now, our fund accounting processes are clunky to say the least,” Schnaper said during a presentation of the bureau’s roadmap for reforms. “If we don’t get out of all the noise we’ll never be able to look at what’s really on the table.”

Evans estimated that the technology alone needed to improve the bureau’s operations and reporting will cost more than $2 million—more than quadruple the $463,845 grant currently awarded to the bureau for non-personnel expenses.

“We were built to support a stocks and bonds portfolio,” Evans said. “You can’t manage a modern portfolio with an infrastructure that is not robust and that is not suited for the task.”

As for personnel expenses, Evans is requesting an additional $1.3 million to bring the total staff count up to 71. Currently, the bureau employs 48 staffers, with the authorization to hire 13 more.

The CIO is also seeking funding for training programs for bureau employees.

“We want to develop our people,” he said. “Right now we’re not spending any money on training.”

Given that the 240 recommendations made by Funston encompass more work than can likely be completed before Comptroller Scott Stringer’s term ends December 2017, Evans said the goal is to tackle the most severe issues now while creating a foundation for lasting change.

“It is important to us that we’re building an organization that will be here even when those of us with the Stringer administration are gone,” Evans said. “We think we’re making great strides.”

Related: ‘Serious Issues’ in NYC Pension Investment Operations