At Bipsync, we’re fortunate enough to work with a wide range of clients, including the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association (Colorado PERA). We recently sat down with Jeremy Frenkel, CFA, Equity Analyst at Colorado PERA, to discuss what it’s like to manage benefits for over 620,000 public employees and how continuity and collaboration fit into investment management.
Can you tell us a little about Colorado PERA and your role at the organization?
Jeremy: We manage about $60 billion on behalf of State of Colorado employees. That includes teachers, snowplow drivers, state troopers, and other public employees.
As for my team, we’re set up on the investment side. We’re structured as five teams: public equities, private equities, fixed income, real estate, and alternatives – which is basically a catch-all for anything else. In my role, I cover consumer staples and consumer discretionary. Everyone on our team is sector-specific and focuses on companies in their sector on a global basis, including everything from the United States to Europe and Asia and at any market cap range.
Colorado PERA is unique for the pension world. When you talk to most pension companies, they’re outsourcing essentially everything they do. We manage the vast majority of public equities in-house while outsourcing some select mandates, such as emerging markets.
How has using Bipsync helped Colorado PERA at a company-wide level and how was the process in the past?
Jeremy: We build relationships with companies, sell-side analysts, and other industry experts. If someone leaves the team, you often lose these relationships and contacts. What’s nice about Bipsync is that we’re able to track who we’ve talked to, can access their contact information, and the dates we interacted with them. It’s made it a lot easier to say to a contact, “My coworker spoke to you on a particular date. I’m covering this now and can reference the things you talk about.” It’s been great from a continuity perspective.
Previously, we were warehousing everything just within our own folders. From an organizational perspective, it was hard to keep track of everything. I could work on something, but my team might not be aware that it was there or how to find it.
About three years ago, we moved to housing this information in Bloomberg and using their internal note system. It was a good solution but wasn’t extremely robust. It was hard to adjust their systems and create our own templates to fit our needs. We had to make our pitches and research work within their pre-existing system.
That’s what ultimately led us to find Bipsync. We looked at a few legacy players out there and came across Bipsync through a Google search. We found the platform to be super customizable. In the conversations we were having with other companies, we found that we needed to fit our research and investment process into their platform. With Bipsync, it felt like the opposite.
What were some of the factors you considered when looking for research management software?
Jeremy: With a lot of legacy players, we were finding that they were not cloud-based. In normal times, we travel a lot. We’re on our iPads. We’re not in the office 100% of the time. So, it didn’t make sense to go with a player that was totally on-prem. On top of that, a lot of the players didn’t have a mobile offering, or if they did, it wasn’t super robust. That was a big factor for us, and it obviously worked out well having a cloud-based system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
From an integration perspective, it just seemed a lot easier with Bipsync. It was easy to get in touch with the team to work on integration. Even in the trial phase with a lot of other players, we were having issues, and it made us think, “If, in the trial phase, it’s challenging. What’s it going to be like when it actually comes time to implement it? And when we’re using it on a day-to-day basis?”
Jeremy: We’re going back to the office soon, and I think we continue to lean a lot on Bipsync. Just thinking about the old pitch process and meetings, it’s so much more efficient now to see people’s feedback ahead of time. We’re able to focus on the core questions and issues. Another big thing with pitching a stock is obviously things change. It’s important to think about what you may have missed or didn’t think about initially. Having the running log is really useful from that perspective.
Have other parts of the organization picked up the platform outside the original intended users?
Jeremy: PERA has a Stewardship Division. We use the term “stewardship” internally to define what would traditionally be an ESG team. This team focuses on broader topics than just ESG. Our clients are teachers and public employees; stewardship in some ways is about being good stewards of their money by managing our expenses well.
We have access to a lot of ESG resources (e.g., MSCI). Our ESG team consists of read-only users in Bipsync and are pretty early in their use of the platform. They review the research that we’ve entered, our research agenda, and what we’re currently invested in.
They’re regularly reviewing ESG research on their end. Say, for example, a team member is working on Amazon, and there’s a lot of ESG news coming on about Amazon; they’ll share that research with us.
Prior to using Bipsync, it was hard for other analysts to always know what I was working on, let alone the stewardship team. Having access to the research we’re taking on means they can be a bigger part of the process and collaborate with us.
What product features and functions do you envision will be a necessity in the next few years?
Jeremy: In the past, we’ve used services where we can track all of the companies that are located in a particular city that we’re traveling to. It would be nice to be able to track which companies are located where from a trip planning perspective. I think you’ll see more and more investment managers trying to organize trips themselves. That’s certainly something that we’re doing. So, having more help with that process would be great.
If you’re interested in learning more about Bipsync – you can schedule a demo here.