ANGELES INDEPENDENT SCHOOL SYMPOSIUM
Thank you to everyone for making the 2015 Angeles Independent School Endowment Symposium a collaborative and lively event for our community.
BEST PRACTICES FOR INDEPENDENT SCHOOL ENDOWMENT GOVERNANCE
Angeles Investment Advisors’ experience in working with institutional investors has led us to some key observations about the shared
characteristics of fiduciary committees that function well:
A clear investment policy statement is the most effective way to articulate and memorialize the institution’s goals and evaluate the progress for achieving those goals. Focusing on the appropriate time horizon and accepting an appropriate level of short-term volatility helps eliminate rash choices that undermine the committee’s strategic investment direction.
In setting investment policy, the committee should focus on the particular needs and constraints of their school. Organizations will often want to separate invested assets into different asset pools defined within the Investment Policy to account for varied needs including expected uses, donor restrictions and time horizons of assets.
The goal of an endowment is to provide support to the school in perpetuity. The most important function of the investment committee is to strike the proper balance between growth and stability, making sure the needs of the current generation of students are balanced appropriately against the needs of future generations. This will be done both in setting policy guidelines and in ongoing oversight of the portfolio. To make annual distributions to the operating budget and keep up with inAation requires a strong long-term return to the portfolio. At the same time, stability in the endowment (and by extension in the spending payout) can be important to budgeting and planning . In structuring an investment portfolio, these two goals are generally at odds with one another. The consequences of taking too much risk are obvious. Taking too little risk, in an effort to be conservative, can do as much or more damage by curtailing the growth of the portfolio and leading to a loss of purchasing power over time.
Successful endowment oversight relies on a disciplined approach to decision making which is not dominated by the opinion of one individual, even when that individual is an investment professional. Individuals who contribute to a committee’s success will have a well-defined understanding of their role as a fiduciary- a role that is separate and distinct from the role of a portfolio manager.
Another important aspect of governance is to decide how the committee’s time is best used. Most investment committees meet quarterly, or at most monthly. The members, even if informed, experienced, and engaged, can dedicate only a limited portion of their attention to the oversight of this critical asset. Delegating daily monitoring of risks and opportunities and nimble implementation of portfolio construction allows the committee to focus on the long-term strategic decisions that make the biggest impact. It is widely believed that a committee’s strategic decisions for asset allocation are the most important determinant of your portfolio’s risk profile and likely return (1). A concentrated focus on the oversight of the portfolio’s structure, asset allocation, and risk posture is, in most cases, the best and highest use of the committee’s time.
(1) Gary P. Brinson, et 01. Determinants of Portfolio Performance, Financial Analysts Journal, July/August 1986.
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