UC Davis Partners with CalPERS for an Innovative Education Program

What’s the most effective way to manage an investment fund to help people retire? What are the fundamental differences in investment options for pension funds and private funds? These lead questions open up the dialogue in a new Pension Fundamentals Educational Program designed by the UC Davis Graduate School of Management in partnership with California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), launched in September 2013.

These uniquely tailored educational experiences are designed for the professionals who work in and with the asset managers at CalPERS. The objective is to provide these individuals, many from the private sector, a clear understanding of the fundamentals of pension fund management. The program will be run multiple times for CalPERS, educating approximately 350 employees.

This Pension Fundamentals Educational Program is one piece of a three-part educational strategy at CalPERS. The other sections include “Financial Fundamentals,” delivered online via CFA’s Claritas certificate program, and “CalPERS Fundamentals,” where departmental leaders within CalPERS describe their day-to-day workings in detail.

“Talent management is a strategic priority for CalPERS,” said Kami Niebank, Division Chief of the Investment Policy and Business Services Division at CalPERS. ”And people who are knowledgeable in their job are more productive and better prepared to serve the organization. The Pension Fundamentals Educational Program is one of our core courses to help us get there.”

Although the program topics might appear straightforward at first glance, designing a comprehensive program about pension fundamentals is no easy feat. UC Davis Executive Education designed a solution by leveraging the strength of the Graduate School of Management faculty in finance, many of whom are world-renowned scholars and researchers. Furthermore, breaking the curriculum into three key segments allows participants to absorb detailed strategies without getting overwhelmed by the complexity of the topics.

The first was taught by Paul Griffin, Associate Dean and Professor of Management, who is a leading international authority in accounting and financial information and disclosures. He covered liabilities, expanding on topics such as future cash flow needs of the system, liquidity requirements for retirement, and issues and solutions for underfunding.

Associate Professor of Management Joseph Chen led the second segment, teaching how investments are made, high-level investment strategy, and the theory and tools that are available to investors to help create optimal portfolios across different asset classes. Professor Chen’s research focused on stock market reward-to-risk returns.

Finally, Robert Yetman, Professor of Management, covered CalPERS governance. Professor Yetman is an expert on corporate tax, financial accounting, income tax, U.S. and international financial accounting, and nonprofit accounting and tax issues.

CalPERS is a public nonprofit and is governed by a Board of Administration. Professor Yetman explained how the Board members are elected, their terms and roles, and how they keep up to date with investment strategy. Of particular interest is that a majority of these board members are public servants such as school district or municipal employees without a background in investing.

Rob Feckner, President of the Board of Administration for CalPERS, participated in a “fireside chat” with Professor Yetman to provide participants with a “feet on the street” version of the responsibilities involved with being a CalPERS Board Member along with the challenges and opportunities of the role of President.

UC Davis Executive Education was in the final bidding process for this custom program with several business schools in California. CalPERS decision makers were swayed by the quality of the Finance faculty, as well as the program focus of directly tying business theory to participants’ roles. The key differentiator for UC Davis Executive Education programs is presenting practical strategies for hands-on applications that can be leveraged back at the office the very next day.

To learn more about Custom Executive Education Programs at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, please contact Wendy Beecham, Managing Director of Executive Education.